Living Story Excerpt
Seryth found the gnolls dragging what was left of his supplies to their leader, Hogger, as a tribute. As Seryth planned how to steal his things back, a unit of Watch guards broke from the bushes, slaying the gnolls and laying irons on Hogger. Seryth’s crops were trampled under the hooves of their horses.
Stil angered by the interruption to his trip, Seryth demanded the guards repay him for the damages. The guards laughed, telling him they’d give him some coin–if he helped thin the numbers of the gnolls in the bargain.
Watch guards = border patrol
The Watch is the name given to the human guards of Stormwind, who also patrol Elwynn Forest. In Talmenor, these guards are employed by Tarith, but since Tarith is much bigger than the human kingdoms of Azeroth, they are probably better understood as a random border patrol or militia rather than any named group from a city. For this reason they are less well-equipped and go horseless, as you might expect in a dense forest. Instead of a gold lion, they bear the symbol of a maroon gryphon, which is the national charge of Tarith.
Hogger = remains nameless
Since Hogger was inserted more as an Easter egg here than anything, I didn’t see necessary to add a corresponding figure or name into the translated story of Seryth/Sirith. Instead, you get a description of the strange rukh-shami and their ritual of destroying Sirith’s trade goods for mysterious reasons of their own.
His father was going to kill him. A season’s worth of hides and meat was worth quite a bit, to say nothing of the wagon, and Sirith had gone and lost it all in one evening.
The night stretched on, long and oppressive. The first three moons rose, like little candle-flames in the sky. He had stopped the horse when it began to blow heavily and had removed its harness, jury-rigging the long reins into hobbles so the animal wouldn’t wander far without him as it grazed. Then Sirith tried to find a dip in the rolling prairie that was out of the wind to lie down in for a sleep, but the lowest dips still held a half-inch of water from the recent storm, and even the tops of the hillocks were damp as if from dew.
Even if Sirith’s sleeping arrangements were more comfortable, his ordeal had unnerved him to the point of restlessness. He kept expecting the fire-eyed figure to loom up out of the gloom, bringing a rock-like fist or his own staff crashing down on his face without warning. After a few hours of fitful tossing and turning and another couple moons rising, Sirith reluctantly got to his feet, caught the horse, then stood facing the dark forest of Bataklik, willing himself to approach it.
The grass quivered silver in his akor’mar night vision, like the twitching hide of an irritated cat. The trees, so much further away, seemed unnaturally still, but that might’ve been because he couldn’t make out individual branches at this distance. Though he wasn’t as blind as a human in the dark, the distant woods was like a darker blur against the lighter blur of the sky. He thought he could see shapes in the shadows under their limbs, either from the movement inspired by wind, or as stalking, hulking figures with fiery eyes…
Sirith growled and shook himself. What was he, a mewling child? The bandits had been no more than humans; surely he had only hallucinated those fiery eyes. What’s more, the bandits had humiliated him. They deserved to pay for that, at least!
Sirith pulled himself onto the bare back of the horse and set it to a quick trot across the grasslands. The trees seemed to detach and clump together the closer he got to them: no longer a solid wall but instead many littler thickets with space enough for entire wagons to pass between them. Thinking of this, he leaned over the shoulder of his horse to squint at the ground. He was rewarded when he found the deep tracks of a wagon, freshly dragged through the mud at the base of the outlying cottonwoods.
Here he slid off the horse and tied its halter off to a tree, using a slip-knot so he could quickly free the animal if he needed a swift get-away. Then he crept along in a hunter’s crouch that would have made Daelin proud. He kept to the thickets to break up his outline against the horizon, but not so close he jostled branches and gave his position away. He was glad for the high wind, as the rustling grass and leaves covered his soft-footed approach.
The moonlight dimmed as he came under the eaves of the forest. Grass was replaced with shrubs and then ferns. The trees grew taller and wider, their trunks gnarling: a different species? He paused as the wind died and his feet sifted through leaf litter instead of grass hummocks, listening.
