Mercenaries of Northrend [Short Story]

Events take place in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

The sky over Northrend was darkening quickly due to the thickening clouds. I kept in mind, that in best case scenario nights here are just terribly cold. The guards shared that sometimes the wind was so strong they had to wrap themselves in cloaks and rugs even at the posts, otherwise it was impossible to stand. At least the rain was rare here. And we caught this rare event. I pulled the cloak, shaking the raindrops off it.

The ship we arrived from Stormwind on was unloading. Along with other mercenaries, a lot of supplies were brought to Northrend, such as weapons, building materials, and provisions. And now all the goods was hastily transported to the Fortress of Valor under unwilled murmur of drenched to the skin peasants.

Our group stood aside, waiting for the horses to be led out.

Northrend just started to be explored, or rather recaptured from the tenacious claws of the Scourge, and any help was worth its weight in gold. To contribute to the development of this area, the Alliance issued a decree on free transportation of all volunteers who were ready to hold both a hammer and a sword. Mercenaries happily seized this opportunity to fill their pockets with gold yet again. As a result, both them and the Alliance were able to benefit.

The horses were finally taken out of the ship, and I headed towards the nearest tavern.

The dwarf and I were freezing to death. And only Caitlin seemed to be immune to an icy cold howling wind. However, she looked extremely menacing and bitter.

A few days out in the cold sea and having to wait under the rain obviously haven’t done her good. And not only her. I myself was eager for a warm room, for fire in the fireplace, for a filling dinner, for a real bed.

— Wine, — Kurley gasped, grabbing the reins of his horse.

I grinned to myself. Yes, that would be nice too.

The innkeeper greeted us with a cold look, but a few gold coins quickly made him friendly. After putting things in rooms, Caitlin and Kurley came to me, and we ordered food. At the same time, I tried to fill them in my plan for further actions.

— Just a pendant? — Kurly couldn’t sit still and jumped up, swinging a chicken drumstick around.

— Kill the Highest Nerubian, take the pendant and escape? Are you serious? There is such a treasury behind him, and you… Pendant. Seriously?

— Also. What is it about this pendant? Well, of course, except that this is a family relic?

The dwarf was still waving a bone in our faces, refusing to listen.

— All this time at sea, on the road, for what? For the sake of the pendant. No way! — he mumbled to himself.

— Kurly! — I shouted at him. — How many times do I need to repeat? After the death of the Highest Nerubian, there would be such a chaos there that we’d wish we were somewhere else. I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t want to join the Scourge Army just for a few gold coins.

— Stop fighting! — Caitlin intervened in the conversation.

Despite the late hour, she was still in her chainmail armor, and her blade was behind her back. This made everyone feel like she was expecting an attack at any moment, even though we were in safe area. Hopefully, safe one.

— Bolingar, get over it,— she said to me. — If Kurley wants gold so much, then let him take it. We will cover him. He would not be able to carry much anyway.

— I’ll make sure I would! — the dwarf pouted and flushed either from embarrassment or from all the wine he had. — For your information, a true dwarf can carry twice as much gold as all of you combined!

— Kate, — I turned to the girl, — we won’t have so much time.

The girl crossed her arms over her chest, showing that she would not give in. But I couldn’t go for it.

— Listen, yes, I promised protection to everyone who needs it, — once again I blamed myself for the oath I gave. — But damn it all to hell, I cannot protect those who deliberately wants to get into trouble! — I threw a cold look at the dwarf, but he pretended to be more interested on what was on his plate.

— Listen, we’re not wealthy or something to miss such an opportunity, — Kate said while staring at her beer. — Besides, the priest will accompany us.

I frowned. Yes, the Alliance, after learning about our small group, was generous enough to provide the priest. Another problem, as if these two were not enough for me.

— You don’t understand… — With a sigh, I tried to explain again the aim of our assignment to my companions.

No doubt, the treasury was a great temptation. But even with the support of the Alliance, we did not have enough people to recklessly rush into the enemies just for gold. Three here, plus a priest… We were missing just one more member.

But judging by the looks of my crew they remained unconvinced. Climbing into the den of the Nerubians is already a reckless idea. Yeah. But both the Alliance and us were interested in this. And that means… That means they will have to climb into the treasury. I sighed, admitting my defeat.

— Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, — the girl summed up. — We’ll do the main thing — kill the highest one. And then we’ll see.

