So, I’ll be out for the next week on vacation without access to WoW. Deliberately, even! Shocking, I know, but hopefully very good for me.
I will be working on some posts for when I return, but in the meanwhile, I leave you with the following short story about Cynwise’s own vacation. Enjoy!
I was surprised by the beaches of Tanaris when I first arrived here, years ago. Has it really been that long? I spent about a week in the barren wastes around Gadgetzan before my business led me to Steamwheedle Port on the coast. Shaking the dust from my robes, I was unprepared for the tropical sights and smells of the South Sea breezes coming through a sleepy port town. But then again, I was much younger then, and unprepared for many things.
I picked up some work back then for the Cartel, security work, the kind I’m good at. Clean out those pirates over yonder, protect this caravan from bandits, that sort of thing. I did it, did some exploring down the coast, hunted for some buried treasure, and did a lot of fishing.
The fishing is what brings me back now, the fishing – and the warmth. Months and months in Northrend take their toll on you; the early darkness, the bitter cold, and the Scourge, the Scourge, everywhere.
This trip was not my idea, at first. But as the Argent Tournament drew to a close and the front moved south to Icecrown Citadel, I felt lost, adrift, and so very weary. The new Ashen Verdict was not like either of its two constituent factions; it was a holy army, an army of belief, of devotion to a cause…and very low pay. Some mercenaries didn’t care, drawn on by the promise of looting Arthas’ minions and treasure hoards. I care, though. I prefer my contracts a little tighter than that. I can work for loot on my own.
So here I am, on the dock of Steamwheedle Port, watching the slow combers come in off the South Seas.
I am here to fish, to see what the sea brings with the tides.
I discovered that my squire Timothy didn’t know how to fish. I was dumbfounded. “How can you grow up in Westfall, with the largest coastline in the Kingdom of Stormwind, and not learn how to fish?”, I asked. “Fishin’ and farmin’ are two different things, m’lady,” he replied. “Not where I’m from,” I shot back, then proceeded to get him set up for some serious angling.
This is one of those things I don’t understand about the Crusade. They take these boys — some orphans, some poor, some neither — and apprentice them out to people who are, in most cases, totally unsuited for being an adolescent’s mentor. The Argent Crusade might consider me a big damn hero, but — as I pointed out when they first offered me a squire — I’m someone who raises demons to kill people for money. Am I really a role model for any sort of kid, no matter what their circumstances are now?
Then they got all preachy at me, saying how I was a better servant of the Light than I knew, et cetera. I admit I stopped listening, smiled, nodded, accepted Timothy as my squire, and collected my payment. Wouldn’t you? It’s not like you’re going to win an argument with those believers.
Timothy has mostly been in charge of my stables since he joined me, and I think the chance for him to play with talbuks has made it all worthwhile. He wants to be a paladin, obviously, so at least I don’t have to try to teach him how to summon demons. He finds my imp Chojub funny, but most of the others unnerve him. I keep my succubus Helola away from Timothy — he gets far too distracted when she is around. But he’s very good at keeping me presentable when not tempted, and once he’d seen my rather worn campaign mounts off to Eastvale for some R&R, I invited him to come along to Tanaris as well. I’m glad he accepted, and not just because he keeps me organized and put together. I have trouble enough sleeping at night after witnessing the horrors of Nothrend. I have no idea how I would handle it as a child. He deserves a break more than I do.
My efforts to teach Timothy how to fish were met with general approval by the dockworkers. From what I can gather, the next ship coming from Undermine is going to be a big one, but it’s running behind schedule, so there are a lot of bored laborers here. They’ll take any excuse to break out their fishing poles, and getting to teach a young boy the ropes is about as perfect an excuse as I could manufacture.
It’s good to see him having normal interactions with people. I worry about those Crusaders.
Two orcs and a troll came riding up from Gadgetzan today. They headed straight to the Cartel’s security office. When they emerged a few minutes later, they mounted up and rode quickly down the southern beach.
Ah. Pirate bounty. Good times.
They came back a few hours later, bloodied and worse for the wear, but apparently in possession of whatever proof the security chief required for payment.
I wonder how much good that bounty really does. Wouldn’t it be better to pay someone to exterminate the lot of them, instead of piecemealing it out?
Nevermind. I’m not here to do business. I’m just here to fish.
