This six-part story focuses on Onnalaya Highmountain's journey to train with the Warsong shaman Kor'dan Bloodmender. This was largely meant to explain a long absence of the Highmountain characters from the Banepaw Fellowship, the focus of Onnalaya's subsequent training on enhancement-tree-type combat (instead of healing), and the significance of the character's hulking shield.
→→"You treat me like a kodo," Onnalaya grunted.
→→The twins had made slow progress through the occluded woods of Ashenvale. Their large hooves were ill-suited for the soft and uneven terrain of the forest floor, and it was made all the worse when carrying bags of supplies. Onnalaya had been chastised just for giving some of his brother's belongings a skeptical glance: ink bottles, scroll cylinders, packaged bread, and even several flasks full of purified water. Where did he think they were going? A desert?
→→Up ahead, Opialaya waved a glowing mote of dust away from his face and turned back to his twin.
→→"You smell like a kodo. I could use one, honestly. Maybe I'll trade you in for a big pack kodo when we get to the post."
→→"That isn't funny, Opi."
→→Onnalaya couldn't sustain his indignance, however, as the echoes of the logging camp grew nearer. They were getting close! His excitement fueled his weary muscles, for soon he would be done with travelling—which was Opialaya's pleasure—and back to learning the ways of the spirits. The voice of water had been especially resistant to his calling, so the elders in Thunder Bluff gave him the name of a reclusive old orc that lived at the post, one Kor'dan Bloodmender.
→→They began to pass by piles of trunks laid amidst the thinning trees, and not far ahead lay an open field: naked hills rolled beyond, a sea of stumps and an occasional watchtower. Onnalaya was almost too awestruck to notice his twin had stopped walking just ahead of him, and was taking a lean against a tree that had, so far, been spared.
→→"What's wrong?" sighed Onnalaya, knowing full well that he was about to receive another diatribe about the Natural State of the World and how anything different must be deeply, fundamentally Wrong.
→→But Opialaya simply sighed as well, and shook his head sadly.
→→Then he yelped, and it took Onnalaya a moment to realize why: a large root at the base of the tree had inexplicably coiled around Opialaya's legs and was sinking him in towards the gnarled trunk. Onnalaya briefly stood dumbstruck, then began rapidly working off all their supplies from his shoulders so he could act. Could he cut the root? Both Tauren carried staves, and his skinning knife would be inadequate. Ask the spirit of fire to burn it? Too dangerous to Opialaya.
→→Before he could consider anything else, a blur of motion came in from around the tree.
→→"Duck!" cried Onnalaya.
→→His twin dodged, just in time, a rapid thrust of a green-tipped spear, wielded by a most bedazzling creature. At first, Onnalaya thought she was a centaur, but that was impossible. No clans came this far north. This four-legged beauty was more fair, more nimble, and had an elven look to her. She also appeared entirely intent on killing Opialaya.
→→Onnalaya lost sight of the situation for the single second it took him to raise the last satchel off over his neck, and he stumbled as he rushed blindly for his brother. He heard a roar of fire from the sky, and he knew. Opialaya had become quick and adept at summoning this particular brand of energy. As he wielded his staff and raised his head, however, he saw that the bright column of energy seemed shattered and weak in the space just about the forest girl.
→→The young shaman lunged upwards, just in time to deflect a second strike at his brother. The attacker lept away from the tree, twirling her spear defensively, then brought up a single empty hand. Onnalaya narrowed his eyes at her. She was casting a spell! Spirit of the earth, shudder beneath her! A crack of earth resounded loudly in his ears. As his opponent reeled from the localized earthquake at her feet, Onnalaya channeled a tiny storm into his fingers, as his twin had taught him, and leased it outward. It arced wildly about his target, doing little direct damage.
→→Without turning, Onnalaya heard his twin cry frantically:
→→"A dryad! They're resistant to magical energies!"
→→Then casting would not be a part of this! How convenient, then, that the frenzied dryad took a lunge towards him with her weapon. Onnalaya dodged, easily, and countered with a double blow from each end of his staff. The hits landed, but still seemed to do little against the seemingly flawless form of the creature. Nonetheless, Onnalaya relied on his weeks of training. They paid off. The dryad could afford no time to cast spells now that they were locked into a melee, and the young shu'halo had the advantage of endurance, even after a day of travel.
→→Onnalaya became impatient as the fight grew into a stalemate, and felt the spirit of fire in his arms. He directed the energy into his staff, where an imbued glow flickered down the shaft as he drove it like a ram against the dryad's torso. A small explosion knocked him back. He regained his footing and smiled as he watched the broken dryad flee back into the shadowy vale.
