Fresh Growth – Chapter 11

Most of Raynewood’s forces were asleep when we landed, covered in soot and ash and huddled under blankets and leant against trees and buildings. As I dismounted the hippogryph, Beltheron gave a welcoming purr to me and dashed over. I knelt down and stroked him. He was covered in ash too.

What’ve you been doing? You’re a mess.

You too. Helping. Many animals homeless – some dead.

Horde didn’t cause the fire. Someone stole the machines for the bomb. Set it off elsewhere.

Bad. Astranaar joined us. Raene.

Is she here? Does anyone know how Stardust Spire is?

Raene.

What?

“Not interrupting, I hope.” She cleared her throat from behind me.

“Oh – Commander Wolfrunner.” I sprang to my feet and saluted. She looked worn out, putting me at ease with a tired wave.

“No time for formality, Glowsong. Come inside, these matters are best discussed inside.” She led me into the tower itself, where we joined in the top room a small council of the leadership of the Tower and Retreat. Once assembled, Raene resumed her conversation.

“I heard you went flying off into Horde territory.” She gave a weak smile when I tried not to meet her gaze. “I’m not going to reprimand you – it was foolish and it’s a miracle you’re still alive, but I understand your reasoning. What did they have to say for themselves?”

I sighed a little, wishing I could give some better news.

“They had no idea that it had been detonated. They’d had no communication with Silverwind all night. There were no orders to detonate the bomb – from anyone. They even brought the second-in-command up from Orgrimmar.”

The Keeper, Ordanus, broke in at this. “But it went off somehow. If they have no proof then there could be a retaliation anyway.”

“That’s the worst thing. It was no accident. We can assume that much. But whoever did it wasn’t working on Horde orders-”

“How can you be sure?”

“The detonator was stolen from its vault at the Harbour. As was every piece of military info, intel, all commands, blueprints, movement, shipment and supply orders, every piece of offensive and defensive technology they had in the vaults at their command hall. No Horde agents were near those vaults all day except the guards, and they wouldn’t have moved everything in there out unnoticed. Besides that, there’s only one key to each vault. It was a break-in, and whoever broke in can be assumed to have set the bomb off.”

Halannia spoke up, nervously. “You don’t think – the Hammer-”

“It’s likely, but no one can think how they would have done it. Those vaults are the most well-protected in all of Azeroth now that Kezan has been destroyed.

Raene frowned.

“This is all well and good, but I worry that it might not be enough information for the Sentinels. They’re not known for being rational when the forest is harmed. If I can get to Feralas today then I may be able to convince General Feathermoon to delay any retaliations by Alliance leadership – the High Priestess may be content for us to find the culprit, but I doubt Stormwind will want us to sit here ‘in the face of unbridled aggression.'” She smiled weakly at her own joke. We all knew that we’d faced far worse aggression as a race than the Horde’s actions.

“And – are we to sit here twiddling our thumbs for you, Miss Wolfrunner?” Ordanus’ deep voice asked her.

“Absolutely not, Keeper. I fully expect that you and the rest of Ashenvale are going to try and find any possible remedy for this tragedy. Oriet, I have a request of you in relation to that matter.” Our eyes met. “If we are to succeed in this endeavour, then the cure may be better than prevention. You appear to have a knack for surviving in enemy cities. I need you to go to Thunder Bluff. Find Arch Druid Runetotem. If we have agents on both sides of this conflict working for the same aim it reduces the risk of hostilities and it may speed up the process of healing the forest. Besides, the sooner the other half of the Circle is made aware, the better.”

There was no dissent, so we headed outside and made our way to the hippogryph roost.

“I know it’s not going to be easy, Glowsong. You’re barely-trained. You do have things to take with you. But I doubt Garrosh will soon inform Thunder Bluff – and the tauren may be more receptive to you than the orcs. Good luck.”

“I’ll need it.”

“We all will. Goddess protect us.” With that, the commander took off into the shady sky, and I was left under the dim rays of the sunrise – with my son, my sabre, and my task.

