The fire crackled quietly in the pit at Chunk’s feet, his hooves warmed by the tiny flame amidst the dense forest undergrowth around him. He kept the flickering tongues of flame low, so as not to draw any far-off attention. His presence here was for only one thing.
The tree overhead provided significant shelter from the encroaching moonlight, keeping his location masked from overhead eyes, should any be traveling by air. After weeks of troubling visions, two carrier ravens with anonymous instructions, and no replies in return, Tuchunqua had come to this place in the hopes his communications would be met with good news.
The forest around him whispered delicate secrets to his shaman ears, telling of the serenity of this place, tracing the curves of his ears with tantalizing tales of days gone, of previous wanderers to this area, and to distant stories yet untold. The puffs of smoke from his pipe left wisps in the air as his mind listened to the spirits dancing around him.
And then, one spirit called out from the others.
Tilting his head to his left, he heard the faint snap of underbrush. Too heavy to be the local fauna, a clumsy misstep. Heavy, clad in armor.
Spirits whispered to him as more irregular forest sensations met his ears. The scent of sweat, fur dander, and rotting fruit.
“Ya do yaself a dissavice, settin’ in da open, Tauren. Lotsa bad tings happen to da unprepared.” Ydj’s familiar voice rose from the dense foliage nearby.
Chunk’s eyes shifted warily to the direction of the voice. “Had you wanted me dead, you would not have given me warning, Troll. Besides, your friend doesn’t watch their step very well, do they?” His muzzle lifted toward the direction of the underbrush on his left.
Ronwynn, a Tauren paladin, stepped out from behind a nearby tree, the joints of her armor singing with the hums and creaks of shifting metal and taught leather straps.
“Why did you call us here?” She inquired.
“Isn’t there another of you? I’m sure I caught the scent of decay.” Chunk shifted his gaze between the Tauren and the tense frame of the Troll to his right, weapon drawn and pointed in Tuchunqua’s direction.
“Your message said you would meet us in the shadow of Hyjal, near the river. Ashenvale is dangerously close to old enemies, Chunk. Why here?”
“Keep your friends close and such?” The Tauren smirked, taking another puff of his pipe.
The Troll’s eyes narrowed. “Dis smells like a trap.”
Chunk shook his head, tapping his pipe on his hoof. “No no. I am glad to see you two are safe. It was a vision that brought me here. Something has gone wrong. Your names were not among the spirits, that’s why I contacted you.”
Ronwynn glanced at the Troll, then back to the Shaman. “Indeed. The order has been decimated. Those fortunate to be alive were scattered at the time of the attack. You among them.”
Chunk frowned, his usual cheery demeanor fading quickly into one of deep thought. “The vision was true. I saw suffering, heard cries of agony as the flickers of life went out. My mentor must’ve known something. He sent me to work on a project with the Earthen Ring ‘because it was for the best.’ But his name was among those the spirits whispered to me. He was lost…”
The Tauren seemed to curl in on himself, his own pains stopping his train of thought.
Ronwynn took a step toward the Shaman, then stopped herself. “Did your vision indicate anything about who might have done this?”
Chunk was silent for several long seconds. “No. The cries and shrieks were all I could hear, the faces of the dying all I could see. Several were absent, but yours were the only two I immediately recalled as missing.”
Ronwynn and Ydj both seemed to relax slightly. The Troll warily slid his weapon back into its scabbard as Ronwynn took a seat across the fire from the Shaman. Ydj maintained a vigil of the underbrush, his eyes narrowing at the long shadows around the small fire.
“We had hoped you might have answers. So far, we have no names, no leads, and no further ideas. The names of the lost are still reaching us from various sources, and all of the upper echelons of leadership are dead. We are, at this point, scattered.” Ronwynn explained, her eyes still watching the Shaman as he gathered himself from his own emotions.
“Friends, allies, colleagues. Ronwynn the order was everything we had built. And like that, gone. And now only three of us huddle around a fire with blank slates. There must be something we can recover, tomes, parchments, something that might indicate how this all transpired.” Chunk was stuffing his pipe with fresh herbs.
Ronwynn sighed, reaching up to adjust a strap on her shoulder. “Ydj and I have been rummaging through old letters and the like that we managed to recover from a few leader’s homes across the capital cities, but nothing would indicate treachery or dissention. The transaction records we recovered from our trader’s also showed no gold disappearing, nor any sales that were out of the ordinary for the order.”
Chunk chewed on his lip, staring into the fire. “Is there any sort of plan in place? Or are we reduced to grasping at straws?”
“We rebuild.” The paladin said.
Chunk lit the herbs in his pipe, nodding as he listened.
“None of us are above suspicion for the time being, and so our numbers remain small for now. We make sure none of us is going to turn on the others. We observe, we find out who did this to us, we testify when the time is right, and we bring these assassins to their deserved justice, or a grave of our own making if all else fails.”
A sniff pierced the darkness between the dancing mottle of shadows and firelight by Chunk’s right shoulder, a quick and opinionated, almost irritated snort.
Tuchunqua jumped in his seat, startled as the face of a young female Forsaken materialized through the flickering edges of dark and light.
Eiry stared into Chunk’s face for a handful of rapid heartbeats, her expression unreadable, before she turned away. Inky blackness traced up her legs in unsettling wisps, her frame vanishing into the trees as quickly as she’d arrived.
Chunk looked back at his other companions, clearly irritated.
“I thought I smelled something rotting. You could have told me Eiry was coming with.”
“Insurance.” The paladin retorted.