((Author's note: I was inspired to write this after a most epic AV, where I earned all the achievements mentioned near the end of the story. In the original game I broke through, and took a graveyard close enough to their base to get everyone there and kill him with no help. I didn't want to toot my own horn too badly, so I added a few extra characters for taste.))
Leppender sat outside the caverns leading into Alterac Valley. She could see the conscripted troops lining up just off to her right, being briefed by a Frostwolf Officer. "Some of you will die. Some of you will see your friends, brothers, and sisters fall to the ground and look up at you with lifeless eyes. Some of you might even leave the Valley with experiences that will haunt your dreams for the rest of your miserable lives, but there is one thing that's certain. All of you will fight for the chance to be honoured among us, to raise in rank and prestige, and some of you will succeed."
Leppender snorted at this remark and turned to look at her own frost wolf lying next to her. Winterpaw turned her gaze to look at her companion and let out a soft whine, pressing her head against Leppender's leg. She smiled and began stroking the wolf's white fur. "It seems like that speach never changes, no matter how false it is." She lifted her head to look out over the fields and hills that lead into Hillsbrad. "At least the part about rank."
The green hills in front of her seemed to melt away, replaced by cold snowy mounds covered in blood. The voice of the Frostwolf and his troops faded, replaced almost instantly by the sound metal clashing against metal, the shouts of men and women as they fought desperately for their lives. Leppender shivered as she began to relive one of the most brutal battles she had ever encountered in the Valley.
"Fight on my brothers! For the Ho-" The battle cry was cut off instantly as the Blood Elf Mage standing next to Leppender fell over, a bolt from a crossbow protruding from his left eye. She spared him a glance but nothing more. The battle was too fierce for anyone to spare a thought for their comrades as their blood turned the snow at their feet into a slushy quagmire. The Alliance had pushed them back to the Frostwolf encampment, and every soldier who was not being held captive at the various outposts in the valley was fighting with all their strength. Fighting and losing.
Morale was already low, and the cry of the elf lowered it even further. Those who would raise their voices to hearten the Horde soldiers were instantly targeted and swiftly killed. A Troll Priest standing on Leppender's other side suddenly fell to his knees and tugged a skin of water off his belt pouch, drinking deeply. He held it out to the young Warlock who grunted gratefully and sank down, chugging the water as fast as she could. "Der been too many losses mon. Too many deat's fer da Horde ta come back an' win dis ting. Me been tinkin maybe it be time fer me ta pull back, save my strength fer a battle we can win."
Leppender scowled. She was about to chide the Troll when an Orc Shaman standing on his other side spoke. "Dabu, this is a fight we cannot win. Maybe some of us should try to get to the commander and request a retreat."
Leppender snarled and picked up a rock, throwing it at the Shaman. It hit him on the cheek but she didn't possess the physical strength to really hurt him, so the blow simply drew his attention. "You filthy coward! I would expect such talk from an elf maybe, but I never thought I'd hear that from an Orc!"
The Shaman barked a laugh and gestured toward the dead elf next to Leppender. "Keep talking like that and you'll be lying next to your friend!"
Leppender stood up and thrust the skin back at the Troll as she flexed her hand, fel energy almost visible at her fingertips. "Is that a threat?"
The Shaman considered her for a moment then shook his head. "An observation. Either we retreat or we die, there's no other options. We can't get past the gates to launch a pincer attack, and they have us penned in like swine for slaughter."
"Maybe..." She said with a sigh, beginning to accept the Shaman's explanation. She looked around the area, taking in the dour sight of so many bodies piled high on the ground, stiffening where they fell. Her eyes shifted to a rock at the far left side of the encampment. "Or maybe not..."
The other two followed her gaze and the Troll shook his head violently. "Ja heard what he said, we cana get enough ta strike from behind, not witowt dem noticin a shift in da lines."