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Fresh Growth – Chapter 10

The damning silence and its implications seemed to last forever. Someone, somewhere, had a copy of every piece of Horde military and technological information that had once been located in these walls. Somehow, Mida regained her senses.

“Elf-girl, come with me a minute. Krogg, you’re in charge of the Harbour until I can get back to you.” Mida led me quickly out of the room and back through to the main building, both of us trying to keep from running – why we were so desperate to run, I wasn’t quite sure.

“Right, now we’re alone. Protocol dictates that you shouldn’t be allowed to go like this, but this is no time for protocol. I have to go and inform Orgrimmar. As soon as this all calms down, I give you my word that we will try and undo as much of the damage as possible. I know that’s not enough for your people. But given the circumstances, it’s all we can do right now. And I’ll make sure we restrict Horde movement in Ashenvale until this is all sorted. But I can’t guarantee the response of the rest of the Horde – especially if there’s any counterattack.

I know I’m the wrong person to tell you this, but the last thing we need in all this is retaliation. My cartel was neutral – once. We understand you as much as we understand the orcs. Up until a few months ago, our job was to know everything possible so that we could aid you both as best we could – profit played a large part in that, but we goblins keep our eyes on the future as well. There’s no point in us making profit off the world’s death today if the world will be dead tomorrow.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll do my best.”

“Good luck.”

I sprinted out of the front door and leapt onto the gryphon. I was in the air before the guards could react. From below, Mida cried out.

“What are you lunkheads doing? That elf’s getting away!”

The racket of gunfire sounded from below harmlessly. It was too late to catch me, as Mida intended.

The hippogryph flew effortlessly back through the wilds of Azshara, goblin life sleeping below me. I envied those who had no idea how the world had changed tonight. But I did not envy those who had no care about it.

Kalandrios mumbled up at me. He looked disturbed by my sudden leave. I pulled him out of the carrier and into my arms, murmuring softly to him. Don’t worry. It’ll be over soon. We have to get to Raene.

Eventually, I saw the twinkle of the Southfury River, cutting its way south. As I flew over it dawn broke behind me and the light burst off it. I blinked, trying to accustom, as the light illustrated the depths of Ashenvale’s devastation.

The explosion had felled almost all of the Silverwind Basin and in the east, the fire had made it past Falfarren and began cutting into Nightsong Woods, but it looked to have struggled making it far in, and it was all extinguished there. Along the northern front it had stopped by Raynewood Tower, and in the west the area around Starfury Spire had been burnt out too – but the tower still stood. Hopefully the sentinels there were safe.

I looked down towards Splintertree Post as we approached it. The forces there were gathered, bleary-eyed and almost in shock, most able to see the devastation from the elevated structures. I noticed a few tauren gathered in a ritual circle. I had little time to identify what they were doing before the hippogryph began to lower in altitude. Of course – the hippogryph was from the Tower.

 

Fresh Growth – Chapter 8

The hippogryph moved almost at my thoughts, its connection to the forest mirroring mine. I steered it towards Azshara, and as soon as we were above the path of the smoke I took several gulping breaths of reassured air. It would take considerably less time to get to Bilgewater Harbour by flight than by walking, thankfully.

“Thanks back there for keepin’ me alive.”

“Not a problem. I’ve seen kaldorei justice before – not all of us realise when we overreach. Besides, you’re more important dead or alive, and by the time I’m in a position where I would want to kill you, you’d be far too safe.”

“Y-you want to kill me?”

“By the Goddess, no. Not after tonight. If I had known about this bomb a month ago, a week, two hours, maybe. But there’s been too much death tonight. Too much death recently.”

“Guess I didn’t think of it that way – just with you bein’ an elf an’ all…”

I smiled coyly at his naïveté, a welcome distraction from the death weighing on my mind.

“I’m an elf, yes. But I’m also a druid, and a mother. Death where there’s any hope of redemption is a waste, especially in the face of more death. There are certain pillars in druidism, in balance, in our entire culture – Duty first. Others second. Self later.”

“I guess you’re right. Never considered it really – it’s been them versus us since we got here.”

