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A War of Thorns and Bulls

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Kimba looked about with disgust at the village’s ruin. Night elven corpses lay sprawled in grisly pieces, often with fingers clawing at their throats desperately. Wisps wept softly as they glided by wistfully, drawn towards the same direction as if caught by a rogue wind. The braves around him were as disquieted as he was, for the most part. Some reveled in the easy victory, those Kimba knew for cravens and old men praying to go home to see their families before they passed. The young were largely shocked and reviled.

“Alright, Braves,” he said, “This is our camp for the night. Take whatever you want but leave the dead. They belong to the forest.” The warriors spread about, walking around the bodies uneasily. Kimba set his sights on the largest building, a hollow tree with purple designs depicting some ancient hunt, and across it the same pattern repeated: an eye with a mountain for a pupil.

A young bull followed behind Kimba like a faithful hound. Isi hid his uneasy better than the others, and that wasn’t the only thing he concealed. Kimba had known him long enough for the boy to confide in him his secret; the boy was a girl. Isi’s body was broad and strong enough to pass for a man’s, and Kimba liked her well enough, so he agreed to consider her a bull and never speak otherwise to the Braves. For that, Isi followed him around and did everything he asked and was generally an amiable student of war.

“Do you know anything about this place, boss?” Isi asked, his voice sturdy to further hide his nervousness.

“Aye, I’ve ranged this far a few times,” Kimba replied, “This is the manor of the village elders, the Fargazes. They are a druid clan that speak to the spirits of the woods on the behalf of the people. There is quite a story regarding them, if you’re keen to learn.”

“C’mon, boss, you know how much I love your stories.” The pair clopped down into the hollow tree, following the winding passage down and down and down into the deep earth. The wind felt still down here, as though time stood still.

“What the hell, telling the tale in the elves’ own hole seems only fitting. The Fargaze clan first gained favor among Kaldorei during the War of the Ancients. They were a fierce hunter clan before they took up the way of the Dream, so they made for good captains in the war. They could hunt down Highborne mages like no other, and the star of the Fargaze clan was called Shanoris.

“Shanoris was the eldest daughter of the clan’s patriarch, and the greatest hunter. She had a passion for slaying mages and was a true artist with a glaive. Indeed, she was so good at killing that it became her downfall. For with the war turning sour, Illidan’s draconian tactics appealed to the kill-hungry Shanoris. Though she would not become a demon hunter for some time later, she quickly fell out of favor with the Kaldorei for her love of Illidan, which continued after his dishonoring at the war’s conclusion.”

The passageway opened wide to a huge entryway, larger than the chieftain’s tent in Thunder Bluff. Kimba continued his tale, reveling in the echo of his strong voice along the wide walls, “Shanoris’ father Idaro swore his life to uphold the balance of nature, and in his oath, he swore to uphold family beyond all else. So when his daughter was denounced and threatened with exile, Idaro did all he could to turn his daughter away from her dark path.

“But Shanoris was not easily swayed, not even by her own blood. She fled home and found a master of the demon hunting arts. She cut out her eyes and drank in the power of demons and learned to hunt them wherever they appeared. When she returned home to display her power to her younger sister Kyrande, Shanoris was disappointed to find her family had disowned her as well.

“Before too long, even her beloved sister betrayed her. In one of their secret meetings, Kyrande betrayed Shanoris to the Wardens. The fierce huntress was brought to heel and with her last word against her family, she cursed them. Idaro would never have another child to replace his betrayed daughter. Though she had turned aside Elune’s grace, the spirits of the woods heard her, and the curse was sealed.

“The demon hunter wasted away in the dark cells for thousands of years, but one day she was awakened. To the Black Temple she and the other Illdari flew, and before long a new prison was made for them. Shorter years went by before she awakened again, amidst blood and fire. Once again, she took up the glaives and flew to battle. It is said that in the Broken Isles, she found her sister in mortal peril, and a nephew as well. Kyrande, the sister, was lost, but the nephew was saved. When the war ended, Shanoris brought the boy home, to these very halls. The story says Idaro at last forgave Shanoris. And the curse? Perhaps it was broken, but perhaps not. Only time will tell.”

