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Conidivh

To Live, Always

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((Like "Flowers", this story deal with the Khaz Modan Brigade, and my NE warrior named Xigoshura. It takes place some time before the events in Flowers, and I'll be concluding it after Kurohane/Laushin posts the completion of her story. Hope people like. I'll be posting a little at a time.)

--Part 1--

The creak of the frostsaber's saddle girth brought Xigoshura's head around. Kao'rah was always poised when she would patiently wait for the nightelf to remount, but something had obviously spooked the great cat. Xigoshura unsheathed his favored sword before the sound had chance to cease. Impassively, he surveyed what Kao'rah had known of moments before by scent and wind alone. In his mind he tallied the odds.

In his mind, he knew he was going to die.

Wiping the sweat of a warm night and a troubled dream from his brow, Xigoshura adjusted his position on his perch in the great oak. The trees of Elwynn were not as comfortable as those he favored in what men now called Darkshore, but they served to keep him off the ground and hidden for a few hours rest. A few hours. How long since he began did he actually have what most would consider a full night's sleep? He turned his eyes skyward and checked the position of the moon again as it nestled behind the rust hued giants of Redridge. It was time to move on again. His thoughts drifted for a moment, and he pondered over the fabled mountains where the last Guardian's tower once stood. It was said that the energies of Kharazan still held there even today. Those were magics that left fragments of the past, portents of the future, and ghosts forever locked in repetition. He prayed that the storied past and proximity to the area was the cause of the distrubing vision. A bad dream, nothing more.

It was time to move on.

Kao'rah was already making her own way to the north and east, using her own stealth and agility to make the ardurous trek to Khaz Modan past the shattered remnants of Grim Batol. The mount would wait patiently for Xigoshura there to continue on. For now, Xigoshura had need of a detour to the storied halls of Ironforge. He needed to restock supplies, ammo, tinder. He thought for the hundreth time that his myriad of blades could use another sharpening, but he pushed the line of thought aside for the hundreth time as well. That was a mistake only recruits and addled warriors made; whatever advantage to keep them alive one more day.

"Your blade is sharp, or it isn't. All you'll do beyond that is weaken the steel or waste down your whetstone, elf."

He smiled, remembering the words of the battalion leader on that day the skies darkened at the slopes of Mount Hyjal. A day long ago to most of the other races, but that just underscored one of the tricks of the mind for one who would outlive all his friends; your thoughts wander.

He dropped from the tree, stopping for a moment to stretch out muscles strained by miles of travel and, to be frank, sleeping in trees. He moved quickly to the pack he left hidden several yards from his resting place. Armor, additional weapons, and food to last until he restocked. That was another mistake youth made - every last one firmly believed in sleeping in your armor, with every weapon close at hand. Xigoshura allowed himself a rare smile once more, even as he adjusted the strap holding the sword he chose to keep at his side in the time he dreamed. If an enemy came on you in the night, all the plate and weaponry in the world couldn't save you. You had to be quick. You had to have no regret for killing the being that had come for your life. There was no time for remorse, even for the immortal.

Xigoshura checked the pack over, in case some exceptionally crafty rogue had come in the night - not that he carried gold on him these days - and came once more across the letter. He opened it, though he knew the contents by rote now, scrawled in the hasty hand of his friend though the letters themselves seemed frightened for the life of the author;

"Shura, Darrowshire is lost, and the Silver Hand has lost it's hold here. We are hidden in the Tirisfal Glade, avoiding the patrols and striking out when we can. They are relentless. We need your help, old friend. We need to get out while life is still left to us."

He tucked the letter away and looked down the path towards Stormwind. He would send a missive to Marus and learn his thoughts perhaps. He had lost contact with Laushin shortly after departing from Felwood. He hoped she was alright in her travels. So many names, faces, worries. So many things he had to do. The letter's contents flashed in his mind again, and the wind picked up to a howl. One thing at a time.

It was time to move on.

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--part 2--

The skies broiled and fumed, littered with flights of arrows and lightning and fireballs and arcane things defying description that arced overhead towards targets even among friendly forces. Blood and blood and blood. Chaos ruled and panic delegated orders here. Battlelines of strong heart and iron will broke before the towering form of Archimonde as he made his way up the mountain, ignoring the desperate warriors below with a sneer borne of cruelty and amusement for the ants scurrying to the defense of the Worldtree. Trees withered and fell as ash where they did not simply shatter at his footfalls. Xigoshura tore his glance away just as the second arrow pierced his side.

