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Memories of the Dead

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The heat of the forge still warmed Throggok's skin as he retreated from its warmth, a bundle cradled in one arm. The orc, clad in the thin protective leather of a smith, disappeared easily through the other members of the Blackrock Clan as they worked endlessly to repair and forge weapons. Day and night the forges bellowed smoke as swords, axes, pikes and hammers were crafted by their skillful hands. Black calluses, numbed by years of such work, were a point of pride and Throggok could feel his tightening around the precious treasure he held close to his chest. 

Retreating from the crowded anvils, he made his way through the dark halls of Blackrock Spire. The further he moved away from the beating hammers of his brothers and sisters, the quieter the spire became. Here was where they slept, when allowed, and there would be no sleep for the Blackrock Clan until the humans marching toward them were dead. 

"So too will we sleep," he muttered under his breath, a prayer to the ancestors for a good death on the battlefield. He was old now, and dragged a lame foot once crushed by the weight of an anvil. He could still swing a hammer with the strength of three humans, but he was too slow for the battle that would soon arrive. Throggok found the small cubicle that he once shared with his mate Ashra, now dead from exhaustion. Only days ago, the orcess had fallen into the forge as she worked to reassemble a broken axe. The weapon had taken a beating in its last battle, wielded by their son Gor'mul. He had survived to tell the tale, but their priceless family heirloom was damaged nearly beyond repair. They might have forgotten it, given the battle to come. With the forces of Lordaeron marching toward Blackrock Mountain, what was one weapon? 

But the axe, Juggulator, was had been passed down from Throggok's father. It earned him the name Spinecleaver, and both he and Ashra agreed that their son should wield it when the final battle came. What they failed to understand, however, was that Doomhammer would push them to their limits in the final days before the siege. No sleep, little food remaining, and their allies missing forced the Blackrock Clan to work harder than they ever worked in their lives. The old fell while on their feet, and this included Ashra. With Juggulator still in pieces, Throggok took it upon himself to put it back together.

That was only days ago. Today, as Throggok hammered at the metal he heard the call.

"To arms! Lordaeron approaches!!"

The smiths would be removed from the forges soon, to join their brothers and sisters in battle. Until then, they worked harder, faster, and didn't notice that Throggok removed himself and Juggulator from his place by the anvil. It was still in two pieces, and if given enough time he would have been able to repair it. The thought of just how much time he spent on this single weapon weighed on his conscience, but he still saw his father's eyes in the grooves of the axe's handle, designed to resemble a spine. No, this piece of their lineage would survive. 

Pulling out loose bricks from the floor of his cubicle, Throggok dug into the dirt beneath until he had enough space to hide Juggulator. Still wrapped in loose hide, he placed the broken axe inside and placed a hand over the still-warm bundle.

"You will taste blood again," he promised. "I swear it."

Outside of the cubicle, he could hear the loud slap of boots against stone. They were running, now, to move into position. Carefully, he moved the bricks back into their place and kicked loose dirt into the cracks between them. Satisfied with his hiding spot, the old smith pushed himself back to his feet and pushed open the chest that held his armor and axes. With the future secure, it was time to meet his destiny.

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Matuya wrapped her hands, again, beside constantly refilled bucket of water next to her anvil. Blood seeped through the thin bandages, the same thin skin torn through as she endlessly hammered weapons. The orcess' soft hands were unaccustomed to the forge, but she agreed to do her part long ago. Sweat rolled down her arms, stinging the wounds as she wound the bandages until the blood was hidden again. Eventually she would wrap them again, but she could ignore the pain for a while longer. Lordaeron was coming, and the Blackrock Clan would not allow the Horde to fall short of weapons. A Frostwolf herself, she was a small representation for her clan in this place, and she would make them proud.

Pressing her lips together tightly, Matuya closed her eyes and stood stone still as a wave of nausea passed over her. She hadn't eaten in several hours, but as the humans approached and allies remained missing, their food was being rationed. The nausea, however, had been with her for the past several weeks. She knew what this meant, and cursed the timing. Before she could return to her place, a thick callused hand landed on her shoulder and startled Matuya from her thoughts.

"Oh! Gor'mul," she said, shaking her head. "I was just taking a moment to wrap my hands."

"Are you alright?" He asked quietly, leaning in so that no one else could hear them over the clanging of hammers and metal. "You look pale."

"I'm fine," she answered, smiling beneath the black soot that caked most of their faces. "Just a little sick today. That's supposed to be a good sign."