“Some are inclined to deny it for posterity’s sake. But peace in Kalimdor is in the best interests of our race as protectors of the forests. What happens now is simply how we come to that peace.

So, we have a while – is there anything else about this bomb I should know before we reach Bilgewater?”

He shifted uncomfortably.

“I don’t know much about it, really. I heard that it was to be used against the Alliance in Kalimdor, but we weren’t sure where. Main guesses would be Darnassus or Theramore.”

“But – there are more civilians than soldiers there! This is a war, not a genocide!”

“Hey, I’m not saying it was gonna be used there! All we knew was the Horde leadership wanted another one. Besides, it didn’t exactly get a chance to be used.”

“That can be debated. We’re coming to the bridge across Southfury River now.” Below us, the beautiful sapphire waters of Southfury drifted out of mountain crevasses and through towards the obscured shores of Durotar. We passed Talrendis Point without interference.

“The bomb was supposed to be enough to do a lot, wipe out an army before a major fight at the very least, put the Horde in a good position for takeovers.”

“Well, we’re both worse-off now. And I doubt you’re going to be able to make any more of those things, anyway.”

“Yeah. Garrosh isn’t gonna be happy when he finds out.”

Garrosh can go to the fiery pits of the Firelands as far as I care, half of Ashenvale could be on fire now because of his warmongering.”

“He’s hardly the only one to blame for all of this, y’know.”

I sighed. “I know. But this event could make things so much worse for everyone, and I doubt the Horde would be making such large bombs if Thrall were still in charge. We’re getting close now, that looks like the coastline.” I pointed ahead to where small stretches of ruined kaldorei cities shrank into a dark, looming mass. Ahead of the looming mass was a spectacle of late-night oil lighting.

“Yep, that’s the Harbour alright. Come down as close to the top building as you can, the less people know about this right now, the better.”

“Alright.”

I leant forward on the hippogryph and it began to dive towards the largest building on top of the island, the wind bristling against us as we dropped in altitude. Within a few minutes, we hit ground and the hippogryph ran to a stop outside the dimly-lit doors of Bilgewater Harbour’s Command Hall.

“Stop right there, elf!”

Fresh Growth – Chapter 7

“Move an inch and you die, goblin.”

I swivelled my head to see the sentinel hidden in the forest, the fire behind her giving her away somewhat. She looked older than I, but no less terrified.

“Don’t. He’s with me.” At this, she saw me next to him, obscured by Beltheron’s dark frame.

“And who are you, traitor, to travel with one responsible for this plague on our forest?”

If I had many of these conversations tonight I was going to end up breaking something.

“It is the only way to find out what happened. The person responsible for this, this – tragedy, they are not in the forest. They are in the goblin harbour.”

She blanked, her bow clattering on the undergrowth.

“You’re mad.”

“Now you see why the goblin stays alive.”

Zipzil looked a little nervous that I was so frankly discussing his life. I didn’t have much option.

“You can’t go like that. Come on, let’s get to the tower. The Retreat’s forces are gathered there, holding the fire at bay by range. I’ll make sure they don’t harm your little friend.” She smiled mirthlessly and picked up her bow and trekked up the short verge to us.

“Thank you, sister.”

“Please, call me Melyria.”

“Oriet. Our ‘little friend’ as you put it is called Zipzil. My cat has his tongue.”

It was only minutes before we encountered the tower and the army it held. Front and centre were the Keeper, Ordanus, and Shadumbra, the mighty panther of Nightsong Woods. Forced to migrate into the Silverwind Woods by Horde expansion, sadly. The mighty Keeper was surrounded by the children of the forest, a great ritual projecting a brilliant beam of green light at the fire-ruined reaches of the forest. It appeared to be keeping the fire in check for now. Hopefully it would be put out before they grew tired.

“What manner of druid brings a goblin to our fair reach?” A nymph stepped forward from the gathered forces. I knew of her. Halannia, the matron of the dryads here.

“One on a matter of utmost importance, my lady.” I bowed quickly in the old fashion before handing her a sealed letter. “Delayed communications from Astranaar.”