Still no ship from Undermine. Half the town seems to be out fishing now, waiting. I’ve gone a little further south along the beach, just to get away from the chatter. After his work is done, Timothy splits his time between the village and my cove. He’s found some friends his own age but doesn’t want to shirk his duties.
Weather turned humid and hot today. New arrival in the village; a Tauren with a broken horn. He’s got Northrend armor with plenty of Horde insignias on it.
But he seems to be here to fish, too.
I tried to blend in as best I could, but the Kal’uak pole gave me away. He spent several long minutes looking at me, then chose a fishing spot on the north side of the docks. Prudent.
The galleon from Undermine arrived late this afternoon, bearing goods for Gadgetzan and beyond. Steamwheedle Port exploded into activity unloading the cargo and preparing it for transport. Timothy reports that the security office is looking for caravan guards, but the wages aren’t enough to make me stop my vacation.
I’m a little annoyed at the Tauren. Last night was the first night I didn’t dream about the Scourge in weeks, and now I’ve got a reminder of the war several hundred feet away.
So it appears that not only is the Tauren from Northrend, he’s also been working for the Argent Crusade. Timothy has already made friends with the Tauren’s Argent Gruntling, an orc boy named Krakor. I noticed this morning that Timothy’s self-appointed chores were done a little bit faster than normal as he rushed out the door, leaving me with a packed lunch and no clue what had just happened. I still don’t know the Tauren’s name, but he’s back out there in the early morning hours, fishing without an apparent concern on his mind. I summoned Helola to serve as an invisible guard, but otherwise have tried to concentrate on my fishing.
It’s not working, considering I spend most of my time staring at the waves. But it’s an excuse for doing nothing.
They weren’t able to move the goods to Gadgetzan today due to a lack of guards. Timothy passed along the security officer’s offer, but it’s still not enough for me to pack up and trudge through the dusty interior.
As expected, the pirates attacked today. They interrupted my vacation, and I am very, very angry at them.
I was fishing as the sun set when two ships came by sea, ships flying no colors. Next came the ringing of the alarm bells in Steamwheedle and cannon fire. I saw that the pirates were launching small craft as well as pulling up one of their ships to the main loading dock, next to the Kezan galleon. They were intent upon seizing both the ship and the offloaded cargo, and they were willing to storm the port’s defenses to get it.
Normally I wouldn’t get involved in what is a mercantile matter, but you know… Timothy was in town, and my gray horse, and a bunch of my crap that I didn’t want to lose, and any chance for a peaceful week here would be pretty much gone out the window if the pirate attack was successful.
Fine. I don’t like pirates, and I don’t like the slave trade. I didn’t want to see these people get captured and sold off on the South Seas markets. Happy?
As I was running towards the port, I saw the Tauren was dealing with a pack of pirates coming onto the beach from three small craft. I didn’t even think, I ducked under the dock and laid into the pirates with shadowfury and flame. Dathon nodded his thanks as we turned as one to get onto the pier and drive the main force of pirates back onto their ship.
That’s his name, the Tauren’s name. The Horde shaman who defended a goblin town with me. Dathon. I found it out, later.
We ran up the sandy slope onto the dock where the first pirates were already engaging the goblin guards. The guards were losing, badly. The galleon was already lost, but the town and caravan had not yet been taken. I took point, swinging my Kal’uak fishing pole like a cutlass, driving the first wave of pirates back and giving me room to work. Dathon threw down his totems and I felt their power wash over me. It tasted different than the Draenei spiritual energy that I was used to, if that makes any sense whatsoever, but the power was the same.
With a word, I dismissed Helola and summoned my Voidwalker, Thoglos, immediately commanding him to shield me as I charged into the mass of dirty, smelly men coming down the gangplank. Thog obeyed, rushing in front to protect me with his massive blue form while his black shield of force enveloped me.
With Dathon’s strong healing magic flowing through me, I did not hold back. Hellfire surged out from my body and blasted the pirates rushing across the deck of the goblin ship. Numerous small fires popped up, but I wasn’t concerned with property damage. Not one little bit. I wanted blood, and I wanted it NOW.
Just as the deck was cleared and my Hellfire subsided, a huge roar from behind me cut through the chaos. Dathon came charging onto the galleon, now with two huge maces in his hands. I spotted his squire on the dock below – he must have brought his master his weapons. I turned back and saw the Tauren charging onto the pirate ship lashed onto the galleon. I quickly cast shadowfury in front of him to give him time to get his footing, then followed behind to lend support.