"Than we won't take many, nor will we attack from behind. A five squad should be able to pull it off." She said in a quiet tone. Leppender turned and called out in a slightly raspy voice that was both quiet and loud at the same time, speaking in the cursed demonic tongue known mostly to Warlocks alone. "Thantast, vern jeth gin vendu i kalaman gin i kamil." Up at the front lines her demon's ethereal head turned to look at her. He tugged at the arms of a Tauren warrior and a Foresaken rogue, then gestured for them to follow. The two finished off the Alliance they had been fighting and followed Thantast to where Leppender stood with the Troll and the Orc.
"A five squad? What exactly do you have in mind Warlock?" The Orc asked with a hint of interest.
"A rescue mission for our brethren being held by the Alliance at the outposts north of here. If we can free enough of the Frostwolf defenders we can lead a charge on their outpost while their main attack force is distracted down here." She said as the Warrior and Rogue approached.
"That's suicide, even if we get out of here without the Alliance noticing we won't make it past tower point before their arsonists wipe us out."
The Foresaken cackled. "Unless I stab them all in the back while they're busy trying to skin your hide cow."
The Tauren blew a stream of air through his nostrils angrily and advanced toward the Undead, but Leppender stepped between them. "He's got the right of it. Not the insult, but the plan of attack. Listen we can do this! If we don't than we'll either be killed or we'll leave this valley as failures with the weight of our comrades deaths resting on our shoulders forever because we knew we could have done something to try and win!"
The others bowed their heads as her words sank in. They all knew the burden of comrades lost in a battle they could not win, of friends who died because they had somehow failed them, and none of them wanted to experience it again. Finally the Troll stepped forward. "Da Light is wit us all fer dis battle. I know cause it wit me, an' I'm wit da Warlock."
"The Spirits will aid the Light as well, and our comrades trapped by the Alliance." The Shaman said as he stepped forward, clapping Leppender on the shoulder to show his support. One by one the others agreed, and without another word they ran for their mounts tied to a post near one of the huts, mounted up, and rode up onto the rock, jumping the fence that marked the Frostwolf Keep.
They looked almost as one at the Alliance assault force trying to break through the gates. There were at least ten score battling the Horde. None of them seemed to notice the five soldiers as they hugged the wall of a mountain, riding past them toward Tower Point. Leppender's grip on the reigns of her Dreadsteed tightened as the tower came into view. A small column of smoke could be seen at the base of the tower. They were preparing to ignite it. She looked at the Rogue and nodded at him. He grinned widely with his yellow rotting teeth, then jumped off his skeletal horse. The steed, obviously well trained to its master's technique, stopped where it was and flattened itself against the snow, dislocating its joints until it was almost perfectly flat. As she watched the horse with a hint of fascination the Foresaken slipped into the shadows and made his way toward the tower.
Leppender looked at the others and rose her staff high in the air. She brought it down in a sweeping gesture and let out a fierce battle cry. The others followed suit, voicing their fury and blood lust for the dwarfs that stood near a pile of burning wood at the base of the tower. She, the Troll, and her fellow Orc stopped just within range to pummel the arsonists with all the powers of the Light, the elements, and the Nether, while the Tauren continued his charge, trampling three dwarfs on his massive Kodo before jumping off and landing on a fourth.
The Dwarfs bunched up and tried to surround the warrior who swiped at them with a broadsword almost as long as he was tall, but a few began falling over dead, knives sticking out of their backs and necks. The attack was over quickly, and as the Shaman pleaded with the spirit of fire to die down and return to favour them in destroying the Alliance towers, the others turned to smile at Leppender. "Dat was amazin it was! Joo see how fast dey went down?" The Troll laughed.
The Tauren nodded and wiped his sword on the jerkin of one of the Dwarfs. "They wouldn't have gone down at all if you hadn't mended my flesh with as much skill as you did."
The Foresaken appeared behind Leppender and tackled her with a laugh. "Your curses caused them so much agony that I almost felt bad for putting them out of their misery! Well done Warlock."