He gritted his teeth in pain and cleared his vision as best he could. There was nothing for it, with the barbed heads the undead seemed to favor. He prayed to Elune that it wasn't poisoned, and bit back an oath as he snapped the shaft in half. He had barely recovered from the shock of fire jolting through his ribs when a large gore-decorated hook crashed into the ground mere inches away.

"MmmmmmmEAT FOR EAAAAAATINGGGggggg!" belowed the ichor-dripping maw of the abomination. It was the latest in a nigh countless number Xigoshura had seen cutting a swath through plate and flesh along the battlefield here in Proudmore's defense position. He had been sent there as a favor to Rodric, but now it hardly seemed a friendly act at all. Xigoshura supressed the thrill of dread as his sword-arm refused the call of it's owner. The limb hanged at his side and seemed to mock his frantic attempts to mount a counter against the walking pile of hewn and sewn corpses. Poisoned, then. The abomination effortlessly retracted the anchor-chain of the giant weapon, raising at the same time a rusty hatchet of ridiculously terrifying size above his head with a sadistic grin stretching the rough stitching of his face to near-breaking.

"FOR THE LIGHT AND THE ALLIANCE!" came the roar from behind.

Xigoshura jerked upright. He must be exhausted; usually the unpredicatble motion of the gryphons in flight would usually be enough to turn his stomach let alone allow for any sleep. Only a dwarf could be comfortable on such an ungainly beast. Perhaps that was the lesson here. It took a dwarf to truly master these creatures, and it would now take a dwarf to answer these questions that plagued his journey and what lie at the end of it.

Finally the beast made a final bank and flew into the waiting halls of Irongforge. Immediately the change from the frost of Khaz Modan to the heat of the Great Forge took him like a hammer between the eyes. How the mountain folk could stand this in their city was a mystery that no amount of life spent pondering it could truly answer. Dwarves were as they were, and that was a comforting thought in a way. Xigoshura greatfully dismounted, ignoring the wry grin the beast's handler displayed as the warrior took a few unsure steps to adjust his stride (and settle his nausea). Ironforge was an disturbed antfarm on it's most quiet day. This was not one of those days. People of all races milled about, each task among them important and each destination dire for how they rushed and meandered through the throng. Xigoshura was no different, even if his own destination wasn't a trek to the baker's to get the last of the fresh crusty loaves. With patient, yet swift steps, he threaded through the mass toward the Mystic Quarter.

Here, perhaps if it could be said at all, was a place of relative small population and quiet. As he entered the hallowed sanctum with his vaunted ceiling and smooth marble floor, Xigoshura took a moment to scan among the few there to find-

"AHH there's a fine warrior of a too-tall elf! Xigo lad, come on over and speak with me a moment!" Lohoi wasn't exactly what came to mind when one conjured up the staunch image of the righteous Paladin, and for that Xigoshura was eternally grateful.

Xigoshura made his formal salute, and Lohoi responded in kind, albeit with obvious amusement at the formality. "Talk with me lad. The bloody powers-that-be over there are stroking their beards and deciding how best to convince me to stay on and teach the younglings 'about the Light'. Bah, you're as fine excuse as any I've seen to get away from that sort of chatter." The dwarf smiled widely and paused a moment in what would have been a hearty laugh. "You look as if one of the Dark Irons decided to shape ye into a barrel-stave. You have a purpose about you, and you wouldn't bother with this place if that purpose didn't bloody well involve me. Speak your piece, lad."

To answer, Xigoshura handed over the letter, his face blank of outward emotion, though he had long ago schooled it to stillness save for slips here and there with certain company. "This came for me by an Aerie Peak dwarf, as I continued my journey deeper into Felwood to assist a friend."

"Laushin, eh? Or was it Moonwind? You all look alike to me." Lohoi smiled though Xigoshura needed no outward sign to know Lohoi's jest. "Let's see what's got you a darker mood than nor...mal..." The paladin trailed off as his eyes took in the contents of the letter a second, a third time.

"By the Light lad... Rodric? Can he even still be alive?" The dwarf's eyes, so shortly ago filled with mirth, took on a cast as if he had just learned Thrall himself now ruled in Ironforge.

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--part 3--

"Rodric. For now, I have to believe he's alive and that for all his prowess, the Light has failed him"

If Lohoi took umbridge with the nightelf's blasphemy, he game no sign. He merely closed his eyes and sighed, as if wishing away a vision that he simply could not stomach right then. "Rodric Harthinger. Rodric Shadowsbane. I have not thought of him since last I sailed from the mess made on your shores, lad. The Worldtree..." Lohoi seemed to regain some of his old self, giving Xigoshura an apologetic smile as one abashed for tracking mud indoors by accident.