→→He turned and gaped. Opialaya was now completely encased by the coiling roots, save for his head and one arm. Onnalaya rushed to his aid and tried to pull, but his brother was tightly wedged in.
→→"Her command was too potent. I can't do anything," Opialaya spoke hurriedly. "It's only getting tighter. You have to pull me out now."
→→Onnalaya frowned. "I might pull your arm off!"
→→"This spell will crush me, arm or no!"
→→Onnalaya set aside his staff and got a good grip on his brother's outstretched arm. He pulled, hard. He could feel Opialaya doing what he could, but his grunting turned to moaning, which turned to yelling, and his arm went slack. Nonetheless, he formed his pained cries into words: "Keep pulling!"
→→Both of the young Tauren began crying, Opialaya from pain and Onnalaya from guilt, but with a final crack of wood and bone, the vice of the roots began to give. Opialaya writhed and came free, but not without a dislocated shoulder from the effort. Without a word, Onnalaya gave him his staff to bite down on as he set it back in place. Opialaya nodded to acknowledge the relief, though the way both of them were heaving and trembling, it was hard to tell who had taken more damage.
→→"Opi, I'm sorry," muttered Onnalaya. "I'm so sorry."
→→"You did what I told you to," Opialaya continued to nod. "What you had to do. Now listen. I must have more broken bones in my side. It's hard to breathe. I can't move my right hand, so I can't even try to heal myself."
→→"I'll run for help! You'll be okay!"
→→"No. Stop. Listen to me, Onny. That dryad might come back with friends, and I'll be a lame zhevra if you leave me here alone. Now, you told me you're here to practice calling the spirit of water, right? And that's the one with healing properties, yes? ... yes?"
→→Onnalaya was staring at his brother's crippled form, the desperation of the situation sinking in. And yet Opialaya wouldn't stop talking, wouldn't let his attention wander. It was rather scary, really, just how damn calm Opi could be.
→→"R-right," stammered Onny.
→→"Then give it a try. See if your spirits aren't actually good for something, hm?"
→→Onnalaya's head fell, but he nodded. No time to waste. He settled in next to his twin and meditated on the spirits, focusing on the rushing voice of water. A pale glistening slowly came to his hands—a cheap imitation of the glow which normally Opialaya, it seemed, could easily summon at will. He let the weak energy flow to the battered and crushed skin, but there was little effect aside from relieving a bit of inflammation.
→→"That's alright," he said, his voice growing raspy. "If we can get to the post, I'll probably be okay. Don't worry. Look there now, the roots have stopped shrinking. Hide our supplies beneath them, then come and see about lifting me."
→→With the bags hidden from view and the rush from the fight fading from his body, Onnalaya allowed himself to adopt some of his brother's level-headed calm. The post could only be so many steps away, and Opialaya kept his pained wincing to a minimum. Onnalaya gave as much support as he could, bracing his brother's relatively good left arm over his back.
→→"Looks like I'll have to go on being a kodo today," said Onnalaya.
→→"Good kodo," snorted Opialaya, forcing a smile to reassure his twin. "I don't think I'll trade you in after all."
→→The two afforded what laughter they could as they hobbled slowly through the clear-cut fields towards Splintertree Post.
→→Bones clinked loudly against the wooden staff of Kor'dan Bloodmender as he waved it over Opialaya's injuries. The latter kept still only out of necessity; his face wore a look of skepticism and discomfort. The old orc had been meditating over his healing rite for several minutes now, and Opialaya thought most shaman knew how to channel the same fast-acting energies that nature often gifted him. He sighed impatiently.
→→Onnalaya sat nearby in the shaman's small hut at Splintertree Post. He leaned forward, watching the orc's every move, trying to divine what secret method he might have the chance to learn.
→→Abruptly, the grizzled orc brought the staff down and gave Opialaya's side a solid whack. The tauren howled in pain.
→→"Aaugh! You're supposed to be healing me, not killing me!" Opialaya growled and hissed between clenched teeth.
→→"Hmm." Kor'dan narrowed his old eyes and very slowly stroked his gray beard. "That did not seem to heal any of your fractures."
→→"What did you think it was going to do!?"
→→"Time for a different approach," nodded the orc, who turned to give Onnalaya a warm pat. "Bring me that kettle. Old Kor'dan knows a good number of tonic recipes that will be able to work from within."
→→"Great, now he's going to poison me."
