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A Guardian's Duty

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Bitterly cold winds whipped around the summit of Highmountain.  Ice and rain kicked up by the storm tore into and around around the pair that was working their way towards the summit, struggling intermittently against the heavy gusts heavy rain.  Despite the saddle that rested on the Frostwolf's back, Garinth trudged stoically alongside his partner. Wrapped in heavy armor and the thick furs traditional for his clan, his progress was slow in the thin air.

It had been hours since they had set out on the last leg of their path, and the half-orc was grateful when the heavily built longhouse came into sight ahead.  A flash of lightning illuminated the area more brightly, pulverizing the rock it struck and sending a crash of thunder across the crag. Undaunted, Garinth guided his partner through the storm and up to the heavy wooden door that protected the structure.  His fist thudded against it three times, then again after a few moments without a response.

Finally, a bar on the door could be heard being removed from the other side.  An old highmountain tauren appeared a moment later, looking over the guest and scoffing.  "I should have known," the elder said in taur'ahe, then moved out of the way. "Get inside little wolf, before your friend freezes."

Garinth ushered the massive frostwolf inside, and then followed after.  "He's fine," Garinth managed to reply from under the wrap covering his face, turning around to look at his host.  "And I couldn't wait for the storm to pass." He pulled the helmet and scarf free of his face, watching as the door was barred again.  "Things aren't in the greatest shape back home at the moment, and I need to be able to get back."

“That seems a constant state for your or your home,” was the swift reply, followed immediately by a cautious study of the half-orc.  “The letter said you wished to study the runes that sealed the nercodark and the abomination? Why?”

“I don’t think what happened here was isolated Holun, and I don’t think I know anyone who is actively trying to work to protect against it.”  Garinth moved quickly to shed the wet layers of fur from himself as he spoke, stacking the garments in a pile near the fire. “I know you can’t tell me anything without getting into some trouble, so I am just asking for a place to stay.  I know some of the wards that were used were placed up here. I will try to stay out of your fur as much as possible.”

The white furred tauren grumbled something incomprehensible in response, before shaking his head and moving to stoke the fire in the center of the structure.  “You will try, but we both know that you won’t Garinth. You will need a guide, and likely…advice. From someone who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks anymore.”  There was a subtle shift in the tauren’s manner and voice after the pause, seeming to find more humor in the idea than before. Strangely though, it fated just as abruptly as it came.

“Maybe…”  Garinth allowed, moving over to Greywind and starting to remove some of the packs that been attached to the frostwolf’s harness.  “But at least I brought some compensation for you this time. Cured pork, whiskey, and some of the herbs you like to apply to your knees.”  Thunder cracked again outside, interrupting the explanation briefly. It drew the half-orc’s attention to the door, but after a few heartbeats he resumed freeing his partner of the heavy burden he carried.  “Honestly though, I’d give them to you just for letting me in.”

The tauren chuckled at that, but let the young half-orc work.  “We can discuss it after the two of you warm up some. The storm won’t let up until tomorrow morning anyway.  We’ll have plenty of time.”

Edited by Garinth
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“How are you handling things, little wolf?” Holun asked curiously, not struggling on the hike nearly as much as either of the Frostwolf pair.  There was little that Garinth could do to rush acclimating to the high altitude, but the work had to be done. All he could do was move slowly and try not to stress himself or Greywind too much.  As he looked up to his white furred guide, the tauren added, “Generally, I mean. You seem...perhaps better off than last we met.”

Chest heaving as they paused to take a break, Garinth gave a nod.  “Your guidance helped,” he replied with a raise of his eyebrows. “I’m not...I’m not trying to use them to be something else anymore.  I wasn’t ever going to be what my father was.” The shaman reached for his waterskin then, and took a long draw from the cool water within.

“There’s more to it than that,” Holun replied with a wizened smile, his demeanor shifting subtly and growing more relaxed as he leaned against his walking staff.  “You carry yourself differently, straighter perhaps. Even your grandmother seemed more at ease when we spoke last night.”

That earned a weak smile from the half-orc, and a swift shake of his head.  “That’s not entirely my own doing, Holun. I feel, lately at least, that I have been fulfilling my purpose.  I’m training with the Winds, but most of my time has been occupied with offering guidance and shelter. The organization I belong to underwent a shuffle of leadership a few months back, and I was called to help with it.”

The tauren gave a thoughtful hum in reply, and then made sure that his traveling companions were ready before starting to move up the mountain again.  Mid stride, Holun’s shoulders seemed to hunch a little and his age grew more apparent. “Is that why you’re here then? More of this...guidance and shelter business?”

“Everyone else is too consumed with the war,”  Garinth replied, having to break up his sentences to breathe again as he trudged along behind.  Greywind continued alongside him in silence, panting but otherwise seeming mostly at ease in the thing air.  “They either want to avoid it or...join it. None of my ancestors have any experience with it. My position...involves keeping members safe so... someone needs to be looking for ways to protect ourselves from these things.  And maybe...maybe it’ll help with what’s happening to Azeroth too.”

“You’re not a member of the Ring anymore, little wolf,” Holun chided quickly, “If you were, you would know they had already been here to see what could be made of the wards.  I doubt you will glean anything they have not already.” The reproach quieted the half-orc, and he resorted to following along in silence afterward. The was plenty enough to look at on the hike, so near to the mountain’s peak granting a broad vantage of the Broken Isles.  It was nearly an hour later that they reached their destination, and the tauren stopped to point a a hollow ahead.

