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Lirshala and Lolanga


            Out of the dark swirl of the void that seemed, for just a moment, to turn the world inside out and upside down, a landscape took form. If Lirshala had thought she knew the meaning of the words bleak and barren, she now knew that she had never truly grasped the concepts. Red dirt stretched as far as the eye could see, broken only by an odd, spiky black rise of a building in the middle-distance. Unable to stare at that great emptiness for long, Lirshala glanced down.

            Unsettling was the first word that came to mind. It was a little better than ‘sheer, mind-numbing terror,’ and that whole phrase was trying to creep in and paralyze her. She thought she had seen demons. She’d never seen a whole army of them, not really, not with infernals falling in an infinite rain, dreadguards throwing themselves at the foot of the stairs she was standing on, felguards howling, shouts ringing, and a flaming pit lord’s booming commands sending shivers through even the stoutest defenders. For one moment, she wondered how any, Horde or Alliance, could hold back that tide.

            Frozen at the top of the stairs, Lirshala wondered what her old Ma would say if she could see this. For one moment, Shala could smell tanned hides and woodsmoke, see her mother sitting by the fireside, unrolling a long spool of thread, inspecting its length with a calm, practiced eye. Her quiet, rough voice murmured from across the room, “Place like that, child, wants nothing more than to bash your head in. All you have to do is look at that color. Red like a warning, like a poison flower. Best to stay away.” In Lirshala’s mind, the words were followed by the snick of scissors as her mother cut the thread, already lifting her thick needle from the leather jerkin it had been stuck in.

            “Move along, then!” a harsh, thickly accented voice shouted behind her. She whirled. A red-faced human, hauling a load in a wagon behind him, was waving a hand at her, as if to brush her away. Lirshala sniffed. Warning color indeed, Ma. Though I doubt you’d have any trouble clocking this red-faced lump back through the portal. She only just got out of the way before a whole caravan of supplies meant for the Alliance hold rushed through the portal without stopping to see if they might run anyone over.

            One of the dwarves, a heavy keg strapped to his back, muttered coldly, “Aye, the Horde’s here all right. Gawping like sight-seers, while we do the real work.” Though Lirshala spoke only a few broken words of Common, she could understand the dwarf’s tone perfectly. Bristling, she clenched both tattooed hands and stepped towards the speaker. A companionable hand on her shoulder stopped her.

            “I wouldn’t worry about dem, mon,” a troll’s deep, smooth voice murmured beside her. “Dey ain’t worth it.”

            Lirshala turned, shrugging off the friendly hand. He was a tall troll, shockingly green against the dusty red backdrop of Hellfire Peninsula. His skin was a soft green, blue-ish in contrast to his vibrant grass green hair, which was pulled back in a mass of thick braids. Even his spiky facial tattoos were the emerald green of a deep jungle. His eyes alone were a different color: the rich red-brown of good earth, the kind that had not been seen in Durotar in a long time. They gleamed with a wicked merriment that his bored tone and expression did nothing to quell. His off-white tusks were small for a troll of his size. They were slightly splayed, pulling his lips into a permanent grin. Lirshala’s hackles rose at his bored, easy attitude.

            “What would you know of it?” she growled.

            The troll shrugged. “I know dey’re kind. Tink da world’s an oyster ripe for da strongest ta take. Tink dey da strongest. Dey gobble all da meat as quickly as possible so nobody else can come along and take it. Dey warn ya off like dogs.” His accent was heavier than she expected, surprisingly smooth and pleasant to listen to. He gestured after the Alliance caravan, his grin widening wickedly. “But folk like dem, mon, dey tend ta trow da pearl away wit’ da shell. Ya wait long enough, and ya’ll get what ya came for afta all, and ya have it long afta dey’ve run out of meat.”

            Lirshala’s eyes narrowed. “A pearl is no help if you’re hungry and someone else has the meat.”

            “Sure it will,” the troll shrugged again. “If ya have da pearl, ya can buy anyting ya want. No need ta eat da slimy oyster.”

            The orc clenched her left fist, silently asking for patience. “I’d like to have the meat and save the pearl for later.”

