Today we’re breaking from the norm yet again; I’ve got another short story for you all! Because of the longer length of the piece (it’s nearly 6,000 words!) I’ve broken it up into two parts and placed this first part behind a cut. Part Two will be coming soon so stay tuned! And now, I present to you….
“Did I ever tell you about the time I held off an entire platoon of orcs with just my bow?” The draenei lounged, leaned back onto the rocks like they were the finest silken pillows.
The gnome clenched her jaw, avoiding eye contact with her languid companion.
“No Letuus, I don’t believe you have but could we please —”
“It was a great battle, as all my battles are. Lots of heroic moments, clever maneuvering, daring attacks, the works. They sing songs of that battle, you know. All those orcs came rushing on in, thinking I would be an easy kill. Hoo boy were they mistaken!” Letuus continued on, completely ignoring the gnome’s glare. “Oh I had a squad with me but they had all fled in fear, leaving me to defend the pass alone. The look on their faces, when I marched back into camp that night, bloodied and battered, but victorious?” He closed his eyes and leaned back his head. “Priceless.”
“Letuus, that is great and all but can we focus on the —”
“But you want to know the best part?”
“No I don’t want to know the —”
“The very best part was, in the end, it didn’t really matter much. While I was being showered with glory and accolades, they decided to stick another squad in the pass. Very next day, orcs come back and slay the whole lot of them.”
“Letuus, can —”
“Dead to a man.”
“I really don’t —”
“Pass was lost, of course.”
“Now that, that was the truly priceless part. Funniest thing to ever happen.”
“What?” He drawled lazily, “why do you have your undies in a bunch now Mikri?” Mikri turned to face him, fists clenched and eyes bugged. Her tone however, dripped with sarcasm.
“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe, it’s because we’re holed up in this Light-forsaken cave and you’d rather talk about old war stories than help me figure a way out!” She finished the last bit with a frustrated shout.
“Oh is that it? Hah, well why didn’t you say something about it?” A vein bulged in Mikri’s forehead. “And anyways, you worry too much. It’ll all turn out fine.” With this, Letuus settled back into his rocky throne, eyes closing again.
Mikri clenched and unclenched her fists a couple times before letting out a frustrated sigh. She moved away from her utterly useless companion, edging closer to the mouth of the cave. The afternoon sun shone in, warming the stone. Clambering up between two boulders that guarded the entrance, Mikri surveyed the valley below.
The cave the two were hiding in was high, about two hundred meters up the mountainside. Down and to the left, in the base of the valley, she could easily see the Horde encampment and the swarming sentries. They were looking for her and Letuus and any other Alliance soldier who had gotten cut off and trapped during the chaotic retreat. So far, the Horde hadn’t thought to search these caves higher up but Mikri knew it was only a matter of time. She and Letuus were like rats, trapped in an ever filling barrel of water. And pretty soon, there wasn’t going to be any air left.
I need to get closer, need to hear what they are saying. Gather intel. And maybe even take out a few of those sentries.
Mikri debated informing her lackadaisical companion but quickly decided against it. She needed to be calm, cool, and totally in control. Something about Letuus’s carefree attitude always put her on edge. No, she would sneak down and be back up before he ever even noticed, the rube.
“Thinking about going down there? I wouldn’t do that if I were you” Letuus’s voice suddenly drawled right next to her and Mikri almost toppled off the mountainside. She hadn’t even heard him coming. “Sneaking around is definitely more of my kind of thing. You magely type can’t get dirty enough to do a good job camouflaging and reconning…. No offense.”
“Well then how would you suggest we get out of here, oh Master of Camouflage?” Mikri glared at the draenei, still miffed at how successfully he managed to sneak up on her.
“Easy there, Madame Sarcasm. And to answer your question, it’s all about timing.” The drawl was still there, but now there was a hint of shrewdness in his eyes. “We can’t go now. Their scouts are scurrying around like ants; no matter how stealthy we were they’d still find us.”
“Ok so how about we leave at nightfall?”
“Mmm, nope no that’s no good either. They’d be expecting us to make a break at night so even then they will be on high alert. Also, I don’t know how good you are at being stealthy but I can guarantee, you’d be five times worse at night.”
“I’ll have you know I am very good at —”
“Anyways,” Letuus interrupted, pointedly ignoring Mikri’s outburst, “It’d be bad for us as well. Navigating this forest at night is no piece of cake. We’d most likely get lost and waste time, making us that much easier to capture.”
“Well then, what do you suggest?” Mikri scowled deeply at him.
Letuus turned back to the gnome and met her eyes.
“We make our escape at dawn.”
“Right at dawn – are you crazy??”
“Crazy good looking, absolutely, but that’s beside the point. Dawn is the best time for a number of reasons. First of all, we’ll have the element of surprise. No sentry expects anything to happen at dawn, they’re all too busy watching the sunrise and feeling relieved that their shift is almost up. But secondly, that will give us plenty of light to see where we are going.”