There was a blue light to the southwest, that he had first taken to be the glow of the moons filtering down through a clearing. It shifted unnaturally though, the color a more intense blue than even the Water Moon could put out. Sirith lowered his belly to the forest floor, half-crawling and half-slithering through the undergrowth. He scraped over a stone and down a little ditch, then up the other side. He pushed a branch down with his fingertips, squinting through the leaves of a concealing shrub
Large figures huddled around his wagon in the dell beyond, each huddled and as still as a lost boulder from the Tarithian Mountains. There was a low hum on the air, like cicadas, but much deeper, that Sirith could almost feel in his bones. It seemed to emanate from the figures themselves: first one side would grow in strength, then that side would quiet and the other would return the growling hum with equal volume. Each figure held a blue light cupped at their bases, which Sirith couldn’t tell to be a crystal or magelight at his angle.
Suddenly the largest of the figures stumbled up, resolving itself into something about the shape of a human male, but thicker about the legs and shoulders. Twin white sparks flickered on in its face, but they didn’t illuminate it. The creature shuffled up to the wagon, grabbing one of the wooden planks along the sides.
Sirith couldn’t help but yell as the thing ripped the plank free in one easy yank, splitting it like it was kindling. That wagon was his! His hides and cured meat tumbled out, and the entire gathering of rock-like beings began to hum and roar in something resembling glee. Sirith expected them to fall hungrily upon the food like jackals, but instead the creatures only leapt to their feet and began stomping it into the ground.
They stole from him and couldn’t even be bothered to make proper use of his goods! Sirith forgot his fear of the strange, inhuman creatures, his hand tightening around a thick branch as he growled in his throat, low enough to match the earlier humming. One of the creatures heard him and, rolling its rounded head back and forth like a confused dog, slouched up to the bushes. Sirith tensed, egging it on in his head. Make my day. He pulled the branch from its shrub with a soft crack as it came within range, and then—
Someone else apparently had the same idea. A horse-length away, the end of a glittering sword slid out from the bushes and pierced the monster in one swift stroke. Someone yelled. Everywhere the shrubs began to boil, as men – real, human men, a maroon gryphon on their tabards – extricated themselves and flung themselves at the rock creatures. The creatures stopped in their howling and stamping, taking a few precious seconds to react. By then, several of them were pierced and slumping to the ground, the lights in their eyes going out.
Sirith was surprised at the effectiveness of the men’s swords. They sliced into the rock-like beasts as easily as they would through human flesh, though the wounds they left bled with fine silt and dust instead of with blood.
Sirith waited for his opening, then jumped up and brought his stick down on the creature nearest him. The stick snapped, but it still seemed to sting the thing as it turned about, rumbling with fury.
A human cried a challenge from the side and ran it through before it could ever reach Sirith.
“That one counts as mine!” Sirith shouted. The human wheeled on him, staring as if trying to figure out what he was looking at in the dim blue light of the glowing crystals now scattered across the ground. Then his commander called from deeper in the fray, and he turned on his heel and sprung away without a second glance at the half-akor’mar standing on the edge of the battlefield.
They must be soldiers, Sirith realized. Queen’s Guard? They were rather far out from her palace, if so. A border patrol of Tarith then? They wore little in the way of armor, simply thickened gambesons with metal bracers and shin guards. Their swords were real enough though, as were their Tarithian uniforms.
The guards circled the wagon, but the rock creatures had clearly had enough and were disappearing into the trees. Sirith stared as one even curled up and rolled down the hill like a stone.
Sirith turned back towards the soldiers, eyeing his trampled supplies dourly. Between the heavyset creatures and the iron-shod boots of the men, little was left fit to sell.
A couple humans had jumped onto the back of the wagon and were sifting through it. Another one, on the ground, spotted Sirith and made his cautious way towards him. He eyed him a long moment, his gaze straying from Sirith’s pointed ears to the exposed gray skin of his cheeks, down across his muddy clothing, before meeting his eyes.
