There was no time to waste, even if there might be no time left. I somersaulted off my branch, leaping back down from branch to branch until I reached the forest floor, not stopping until I hit the floor and began retching. It was no good trying to get the tar off – besides having no time, it just made it stickier. I ran over to Kalandrios, who stopped whimpering as soon as I scooped him up into my arms, his swaddling cloth sticking to my chest.
I had to get to Silverwind Refuge.
I had to warn Ashenvale.
I had to help put out the fire.
I had to wash myself.
I chose Silverwind. Warnings were undoubtedly already on their way, and as a newly-qualified druid I could do little to put out an entire forest fire. I took a few short breaths and barrelled into the trees in front of me, skidding down a ditch into the northwest section of the basin, my years of wild hunting gifting me knowledge of every tree, every stray root, every rabbithole and birdnest – but that was for naught.
Despite knowing the forests better than anything else the fire outpaced me at every turn, turning a simple den into a parched pitfall, a tree into a dangerous falling obstacle, and gradually everything around me was obscured by smoke.
I crouched down, wrapping Kalandrios again to stop him inhaling smoke, and moved through the undergrowth as the heat became worse. My knowledge of the forest was worthless now, as the fire turned everything into the same hot, blackened wasteland. I could remember where every tree, every bush, hanging vine and single flower should be – the problem was that they weren’t there.
I winced and crouched lower as I heard the guttural cries of ancient trees, beginning to fall around me. I heard the terror of the Third War being recreated – despite not having been present, I found tears on my cheeks as I shared in the experiences of my brethren ten years ago. I felt so helpless, but I kept going. The forest was cooling down now. Soon there was more smoke than fire. I was getting close.
A massive splashing noise rose up and hit me, echoing off the burnt trees. What on Azeroth was that?
I took little notice, dropping onto my hands and knees as the smog pressed down on me, sulphur choking me as I reached an area now completely burnt-out. I retched on the floor again, crawling through ash-covered undergrowth. Above me, the evening sky was impossible to view. Everything around me was black, with faint orange glows indicating areas still alight.
I began to see the smoke lifting further up as I crawled. I must be getting close. I shook as much ash off me as I could, and slowly drew up to my full height as I moved towards the refuge.
An immense noise, slow and deep, began from the northwest. As it loudened the pitch became higher and direr, hanging in the air for almost a minute before it ended, leaving the forest ringing. At its call, two others, slightly different in pitch and timbre, answered from further northwest and from the northeast. Beltheron must have reached Astranaar. And the others… Forest Song, and… the Grove of the Ancients. Thank heavens.
At that, I burst through into the devastated grove of the refuge.