→→Onnalaya smiled as he handed the elder shaman the iron kettle and gave his twin a bemused glance. As the orc began grunting a song to himself, he worked at the mixture of potions and herbs.
→→Onnalaya sat down again. "Master Kor'dan, I know we just arrived, but I was wondering when—"
→→"In time, in time!" shouted the orc, happily. "You are in no hurry, young one. The spirits can wait. Your brother must still recover from his terrible encounter with that tree."
→→Opialaya glared at the grinning orc. "It was a dryad."
→→"Listen to the fear in his voice!" Kor'dan boomed, adding ingredients to his mixture with a flourish. "He will never feel safe in the forest again! Here, a bit of peacebloom to soothe his rattled heart!"
→→Onnalaya laughed and shook his head. "Though I don't understand why we were attacked. We were just travelling. We did nothing wrong."
→→Kor'dan shifted his gaze to his fellow shaman slowly, and the room became silent. The orc nodded to himself. Even Opialaya, who had been sneering and shifting uncomfortably, was still and attentive. There was something ancient about this Outland race, some unique presence between their eyes and their work-worn shoulders, that could impart unequivocal knowledge without a word.
→→"I guess she may have thought us trespassers," said Onnalaya quietly to the floor.
→→Kor'dan cleared his throat as he stirred. "In the eyes of your people, of your friends, no, of course you did nothing dishonorable. But there is always a larger picture, always ... another point of view. We are the Horde. The dryad is not."
→→"Well, of course," came Opialaya's caustic voice, his snout snooting to others. "There are many native species that were displaced when the orcs came to Kalimdor. Do you realize how old some of these kaldorei enclaves are? Thousands of years of having the run of the woods, and then in the blink of an eye, in comes the Warsong—"
→→"Opi!" gawked Onnalaya. "These are our friends!"
→→"Hey, I'm not saying anyone is at fault, here. I think what Kor'dan was saying about the big picture means that there are two homes where there used to be only one. One for the forest, and one for the orcs. I may personally think all this harvesting is excessive, but the orcs do need some way to make a living. Likewise, we can't fault the dryad for trying to protect her home. It is natural and it is understandable, even if we don't agree."
→→"Your brother speaks well, Onnalaya," nodded Kor'dan. "Though I reject this word, 'excessive.' Much of the Warsong are working these days for our great machine in Northrend. Our fight against the Scourge requires much sweat and blood ... and yes, harvesting lumber."
→→Opialaya shrugged with his one good shoulder. "Then maybe I should call your fight excessive."
→→Kor'dan turned, again summoning that imposing glance and commanding demeanor. Onnalaya shrank slightly further into the corner. The orc took a stone bowl and filled it with the tonic mixture, then slowly stalked towards Opialaya. He handed it to the young tauren.
→→"This will mend your skin and your bones while you sleep," he grunted. "And then tomorrow, when you are ready, I will take you to a place beyond the forest. Onnalaya is here to seek the spirit of water, and so he will do so. But you and old Kor'dan, we will seek to know more."
→→"More?" smirked Opialaya, before taking a hesitant sip from the bowl. "About what?"
→→"About us Warsong and our ... excesses."
→→The unnatural golem of felfire and stone came straight for Onnalaya. The young shaman readied his staff, preparing to block and then find an opening. The ground thundered with each step of the infernal. An orcish warcry sounded from a side path, and from there Kor'dan hurtled at the creature with his shield before him. The impact left a grievous crack in the stone body. Onnalaya ducked a swing of a gigantic rocky limb and moved in, channeling fire down his staff. He struck into the crack and there was an explosion. He and Kor'dan were sent flying. The remains of the infernal toppled off the path and went tumbling down the steep canyon wall.
→→The old orc cackled even as he hit the ground.
→→"That's why they call it Demon Fall!" he cried, victoriously.
→→Onnalaya shifted his weight to rise, but Opialaya set a hand on his shoulder to keep him down. There was something dripping right in front of his left eye. Onnalaya hadn't even realized, in his excitement, that a stone shard had flown from the exploding infernal and struck his head. Opialaya, with a newly mended arm, focused a green orb of energy into his hands and applied it to the wound without a word. The two tauren arose to a grinning and nodding Kor'dan.
→→"Come, we are close!" He took the lead, but glanced back to Onnalaya. "You have a strong command, young one. That was an excellent strike."
→→"I don't know," shrugged Onnalaya. "I don't think I have a very good, uh ... way with the spirits. The whole exploding thing doesn't usually happen. Fire just seems like it wants to burn hotter here."