"You should eat something," the Blackrock muttered, glancing behind himself. "There's no point in such heavy rationing if the humans are sending all of their forces here." Pausing to look around them, at all of the weapons being prepared and the excitement of a looming battle, he took in a heavy breath of smoky air and muttered confidently. "We're going to decimate them."

"I've heard that they outnumber us," Matuya argued gently. "Without our allies, we may not be able to defend the mountain. The human king leads them himself."

"They don't have what we have," Gor'mul said firmly, whispering toward her again. "The Burning Blade are with us. The humans will see their madness and know a death like no other, I promise you that. What I'm worried about is you, and our child."

Matuya's smile faltered, as if skeptical of her mate's claim. She shook her head at the mention of their eventual progeny and tried again to smile. "I'm fine," she reassured the Blackrock, tilting her head up to kiss him. The salt from Gor'mul's green skin made her salivate. "It's early days yet."

Gor'mul gazed at his mate, sadness coloring his red eyes. Matuya was one of the few remaining in Blackrock Mountain who retained her brown skin, and the color brought back memories of their time hunting clefthooves together in the wild. He had never seen anyone wield a bow the way she could, though she eventually gave it up to accompany him to the forges of Blackrock Mountain. The Frostwolf made a place for herself, her small dexterous hands skilled at hammering the details in smaller weapons, but there was always a softness in her hazel eyes that even the war couldn't harden. When she told him that she carried his child, Gor'mul's chest swelled with pride, and his family celebrated the continuation of their line. There were a few happy days before the rationing, and his mother's untimely death.

Now he saw her color fading, and the fear of losing her to the approaching battle drew a tremble in each hand. Squeezing her shoulder, he steadied himself and kissed Matuya's forehead. "I will find you something. Wait here, and--"

"To arms! Lordaeron approaches!!"

Gor'mul's jaw dropped. Now? So soon? He looked around for his father, but the old orc was gone.

"You! Frostwolf!" The voice forced both Gor'mul and Matuya to turn in its direction to find a tall broad-chested Blackrock commander waving the smaller orc toward him. "With me and the archers!"

Knowing their time together was short, Matuya kissed Gor'mul one last time. Her lips were cold, he thought vaguely. "Fight well, ha'rega," she said quickly, and then she was gone.

Standing alone as chaos erupted around him, Gor'mul considered what he must do. Armor, weapons, and then battle. Perhaps death. Somewhere, his mate would be fighting from a safe distance and this was good. If he fell on this day, she would tell their child about him and his family, and that would have to do. Better for him to die than his mate, the mother of his child. 

"Victory or death," he said to himself, and prepared for the battle ahead.

Edited by Vilmah

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Gor'mul stared at the chains over his wrists, cold metal stinging his wounds. The humans had no manacles big enough for his orcish frame, or anyone else's. Instead they wrapped thick steel chains around wrists and ankles, binding the few remaining orcs who survived the Siege of Blackrock Spire. 

A thin tinny sound whistled in Gor'mul's ears, likely caused by the noise of the battle. He couldn't hear the whistle as screams and metal against bone rang out around him, or as he himself roared loud enough to damage his throat until he tasted blood on his tongue. The cacophony of death shielded him from whatever that high pitched whine was, and he found himself longing for it. There was an itch in his palms where his axe should be, but that axe was long gone, buried in some human's body. He ached for the crunch of bone, again. His mouth throbbed from the clench of his jaw. On both sides, a human held a pike blade close enough to threaten his life if he so much as spoke a word. The whistle annoyed him, but not as much as the babble of humans around him.

"March them down," one of the humans shouted, but Gor'mul didn't understand their garbled language. The pull of his chains by another orc in front of him signaled that he should walk, so he walked. Obedient. The very idea made the rage build up in his belly again, and it would be easy to simply use those chains and strangle a few humans before ultimately being put to death. That would be an honorable way to die.

Instead, he walked with his fellow prisoners down toward a gathering of yet more orcs, herded like beasts.

Somewhere over the human speech and rattle of chains, he could still hear the mad screaming of the Burning Blade. He witnessed them unleashed, cast into the battlefield like wild animals who cut down all in their path. Though trained in the arts of war, he had never seen so much blood in his entire life. Limbs strewn across the battlefield continued to bleed over still-twitching corpses, arrows and swords buried in their cooling flesh. He wondered idly how many of those arrows were Matuya's? How many humans did she kill? Was she even still alive?

