Krelle the Fearless
- --by Krelle
Krelle hopped off of the manticore and strode in to Tarren Mill, looking around the small decrepit town.
"Boss?" she asked on the com. "Where are you?" Nerrok had told her to meet him here, but she couldn't see him around the inn or the main square.
"Little north of town," came the gruff reply.
Krelle nodded to herself and set out. It was a strange evening, so far. Earlier she had gleefully given her report out over the comm, but Nerrok's response had been somewhat subdued. Later he had come to where she was staying in Booty Bay, and had asked her a single question.
"What are you afraid of?"
It had taken her off-guard. Krelle was rarely afraid. Under his fierce glare, however, she had told him the truth, as clearly as she could word it.
"I'm afraid of being alone in the world. I was always told that family is the most important thing… I'm afraid of what would happen to me if I didn't have one..."
The orc had nodded and left, telling her only to meet him at the Mill, and to be ready.
Night came quickly in the mountains and it was already dark when she spotted him, crouched on a hill near the river. She jogged over to where he was waiting and saluted respectfully.
Nerrok nodded at her. "Glad to see you made it." He rose slowly, looking her over.
"Well, you called. So I came," she said, grinning a bit impudently. She noted that his hands were in fists by his sides, but that one wasn't clenched as tightly as the other - he must be holding something.
Nerrok nodded, then said in a reproving tone "You might wanna pay attention to what's behind you, though."
Krelle's eyebrows went up and she quickly checked over her shoulder. Nothing.
"What do you -" As she turned around, Nerrok raised his clenched fist and opened it, blowing across his palm. A burst of ground-up dreamfoil hit Krelle full in the face.
Her head jerked back and she gasped involuntarily. She coughed once, stumbling backwards and falling to her knees. Everything was getting blurry. She tried to wipe her face but could only move her arm - her fingers had gone numb and unresponsive. She could feel the strength draining out of her limbs as though a great weariness was settling upon her. She looked up at Nerrok, confused. He said something in a comforting tone, but she couldn't understand. Her eyelids closed behind her mask as she slumped to the ground, her mouth still open in surprise.
Nerrok blew the dust into the girl's face. She flinched and coughed, stepping backwards. "Relax," he said. "Let it take hold." He ignored the tiny pang of guilt he felt as she looked up at him, clearly confused. As she slid to the ground he whistled for his mount, already moving forward to pick her up. He carefully lifted the little undead rogue, sliding her over the saddle of his war raptor. She was surprisingly light. The big raptor sniffed at her curiously as he carefully strapped her in, then the hunter and his mount turned and took off at a brisk pace towards the Hinterlands.
Krelle woke to a sharp, bitter smell that chased away her dreams. She sneezed and felt powder being blown off of her upper lip. Drops of water were hitting her face. She rolled onto her stomach, coughing and wiping her mouth. Woozily, she looked at her hand. Smelling salts. And a bit of dreamfoil. She shook her head to clear it, coughing again as she pushed herself up to her knees. She looked around.
She was kneeling at the edge of a beautiful lake high in the mountains. The bank was steep so she could not see far into the forest that surrounded her, but the trees were tall and majestic. It was very scenic - but she didn't have a clue where she was. She glanced down and her eyes caught sight of a crumpled paper. It must have been left beside her, or on her stomach. She reached down with a shaking hand and carefully unwrapped it, leaning over it to keep the rain off. Her eyebrows shot up in alarm as she read the first words.
You're all alone. I've taken your comm device, your hearthstone… everything. You're in a strange place, with people that want you dead, and creatures that could tear you limb from limb surrounding you on all sides. No one is coming to help you. No one is coming to save you.
