Malebranche had only been in Ogrimmar for a day, and already he disliked the city. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with it per se, he just generally disliked any place that he went.
That he was here to start with was an irritant to him. He'd been sent halfway across the world, flying on a ramshackle airship run by Goblins (Horrid little creatures that they were) on the business of somebody else to retrieve a pair of arcane tomes. It irritated him enough that he was being sent as an errand boy, but that he had to go so far to do it only annoyed him more so. But he hadn't complained, as he knew that complaining wouldn't get him anywhere. The order had come from a superior, and he was bound to follow it. And besides, he wasn't about to talk back to Varimathas.
He'd found himself caught up in the rather inexplicable politics of the Orcs of Ogrimmar. Warcheif Thrall, a being who to Mal's eyes (or lack thereof) looked to be still stuck in the latter days of puberty, had sent him on some convoluted scheme for him to infiltrate the caverns under Ogrimmar to slay a group of Demon Cultists. This had suited him as these cultists apparently had the tomes that Varimathas wanted. Of course, it also meant that there was more work for him to do, but... there was always more work for him to do.
Being dead, he believed, should mean that people stop ordering you around and telling you what to do. it should be a point where you get to relax and lie around and do nothing but decompose. it should be a peaceful time. But for him, it was proving to be anything but. He’d died, but gotten back up again. And he hated it. Apparently no sooner had he popped out of the ground (or whatever, as he was almost certain that he'd spent some time as a mindless Scourge minion before his current "life"), people had been giving him arbitrary orders and wasting his precious time on running inane errands.
The information he'd gained said that the cultists and creatures of the Caverns were too much for him to handle on his own. Fortunately for him, he'd managed to secure a position with a group who would assist with such matters. He still wasn't sure why he'd signed up with the young female Troll when she'd offered him a place in her "tribe". Certainly he didn't like her, but then he didn't really like anyone. The only reason he could think of was that, at the time, there was the prospect of other people doing the work for him.
Unfortunately, she had other matters to attend to at the moment. So instead, she'd sent a letter to an associate of hers, asking them to help him instead. They'd in turn said that they'd meet him in Ogrimarr outside the Bank, and lead him along the way.
Malebranche sighed and shook his head as he surveyed the crowded streets. Around him he could see plenty of people milling about, going around their normal, humdrum, everyday lives. Well, "people" in the loosest sense of the term. Most of the population consisted of Orcs, Trolls and Tauren, with the odd Forsaken like him trying to do their best to blend in. It was strange, but his foggy memories seemed to recall fighting Trolls and Orcs during a war, and that they were the enemy.
"How am I meant to spot one Tauren in a crowd?" He muttered to himself. "This city..." To his mind, Ogrimmar was disorganized and shambolic, less a city as a much of primitive buildings left lying haphazardly around in a canyon. He'd found it annoyingly large and hard to navigate, especially as it had clearly been built for people far larger then he was. it was a regrettable state; even if he stood up straight, he still was far shorter then the average Orc.
"Hello!" A voice called out. Turning around, Mal could see a single Tauren running towards him. Clad in rather shabby-looking leathers, he carried a surprisingly large mace at his side. "Sorry I'm late." he panted out as he stopped in front of the Forsaken Mage.
Mal would have raised an eyebrow if he had any left. "Who are you?" He asked.
"My name is Willarthen." He replied. "But, um, you can call me Will. Everyone else does." He seemed a little embarrassed, scratching the back of his neck. "Um, I came here because a friend of mine asked me to come here to help another friend of her's. Are you that person?"
Mal let out a grunting sigh and shook his head. This man is a moron, he thought to himself before replying. "My name is Malebranche, and if you were directed here by Falbala Bloodfang, then yes, I am the person that you are after."
"Hoho!" Will called out. "Then I'm glad that I came to the right place! Good thing too, otherwise I'd have felt a little silly talking to the completely wrong Forsaken mage, and you might have gone off with the wrong Tauren." He absent-mindedly scratched his rear while looking around, somewhat embarrassed.