"The Silver Hand. It's no real news to you when I say the order doesn't hold the power it once did. It's a bloody catechism to some of the recruits here, but I even admit that the days of that majesty ended with Uther. Nay, Arthas!" the dwarf spat, regardles of the sanctity of the place, as if the foulest miasma had just curdled his tongue. "Rodric was a fine paladin lad, and I knew his heart when he came home only to hear of what befell his land. But mark me, elf. Every last bloody hero that rode to the aid of Darrowshire and Lordearon met their end or worse. I think someone's playing a right nice joke on you, though I'd cleave the prankster's bloody skull for the mere gall it took to put these words to paper." Xigoshura shook his head a fraction in reply before speaking.

"IS a fine paladin, Lohoi. He lives still, and the letter proves it."

The dwarf laughed then, though for sheer bewilderment rather than joviality. "What's in that bloody long-eared head of yours that could possibly think this parchment proves anything beyond a sick sense of humor or trap?" Xigoshura nodded, acknowledging his superior's point before speaking further.

"Several things. He opens with Shura, which is what he called me to my chagrin during our service together. 'The Silver Hand has lost it's hold...' is a line from a bad pun I used with him after we first met. 'They are relentless', a comment he shouted across the field to me at Mount Hyjal, laughing all the while after saving my life from certain death. The use of 'old friend' and 'life still left to us' are both statements from an ongoing conversation we used to have. I say, that conversation goes on still, and I owe it to Rodric to finish it. He's told me the reality of his predicament while investing proof of it's authenticity. Clever, but then again Rodric is among the more clever humans I know."

The dwarf nodded, once again that grim look crossing his features. "So it seems, lad. So it seems. Well, there's naught for it. I can ready some free hands to accompany you-"

"No, Lohoi. I can not risk a small army at my back."

Lohoi's guantleted fist striking a nearby column quieted the ambient noice in the sanctum abruptly.

"You're mad! You hear me, you purple-hued long-eared longer-legged fool?! YOU - ARE - MAD! It's the bloody damnable army at your FRONT that needs this response. Undead, demons, and WORSE hold Tirisfal, Xigo. By the Forge itself, I'll not let you go alone!"

Xigoshura sighed a moment. In any other time, he would have gladly accepted Lohoi's offer. Sadly, like so many other moments in his long life, this was not any other time. "I search for a small group of fleeing humans in enemy territory. How well do you think my hunt will go if I find every plague-riddled animated corpse rallying to fight the force I bring with me through their lands? How quickly could I find Rodric if I must hold the line of what will amount to an invading army?"

Lohoin rubbed his temple with one thick finger, arching a wry brow at what he saw to be a remarkably stubborn elf. "Ye're no rogue, lad. But ye nightelves were always a bloody universally cloak-and-dagger bunch. Aye! Every last fade-from-sight one of you!" He smiled again, but continued in dead seriousness as though the wind shifted suddenly with promise of a murderous storm. "Your kind is also not immortal anymore, Xigo. You do your business quick and get back to proper dwarven structures, or I'll hire a damned 'lock to raise your bones so I can thrash them myself!"

Xigoshura allowed the smile to form on his face, then. "I've plenty of name-day celebrations left in me, Lohoi. If you worry about lifespan, look to your own. You look more ancient than I could ever manage."

The dwarf let loose with a true to form hearty laugh. "We dwarves are never older. If we carry the beauty of age it's just because we're wiser! Now, you'll need more than a damned letter to know the lay of the land where the Banshee Queen holds reign. I suggest you talk to Taegar since he came back from the plaguelands recently. Something about 'killing what needs killing' or the like... Anyway, lad, if'n you catch him in a right mood, he'll pass along what he knows without too much trouble. Light willing, lad."

And those words still played in Xigoshura's mind as he stepped out of the main gate of Ironforge, admiring the massive crenellated door that had kept the worst the horde could muster at bay with barely a scratch earned for it. As he stepped onto the fresh powder that drifted from a swollen and steel-blue expanse of cloud, he caught sight of the human warrior sharpening one of his swords. Nearby, another warrior lay unconcious on the ground and (as Xigoshura could best figure out) bearing limbs that were broken in several places, with a weapon that fared no better than his bones. Clearly, Taegar had finished yet another duel in an endless series that plagued the cleared area before the gates of Ironforge. Clearly, Taegar had won this latest contest with ease.