“And plenty of light for them to see us!”
“Totally! But we aren’t going to be stealthy here, we’re going to be surprising.” With that, an impish grin split his face. Mikri paused, pushing aside her annoyance. She reevaluated Letuus, raising one eyebrow as she realized what he was getting at.
“We never had much of a chance getting out secretly anyways, you’re too inexperienced and would give us away before we’d even gotten half way down the mountain. But what you may lack in stealth, you more than make up with dazzling, distracting, destructive displays.”
A grin was slowly sliding onto Mikri’s face.
“So I propose that right at dawn, the second the sun spills over that horizon, we strike. You make some big crazy explosion of some sort down in their camp. And as soon as that goes off, we run. Create chaos and then utilize it.”
Mikri was liking this idea more and more. Hiding in the shadows had never really been her thing, but huge explosions and diversions? This she could get into. However, there was an issue.
“Range. I’m going to need to be way closer to the camp than I am now to be able to create a diversion of this magnitude. Preferably, I’d like to be inside but in a pinch I can do it from as far as 50 meters away.”
Letuus frowned, calculating.
“Mmm, we could sneak closer before the sun rises but we’d have to be very very careful. I don’t want us alerting any sentries before the moment arrives….”
“I could teleport closer but that runs the risk of them seeing me before I finish casting.”
“…Yeah no that wouldn’t work. Sneaking closer is our best bet. And I mean, I could easily take out a couple of lookouts. It’s just taking out all of them while remaining hidden and towing you along, that would prove to be a bit of a challenge. Even for me.” Mikri rolled her eyes.
“Well, guess that’s done with! I’ll be chilling in the back of this here cave should you need my expert advice on anything else, Madame Fussybritches.” Letuus popped up and strode back into the darkness of the cave. He made no sound as he walked, no small feat considered the hooves.
Reluctantly, Mikri followed him back. There was no use watching the sentries down below; they had started to set up for the night and establish watch posts. Nothing was going to change between now and tomorrow. The afternoon sun slid lower and lower.
“Now, I didn’t really get to tell you in detail all the heroics of that battle,” Letuus started up as soon as Mikri was close. She groaned audibly, but this only served to egg him on and he launched into an overly complicated and glamorized explanation.
It’s going to be a long night. Mikri grumbled to herself.
* * * *
It was going to be a long night. Kya shaded her eyes against the setting sun. Around her, the base prepared for the night. Equipment was stowed away, lanterns lit up, and watch details briefed. Kya ignored all of this, instead focusing on the tree line. While she couldn’t see it from here, she knew that somewhere in that jungle the Horde was setting up their camp as well. But more importantly, somewhere out there, trapped by the Horde encampment, were her two closest friends.
How had she let them slip away? The battle had been heated – battles always were – but she’d kept track of people in much more chaotic situations. The two had been right there… until they weren’t. In the confusion of the retreat, Kya had lost sight and she hadn’t seen them since.
They are probably fine; Mikri is a fully capable spellcaster and Letuus an expert shot. They are probably just hiding out somewhere and will return once they can slip out in the night.
But what if they didn’t get into hiding fast enough? What if the Horde caught them? What if they are sitting in some cell somewhere, praying for a miracle? Or worse, lying in some hollow, too injured to escape to safety?
You failed them, you can’t save anyone. A voice rose unbidden in her mind. Images began to resurface, a village burning in the rain, smashed shutters and doors, a face and a —
No. No, not now. Forcefully, Kya pushed aside the voice and the visions. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Never again.
With a purposeful stride, Kya made her way to the head of the night watch, a grizzled man with a pock marked face and sharp eyes. Kya knew the man well enough. And, he owed her a favor, on account of her saving the life of his nephew. She waited until the man had given out the last assignment before gently tapping his shoulder.
“Soldier, I don’t have the time to —” He looked up and realized who had tapped him. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes, it is me. I need you to do me a favor.”
His eyes narrowed, “What kind of favor?”
“Just a small one, Garret, please. I need you to alert me if anyone returns from the battle tonight.”
“And why do ya want that? You’d be woken up anyway if they needed healing and if they didn’t, why lose sleep over it?” The scowl remained on his face but he didn’t dismiss her request out of hand.
“Because I am still waiting for someone to come back. Two someones actually.” Kya met his eyes. The older man sighed.
“Fine, I’ll have one of my boys get ya if anyone comes back in. But I gotta warn ya paladin, it’s highly unlikely. Whoever you’re waiting for prolly ain’t coming back.” Garret’s eyes softened but still he kept the frown.
“They will come back. I know it,” She said this more to herself than him. Garret shrugged and then moved off, no doubt to update the watch with these new orders. Kya remained for a moment before letting out a great sigh. Slowly, she made her way back to the barracks in the lengthening shadows. She stopped at the door, glancing once more out at the darkening forest.
“You two had better come back,” she whispered, before slipping into the building.