“Although not quite as important as they were an hour ago, given the situation.” She smiled, but I could see the concern in her eyes. “Now, young one, tell me what dire matter you need this goblin for. I may be of service.”

I burst into explanation, loud enough for the inquisitive wounded to hear.

“The devastation across Ashenvale was caused by a bomb, similar to yet stronger than the one that destroyed Thal’darah Grove three months prior. It had a detonator. The bomb could only be set off by the detonator, insecure goblin technology or no. That detonator was in Bilgewater Harbour, and it was not meant to be activated. This goblin is my way into that Harbour, to find out what happened. And I must be fast, before there is retaliation.”

“You are mad.”

“I’m aware.”

“Then there is little I can do to divert you from your course. We will loan you a hippogryph, but I doubt you will find much success-”

“But there is no regret in trying.”

“But Raene will have to know-”

“By the Light of Elune I will find out what happened, because I refuse to let soldiers die on a misguided course! You will let Raene know that.” I felt tears blotting my face at my outburst, and as a dryad brought forth a hippogryph I leapt on without a second thought.

“As you wish, Glowsong. Light of Elune grant you luck.”

Beltheron padded over to Shadumbra whilst Zipzil struggled onto the hippogryph. It glowered at him but did not prevent him climbing aboard.

“Ready, Zipzil?”

“If ya can be ready on one of these things.”

“Elune Adore.”

With that small prayer, I launched into the smoke-stained sky.

Fresh Growth – Chapter 6

The wild itself coursed through me as I sprinted madly at the collapsing behemoth. I shut my eyes and dived and felt myself skid across the ground to meet the goblin, pushing him halfway up the hell and rolling to a halt just as the machine collapsed, inches from me.

Kalandrios giggled at my exploit. It was nice to know someone was having fun.

I pushed myself up into a standing position, ignoring as much as I could the fatigue I was getting from tonight’s events. Across from me, the goblin dusted himself off and turned to thank his saviour when he saw me. His eyes narrowed and he had a dagger out before I could blink.

What a warm reception.

“I just saved your life, goblin. I’d think twice about advancing on a druid after your race did this to Ashenvale.”

A flicker of confusion ran across his face at my statement.

“Ya… Ya mean it wasn’t elves that did this?”

Now it was my turn to be confused.

“Why in the name of nature would we do this? You were making the bomb!”

“You can bet your trees on that, but workers aren’t allowed to set them off!”

He sheathed the dagger grudgingly.

“Please explain. Because this thing went off, somehow.”

We scrambled up the edge of the basin and onto the edge of what was now a lake of lava. The heat didn’t offer respite, but we both sat down.

“Y’see, after the first bomb, the Warchief decided only he should get to decide when to use anything like that again. The first thing we made for this bomb was a detonator. Last we heard it was somewhere in Bilgewater Harbour.”

I found this hard to comprehend.

“But – you mean that was the only way the bomb could go off?”

“Uh-huh.”

I got to my feet, trying to think.

“The bomb wouldn’t go off here intentionally, then.”

“Well, no duh, but who in Bilgewater’d do this?”

I made up my mind there and then.

“That’s what I’m going to find out.”

I whistled and beat the ground three times, letting Beltheron know of my location, and began leap-frogging across the platforms not yet submerged by lava.

“H-hey! Ya can’t just go into Bilgewater Harbour unannounced! They’ll slit your throat before ya can say ‘I come in peace!'”

The goblin’s voice bore into me. I was being rash again.

“How else am I expected to avert unnecessary retaliation?” The nervous noises behind me indicated that I was being followed.

“Let me come with ya! I can get you in safe or something, and I’m a sittin’ duck here!”

“Fine. But we need to make a stop along the way.”

“Whatever. Just as long as I get outta here. Name’s Zipzil.”

“Oriet.”

A few minutes into the ash-covered highlands, we were joined by Beltheron, who commenced growling at Zipzil until I managed to get close enough to him to calm him down. Cool it. He’s necessary. For now.

After that, Beltheron did little except shoot warning glances at the goblin every so often. Kalandrios, meanwhile, was very inquisitive about our guest, having never encountered a goblin before. More than once I had to keep him from grabbing at the goblin as we walked for fear that Beltheron would try and attack.

