Beyond the Dark Portal | Chapter 26 of 36

Author: Aaron Rosenberg | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 4101 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER TWENTY

Danath slammed his fist into his other palm. “We have them!” he shouted. “Now all we have to do is go in and get them!”

“Yes, but not now,” Talthressar replied. One of Alleria’s rangers, he had somehow assumed the role of Danath’s adviser during their pursuit of the Horde, and despite his aloof manner Danath liked him. Too, more often than not the elf was right. “We need to wait until morning.”

“By morning they’ll have dug in,” Danath protested, glaring down at the slender russet-haired ranger and then across the bone-littered stretch of land to where the colossal ruins sprouted. “If we attack now we can take them before they’ve had a chance to settle and build up defenses!”

“Look around you,” Talthressar urged. “You may be ready to fight, but your men are not. It is growing dark, and they are weary. Would you have them stumbling about underground, blind to danger and too tired to defend themselves from inevitable ambush?”

Danath turned an angry, anguished face to the elf. “They killed Kurdran!”

The news had shaken a group of men who were already exhausted from the brutal pace Danath had set them. When the Wildhammers had returned, making no effort to hide the tears in their eyes at the thought of their fallen—including their beloved leader—Danath had been forced to turn away himself. He’d lost so many, and now the bluff, jovial dwarf too—how many would have to die before these damned green things were stopped?

“I know,” Talthressar said quietly. “And you will not honor his spirit if you take men too exhausted to fight to avenge him. They will simply join him in death.”

Danath scowled, but he knew the elf was right. He’d pushed his men hard all the way from the orcish citadel trying to catch Ner’zhul’s forces in time. It was ironic that now that they had, they were too tired to do anything about it.

“One night,” he said finally. “We’ll camp one night, rest, and attack at first light.”

“A wise choice,” Talthressar agreed, and as usual Danath could not tell if the ranger was being sarcastic or sincere. And, as he always did, he decided to ignore the elf’s tone and take his words at face value.

“Have the men fall out and set up camp,” Danath instructed his lieutenant. “We attack at dawn.” Then, trusting his subordinates to take charge, he dismounted and led his exhausted and thirsty horse down to the river to drink. He splashed water on his dusty, sweaty face and drank deeply himself, then headed back to virtually collapse in his tent.

A few hours later when Danath awoke, he was surprised to see not only other tents but also several tall posts outlining a large, rough square.

“What is all this?” he asked Herrick, one of his sergeants. “We’re only here one night.”

Herrick shrugged. “Some of the men mentioned this’d be a good place for a fort,” he explained. “They wanted to set posts to mark it out. I didn’t see the harm to it, so I said yes. It went fast—the elves helped.”

“In light of the sacrifice of our dwarven friends, I thought it would be a good gesture,” said Talthressar, stepping from the shade of a nearby tree and gliding over to them. “We are, after all, an alliance. How better to symbolize that than to start a stronghold together?”

Danath stared at the elf. “You’re the one who was pointing out how tired my men were! And now instead of resting they’re cutting and placing posts?”

Talthressar smiled. “It is but a few posts, and many hands make light work. See for yourself the results.” Danath looked where he indicated. Dwarf, human, and elf stood together talking quietly. They still looked tired, but there were smiles on their faces, and one of Danath’s men clapped the elf and dwarf on the shoulders as they spoke.

“Your men were right. Not only does it have strategic value, but this is the only place we have seen thus far on this planet that was not red and lifeless. This forest, at least, is still very much alive. If we some day return to these woods and complete what was begun here today, we shall name it the Allerian Stronghold. It is fitting—the orcs destroyed much of Quel’Thalas, and so in return we will claim this, the one green region left upon this forsaken world. And if not, these posts will stand as a reminder that the Alliance entered this forest and claimed it as their own.”

Talthressar’s voice had more passion in this short speech than Danath had ever heard from him before. Danath took another look at his men and nodded. “Let’s get those orcs first, eh?”

He accepted the food Herrick pressed upon him, found a quiet place by one of the campfires to eat, and then stretched out his legs, crossed his arms over his chest, leaned back against the tree trunk behind him, and again fell asleep.

Danath started awake to the sound of yelling in Thalassian and a strange, eerie squawking sound. He leaped to his feet. “What’s going on?”

He didn’t get a verbal answer in the chaos. Running toward the source of the noise, Danath saw what seemed to him like a dozen elves piled atop something that was making the awful screeching sound.

“Step back!” he ordered. The elves reluctantly rose, dusting themselves off, while two of their fellows kept a firm grip on one of the strangest things Danath had ever seen. The intruder wore deep purple robes, now torn and stained with blood and grass. It was about the size of a man and had arms and legs, but the resemblance stopped there.

Jutting from the cowl was not a human face, but the head of a bird.

It had a long, sharp face, most of it a glossy violet beak, and slanting oval eyes that glowed yellow in the night. A cluster of feathers rose above each eye like a human brow, and these merged with the shock of red, purple, gold, and brown feathers all around the head to form the equivalent of hair. One bright eye was partially closed; the elves had not been gentle in their capture.