"I have no time for you, elf. If you're not here to give me something worthwhile to carve into, then go prune your damn Worldtree for all I'll care! Would someone PLEASE mop up that piss poor excuse for a farmer-turned-fighter and get me a Light-damned WARRIOR to match against?!"

Clearly, Taegar was not in a "right mood".

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--part 4--

Xigoshura sighed, frost curling away on a gust of wind as he spoke. Calm. He needed to take it slowly with Taegar's quicksilver temper, and the situation presented him currently did not bode of Elune favoring the nightelf. He did the only thing he thought would at least get the irate human warrior to look at him.

He stepped into the dueling area, and unsheathed his favored sword and secondary blade.

Taegar threw a contemptuous glance over his armored shoulder at this turn of events. "Is that how you want to play this out? Fine. You've got my attention, and a world of pain shortly, elf."

"I would speak with you, Taegar. You have information I need to continue my journey. Please favor me that as sword-bretheren."

The warrior turned to face him, hefting a shield absent-mindedly with the muscle memory of countless engagements. His scowl, if possible, deepend as he spat on the unconcious foe before continuing. "Damn your formality. You're not journeying anywhere out of this area, you fool. You made the call, and now you're going to accept the reply in kind if you call yourself a real warrior in our service! But, I'll make you a fair trade. Since you decided to bother me, challenge me, and now try to talk my damn ears off, I'll give you whatever information you ask of me, truthfully..." For a moment, a mere moment, Taegar's dark countenance seemed to shift towards a wolfish grin that did not touch his eyes.

"... if you can bloody carve it out of me!" With that, Taegar rushed forward. The shield contacting Xigoshura's last-moment parry sent a violent quiver up the nightelf's arm. Xigoshura fought in the instant to simply retain his grip on the weapon let alone deflect the onslaught. It was then that Taegar's well-placed kick drove home into Xigoshura's midsection, knocking all breath from his lungs as he landed with a resounding crash on his back. The cold snow seeped into his garb, chilling his armor as his lungs took in a strained gasp of air of their own accord; the pain of frost was sharp. So was the taste of blood in the nightelf's mouth. He never even had the chance to ready his offhand sword against the well orchestrated combination attack.

"Victorious and Dead!" screamed Taegar as he stood there as if he had never moved. "That's all there is! Battle is won by ANY means necessary, elf. Remember that!" and once more he rushed forward, this time with sword upraised.

Xigoshura mustered the energy in his suprise to roll backwards to his feet just as the blade hit the snow his body had previously occupied, and brought his weapons up and crossed, just blocking the pre-planned followup strike from Taegar's blade.

Always "just". Always a hairwidth of difference. Always barely in time.

Taegar was known for thinking a few steps ahead in battle, even if his appearence and attitude spoke of a reckless bloodletter. Taegar's face never changed to argue the matter: The human's face wore fury like a demonic mask. He was going all out, even on a fellow of his own guild.

Xigoshura alternated the position of both weapons to block the next strike, parry the following swing, the reset blow, the incoming shield. The attack was relentless, but calculated. Taegar was forcing Xigoshura back toward the far cliffside, and a decisive defeat for the elf. Worse still, for his muscles weakening in the sheer power of defense, Xigoshura knew that he would be done well before the cliff if he did not press the attack soon.

There!

Xigoshura lowered his weapons, earning the stabbing attack Taegar launched. Ducking and spinning on the heel of his foot outward to the left, Xigoshura rolled his back across the outside ot the human's outstretched sword arm, raising his own arm to smash his elbow into the back of Taegar's head. The momentum of the move reversed the position of human and nightelf, and the force of the blow carried Taegar forward a few steps before he whirled to face Xigoshura once more.

"Harder, next time! That was WEAK! If my brains aren't on the damned snow, then you wasted your opening, elf! You'll not get another chance to dance with me like it's the child-king's Light-damned ballroom!" with a bestial roar, Taegar rushed forward once more, and Xigoshura mirrored the charge in kind.

Xigoshura swung first, and poured all his energy into the dual-sword forms and attack. He had to find an opening again, to find anything to press the advantage. However, Taegar simply replied in kind with his own immaculate defense work, besting the nightelf's swings when they did not simply strike empty air. Xigoshura's speed and hereditary agility meant nothing. He was attacking an armored mountain for all the good his skill did.

Parry. Parry. Dodge. Repast. Reset. Parry. Block. Dodge. Block. Parry.