            The troll shook his head sagely. “Ah, yeah. Most folk would, mon. But if ya’ve got both, the jackals come sniffin’ round your fire. More trouble dan it’s worth. Like dem.”

            Lirshala huffed in disbelief. “You have an answer for everything, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question, but he shrugged again in answer.

            “Hey, I know what it’s like ta have nothin’. Wantin’ won’t get ya da world. Da world don’t care about wantin’.”

            The caravan was unloading on the far left side of the lower platform of the stairs. The time was long past for her to do anything about that dwarf and his insults. She glared at the troll. “You kept me talking on purpose.”

            “Sure, mon,” he said, eyes glinting wickedly. “Otherwise, I would’ve had ta heal ya when dey were done wit’ ya.”

            She sniffed. “You don’t know that.”

            He tilted his head, eyes calculating. Then he straightened to his full height, stretching long limbs. For a moment he towered over her, and she fought to hold her ground. He tapped his nose, as he settled back into his customary crouch. “I haven’t been a druid for very long, but I’ve seen loads of people, mon, and I know how ta read dem. Ya wouldn’ta lasted five minutes.”

            Lirshala grunted, unable to think of anything to say. She turned back to look at the battle surging below the stair. The troll broke the silence. “I didn’t tink it’d be so big.”

            Lirshala snorted derisively. “It’s a whole other world. What’d you think it would look like?”

            “Well, I expected a world, ya know?” he said, crouching down, squinting as if his reduced height would offer a different view. “Greener, for a start. Wetter. More closed in. Or else much hillier and yellower and dustier.” The troll sighed. “Dis ain’t a jungle. Dis…” he paused. “Dis ain’t a desert either, mon. Dis is…” He couldn’t seem to find the words.

            Lirshala stepped purposefully down the stairs. She had come to fight for the land that had once belonged to her ancestors, not to listen to troll poetry. Let him hope for the long lost jungles of his people’s fallen empire. She had work to do. She deliberately paid no heed to the shuffling of his large bare feet as he rose and followed her. Where the troll would have paused on the second platform to look out again over the shattered landscape and the boiling fight, Lirshala pressed on, turning right towards a group of orcs, all of whom kept one eye on the Dark Portal above and the other on the unceasing fight below. Lirshala knew that if she stopped to assess the battle, she would turn and run straight back up through the portal to the no less barren but much more familiar air of the Blasted Lands. It was easy to see why her grandparents had been so desperate to cross the rift to an unknown somewhere—anywhere—so long as it was away from here.

            One of the orcs hailed her. “Fresh from Azeroth?” he asked briskly.

            She nodded, noting his rank. “Yessir,” she said respectfully.

            The troll behind her grinned, and added, much less formally, “Sure, mon.”

            The lieutenant general sized them up. “You’ve seen fighting then?” he asked skeptically.

            “Yes.” Lirshala said firmly, refusing to be intimidated. He was only an orc after all, and not nearly as unsettling as the troll at her back.

            Said troll must have nodded in response, because the guard smiled mirthlessly. “No, you haven’t. But you will, if Hellfire doesn’t break you. Names?” He reached a hand back for a sheaf of parchment one of his underlings held.

            Lirshala, bristling at the other orc’s inattention, glanced back at the troll, who shrugged as if to say there was nothing to worry about. Before she could turn back and demand the lieutenant general’s undivided attention, the troll took half a step forward. “Lolanga,” he answered the question, though his eyes still rested on the violet-haired mage.

            “Lirshala,” she said, deliberately turning back to the lieutenant general, ignoring the fact that the troll had once again stalled her temper.

            The orc nodded, still rifling through the stack of parchment in his hands. “I need you to take this report—ah-ha,” he held up one long piece, deftly rolling it up and tying it shut as he continued talking. “—to my direct superiors in Thrallmar. That’s where you’ll find the real work. Lok’tar ogar, mage, druid.” Lirshala took the offered report, wondering if their names and talents had been sent ahead by the guards on the Azerothian side of the portal. As she turned away, the lieutenant general gestured to the wyvern roost behind him. “You’ll want to talk to my windrider master. You won’t get far on foot, green as you are.”

