, , ,

Six weeks ago, in a cavern between Four Winds and Kun-Lai.

Blood soaked Astoreth’s sleeves and coated her boots. Most of it was not hers. She flexed her arms – everything ached, but at least it all worked.

She looked around the dank cavern; not everyone who had joined them on this expedition was so lucky. Several grunts lay riddled with arrows, their faces twisted in agony. A peon’s arm stuck out from beneath a large boulder. In fact, only four individuals had survived the melee, including Astoreth herself. The only ones who matter, she thought.

She made her way over to Zul’rohk, who acknowledged her with a nod. “I don’ get it,” the lanky troll muttered as he slung his bow over his shoulder.  He scowled and jerked his head at the corpse of the orc who had first drawn blades. “He had to know we’d never go along wit’ it.”

“He had to know you wouldn’t go along with it,” Astoreth said. “It probably never occurred to him that Tywren and I – that a pair of elves might side with a troll against the fist of Hellscream.” She rubbed her aching arm as they began to walk. “Or that he might not be able to take us if we did.”

Zul’rohk grinned, his tusks gleaming in the dim light. “He almost did. But we not just any trolls an’ elves, eh?”

He chuckled briefly, but his mirth faded as they drew up on Tywren and their badly-injured companion – a Darkspear shadowhunter, now coughing roughly as he tried and failed to sit up properly. The elder troll’s eyes met Zul’rohk’s with an unmistakable intensity. “The warchief shows his hand,” the wounded shadowhunter rasped.

“Shhh,” Tywren soothed him. “Be still, Elder. Just for a moment.” The shadowhunter complied, closing his eyes, struggling to breathe as the small priest examined his wounds.

“Will he be all right?” Zul’rohk asked.

Tywren nodded. “Physically, yes, he should. I’ve seen much worse. He’ll need time to heal, but…” Tywren looked significantly at the room of dead orcs, and back up at Zul’rohk and Astoreth. “We’ve got other problems,” he breathed softly, the edge of his mouth quirking up in a kind of desperate smile. “Once we all leave here, Hellscream’s going to know that we know about his assassin. He….”

He trailed off, and it took Astoreth a heartbeat to catch his meaning. “He can’t let us live.”

The shadowhunter coughed, pushing himself up on his hands again, this time without falling. “Dis be what de Horde come to – killin’ its own?”

“Elder, please –”

The shadowhunter shook his head, waving off the priest’s concerns. “I can’t let dis happen,” he said – and to Astoreth’s surprise, his piercing eyes tracked from Zul’rohk to include Tywren and herself as well. “I need ya.”

“You have a plan,” said Zul’rohk.

The shadowhunter grinned and gave a single, short nod. “Go back to de warchief,” he said. “Tell him I’m dead. Stay close to him. Watch him. We move to take him out when de time is right.”

Astoreth turned her head reflexively, half-expecting their would-be assassin to come charging at them again, screaming traitors. But the orc lay across the room, his eyes glassy and his innards out. The shadowhunter coughed again and she turned back to him.

“Others are like me,” he whispered. “You gotta find ’em. Swear it – swear de blood oath with me.” He held out his hand, covered with blood.

Zul’rohk took the shadowhunter’s hand, unhesitatingly, and spoke words in Zandali.

To Astoreth’s surprise, Tywren did likewise.

Then it was her turn. She reached out… then hesitated. “I… don’t… know the words,” she said.

The shadowhunter grinned. “Sure ya do,” he chuckled. “Dey call you blood elf, don’t dey? So swear on ya blood.” He grasped her bloodied hand with his own.

Astoreth furrowed her brow as she watched their fingers slip against each other – his three blue digits, her five pale pink ones, rendered almost indistinguishable in tone by the crimson fluid covering both of them.

I swear to you by blood,” she found herself saying in Thalassian. “The blood of my heart and life. Of my father, of my lover, of my children. Of my people laid low by betrayal. By the blood of my brothers and sisters: we will have justice.” And as she finished, the shadowhunter smiled.

“It be done,” he said. “We bruddas in dis, until de end.” He chuckled. “And sistah.”

“Where will you go now, Elder?”asked Zul’rohk.

“I’m gonna disappear for awhile.” He stood slowly, and though he clutched at his side, he held his balance. “You go, before they start to suspect anyt’ing,” he told them, as he limped away into the shadows. “And don’ forget about me….”