I’ve always been alone. Not that it matters. Ever since my kingdom, Gilneas, closed its doors to the world, I knew my path was exile. I was not going to close my eyes to this world’s suffering. I’m not the holiest of paladins, but I’ve done my best. I made mistakes, yes. But I try not to. It was my chance to prove I could help. I climbed the rafters of the Greymane Wall with nothing but my white shirt, my brown pants and my rusty sword behind my back. Nobody saw me. It was dark. I jumped out of my homeland, determined never to return. My destination? I did not know.
A PALADIN'S SOJOURNEdit
Chapter One: Uncommon ChampionEdit
My name is Varlus, from the Jenneson family. You’re probably thinking I come from a noble family. You’d be wrong. My father was a farmer. My mother sold the products of her baking skills in Greymane City. The only member of my family that had anything of “noble” was my sister Anera, and she got herself killed during the Gilneas expedition to Kalimdor, in the midst of the Third War. She begged me to join her. I was in the middle of my paladin training. I couldn’t leave. I still have her pendant. It was the biggest part of her that came back home.
I still remember my father’s tales. Genn Greymane, Gilneas’ King, refused to join the Alliance in the Second War. Arrogant. His army was, and in some ways still is, formidable. Doomhammer’s forces were decimated the moment he tried to assault Greymane City. I was just a child. Don’t remember much. Only horrific battlecries from the orcs as they perished under Gilnean steel. My sister got her first taste of blood that day, when she killed a troll with her hands. Always strong-willed.
I ran under the moonlight, minding my step, an eye on the shadows. I had heard Gilnean patrols surrounded the area near the wall. I noticed blackened spots on the ground. Old blood. Human refugees fleeing Lordaeron. Scourge undead on their trail. Greymane said no. Arrogant. Everyone died. The few guards that tried to help the poor souls were either killed or imprisoned. Bastard.
I kept running. The road quickly led to a dense, evil looking forest: Silverpine Forest. There was no turning back. It was probably a bad idea, but I went in.
Owls. The tall trees obscured the moonlight, flooding the forest in an eerie darkness. The path leading through it was partially hidden by dense foliage. My leather boots echoed like Warsong battle drums. I slowed my pace down; didn’t want everyone in the vicinity to become aware of my presence. After a couple of minutes of going through the forest, I ran across a destroyed trading caravan. It was goblinish in nature: the shape and color, a vivid green, along with the way its woodwork had been molded and handled was a dead giveaway of Booty Bay handiwork. Sure enough, after walking around it, I found a heavily injured goblin breathing what were probably his last gasps lying on the cold ground. His eyes looked calm, nevertheless, fixed looking upwards as if to catch a last glimpse of a sky that wasn’t there. I walked near him, kneeled down, and did a quick inspection.
The goblin had been attacked by gnolls. The bluntness of the axe wound on his chest (it was clearly an axe wound: the cut didn’t open from side to side, as it happens with all fencing weapons, but rather all at once, suggesting the weapon was logded there with great force for a few moments, then torn out) along with the crudeness with which the numerous bolts (most probably fired with a crossbow) lying on the ground and a few still in the dying one’s leg, were clear signs of a gnoll raid. They never stole valuables; I could see a somewhat expensive looking, quite cracked tall mirror and a faint grayish glint that clearly shouted “silver” amongst the wreckage. The battle scars left on the ruined wood and linen also showed gnoll signs, reinforcing my previous idea.
One more thing I noticed was that the goblin was not travelling alone. There were many goblin footprints running along the area, so unless this nearly dead goblin ran faster than a zeppelin, he was obviously accompanied. However, there were some different footprints running away from the caravan for half a yard before stopping, meaning he/she/it had been either captured or killed. Striding away from the goblin and closer to those tracks, I found no significant blood traces that would justify a death, though that was no insurance at all. Something else caught my eye: the fleetness with which it had fled, along with its general shape and size, were clearly the distinct markings of a night elf. What was a night elf doing travelling with Booty Bay goblins in a caravan through Silverpine Forest?
I left that mystery for later, and I walked back to the goblin on the ground.
“It’s a deep cut. You’ve lost much blood. There’s little I can do to save you” I said, kneeling beside him once again. The goblin tilted its head slowly towards me. There was a sort of resigned smile in his face as he watched me. He did not speak, though it wasn’t clear if he wouldn’t or if he couldn’t. I began the incantation to cast my healing spell, but the goblin quickly grasped my hand in a gesture quite remarkable considering his condition. Needless to say, the spell was interrupted.
“Save… your energy.” His voice was raspy, shallow, a definite death whisper. Just the action of looking at me seemed to drain his energies like a mana sap, let alone speaking. He must’ve been a tough one, though, because he slowly and painfully opened his mouth to speak again.
