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The Challenge of Peace (Leidolfr 1)

As a calf barely weaned, Leidolfr had been taken from his family and Tribe by a Vrykul raiding party and brought up as a captive until winning his freedom. He had tried going back home, but he felt lost; looking back to the half-cycle of An’she that had been spent among the Highmountain Shu’halo he could not blame them. They fought the demonic Legion with a fierce passion, but they were… “peaceful” … was the only way he could think of it. Vrykul were not peaceful. They were an unforgiving folk born of harsh cold winds who wanted to earn favor with their Gods at all cost, lest they serve in eternity to the Goddess of Death, Helya, never to ascend to the Hall of Valor. Every moment there was something to take offense at and to fight over; even in jest the challenge was just as real, but most often the slightest offense would be challenged to a duel in less time than it took to utter the word “Challenge”. As a slave, he could not challenge, but once freed, it was in his nature as surely as if he had been born among them.

The Shu’halo talked and came to agreements.

It was Ebonhorn, the High Chieftain’s advisor who suggested that Leidolfr be sent to Kalimdor, where he might benefit from seeing other cultures intermingle with their Shu’halo cousins in Thunder Bluff. As he left, Ebonhorn had sorrowfully whispered a final word in his ear, “You remind them more of the Vrykul then of a Shu’halo, so they have not known how to embrace you. May the Earth Mother grant you patience with our cousins and with yourself and may you find peace.” Ebonhorn had voiced what Leidolfr already knew to be true. They pitied him, and they feared him, and the kindly Highmountain Shu’halo would not admit it. He turned down the name Highmountain when it was offered, a kind gesture on their part, but neither they nor he felt it would be right. The name did not belong to him.

Fourteen nights he spent at Highmountain then sent to the Horde to become part of their armies. Over a full cycle under An’she and he had not reported to the Horde Forces in Stonetalon. He had been to Stonetalon, to “Rock of Sun” and then back to the Bluffs following the energy of the ley-lines in search of a home and a Tribe. He called upon the runes to guide him in the search, the runes, the letters of an ancient alphabet created by the Titans. The Orcs in Stonetalon spoke to him of a tribe called “Redwood.” He found some members of Redwood back in Mulgore, and though it was agreed he would need to speak to their Chieftain, all had welcomed him and begun to teach him of the Tribe.

One night, Leidolfr travelled quickly through the Barrens, where the craggy upheaval of the land puckered like angry welts, reminding him of how a snapping whip cut that would heal unevenly looked on Vrykul skin on the way to meet one of the Tribe members in Thousand Needles. The ley-lines, the weaving and pulsing arcane energy that rippled through all of Azeroth, were bright and pulsing angrily in an unsteady staccato as he passed through Southern Barrens. But he had no time to stop that night, and now that he had met the Chieftain, delivered supplies with his Tribe through the Elf lands and hunted with them in Stonetalon to support the Horde’s Arathi War Effort, Leidolfr must go investigate, because past the Barrens, even further South, the runes that formed in the ley-lines were grotesquely misshapen, mockeries of their true selves; And this included both the ancient alphabet runes, which held much meaning in each shape, and the runes of power, runes which could be imbued with Arcane power and wielded to enhance various abilities. And besides, The Tribe was engaged in Arathi Highlands or Troll lands, and Leidolfr was deemed not sufficiently strong enough to go with them.

Twenty-one days of fasting that had brought clarity to the rune structures in the ley-lines that formed under Thunder Bluff and stretched out to Stonetalon and the Barrens; but beyond that he felt Azeroth’s ley-lines scream in agony when he tried to follow the energy further. And while he was not a Rune Master, had even explained to Bahka Firetotem that he needed further instruction to develop his abilities, he could feel and read the rune structures used by the Titan, and as he had been taught by the keykeeper in Akstad, he had a choice, to either ignore the energy in the Southern Barrens and beyond or to investigate and see if there was something he could do.

