Kethrenorean touched the fallen rocks in a sort of shocked numbness. He could not believe that the one other person who had shared this ordeal, who had obviously suffered so much more than he and somehow survived, was now probably dead. Why was he the one to receive rescue?
Shano stood behind her friend, noting the extreme reaction. It was very odd, seeing Keth so emotional. He was always so detached and scientific, so logical, even when he'd been pursuing her romantically. He'd been.... passionless. Seeing him struck with sorrow so sincere and deep hurt her heart. She opened her mouth to say something, but stopped when her companion stepped forward.
The night elf botanist turned to the deep voice, finding the Tauren Warden standing next to him. He blinked.
“Keth, I cannot safely move the rocks with you there. Please step back. There is still hope to reach my sister.”
Keth nodded, swallowing the pain she'd seen in him. When he still didn't move, Shano put a hand to his shoulder to gently pull him back from the rockfall. His shell shocked state made his face devoid of emotion. He watched the clearing operation begin without expression.
In an effort to distract him from his thoughts, Shano said “Keth, please forgive me, my manners have deserted me. This is Walos Skyscream,” she gestured to the broad back of the Tauren man as he tossed very large boulders aside with seeming ease.
Skyscream flicked an ear toward them and grunted something that was probably a greeting. The sound quietly resembled the thunder for which he was nicknamed. It seemed to bring Keth back to himself.
“Skyscream...” he mumbled. “Nice... nice to meet you?” Skyscream stopped for a moment and turned back to look at Keth. He nodded at Keth in a more respectful greeting before turning back to continue clearing the debris.
Shano gestured at the other two Wardens, who actually looked almost identical, and somewhat familiar to Keth. They were working as a team to move rocks of a size that Skyscream was handling alone.“You might remember Eldinru and Ledinru, the twins?” The two paused in their endeavors for a bow toward Keth like mirror images.
Keth only nodded back to them in a manner that would ordinarily have been considered rude.“I don't know her name...” he said. The twins each heaved another rock off to their side of the tunnel.
Skyscream bent to remove a large rock from the pile. As he jerked it from its place, a small avalanche of rocks rolled loose from the top of the tunnel. The twins had to leap clear and Skyscream dropped his rock as well to step aside quickly from the tumbling stone. A gap appeared at the top of the pile. The acrid smell of extinguished fire filled the air.
Keth jumped forward as if to climb over the pile, but Shano snatched him back by his tangled purple hair. “Wait!” She shouted. “Let them expand it just a little, we'll need to bring her out this way.” She held him to be sure he would wait, then quietly began a spell. As she finished, a breath of wind blew gently past them, directed through the collapse to whatever space was beyond it. Shano worried much about the foulness of the smoke she'd smelled, and what it might mean for the woman they were trying to reach if a fire had been snuffed out. The breeze would bring live-giving air.
Keth waited for Skyscream to roll a few more large rocks down from the top, then he vaulted forward, grabbing Skyscream's lantern. He scaled the rocks rather clumsily, but he was up to the opening and through it in a flash of energy. Skyscream assessed the size of the gap for a moment, then he followed, twisting to scoot through on his back. The twins helped Shano to step up to the opening and they held the second lantern up behind her so she could navigate through the sharp jagged rocks. She gestured for them to stay behind.
The tunnel beyond was littered with debris, making movement difficult and treacherous. Keth and Skyscream were already far ahead, but the light, though dim, was still. Shano climbed around a bend created by another half-collapse of the tunnel structure to find her friends crowded around the far wall. Keth was desperately digging at the base of the wall, while Skyscream held the lantern up and was carefully inspecting the wall.
As she got closer, Shano realized that the wall of the cavern was actually further back. What she was looking at was a solid section of the cavern roof, having fallen like a giant block. She didn't see a Tauren woman anywhere else in the room. A tiny campfire was near where Skyscream stood. The fire had died, leaving two clumps of dried fuel only partially burnt. The only sound in the room was the shallow scrape of stone against stone as Keth dragged rocks away from the bottom of the block.