“I’m… already gone. Your spells cannot replace… the blood I lost, paladin.” He coughed some blood as a period, spraying my shirt.
“How do you know I’m a paladin?” I inquired.
The goblin smiled again, then winced in pain. He drew breath again. “No priest wields a sword… and you don’t look like one either.” He sighed. “Who are you, paladin?”
“Varlus. Of the Jenneson family.”
“You don’t wear the markings… of any human kingdom. Where…” He wheezed in agony, then resumed. “Where are you from?”
“Gilneas” I answered.
The goblin frowned slightly at this last declaration, presumably not understanding how a Gilnean human was outside of Gilneas. After a few seconds it dawned on him, as evidenced by his reappearing smile.
“A deserter… you’re a rare sight alright.”
I ignored that last comment and pressed on with more relevant issues; the goblin had not much life left.
“Your caravan was attacked by gnolls, right?” The goblin gave the most pained of nods. “Where are them? Did they take prisoners?”
The goblin took a very deep breath. I knew at that moment he was going to talk for the last time. He even bent upwards a little.
“We were… travelling to Pyrewood village to deliver trading goods and other cargo.” His voice sounded clearer now, perhaps even stronger. “A night elf huntress joined us as a guard and sentinel… She goes by the name…” He hesitated as he recalled. “Arcanna. Arcanna Silverveil. We were en route… to the town, but we ran a little late… we arrived at twilight. And… and…”
“You were attacked by the Worgen” I finished. The goblin nodded.
“We ran. The huntress brought down many of those… beasts. But she was still mortal. By the time we got far enough away from the Worgen, the huntress was… exhausted. And then… the gnolls attacked. More than twenty of them. She was taken away. So were some of my kin. There rest were murdered… just like me.”
He was about to go. But I still needed one more vital piece of information.
“Where did they take them?”
The goblin gasped horribly. I seized him and tried to keep him alive for just a while longer. He coughed some more blood, and his eyes went in and out of focus. In his gurgling and gasping, the goblin uttered a single, last word:
Then he fell still, his eyes finally calm, his chest no longer throbbing with pain, his heart finally at rest after being in an impossible struggle to stay beating. I laid him on the cold ground, over his own blood. There was no time for a burial. From the caravan’s wreckage, I salvaged what I could: a leather armor of poor quality, but still better than my shirt alone; some healing potions, and a map. I realized with a single look at the map what my next destination was: Beren’s Peril, a zone of caverns east from Pyrewood. I didn’t know why, but I felt compelled to rescue that huntress. I adjusted my boots and began running again, leaving the wreckage and the body of my nameless goblin friend behind, bathed in the moonlight that finally found its way through the leaves and branches, as if to mourn the goblin and give him his (probably) deserved last rites.
From what I knew of Beren’s Peril, it was a system of caverns originally inhabited by all sorts of wild creatures, gnolls included. The only thing that made me skeptical of all that was the fact than, when the Scourge hit with its unholy might over the land, it decimated all life, and that just HAD to include the fauna at Beren’s Peril. So it basically reduced to two options: either the Scourge omitted obliterating life in those caverns, which was very unlikely, or they did kill everything but left those ravenous gnolls alive for some probably evil and/or convenient purpose. The latter option seemed more likely the closer I got to the Peril, since the number of undead creatures of all kinds (both conventional and not) increased exponentially as I sprinted through the blighted, rotted ground and thick, putrid green mist, a staple of Scourge dominance in any area. I was careful to avoid skeletal patrols that popped out of the dense, dead foliage every now and then, primarily for concealment purposes (I didn’t want to alert all Silverpine that I was on a rescue/revenge mission) and also because I knew my sword was weak and my powers very diminished from lack of training and usage respectively, so I preferred to save my strength and my blade’s for the upcoming unavoidable battle. About half an hour later, after much sneaking and avoiding, I arrived at Beren’s Peril entrance, where a possibility I had not foreseen appeared in front of me, as I hid under some bushes.
