[center]Chapter 4: Glory and Death[/center]
Leppender directed her steed toward the wyvern handler high above the Valley of Strength in Orgrimmar. Once more the sounds and smells of the city tried to tempt her, but she kept her mind focused on her task. She had both anticipated and dreaded this part of the quest, and now that it was upon her, it was taking all of her resolve not to simply back out. She was sure she could think of something less dangerous to do if she wanted to earn a last name from the Bloodfury, but she didn't want anyone to think she was too weak to do something truly challenging. She wanted to complete a task that before she came along had only ever been considered by the most powerful Orcs. She knew that if she could survive this part of the journey, and come back with the Keen Machete belonging to the Grell Threggil in Teldrassil, she would earn more than enough honor to be given a last name. If she died on the quest, then she would die in pursuit the of honor, and no death could mean more to an Orc than that.
She took a deep breath as she dismounted in front of Doras, and Thantast appeared at her side. "You're crazy... absolutely, and utterly insane." Her minion muttered.
Doras raised his eyebrow curiously at Thantast, and Leppender was tempted to say something to him, to mention the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, or the way the bile was already rising in her throat at the thought of the journey ahead, but she decided against it. "I'd like to book a flight to the Zoram'gar Outpost in Ashenvale." She said.
Doras nodded silently, used to hearing odd requests from adventurers, and led a Wyvren over to Leppender. She climbed onto it's back and it took off in a flash. As she flew over Orgrimmar and out across the Barrens toward Ashenvale, she struggled to regain control of her emotions. Though she would never admit it, even to herself, it was fear she was feeling. Deep, nauseating fear. She had spent many hours in the library at Shattrath researching the Alliance homelands so she could plan out the safest way to complete her journey, but no matter how hard she looked she could not find any way onto the island of Teldrassil without going through Darnasus.
It was common knowledge that each of the home cities of both the Horde and Alliance were guarded by the most elite fighters each race could find. Leppender was still a pup, barely able to take on the creatures in Ashenvale without getting severely injured. She knew it would take more than a bit of luck to get past the Sentinels at Auberdine, board a ship to Teldrassil, sneak past the guards in Rut'theran to the portal leading to Darnasus, and make it through the Elvish capital alive. Even if she did manage to get past Darnasus and acquire the Keen Machete, unless she made it through all of that unscathed her odds of surviving the escape from the island were slim.
There were only two ways off Telrdassil; back through Darnasus the way she had arrived... and jumping off the side of the cliff. Either way it was practically suicide, and Leppender knew it. She had already decided what method of escape she preferred, and it was that more than anything which caused her stomach to churn. At last the wyvern landed in Zoram'gar, and she jumped off it's back, Thantast appearing once more at her side. "From the look on your face, I'm assuming you've finally figured out that you're going to die doing this." He said with a small smile.
Leppender sighed at him and shook her head. "If I just assume I'm going to die, then yes, I'll wind up dead by this because I'll already have given up." Thantast looked at her inquisitively. "But I have no intention of failing this quest, so until my body stops moving, and my soul is among the ancestors I will not concede to death. I am NOT going to die Thantast, so you will have to learn to accept that."
Leppender began channeling her energy to summon her felsteed, and Thantast muttered softly under his breath, too quiet for Leppender to hear. "You are like him in some ways after all..."
The young Warlock jumped onto the horse's back and looked at the beach ahead of her. She gritted her teeth and heeled her mount into action, taking off in a flash, heading north up the beach toward Darkshore. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears, and in her panic stricken mind she could have sworn that the sound resembled the words "to death, to death, to death." Yes, I am riding toward death. She thought. Suddenly she smiled and began laughing, at first just a low chuckle, then becoming a high almost maniacal laugh. "To death I ride then, but it will be a glorious death!" She cried out. Her fear was gone, replaced with frenzy. Her steed let out a loud nicker, and jumped over a set of boulders. Leppender noted how the sand here was of a slightly different color, a darker tone. Darkshore. She leaned forward, urging the demon to move faster.