Xigoshura dropped low, arms and weapons outstretched to catch the human offguard with a low rising attack. Surely Taegar could not anticipate and ready himself on all sides so quickly. But at that instant, Taegar brought sheild and sword close to his chest, curling his body slightly as he purposely stepped into the nightelf's impending attack. With a furious yell, Taegar flung both arms wide viciously.

Xigoshura barely had time to register the sight of both his weapons sailing harmlessly yards away when Taegar's second kick smashed into the nightelf's face. He fought to retain his breath and vision as once more he flew backwards toward the waiting snow. He had just unlatched the secondary strap across his chestpiece and tucked his free hand beneath him when his short flight ended in a jolt that rattled his teeth. Xigoshura rolled slightly onto his side, managing to suck in a breath of fire and ice when Taegar's plate-armored boot slammed onto his chest, pinning him firmly on his back. The point of a sword made a bead of blood at Xigoshura's neck.

"Poor. POOR! This contest is over, and I'll not tell you a damn thing. The dead are owed NOTHING, elf!"

*CLICK*

It was just that moment when Taegar felt a slight tapping against his codpiece, and his eyes traveled down the barrel of the loaded and cocked blunderbuss aimed square between his legs. The nightelf's finger was already tight on the trigger.

"I'm dead. You're worse for the deal."

Taegar sneered. "Guns? Dwarf-weapons?! Pathetic. You resort to that because your sword failed you, elf?" Xigoshura smiled and tapped the barrel once more to drive the point home.

"Battle is won by any means necessary. Remember that." For a moment, it looked as if Taegar considered the loss of his manhood a fair trade to scar up this elf for his arrogance. But, as Xigoshura figured (perhaps hoped, moreso), Taegar removed the sword from the nightelf's throat, nodding in a satisfied way though the scowl lingered.

"That's the only way of it, Xigoshura. Now I'm satisfied that you'll actually be of use with whatever it is you're after. Now, ask me what you want to know, and try to be quick before I decide to trim up those ears of yours."

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-- part 5 --

"Yeah, the Light favored me, I believe. More's the pity that it didn't smile upon your race on creation, Shura. I'd be suprised if the next gust of wind refused to catch your ears for wings and sail you away into the skies!" Rodric held onto his stomach as he laughed. The paladin and nightelf had taken a moment on the journey south from Auberdine to make camp with the rest of the troop sent on under orders to reach Mount Hyjal with all due haste. It was a warm evening, and the fire sat aside for light rather than any need a warmth. Xigoshura still felt a chill of what was to come, but he managed a chuckle himself.

"I was favored by a different light, Rodric. Are you sure that I can't offer you a stool for your mounting? Horses are awfully tall creatures." Rodric paused a moment, and the two began roaring with earnest mirth.

Wiping a tear from his eye, Rodric thumbed a bowlful of tabbaco into his pipe, absently tamping it down as he looked over the camp. "It'll be well, Shura, old friend. We'll best them back into the Nether from whence they came, and be home in time for Harvest Festival. You'll have to come to Darrowshire and meet my wife when that day comes, Shura. I think it'd be good for you to see other lands as is - less purple-hued ones, anyway." The paladin turned back to give the nightelf a knowing wink before lighting the pipe with a snall tinder from the fire.

"We've known each other a scant two months, Rodric Shadowsbane. Other than a big heart that I'm grateful for, why must you call me 'old friend'?"

The paladin took a long pull on the pipe, exhaling slowly before continuing. "Nightelves are immortal, as I'm told. By that reckoning and the look of you, Shura, I'd say you're old enough to be my great grandfather four times over. Sometimes I wonder why we humans weren't graced with a longer life, but then I just recall what we manage to do in our time."

"Never regret, Rodric. Your race knows valor and progress unlike any I've known for ones so young. But don't call me old. I'm young yet by our own lineage timesense." Xigoshura smiled and punched the paladin on the arm, causing a brief choking fit in the human. "And the name's Xigoshura, not Shura. Xigo, if you insist on brevity."

Rodric smiled and took another puff. "We do many things in our time, true. We will do what we must as we can with the life that is left to us. We're only human. We seek to live, always"

"To live, always." the nightelf murmured with a smile.

"To live life fully, always, Shura. As long as life is left to us"

The two raised their canteens in a toast before Rodric continued on, chuckling as he took up the pipe again. "So if you're 'young', give me a corellation to that in human terms."

The nightelf thought a moment, trying to formulate how to put his experience into years. "I suppose I would be on my twenty-seventh nameday were I a human. Thank Elune it's not so." His musing was cut short by another full throated laugh from Rodric, grinning around the pipestem that gave off a steady stream of hazy smoke.

