“And that’s about the whole of it.” Finished Uther McConnohie. “Eleven more were brought into the order after me, our order swelled from there.”
“Really, Uther?” said Tirion, raising an eyebrow. “That’s it? No mention of how you single-handedly saved Ironforge, or how you broke the siege of Dun Boragh overnight, or the heroic charge of Greenholde?”
Uther shrugged. “I just did what any man-”
Tirion smiled wryly. “The ‘humbler than thou’ routine is getting old, Uther.”
“It’s not…” Uther stopped. “Oh. You’re mocking me.”
Tirion laughed. “Only a little! Light knows we all need a little mockery.”
Thalorien Dawnseeker nodded, the elf unnaturally grim. “The last few days have certainly been… trying.”
The paladins and what remained of their forces had been trapped in Ironstorm fortress for nearly three weeks. They had held, against impossible odds, day after day. The orcs hadn’t attacked in four days, instead maintaining a total blockade of the fortress. They were either waiting for reinforcements to break the paladins, or were content to starve them out. Or hoping the Alliance soldiers would go mad or for morale to sink too low to offer much resistance.
More than likely, it was all of the above. The orcs had proven to be very clever when they needed to strategize beyond ‘lots of orcs’. Whatever was commanding these orcs was likely just studying the limits of the paladins. Not one paladin had lost their life since the siege began. They kept morale up, they healed wounds, they kept watch all day, every day.
“This is more unsettling than anything else they’ve tried.” continued Thalorien. “There they sit, not a mile away, doing… nothing. Like horrible green gargoyles. I think I’m losing my mind.”
“Not much else to do.” said Uther, stretching.
“Anyone else have any good stories?” asked Thalorien. “We only have, oh I don’t know, infinity hours to kill here.”
“I could giver a shot!” said Stumps.
“Light save us all.” mumbled Tirion.
“Shet ep. It’ll be a good one, I tell ya.”
Rirain ‘Stumps’ Vault hurtled through the air, only vaguely uncomfortable with the knowledge that the ground was very quickly rising to meet him. He honestly was not sure what had happened. One moment he had been pushing hard for Aerie’s Peak, the body of his mighty griffon Deepwing surging beneath him. He had felt Deepwing suddenly spasm, then he was falling.
“Wait, your name is actually Rirain?”
“Did yeh honestly think meh name was STUMPS!? Ya daft elf, shet ep and lemme narrate.”
There would be time later to figure out what happened. For now, the most important thing was to avoid becoming a stain that was only somewhat reminiscent of a dwarf. He called out to the air, the element responding immediately. His descent slowed, then became gentle. He landed peacefully on the ground, none the worse for wear.
He quickly breathed his thanks to the wind, then gathered his thoughts.
He had already seen the… green things. He didn’t know what they were. As tall as a man, though twice as wide, rippling with far too much muscle. And they were everywhere. Tens of thousands of them, scattered through the forests.
He called out to water for clarity.
Shadow magic. A bolt of dark energy had come from the trees, killing Deepwing almost immediately. He could see it clearly now, where it had come from. An advance scout? What kind of scout used powerful magic? A good one, he reckoned.
Still. He had only heard of such shadow magic as rumours. To witness it first hand, an unknown magic, being wielded by an unknown enemy, was… unsettling. To say the least.
He called out to earth for stability. He knew what he had to do.
Whatever this enemy was, they were obviously marching directly to Aerie’s Peak. In enormous numbers. These green monsters were likely the cause of the silence out of Ironforge. The Wildhammer dwarves had parted somewhat amicably with their underground brethren and still maintained some economic ties. Though a month of silence was not unheard of, it was unusual.
He had to warn his fellows. Likely there were other scouts winging back as fast as they could, but who knows how many of them would actually make the journey. If they had already advanced scouts this far…
He called out to fire. The goal was clear. Make it to Aerie’s Peak, by any means necessary. First things first. Retrieve his Stormhammer, eliminate the scout that had killed Deepwing. It would do him no good to leave a scout that was aware of him alive.
He tried to tell himself that, anyway. Deepwing had served him well for two decades now. He knew he was probably motivated by revenge more than anything. Fire, at least, approved. The other elements said nothing.
He called to his Stormhammer, and it crackled into existence in his hands. A fine piece of craftsmanship, the Stormhammers were linked to the souls of their owners. They could be thrown anywhere, left anywhere, and could be called back to the owner quite easily. A very old, rudimentary shamanic power, it was nonetheless very time consuming to attune a Stormhammer properly. Only the stormriders were gifted with them.