“Was this wagon yours?” said the soldier.
“Yes,” Sirith snapped.
The soldier seemed surprised. “Where are the others?”
“You know. Farmers. Humans.” The soldier bared his teeth at him.
Sirith’s blood ran cold in fury, but he kept his voice even. “There were no others. That’s my wagon. I was bringing these hides to Castellea and the market. …I was ambushed on the road,” he admitted.
The soldier eyed him levelly for a moment. “You’re lucky. There’s been a bounty placed on these rukh-shami, you know.”
“Rukh-shami?” The name vaguely lit a spark of recognition in the back of his head. Perhaps something from his foster father’s stories?
“Aye,” growled the human, and he spat at one of the bodies. “They’ve been coming up from the south; Carro only knows why. Raid a town here, poach a traveler there, then they’re back into this forest before we can catch them.” He grinned, teeth white in his beard. “Not this time, though.”
“You were too late to save my wagon, though,” Sirith observed.
The soldier shrugged. “Tough luck. We don’t have the coin to go reimbursing your losses.”
“You did just as much damage as they did! You should pay it!”
“You’re still alive,” said another soldier, coming up from behind the first. The extra border and added colors of his tabard gave Sirith the feeling this one was the leader. “Consider that payment enough, eh?” Then he stopped and stared. “What-what are you?”
“What am I?” Sirith snapped. “I’m a farmer, as your wingman so bluntly pointed out.”
“Akor’mar, I think,” muttered the first soldier. “See the ears?”
“Yes?” said Sirith, puffing up. He was used to this. Evn though Hillet rarely saw visitors, his strange gray skin and ‘mar ancestry was impossible to hide. “And what of it? Yes, I carry their blood. I’m still a citizen of Tarith though, and I want repayment for what you’ve done to my wagon and my trade goods!”
The two soldiers eyed him stonily. Then the leader grinned. “Akor’mar, eh? Your kind fights vicious with a sword, or so I hear. Why don’t you take this? Go stick a few rocks with it. Make our job easier. Their teeth should more than repay you for the mess here.”
“That is not an acceptable—” Sirith began.
“It’s the only thing you’re getting,” replied the leader, and he grabbed a scabbarded arming sword from one of his men and shoved the hilt into Sirith’s throat. Sirith had to grab it to keep from choking, and as if expecting this, the leader let him have it. Something in his eyes told Sirith that he knew how unskilled Sirith really was with it, and warned Sirith to not try and use it on them. “Little wisp like you shouldn’t be travelling so close to Bataklik without a sword, you know…”
“Of course, if you don’t like that, we could just as easily make you a corpse like these stoneheads,” growled the first soldier, “akor’mar.”
Startling Sirith, the man’s leader turned and smacked him with a leather-gauntleted hand upside the head. “Lay off the whelp, Joph. Akor’mar or not, there’s no need for that kind of threat for what’s clearly just a boy.” He nodded curtly at Sirith, then trickled a couple small obsidian-like rocks into his hands. “Here. These teeth should get you a little something from the garrison at Timberfalls, at least.”
Sirith glanced at the other soldiers, now pulling similar rocks from the mouths of the rukh-shami. Teeth? Sirith grimaced, then when the first soldier grinned at his distaste, he shoved past them. The leader rattled his sword warningly in his scabbard, but he didn’t draw it. Sirith didn’t bother to thank either one.
He instead made a show of inspecting the wagon, but anyone could see it was in sorry condition. One of the wheels had bust in the conflict, and the traces from the horse’s harness were still hanging in tatters from the wagon shafts. Feeling the soldiers’ eyes on him, Sirith climbed into the back and salvaged what he could of his supplies from under the wagon seat.
He had to make up a kind of pack with the last bits of the harness and a hide that had less holes in it than the others, and by the time he looked up again, the soldiers were filing back into the woods. One of them stood sentry at the rear of the line, eyeing Sirith coldly. Sirith sneered at him, but he only turned on his heel and marched away in silence. Sirith was soon left alone.