— And then we’ll look for a bit of gold! The dwarf laughed and stood up with a happy face and a full stomach.

— Where do we wait for the priest? — Caitlin asked me softly, glancing over at Kurley.

— Next to the Ziggurat, — I said. — At least, I’ve been told so.

The girl nodded and disappeared.

I couldn’t sleep. After lying in bed for about an hour, I decided to go out on a balcony and breathe in the fresh air. As night fell, Northrend looked too sinister, but mesmerizing at the same time. Even on the ship we saw the spiers of the enormous fortress of the Lich King, and it was enough to cause panic by seeing them so close at night. Nevertheless, there was something in them… that grasped everyone’s attention. I closed my eyes forcing myself to look away, and then I looked around just to spot my partner on the next balcony.

— Tomorrow is going to be a tough day, Kate, — I said softly. — And it’s better to relax properly. Go to sleep.

— Damn it, you… — the girl squeezed the railing so hard her knuckles cracked, breathing heavily. — You scared me… How did you come out so silently? You’re a paladin, not a rogue.

— You’re so excited you haven’t even heard me, — I retorted. — I get it that you enjoy night walks under the moon, but Northrend is not very suitable place.

— Okay, sir, — the girl quipped, calming down. — As you wish.

She returned to her room. She was even more nervous than me. What exactly scared her? I did not know. I did not know what to expect tomorrow. A tough battle awaits us. And despite my crew tried to look tough, it was me who was supposed to protect them. What if I fail? Do not live up to their hopes? What if I let them down? I sighed. Their death would become a heavy burden for me.

Returning to the room, I pushed the furniture to the walls and sat on one knee, starting a prayer. Perhaps it was silly, but we would need any possible help tomorrow.

Our morning started with a lot of panic.

— Caitlin is not in the room, — Kurly woke me up.

— How? — I jumped out of bed. — What do you mean?

— I mean she is not in her room, — the dwarf turned away, giving me time and space to process it. — I went to her room, but it turned out to be empty. An innkeeper walked by, said she had already packed up and left.

I froze, trying to make sense of what Kurley just said. Of course, the three of us were not best friends, and we were united only with our task… But to leave us this way?

— Don’t exaggerate, — I decided. — Maybe she is near the horses.

We had a quick bite and hurried out. The morning was foggy. Fortunately, the fog was not very thick, otherwise we would have had to postpone the raid. Kurly has mumbled something about neverending dampness, but I ignored him. I could only think of what if we would not find…

— Good morning, gentlemen! — Caitlin greeted us, moving away from the already loaded horses.

I let out a short exhale of relief. Kurly did not seem to share my joy.

— Are you serious?! — exclaimed Kurly. — What did you do?

— Well, you told us yesterday that you can carry way more than we all think, — the girl looked indifferent. — So I overloaded your horse just a bit. Everything just like you said.

— I meant dwarves can carry stuff, not horses.

— So you are going to carry the load on yourself? — girl tried to look surprised.

— Enough, — I commanded, cutting off the argument.

It took about half an hour to unload Kurley’s horse. I noticed that Caitlin hadn’t let her black horse to be loaded more than ours. But I just shrugged it off. Lady’s wish.

— Is everyone ready? —Finally, everyone was ready. — Good. We are moving forward.

Perhaps, if the weather was more favorable to us, we would be at our destination in just few hours. But wind was cold and fog was heavy, and the way to the Ziggurat we needed took up the entire first part of the day.

We were almost next to it when another rider in standard military uniform appeared behind us. There was a staff behind his back, and I recognized the priest. How many times have I sighed over the past day? The newcomer team member was probably a mediocre employee who did not travel beyond the Fortress at all. And this is our help?

I slowed down the horse and nodded to him as a greeting. Even if he nodded in response, no one saw this because of his cloak. His lips were silent. Caitlin and Kurley only shrugged their shoulders and continued with their fight, trying to figure out who was the best sharpshooter. I let the priest go forward. Every second I regretted my involvement in this matter more and more.

There was very little left to Ziggurat when Caitlin abruptly stopped her horse and turned to me.

— Driving through the main hall would be suicide. We don’t know how many nerubians are there, — she said right away

— Logical, — assented Kurly.

“And when did they suddenly become friends like that?” — the thought flashed through my head, but something different slipped out:

— And what do you suggest?