“Keth...?” Shano called after a moment of watching. He didn't acknowledge her. She saw Skyscream disappear around the other side of the block, the lantern set on the floor. She couldn't sense any other living being in the space with them. She stepped toward her friend sadly. “Keth, I-”
Skyscream materialized suddenly beside her and she stumbled back, nearly falling. He clutched the biggest rock she'd seen him with yet. His lips were pinched tight with effort and the muscles of his arms and neck were locked tight and strained. Skyscream took one more step to where Shano had just been standing, and he waited until Keth had mostly backed out of the hole he'd been making beneath the block. Then he kicked Keth. The skinny Night Elf rolled several times, ending up on the other side of the campfire. There was a loud THUNK as Skyscream dropped the huge rock. Shards of several smaller rocks shot out like shrapnel from beneath the monstrosity as it landed. Then Skyscream bent and shoved the boulder under the edge of the block, into the hole that Keth had made.
Keth's eyes blazed in the lantern light angrily. He didn't even try to stand, but scrambled back to block. Skyscream pointed him to a spot beside the boulder he'd just placed. “If she is safe, you can reach her here. The rock will support the load and keep you from crushing yourself. Scoop what you can back to me and I will clear it. Hurry, there is not much time.” The Tauren shot a look to Shano that silenced whatever she'd been about to say then. He knew what she did not sense.
Keth started shoving rocks aside from what may have originally been a small pile of them. Soon he was ducking down to reach the back of the hole he'd made. Then he was in the hole himself, and the fist-sized rocks came bumping out as he acted just like a mole to dig himself deeper. Soon he had disappeared up to his knees beneath the stone block.
Suddenly he was still. Then Keth's feet kicked a bit, scraped at the floor, scooted him suddenly all the way beneath the block. He'd be at the original wall now, if Shano guessed correctly.
“Pull me out!” Came his muffled cry. Skyscream, already kneeling to sweep out the rocks that Keth had been passing back, reached his large arm into the hole, flattening himself against the floor to reach further. After a moment, he shoved against the block with his body and grunted with effort, dragging Keth's legs out of the hole. Skyscream bent again and found another handhold, and jerked again. Keth came out of the hole on his belly with Skyscream's large hand clamped at his shoulder. Keth's arms were completely straight as he held fast to something. Skyscream reached in one more time and grasped what Keth had hold of. Together, they heaved and drew a dusty body from the hole.
Keth and Skyscream picked themselves up and dragged the limp form of a tiny Tauren woman further out from the stone block. Shano saw an impossibly thin skeletal form, covered in scars, infected wounds, and filth. The hands were red with fresh blood from raw fingertips, the dust around the eyes was dark from tears. The woman had been aware of being buried. Shano saw no sign of breathing.
Shano rushed to the body of the woman and turned her over onto her back. To her shame, Shano hesitated a moment in revulsion at the vile dirt all over her patient. Then she quickly began her prayer to Elune, punctuating every few words with a full-body-weight shove to the woman's chest to keep up the flow of lifeblood within the woman.
“Elune, I beseech you, let Your love, flow through me, to this creature, who needs it most. Let Us breathe, and with Our breath, return her, from the darkness, to Your light.”
Shano bent over the woman's face, but had to stop. How to give the breath of life?
Skyscream reached out quickly and placed his giant hands around the woman's snout so that he held her mouth closed as well as one nostril. Shano only tilted the woman's head further back. She inhaled deep and closed her eyes, and bent, surrounding her face with her hands as if to strengthen the connection of face to face. Shano pinched her nose firmly. She then blew everything within her lungs through the Tauren woman's open nostril. The breath of life flowed from her and into the woman's chest.
Shano broke the bond and sat back, inhaling for herself. She repeated the prayer, being echoed uncertainly by Keth, and then she gestured for Kethrenorean to give the woman his breath. He did.
A third time, Shano repeated the prayer. Kethrenorean said it with her, and Skyscream did his best as well. Shano could hear the twins reciting the prayer from the tunnel, their timing slightly off, but the words strong. Skyscream gave his breath to the woman.
Shano waited just a moment, losing hope. She began the prayer one last time.
Shano finished the first sentence of the prayer, when the woman suddenly spasmed. She sucked in a desperate breath, coughed, and inhaled again. Her eyes flashed open and she jerked in terror, her hands lashing out above her. Her flailing arm caught Shano and pushed her off-balance from her crouch. The Tauren breathed in and out too fast, not in a rhythm, panicked. Skyscream managed to capture the woman's hands, but that seemed to terrorize her even more. Her red eyes were wide and unseeing, her breaths began hitching with sobs and half-coughs that sounded as if they choked her.
Keth took advantage of Skyscream's restraint and lept onto the woman, grabbing her horns, his face right in front of hers. He spoke to her in rapid Darnassian, telling her that she was alright, his name, that he was there and she was safe. Skyscream repeated Keth's words in Taurahe, though the gesture didn't seem to matter. Every time the woman's eyes rolled away, Keth adjusted to keep his face in her line of sight. Her struggles continued, but their initial strength was quickly fading to almost nothing but twitches.