Mal slumped a little. He was right about this Tauren, and he hated it when he was right, simply because he always assumed the worst. "Very well then. I suppose that we should be going." He shook his head again. This is going to go exceptionally badly, I can tell. "Will, what do you do?"
"Um... breathe? Eat?"
"I mean, are you a warrior or a hunter or what?"
"Oh!" Will called out. "I'm a Shaman. I commune with the spirits and use the powers of the elements to aid me and defeat my enemies and such. And I have totems too." He nodded. "I like totems!"
"A primitive stick magician. Wonderful." Mal muttered. "Let's get going already."
On their way to the caverns, Will had managed to find another pair of adventurers who where also headed into the caverns. Mal didn't know if they were a part of Thrall's oh-so-masterful plan, or if they were just a pair of clueless bystanders. Looking over them, it was hard to tell. One was a large Tauren Warrior who had identified himself only as being "An Angry Bull." The second was a rather shabby looking Orc who seemed to possess no outward signs of intelligence. Mal couldn't help but notice how much all three of them towered over him.
Thrall's somewhat... Imprecise orders had told him to present a stolen Searing Blade insignia to one of the cultists who was by the entrance to the caves. That would, apparently convince him that they were all members of the Searing Blade cult and grant them access to the caverns. To Mal's surpeiuse, however, the Cultist seemed to not only accept that they were members of the cult, but confided his own plans to undercut Thrall's authority.
"So..." Mal began as the four of them stepped into the caverns. "Neeru Fireblade thinks that he is deceiving Thrall. Thrall thinks that he is deceiving Fireblade. But then, Fireblade thinks that Thrall thinks that he is deceiving him." He shook his head again. "Useless."
"Thrall is very smart." Angry Bull offered.
"Indeed!" Will added. "Only someone as sharp as he is could have thought up a plan like this."
"Yes, you are right." Mal commented. "It takes a particular brand of genius to have figured this one out."
The quartet ventured inside the caverns, slowly heading into the dark depths. As they descended, Malebranche noted that the air around them was getting hotter and, even though he thought this impossible after the streets of Ogrimmar, dryer. Further down their path, he realised just why that was; around them were pools of molten lava, a central rock path working its way between them. "Huh." he began. "Molten lava. How very nice."
"What's wrong with Lava?" Will asked.
"It's hot." He stated. "And do you know what heat does to a dead body?"
"Umm..." Will scratched himself. "It... dries it out? And makes it... smell bad?"
Malebranche shook his head again. "Yes. Amongst other things."
They continued forward, Angry and Ugmush taking the lead. Mal was content to stay at the back; so far the caverns had been quiet, and he doubted that there was anyone sneaking up on them. To his mind, Neeru Fireblade didn't have the brains for that sort of a plan, and it was doubtful that they'd missed anything so far. This meant that the Warriors would take the bunt of any assault; an idea that was fine with him.
A rumbling, cracking sound echoed through the caves, momentarily catching his attention. At the same time, Angry waved at them. "Over here." He began, as quietly as he could; not an easy feat for such a big creature in a cavern where echoes carried. The group moved forwards, carefully peering around the next bend.
Malebranch realised what he was looking at and what had been making all the noise; a cluster of Earth Elementals, rolling around the caverns seemingly at random. "This is an interesting occurrence." He muttered. "And, knowing Elementals, they're probably dangerous and will bar our path."
Will nodded. "These elementals don't seem to be naturally occurring. I can sense it."
"They could have been summoned." Malebrache offered. "But I would have to examine them, something I doubt that they'll let us do."
"If they're unnatural, then we should destroy them!" Angry called out, apparently forgetting their current situation.
Mal flinched, then paused as the elementals continued to rumble around the cavern. "I can't say for certain. Some elementals are naturally occurring."
"How would that have happened, though?" Will asked.
"I will admit that I don't know." He explained. "One theory is that there is a greater 'planetary life force' that animates otherwise lifeless elemental matter."
"The Great Earthmother!" Angry called out. Will nodded at him as if in agreement.
"Personally, I think that its a load of bunk." Mall added, muttering.