            Lirshala clenched her right fist, glaring at the orc’s dusty brown face, but the troll behind her just chuckled. “Sure, mon. In more ways dan one, hey?”

            But the orc had already turned away to deal with the next problem. The druid was steering her towards the wyverns with a strong hand on her shoulder. She shook him away again.

            “I can walk, you know,” she hissed.

            His grin widened. “Mind if I tag along?” the druid asked.

            Squaring her shoulders, left hand clenched again, she growled, “Do what you want.”

            She didn’t see the gleam of amusement in the troll’s eyes as she stalked up to the windrider master, and took off for Thrallmar, unsure if she would be happier if he didn’t follow her, or if he did.

            She put him out of her mind as the rush of stale wind blew her loose violet hair back from her blue eyes. She glanced up at the vivid sky, but it could not hold her attention. She looked down at the ground. She was thoroughly disheartened by what she saw, and her Ma’s voice worried at the back of her mind that she’d be better off turning the wyvern around and crawling back home. But her father had always wanted a warrior for a child, one who would do great deeds in the name of the Horde that was their heritage, their protection, and, hopefully, their legacy. But it was hard to imagine a Horde victory when they had to stand beside the Alliance just to keep the boiling cauldron of the demon army at bay.

            She had thought, standing on the stair, that the long dry sweep of the land was uninhabited. It had seemed empty in its vastness beyond the immediate crush of demons at the foot of the stairs. Now she could see that the demons stretched for miles, giving way not to desert, but to broken down machines, and spiky, tattered clusters of huts tenanted by strange, foul orcs unlike any Lirshala had seen. They were hunched, twisted, and their skin beneath the dark rags they wore was a glaring red. She shivered, glancing at her own brownish-green skin, wondering if one day, after too much time spent fighting in this strange land, she would wake up to find that the merciless sun had burnt her raw and red as well. No doubt there was some fouler magic at play than merely time spent in this accursed world. But fear still gripped her heart.

            She was pulled from her thoughts by a laugh on the wind. The troll druid, grinning, urged his wyvern up beside her, so he could shout against the rush of air, “It’s a good ting dey called up da exterminators, hey, mon? Dey got one hell of an infestation!”

            Lirshala’s jaw dropped, her fear melting away in indignation. “Do you think this is funny?” she hissed incredulously, gesturing at the red orcs scurrying below them.

            “No, mon, but if I don’t laugh at it, I’m gonna cry for sure. Da world always looks brighter for laughter dan for tears.”

            Lirshala gritted her teeth, her own small tusks biting into her lip. She urged her wyvern forward, ostensibly in disgust at the troll’s easy-going nature. But a part of her, deep inside and long ignored, giggled in a most un-warrior-like fashion. As if demons were merely pests to be smoked out of their holes! It was with a surprisingly lighter heart that she first set eyes on the high palisade of Thrallmar, right hand only loosely clenched for courage.

            Where she would have rushed out headfirst to tangle with the biggest demon she could find (as if that would make a difference), she reigned in her emerald raptor in a moment’s hesitation. She glanced back; Lolanga stood beside the stable master, coaxing his brilliant turquoise raptor out of a serious temper tantrum. Of course, he had an irascible raptor. She leaned forward to stroke her own patient mount’s nose horn. She couldn’t leave him to face the second biggest demon out there all by himself. What did druids, or for that matter, trolls, know of demons?

            And if that was merely rationalization, a deliberate ignoring of the quiet fear her clenched left fist could not keep at bay, well, it seemed a good enough reason to her. Slowly, her right hand clenched as well, and she pressed the knuckles of her hands together in her personal good luck gesture. She was still afraid, though it would be like pulling teeth to get her to admit it, and she knew that one could never go wrong with a druid for a healer at one’s back. And if he could banish her fear with one lame joke, well… She relaxed her hands, and took up her reins, determined to leave just that little bit ahead of him. She didn’t need him, but maybe, just maybe, if she was useful to him, he might find time to teach her how to laugh in the face of this fear.

            Riding hard for the road that would lead to the next adventure, Lirshala did not see Lolanga finally vault onto his fidgeting raptor’s back and follow her with a private, pleased grin.