“It's ok, you're ok, it's me Keth, I'm here and you're safe.” Keth chanted. “You're ok. You are -”
Keth said a word that Shano did not recognize, harsh and guttural.
The Tauren woman froze at the word. Keth repeated it.
“You are uhosht, be calm. You'll be alright. Its Keth, remember. You're uhosht.” The woman's eyes stopped rolling, fixed somewhat on Keth's face. Her breathing slowed. “It's Keth, I'll take care of you. You'll be ok. You are uhosht.”
The woman finally achieved a focus on Keth's eyes. Her twitching stopped and after a moment, she breathed calmly. Her gaze listed out of focus, then came back to Keth. She sighed, her entire body falling limp then, her eyes closing.
Keth released his grip on the Tauren woman's horns carefully, letting her head gently loll to the side. He half stepped back from her, half fell. Shano saw that the entire front of him was cut and scraped from being dragged across the stones. Already, bruises were beginning to form, and the larger cuts were still oozing blood.
“We need to get out of here.” she said. She stood and offered her hand to Keth, who stared at it a moment, confused, before he grasped it and wearily let her pull him up.
Skyscream wordlessly got his hooves beneath him, then gathered up his sister in his arms. Skyscream was large even for a Tauren, and the woman seemed pathetically small and delicate, dangling bonelessly from his arms. He held her close, like a beloved child despite the crust of dirt, waste and vomit matted in her hair and fur, and the long swollen and oozing wounds throughout her hide.
Shano could not have done it. The expression on her face betrayed her disgust, but Keth could also see the surprise and shame she felt for having such a reaction. Her glance quickly found the floor and stayed there.
They stumbled back toward the cave-in. Shano carried the lantern and supported Keth, both his hands on her arm as he leaned heavily on her. Skyscream stayed against the wall to prevent his occasional awkward step among the rocks from throwing them both down on the sharp edges and points. It was slow going.
One of the twins had come through the gap, and waited for them. He and Shano helped Keth up and through the treacherous hole, and gave him over to the other twin for the short descent. They all had to help when Skyscream could carry the woman no further. Skyscream again turned backward to scoot through the passage, holding the unconscious woman against his chest with one arm. As carefully as they could, they inched the woman along with him through the gap, trying to keep her form atop Skyscream's body until he could sit up, then stand and gather her back into his arms. Then they all supported his balance as he carefully picked a way down the rockfall back to solid ground.
The trip back out of the main tunnel was much easier. Near the end when Keth saw soft daylight, Shano paused and put her fingers to her mouth to let out a shrill piercing whistle. They continued to the tunnel entrance.
Outside, the sky had turned fiery orange and pink with the sunset, and the air shimmered with heat. They all blinded at the brightness of it. Beside the ruined remains of the cage door, three great Nightsaber cats crouched, having heeded the summons. Muffled echoing sounds of battle came from down the hill.
The twins both mounted their beasts and retrieved their glaives. Shano helped Keth onto her own cat, retrieving her bow from its place. Together, they moved down the hill slowly, Shano and Skyscream on foot, the injured woman swinging with his steps.
The battle, Keth saw, was between the centaur and what looked like orcs and demons. He thought the centaur might be losing, but it was difficult to tell in all the chaos. Several combatants saw them, warlock and centaur alike, but their group crept along the mountainside without incident. Keth thought he saw one centaur staring at them, at what Skyscream carried. He thought that centaur raised his spear in a salute to them, but then he threw it into a demon and rushed into a fight. So maybe not. Keth did his best to maintain his balance on the Nightsaber, which should have been ridiculously easy on such a graceful animal. Still, he had to concentrate on the task through the burning and stinging of his battered body.
The group successfully escaped the centaur village and found the giant kodo which was Skyscream's mount. He managed to climb atop it without help, his burden being flopped gently to a shoulder temporarily. Shano helped Keth to climb up onto the kodo behind Skyscream, and made sure Keth had a secure grip on Skyscream's armor. Then she mounted her cat, and they charged away to where the burning red sun slowly sank beneath the jagged peaks in the distance, then turned North to make their way to the Cenarion outpost.
Keth and his fellow prisoner were saved.
Tauren: Lomani, Kerala, Anura, Coqui, Chanchu, Pipapipa, Heget