He set out on foot at a quick pace, with An’she over his head. He followed the road, but he could have followed the power coursing through the earth just as easily; the ley-lines splintered apart and weaved together again with each step, leading to a massive disturbance just off the road. He thought he saw fires burning in the distance, but the destruction of this village had happened years ago as he had been told by the innkeeper in Ratchet.

Camp Taurajo they called it and there were flames lit anew. He saw Human looters picking over the village still, as if there was anything left after the fires and killing that had occurred years prior. They continued to desecrate the tents and there were newly dead Shu’halo mingled with the bones of those long dead; bones bleached by the light of An’she.

He grew hot with rage and flung himself at the first of the pillagers, his staff whistling through the air to knock a helmet to the ground. A gruesome Human’s face was revealed and Leidolfr reversed the staff to clout the Human to the ground before advancing on the next and the next. His blood hummed in his veins, and at Leidolfr’s touch, the runes, those calling upon swiftness of water, turned bright silver and danced on his forearm adding speed to his fury. He could see the matching runes in the earth leap to his bellowing call to enhance his speed even more, the glow from the ley-lines burned brightly, highlighting his foes.

As the defilers fell, he tossed them into a heap and created a pyre to burn the enemies of the land. They were not true warriors and he took neither pleasure nor pride in killing those unskilled and of no honor; if anything, he grew angrier that they were here on what was sacred land.

He watched as the pyre began to light the night sky. The ley-lines continued to pulse with power and he crouched down in the center of the village his eyes watching the fire burn. His hand made the familiar journey to his belt pouch and pulled forth a few of the carved and etched bones found there-in. He half rolled them onto the dirt next to him and after a few seconds he glanced down at them in wonder. Three were face down, negative aspects of the runes that would be etched on the side he could not see physically, but he could feel each one as it resonated in the ley current converging under the village. Those three were exactly as he rolled the morning when he broke the 21 day fast: Eihwaz – Destruction, and then Kano - Fire upside down meaning change that comes from lost life and Friction – Nautiz which meant he had not come to the end of his personal darkness. But the fourth instead of being Mannaz, the rune for putting others before himself, it was The Plain Rune, the unmarked bone. Destiny. The chance to finally define his Self. He had never once rolled it before. His hand hovered over the bones, not turning them, the images flying at him in the current of the ley-lines, but he struggled to make sense of Nautiz and the Plain Rune together, and even in the ley-lines, the images intertwined and seemed to fight for dominance with one another. Nautiz, he was not finished with whatever was holding him back, and the Plain Rune taking all of who he is to make him who he will become.

He felt like he might understand the combination and reached down to sweep the carved bones back into his pouch. His fingers touched The Plain Rune, the ley-lines pulsed with energy channeled at the center of the village, and a blinding brightness seared from the bone bearing The Plain Rune through his hand and to the back of his brain taking his breath away and knocking him flat to the ground as though lifeless.

Shouting brought him around. His brain groggy and his limbs feeling near lifeless, a rough hand grabbed him by the arm and half dragged, rolled him towards the steps leading into the long tent. Bullets flew and spiked up the dirt just where he had been, and his brain registered that more looters along with Alliance military were coming to the destroyed village.

He rolled to his feet and brandished his staff, when he felt a meaty hand clamp down on his shoulder. “Come!” grunted a brown skinned Orc, skin parched and rough as the lands surrounding them. More gunfire rang out, Dwarves rushing up the road from the South, so he jumped back and let the Orc guide him from the camp through the tall Barrens grass.

Leidolfr kept up with the grey-haired and battle-scarred Orc without issue, but he was not used to running from a fight. When at last the Alliance had stopped chasing them, they stopped under a tree and the Orc slumped down, his back against the trunk. The Orc was winded.

Leidolfr looked North towards the village and plumes of smoke darkened the sky. “They burn village…again?” He asked, shaking his moose-like antlers from side-to-side.