“I wonder if they even expect us to come back,” Mikri mused, absentmindedly spinning a bit of arcane energy around her fingers. Several hours had passed, and the two of them sat in the darkness, the only illumination coming from Mikri’s magics and the distant glow of Horde campfires.
“Nah, most of the stragglers get back in the hours following the battle. Anyone still out is assumed to be dead or captured,” Letuus had continued to lounge, legs crossed and head tipped back. How did he manage to stay so relaxed in such a stressful situation? Part of Mikri hated him for it, the other part was impressed.
“Great, so that means we are completely on our own for this.”
“Absolutely. Which means it will be even more impressive when we pull this off and go marching into camp.” What a cocky bastard. Mikri eyed the man again before shifting against the rocks.
“I wonder what Kya’s thinking right now,” she sighed, settling back.
“Ehh, she’s probably doing that whole mother hen ‘I’m gunna protect everyone’ business. I bet they’re having a blast trying to keep her from coming out here right now to find us.”
“No, Kya’s not a fool. She’d know that we’d probably be lying low and she wouldn’t risk exposing us by searching for us. She’d trust that we’d be able to pull ourselves through. Now on the other hand, if she knew for a fact that we were captured or injured, that’s when she’d be charging out.”
“Point.” Letuus lazily nodded at Mikri.
“Also, don’t make fun of her protective nature, I’m pretty sure she’s saved your life more times than you’ve saved hers.”
Mikri expected some arrogant comeback but instead Letuus just nodded. The two lapsed into a comfortable silence.
“We used to keep track you know,” Letuus spoke again but his tone was different. Softer.
“Keep track of what?”
“How many times we’d saved each other’s lives.”
“Oh.” Mikri dismissed the arcane energies she’d been playing with.
“Yeah. But then… then we just stopped,” Letuus got softer still, all cockiness drained.
“Any particular reason why?”
“I don’t know. We just got… tired I guess.” There was something more here, Mikri could tell. Something had happened, something bad. Something that could make even overconfident Letuus humble.
They lapsed into silence again, this one more somber.
Outside the crickets buzzed and the star shimmered.
Finally, the spell was broken. “Well, guess it’s time to establish watch. And, since I’m the one to bring this up, I get to decide who watches when!” The earlier gentleness was gone, completely covered up by typical self-assured Letuus.
“And? What have you decided?” Mikri sat up, rubbing her back.
“You get first watch.” Letuus grinned at her.
“Great. Thanks buddy.”
“You are most welcome Madame Fussybritches!” Letuus deftly removed his bulky mail armor and placed them next to his bow. He rolled up his standard issue Alliance tabard into a pillow and shoved over a few rocks to make a nice open space.
“Sleep tight, don’t let the cave bugs bite!” And with that, Letuus promptly fell asleep.
Well that was fast. Mikri couldn’t help but think Letuus had somehow taken advantage of her here but as to how, probably only the draenei knew. She sighed and moved closer to the entrance of the cave. For a few minutes, she busied herself with setting up a comfortable watch spot, but one could only do that task for so long. Steeling herself for the long haul, Mikri settled down.
At first her thoughts wandered over mundane things like the Horde below and the plan for tomorrow. She had an idea for the kind of explosion she wanted to use but she’d have to do a little bit of preparation first, mostly along the lines of brushing up the runes.
Slowly however, Mikri’s thoughts turned to her best friend. While she had tried to play it off with Letuus, Mikri was actually rather concerned about Kya. Strong as she was, the draenei had a tendency to care too deeply. It made her a great paladin but it also sometimes ate away at her. Kya tried to protect them all but when someone under her wing didn’t make it… a part of her broke. Mikri had seen it, the emptiness in her eyes, the distance. But Kya was determined to carry this burden alone and there was nothing Mikri could do.
I wonder what happened to Letuus and Kya. Mikri actually didn’t know much about their history. She knew that Letuus and Kya went way back but as to how far back, she wasn’t sure. The two of them trusted each other like family but Mikri was relatively sure they weren’t related. Whatever had happened, it had definitely shaken Letuus, and probably Kya too.
And yet, they survive. Kya with her big heart and Letuus with his cockiness, it’s how they cope. How they continue. Mikri sighed. She wanted nothing more than to whisk away all their unhappiness, all their hurt. But life doesn’t work that way. Some things can’t be forgotten.
Mikri sighed again. She seemed to be doing a lot of that recently. Sometimes, when she got a glimpse at how broken inside people were, it was hard to see the world as a bright and hopeful place. There was a darkness inside everyone.
Mikri looked out of the cave mouth and to the world beyond. The stars shivered in the sky, so alone and distant. And yet… even surrounded by the night they still shone. Bright pin pricks of light in the vast inky black. Innumerable.
We might be filled with darkness but like the night sky, we aren’t all black. There’s light in all of us too, scattered as it may be, but shining all the same. Mikri pulled her cloak closer around her and continued watching the night.