Leppender laughed and reached behind her to put the Rogue in a headlock. "Well I couldn't have cast so many without feeling weary were it not for our Shaman friend revitalizing me." She looked to where the Orc stood completing his prayers and he met her eye, grunting softly and nodding with a small smile. "We'll have enough time to celebrate later, after we've won this battle. Lets move on."
The others nodded, more eager now that they'd tasted victory. They moved on to Iceblood Tower and dispatched the arsonists there with the same swift ease as before, but after the flames were doused they looked across the way and tightened their grip on their weapons. Atop one of the rock outcroppings was a small squad of Dwarfs guarding several Orcs who were tied to an Alliance banner. Leppender knew what fate lay in store for those prisoners unless they were freed. The Shaman rode up next to her and growled. "We will free the prisoners and take none for ourselves." He said in a voice filled with controlled anger.
Leppender nodded and dug her heels into the side of her flaming steed. "For the Horde, attack!" She cried. They began their charge as they had before, the rogue sliding off his mount that buried itself in the snow before slipping into the shadows, and the Tauren running right up to the dwarfs. These ones were more well trained than the arsonists that had lain siege to the towers however, and both the Priest and the Shaman had to focus all their attention on mending his wounds. Leppender uttered her curses as fast as she could between giving commands to her demon who fought alongside the Warrior. Her focus shifted for a moment to the captive Orcs. Something had drawn their attention, and she wasn't the only one fighting that noticed it.
One of the Dwarfs shouted a command and several turned from the Tauren toward the prisoners, but instead of heading right for them they went behind the post. A moment later a painful cry rent the air as they began hacking at the Foresaken who had made his way around the fighters to try and untie the prisoners. "NOOOO!" The Tauren cried as the Dwarfs began tossing the Rogue's rotting limbs across the snow, literally ripping him apart. The others echoed his cry and began fighting the Alliance with renewed vigour and fury. The Orcs who had been tied to the post jumped up with a cry of their own, and assisted in the slaughter. Soon the snow was almost melting with the blood of their foes, steam rising from the corpses of the fallen Dwarfs. The Tauren looked up as the last fell and let out a cry. "Jothin? Jothin answer me!"
Leppender and the others ran to where the Rogue had been attacked, but just a few ribs and a piece of his spine could be seen lying in the snow. She let out a shaking sob at the sight but then her ears twitched as a faint voice spoke shakily. "Vaum..." The Warrior spun around and ran toward the side of the mountain, stooping down. When he rose he was holding the Rogue's head in his hands. "Vaum... h..how... many b..battles... h..have we... fought... together?"
Vaum held the head gently as tears fell down his face. "Not enough Jothin, not nearly enough. There will be many more for us once the surgeons put you back together."
Everyone moved a bit closer, forming a circle around the two. Leppender felt something snap under her foot and lifted it. A piece of what might have been Jothin's arm lay broken in the snow. The sight lent credence to his next words. "Not this time... my friend... do me... one.. last... favour." Jothin pleaded with Vaum. "Finish it... d..don't... let me suffer... forever. N..not... like this." Vaum let out a small sob and nodded. He set down the head on the snow and lifted an enormous hoof over it. His leg shook as he stared down at Jothin. "D..do it! M..my friend... i..it... has been... fun..."
Vaum closed his eyes and brought down his hoof quickly. A sickening crack echoed through the area as the rotting remains of Jothin's brain decorated the snow and clung to Vaum's hoof. He let out a loud sob and fell to his knees, jabbing his broadsword into the snow in front of him, and pressing his forehead against it.
Leppender began to sob softly and found herself clinging to the Troll Priest, his own tears falling on top of her head. It was one thing to fall in battle, but to give a merciful blow to a friend and comrade was the sharpest pain any of them could ever endure in these frozen lands. The freed Frostwolves lifted their heads and let out a death cry, which both Leppender and the Shaman echoed. As their voices fell the Shaman walked over to Vaum and put a hand on his shoulder. "His spirit will be at peace my friend, but unless we want his death to be for nothing we must press on."