After a few minutes riding up the beach Leppender spotted movement near the remains of a sea turtle. Two Elves were battling the murlocks that lined the shore. Carefully she stood up on the back of her felsteed, still running at full tilt. With a loud battle cry she charged at the Elves. With a quick mental command she directed her steed to jump over them, then dismissed it back into the nether as she soared over their heads. With her dagger drawn she landed on the back of the first Elf, driving the weapon deep into his neck. Thantast appeared the next moment and charged at the second elf who had drawn a bow from his back.
The one Leppender had struck was still alive, his life blood pooling on the ground as he franticly reached for the dagger protruding from his neck. Leppender pressed down on it, then covered the man's face with her other hand, and began chanting. The elf let out a cry of terror as purple energy enveloped Leppender's hand. After a few brief seconds a shard formed in her hand, and the man stopped struggling, his once glowing eyes now blank. Leppender smiled then let out a sharp cry of pain, an arrow sticking out of her stomach near the left side of her hip. She turned with a snarl toward the remaining elf, who was notching another arrow, ignoring the demon punching him and trying to block his view. Leppender gave him a cold look, locking eyes with him, and muttered a curse under her breath. The man's expression turned to one of pure horror, and he took off screaming in the other direction. With a wicked grin the young woman began murmuring under her breath, fire sprouting to life in her hands. She threw her hands forward, launching a blast of fire at the elf. His cries turned from just fear to agony mingled with terror. He took a few more faltering steps before collapsing on the sand, charred and dead.
Leppender took several deep breaths, a low growl emanating from deep in her throat with each one. She looked down at the arrow in her side, and jerked it out, not even feeling the pain, and barely noticing the steady flow of blood seeping out of the wound. Her mind was blank, she had entered the trance-like state of bloodlust, and some deeper part of her knew that in order to keep going she had to remain in that state. Swiftly she called forth her steed again, and in one quick leap she was on it's back, galloping north once more.
Through the red haze that had settled over her mind, Leppender became aware of a town appearing on the horizon. She leaned forward on her demon mount, pressing her body against it as much as she could, and whispered fiercely. "Ride straight through. Do not stop until you are either on the ship leading to Teldrassil, or until their weapons force you back into the nether!" The horse snorted, it's eyes blazing with excitement as it rode up the final hill approaching Auberdine. With a mighty leap they landed on a platform with two nesting Hippogryphs. The guards looked at her in shock, but by the time they reacted to her presence she was already inside the inn, and racing at breakneck speed for the docks.
She heard the high pitched, almost musical voices of the sentinels as they called out to one another in anger. Leppender's heart began to pound so hard she thought it would burst through her chest. She was halfway to the ship when two of the guards ran at her from their posts, the first using her moonglaive to slice at the horse's legs, the other running past and slashing at Leppender's side. Her concentration wavered from the pain of the blow, and her mount disappeared back into the nether. With agility stemming from a will to survive, Leppender leaped onto her feet, and continued running as fast as she could. She spared a moment to look back as she ran, and saw no less than six guards chasing her. I MUST get to the ship! She thought desperately. Two more guards who were stationed at the farthest dock spotted her and came running. Just as she turned to the dock where the ship was preparing to depart, they ran in front of her. Screaming wildly they slashed at her midsection. Leppender made a gurgling grunt, spewing up blood, but she forced her legs to keep moving. A bell clanged, and to her horror she saw the ship beginning to pull out. She cried out and bunching her muscles she jumped, managing to grab hold of the side of the ship with one hand as it pulled out of the harbor.
She reached up with her other arm to pull herself onto the deck, but it seemed to be caught on something. She tried to tug her arm free, and a deep searing pain shot through her stomach. She looked down and had to fight the urge to vomit. A slimy gray rope of some sort was sticking out of her gut, and had wrapped around her wrist. Her right arm aching from holding her weight for so long, she carefully maneuvered her wrist out of the rope, spewing up even more blood as she cried out in agony. At last her other arm was free, and she pulled herself up onto the deck. The elves looked at her in horror, but made no move to assist her. At some point the Alliance captains had been paid off to ignore Horde who managed to get onto their ships. They would not kill her, but they certainly wouldn't help her either.