"Well, if they're in our way, then we'll have to go through them." Will finished, brandishing a heavy hammer. "I'll draw one back here; Angry, you and Ugmush take it as it comes. Mal, you back us up with spells. Um, is it okay if I call you Mal?"
A remarkably sensible plan, Malebranche thought. Certainly more then I was expecting from him. "Whatever." he finished. "I could complain, but it wouldn't matter."
"Okay, here we go..." Will began, waving his hands in the air. Around him, several large carved wooden logs appeared, jutting out of the ground. Strange, colourful energies billowed out of them, and Mal could sense that they were defiantly magical in nature.
So there are his medicine sticks. What else can he do?
As Angry and Ugmush readied themselves, Will began chanting. It was less an arcane incantation like those Mal was used to, and more like a song or a ritual chant. Brilliant crackling blue and white energy built up around his hands, and then was released as a bolt of brilliant lighting that reached out and slammed into the closest Elemental.
With a roar, the creature charged forwards, lunging at its attacker. Abruptly, Angry ran at it, slamming his axe into its side. A moment later, Ugmush followed up with a second blow. Mal added his part, releasing a bolt of icy energy into the creature. The hits staggered it, but didn't slow it down.
Will ran forwards, mace in hand. Swinging it, he smashed it into the Elemental's flank, sending chards of rock flying. Enraged, the creature swung around, slamming into Ugmush and sending him reeling back. Before it could capitalise, will unleashed a blast of freezing cold form his hands that seemed to stun the creature, followed by a devastating axe-blow from Angry that carved into the creature's torso. One more bolt from Mal blasted apart its body, the creature shattering and crumbling into rubble.
"Good work!" Will called out, then began another chant. Green energy washed over the wounded Orc, clearly healing him form the injuries he'd suffered.
"Hmm... that didn't take too much out of me after all." Mal muttered. He was surprised, but casting his spells seemed a lot less draining then normal.
"Oh! That's probably the totems!" Will pointed to one of the carved logs. "That's a Mana Stream one, it taps into the element of water to create a stream of fresh mana, and renew you."
"Useful." Malebranche finished. "More then I'd expect out of a stick magician."
They'd worked their way deeper into the caverns, encountering some wretched-looking, red-skinned humanoid creatures that Malebranch didn't recongise. The team had worked well, dispatching their attackers as quickly as possible. Will's totems had proven to be invaluable, more then Malebranche would admit. The constant stream of fresh Mana had allowed him to keep up a constant barrage of arcane fire, as well as turning a handful of unlucky individuals into sheep.
Will had lead them off into a side passage, saying that he was looking for a missing messenger and their satchel and that he had a rough idea where they were. When Angrybull had pointed out that they'd gone down a dead-and passage, he'd stopped and, without a moment to defend his ego or make excuses, turned around and headed off in the other direction. "Wait!" He'd shouted. "This way!"
Heading down the hall, Mal could hear the Tauren talking to himself. "A truly wise shaman." He offered as he ran. "Would have gone the right way."
It was an interesting observation. Will had made no efforts to prop up his ego or make excuses for his mistake. He'd just accepted it and moved on. It was not what Malebranche had grown accustomed to in the world of adventurers.
Moments later his contemplation of the situation was interrupted by another wave of the horrid humanoids, surging forwards from a cave ahead. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that they were on a narrow ridge, barely wide enough for a single Tauren - and with molten lava on the other side. "Of course there's Lava." he muttered as he prepared a spell, then unleashed a frostbolt on an incoming enemy. "Because nothing can ever be easy, can it? Everything has to be as difficult as possible, doesn't it?"
Ugmush remained at the front, beating off his opponents who, due to their size, could come at him two at a time. Angry was just behind him, blazing away with a large rifle at incoming attackers. Will refrained form the attack, instead using his spells to heal and support the other two, while his totems kept Malebranche well-supplied and able to ripple off a constant stream of spells. There was no complaint, no dissention and no arguments. The small group pressed on, simply because they had a mission to accomplish, and were determined to see it through regardless.
It was only after the last of the enemies had been dispatched that anyone really spoke. "We've done it." Will began. "We have defeated the enemies of the Horde!"
"For the Horde!" Angry added, enthusiastically.