Vaum stood up and looked down at what was once Jothin's head. "You're right, for all that have fallen this day we must ensure that no other Horde suffer his fate." Silently the sullen group climbed onto their mounts, and trailed by the Orcs that Jothin had given his life to free they made their way toward the Field of Strife.
They rode in silence for a long time as they travelled in the open space, making their way toward the first of the Alliance bunkers. As they tried to fight down their grief they scanned the area around them, knowing that out here they were completely vulnerable to attack despite the added number of soldiers walking behind them. Finally the Priest broke their morose silence. "By da way, me name am Zul'Julu. What are yours?"
The Shaman spat onto the icy ground and snarled at Zul'Julu. "Why should I tell you? Just because we're fighting together doesn't mean we're friends Troll."
Leppender tilted her head to the side as she examined the Shaman with a hint of surprise. His reaction was uncalled for, so she assumed it was because of his grief. "Not sayin we ain't gonna get this done, but I jus don' wanna be forgotten. Too many fall witout bein remembered ja know?"
Vaum exhaled sharply, a look of pain on his face, but he remained silent otherwise. The Shaman growled softly, his fists tightening on the reins of his tawny wolf. Leppender looked between them all then rode up next to Zul'Julu. "You are right my friend. I am called Leppender Steelspine, and when I die I don't want to be forgotten either."
Zul'julu smiled at her gratefully, and reached a hand toward her. She grasped it firmly returning his smile. "Ja, well I can promise joo one ting, Zul'Julu not gonna forget joo. When I get home I'ma tell me son bout joo, an' ev'ryone else here so's he can remember when I die."
"And I shall tell my son when I see him next. I will tell him of the mighty Zul'Julu who wielded the powers of the Light to protect the great Warrior Vaum, and the noble Foresaken Jothin." Vaum turned to look at them and a small smile played across his lips.
Leppender turned to face the Shaman who rolled his eyes at her and muttered. "Your all a bunch of soft skinned fools."
The other three laughed at that. "Ja mon us am, but joo know it betta dan..." Zul'Julu suddenly gagged and began coughing. Blood spewed from his lips and Leppender tensed as a familiar sensation crept over the area.
She turned her mount sharply and her eyes rested on the form of a human, his hood tossed back and his lips moving silently as he uttered another curse. Zul'julu let out a cry as both him and his raptor fell over, writhing in agony. "Warlock!" She cried as she leaped off her demonic horse, and called forth her fel hound. As she channelled her energy into summoning the magic eating beast the human waved his hand at the hound already at his side. It charged right past her and leaped onto Zul'julu, attaching its tentacles to the Priest's face. Vaum and the Shaman both jumped off their mounts and while Vaum charged the Warlock the other Orc ran straight toward Zul'julu and the demon.
After what felt like too long Haajhom appeared next to her. She made a quick gesture and her demon ran toward the other one, snapping at its tendrils and attacking it violently. She noted the Orc grabbing Zul'julu under the arm pits and dragging him away but her attention shifted to the Warlock ahead of her. As Vaum swiped at him with his sword the Human let out what sounded like a howl, but Leppender instantly recognized the pitch. It was really a spell that caused foes near the Warlock to flee in terror. He looked at Leppender next and their eyes met. She grinned evilly as they shared a moment of silent communication. "Very well. Do your worst!" She said before she started uttering a string of curses aimed at the Human.
The two Warlocks began circling around each other quickly, flinging fel energy at one another in a deadly rivalry to see which would prevail. Leppender winced as his curses caused her stomach to boil, and her flesh to burn, but she was accustomed to such pain and had been since she was a child. As far as tolerance went she had the upper hand. Zul'julu let out another cry of pain behind her and she snarled. We will survive this! We MUST survive this together! She thought fiercely. She thrust her hands forward and began chanting. A beam of fel energy connected her with the Warlock ahead of her. She saw his eyes widen in fear as his cheeks began to pale and he fell to one knee, she however felt renewed, the pain from his curses easing as she stole his life force for herself. Without stopping she revised the words of the chant and the stream went from a sickly green to a shocking violet colour.