A single gnoll, wielding a dangerous-looking, bloodstained morning star and wearing a ragged and broken padded armor strolled by, obviously on patrol duties. But it wasn’t this fact that unsettled me and made me uneasy. As he gazed around his surroundings, I noticed his eyes glinted with a very soft yet still recognizable red haze. To an inexperienced observer, perhaps this would have meant nothing, or perhaps a bloodlust spell still in effect, but I knew better. That unnerving haze, along with the uncharacteristic calm, almost uninterested way it moved around its assigned post, were the clear signs of undeath. Upon more detailed examination, I noticed his skin was pockmarked with open sores, still oozing the little blood remaining in its circulatory system. A particularly large chunk of flesh was missing just below its left ear, perhaps even cut off, and its skull was clearly (for the trained eye, that is) visible underneath. Its walk was somewhat clumsy and, as mentioned, extremely calm and slow; a sign of lack of free will. My mind drifted away from the hideous parody of a gnoll in front of me and returned to the now deceased goblin near the wrecked carriage. For a moment, I failed to understand how the goblin could not have noticed he and his companions were attacked by undead gnolls, but then I analyzed that if they were attacked in the middle of the night, suddenly enough, while on the run from the Worgen at Pyrewood, then Arthas himself could have attacked them, and they would have seen a Scarlet Crusader, or a Stormwind guard.
Returning to more pressing matters, I evaluated my chances. Jumping out to attack the creature was a bad idea, not only because undead gnolls were quite durable and resilient, but because upon a second, more thorough scan of the area I noticed other undead gnolls who would surely notice me slaughtering one of their kin. Sneaking through the creatures was an even worse plan, since I was neither a rogue nor a night elf, thus eliminating shadowmelding from my skills. Also, once inside the caverns a confrontation was inevitable, and all the gnolls I bypassed before would most certainly be alerted, forcing me to battle against overwhelming odds. It was clear that total annihilation of the gnolls was the soundest plan, but I was still unsure how to do it. I allowed the nearest gnoll to continue his patrol while I weighed my options.
However, it seemed fate got tired of my analytical approach to the situation I was in, and placed a thick, noisy, and above all easily breakable tree branch under my right foot, which, in the attempt of giving my almost cramped legs a few seconds of rest, I snapped loudly.
It was a hollow, quite sound. In the context I was in, though, it was like a thousand goblin mines going off at unison under my feet. The undead creature picked up the sound immediately, turned its head in a visible (and somewhat loud) snap, and scanned the group of bushes I was hiding in thoroughly. I was pretty concealed, but white shirts don’t blend easily with dark green, almost brownish bushes. The gnoll couldn’t fully detect my presence, in any case, but he did know something was amiss within those plants. It screwed its eyebrows, as if heavily processing his next move in its dead brain, and after a few but eternal seconds did the logical thing to do: he began to stumble forwards towards the thick bushes in front of him in order to have a closer look. I quickly checked the other gnolls: they hadn’t been alarmed by my misstep. They were also somewhat far. It was now or never, I realized, as I calmly drew my worn blade. The gnoll got close enough to sniff me, so I waited no longer and jumped out.
However, I had missed another thing as my mind desperately nudged me in midjump, as it always did when I forgot something. I violently decapitated the undead gnoll that heard the sound, its dead head blown away from the force of the slash. It fell to the ground with a disgusting mix of a thud and a squishing sound, as the rest of the carcass followed suit. By the time I landed on the blighted ground, I noticed the reason of my uneasiness. There were about twenty undead gnolls around me, axes and morning stars and crossbows and even bare fists all ready to mince me to shreds. I found no logical explanation for their sudden appearance: undeath can bring about many different powers, but shadowmelding was not one of them. As they snarled hungrily, eager to feast on both my flesh and soul, I noticed several of them sported arrow wounds, and some even had the arrows attached still. Evidently, this was the same squad that hit the caravan before, and those wounds were surely the ones made from the huntress, whom I was about to join. I braced myself for the upcoming beating, dropping into a defensive stance, sword in front of me, while I stepped back carefully as the circle of creatures followed me closely.
“You should never have crawled out from Gilneas, paladin” said a cold, certainly evil voice nearby. I spun around, nearly toppling over the gnoll I just slaughtered, and I saw the reason that gnoll death squad appeared so suddenly. It was a warlock, standing just outside of the gnoll ring, almost concealed in darkness, a dark aura surrounding him. Crimson and dark blue were his robes, his face half hidden under a blood red hood, the only visible part of it was the black goatee beard the warlock sported, and his cold smirk, clearly a sign he was the master behind those undead gnolls. Probably its creator too. A warlock leading a group of undead gnolls who happened to kidnap a night elf huntress and a bunch of goblins that were travelling through Silverpine Forest?
Nothing made sense anymore, though maybe that was because of the spell the warlock immediately casted on me, hitting me with the force of a hurricane and knocking me unconscious almost instantly. It seems my adventures outside of Gilneas had meet an abrupt end, at the end of a warlock’s staff. I felt a last pull on my legs as the gnolls picked me up to join the huntress I tried to rescue, whether that was in death or in prison, I wasn’t sure. I felt a last surge of sleepiness, and then everything was as dark as the Twisting Nether.