→→"That is true also," said Kor'dan, nodding as he carefully stepped across a fallen log that crossed a small gap. "Fire is the spirit most easily called to vengeance. And there is much for the elements to seek vengeance over, here in this place."
→→Onnalaya came after Opialaya on the log bridge, and he felt the decaying wood give way. A chunk fell off under his hoof and Onnalaya lost his footing. He twisted in midair to correct his balance, and he lurched forward to hop to solid ground, and Opialaya turned to grab him ... all too late. The tauren went tumbling down the canyon wall. There were few obstacles in his path, fortunately, and the wall gently bottomed out to the wide meandering path below.
→→"Onny!" cried his twin from above, who was hugging the ground near the gap where Onnalaya fell. He turned to Kor'dan. "I think he's all right."
→→Onnalaya coughed and stood in the cloud of dust. He was fine, indeed, albeit thoroughly dirty. He waved up at them.
→→"These paths meet a bit further down, Onnalaya," Kor'dan shouted down to him. "Follow it that way and we'll be together soon. If any demons appear and give chase, keep running! You will come to a clearing and we will face it there. Come quickly, Opialaya."
→→The instructions echoed off the walls of the canyon and Onnalaya nodded, turned, and jogged down the path. His senses were alert, and he could hear his heart beating in his ears. The gray trail twisted between dead plumes of foliage and crumbling rock formations, until he was forced to stop. Around the bend, several figures blocked his way. He raised his staff, ready, somehow even eager, for battle. But then he saw and realized: they were not demons.
→→There was a blueskin female, dressed in form-fitting robes, hunched over a pile of flesh and metal. Her horns jutted straight outwards, not like a demon's, and her hair flowed in silvery curls. Next to her clattered what appeared at first to be a little man, but then Onnalaya realized with wonder that it was a mechanical device. It walked on two legs and had something like a head, but its chest opened up to a long pipe that had been lowered into the pile before them. Onnalaya edged quietly closer, and saw that the blueskin and her mechanism were crowded over the corpse of a mangled felguard. The pipe looked as though it were sucking some sort of juice from the demon's body.
→→The woman turned and saw Onnalaya. She stood quickly, but did not react further. Onnalaya froze. Slowly, she brought up a small metal instrument that had red lights glowing on the end. She tapped her fingers against it, and when it clicked, the red lights flashed brightly. For each flash, the little mechanical man took a step away from the corpse and followed her, its pipe collapsing into its body. She slowly sidled further away down the path, when Onnalaya spotted motion there.
→→"Behind you!" he blurted, pointing.
→→Two more felguard came stomping down around the opposite bend and brought their weapons ready into the air. The blueskin woman turned and, at just the last minute, magically summoned a field of solid air between her and the cursed blades. The closer felguard stepped around and swung at her, but she ducked and leapt backwards.
→→Without thinking, Onnalaya rushed the other demon. He swung his staff, but the felguard's sword parried. At his side, he heard a roar of fire, and then shards of ice, flying towards the other felguard. His opponent pushed him back and swung, but Onnalaya brought his staff up in time and the sword bounced off. He called out to whichever spirit would respond in time to ready him for the next attack. Again, he parried, and for an instant, it seemed to him as though the demon were rebounding in slow motion. He had time to strike! Once, and twice with the other end, his staff bashed away at the unworldly enemy. Again the demon swung, again he parried, and countered with a blow. Parry and strike, parry and strike, parry and strike! Finally, the demon snarled and became wise to Onnalaya's lightning-quick counterattacks. It held its sword back and went purely on defense.
→→Onnalaya caught the flashing of small red lights out of the corner of his eye. With a whirr of metal, the blueskin's mechanical minion came clomping behind his felguard and swung its sharp limbs against its armor, producing a burst of harmless sparks. The distraction was enough, though, for Onnalaya to free a hand from his staff and channel the storm from the air to his hand. The felguard turned back just in time to meet Onnalaya's fist to the face, which burst into a thousand arcs of electricity that shivered over the demon's body as it flew backwards.
→→Onnalaya turned to see the first attacking felguard was nothing more than another smoking pile of charred flesh. The blueskin woman was already fleeing the way Onnalaya had come, summoning her metal companion with a series of red flashes.
→→"Wait!" said Onnalaya with an open hand, but she was already out of sight.
→→He sighed and continued on. He rejoined his brother and the shaman Kor'dan a few minutes later, but decided not to tell them what had just happened. Kor'dan was distracted anyway, eager to lead the two further down where the clearing became wider. In the middle of the space rose a lonely obelisk of black stone.