The Warlock fell over completely and rolled onto his side, writhing in agony. He locked eyes with her once more and smiled. As he did she felt the familiar weight of a soul shard forming in her hand. She clenched her hand around it and nodded at the Human who let out a small sigh as the light left his eyes. They were enemies, destined to kill one another, yet they were still equals in one thing. They were Warlocks. Leppender knew that the fragment of his soul which she had ripped from him would be used to help those she fought for, just as he would have done with her soul fragment.
Vaum walked over to her, trembling slightly from shock. "Are you alright?" She nodded and stowed the shard in a pouch. Vaum snorted. "I can't believe I ran like that leaving you and the others unprotected!"
She shook her head. "It's alright, we're all..." Her face paled and she turned around. "Zul'julu!" She yelled. The two ran toward the hulking form of the Shaman who was on one knee, holding the Troll in his arms. As they reached the pair Leppender had to stop herself from being sick. There was a dark welt on each cheek where the demon had latched on, and his flesh resembled old leather that had been soaked and left to dry without stretching it.
The Shaman looked up at the two as they approached. He spoke in a helpless voice. "The spirits are refusing me. Why are they refusing me for this?"
"Cause... it me time... me guess..." Zul'julu said in a weak voice, blood dribbling out of his mouth as he spoke.
The Shaman hushed him. "I don't want to hear it. If you die right here I don't want to remember those as your last words." He leaned a bit closer to the Priest and said in a gentler tone. "Drum'var Stonebreaker. You asked my name, and that is it."
Zul'julu smiled and closed his eyes. "Drum'var... joo won't be forgotten." He lifted his hand to grip Drum'var's arm, and a moment later it fell to the ground as he let out a gurgling sigh.
Drum'var gently set Zul'julu on the ice and stood up, his face solemn. "Those were fine last words Zul'julu. You won't be forgotten either." For the second time he and Leppender threw back their heads and howled with sorrow, their voices joined not only by the Frostwolves but Vaum as well. After they finished their lament the three moved toward their steeds and climbed on them. Zul'julu's body would be collected and returned home for proper rites once they had completed their mission.
Once again they fell into silence as they rode toward Stonehearth Bunker. The smell of smoke reached them before they got near enough to see it. Leppender tugged at her demon's reins as she examined it. "It would seem an attack force made it this far north and already took out this bunker." She said.
One of the Frostwolves travelling with them stepped forward. "Zug-zug, our forces drove out the Dwarfs early in the battle but we got pushed back and separated. That's when we were captured. I don't know if the rest of our squad made it any further."
"Well there's only one way to find out. Keep moving, we'll try to find the rest of the squadron while we make our way to the next bunker!" Drum'var yelled.
Leppender turned to follow the Shaman but stopped when she noticed Vaum hanging back. She rode toward him and gently touched his arm. "Are you alright Vaum?"
He jerked his arm away from her and glared. "Don't you feel anything? Any of you Orcs? Don't you even care that two more have joined their ancestors on this day because of this mission?"
"Of course we care, we grieve just as much as you do." He let out a disbelieving snort but she pressed on before he could interrupt. "Maybe we didn't know Jothin as well as you did, but we still mourn him just as we do Zul'julu. Despite that there is no time to allow our feelings to overcome us, not while more lives still end down at the Frostwolf encampment. We must continue to fight or all they sacrificed is for nought!"
"I'll fight, you just stand back safely and mutter your little curses while those who honour life and the Earthmother shed their blood for your safety!" Vaum raged at her. He kicked his kodo a bit harder than necessary and moved to the front of the group.
Leppender moved to follow him but a hand on her shoulder stopped her. She turned to face Drum'var. "Let the Tauren think what he wants about you and the rest of us for the moment. We all say things we later regret when we are mourning the fallen."