Isi’s bright eyes were lit up with fascination and fixed on Kimba as he concluded the tale. “Where is the demon hunter now?” she asked.

Kimba shrugged. “I couldn’t say. I heard that story from a night elf who lived here. She was brought to me a couple nights back by the scouts. I asked her again and again, ‘Where is the huntress?’ but she refused to betray any member of the elder family.”

A quiet moan echoed through the halls. In the dead silence of the halls, it seemed more like a booming crash. Kimba drew his spear and Isi her axe and shield. They clopped towards the sound slowly. Isi whispered, “Could that be her?”

“If it were a demon hunter,” Kimba whispered back, “We would already be dead.” They followed the sound into a small room no larger than a broom cupboard and discovered a naked night elf girl huddled in some straw.

Isi gaped at the girl, evidently unsure what to do with her. Kimba put up his spear and removed his fur cloak to drape it over the groggy girl’s hairless body. “What is your name, elf?” he said in Darnassian. Having raided the night elves for so long, he had picked it up at a conversational level from questioning prisoners.

“D-dad?” the girl asked groggily.

“Hah! No. I don’t think so,” Kimba replied.

Isi looked at his confusedly. “What did she say?”

“She mistook me for her father.”

“Well, you have a certain…fatherly way about you.”

If only that were true, he thought to himself bitterly. He took the girl up in his strong arms and carried her out into the light. She had no facial tattoos, which could mark her as a child, but Kimba understood little of the Kaldorei’s culture. Her forest-green hair was tied up in a long braid decorated with folded leaves of autumn colors.

Her silvery eyes blinked open and she smiled at Kimba. “Hello there,” she said groggily…in Taurahe.

Kimba smirked. “You speak my tongue? Maybe you’re not as young as you look.”

The elf giggled. “Looks can be deceiving. Where am I?”

Isi spoke up, “You’re in Fargaze Village, the elders’ manor. You don’t remember anything?”

The girl frowned and seemed to be straining. “No, I guess I forgot again. Oh well! You two seem nice. Can I have some clothes? People tend to look at me funny when I go around naked.”

“I’ll bet,” Kimba said with a chuckle. Having gotten a good look at her earlier, he had felt some stirrings down below. He tried to set them aside, at least until he could figure out how old she was. “Do you remember your name, at least?”

“It’s Lyra. Lyra…oh—” she chewed at her braid thoughtfully. “Nope! I guess I don’t remember my last name either.”

Isi blinked at the girl, baffled. Kimba merely laughed. “I like you, Lyra. You may not know much, but you know how to stay positive! I’ll find a place for you to stay while we sort out the clothes situation.”

“Much obliged! What are your names, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Name’s Kimba, and I’m from the Goldfield in Mulgore. That’s Isi from Taurajo.” Isi gave the elf a shy wave. Seems I’m not the only one falling victim to this one’s charms.

Once they had Lyra comfortable in what was clearly the elder’s own bedroom, Kimba pulled the door curtain to and stalked out of earshot with Isi.

Kimba said, “The girl doesn’t seem to know about the massacre, so she’s either playing dumb to spy on us, or she’s likely to go mad when she sees the carnage outside.”

Isi nodded, scratching his lightly furred chin. “Are you planning on bringing her with us?”

“It would be safer. If she is a spy, we don’t want her running free. If she’s as docile as she seems, then she’ll be in danger the moment she steps out into the forest alone.”

“Ah, boss, you really do have a heart.”

Kimba snorted. “Actually yes, I do. You need a heart to pump blood, and blood to get hard.”

Uck! That’s vile. You should feel ashamed of yourself.”

“Think that girl’s old enough for me?”