She looked down at herself, and a sudden realization settled in. The rope was her own intestines! Fighting the urge to bring up more blood she reached into her soul pouch, pulling out a handful of glowing shards. After inspecting them for a few moments she took one between her thumb and forefinger, replacing the rest in her pouch. She grinned at the shard and muttered. "You fell to my dagger on your own shores... now you can help me recover from the injuries I suffered at the hands of your sisters." She whispered an incantation, and the shard began glowing with a fel green light, it's sharp edges smoothing out until the shard had become a perfect sphere. She popped it into her mouth and swallowed. There was a shlooping sound and Leppender gagged. She looked down and smiled with relief, her intestines having been sucked back into her body, and the wound sealed to a scab. It wasn't perfect, but at least her insides weren't decorating the ground.
At last she sat up and surveyed her surroundings. The boat was sailing swiftly over the ocean, the elves onboard casting her dark looks. She turned to the right and smiled. Hovering in the shadows next to the cabin was Thantast. He sighed at her. "You know, I think I'm beginning to really hate you. Every time I think you're about to die, you survive."
Leppender chuckled softly, but didn't reply. She moved next to Thantast and sat down leaning against the cabin, pulling out a piece of jerky to munch on. After she finished eating she pulled off her tabard and vest, examining her wounds with a frown. "They got me good..." She muttered, running her hand over a deep gash on her side with a wince.
Thantast snorted. "You knew they were strong. The ones in Darnasus are going to be even stronger. How do you plan to get past them?"
The young Orc pulled a flask out of her bag and smiled. "With this. I was told it forces most of the air my body takes in to go to my legs, making them able to move faster. You will ward me as you have done before, then I will ride out on my steed. If I get knocked off it, I will drink this potion and outrun the guards."
"That's your plan? Why not just walk into Rut'theran village with your arms above your head and say 'kill me please'?" He mocked.
Leppender laughed. "You'd like it if I did that wouldn't you?" A bell chimed once more and she stood up. Her legs shook under her with exhaustion and pain, but she ignored them and called forth her demonic steed. The horse snorted and pranced with agitation. She soothed it. "Yes I know, that was unpleasant. One more run past enemies, that's all." The felsteed snorted and tossed it's head in a nod.
She directed the horse to the front of the ship, and before they docked she jumped into the water. They swam to shore, unnoticed by the guards. Bending low, Leppender urged the demon forward. She heard startled cries from the guards as they spotted her, but she kept moving, her eyes set on the glowing red portal ahead of her. Darnasus. She voiced a fierce howl, a battle cry, and directed her felsteed through the portal before any of the guards could reach her. Despite the immediate danger she was in, she couldn't help but marvel at that moment. She had defied all odds, and despite her lack of skill she had successfully entered the Night Elf capital, the center of their civilization.
She looked to her left and saw an elf commoner talking to one of the guards, pointing at her. "I'll celebrate later." She said, and took off as fast as her horse could carry her. Arrows whizzed past her as she rode toward the bridge. I'm going to make it! She thought excitedly as she passed under an arch, and leaped down to the ground. She heard a loud creaking noise and a roar. She looked up just in time to see what appeared to be a tree with a face swiping at her with a gigantic arm. A loud ringing sounded in her ears, and she barely noticed that she was flying through the air until she landed. Her world was suddenly a haze of pain, her mind clouded with a red fog.
Footsteps began ringing on the pavement nearby. She heard a yell quite close and with an extreme effort of will she pushed herself to her feet, not a moment too soon. She felt something slice into her back, the hot white pain from the wound clearing her mind. She began running away, digging in the pack at her side desperately as she did. She noticed a shadowy shape gliding along beside her. "Thantast, now!" She cried. Her already blurred vision wavered more as the shadowy shield formed around her. After what felt like an eternity she pulled the vial out of her bag, used her teeth to remove the stopper, and chugged it. Her legs which had felt like they were weighed down by boulders suddenly felt as light as air. With a burst of tremendous speed she outdistanced the guards and passed under the final arch leading out of Darnasus, into the lands of Teldrassil.
The sounds of the guards faded, and she allowed herself to collapse on the ground. If her legs felt like they were heavy before, it was nothing to what they were feeling after fleeing the guards. Her blood was streaming down to the grass below in rivulets, her head was swimming with dizziness and pain. Gingerly she touched the back of her head, feeling the lump that was already beginning to swell there. She hissed with pain, pulling her hand away. Thantast floated in front of her, moving into her line of sight with an impressed look on his face. "I can't believe you did it. You actually survived the journey through Darnasus."