Leppender nodded slowly and continued riding silently. As they neared Icewing bunker they spotted a group of Dwarfs in a caravan, directing their rams which hauled two carts full of Orcs, and another cart with a roof and door. Canine howls and whimpers could be heard from the third cart, leading her to believe that the wolves the Orcs had ridden were also being transported. She snarled as she saw one of the prisoners try to rise, just to be hit on the side of the head by a Dwarf with a hammer. As they neared the bunker they heard shouts from its occupants and a series of arrows flew toward them. "Heads up!" Leppender yelled.
Those with shields lifted them over their heads. Her and Drum'var pressed themselves against their mounts and shielded their heads. She let out a soft hiss of pain as one of the arrows pierced her lower back, just to the right of her spine. She heard a similar sound from Drum'var but quickly forgot it as a bellow rang through the air. Looking up she saw that Vaum had charged toward the bunker, running right past the prisoner waggons. The arrows glanced off his heavy armour like drops of water. As he ran right into the bunker she lost sight of him.
She looked at Drum'var who had an arrow sticking out of his shoulder, and he grunted. "The waggons first! Free our brothers then push them back to the bunker!" Leppender began picking out the Dwarfs, firing curses at them as quickly as she could without them backfiring. The Dwarfs tried to defend themselves, but a couple of Frostwolves managed to get into the carts and cut the bonds holding back their brethren. With the rest of the squad freed they quickly overpowered the ones guarding the caravan.
Leppender looked toward the bunker as the last foe was slain. No sounds rose from within, yet no arrows flew to assault the party. Leppender felt a chill run down her spine and kicked her steed in the side, charging toward the entrance of the bunker. "Steelspine wait!" Drum'var called, but she ignored him. As she jumped off her horse and ran inside she was met with an unbelievable scene.
Dwarf corpses littered the ground, their blood turning the stone floors crimson, making footing treacherous as she climbed the stairs to the upper level. There more bodies lay silent and still on the floor, and right near the Alliance standard lay Vaum, his own sword deeply imbedded in his neck. She swallowed the bile in her throat. It was very possible that he had lost his weapon to one of the Dwarfs who then turned it against him as their final act, but it was just as likely that he'd turned it upon himself after finishing off his foes. Drum'var moved up next to Leppender and bowed his head. "Stonebreaker... is there any way you can commune with his spirit? To find out how he..."
Before she could finish her sentence a horn signal sounded from the south. They both stiffened as they interpreted the signal. "A request for retreat from the front lines. Our forces at the keep must be faltering heavily for such a request to be made. If we are to ensure our friends didn't die needlessly we have to hurry." He turned to Leppender, a soft look in his eye. "When this is over I will seek his spirit and ask him myself."
She nodded and turned to the Frostwolves that followed. There was a full score now, more than enough to make a final move against the Alliance commander. "Two of you stay and raise this bunker to ashes. The rest of us will press on to finish this once and for all." She ordered. The Frostwolves saluted and two broke away to gather kindling.
The rest of them made their way back outside. One of the Frostwolves had managed to unlock the third cart and free the wolves inside. Once they were reunited with their companions everybody mounted up and ran as fast as they could for Dun Baldar. As the keep came into view Drum'var began yelling orders. "You five clear out the northernmost bunker! You five the south! The rest of you follow us and help clear out the rest of these filth guarding the keep!" The Frostwolves roared in mingled fury and blood lust as they charged ahead. The battle that followed was little more than a slaughter. Soon the front of the keep was lined with the corpses of its defenders, and those within the bunkers were thrown unceremoniously to the snowy ground below.
As the last of the Alliance outside the keep fell there was a general lull in activity as they waited for the rest to finish up with the bunkers. Leppender jumped down from her horse and suddenly let out a painful cry as she fell to the ground, her hand reaching behind her and grasping the arrow which had pierced her back earlier. She had been too absorbed with the fighting and too full of fear for Vaum to notice the pain earlier, but the swift action had jarred the arrow.
Drum'var moved over to her and shook his head. "You should have let me deal with that right away." He said in a patronizing tone, gesturing to his own shoulder where a fresh scar could be seen from his own healed wound.