"Get them in the wagon!" One of the humans shouted, but Gor'mul could only hear grunting. Far away he could see a group of orcs, females mostly, being loaded into a wooden transport led by horses. The females had been stripped of their armor and Gor'mul could see from his vantage point that some were being prodded and checked for any hidden weapons. One of them, a noticeably brown female, was being shoved into the back of the transport.

"Matuya," Gor'mul grunted, his eyes widening at the sight of her. Without her armor, her Frostwolf tattoos and brown skin gave her away immediately. "Matuya!"

The butt of a rifle took the wind from Gor'mul's lungs. A human barked something at him, likely an order for his silence, but he continued to cough and cover the whistle in his ears by calling for his mate.

"Tuya," he wheezed, forcing himself to stand upright and shout toward the females. A few turned toward the commotion, but their human guards continued to herd them into the wagon. "Tuya! Tuya, be strong!!"

Another rifle butt to his stomach sent Gor'mul to the ground. He didn't fight the jab, chained as he was, but coughed leaned over and coughed until he could breathe normally again. Humans continued barking their orders, but all he could hear was that high pitched squeal. Grinding his teeth, the Blackrock shook his head, as if perhaps that might dislodge the sound. Another jab of a rifle butt to his back reminded him to stand and walk, and the noise went with him. It went with him toward the gathering of orc prisoners, and it followed him on the wagon set aside for the males. It didn't let up even when he was pushed against two dozen bodies, their injuries and sweat creating a stench that could be detected miles away. The noise was like a friend, a gift of the battlefield, and like the horrors of that day it would stay with him until he died.

Edited by Vilmah

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Wind was loud in the Arathi Highlands. Without many trees to dampen the breeze, the sound of wind gusting on more extreme days could often be deafening. It was the only thing that could compete with the whistle in Gor'mul's ears, still ringing months after the Siege of Blackrock Spire. He and the dozens of other males who were transported with him sat listlessly in large cages, built specifically for the once enormous orcish captives. As the wind blew, rattling loose chains nearby, he remembered the way they were brought to this green and rainy place. Dragged by their chains from wagons, they were led toward a primitive base manned with a few dozen human soldiers. Without armor or weapons, the orcs were half naked and starved from the journey. It would be something to get used to, along with the breeze of their new "home".

Placed in cages with little to no privacy, the orcs were given buckets to defecate in and yet more buckets of water for drinking. If they were the same buckets, no one questioned it. They were provided with threadbare clothing and blankets, as if their size somehow made the chill of Arathi less powerful. Food was limited to bread and grains, sometimes beans and vegetables. There was a noticeable lack of meat, but the longer they remained in captivity, the less anyone complained. A strange lethargy had overcome the orcs, who took to their cages like wounded pets. Gor'mul shared his cage with several other males, all Blackrock orcs, and for the most part he sat in a corner and listened for something to drown out the whistle in his ears.

Rarely, however, he had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of his mate. Miraculously, Matuya had been sent to the same camp as Gor'mul. It gave him something to search for on clear days, when the guards would allow one or two of the females to walk for short laps around the camp. He would search for her eyes, waving frantically to get her attention, but as the weeks and months dragged on, the less she would turn to face him. Her face grew gaunt even as her belly swelled, though it was noticeably not as large as most orcish pregnancies typically were. Both hope and despair weighed heavy in his chest when he saw her, his beautiful wolf, turned thin and fading with each day.

"They're not feeding them enough," he said to one of his cellmates as the females were walked past their cage. Gor'mul's own face had begun to sag, skin hanging limply to bone. "My mate is going to give birth, soon. She needs to eat."

"No whelp is going to survive this," one of his cellmates spat, coughing violently afterwards. The orcs passed around a perpetual chill that kept the camps loud with coughs and sneezes. Wiping spittle from his mouth, the older orc grunted before wheezing. "You had better collect water to drown it before it can latch on or that Frostwolf will never let it go."

Yes, of course. There was no way the child Matuya carried would be healthy. Not in her circumstances, and even if it was, it wouldn't stay that way. The humans wouldn't allow them to breed in there. His child would be a half starved mongrel, weak and inferior. Thoughts of his father and Juggulator came to mind. If his child couldn't wield the axe, how could it bring honor to his family? Drowning it was the only option, but he knew Matuya would fight him. No Frostwolf would willingly kill her own child.

"She would never allow it," he agreed, shaking his head. "Matuya is not like us."

"Well then she will die," the old Blackrock sighed. "A mother can't provide for both herself and a child on the scraps they give us. I know Frostwolves. They'll defend their pups to the death. You had better hope it's a male so it gets thrown in here with us once she starves."