— Find the hole in the rock, — she suggested. — I am sure there would be something like that. It will be harder to get to him, but we wouldn’t have to deal with the guards.

— That sounds good, — I admitted. — Now we just need to find the hole.

The girl smiled.

— Found one already! It wasn’t hard to spot!

— Of course it wasn’t, — a dwarf lost it immediately seeing it as a disguised challenge. — If we were with you in other conditions…

— Kurly, — I stopped him. — Lead on, Kate. Time is running out.

— We can still ride to the base of the Ziggurat, — the girl commanded. —When we are there we will have to go on our own.

A vague sense of anxiety hit me once again. Caitlin held herself with such confidence as if she had been preparing for this her entire life. And how could she only spot this hole? Curly grumbled every now and then that we were being led to certain death in a dead end, but obediently rode alongside. This time the priest was behind everyone, trying not to get in our way, perhaps feeling tension.

Ziggurat towered above us. The warding crystal was buzzing, but didn’t respond to us. This was a relief. Like someone turned it off. My inner voice grumbled that something was going on, but I did not listen to it. We were hoping that none of the Nerubians noticed us and did not raise an alarm.

Caitlin stubbornly walked forward, cursing every now and then. Kurley ran after her, adding to swearing. I kept looking around, checking to see if the priest still was following. He walked, wrapping himself in a cloak feeling the cold.

— There he is! — Caitlin exclaimed, rushing forward.

Looking closer, I actually saw a crack in the wall.

— Suspicious, however, — Kurly grunted. — I do not remember similar loopholes in other towers.

— As if this is an obligatory part of the structure, — the girl immediately got angry.

— It doesn’t matter, — I cut them off, pulling out a rope. — We need to check if anyone is there.

— Nobody, — said the priest, who had time to examine the hole.

— I’m the first! — Caitlin pulled the rope from my hands and deftly went down.

I tried to follow her, but in armor and with a huge hammer over my shoulders it was not easy at all. Kurley did the same. He did not even try to cling to the rope, just fell down right away. Dust rose from the floor, forming a strange haze from which the priest emerged and helped the dwarf to stand up.

— It is original, — he grunted, taking help.

— So where are we… — Caitlin muttered, looking around. — Kurly, give me a map!

— Couldn’t you learn it during all this time? — came out of me: we studied the map for so long. — And you! … All right, everyone follow me!

We rushed along the huge halls of Ziggurat. The ominous silence made me feel uneasy. We made such a noise and did not attract anyone’s attention? What a nonsense. What if it is a trap… A crossroad appeared before us.

— To the right, — I commanded.

This corridor was supposed to lead to the hall of the Higher Nerub. It was lit not by ordinary torches, but by magic ones, blazing with a gloomy blue flames. Every step we took, the lights became weaker, the darkness seemed to absorb us. I pricked up my ears.

— It is black magic! — it hit me, and I took out my two-handed hammer, making it light up.

A nearby standing priest nodded and lit up his staff, helping to light the corridor. But the spot it lighted was clearly not enough. All of a sudden, there was a strange noise nearby. The whole group was immediately on their guard, preparing weapons.

— Just stick to the plan, — Caitlin commanded. — Cover the back, we can not let them go behind.

— And how we are suppose to do this if I don’t see a damn thing besides Bolingar’s hammer? — Kurley grumbled, but drew his shotgun, aiming at the darkness.

Huge figures emerged from the darkness. Nerubian guards. I bit my lip to keep myself from swearing. We are trapped. One of the guards came into the light and was immediately hit back, knocking those following them.

— Damn, but I haven’t prepared enough buckshots, — the dwarf cursed, reloading his shotgun.

— Not a single thing will hide in the darkness! — I exclaimed and rushed into the guards.

Now that we have revealed ourselves, there was no need to intimidate us with the darkness. The torches flared again on the walls, and we could see the rival. But this did not give us a strong advantage over the enemy anyway. After killing another guard with a hammer, I looked around.

Caitlin whirled around in place, parrying all the Nerubian attacks and counter attacking them in response. She made them to believe that they were driving her into a dead end pressing her against the wall, but I remembered that this was part of the plan. If you fail to take up a circular defense, try to take such positions where the back will be covered from the web of the guards. And Kate chose the most correct tactics, unlike the others.