“What manner of creature are you, and what were you doing skulking about our camp?” Talthressar demanded.

“You’re wasting your breath,” Danath said. “It can’t understand our language.”

“But Grizzik, yes! He does! And no harm he means!” The creature’s voice was a strange trill, but clearly understandable. Danath blinked at him.

“He’s like a trained parrot—all sound, no meaning,” one of the men muttered, and raised a fist to silence the bird-man.

“No, wait,” Danath ordered. “Say that again.”

“Grizzik! No harm he means, no no! Only want to know—who you be? Why you come?”

Danath glanced at Talthressar, who shrugged, stepped back, and let Danath direct the inquisition.

“Your name’s Grizzik?” At the rapid nodding, Danath continued, “Answer our questions and maybe we’ll answer yours. What are you?”

“Grizzik is arakkoa,” the bird-man answered, his words oddly clipped and each followed with whistles and sighs. “Old race. Oldest maybe in world. Grizzik curious. No harm!”

“So you keep saying. But why were you spying on us? How do you know our language?”

“Arakkoa clever,” Grizzik said proudly. “Smart. Grizzik follow you, listen close, learn fast! Think you strange. Curious.”

“Are the arakkoa friends of the Horde or their enemies?”

That produced the greatest reaction yet. Grizzik’s facial feathers puffed up like a frightened bird’s and he huddled in on himself. “Fear and hate them Grizzik…I…do. Not bad once. I have seen. But now….” He shivered.

Danath had seen enough of Grizzik by now to realize he was no physical threat and nodded to the elves who still held the intruder. “Give him water, and tend to his wounds,” he told them. To Grizzik, he said, “Explain.”

“Arakkoa ancient people. We stay to selves. But! We watch peaceful draenei, primitive orcs. But who could know? Madness come to orcs. What—we know not.” Despite his heavy robe, he shivered, feathers shifting uneasily before he made a visible effort to continue. “Orcs and the draenei not friends—but they not hate. Respect.”

“Whoa, whoa,” said Danath, holding up a hand. “Slow down. Orcs and draenei? Draenei as in Draenor?”

“Draenor is name they call world, yes. They proud of selves, they name whole world for selves. They strong…before.”

“You said there was a madness…the orcs turned on these draenei?”

Grizzik nodded. “Yes, yes. Once many, many draenei. They use bright light. Live here long time. They think selves strong and good, no one stop draenei, no no. But orcs—” Grizzik made a whooshing sound and swept his arm before him. “Gone. Only few left now. Now once-proud draenei hide away.”

Danath felt a chill. “The orcs…wiped out a whole civilization?” He glanced up at Talthressar. “Sounds like the Horde did a practice run before they came to Azeroth.”

“Indeed it does. Except Azeroth did not fall to them as Draenor has. We were stronger.”

“Luckier, maybe.” He shook his head, his face hard. “A whole civilization of peaceful people. What a damned shame.” He returned his attention to the arakkoa. “Keep talking. You said the draenei were peaceful, but also powerful, and that the orcs were primitive at first. How is it they were able to wipe out these draenei?”

“The orcs…” Grizzik groped for words. “Come together. No longer separate.”

“The orcs do have different clans,” Talthressar said. “It sounds as if they were not always a unified, directed Horde.”

“Long Ears is right!” chirped Grizzik excitedly. At any other time Danath would have laughed at the offended look that crossed Talthressar’s face at the insult. “Orc un-united. They grew strong, cruel. Skin turn from—hm. From this,” and he pointed to a brown feather, “to this,” and he indicated a green one.

“Their skin turned color? From brown to green?” Danath said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes! Then green orc attack and slay draenei. Arakkoa say, we are next!” He pointed to the massive ruins just visible through the trees. “Auchindoun. Draenei dead sleep there. It is holy. Most—” It patted the soil.

“Most is below ground?” Danath asked.

Grizzik nodded. “Winding, below ground, yes. All dead now.”

A thought occurred to Danath. “Have you been there? To Auchindoun? To these winding tunnels?”

Grizzik nodded enthusiastically.

“Do you know your way through?” Danath asked.

Grizzik nodded. “I have been down, down, many times. But…why you wish to go there?”

“I am Danath Trollbane, of the Alliance,” Danath responded. “We have pursued the orcish Horde here from our own world, and I intend to attack them on the morrow and see them dead and their threat destroyed. They’re hiding in those tunnels. I’m going to find them. We…could use your help.”

Talthressar looked disapprovingly at Danath, but the human ignored the glare. Grizzik seemed harmless enough, and he obviously hated the Horde. If he could save them from getting lost in a maze in a city of the dead, Danath was all for it.

“Griz—I. I know a way in. Way that even orcs who live there now do not know.” He leaned forward. “I know where they live, and which passage new orcs will pick.”