Krelle felt her throat tighten in panic. She had messed up! She must have done something terribly wrong, and now they'd left her to die all alone… Her vision blurred as she gasped for air, the lingering effects of the dreamfoil magnifying her fear. She was alone in the world, all by herself, and horrible things would happen and no one would help or even care or…
"Stop it!" she told herself, speaking in the harsh Gutterspeak. She slapped herself across the face, hard, like Hakk used to. The pain helped clear her head. "Smarten up. Panicking never helps. Figure it out." She took a few deep, slow breaths - well, she tried to make them slow, though it was hard - and calmed herself down a bit. She looked at the letter again, seeing that there was more there.
You have no one to count on, other than yourself, your wits, and your blades. Good luck.
She stared in confusion at the letter. What? Good luck? She sat on the ground, looking out over the lake as the raindrops rippled the surface.
A slow, dawning comprehension brought with it a surge of relief that would have weakened her knees had she been standing. She wasn't in exile… this was part of a test! A slow grin stole across her face as she understood. This must be her test to see if she was worthy to be made a Claw! Her hands tightened on the note as the adrenaline of panic turned to excitement. If she could handle this, she'd have a proper family! Then she'd never really be alone. Not really.
She stood up slowly, checking herself over. He had indeed taken her comm and hearthstone, but not her weapons. "Sneaky bastard," she murmured in grudging admiration. She would owe him for this. "Allright. Fine," she said quietly in her native Gutterspeak. She looked around herself, assessing the situation. "Start with where you are. Then figure out where you're going. Mountains… hm. It's raining, not snowing, so I can't be that far north. If he carried me while I was drugged, I wouldn't have slept overlong, so I'm probably still in Azeroth… Lets take a peek at the forest."
She slid into stealth mode and slowly climbed the hill. She looked through the thick trees, but it was pitch black under their canopy. Her eye caught the movement of a ghostly shape far in among the trees. A white lion? It was huge… Krelle slid down to the water's edge again. The forest was looking decidedly unhospitable… but the water…
She moved quietly, sliding under the surface and peering around. It was dark here too, though not completely black. Her eyes slowly adjusted and she grinned. The water was clear and cool, with a strong current. She saw no fish or crocolisks - the water was too cold for large things to live in it, probably. It was a mountain lake, so it was probably fed from melted snow and rainfall. Which meant that it was safe to swim in.
Krelle swam with the current, reasoning that since she didn't know where she was going, one way was as good as another. The river was not broad but it was deep, its banks carved out of the earth by the rushing water. She swam happily, a grin on her face. Krelle loved to swim. She imagined that it was much like flying - the sense of freedom and weightlessness were a great joy to her. She spun in the water, enjoying the small whirling currents that would suck her down to the bottom of the stream, pinning her playfully against a rock for minutes at a time. Occasionally she would come up for a quick breath, but she was at home underwater and felt safe there.
Eventually, she became curious and swam up near the surface, stealthed once more, to peer about her. She climbed up the slippery bank to take a better look at a clearing she saw as she swam by. Close to the water's edge was a large stockade, and fires were lit inside. She crept closer but froze as she saw a large, lanky shape come around the edge. It was a troll. In the darkness it was impossible to read the tribal markings on his face, but his movements were feral and unlike the relaxed gait of the trolls she'd seen in Orgrimmar. She slowly crept down to the river, swallowing a pang of disappointment. Better keep going.
Further along was a large rocky outcropping, but she did not stop to investigate. It was covered in slimes and vicious oozes, larger than any she'd seen before. She stayed underwater, hoping they would not sense her presence.
As she moved through the water she noticed that a low background rumble was starting to get louder. She swam to the surface and peered forward. She was definitely approaching something very loud - like a long sustained roar…
Krelle yelped as huge rocks suddenly loomed at her out of the darkness. She scrambled madly to grab one as the current quickened, dragging her towards the waterfall's edge. Her hands slid along a smooth slicked-over rock, finding no purchase. She felt the current drag her along, crashing her into another boulder of granite that jutted out of the water. With a sudden burst of speed she spun around to grab at it, her nails raking along the unyielding rock - and finding a crevasse. With a final effort she dragged herself up onto the rock, laying there panting as the water crashed around her.