"Indeed." Malebranche muttered.
"You have all done very well." Will continued. "We have faced our enemies and driven them off. We stand proud, brothers!"
"We blasted a few ugly humanoids. I don't see what all the fuss is about." Malebranche added as he sat down, grabbing a flask of water. He'd thought that being dead would have at least meant that he wasn't uncomfortable any more. However, the dry heat of the cavern was stifling.
"We stood together as proud members of the Horde." Will explained. "Together, we fought off its enemies and stood firm in our resolve. That is what the Horde is all about."
"Hrph." Mal continued. "It’s all talk. I've heard a lot of it in my time." Which was true. He had vague memories of another time, of another grand Alliance that said a lot about standing together, united as one against a common foe. He also remembered that it hadn't done too much good.
Cautriously entering the cave, they found that it was empty of the savage humanoids. Instead, its only inhabitant was the body of a very dead-looking, black-furred Tauren, a satchel lying near them. "We're too late." Will began as he looked down at the body. "He's dead."
"Yes he is." Mal added. "In fact, I doubt he could be too much deader. Let's take the satchel and get going."
However, neither of the two Turens, nor Ugmush for that matter, moved. Instead, Will kneeled next to the corpse. "He has gone to the Earthmother." Angry began, an usnaully calm and solem tone in his voice.
"Rest now." Will added. "And be at peace. You have re-entered the great cycle of life, to be reborn again as the world is renewed."
Malebranche would have rolled his eyes, if he had any. Did they have to get so worked up over it now? They were in the middle of a cavern full of dangerous enemies and molten lava, and they were worried about a Tauren who they had never even met. He was no stranger to death himself; in Tirisfal, death was everywhere. With the walking dead outnumbering the living. In his time as a Forsaken, he'd quickly learned not to hold back; everything was a potential enemy that should be destroyed.
With clear reluctance, will took the satchel and stood. "We cannot take his body back." He announced. "But we will remember our brother in spirit."
Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later they entered another section of the caverns; it was a large room, narrow rock bridges crisscrossing over a pool of lava. Milling around them, Malebranche could see several groups of Orcs dressed in robes and rough leathers, as well as odd creatures that looked like nothing as much as blobs of midnight-blue energy with vauge approximations of arms. "Voidwalkers." He muttered as he examined them. "Demons, huh."
"They must be responsible for what's going on here." Will offered, pointing at one group.
"It makes sense." Malebranche replied. "A bunch of irresponsible, joke-shop mages would be behind this sort of thing."
"Actually, I think they're Warlocks." Will continued.
Mal raised an eyebrow. "Didn't I just say that?"
Weaving their way down a narrow path, they lurked behind an outcropping as they planned their next move. "Here's the idea I had." Will began. "Malebranche, can you use your sheep ray-"
"Its called a polymorph spell." he muttered.
"-That thing against the warlock. Hopefully that will disorient the Voidthingy. Angry and Ugmush, you two take on the guards, while I'll support you and lay down some totems to keep us all going." He finished. "All sound good?"
"Its an eminently sensible plan." Malebranch commented. "Almost surprisingly such. I'll assume that you two aren't daft enough to hit the sheep until the others are down."
"Hit guards, not sheep." Angry surmised. Ugmush nodded a few times in agreement.
"Good!" Will finished. "Let's go then!"
Malebranche stepped out first, chanting and then unleashing a torrent of arcane energy from his hands. The Orc Warlock had the decency to look surprised for a moment before he vanished in a puff, replaced with a rather confused-looking sheep. Moments later, Angry and Ugmush charged forwards, slamming into the two Orcish guards with a clang of metal from their axes. Will was out a moment later, electricity crackling from his hands and slamming into the disoriented Voidwalker.
Angry's opponent fell first, dropping to a massive axe-blow to the chest. No sooner was he down then the Tauren turned his attention to the second guard, hammering on him as he tried to deal with Ugmush. The dual blows hammered him, knocking him down and sending him reeling. At the same time, a bolt of energy slammed into the Voidwalker, dissipating it into a strange mist.