She gritted her teeth against the pain as she looked up at him. "Well I wasn't named Steelspine for nothing now was I?"
Drum'var barked a laugh and knelt down, gripping the shaft and snapping it off. "I guess not. Hold still this won't take long." He held his hand over the wound and Leppender growled as she felt the arrow head being pushed out of her back. A few moments later her flesh began to knit together and she rose, the spot still tender but healed. "It would seem the spirits feel you still have work to do, or they would have denied me again."
She gave him a compassionate look and put her hand on his shoulder. "We both do if that is any evidence. We will raise a drink to Jothin, Zul'Julu, and Vaum once we finish this battle."
He smiled. "And we will sing songs of their courage so loudly we will make the plates in the Filthy Animal shake on the benches."
"That sounds like a good plan to me." She looked over Drum'var's shoulder as the ten Frostwolves who were securing the bunkers rode up. "Come on Stonebreaker, it's time to end this battle." She raised her staff in the air as they both turned to face their comrades. "For the Horde!" She cried. They echoed her cry as they charged into the keep.
When they got inside they spotted the Dwarf commander right away. He looked at them with a definite note of surprise, but he recovered quickly and threw a small axe at one of the Orcs, hitting him square between the eyes and killing him instantly. The rest let out roars of fury and charged into battle. Leppender screamed her curses at the Dwarf, desperate to kill him before her own commanders blew the horn signal to approve the request for retreat down south.
The Dwarf commander fought valiantly, pushing aside most of the attacks that the frenzied Horde rained down upon him. As one of Leppender's curses hit him full in the chest he gagged and turned around, fixing his eyes on her. With a hell he charged right at her, his axe raised. Suddenly her view was blocked by another Orc who had jumped in front of her, an Orc with a hole in his shoulderpad where it had been pierced by an arrow. "Drum'var!" She screamed. He let out a painful grunt then grabbed the Dwarf by the neck, flinging him across the room where he hit the wall and was quickly dispatched by the other Orcs.
The Shaman swayed on his feet before falling backward into Leppender. She grabbed him and lowered him to the ground, looking at the axe protruding from his chest with horror. "B...blow... the signal. Hurry!" He said in a strained whisper. Leppender nodded and removed a horn from her belt pouch. She lifted it to her lips and sounded two raising notes in quick succession, the signal that the Alliance commander had been subdued. "S..Steel...spine... y...you are... a hero... of the...the... Frostwolves..." He gasped.
She knelt down next to him and gripped his hand. "I am no hero Stonebreaker, it was you who saved me, you who gave the most sound orders which led to our victory here today."
"I...wouldn't have had... the chance... were it not... for... you..." He began gasping as he struggled to raise his other hand and grip her shoulder. "Tis...for...honour...I...die. For..." He shuddered as he stared up at her, the hand he had raised falling down her arm. She waited for him to finish his sentence but it wasn't until someone gripped her arms and lifted her to her feet that she realized he would never speak to her again.
"Ma'am a recovery team is on its way, they will be here shortly to escort you to the commander for debriefing." One of the soldiers who had fought next to her said.
She nodded and took a deep breath. "Go outside and find two strong beams. We will attack them to his cloak and carry him back on a litter. He died a hero of the Frostwolves, and will be greeted as one."
"As will you I'm sure." He said. She turned to look at him but he had already saluted her and walked outside to do as she asked.
She looked back down at Drum'var and knelt once more to close his eyes. "I will sing your song Stonebreaker, and I will remember. I will remember them all."
Leppender was met with cheers as she rode back through the gates of Frostwolf Keep. She looked at her fellow conscripted soldiers. Of those she was sent with only eight remained alive to welcome her back. The Alliance forces were being guarded by the Frost Wolves near the walls of the keep. Of them there was still nearly two score left. Had she not blown her horn to signal the death of their commander they would have most certainly overrun the last defenders within a matter of minutes.