Danath and Talthressar again exchanged a glance. “That’s incredibly useful information,” Danath said after a moment. “We—”

“Ah!” The arakkoa got to his feet excitedly, staring at the gryphons which roosted in the trees, claws digging into the branches they had chosen, heads tucked under one wing. He hurried toward them.

“Magnificent!” he whispered, reaching out to stroke the nearest gryphon along a shoulder. The beast shuddered slightly but did not wake up. Danath noticed that Grizzik’s hands were more like talons than anything else, but his touch across the gryphon’s feathers was gentle.

“’Ere now, what are ye doing!” exclaimed one of the Wildhammers, hurrying toward Grizzik.

“Easy, Fergun,” Danath said before the dwarf tackled their potential new guide. “They’re called gryphons, from our world,” Danath explained to Grizzik. “Each gryphon has a rider, a Wildhammer dwarf like Fergun here.”

Grizzik had reached the last gryphon in line, a magnificent beast that stood shivering as if cold, despite the fact that it was a warm night. “She grieves,” he said, stroking her shoulder and back.

“‘At’s Sky’ree,” Fergun said in a voice that was gruffer than usual. “Kurdran’s mount.”

Grizzik clacked his beak and cocked his head askew, peering at Danath. “Sky’ree’s rider, Kurdran, was the leader of the Wildhammers,” Danath explained. “He…he fell in battle today.”

Grizzik nodded. “Ah. Prisoner. I see him.”

“Prisoner?” Danath exclaimed.

“The orcs bring captive with them into Auchindoun. Look like him,” and the bird-man pointed at Fergun. “Red fur on chin. Blue drawn on skin. He very loud.”

Danath felt a surge of excitement. Kurdran was alive? He turned to Talthressar. “We need to rescue him.”

“The dwarf knew the risk,” the ranger replied coolly. “And the mission must come before personal attachments.”

But Danath shook his head. “Kurdran is one of Turalyon’s most trusted lieutenants. The fact that he’s even alive means that the Horde realizes he knows things about our forces that they’d find very valuable—if they can crack him. We need to get him out of there before that happens. And this…arakkoa can take us to him.”

Talthressar sighed. “Grizzik. No doubt it is dangerous for you to help us. Why do you do so?”

“Is simple answer. You oppose Horde,” Grizzik replied with a decisive clack of his beak. “I too hate Horde, for what they have done to arakkoa, to our world.”

Danath looked from Grizzik to Talthressar. The ranger nodded. It was the best chance they had—and if Grizzik did try to betray them, he’d pay, and quickly.

“Let’s do it,” he said.

By the time Grizzik had sketched out a basic map of Auchindoun and the various tunnels, and explained them in Common that grew clearer almost by the moment, Danath had abandoned the idea of taking a small force in to rescue Kurdran. Instead, he had a far better plan.

Now he strode down a long, dark tunnel, only the torch in his hand providing any light. Grizzik was perhaps ten feet in front of him, and Talthressar was between the two of them, neither the arakkoa nor the elf requiring additional light to make their way.

And behind Danath walked fully half the Alliance army.

“Tunnels are wide—ten Alliance-people can go together,” Grizzik had assured him. “And tall. Even ogre only stoops! Draenei built them well. Explosion that des-destroyed central passages not reach the outer tunnels. Still clean and dry and secure.”

That had convinced Danath, especially once Rellian had gone with Grizzik and reported back on the tunnel the bird-man had shown him. “It’s like the long hall in a palace,” the ranger had said. “Exactly as he told us, and I saw no other movement, not even vermin.”

“We will divide in two,” Danath had decided. “Half of our forces will follow me through the tunnels and up into Auchindoun. The other half will attack the front, sneaking in through the temple ruins and down to distract the Horde while we approach from behind. Once we’re in position we’ll strike and crush them between us.”

And now, less than an hour after entering the tunnel, Grizzik was stopping and gesturing toward a wide door set into the wall. “Behind this, stairs,” the arakkoa explained. “Lead us down into Auchindoun proper.”

Danath scowled, remembering the maze the arakkoa had sketched out for him. “And you don’t know where exactly the Horde will be, or where they’ve taken their prisoner?” he asked again.

Unfortunately, the bird-man’s answer was the same as before. “I know way into Auchindoun,” he said again, “but little beyond that.” For a second the shadows of his cowl gave his long, sharp-planed face a sinister cast. “My people—we not truly welcome here. Draenei revere their dead, not appreciate intrusion. I wander, I explore here—learn a little. Only a little, though.”

Danath nodded. He’d known it was too much to hope that the arakkoa could lead him straight to Kurdran, but still he didn’t relish the idea of wandering aimlessly through miles of tunnel while the Horde warriors crouched in ambush.

Grizzik reached for the door—and jumped back, beak clacking in surprise, taloned hands rising even as he crouched, as the door shifted and creaked open. Danath raised his shield and lifted his sword as well—and stopped, staring at the figure outlined in the now-open door.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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