→→Kor'dan rushed to the base of the rock and prostrated himself, grunting loud orisons in an ancient tongue. Opialaya came to Onnalaya's side with a doubtful smirk.
→→"Let me guess," said Opialaya. "He's worshiping the spirit of that rock."
→→"This is not a shrine stone," said Kor'dan, slowly. He had overheard and turned to stare with a keen smile at Opialaya. "This is a monument to the greatest Lord of the Warsong to have lived! Surely you have heard of him. No? Neither of you? Then I must explain to each of you the entire story. Come. Gather here next to me."
→→Kor'dan placed his hulking iron shield upon the ground and sat on it. He watched the two bewildered tauren expectantly. Onnalaya could feel a surge of anger rise up in his brother, and stepped forward to cut him off. After all, he knew when Opialaya was being reasonable, and here he agreed.
→→"With all due respect, master, there are still probably demons nearby. We can pay our respects, then you can tell us the story on the way back."
→→Kor'dan's gaze was piercing, but Onnalaya couldn't tell whether the orc was happy or angry. He slowly started to smile, but for an orc, that toothy look could mean anything.
→→"We can stay," Kor'dan said evenly. "And so we must."
→→Opialaya stepped forward. "This is ridiculo—"
→→"We must because we can!" bellowed the orc, his voice echoing off the walls of the canyon. The twins ducked, as though the watchful eyes of an enemy had been alerted. Kor'dan laughed. "Do you fear the demons? Are you afraid of this place? Come. Come near me, and I will tell you a story that will tell you not to fear. This is part of our home. We are free to protect our families and our huts from the demon pigs! We will let no Alliance minion tell us who we are, or where we may go! Never again will we let our souls be caged."
→→"What if ..." began Opialaya, who thought for a moment while scratching at an ear. "What if I said we weren't part of the Horde?"
→→"Mmm. You don't have a home," Kor'dan pointed, and Opialaya shrugged. No, they really didn't. "But the Horde is not a mere group of people; you cannot seek membership. The things I have shouted to the interlopers of this canyon ... that we are free, we will fight for it, and we are not afraid. The Horde is all these things. If you are these things, then you are part of the Horde."
→→But Onnalaya knew his brother was not these things. Opialaya was not free: he was chained to the past, to the search for their lost tribe. He was not a fighter, always thinking physical conflict was overly passionate and unreasonable. And he was ever afraid, of new people, of any possibility that he might not be in control of the situation. Yet for all these faults, it was Opialaya who first sat down next to Kor'dan. He never could turn down a good history lesson.
→→"Let's hear this story of yours," said Opi.
→→Kor'dan smiled, warmly this time, and turned. "Onnalaya?"
→→The blueskin's still out here somewhere, thought Onny. He hesitated. What if she came upon them? Kor'dan wouldn't give her a moment of quarter, simply because she was an Alliance mercenary treading on what he considered Warsong lands. Then he suddenly understood what Kor'dan had been saying: he couldn't allow himself to fear her. They were free to be here, and to defend themselves if they had to. He nodded and sat down close to Kor'dan, right at the edge of his massive shield.
→→The orc began: "Freedom. My ancestors were free for so long that they forgot what it was. They didn't realize they were destroying their own freedom, and that it would be generations before it was regained ... regained right here, where we sit, in fact. This story begins in another world, another time ... far, far back ..."
→→The tauren twins and their orcish mentor hobbled through Ashenvale in jolly order, two of the three buzzed from a large bottle of port that Kor’dan had brought along. Even Opialaya gave some effort to learning a rousing anthem that the old shaman was teaching his brother. But their gaiety was cut short at the sobering sight of fires burning in the fields of the lumber camp.
→→Kor’dan stowed the bottle and took his immense shield into one arm. He began to run. As they neared one of the fires, they saw peons fetching pails of water, scrambling madly to quell the nauseous fumes. Kor’dan stopped one with his free hand.
→→"Me saw her!" blathered the peon. "Blue Alliance thing! Exploding all our shredders!" He scurried off to rejoin the fire team.
→→Onnalaya felt his stomach sink. For all his hopes that it wasn’t her, Onny knew the culprit was probably the blueskin spellcaster that had fought alongside him in the canyon. He knew he should be feeling betrayed, yet part of him wanted to hold it back. The blueskin was a tantalizing mystery, like a strange little forest beast to whose den you had strayed too near. Something in him wanted not just to make her stop, obviously, but to reach some kind of understanding. And then it came to him: he respected her. He disagreed with what she was doing, of course, but surely it’s as Opialaya had said: there must be a natural and understandable reason for this. He wanted to find it. But how, oh how, to explain this to Kor’dan?