"Fine then. When you manage to get up in years to my wizened state, then I'll call you by your proper Adult name. Still bothered with being called old?"

The two's laughter continued on into the night around a fire well-stocked and tended. They exchanged stories of past lore of both races, and what plans for the future the two looked forward to. This of course included more friendly jabs at Xioshura for being behind on the ladyfriend department, unlike the 'handsome and dashing Rodric'. Xigoshura remembered though the talk and fire was warm and comforting that night long ago, he still felt a lingering chill.

Looking ahead down the worn path through Arathi, Xigoshura now felt frozen in his soul. Taegar's information of events in the plaguelands and Tirisfal was less than heartening, but Xigoshura had not hoped for good news. Just facts. He had to deal with what was presented him, not what he wished for.

He had found Kao'rah, waiting as he knew she would for her rider at Refuge Pointe. After a brief reunion of petting and nuzzling, and a large bear steak purchased from the vendor, Xigoshura mounted up and the two moved on. He paused for a moment as he rode in silence past the ruined towers of Stromguarde. Once a proud capital and powerful nation that was a member of the first Alliance, Stromguarde seemed to Xigoshura to reek of corruption and broken hope. Kao'rah seemed to have the literal smell of it in her nostrils, and shook her head from side to side in protest.

"I'm sorry, friend. You're right. We've no time to sit here admiring the Horde's work. It's time to move on."

Xigoshura sighed. Humans did so much in their short lives, and here was another monument to one of their great works ruined and despoiled. From one scar of the second war to the next, Xigoshura rode on towards the ever-looming remnants of Thoradin's wall. He reigned in the mount, shaking his head a moment before speaking to the open air.

"Come out already, Guttya. You too, Runewaybur."

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-- part 6 --

The nightelf rogue stepped out from the shadow of a nearby tree, unconciously releasing whatever magic Elune bestowed on the race that allowed them to wear the shade as a cloak. Runewaybur appeared more abruptly from a patch of ground that anyone would have stepped across without comment or notice. Xigoshura was certain that the gnome rogue could curl up with a pipe on Cairne Bloodhoof's very lap without the Taruren chieftan ever noticing.

"Now wait just one second. How did you bloody notice ME?! Guttya I can understand; he makes enough noise to bring every orc in Durotar down on his head. But there's no way you could have spotted a master of absolute stealth such as I!"

Guttya smiled at his diminutive friend, but said nothing. Xigoshura patted Kao'rah's neck and stabbed a gloved finger in the gnome's direction. "You've been after something feminine very recently, Rune. Kao'rah tensed upon catching your scent. Whatever cologne you've decided to musk yourself with, this female at least doesn't approve."

Xigoshura's words were flat and factual, yet Guttya roared with laughter, slapping his thigh as he pointed at the gnome. "Master of Stealth indeed! I wondered what that pungent aroma was, Runewaybur. Honestly, your infatuations are going to ruin your otherwise brilliant skills."

"Oh that bloody dwarf! I'm going to blindside that Lohoi and leave him pantless and unaware in the middle of Ironforge when I get a hold of him! He said that this stuff was dead-to-rights for attracting the ladies!" Guttya laughed harder, gasping for breath as he spoke. "DWARVEN ladies, maybe. Or female Yetis, more likely!"

Xigoshura smiled for a moment, but the moment quickly passed as he came to what he needed to be on with.

"You have my attention, but I insist haste. Please tell me what you need so I may be on my way."

Runewaybur rolled his eyes, his higher-pitched voice turning from indignation over the dwarf paladin's practical joke to concern and a take-no-nonsense tone. "It's just as well that I did run into Lohoi, the light burn his sense of humor! He looked grim, and I hear along the grapevine that you're the reason for it, Xigo. Did you honestly think we'd let you toddle off without a proper leash once we knew?"

Xigoshura said nothing, but his eyes narrowed. The nightelf warrior felt even colder than before. He stilled his face to a blank slate again before resting his gaze on the other standing there. "And you, Guttya? I sensed your presence before my Kao'rah ever picked up on Rune. You've trailed me since Menethil. What purpose do you have here?"

The nightelf rogue shrugged, his eyes scanning the horizon. "It is as Rune says, Xigo. Though I heard it first from Marus after he apparently came across Taegar in a fury." he smiled and looked back to Xigoshura, his head cocked to the side and a grin spreading on his face. "Nice trick with the gun though. I still say your proper calling was a rogue; you're adaptive enough for the trade. But see reason, friend. Even if you can't risk the lot of us sounding the charge behind you into the undead lands, surely two capable rogues at your side will help pan out the odds?"