She laughed, the adrenaline making her giddy. Slowly, on shaking limbs, she crawled forward to peer over the edge of the rock. She collapsed in giggles, letting her head and arms flop forward, hanging off of the boulder. She looked down from the biggest cliff she had ever encountered. It was higher than Thunder Bluff. Higher than the great lift of Thousand Needles, even. The mountain river crashed through this last gate of granite boulders to tumble down in a foamy rain towards the ocean below. She stared down for some time, stunned by the magnificence of this land. Seeing this… it was a gift. She'd owe Nerrok something nice, too, apparently.
Eventually she calmed down and sat up, letting her feet dangle over the edge of the boulder as she considered her options. She could try to climb down the cliffs beside the waterfall - but great birds of some kind were circling, and she didn't trust them to keep away. The forest loomed behind her, dark and inhospitable. Below…
Krelle had a very good memory - she knew this because she had been told so. (It would have surprised her that most people don't remember everything they see and hear.) She relied on her memory a great deal. It was surprising how much seemingly useless information can suddenly become incredibly important through a sudden change of circumstances.
Cliff-diving, for example, hadn't seemed like a terribly important thing to know about at the time. But she distinctly remembered that Orc-lady in Booty Bay talking about how waterfalls were the safest places to dive, since the water that poured out over them carved a great deep bowl below them.
She was pretty sure it would be safe. Pretty sure.
Krelle grinned, a stupid, enthusiastic, decidedly childish grin, and launched herself off the boulder into the void. She squealed as the wind whistled past her ears, as a child squeals when twirled around by an uncle. This was amazing!
Woop! Water coming!
She curled into a tight ball, breaking the choppy surface easily and slowing as she dropped through the thick, salty water. As she'd guessed, a small but very deep basin lay below the roiling water at the base of the falls. The current from the falling water gently pushed her down, and she smiled and swam down to explore the ocean floor.
Beyond the basin to her left the ground dropped away sharply and the ocean became very deep. She could not see the bottom, which made her somewhat uneasy - anything could be lurking in there. She swam instead to her right, parallel to the shore. There was a kind of small mesa here at the foot of the cliffs, and all along it were giant turtles, grazing on the grasses and plants. Diving underwater, she saw more of the huge, gentle beasts. She smiled again at her luck. The turtles must eat all the big fish around here, because there was nothing else that was dangerous in the water. She swam for several hours, moving southward steadily. She stopped occasionally, either to explore some long-abandoned ruins on an island or to sneak up and slowly pet a sea turtle, but more or less stayed focused on her task of traveling.
Eventually, along the low mesa, she saw stone walls encircling some kind of encampment. As she came closer Trollish huts were clearly visible, rising on their tall stilts above the city walls. She stealthed warily, unsure of how friendly these strange Trolls would be. As she swam around a sharp bend in the coast, however, a welcome sight made her blow bubbles of joy. At the end of a long, sturdy dock was an Orcish windrider, and his Horde pennant flapped proudly in the salty air.
She swam eagerly to the end of the dock and climbed easily up the rough wood posts. She stood before the windrider with a stupid grin on her face as seawater slowly drained from her boots and many pockets. She wiped a piece of seaweed away from her eyes.
"Hi! Where am I?" she asked the stunned orc.
"Revantusk," he replied, looking at her incredulously. "What the Fel happened to you, little one?"
That gave her pause. She cursed herself for not thinking of a good excuse ahead of time and said the first thing that popped into her mind.
"Um, my manticore died or something while we were flying over the ocean. It just had a fit and we fell into the sea. I guess it was kind of old," she finished lamely.
The Orc blinked in disbelief and shook his head at her. "You're lucky you were close to land, then. The open seas are fierce."
She nodded and quickly continued before he could question her too closely. "Have you seen a grumpy Orc ride into town? He's got great big spikes on his shoulders, and rides a raptor."
The windrider shook his head. "No, girl, no strangers have come this way. You might check at the gates though," he said, nodding to the north. She thanked him and quickly moved along the dock.