The dwarf was firing in all directions, carried away by reloading his shotgun, he completely forgot about staying cautious. Nerub was already behind him. I rushed to help him, but other guards immediately blocked my path. Having dealt with them, I realized that I was late. Nerub had already thrust his claws into the back of the dwarf. But a bright fire immediately burned the spider and wrapped Kurly. He struggled, but got to his feet. The priest immediately appeared behind him, attacking others who wanted to feast on a careless dwarf.

— Thank you, I owe you one, — came to me. — When we get out, I will share gold with you.

The priest did not respond, busy weaving spells and alternating attacks with healing. Well, these two were able to cope on their own. I turned away from my group and continued finishing off the guards.

— Hey, Bolingar, — they called me. — They are all dead.

I froze. Yes, indeed. We were surrounded by the dead bodies of Nerubians. Carried away by the battle, I completely went blind.

— They know about us, — Caitlin looked around. — Now it is only a matter of time before they have some reinforcements. — Bolingar, where is the hall of the Highest?!

— Nearby, — I said, rushing into the cleared corridor. — It was the personal guard of the Nerubian lord. And we were lucky they were taken by surprise.

— You want to say that we caught them by surprise?! — Kurly grunted, starting to wind up.

— You fight later, — Caitlin cut him short. — And now run. We need to get there before them.

I rushed first, the group followed me. We were haunted by a thin screech interrupted by a strange rustle and screaming. Caitlin and the priest ran ahead, Kurly and I lagged behind.

— Stop! — the girl shouted.

At the very border between the corridor and the hall, darkness awaited us. Not a haze in which you barely see anything. All-consuming darkness. I activated my hammer, hoping to illuminate at least something, but the light just drowned in a dark mass. Caitlin waved her sword, as if trying to cut through a new obstacle. Nothing. Absolute darkness seemed to grim over us, waiting for us to jump into it.

— I love uninvited guests. Come in, don’t be afraid. Nobody will touch you… for now.

Something in the voice was…bewitching. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my group entering this darkness. And I followed them.

— Well, how do you like it? — the voice continued. — Do you like to trample on the bones of the fools just like you?

Across the hall, the already familiar torches with blue flames lit up, illuminating enormous space. Under our feet, the skeletons of those who were not lucky enough crunched and whitened. A huge spider with a thin silver diadem on its head stood before us. A thin mantle with runes hung from his body. I realized he was not just the Highest Nerub but also the dark mage. No one warned us about this.

— Let me introduce myself, — High Nerub moved like he was bowing. — I am Azar’erak. And you… — he began to slowly glide over us with his tenacious gaze.

— Paladin, one piece. Do not even hope, there was no light here for a long time. Dwarf, one piece. I suppose he is here for gold, I know this kind. Priest, one piece, nothing special. AND… YOU! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!

I stared at Caitlin. And not just me. Kurly did not take his eyes off the girl either. When did they even cross each other? Was this her benefit? Questions overpowered me, driving me crazy.

— Beautiful speech. Was preparing it for ages? — Caitlin started to sound sarcastic. — Let’s see what kind of a hero you are without your horde of minions.

— I shouldn’t have done it then. What a pity I seems to involuntarily saved you back then, — Nerub muttered, squinting.

— What?! — I exclaimed with Kurley. And only the priest was holding still.

— Didn’t you know? — Nerub grinned. — This is a very interesting story.

— It’s a pity that you won’t have time to tell it! — Caitlin rushed at him with a sword.

Kurly immediately rushed after her, and I still could not move from surprise. But now there was no time for this. Having activated the hammer, I took off to ram his protection. Nerub was a strong mage, and neither Caitlin with a light sword nor Kurley with his shotgun managed to pierce his magic barrier. But his magic was weaker than mine. Strengthening the pressure, I was able to break through his barrier and swung at him. Nerub could not restrain a fierce howl and began to fight back grinding his jaw, trying to reach my body with his paws. Trying to prevent this, I admitted to myself that he was not bad at melee combat, even though he combined a mage and a Nerubian. Suddenly he dodged and shot a web, immobilizing me.

— Kate, did you come here for a pendant? — Nerub took advantage of the pause. — For this one?

He tore the pendant from his neck and threw it up.

— No! — I screamed, understanding was his plan was and trying to break out of the cocoon of the web.

But it was too late. The girl had already rushed after the pendant, in a desperate hope of catching it. And then Nerub rushed after her. His claws dug into the girl’s back, almost cutting her in half. She collapsed to the floor, bleeding, clutching a pendant in her hand, stifling a moan.