To say the pirates were unprepared for two veterans of the Northrend war is an understatement. Clearing the two docked ships was a messy, cramped affair, but one that I’ve trained my own troops extensively for, and Dathon used his massive bulk to great advantage in the tight quarters. He and Thog would break down a reinforced door, I would stun or fear everyone in sight, and they would clean up. Our biggest problem was communications; I used the hand signals common to most mercenary bands, but they’re different enough from the Horde signals that Dathon would sometimes fall back when I asked him to hold position, or wait when I asked him to attack.
But we overcame those problems, and in short order both ships were secured, and we turned our attention to the second pirate ship now floating some distance from shore, exchanging periodic cannon fire with the shoreline emplacements.
Dathon made some strange gestures, something about getting out to the ship, but I just shook my head in disagreement and started casting. An infernal meteor shot out of the sky, missing the second ship and splashing into the water a short distance away.
Dathon turned to me, raised an eyebrow, then held up both hands some distance apart, then whistled. His mouth crooked into a slight smile.
“I didn’t miss,” I said, laughing. “Well, I did miss, but just wait a second.”
The Infernal came roaring out of the deep, his flaming rock body smashing a hole through the side of the ship at the waterline, setting planks on fire as he tore through the hold. Dathon nodded once, then bellowed to his gruntling before shimmering into a ghostly wolf form and leaping out to the beach to finish cleaning out the remaining pirates.
I turned my back and watched my Infernal tear that ship apart. I confess, I took a great deal of pleasure in the screams of the pirates as they met their ends.
The rest of the story is simple and bloody. While the port authorities rebuilt their defenses, Dathon, Krakor, Timothy and I mounted up and rode south to Lost Rigger’s Cove in the gathering darkness to burn their shipyards. The fight was short and brutal in the darkness, and soon the South Sea pirates had lost a few more ships… and shipbuilders.
We rode back to Steamwheedle in silence. I demanded a protection fee from the port authority — at my normal rates, plus a 20% emergency support fee — and then split the bounty with Dathon. He looked somewhat confused when I handed him a pouch of clinking gold coins, but accepted it nonetheless.
“Half the work, half the pay,” I said, looking up at him. The Horde insignia on his shoulder armor gleamed blood red in the candlelight. Suddenly, the distance between us was manifest. The shared glories of tonight, of finding a comrade-in-arms, couldn’t overcome that political gulf.
I turned and left. I didn’t know what else to say to someone who fights for a cause like that.
Yesterday left me grumpy and confused. Whatever peace I’d built up here on this beach was gone.
Dathon was up early too, but this morning he allowed me to witness his morning ceremony, welcoming the spirits of the new day as the sun rose over the water. His calm demeanor irritated me even more as I set my lines and tried to clear my head.
I’d been in Northrend too long. Just because he was a proud member of the Horde doesn’t mean he personally is responsible for all the wartime atrocities of the Horde… but he’s part of a group who has allied themselves with murderous, twisted undead, with the orcs who are responsible for wiping out a majority of my race. I’m a mercenary, but I’m still human, too. I was there at the Wrathgate, and at the Battle of the Undercity. I saw what the Forsaken are doing. I cleaned up after the Broken Front. I even engaged the Horde under Saurfang from the deck of the Skybreaker, when we should have been fighting Arthas.
Yet there he was, a member of that selfsame Horde, welcoming the sun with a calm, beatific expression, here to escape the horrors of Northrend. And we worked well together. Frighteningly well.
Was he rock-solid faith in his path and course, where I felt no such certainty?
It’s been several days since the pirate attack. The caravan is gone, taking its cargo to Gadgetzan and markets beyond. The weather is cool again, with the gentle breezes I remember from my first visit here.
Dathon and I have a truce, of sorts. Sometimes aided by Timothy or Krakor, we have had halting conversations when the fish weren’t biting. No longer separated on the shoreline by the dock, I cook our catches and we share meals together as the waves roll in and the fish bite, or not.
Tauren seem to prefer their fish delicately seasoned, and a little on the raw side. I don’t think I can comment on Orc tastes yet, since Krakor wanted to try all of Timothy’s favorite dishes, most of which involve some kind of Goretusk. So they both got spicy seafood gumbo instead.