The sheep suddenly vanished, replaced again with the Warlock as Malebranche's spell expired. No sooner was he upright, however, then he was greeted with a volley of fire; several Frostbolts from Mal combined with Will's own spells to send him reeling then crashing to the cavern floor.
"Well done!" Will called out as they stepped past him. "All of oyu did great there. There's just two more things we need to deal with." He pointed to one of the rock bridges, where a pair of figures waited. One was an Orc warlock, his robes a little more elaborate then those that his predecessor had been wearing. The second. was another matter; some eight feet tall, the humanoid figure had blue skin and wore spiked, golden armour on its legs, arms, head and shoulder, but not its chest. it carried a massive axe, and its presence spoke of power.
"A Felguard." he muttered. "Of course. Because nothing is ever simple."
The Warlock clearly was aware of their presence, sneering as he looked down at them, as if he was daring them to come to him. The Felguard merely hefted its large blade, as if to illustrate its strength. Malebranche knew that the demons were powerful, capable of hitting hard and soaking up a lot of abuse, which made him understandably apprehensive about the situation.
Despite this, however, his three companions seemed to be ready and eager to go. "We have to do this." Will announced. "We have to defeat these two, for the safety of the Horde."
"For the Horde!" Angry explained. Ugmush added several grunts to underlie the point.
"We'll probably all get ourselves killed." Malebranche added. "Which I know will be a bother. But, I have my duty and I'd rather die here then go back and explain why I didn't do it."
"That's the spirit!" Will exclaimed, making Mal wonder if he'd actually heard what he'd said. "So here's what we'll do; Angry and Ugmush will go after the demon, while Mal, you will use your Mollyporph on the Warlock. That work?"
"I suppose." Malebranche replied, not bothering to correct the error in Will's statement.
"Ready?" Will called out.
"Ready!" Angry shouted.
"I don't think that I will ever be ready." Mal finished. "But we will go anyway."
"Now! For the horde and for the Earthmother, attack!" Will shouted, Ugmush and Angry running past him with their axes out, ramming into the blue-skinned behemoth. A moment later, Malebranche began casting, then unleashed a wave of arcane energy towards the enemy Warlock. The blast hit him square in the chest - and then dissipated harmlessly.
"That..." He began. "Is not good."
The Felgaurd shouted and swung around, hammering Ugmush ands sending the Orc reeling back under the force of the assault. Angry swung around with his own axe, but the demon blocked the blow with its sword, then forced the Tauren warrior back. As Ugmush picked himself up, a blast of black energy struck him in the chest, slamming him again to the ground.
"Stupid joke-shop mages." Malebranche began as he began casting another spell. "Think you're so good just because you have a Shadowbolt." He unleashed an icy blast that speared into the Warlock, sending him reeling back momentarily. Grunting, the Orc regained his footing, and began casing his own spell, balls of black energy building up around his hands.
"No shadow magic for you, hoho!" Will shouted out as he unleashed one of his own spells, a blast of green energy striking the Warlock and staggering him, the shadowy energy dissipating before it could be unleashed. "Mal, hit him now!" Will shouted.
Malebranche could see what had happened; Will's own spell had disrupted the Warlock's ability to cast, rendering him monetarily vulnerable. "Hardly seems fair. But then, he’d do the same to me." Mal replied as he rippled off another blast. This time the spear slammed into the Warlcock, almost knocking him off his feet.
Angrybull roared, swinging at the Felgaurd and digging his axe into the demon's side. The creature bellowed in pain as Angry swung back, ichor dripping form his weapon. The Felguard lunged forwards, but was clearly off-balance after his injury and went wide. As the Tauren fell back for another blow, Will dropped down a pair of Totems at his feet.
The Tauren warrior grinned as he seemed to be visibly strengthened by their effects. "I can feel the strength of the Earthmother!" He shouted. "Strength enough to destroy you!" With a roar, he charged forwards, pushing the Felguard back.
"I like totems!" Will added as he slipped past the combat, instead turning to Ugmush. Chanting, he unleashed a wave of green energy that washed over the wounded Orc. The damage dealt by the Felguard closed and knitted itself, the wounded Orc regaining his feet and collecting his weapon.