“Really, boss? I swear, you think like a little boy.” Isi tried to act high and mighty, but Kimba could see his façade crumbling.

“So you say. I know what you’re really thinking.”

“What? But I—Well, do you think I have a chance?” Isi had all the innocence of a young boy and girl rolled into one. Kimba patted him on the shoulder.

“She seems friendly enough. Just don’t mention that we slaughtered hundreds or thousands of her people in the last few days and I’m sure she’ll warm up to you.”

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“Really? You once at a whole kodo roast by yourself?” Lyra asked excitedly as they rode. The little elf shared Isi’s kodo, who was having difficulty crossing the shattered ruin of Darkshore. She wore some elven-style clothes they had scavenged for her. They fit loosely about her slim frame, but they were the best that could be found under the circumstances.

Kimba snorted as many Braves who had long known him implored him to tell the story. “Ah, yes. When I was five stone lighter and a hell of a lot hungrier. My brother Rumba was caught boasting that he could eat a whole dragon. We had been marching the Barrens for half a year and supplies had run out weeks prior. Wild game was scarce with the Alliance and Horde armies moved in across from each other, so we were down to eating grass and bugs and anything else we could get our hands on.

“Well, I retorted that I’d like to see him try to hunt down a dragon. Also that our brother Qarn would castrate him if he ever mentioned doing such a thing in his presence. Our elder brother loved dragons; he even pledged loyalty to them during the Scourge War.

“Rumba relented and said, ‘Fine, a kodo, then. I could down a whole rack of kodo ribs in one sitting.’ So we made a bet. When we made it home, we’d have our families fire up a feast and we would race each other to eat a whole kodo each. And so we did. But after I beat him on eating the ribs, I kept going. Every last ounce of meat that kodo had to offer, I gobbled them down and asked for seconds.”

Isi faked a gag and shook her head. “Boss even ate the poor beast’s balls. I’ll never get that image out of my head.”

Lyra giggled girlishly. The other Braves joined in laughing, their own voices much throatier. Lyra had a way of causing joy in the troupe. When Kimba had received the order to march on from Fargaze Village, he made certain the girl was asleep so she wouldn’t have to see the devastation they left behind. The girl had been none the wiser, and morale was all the better for it.

“I wonder if I’ve ever eaten kodo,” Lyra mused, “I can’t seem to remember the taste. I’d love to try some.”

Kimba shrugged. “We never let out tireless companions go to waste. I’m certain the war will cost us a few, but we’ll eat well in their memory. You’ll get your share then.”

Isi gagged again. “Just as long as you don’t make us eat every part of them!”

Lyra said, “You’ll never know if you like it until you try it, Isi!”

Kimba snorted as Isi shook his head vehemently. Then their kodo tripped on a loose shelf of rock and nearly fell down a sudden steep drop. Isi cried out as she fell, tumbling head over hooves on the slope. Lyra managed to stop a short way down, but the Brave and the kodo fell all the way to the bottom and splashed down in river rapids.

“Isi!” Kimba roared, already dismounted. “Someone get some rope!” He peered down to try and spot the fallen Brave. He resurfaced, belly-down, further down the rapids. “Dammit! I’m going down there!”

Kimba slid his way down the hill, hooves screeching against the rocks. Lyra watched him as he passed, rubbing her head sorely. The black bull reached the bottom and took off down the wet pebble riverbed after Isi, who still wasn’t moving. Up ahead, the river tumbled down another steep cliff. Kimba hastened, charging like a cannonball.

A shadow passed overhead. A bird flew down and landed on Isi’s back. Kimba shouted, “Leave her alone, you crow! You’re not eating this one!”

The bird’s shape changed suddenly. It turned green and its body morphed in a liquid fashion like nothing Kimba had ever seen before. Suddenly, the bird was no more, and a giant squid took its place. The cephalopod gripped a large boulder with two of its strong legs and the rest spiraled around the unconscious Brave’s body. By the time Kimba reached them, Isi was lying on her back on the pebbles, bleeding from half a dozen cuts.

