Author's note: Thralla's story is not cuddly-wuddly. She's an orc.
Thralla slid along the ground, her leather tunic and leggings picking up a thick layer of the dark volcanic soil that covered this region. Though she was nowhere near the lava vents, their heat hung oppressively in the still, afternoon air, the stench of hot rocks and dragon mingling in her flaring nostrils.
She carried a small but powerful crossbow, its leather thong looped around her glove allowing the orc to drop the bow when necessary, then, with a practiced flip of her wrist, quickly reclaim it. An axe, its blade darkened, rested at her side and a throwing axe was inserted into several bands wrapped around her upper thigh. Apart from the pouch on her belt, she carried little else on this solo trek unterdaken to track a small crew of mercenaries. Not suited for stealthy work, Garmak, her monstrous Silithid companion, was resting under the watchful eye of the stablemaster in the small outpost she had left a few hours ago.
As she eased her way down a shallow ravine, Thralla paused, encountering a new scent. Blood. She lay still, face lifted slightly, head tilted, as she listened. Silence. Her blue eyes scanned her surroundings. From the smell, it was a recent kill and not far away.
More cautiously now, the orc advanced with slow and patient movements. At last she rounded a craggy boulder and saw a she-wolf, throat slashed, rust-colored fur matted against the blood saturated ground. Thralla remained stationary, senses open, observing. There was, in the ravine wall, a primitive cave, its mouth hidden partially by an old rock-slide and scraggily brambles. Beyond the cave, the entrance to the cul-de-sac was a miasma of tracks. She would have to move closer to read them.
She lingered, waiting. Nothing moved on the rocks rising above her to the mountain’s face. Taking her time, she felt out each direction, searching not only with eyes, nose and ears, but with the innate and indescribable sense that guided her in such situations.
She had just decided to ease forward when a movement near the cave’s mouth caught her attention. She shifted the grip on her bow, and relaxed her body to slide through her surroundings in such a way that she seemed part of them. As she neared the cave, she tensed, ready for action. Two swift strides brought her to the opening where she halted. A small, coal-black wolf-pup, cowered there, glaring up at Thralla. She deftly picked it up, avoiding the half-hearted movement of its jaws. Its back leg was twisted slightly.
The pup securely tucked against her side, she studied the tracks, moving farther out of this side alley into the ravine proper. She suspected an orc from the Blackrock clan, or two, had come through and killed the mother to take the just weaned pups to raise as battle worgs. What she saw was evidence of more activity than a simple raid. The tracks showed that there had been a fight, ranging up and down before the entry to the side ravine. The mother wolf then may have been drawn out by the commotion and was slain in the midst of the conflict, her pups taken as an afterthought.
Amongst the scuffs on the ground, she saw a small set of footprints that were clearly fighting beside two sets of medium –sized feet and against two much larger opponents. She hadn’t gone far when she found copious amounts of blood near a small group of boulders and behind them a body.
She set the wolf-pup down on a ledge protruding above the corpse and rolled it over. It was one of the mercenaries she had been tracking. A human, his skull cracked and its torso gutted. Beside him was several packs and a small overcoat. She picked the coat up and found a patch displaying a crossed wrench and driver sewn onto the sleeve, the insignia of the goblin Shlizricks Vicegrip, the object of her hunt. Of the other human, the third member of Vicegrip’s crew and of the goblin himself, there was no sign. She worked quickly to open the packs, looking for the particular object she had been tasked to recover.
She had just begun searching the second pack when a small growl from the pup caught her attention. Its hair was standing on end as it looked past her and off to her right. Curling its lip back from its miniature fangs, it gave a fierce cry with its young voice.
Before the pup had barely begun singing out, Thralla had thrust herself backwards, and doing so saved her own skull. The blow of a club caught her on the shoulder, knocking her sideways. She managed to turn the movement to her favor, bringing herself upright, with her back to the ravine wall. Pushing the pain in her shoulder out of her mind, she snapped her wrist, grasping the stock of the bow as it snapped up to her palm. Her attacker, a Blackrock orc, roaring his rage, had recovered quickly from his missed strike and followed close behind. Thralla’s shot went wide, the bolt passing the massive orc and landing on the far side of the path.
In her opponent’s eyes she saw the crazed look of an orc caught in the grip of blood lust. To stand her ground would mean death, so the she-orc dove past her attacker, the breath leaving her in a grunt as the already battered shoulder bore the impact as she tucked her head to land in a roll. One hand had reached into a pouch at her side as she dove, and, as she began to roll, she dropped several metal objects to the ground. The orc of the Dark Horde, anger twisting his face, turned to follow her, stepping on one of the caltrops as he did so. He, like she, was wearing dragonhide boots, and the caltrop pierced only far enough into the sole of the boot to stick and be an annoyance. He compensated for the change in his footing and charged after his quarry.
Thralla allowed him to close the gap between them and as he neared, she flung her hand out, releasing the ashy soil she had picked up. It scattered through the air and spread into his face. The caltrop and the sediment worked together, causing him to miscalculate his step. Thralla slid under his axe arm as he faltered and, with a backhanded motion, buried her small axe into his upper hamstring. Running several steps away, she whirled, bolt slotted in the barrel of her bow. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself still and calm. Time itself seemed to slow as she brought the bow up with a smooth, graceful motion, and pulled the trigger. The bolt leapt forward and pierced the throat of the great orc.
His face remained contorted in anger as he sank to his knees, clutching futilely at the arrow’s shaft. He had not yet lost his life, when Thralla heard a bellow above her. She had stooped to retrieve the bolt that had previously failed to wound the orc now dying. Looking up, she saw a younger and larger orc, two massive axes in his hands, plummeting through the air towards her, having leapt off a ledge some several yards above.
Thralla’s eyes narrowed, and her lip curled. Without moving, she shot upwards into her oncoming opponent. By sheer skill or luck or mixture of the two, the bolt burrowed itself beneath the breastbone of the falling orc’s heart, and, perhaps, the orc was dead before he ever landed. She hadn’t waited to see, but dropping the bow as the bolt traveled through the air, she unlatched her larger, double-bladed axe, braced her muscular legs, and swung the axe underhand, growling as she did so, to take advantage of the oncoming orc’s momentum. The axe followed the divide of the orc’s legs, biting deep into his lower abdomen. By the glazing of his eyes, Thralla saw that the extra measure had not been necessary.
Behind her, she heard her initial attacker slump forward onto the ground.
Working quickly, she retrieved her small axe and her crossbow bolts as well as anything of value on the bodies. After ascertaining the second pack did indeed contain the slim parchment tube housing a roll of parchment intended for Orgrimar, she packed them and lifted them up. One pack fit on her back and the other, with longer straps, slung well across her torso, hanging by her hip. Into this pack, she set the wolf-pup.
Stretching her throbbing shoulder, she took a long sip from her canteen, holding the water in her mouth for a time as she began the trip back. Once she was up above the ravine and several miles in the direction back to safety, she stopped to rest briefly. She chewed a strip of dried bird-flesh, offering the last bite to the pup who eagerly took it from her hand.
The heat still hung in the air, though the sun was now setting. The slight wind carried no warning scents or sounds. She should return to the relative safety of the outpost just after dark. Patting the pup, she smiled, her nose ring flashing in the waning light.
“I shall call you Loktra, little one,” she said. Her deep, rich voice caused the wolf-pup’s ears to swivel. “In my tongue that is our ‘Song Before Battle.’” And she smiled again.