Then he went hunting.
He found the caster scout very quickly. The green thing had been hunting him, too. It managed to squeeze out a single syllable before Rirain’s Stormhammer, hurled with as much force as he could muster, crushed its skull.
Hmm. Headless, the thing kinda looked like a giant stalk of broccoli. Appropriate.
The broc collapsed-
“Oh, no, you… you aren’t serious. You cannot possibly be serious. That’s why you call them brocs?!”
“Damnit yeh pointy eared goon monkey, I told yeh to let me narrate!”
The journey to Aerie’s Peak was uneventful after that. The elements did not seem that pleased with him. Fire was exultant, the others were very quiet. He wasn’t sure if he had angered them or not, but he asked for forgiveness nonetheless. He had loved that damn bird, was he not allowed a bit of oversight in regards to the killer?
Water, at least, understood that, though its disappointment was palpable. Change was coming. To the world, to Rirain. He would be called to something much greater, water was saying to him. Rirain had never been a very good shaman. He could hear the elements, speak with them, but he was very clumsy when it came to wielding them. Air seemed to know why, but it only ever gave him cryptic comments about a different energy.
“Okay, wait, so, do the elements actually speak to you? Like, I can give you this rock, and you can have a conversation with it?”
“No and yes. Is like, imagine if yeh’re having a conversation with yerself, but it isn’t really yerself, its like a part of yerself that is apart from yerself, like another you in you that can talk to… yeh’re not getting it.”
“Literally none of the words you just said made any sense on any level.”
“Good thing yer not a shaman then!”
Rirain had managed to catch the attention of a few other Stormriders. They had rescued him from continuing his entire journey by foot, and allowed him to reach Aerie’s Peak much sooner. Thankfully, his news wasn’t news, and in fact the dwarves had already been saved. A massive army of humans had been mobilized already, intent on beating back the hordes of orcs. The humans had acted to cut off the orcs advance on the Wildhammer thanedom, saving the dwarves from certain eradication.
The thanes swore to stand by the humans, to whatever end. If this war demanded every last dwarven life, so be it. Wildhammer honour demanded it. One of the humans, one Uther McConnohie, said such a drastic debt was unnecessary, as the human armies had merely done what was right.
The thanes responded that they doing the same. They were doing what was right, cultural differences be damned. Uther was not able to argue that.
It was discovered that the orcish advance into dwarven territory was a feint. The actual bulk of the horde was pushing north, towards the elven kingdom of Quel’Thalas. A small amount of elves were present with the human armies, anxious to defend their homes. The Alliance army was quickly rearranging itself to save yet another nation from annihilation.
There were, however, enough orcs still threatening the area around Aerie’s Peak. Many thousands of orc forces remained. The Alliance would have to split its forces.
It was this controlled chaos Rirain returned to. He had met the paladins then, seen what they could do, and felt… right.
“As if ev’ry part o’ me life had just snapped into place. I wasnae meant tae be a shaman. I could hear ’em, aye, but tha’ was jes’ because I had an innate sense for tha supernatural. The Light… it, spoke to me. Clearly. Forcefully. I’d ha’ clarity through water before, but, nothin’ like that. Nothin’ like tha’ at all.
“You humans take it for granted, yer precious Light. We Wildhammers, we doan have priests or mages or anythin’ like that. We’re shamans, we doan share yer beliefs. And yet, there it was. The Light. Me, my… purpose in life, finally revealed to me, after decades of strugglin’, givin’ my all, to be below average at everythin’. Bein’ a disappointmen’ to yer family, for years, jus’ cause yer called to somethin’ that doesnae exist in yer society.
“Yeh have no idea how… good that felt. For me life to finally have meanin’.”
“I, Rirain Vault, vow on me life, me word, and me hammer, to uphold the code of the paladin. I will help those who be needy. I will pr’tect those who cannae pr’tect themselves. I will conduct myself wi’ respect, wi’ tenacity, wi’ compassion at all times. I will fight fer honour, fer truth, fer justice. I am bound tae defend all tha’ is holy, tae avenge thems I pr’tect, tae bring unwaverin’ retribution to thems who would threat’n the innocent. These duties I assume willin’ly.”
“Rise, Paladin Rirain Vault. Welcome to the Order of the Silver Hand.”
“Thank yeh, Lord Paladin.”
“There is no need to thank me, Rirain.”
“Nay, there be. So. Thank yeh.”