→→Curiously, the shaman had not moved an inch. His eyes were closed. Onnalaya exchanged looks with his brother, then gently laid a hand on the orc’s shoulder.
→→"Still looking," grunted Kor’dan. "This trick is useful. You will learn it quickly. Ah, I’ve found her!" His eyes snapped open and a toothy snarl overtook his face. "Follow!"
→→They raced across the road and into the hills. Large stumps and abandoned equipment flashed by into the darkening shadows of the evening. Up ahead, a fireball rose and dissipated into the sky, followed a split-second later by a low boom. The tall metallic form of a mangled log shredder fell over and disappeared into the smoke.
→→"Too late," hissed Kor’dan. "There were fires to the north already, and now here. The enemy must be working its way south. Quickly!"
→→A minute later, the three came face to face with the blueskin mage. She stood beneath a pair of shredders, the idle golems towering over a wide clearing between two lumber depositories. She held a small, round explosive in her hand.
→→As Onnalaya feared, Kor’dan wasted not a second in engaging her.
→→He wielded his battleaxe above his head as he charged, but by the time he reached the blueskin, she was gone. Disappeared into thin air. Wise to this spellcraft, Kor’dan immediately began summoning a great green glow of liquid energy in his arms, as though squeezing it and forcing it smaller and smaller. When the shining force was but a point of light, Kor’dan ducked. The ball exploded, distorting the air with a shockwave first of pure force, then followed by an expanding sphere of water that soaked everything in the clearing. Both Onnalaya and Opialaya were knocked to their feet … presumably, along with the mage.
→→When Onny came around and looked up, he saw the blueskin sending balls of fire through the air at Kor’dan, lighting up the twilit yard. Kor’dan reached and caught two of them with some invisible force extending from his hands, as one would catch a leather playball, then flung the sizzling orbs back her way. She ducked, but was singed, her soaked robes steaming. Next she blasted a slick of ice onto the ground, but this too was halted by a gesture from Kor’dan.
→→Onnalaya stood, both enthralled and distraught. The orc battled well, but surely Kor’dan expected his assistance. He was hesitant. If only they were just willing to understand each other!
→→Shards of ice flew through the air at deadly speed towards the orc. He brought up the great iron X of his shield against them, and moved towards the ice slick on the ground. With no more than a finger, he directed the slick to expand. Like a sudden splash of frozen water, tendrils of ice grabbed and surrounded the surprised blueskin, who struggled to free her arms from the trap.
→→A thrill went through Onnalaya’s mind at this spectacle. True, the mage could manipulate the elements to do her bidding, to force them into all kinds of lethal shapes. But all Kor’dan had to do was free them, and they were more than willing to help him in return. He was essentially using her own spells against her. And this great orc is going to teach me.
→→As Kor’dan readied his axe for a charge, the blueskin freed one hand and produced a small object. Onnalaya saw familiar red blinking lights at its end. Behind Kor’dan, one of the shredders abruptly came to life. One of its mechanical arms swung low, towards the ground.
→→"Look out!" shouted Onny.
→→The giant steel claw screeched through the air and came at Kor’dan from behind, hitting him square in the back. There was a sickening wet choking sound from the orc. Onnalaya forced himself to rush out into the open and catch his falling mentor. The moment he arrived at Kor’dan’s side, Onny heard a crash of ice and saw the dim outline of the blueskin dash desperately for the woods.
→→"Master!" Onnalaya cried, heaving the shaman’s shield out of the way so he could turn him. "Opi! Come help him!"
→→Opialaya gulped and started, but slowed as soon as he saw Kor’dan’s face. From where he stood, Opi could see the still, blank stare and knew it was too late. Even a very powerful healer couldn’t hope to undo the massive trauma that had befallen the orc.
→→Kor’dan was dead.
→→There was a tremor inside of Onnalaya that dislodged his senses and emotions into entirely new territory. Slowly, he lowered the rent orc to the earth. His feet itched. His eyes snapped to the distant foliage where the blueskin woman had vanished.
→→Before he knew what he was doing, Onny ran after her on all fours. The ancient canid spirit granted him swift limbs, exceptional endurance, and a nose to let him follow her trail. He also gained keen ears that heard his brother calling him.
→→"Onny! Wait! Let her go!"
→→But he couldn't stop. His mind was on one thing only. And dashing over the rolling hills of harvested trees, past the forest's edge, through a thick glade of shrubs, after what seemed like hours of running, he found it.