“Isi! Breathe, dammit!” He pushed on his chest, feeling the faint outline of breasts that spoke to his true nature. He shook his thoughts away, pushed away his errant stirrings. He focused on Isi – on his mouth and lungs. He pushed again and again until finally the Brave sputtered out water and took a deep breath.

“Oh, boss,” Isi muttered, “Thank An’she I didn’t die with my last thoughts being you munching on a kodo’s balls.”

Kimba fell back, breathing hard and laughing at the top of his lungs. “Thank that bird-squid thing. That’s what did the real work.” He looked to where the strange morphing creature had been and saw in its place Lyra sat cross-legged and naked as when they first found her.

“Hi Isi,” Lyra said, “I’m glad you’re not dead.”

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Kimba grunted as Isi set him down against the trunk of a tree. The sounds of battle ringed through the woods, and all around the groans of agony of the dead and dying gave the black bull some discouraging thoughts. His head throbbed painfully, and every time he reached to feel for his right-side horn, he bristled angrily to feel it shortened and jagged.

“Human bastard,” he seethed. “I never saw the shots coming. I didn’t even know guns could hold more than one bullet at a time. Not ones you can carry with you, anyway.” His leg was bleeding as well, but it was his horn that truly concerned him. He’d walked off worse wounds, but never had anyone managed to take one of his horns.

“I think it adds character,” Isi said as he waved a medic over. “The beach is nearly secure. Sylvanas herself made an appearance.”

“Get my leg patched up, and we’ll go see her up-close.” Isi’s face twisted with a mixture of excitement and fear. Kimba couldn’t blame him. The medic, however, was less emotional about the idea of rushing Kimba’s treatment.

“The bullet is buried in the flesh,” the undead said, “It will require time to remove, and it is not serious enough to warrant immediate action. I have others in critical condition. If you’re in such a rush to go to battle again, then by all means. Don’t come crying to me when your leg mortifies.”

“I don’t intend to.” Isi helped Kimba limp to the beach. The dead lay half-buried in the sand underfoot as the tauren approached the mass of Horde soldiers. Catapults fired at the Alliance navy as the ships fell back, desperate to avoid their vast range.

Kimba’s Braves were abuzz nearby. Once they approached, Kimba could see why. “Lyra, what are you doing out here? I told you to stay in camp.”

The elf looked around at the elves, seeming strangely curious rather than upset. “They’re like me,” she said simply. “So that’s who you’re fighting.”

Isi handed Kimba off to another brave and stepped to Lyra’s side. He awkwardly placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry you had to see this, Lyra. We hoped we could spare you. Come on, I’ll take you back to camp. You’ll be safe there.”

Lyra cocked her head at Isi’s hand, then glanced out at looming Teldrassil. “I was going to stay at camp, but I thought I heard something call to me. I think…it was out there.”

Kimba frowned at the nearby catapults. They were changing aim from the fleeing fleet. “What could they be aiming at?” He got his answer only a moment later, when the fiery boulders let fly across the expanse of water and crashed against the massive tree. Kimba blinked and stared. So that’s the way of it, he thought, Sylvanas is certainly making a statement.

“An’she, no!” one of the braves shouted. It might have been Isi, but there were hundreds of voices crying out all around: night elven captives and Horde soldiers alike. Kimba sighed and told his brave to let him go. He used his spear to prop himself up, instead. I must show my strength, or they’ll start questioning. This wasn’t the first time he’d led troops after such questionable actions from superiors.

“Isi,” he said. The boy didn’t seem to hear him. He was clutching Lyra as if he might fall over. The elf looked to be clutching her stomach in pain. “Isi! You need to take her back to camp. Now.” Isi didn’t ask questions, but Kimba worried he was so struck he might have misheard. He led Lyra away nonetheless.

Now to keep the others in line. What a pain in the ass this is. I’m going to need a woman when this is all over, or I may well lose my wits.

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