As she walked into the keep her commander grinned at her. "Here comes the hero of the battle! You know some are even taking to calling you an all-star? What you did was very impressive young Steelspine."
She lifted her chin proudly, though her expression was blank. "I did my duty, as did four others who fell alongside me. They are as much heros and all-stars as I am if not more."
The commander nodded and scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Dabu, commendations will be sent to their families, as well as letters describing their deeds. Speaking of which I'd like to know exactly how five soldiers managed to break though, rescue twenty Frostwolves, and kill the Alliance commander."
Leppender told the commander everything, leaving out no detail. As she spoke the faces of those who had fallen at her side that day, even the Elf Mage whose name she never found out, seemed to drift in front of her eyes. They all smiled at her proudly and her chest swelled with emotion. None of you will ever be forgotten. It was not for nothing.
There was a long silence as she finished speaking. The commander examined her critically and at last he grunted. "You and your companions acted with all the courage expected from seasoned veterans of the Horde, and for that you shall be rewarded. I will have the quartermasters track down one of our finest frost wolves to be your companion so that all who see you will know of your deeds today." She smiled proudly, the thought of owning one of those fantastic beasts overcoming her grief for a moment. Then the commander continued. "However I think your skill far surpasses that of a conscripted soldier. I will sign your formal release and send out missives to the other outposts throughout our lands so you can be free to work on commission in work befitting your skill."
Leppender jerked and her mouth fell open in shock. "You're dismissing me? After all I have done today, after all the nights I spent in these trenches defending the Frostwolf Clan?"
He fixed her with a stern look. "What good is a hero if we force her to stay on the same battlefield? No, you are now free to fight wherever you will and increase your stature elsewhere. You can still request duty here as a freelance, but as far as being conscripted you are dismissed Leppender Steelspine. Now go talk to the quartermasters to retrieve your reward."
Leppender was brought back to the present as a cheer rose from the throats of the soldiers to her right. "For the Horde!" They shouted as they marched into the cavern leading into the valley. She sighed heavily as she watched them go. A few turned their heads to look at her, and some paused to salute her once they noticed Winterpaw resting her head on her lap.
She started stroking the wolf's fur again, making her companion sigh with contentment. "Rank and prestige indeed. What rank does a freelancer hold, even one that once helped turn the tide of battle so the Horde emerged victorious?"
A Tauren near the end of the line stopped to look at her. "Are you Leppender Steelspine, hero of the Frostwolves?" She nodded slowly. As she looked at him something began to nag at the back of her mind. "I am Saum, my brother fought beside you, and was killed by a Dwarf who ran him through with his own sword."
She gasped and rose to her feet quickly, which made Winterpaw growl in frustration at suddenly losing her pillow. "By a Dwarf you say? Were you able to get a Shaman to confirm it?"
Saum smiled gently, a smile so much like his brother's that her throat began to tense with emotion. "Yes, I confirmed it myself. It was such a controversial death that I had to confront him about it. He died cleanly."
Leppender let out a shaking breath and shut her eyes tightly. After a moment she opened them and smiled at the Tauren before her. "I thank you for telling me. One of my largest regrets was that I was not at his side when he died, and did not know how the final blow came to be."
"Hey move it! You can flirt with women if you survive the battle!" A Frostwolf Sergeant yelled as he approached Saum. He looked at her calmly and gave her a salute which she returned, then walked into the cavern to prepare for battle. The Sergeant looked her over then looked down at a list in his hand. "You a freelancer? I think we can still find some room for your type in there."
Leppender gave the Orc an even look than climbed onto Winterpaw. She lifted her chin to display her Frostwolf tabard to its fullest before answering. "I am already a hero of the Frostwolves. I don't need to find any more prestige here today. If you'll excuse me I'll go find work with those who need my talents more." Smiling at the stunned look the Orc gave her she dug her heels into Winterpaw's sides, and rode down the hill toward Tarren Mill, knowing that even if she didn't fight in Alterac Valley as often anymore, the shades of her comrades were were well pleased with her. They would be remembered.