— Priest, help her! — I commanded, burning the web around me and rushing at Nerub. — It is time for the hammer!

The hammer shone several times brighter from the overwhelming rage I felt, and I went ahead not fearing Nerub magic. Blow after blow, wave after wave, I did not see anything but the Higher Nerub, crouching in front of me in a miserable attempt to defend himself. More likely I just smelled his blood than I saw him, and understood he was almost done. But as soon as I waved the hammer for the last crushing blow, a huge thorn pierced the head of the Higher Nerub, breaking a thin diadem. I froze, panting.

— Don’t take all the fame for yourself, — muttered Kurley, reloading the shotgun.

I just nodded and, putting the hammer back approached the girl. The priest had already taken care of her wounds, and now she was standing near the wall, trying to pick up her sword with trembling hands. I noted that she had already managed to hide the pendant. However, this was no longer important.

With a loud noise, a throne crumbled behind us, opening the passage further. Even from the distance we could see the mountains of gold. Kurley dropped his shotgun.

— Here it is! Treasury! Gold! Wealth! — He exclaimed, rushing towards.

— Kurly, no, it’s a trap! — I called him, but the dwarf was already on his knees stuffing pockets with coins.

— No more battles, — he muttered under his breath. — I’ll buy an entire castle. With a fireplace. With a wine cellar.

And he did not see how the blue haze closed the passage, cutting off his way back.

— Greedy idiot, — Caitlin muttered.

The dwarf jumped up and looked around.

— What kind of jokes are these? — he was distraught when he managed to see a magic barrier and tried to pass through it.

— Get away, I’ll smash it! — I ordered the dwarf, swinging the hammer as hard as possible.

But the haze did not even twitch, still keeping the dwarf in the treasury.

Behind our backs, a frightening clattering intensified. The remaining inhabitants of Ziggurat finally found out about us and were now going to give us the welcome we deserved.

— Leave, right now! — Caitlin grabbed my hand.

— What? — for a moment it seemed to me that I misheard, but the girl was serious. — You can’t possibly want to leave him! He is our friend! I am responsible for him. I am responsible for all of you!

— We are about to get buried alive! Either we sacrifice him, or we all perish here! How many lives would you rather save? Three or zero!

Bolingar wanted to oppose her. The three of them have already been through a lot. They have known each other for a long time. And to leave him like that… No, I can not!

— Moron! If you decided to die, then I do not want to share your fate. — She lifted the blade with one hand, and had her golden trinket in the other. Caitlin looked disapprovingly at the paladin and rushed to the exit.

I looked at the priest asking his opinion. He just shrugged his shoulders and stood next to me, waving his staff. Just two of us against the entire Ziggurat. Not bad. Kurly has disappeared in the depths of the treasury we weren’t able to see. Perhaps, he got scared that the barrier would not stop the legitimate owners of the tower, and hurried to search for another way out. Having estimated the number of enemies, Bolingar realized that the idea of fleeing was not meaningless. But it was too late to run. They were attacking. The priest fought fiercely, but a swarm quickly swallowed him. And when they pounced on the paladin, he remembered the words of his trainer.

“Remember, Bolingar. Remember, that faith in the light is invincible. And even in a difficult moment of need, when there is nowhere to wait for help, when death with a scythe stands next to you, believe in the light. Believe in the light, believe in hope, and they will not leave you without help.»

The paladin felt the golden light pouring from his eyes, and a shield appeared around his body, blinding and burning the attackers. The defense seemed to be very thin, but it was impossible to break through.

Having pulled the stone from the belt, Bolingar began to charge it with energy for teleportation, and stone was flaring up more and more. It was extremely difficult to concentrate on it, when everything that separates you from deadly stings and claws is only your belief in the light. Finally, the stone flared up in full strength. And before the divine shield disappeared, paladin was able to escape a sad fate.

The surroundings now changed drastically as before his eyes now was not an army of Nerubs in terrible catacombs but welcoming fireplace of the tavern. It seemed that no one even noticed the unexpected appearance of the paladin in the tavern, and of course no one even had an idea of what he just survived. Bolingar shuddered for a long time at the thought that the rest of his group were unlikely to be able to use their hearthstones.

Caitlin. How could she do that? Did she betray them for some trinket? After so many adventures that we went through together? The paladin began to suspect that the pendant that was worn by a nerub was not an ordinary jewelry.


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