→→The blueskin was in a small clearing, leaning over a large creature that was outfitted with silver-lined armor. His wolf eyes couldn't see well in the dim light, but he could smell the musk of the other animal. It was a cat. A saber. The blueskin was packing something that clanked metallically into the saber's saddlebags; perhaps her mechanical man. The cat snarled: it could smell him. Soon the blueskin would know of his approach. He wouldn't have the initiative for long.
→→As he stood and retook his tauren form, Onnalaya focused on two things. One was simply sprinting forward as fast as he could. The other was gathering stormy energy into the palm of his hand. If he could get there in time, he could deliver a point-blank lightning bolt to her back. If she turned and stopped him, he could send it arcing through the air to hit her anyway. Unfortunately, he was too focused on only these possibilities that he was completely unprepared for a third.
→→The saber mount broke free of its master, leaping and dumping its saddle to the side. It dashed towards Onnalaya, fangs bared and claws flailing. The tauren could only redirect his readied spell towards the cat, who roared in pain but barely slowed under the electric assault. It leapt and slashed at Onny’s chest, opening long lines of blood down his torso.
→→To make matters worse, he noticed the blueskin nearby was forming flames in the air between her hands. Onny darted to the side, ignoring the pain, to put the mage’s cat between her and himself. He forced her to move, to wait for a clear shot. He still had to worry about the saber.
→→Onny flung his staff from off of his back wildly, trying to keep the creature at bay. He kept flailing, several times clashing the hardwood against claw. The cat snapped for the stick with its teeth, caught the end, and then … fell down.
→→Withholding a readied strike, Onnalaya blinked at the cat in dismay. It was unconscious! Had he struck it in the head without realizing? He glanced around. No, there!
→→At the edge of the clearing, Opialaya stood in the shelter of the shrubs, murmuring an incantation towards the animal. He was keeping it asleep! He stopped the droning for just a few seconds, enough to shout to his brother.
→→Onnalaya turned, but not in time to fully avoid the fireball heading for him. He tried to dodge, and the burst of flame ended up striking him mainly in the shoulder, blasting him sideways. He rolled from his knees back onto his feet, somehow finding the strength to remain standing.
→→The blueskin’s arms were moving towards the ground. Another ice slick was coming, Onny thought. If only he had gained the command over water as Kor’dan had! The spirit of fire wouldn’t affect the magical ice quickly enough. Without another thought, Onnalaya raced forward.
→→A sudden torrent of wind carried him forward, and he vaulted into the air. The mage’s ice blanketed the ground beneath him. He rolled as he landed onto it, sliding over the slick surface towards her. The furious wind intensified, pushing him to the blueskin before either of them had another attack ready.
→→She began another spell, but Onnalaya’s staff struck first. It hit her side, interrupting her as she yelped. He struck again, and she was battered in the other direction. He struck again, and again. She fell to the ground.
→→Onnalaya pressed a hoof to her stomach, and shoved his staff into a loose part of her robes, fixing her to the ground there, too. She scrambled, forming her practiced gestures with her hands, but with the tauren’s hoof driving all the air out of her lungs, she couldn’t form any words of power.
→→Slowly, Onnalaya lifted up his other hoof and held it over her head.
→→"Onny, no!" Opi shouted from the other side of the clearing. "You don’t need to do that!"
→→He didn’t? That’s right. He wanted to stop Kor’dan earlier and get them to come to an understanding. He had fought alongside this woman in the canyon. She had given him a blank, neutral look there, as though she was waiting for something. Now she was still. She gazed past his hoof, up at him, with the same exact look.
→→Onnalaya stared back at the blueskin. Her eyes were intensely calm. Though pinned to the ground, though her lungs were being crushed, she still commanded that presence, that ancient and alien demeanor that Kor’dan used to manifest. Onnalaya realized that she knew. She knew why Onny was about to kill her. She knew what she was risking when she sabotaged the Warsong camp. More than that, she respected him. They had an understanding.
→→Mercifully swift, Onny brought his hoof down. There was surprisingly little resistance.
→→He could sense Opialaya staring in shock from the other side of the clearing.
→→He closed his eyes.
→→I think I understand now, Master. You weren’t fighting her because she was a blueskin. You were fighting for the freedom of your people.
Back to the HordeEdit
→→The body of Kor'dan was laid below a sapling that grew just on the far edge of the lumber camp. Onnalaya knelt beside him, eyes closed in meditation. Spirits of the earth, take him back! My teacher and my friend that will never be...