Xigoshura's patience ran thin for a moment, his scowl almost a doppelganger of Taegar's. See reason, indeed. He took several moments to master his anger and reclaim that emotionless countenance. He had to be cold now, even to his dear friends. There simply was nothing for it.

"Did you ask Guttya to accompany you when you lifted that chest off the Bloodsail Pirates, Rune?" the words could have been carved from chilled stone.

Guttya calmly replied "no" at the same instant Runewaybur gave an aloof reply of "What chest? Pirates? I know nothing.", folliowing up with what the gnome hoped was an innocent whistle. Xigoshura nodded, and chose his words carefully before he continued. This time the words were frozen iron.

"There are things one has to do alone, sometimes. There are tasks that are afforded only to the individual, and for good reason. A friend once told me, we do what we can so long as there is life left to us. I do what I must, now. I appreciate your concern, my friends. However, please mark me when I say that I will take it amiss should any choose to follow where I journey. Please also note, that I will deal with that person or persons with as much guile as I managed with Taegar. Please understand, then, that on such an occassion I will pull the trigger."

Runewaybur stifled what was shaping up to be an impressive gulp as Guttya nodded, albeit in a resigned manner. Runewaybur was the first to recover, climbing up onto the nightsaber without a care of the animal's protest and planting himself on the bridle to stare Xigoshura in the eye.

"Moron. It's a gnomish word that means MORON! Fine then. I'm not risking my gears and bolt for your honor, but you WILL take this along!" He produced a small pouch and handed it to Xigoshura. A question formed on the warrior's lips, but Runewaybur interjected with the answer. "The Argent Dawn alchemists are some crafty folk, but they don't know a thing about poisons. I do. And because I'm smarter than they, I've improved on their plague cauldron combative recipe. Add some of this powder to your oil the next time you feel like polishing your blades, and any undead stupid enough to blunder onto your weapon won't live long enough to wonder why their precious Queen has forsaken them. By the way, all of your blades need polishing. Now, you may marvel at my big brain for a few moments and be on your way."

With that, the gnome hopped to the ground, folding his arms in a VERY satisfied way. Guttya just looked on with a knowing smile.

"Elune guide and protect you, Xigoshura. I'll expect you back soon, or I'll come find you regardless of how many slugs are left in that rifle of yours." Guttya intoned solemnly, the effect only ruined by his sardonic smile.

"Get on with it already! You are standing here wasting my genius. Now, if you two purple girraffes will excuse me, I've a comedian of a dwarf to deal with!" Runewaybur chuckled once, and was gone. Xigoshura looked to where Guttya had stood, but the other rogue was nowhere to be seen. Xigoshura tucked the pouch away with silent thanks for his two friends.

Drifting motes of dust and the fading sound of paws eating up the trail were all that remained at Thoridin's Wall.

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-- part 7 --

"So, immortal, yet you can bleed well enough, Shura." Rodric chuckled as he checked the nightelf's wrappings as he lay in the makeshift triage. The last thing Xigoshura had remembered after the abomination fell before the light-infused hammer of Rodric was the paladin yelling to him with a smile as though heading out to the ball with a buxom woman on his arm.

"They are relentless; you can almost admire the stupidity of it, old friend!"

He had taken up a second sword in the hand that still obeyed his will when he heard an earsplitting roar further up the mountain. He saw the frightening visage of Archimonde twisted with hatred...and triumph. He had reached the worldtree at last. The poison and bloodloss took it's toll, and Xigoshura saw no more.

"The Worldtree!!" Xigoshura ignored his body screaming in protest as he sat bolt upright in the bed. The paladin land a hand on his chest and forced the wounded warrior back onto his pillow.

"Is safe. Or, rather...it's still there, and the demon scum the worse for it. Archimonde is no more." The Paladin sat back in his chair, adjusting his own wrapping around a wound in his leg. "I don't know what happened myself, to tell the truth of it. I remember a piercing note filling the air; a clarion call that shook my very bones. I have no shame when I tell you that I was afraid. I looked up the mountain, and there was a tremendous flash of light. I woke up amidst a charred landscape, and not a sight of our enemy standing. I pulled your body here once we mustered our remaining men. You're heavy. Did you know that, Shura?"

The nightelf smiled and fought back a grimace as his wounds gave a fresh twinge. "And you, Rodric, remain short. More's the pity that I can go on a diet. The offer of a stool still remains."