“Yes,” the Orc grunted. “Reminder to your kind that they did this. That they can do it again if they want. Kill more Tauren, burn your homes.” The Orc pauses and Leidolfr turns to look back at him. “They start a fire every morning burning what little wood is in the area to create the smoke, and for whatever reason they skulk about as if looking for something, killing any Orc, Tauren or anyone else that comes close, including the kin of those that died here that day.”

Leidolfr shakes his antlers again. “I not afraid.” He knows he does not speak the Orc’s language well, but he says each word with raw emotion so that the Orc will know he speaks the Truth.

The old Orc laughs. “I see. I watched you fight. Saw them coming and was going to warn you, then you collapsed for no reason.” The Orc inspects him, looking him up and down. “I don’t see any damage… well recent damage. You have more scars than I do, boy.”

Leidolfr blinked a few times and then scowling, his hand reaches into his belt pouch. He can tell immediately that he is missing the rune-carved bones that he cast earlier. His lips curl into a snarl and he turns to walk back to the fiery camp. “I go back!” he yells over his shoulder. “You no go.” He barely takes a step when the Orc is up and his hand on Leidolfr’s shoulder again. He turns his head and looks down into the Orc’s brown eyes. “I need get rune bones. I no get reading if not have all bones.”

“I don’t know about your bones, but you can’t go back now. Let them leave, they will relax their guard and go back to their business. If you go now, you go alone. I won’t save you a second time.”

Leidolfr scowled, and the Orc sat down without a glance at him. He thought maybe this was part of the lesson that he needed, one of patience, so Leidolfr crouched down and waited with the Orc.

Finally, they pushed back towards Camp Taurajo. The Orc had been right, the majority of forces left as daylight was ending. The fires that had been lit, were now smoldering, and the looters had returned. It was as if Leidolfr had accomplished nothing.

The Orc led him slowly and cautiously past a Human and two Dwarves, who were setting up a campfire and they entered the small village.

Leidolfr went to the center of the village, the ley-lines meeting just under his feet and where the rune stones had been thrown. They were not there. Emptiness welled up inside him, and his hand reached out as if trying to feel for them, to find which direction to search first, but he felt nothing to guide him, and the ley-lines gave no insight.

The Orc took some wood and caught the end of it on fire. “Here,” he said handing the brand to Leidolfr. “Burn the bodies of their recent victims, so the Humans can bother them no more,” the Orc directing him to burn the decaying remains that he had seen earlier when he entered the camp.

Leidolfr shook his antlers violently and pushed the brand away. “No. We do not burn. We bury. I collect the bones of new dead and old. Then land will heal.” The Orc shoved the brand back and him, and Leidolfr pushed back again. “I am Bonespeaker. I prepare dead. Bury dead. Not burn clan, only enemy.”

“I have been to enough of your ceremonies, Tauren,” the Orc stated and thrust the brand at the nearest Shu’halo remains. “Your people burn their dead kin!” he snarled with finality.

Leidolfr dove towards the body to put out the flame, but the sun-dried fur caught like an inferno. And even if he could have put out the fire, what he saw next stopped him cold. The spirit of a Shu’halo coalesced above the burning effigy and looked down on Leidolfr speaking of its death, of fending off the attackers with a skinning knife. Leidolfr fought the urge to fall back from the spirit, instead attending to every word. He owed the Shu’halo that much. The Orc lit the next body and the next. Leidolfr caught up to hear of a mother asking for her younglings to be taken to safety, the Flight Master staying behind to cover the retreat and finally, one that had found peace with the Earth Mother at last.

Each one’s spirit rose up as the body caught fire and spoke to him, their words and looks burning into his soul. He understood they were not those recently killed, but that somehow the souls of Camp Taurajo were telling their story. Rivulets of tears stained and wet his fur, but he never reached up to swipe the tears from his eyes.

The orc finished his burning and walked South without a word. After a few seconds, the young Shu’halo followed him and the Humans and Dwarves that met them that night breathed no more.

Leidolfr was not sure there was a path to “peaceful” Shu’halo in his future.

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