→→Ever so gently, the ground swallowed up the broken orc and rivulets of water seeped at his wounds to close them, out of respect. Even the spirit of fire was gentle, slightly warming the area against the cold night. All of the elements were silent about the great Bloodmender's passing ... all except one. Around Onnalaya rushed a torrent of air, joining in his heart's motion of rising and whirling in a chaotic lament. The head of the young shaman rose to the skies, as though tracking the departed spirit on its course; and the wind flew away through the tall trees of the vale, a howling harbinger of this kindred soul.
→→Opialaya had kept a respectful distance as his brother performed these rites, but decided to approach him before long.
→→"I realize Elder Kor'dan did not deserve to die," frowned Opialaya, his voice quiet and emotionless. "But did the blueskin? Honestly, do you feel better now that he's been avenged?"
→→"Do I feel—" Onnalaya growled and rose to face his twin. "This isn't about my feelings! And it isn't about vengeance! Kor'dan was protecting his people, and I wanted him to succeed. So I made sure his death was not meaningless. I did what I had to do."
→→"Had to? Onny, what harm would have come from just letting her go?"
→→"Haven't you understood what he tried to teach us?" bellowed Onnalaya, a sudden gust throwing dust and leaves between the two. "What good is a home, what good is this freedom if you aren't willing to protect it? Big picture be damned! If the Alliance wants to act against my friends and family, what else can I do but fight back?"
→→Opialaya scoffed. "So I suppose now you'll pick a fight against every member of every race just because they're allied to the humans?"
→→"How should I know otherwise, Opi? How many blueskins have we met? How should I know they will not always attack our lands? You cannot fault me for protecting my home. It is natural and it is understandable, even if you don't agree."
→→Opialaya was momentarily speechless to hear his own words used against him. He shook his head, brows furrowed in frustration. "But ... Onny ... our lands? Home? We don't have—"
→→"The Horde is my home," Onnalaya grunted, stomping past his brother, "because they are free. You can seek our old tribe all your life. The past will not grant you freedom."
→→Opialaya stood silent, watching as his brother disappeared into the dark forest lane that led to the post.
→→The next morning, Onnalaya stood at a basin of water, staring at his own miserable reflection. Even with a clear pool before him, he could barely summon the will to approach the slippery spirit. What was he going to tell the elders back in Thunder Bluff? It's not that the death of Kor'dan was his fault, but ... somehow, languishing in his mastery over water felt disrespectful to the orc.
→→There was a crash from around the corner, near the lodge.
→→The large iron X of Kor’dan’s square shield came tumbling into view, and fell to the ground, kicking up a large cloud of dust. Opialaya stumbled after it, coughing. He heaved it into his arms, then froze sheepishly when he saw Onny.
→→"I’ve … almost got everything packed," he winced.
→→Onnalaya took a step away from the basin, tilting his head. "Packed? We’re leaving?"
→→"Well, since … there isn’t anyone here to teach you …" Opialaya shrugged meekly. He was trying not to hit any nerves. Holding Kor’dan’s shield awkwardly like that, he sure wasn’t succeeding.
→→"What are you doing with that?" Onnalaya’s voice grew stern.
→→Opialaya gulped and glanced down at the hulking iron piece. "They, ah … they’re letting you keep it."
→→Onnalaya slowly approached the shield with reverence. "The Warsong want me to have Kor’dan’s shield?"
→→"I wanted you to have it," Opi shrugged. "I asked for you. I just … I’m still not sure I agree with all the things you said last night. With all the things Kor’dan said. But some of it I understand."
→→He handed Onnalaya the shield, who took it with a lowered head.
→→"Whenever you’re ready, I’ll finish packing, and we can start back," sighed Opi.
→→"Back?" Onny murmured inanely.
→→"To Thunder Bluff? That is, if you want to. If you don’t want to see the elders again, I completely understand."
→→Onnalaya was smiling. "No. No, we have to go back. It’s become our home, after all."
→→Opialaya nodded hesitantly, but Onny knew his brother was just embarrassed to admit he too was ready to call the Horde their home. When he saw his twin grinning, Opialaya shrugged and adopted a matter-of-fact air, sputtering defensively.
→→"Obviously it’s practical to have a permanent base of operations, and with all of the Banepaw contacts we’ve made, they could be useful for advice and information. Not to mention the market for my papers is much larger there. With a little more of an inventory, we could start to afford some nice things. Like a new axe to go with that shield? Or I could save up for an entire set of quill-pens."
→→Onnalaya chuckled as he moved to help his brother finish packing. He raised a finger.
→→"And about that kodo…"