“That stone in the center there, that marked the location of this ward.  We should have a few hours up here before we need to head back down for the day.”  The tauren paused then, and gave the shaman a quick look over. “Will that be long enough?”

Garinth’s gaze drew distant then, but after a few moments he nodded.  “It’ll have to be. Even if I wanted to set up camp here, there’s not enough shelter in that bowl to keep safe from the storms.”  Holun gave a simple nod to the half-orc’s appraisal, and began to lead them down into depression.

Edited by Garinth
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The pitch black slowly began to fade.  It was only a meager glow at first, a hazy brightening at the center of Garinth’s sight.  As the darkness faded, it was shapes that began to takes shape next, and finally color. The shaman’s chest still heaved from the effort the fight had required, after needing to shift to tactics nearly forgotten in the time since his sight had returned.  A dragobar, grey skinned and pallid lay dead on the ice nearby, a hole seared through his chest surrounded by a tree like lattice of burns. The storm Garinth had called began to rumble overhead.

“Garinth, we need to move,”  Holun called from nearby. As the younger shaman turned to look at the old tauren, he immediately spotted the broken ankle.  Luckily, Greywind was big enough and strong enough to support the old bull.

“Sorry,”  Garinth called, getting back to his feet.  He shook his head as he approached, still shaken from the fight.  “Whatever he hit me with...I couldn’t see.”

“Well, you dealt with it,”  the tauren said gruffly, his demeanor changing as another of his ancestors took control temporarily.  “But the storm you called is going to tear into us soon, and I would really prefer not to be out in the open.”

“I can keep the strikes away from us,”  the half-orc replied, “but as soon as it gets here we’re going to have more problems than just them.”  The wind was already picking up as he spoke, scattering gravel and ice around the cave entrance they stood in front of.  Near to the site of the wards placed long ago, Holun had thought they might find more of use within. Necrodark drogobar had poured out of the place during the conflict the Highmountain had weathered recently.

Garinth knelt down and made a light Call for healing magics as he reached Holun, trying to tend enough to the tauren’s wound that he could walk with aid back to the long house.  “The affliction you suffered is new,” the tauren said quickly, “I’ll make sure the entrance is sealed off after you leave. We don’t need anyone stumbling on more of them on a vision quest or the like.”

“Agreed,” Garinth said quickly, the healing magics only just doing enough work before petering out.  “I can wait to head home until after though, if you need.” He stood upright then, and watched as Holun tested his weight.  The highmountain winced and leaned on Greywind again, but didn’t collapse.

“I’m not yet so old that I need help with such a menial task, little wolf.”  After bracing himself on his walking staff a little, he looked to the frostwolf and nodded back down the mountain.  “Come on then, you got what you came for. Best we get to shelter so you can bring it back to your organization.”

Geywind looked to Garinth for direction, and after receiving a nod set off while watching the old and injured tauren.  “There’s not a lot to bring back, Holun,” the half-orc said with a shake of his head. “The wards here were for sealing, not anything like a protective barrier.  Even then, I’d need some source of power for it. I was hoping to be able to find a better way to keep those under my watch safe.”

The tauren grunted in response, wobbling for a moment on his bad leg.  Above and in front of them, the thunderhead rumbled and began to blot out the sun.  “You young types always worry about the...immediacy of your knowledge,” the tauren grumbled slowly, his demeanor shifting again as he appeared to take on a few extra decades, “Sometimes just the knowing is enough.  You might be able to pass it on to someone else. So, perhaps you just need to be the custodian for a while.”

The half-orc didn’t seem pleased by the advice, but nodded all the same.  In advance of the storm he began the call to ward off the lightning that would be coming.  “I need to be able to protect my people now, Holun,” he said dryly, merely holding onto the spell as they made their way back down the path.  “I can’t wait for trouble to strike and trust that I...or we can fend it off.”

That drew a deep belly laugh from the tauren, despite the pain and the looming misfortune creeping towards them.  “Your duty is more than just preventing things from happening, little wolf. You’re going to have to break that line of thought and loosen up, or you’ll only end up more frustrated with things.  That won’t going to help you keep anyone safe, and certainly won’t help with your duties to your ancestors.”

“Spirits,”  Garinth swore, trudging purposefully down the path.  “That sort of advice is obnoxious to be on the receiving end of.”  The statement drew another laugh from the tauren, ended abruptly as a false step sent shooting pains up Holun’s leg.  Garinth paused and attempted to help with supporting him, but was waved off.

“You are going to have to get comfortable with your talents at some point, Garinth,”  the old tauren replied dryly. “Beyond...earthwork projects and wards, I mean. You can sit on the sidelines in your cave for as long as you want, but if this war rolls onto your shores it won’t do you much good.  War on this scale doesn’t care how much you want to hide. If you don’t stand up and actively protect the things you care about, you’ll get ground down like everything else.”

The half-orc’s expression seemed to sour further at the reprimand, but it gave him something to think about as they trudged down the mountain.  They made the rest of the trek in silence, Holun focusing on not injuring himself further and Garinth mulling over what had been said. They were lucky to escape the drogobar further up the summit, but the storm wasn’t nearly as merciful.  By the time they reached Holun’s longhouse the trio of travelers was soaked down to their bones.

Edited by Garinth

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