Dathon has told me a little of his upbringing in Mulgore, and was pleasantly surprised that I’d been there. We both glossed over that I’d probably killed numerous guards on my way in to see it, but at least I could speak of the rolling plains with the experience of having been there. He talks of the spirits. I do not talk about demons in return, instead talking about the ebb and flow of markets and a mercenary’s life. Krakor, like Timothy, loves those stories best of all. (I take it that very few of Dathon’s stories start with “it all started when I was drunk in Booty Bay…” That kid needs adventure, and fast.)
I try not to think about the Horde, or the Alliance, or the war. We’re all just fishermen here. There is no world outside this one.
The letter arrived today. The letter from the world outside that I’d been trying to ignore.
I hope this letter finds you in good health.
As the forces of the Ashen Verdict continue their relentless advance through the fortress of the Lich King, the leaders of the Alliance have agreed that we cannot be so focused upon this single adversary and must seize this opportunity to eliminate other enemies who continue to threaten our nations.
However, it would be imprudent for both tactical and political reasons for the Alliance to withdraw large numbers of troops from the war in Northrend at this time. I have been authorized by King Varian Wrynn to enlist the aid of mercenaries, such as yourself, to strike the initial blows in our upcoming offensive against our enemies.
As you know, our enemies are beset by internal strife. Combined with their own focus upon the Northrend campaigns, we believe that now is the time to strike.
Should you accept this offer, you will be compensated according to the rates set forth in your previous contract with the Stormwind military, and you will be authorized to act with your previous military rank, should you so choose. The King has spoken highly of your work for us in the past and has agreed to give you latitude in pursuit of these essential goals to the success of the Alliance.
The Ashen Verdict will ensure that their war against the Lich King is waged according to their own high standards. I hope you will help us in waging our own war in a similar fashion.
I await your response.
For the Alliance,
The Alliance is not going to wait for the fall of the Lich King to bring war to the Horde. Someone in the upper brass thinks victory is a foregone conclusion, and has managed to convince the King it’s time to start moving, to lay the groundwork for a massive push as soon as Arthas’s crown hits the icy floor.
Part of me approves of this. This aggressive planning can win battles and wars when executed properly.
The rest of me, though, desires peace, even for a short time. There has been enough bloodshed for my lifetime, for so many lifetimes.
I try to fish, but my heart isn’t in it. Dathon knows something is up, his tauren face showing genuine concern. I don’t know what to say.
He cooks us a traditional Tauren meal for dinner, and I nearly cry at the gesture. The mixture of greens, dried fruit, and fish is delicious. I ask him for the recipe.
It is a good ending to a bad day.
In the dark of the night, listening to the endless surf, I make up my mind. I scribble out some written instructions for Timothy and wait for the dawn.
Dathon is there, greeting the rising sun, just as he has done every day for the past week. He finishes his ritual, and turns to face me. He takes in the sight of his fishing companion dressed in full battle gear, bright blue and gold Knight’s Colors gleaming in the newly-risen sun, and his face falls. It’s clear I wasn’t the only one trying to forget the insanity of the world beyond the seashore. He waits, calmly. I approach him slowly.
“Here,” I say, handing him my Kal’uak fishing pole. “You’ll need this if you want to catch anything bigger than those Mulgore trout you’re so fond of.”
Dathon makes no move to accept the offered gift. He just stares.
“Take it, you damn dirty cow,” I mutter under my breath. But he doesn’t budge. I’m standing next to him, suddenly uncomfortable about being so close to something so large, so potentially angry at me.
“Take it!” I yell up at him.
He blinks at me, once, twice, and then reaches out a massive hand.
“No,” he says, placing his hand on my shoulder. “We owe each other nothing. Go in peace, spirits guide your path.”
It’s the longest outburst in Common I’ve ever heard him utter. I have no response other than a weak smile.
So I take three steps back and snap to attention, giving him a salute worthy of the parade ground. Dathon continues to watch impassively as I mount my grey horse and ride back up the sandy bank to where Timothy and Krakor are waiting. Timothy, mounted on his pony, had packed in record time. I suspect Krakor helped.
I pause in front of the Orc boy and salute him as well. He returns it, his face grave and confused.
“Come on, Timothy,” I say. “We have a job ahead of us. Onwards to Theramore.” I start my horse on the road to Gadgetzan.
“Yes ma’am,” he says, falling in behind me.
Timothy waves once to his friend in the village below.
I, however, do not.