The thought of the humans throwing a baby into a cage felt ridiculous. Laughable even, but perhaps not impossible. He remembered the slaughter at Blackrock Mountain. If they remembered too, perhaps they were capable of anything. Losing Matuya, however, was not an option.

"She will not die," Gor'mul grunted, standing. He still had half a piece of bread from his meal earlier, stale and crumbling in his hand. Waving toward one of the guards, he stuck his hand with the bread through to bars and pointed at Matuya as she walked away from him. "Give it to her!" He shouted, waving the piece of food like a madman. "Give it to my mate!"

The human guards stopped their walk and turned toward the orc making a fuss. Matuya looked at Gor'mul, and for a moment he could see the hope still burning in her hazel eyes. Walking her toward the cage, the guards pointed at each orc.

"Mate?" One of them said in orcish, pointing at her stomach.

Matuya nodded, then pointed to Gor'mul. "Mate," she repeated.

Gor'mul felt his chest lighten. The guard took his bread and offered it to Matuya who reached for it gratefully. 

Then it fell to the ground.

The guard crushed it under his boot and shoved Matuya forward, away from Gor'mul. Rage still built in the Blackrock's stomach, but it was weak and thin. He could only watch as Matuya was led away, prodded in the back by the butt of a rifle, her parting glance sad and apologetic.

"Stay strong," Gor'mul said reflexively, but how anyone could do that now was beyond his understanding. 

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When the wailing came, Gor'mul awoke from a dead-like sleep with a sharp jolt of pain in his side. One of his cellmates had jabbed the orc awake, then shook him as the drowsiness threatened to take him back under. He had been dreaming of a hunt, somewhere long ago on Draenor, where he and Matuya spent days in search of clefthoof. She was an incredible huntress, swift with the bow and somehow able to hide herself within shadows too small for Gor'mul. His hulking mass was enough to frighten the beasts they searched for, but it was Matuya who brought them down. Her earthy brown skin took on a gold-like shine in the moonlight, and he wished beyond reason that they could stay in the wilderness forever. Waking from that dream to hear her calling for him, the orc shook his head and stood.

It was snowing. 

Frost had gathered at the roots of what little hair Gor'mul had left, which he scratched at with one hand. Turning toward her voice, the orc waved frantically at one of the human guards. They usually slept at this time, but Matuya's cries had woken them too. Perhaps in an effort to stop her from waking the entire camp, the humans scurried around her enclosure with the few items they could offer a birthing woman in her time of need. He saw steam rising from a bucket of hot water, a few clean looking rags. Her wails sounded tortuous, not the steady birthing calls of the females he was used to hearing when he was young and helped his grandmother. The old Blackrock had been a midwife, and prided herself in teaching her children and grandchildren how to welcome new life into the world.

But this was wrong. Matuya's voice was strained, not steady. She was screaming, not breathing into the rhythm of her contractions. Waving to get the human guards' attention, Gor'mul shouted in his own language. "Please! That's my mate! Please, let me see her!"

One of the guards stepped away from the others and approached Gor'mul's cage. Over the past few months, they had gotten to know one another in basic ways. This particular guard he recognized by the gold hair on his face and brown eyes. He hadn't been particularly kind, but there was no malice in his eyes either. "Mate?" He asked in orcish, pointing toward Matuya.

"Dabu!" Gor'mul yelled, his bloodshot eyes wide with panic. 

The guard turned toward his awake companions and gave them a look. It was difficult to determine what the look meant, but eventually they seemed to come to the same conclusion and opened Gor'mul's cage. With swords pointed toward the emaciated orc, they led him to Matuya's cage.

Standing on thin legs, the Frostwolf was held in a crouched position with a female on either side, allowing her to rest her weight on their shoulders. He hadn't seen her in several days, but Gor'mul was visibly shocked by how thin his mate appeared. The once proud huntress' long black hair had fallen out in thick chunks over the past few months, resulting in a visible scalp. Her face was gaunt, forcing her already strong cheekbones to appear sharp and jagged. With her mouth open he noticed that she was missing teeth, making her tusks appear even larger than they already were. With her eyes squeezed shut, she didn't notice him approach, but the guards allowed him to reach into the cage and take one of her hands.

"I'm here!" He said hoarsely, squeezing her frail fingers. "Matuya, I'm here!"

The Frostwolf opened her exhausted eyes and turned her gaze on Gor'mul. He saw months worth of suffering in the faded hazel color, but his only instinct was to hold her hand as another contraction wracked her body and made her bony knees shake. Thankfully, the two females helping still had the strength to keep her upright, and one on the ground knelt in front of her, blood falling into her hands as she waited for the baby to make its entrance.