Leppender smiled weakly. "What, you're not going to complain that I'm still alive? That you're still my servant?"
Thantast shook his head. "I underestimated you. Perhaps you really do have what it takes to become powerful. The day you die I will rejoice, but something tells me that won't be for a long time."
The young Warlock smiled fondly at her demon. "I told you that, but let's hope you're right. We still have to get the Keen Machete and get off this island."
Struggling against her weariness and pain she stood up and called for her felsteed once more. Climbing onto it's back less gracefully than before, she directed the flaming horse into the forest. She rode at a slower pace, fighting the urge to submit to the haze that threatened to become a deep black void. I'm too close to give in now. I can't give up! She thought desperately. If she hadn't been so badly wounded Leppender might have taken the time to appreciate the truly stunning flora and fauna of the island, but her mind was focused on just one thing, completing her mission.
The fog in her mind seemed to clear for a moment as she reached the opening of a cave. A single Grell was standing out front, guarding the entrance. She dismissed her mount and looked at Thantast. "Do not attack. I must do this as I did in the mountains, alone."
Thantast nodded silently and watched as she stepped forward slowly. The Grell looked at her and snarled, charging at her with a tiny sword. He sliced at her legs, slicing them three times before she could even think to draw her dagger. The little creature managed to get in another four blows before she jabbed the dagger into his heart. Thantast scowled. "You know, maybe you should forget rituals for now, and focus on staying alive."
Leppender stumbled to the entrance of the cave, leaning heavily against the wall, and nodded. She spotted another of the creatures nearby, and muttered a chant under her breath, a green stream of energy flowing between the Grell and her hands. Before the little sprite could reach her, she had sucked all the life out of him. She took a deep breath, feeling slightly more energized, and moved deeper into the cave. One by one the bodies piled up, all of them falling to the ground with no trace of visible injuries, but looks of horror and agony on all their little faces showed that they had suffered greatly before they gave up their ghosts. Thantast took up the same chant he had the first time Leppender had entered a cave full of enemies. "Twelve, thirteen, fourteen..." He muttered as the creatures fell to his master's power.
By the time she was deep in the heart of the cave, Leppender's wounds had sealed shut, and her head had stopped spinning. She was still weary and in pain, but it was easier to keep going than it had been before. She stopped suddenly just as Thantast reached twenty-eight. In front of her was a very large Grell carrying a wicked looking machete. "Threggil..." She muttered. The creature turn to look at her, and snarled, baring it's sharp teeth and blood red gums. Leppender snarled in turn and ran at her prey. Threggil, like Edan the Howler, was more intelligent than his allies. He quickly dodged behind Leppender, and made a deep gash across her side and back, crisscrossing with the wound she had suffered in Darnasus, and reopening it. She reached behind her, and grabbed the little sprite's blade, ignoring the pain on her palm as she did, and flipped him over her shoulder with such force that he let go of the machete, and flew into the wall behind him. Once more Leppender charged at the creature, holding the sword high overhead and bringing it down swiftly. In one clean swipe, she cut Threggil in half. He howled in agony and thrashed around on the ground, his innards spilling from the wound where his legs once joined his torso.
She knelt down next to Threggil, looking him dead in the eye. "Your death will serve to bring me one of the greatest honors an Orc can know, to be named by one's clan. If anything can bring you peace in your death, know that it was not for nothing." She said, then she quickly drew the machete across Threggil's neck, ending his life mercifully. She looked down at the sword in her hand and let out a roar, the most difficult of her challenges was complete at last! After spending a few moments reveling in joy, she put away the Keen Machete and picked up both halves of her enemy. She found a grouping of boulders near the wall where she had cut him down that made had a small space between them. Carefully she lay the remains in between the rocks, then picked up another nearby boulder, straining with the weight, but managing to rest it on top of the others. With her enemy laid to rest in a natural tomb, she turned and slowly made her way out of the cave, stumbling slightly with exhaustion.
Thantast watched her carefully as they exited the cave, and she prepared to call for her steed again. "Perhaps you should set up a camp and rest before you try to leave..." He said with a note of concern in his voice.