With a shout, the Orc ran forwards, swinging his axe at the demon and striking him, the blow slamming into its exposed side. The demon staggered, stumbling and crashing to one knee. Wounded, but not defeated, it staggered upwards, only to be the recipient of a crushing blow form Angry's axe that struck its skull, cleaving through the armour and the bone inside with a sickening crunch. The beast moaned, then collapsed to the ground.
Both Mal and the Warlock seemed to acknowledge the creature's defeat, but if the Warlock was affected by it, he didn't show it. Instead, he began chanting in preparation for another spell. Before he could unleash it, however, again he was shocked by a blast of green energy, disrupting hi spell. Mal saw his chance, unleashing one final ice bolt that slammed through the Warlock's chest. impaling him. The Orc gurgled, then fell over, clearly dead.
"Good work all!" Will called out. "We have ventured into the depths of this place, and defeated the enemies of the Horde!"
Mal ignored him for the moment, searching the Warlock's body. The two tomes he was seeking were both there, just as he'd hoped. The pair of them were heavy, bound volumes that he could tell contained incantations of great power. I should be worried by what Varimathas wants these for, Malebranche thought as he slipped them into his pack. But I know that I wouldn't like the answer anyway. No point in asking, then.
"There." He began. "I've got what I came here for."
"Excellent!" Will finished. "Now we can return to Thrall and tell him that his cunning plan was a success!"
"Yes..." Mal concluded. "This plan did show a particular shade of genius."
In the aftermath there wasn't that much to do. Malebranche had continued to string along Neeru Fireblade before reporting back to Thrall. The result was that he remained convinced that one of the two Orcs was an acute moron, but he couldn't decide which. On the other hand, it was easier to assume that they both were slow-witted simpletons, which made matters a bit easier.
On the other hand, Thrall had given him a nice staff as a reward. So maybe Thrall was the superior mind of the two.
All that was left was for him to report back to Varimathas, a prospect that he didn't relish. It wasn't just that he disliked the Dreadlord - in fact, he was one of Malebranche's least favourite beings of all the ones he had ever met, living, alive or otherwise. It was simply that he knew that as soon as he delivered the tomes, Varimathas would find some other menial task for him to perform.
He was just finishing up a letter to Falbala regarding the situation when Will approached him, the huge Tauren towering over his form and blotting out the sun form above. "Hello again!" Will called out in a remarkably cheerful tone.
"I have to go back to Undercity soon." He replied casually as he sealed the envelope. "I have duties there, as annoying as they are."
"I also have things to do in the Barrens." Will stated. "So, um, I won't travel back with you. Besides, I kinda don't like Undercity. No offence, but I find it to be a bit..." His mane bristled for a moment. "Icky."
"No I understand perfectly." Mal continued. "It is a loathesome and disgusting place inhabited by loathesome and disgusting people."
"But..." Will began. "They're your people!"
"And not by choice." He shook his head. "I, for one, would rather not be a Forsaken."
"Ou, um..." Will shuffled his hooves, clearly a bit embarrassed and unsure of what to say. "Well, uh, anyway, I'm glad that all went well today and that I could help you out."
Mal nodded at the Shaman. "Yes, you did a very good job of leading us."
"Oh yes." He continued. "You clearly knew what you were doing, what we were facing and how to use our resources to defeat those threats. Most importantly, you kept us all alive.... or what passes for it, and let us complete our objectives and get out intact."
"Well, um, thanks." Will nodded. "And you did a good job with your spells and stuff."
"You know, Willarthen." Mal finished. "As primitive stick magicians go, you are actually a remarkably decent and somewhat tolerable person. And..." He shrugged. "I probably would not complain too much if I had to work with you again." It was about as close to a compliment as he'd given anyone since his awakening as a Forsaken.
"Sure!" Will finished. "If you ever need help, you just have to ask me."
"I shall." The Horde may be a collection of unwashed savages, but at least there are some decent ones amongst them. He concluded. Maybe this wretched existence won't be entirely awful after all.
He turned and headed towards the gates to Ogrimmar, a small wave to the Shaman as he left.
- This story was co-written