Surely enough, as she padded through the strange outpost the large stone gates came into view and she could see Nerrok sitting atop of the wall, staring northward. She heaved a sigh of relief - then smiled mischeviously. She stealthed again, reaching down into her boot to take out a small pebble that had been lodged there since she woke. She crept up silently behind him, then stood and winged the little rock up at the orc. It bounced off of his helmet with a satisfying tink.
"Revantusk?" she demanded up at him. He turned, grinning down at her. "You brought me to Revantusk?" She planted her little fists on her hips, scowling up at him, trying not to laugh.
Nerrok chuckled, swinging his legs over the edge of the wall and hopping down easily. "No, I dumped you in the middle of nowhere. You got to Revantusk on your own."
She grinned at him impudently. "And I thought *I* was sneaky. Give me back my com, you mean old orc."
Nerrok was still grinning, dripping wet from standing out in the rain for hours, waiting for her. He passed her back her com and hearthstone, and offered a mostly dry towel to the soaking wet forsaken. Krelle accepted her things, then took the towel, using it to wring some of the seawater out of her hair.
"I'm completely waterlogged," she mourned. "I think I weight twenty pounds more than I did this morning."
Nerrok let out a hearty chuckle. "Let's get out of the rain, then…"
Krelle spotted the pebble she had beaned him with and scooped it up as they walked back to the docks. A little souvenir.
Back in the dry inn at Taren Mill, the two Tong members sat, discussing her recent adventure. Krelle told him all that had happened to her from when she woke up to when she lobbed the rock at him, explaining her reasoning for each of her actions. He largely approved, even chuckling at the blatant lie she had told the windrider.
As her tale drew to a close, he nodded, apparantly satisfied. "So. Were you scared?"
Krelle paused, emotions flickering across her face as she considered her night. "I was at first… but your note was comforting."
"How was it comforting?"
Krelle sat back a bit, squeezing rainwater out of her dreads as she thought. "Well, I wasn't really alone out there - not permanently. Just for a bit. By your note, I knew it was a test. I figured, if I passed it I'd… kind of be part of a family again. So I was afraid of being alone at first, but then I was only afraid of failing the test."
Nerrok nodded. "So you conquered your fear."
"Well I didn't have much of a choice, did I? Surrounded by slimes and man-eating trolls…" she affected an injured, little-girl face. "You're so MEAN."
He didn't rise to the bait. "Choice or not, you faced your fear and won. So now you shouldn't be afraid of anything… am I correct?"
Krelle raised her eyebrows a bit, but couldn't find a hole in the logic. She sat up a bit straighter. "You're right, I haven't got anything left to be scared of!"
"Good," the big orc grinned. "Stand up."
Nerrok approached her as he took out a small can of black war pain from his satchel. Holding it on one hand, he dipped the fingers of his other hand into the dark ink. He reached up, smearing bold, diagonal strokes across Krelle's forehead and both cheeks. He stepped back, grinning widely behind his helmet at the tiny Forsaken.
"Krelle the Fearless."
She smiled up at him. "I like that!"
"It suits you well. Here's another souvenir for you," he said, setting down the tin on the table. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a tiger claw insignia, offering it to her.
Krelle's eyebrows went up as she took it carefully from his hand. She looked at it for a moment, then quickly hid it away in one of her inner pockets. She was now a Tiger Claw. She bowed solemnly before her boss.
He spoke. "Know that you will never be alone in this world from now on, Krelle. You've got family. Family that care much about you."
She felt a lump catch in her throat. "Oh…"
Nerrok nodded at her gravely, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze as he passed her, walking towards the stairs.
"Ya did good, kid."
Krelle bit her lip as he stomped down the stairs, leaving her alone in the room. The lump in her throat wouldn't go away. She turned away from the stairs, stealthing without realizing it as she hid her face in her hands. Salty tears trickled out from beneath her mask as her shoulders shook silently.
Krelle had never cried before.
--Lilithia 19:27, 24 January 2007 (GMT)