Leppender gave him a grateful smile but shook her head. "We are still in enemy territory. There is no place I can set up camp to rest without being discovered. Besides..." Leppender paled slightly, swallowing a lump of bile that rose in her throat. "I'll more than likely be resting soon enough."
Thantast scowled at her. "You mentioned once how you planned to escape... You don't actually mean to go through with it do you?"
Leppender didn't respond, she simply called for her mount and climbed onto it's back. Thantast faded into the shadows with a frown. She traveled west at a faster pace than earlier. Where her mind had been too clouded before to take in much detail, now it seemed as though she were able to see everything in sharper relief. Every leaf stood out to her, each one containing a beauty of it's own. She felt tears streaming down her face, but ignored them.
At last she reached the edge of the island, a cliff that was so high Leppender couldn't even see the ocean below. She dismounted and gave her steed a gentle pat. Thantast appeared once more, still frowning. Wordlessly Leppender pulled a soul shard out of her pouch and inspected it. After several moments she spoke to it. "I told you that you were the first to fall on this quest... Now I hope that you will allow me to survive my own fall." She began uttering an incantation, focusing her energy into the shard. This time it glowed purple. Quickly, she popped it into her mouth and swallowed. A warm rush passed through her body, and she shuddered.
Thantast moved up next to her curiously. "What did you do?"
Leppender looked over the edge of the cliff, her expression blank and her voice a monotone. "I have used the soul shard I took from the first Dwarf I killed in the mountains at the start of this journey, making it into something that will store my own soul within my body. If I die my soul will be released back into my body, and whatever injury it was that killed me will be healed enough for me to survive."
"Enough for you to survive? You'll still be injured though..." He said.
Leppender nodded slowly. "I know... but I cannot survive going through Darnasus again. The final part of this quest still remains, so I must make it to Azuremyst. To get there I have to go through Auberdine once more... but I am certain I can survive that part if I run directly from boat to boat at the dock without stopping. If I were to go to Shattrath now, and take the Wyvern like before..." Leppender frowned even deeper. "I felt the bite of their weapons already. I cannot risk going straight through their village again. No my pet, this is the only way I can complete my quest and possibly survive."
Leppender moved her foot closer to the edge of the cliff, her heart racing as though it knew it may soon stop beating forever. She bit her lip and looked over the edge. With a look of grim determination she nodded at Thantast. "I'll see you soon... I hope." She backed up several paces then ran toward the edge of the cliff, jumping as far as she could once she reached the edge. For a moment if felt as though her heart had already stopped. Fear gripped her like never before. She was falling, falling and about to die. Suddenly her vision blurred and shimmered around her. Looking up in shock she saw Thantast hovering at the edge of the cliff. He bowed when he saw her looking up, and Leppender began crying grateful tears. Her demon had shielded her of his own free will, without her having to order him.
Suddenly she felt a sharp pain in her right foot, heard a crack, and before she could figure out what happened she had been flipped upside down. Fear gripped her even tighter. She noticed a fairly thin branch now falling with her and realized what must have happened, she had hit it with one foot, and the force of the impact had turned her upside down. She was now plummeting headfirst toward the ground. Barely able to breath she looked down. The ground was growing ever closer, but the side of the cliff was leveling out. After a few seconds which felt like an eternity to her, Leppender's back began grazing the side of the cliff. As it leveled out even more she realized that she was no longer falling off the cliff, she was sliding!
She uttered a prayer of gratitude to the spirits as she continued to slide, but it seemed her luck had run out. The shield around her disappeared, and she cried out in pain as the rough rocks tore through the back of her clothes, scraping the flesh off her back. Lifting her head a bit so it wouldn't scrape against the ground, she saw a sight that both horrified and humbled her. The bottom of the cliff did indeed level out, but instead of going directly into the ocean, there were a few large boulders scattered along the shore, one directly in Leppender's path. This is it then. Spirits ward me. She thought silently. The rocks seemed to approach quickly, but Leppender forced her eyes to remain open, determined to face her death and see the last moments of her life before it ended. "FOR GLORY!" Leppender cried just as she slid headfirst into the boulder. She felt a tremendous pain like she had never imagined, heard a loud crack, and for a brief moment she saw a flash of red before the darkness took her.