Rodric laughed and motioned to a nearby healer; the youth had seen little of the fighting himself, if yet all of the horror it wrought. "The nightelf could do for some broth now, since he seems to have mustered the strength enough for chatting like a milkmaid." The healer saluted, hand over heart, before departing to meet the paladin's order.

Xigoshura watched the departing figure, noticing now the rows of beds just like the one he lay in. Most had human, dwarf and elf alike in various states of being tended for injury. Moans and prayers came from some. Some of those voices dwindled as the owners fell unconcious from stress and pain. Some of those beds remained silent. "So it's finally over. Yet... I feel a loss somehow. The druids... do they still linger about? I would speak with them."

"I'm ahead of you there. I spoke with one at length. You've been out for two days, old friend. Phaw, druids! Of all your cryptic race I say they are the most curious. What he would allow, grudgingly it seemed, is that the energy Nature itself seemed to take in defense of it's own took a toll on your very race. We talked further once he came out of his brood. I engaged him a bit on the philosophy of it all. I mean, truly, what lies beyond for one who can not die?"

Xigoshura turned with a worried frown to the paladin. "What did he say to you then?" Rodric shrugged, as if he had a heavy heart bearing news that could be anything but pleasant. Rodric leaned forward and looked at the nightelf before continuing. He seemed weary, and suddenly older than his voice seemed to sound to the nightelf's ears.

"He took my questioning for natural human fear of what lies beyond our own graves. 'Take courage, mortal. Death can not banish you from the universe!' But he seemed fearful himself. I think he understands what truly has transpired here, Shura. I... I gathered that the time of your race's perpetual existance is now at an end."

Xigoshura's breath caught. The loss...that's what he had called it, for that is what it truly took in form. He breathed in the air and quickly thought better of it for the myriad scent of poultices, bandages and the char and burning corpses outside.

"I'm sorry, old friend. Your race has paid a heavy price for fighting by our side."

Xigoshura shook his head, a small smile blooming on the nightelf's bruised and battered face. "We did many things in our time. We will do what we must as we can with the life that is left to us. We're only what we are. We seek to live, always. Now I think I will rest, Rodric. I'm suddenly very tired."

Rodric nodded as Xigoshura closed his eyes. Xigoshura would never see the paladin wave away the youthful healer when he brought the tray of food. Xigoshura would never hear the paladin give the boy orders in no uncertain terms that it would be his head if he disturbed the nightelf's sleep. Xigoshura would never know that the paladin stayed at his bedside until the following morning, never sleeping or taking food himself.

"No, I'm sorry. There hasn't been post here in a month." The innkeeper's tired voice brought Xigoshura out of his memories. "I could send out any letters you need with the next shipment to Refuge Point. That's the best I can do, m'lord Elf." Xigoshura simply nodded and produced three slips of folded parchment held shut with blue wax and impressed with his seal; a curving blade connecting a cresent moon at it's tips in a full circle. A symbol of a sworn champion of Elune. A symbol of a life long ago. Southshore was once a budding port town before the days of the Scourge and the fall of neighboring Alterac and Tirisfal. Now, it was a village of people hardened by their proximity to such lingering death. It was a town that had learned long ago to marshal it's collective fear to survive.

"See that they are sent when you can arrange it. I thank you for your time, and truly appreciate your effort, good sir. If I might ask, do any of the town guard patrol the north road?"

The innkeeper shook his head, running a well-caloused hand over his bald pate. "We don't have a blade to spare for that area m'lord. None of us go there anymore. The Dalaran mages hold onto the past as they can there, but Alterac and the shores of the cursed lake lie close enough to make their efforts almost worthy of pity. The Kirin Tor reaped what they sowed, mark me m'lord. There's nothing for us to the north now but a lot of regret and present dangers. We keep to our own here."

Xigoshura sighed and bowed formally. He turned and left the inn, squinting against the sudden sunlight before checking Kao'rah's saddle straps and bags. The letters would reach their intended recipients soon enough, but possibly long after he had reached his destination. Lohoi. Moonwind. Laushin. Each in kind knew whom to pass the news onto next. Each one bore the same short missive:

"The bearer of this letter is a friend of Elune, in whom Xigoshura Autumndawn serves and holds faith. If upon being asked they speak of present winter snows, then know that Xigoshura has fallen in battle. Tyrande must be informed with all due haste and secrecy."

Xigoshura alighted atop the nightsaber, and wheeled the great cat around towards the north road. He could see an approaching storm to the northeast. He could almost imagine that Rodric sought shelter from it even now.

Xigoshura raced rain and time. Xigoshura raced on for Tirisfal Glade and the approaching ruin of Lordaeron.

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