Too much blood, Gor'mul thought to himself. He had witnessed births before, and while blood was always present it was never so much as this. Already weak with hunger, he knew that much blood meant that Matuya's chances at survival were slim. "Ha'rega," he said with forced calm, looking into her strained eyes. "You must breathe, and push into each breath. The child has to come quickly, now."

The female on the ground nodded in agreement, reaching between Matuya's legs. "I can feel the head but it is not moving," she said gravely. "If she does not have the strength to push it might suffocate like this."

"Matuya, look at me," Gor'mul said with another squeeze of his hand. "I can't lose you. Please, breathe, and push when you exhale. Like this.." He took in a deep breath.

Wordlessly, she followed his example. Matuya breathed in, then out, and with her breath came a low wail. 

"Yes, it's moving!" The orcess below her shouted encouragingly. "Like that, Matuya!"

Again Gor'mul breathed, guiding his mate to do the same. She followed his example, taking in a deep breath, and then pushing as she exhaled. Slowly, and with no shortage of groaning, a small green infant slipped into the world and into the orcess' waiting hands. A cascade of blood followed, eliciting a pained cry from Gor'mul. Blood born. Children born of such a huge amount of blood usually did not have surviving mothers. They were cursed to live motherless, cursed from their first breath. Shortly after a thick mass of afterbirth fell to the floor of the cage. 

A tiny cry came from the new life, but Gor'mul's eyes were focused on Matuya. "She must rest," he directed, and pointed toward the afterbirth. "She has to--"

"It's not clean," the orcess holding his child said firmly, using her own clothes to clean the wailing infant. "Ayla, Grisla, let her down. She needs to rest. Gor'mul, take the child so we can clean her up."

Gor'mul reluctantly released Matuya's hand and, almost robotically, reached for the wailing infant. 

The weight of it drew a pained moan in his own voice. The infant was so small, it fit through the bars of Matuya's cage without trouble. Though they lacked the girth they once had, Gor'mul's hands were just large enough to hold his child, crying and squirming in the cold. It was female, he realized, and in spite of its size she was perfectly formed. Pressing her against his chest, he held his progeny with the growing concern that his mate might not survive. Matuya lay on the floor of her cage, attended to by her cellmates and cleaned as much as they could manage. 

Reaching one hand through the bars, she turned her gaze toward the still-screaming infant. "Give her to me," she said weakly.

Gor'mul's first instinct was to obey her, but fear gnawed at his stomach. This child, tiny as it was, might survive. It would need sustenance, and Matuya was already fading. A terrible choice stood before him, as he considered the repercussions of allowing Matuya to care for their daughter. Protectively, he held the infant closer, letting her stay warm against his skin. 

"I can't," he grunted, turning his eyes away from her. "It is.. weak. Malformed. It will not survive. We have to.."

"Give her to me," Matuya repeated, her hazel eyes steely as they stared at her mate. It was not a request.

"I will not," he said through his teeth, even as his daughter reached for the hairs on his chest. "She is weak, and--"

"Give. Her. To. Me," the Frostwolf commanded, her tusks protruding from her mouth like a hungry animal. "Now."

Gor'mul felt what was left of his heart break for her, the female he loved more than his own life. "If I drown her now, you might live through this," he argued, pleading with her. "You can have more children, Tuya. You are strong, you can survive. This child is.. she is cursed, and she will curse you too. I am sorry, ha'rega. I can not allow you to die for one weak--"

"Give her to me now!!"

Matuya's shout was like a wolf's snarl, and somehow, impossibly, the infant stopped screaming. Instead, she turned her small head, already downy with soft purple hair, and opened her eyes. They were the same color as Matuya's, a soft hazel, like the trees and the woods she and Gor'mul once hunted in. The Blackrock whimpered like a child himself, knowing that this baby, however impossibly small, would kill his mate. This blood cursed creature would take the one thing in the world that he had left to love.

Pulling it away from the warmth of his chest, he pushed her through the bars. Gor'mul watched with resentment as the baby latched on to Matuya's breast, hungry for life. He watched his mate sigh with relief, closing her eyes in serene calm, as if oblivious to the snow falling around them and the approaching chill. Here, in this moment, in spite of her pain and hopelessness, Matuya felt at peace. 

The sharp point of a sword at his back reminded Gor'mul that it was a peace he would not be able to share with her. Without saying goodbye, he was led back to his cage.

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