Eventually we passed into territory still on fire, and I began to hear the yells of those fighting the fire and those fleeing it.

“We’re nearing Raynewood Tower. Keep an eye out.”

No sooner had I said that than an arrow shot straight past me, missing Zipzil by an inch.

Fresh Growth – Chapter 5

It was worse than I could ever have imagined.

The grove was a blackened pit, ash and smoke surrounding me for almost a full mile-long radius. The husks of trees stood out like ghosts in the night. The light in the area came not from the sky, but from the blazes further in the forest, turning the world into an orange twilight.

I felt myself shudder as I wandered across the devastation. Every so often I would pick across a half-cremated skeleton, or the twisted, burnt metal of some vehicle or war machine. It felt like the end of days.

I came to the southern edge of the grove, where fire could still be seen flickering across the mountaintops, and looked upon the lake. Suddenly I understood the tremendous splashing noise from earlier.

The lake was a ruinous marsh by now. Half of the water had been boiled away, and what was left had mixed with the ash and earth to create a black, muddy pit. Water elementals struggled underneath, the occasional ominous bubble illustrating their hopeless attempts at freedom. I gasped as I came to the verge overlooking the lake – where the lodge had stood.

What was left of the lodge was a collapsed mess being swallowed by the northern part of the marsh. I could see no signs of life. The druid-grown building let out a low hiss as the mud rose above it. Most of night elven architecture was grown out of the earth itself by druids. It stopped our race having to fell trees and disturb the balance of the ancient forests.

I winced at the pain of the land, muttering a prayer for the souls of the dead. It would not help much with the devastation, but I could offer little else at this moment.

My reverie was interrupted by an aching groan as the land beneath me shifted. I saw the familiar winding echoes of water lead right beneath me and into what was once Mystral Lake.

The tsunami coming from the north must have pushed the already-ruined lodge into the lake. That explains the splash.

However, by now dirt had begun falling into the sludge at a fast rate after the shift in the earth. I dived aside as the ground split open and the path of lava from the volcano flooded past where I had just been stood. That was close.

I pushed myself back onto my feet, checking that Kalandrios was alright. He’d fallen asleep again. I suppose it was getting quite late. I was struggling to comprehend that Ashenvale was now completely separated by a single volcano. Eventually, the Ring would have to return that land to its normal state.

That would have to wait.

I turned my eyes northward as the pit of sludge behind me began to hiss vigorously at the heat invading its surface. Cooled chunks of lava began to bob around until they were dragged downwards with sickening squelches.

I could see the epicentre.

A crater obscured the northwest, still glowing and illuminated by smoke. I hiked upwards, barely able to find a foothold amongst all the detritus. Eventually, covered in a layer of ash that was stuck to my earlier layer of tar, I made it to the edge of the crater.

It was still steaming hot, and rivulets of lava glowed like miniature streams, criss-crossing the area. Above, remnants of the green cloud that had exploded earlier drifted around menacingly. This must be where the goblins were working – their labs. It was definitely where the Stonetalon Bomb had been developed, and from the looks of it, it was where the next one had been as well. On the ground, little fissures could be seen where the toxic chemicals had been pushed straight into the ground. Across from me, a thin, metal skeleton rose like a deformed ancient, all that was left of a goblin deforesting machine.

Unsure of what I expected to find, I scrambled down into the crater. There had to be something here, anything –

“Aiiiie!”

At that, I spotted a goblin hanging off the top of the harvester, apparently saved from the fire by the proximity of two large trees – or what was left of them. As I watched he lost his grip and landed in the black dirt, a little dazed. But as he fell, the structure let out a petrifying creak that echoed louder and louder as the ruined joints in the machine began to break apart and the whole thing began to collapse above the terrified goblin.

And at that, I abandoned thousands of years’ worth of handed-down lessons to never trust goblins, and sprinted towards the collapsing harvester to go save a night elf’s worst enemy. For information.

Fresh Growth – Chapter 4

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.

Splash.

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.