Lesaris sniffed the air and snorted in disgust.
He and his fellow druids had not slept their entire time in the depths — at some point during their hibernation, Lesaris and some of the others had awoken, but remained in the bear form they had taken on during hibernation, but their minds had gone feral. Even now, with the effect banished by the horn, Lesaris still felt more comfortable in this form.
But now, the bear form was almost a curse, as the stench of demons wafted on the wind that continually circled Mount Hyjal. After thousands of years in the Barrow Deeps, nothing had changed: The Legion was attempting to break this world, just as they had during the War of the Ancients.
“Ursoc give me strength,” he growled. He had spotted demons’ footprints here in the patchy slush on the lower slopes of the mountain.
A desperate alliance bound three enemies together: The kaldorei; the humans of Lordaeron; and the brutish slayers of Cenarius, the orcs; all now sought to stop the Burning Legion’s advance up Mount Hyjal. At the mountain’s summit was Nordrassil, the World Tree. If the Burning Legion were to destroy it, not only would the kaldorei lose their immortality, but the world would be irrevocably weakened, setting the Legion up to drain Azeroth of its magical energies once and for all.
Lesaris had been patrolling the slopes of Winterspring, picking off demonic stragglers and keeping the undead Scourge forces from reinforcing the forces higher up the mountain.
He broke into a loping run, snow and mud spraying behind him as he ran.
But the demon he sought was dead, its green blood steaming in the snow. A number of dead demons and Scourge lay around it. In the middle, were two strange creatures, both seemingly slain as well.
The snow near Lesaris exploded and, a moment later, a roar like thunder rolled through the valley.
“Donnae get any closer, ye demon!” a woman’s voice called out.
During the War of the Ancients, Lesaris had fought alongside squat stony men called Earthen, the servants of the Titans. In the thousands of years since, however, they apparently had been replaced with these “dwarves,” who fought alongside the humans of Lordaeron. Unlike the Earthen, they were both male and female, and were flesh — albeit dense flesh — and wore woolen clothes.
The male dwarf appeared to be dead, his blood no longer steaming in the red slush surrounding his body. But his mate, despite much of her face destroyed by a blow to the head, still clung to life, although just barely. She trained a rifle on Lesaris and there was a click as she prepared to fire again.
“I am no demon,” Lesaris said, shifting to his unfamiliar elf form. “We are allies now, according to my leaders and yours, Jainaproudmoore.”
“She ain’t me leader,” the dwarf woman said, but she lowered her rifle. “Ah cannae see well no more. Reckon Ah lost this eye and everything’s goin’ dark from whate’er poison they used on me.”
Lesaris closed the distance between them, and knelt, first confirming that the male dwarf was beyond hope and then examining the female, who was too weak to jerk away from his touch.
“Yes, it’s coursing through your veins. There is little I can do for you, I’m afraid. But you fought well: These demons will not interfere with our supply lines. The battle will go better because of your bravery.”
The woman nodded, whether in acknowledgment or thanks, she didn’t say.
“Do ye have any water on ye? Ah’m powerful thirsty. Magnus only carried a skin of stout with him, but it broke when the bastards killed him.”
Lesaris knelt, scooping up clean snow and whispered a request to Tortolla, and was rewarded by the snow melting and turning into cool mountain water, which he fed to the dwarf. Even as unfamiliar as her people were to him, he could see that she was dying: The blood had left her lips and her tongue was visibly dry. She trembled as she drank from his hands and when she leaned back afterward, it was with a resignation that said she knew she would never rise again.
“What’s yer name, elf?”
“I am called Lesaris, of the Druids of the Claw.”
“Good ta meet ye. Ah’m Brunhild Flinthammer and this is — was — me husband, Magnus.”
“Well met. You are safe now, Brunhild, and I must hurry up the mountain to prevent any more demons from attacking our rear flank.”
“Aye,” Brunhild said, her voice getting quieter. “But could Ah trouble ye fer a favor? It ain’t right, me husband and me, bein’ left ta be eaten by wild beasts after we’re gone. We cannae be buried on Ironforge Mountain, but it’d be a great favor to me and me family if ye could bury us here.”
Lesaris looked up the mountain and flinched as he saw plumes of smoke rising from the forests above.
“I … very well,” he sighed. “But I must make haste.”
“Thank ye, Lesaris. Our boys will repay this kindness, if the world donnae end today.”
Lesaris, who suspected it would be a moot point in less than an hour, nevertheless shifted back into bear form and, with his powerful claws, began to frantically dig at the dark soil beneath the snow, carving out a space large enough for the Flinthammers to share for however much time Azeroth had left.
“Brunhild?” he said finally, returning to his elf form. “It is done. Brunhild?”
But he was alone in the clearing now. Brunhild, her face pale and slack, lay against Magnus, nuzzling his beard, even in death.
Lesaris knelt, carefully scooping up the pair of them and placing them in their grave Remaining in his human form, he replaced the dirt he had just spent so much precious time clearing away, packing them within the sacred soil of Mount Hyjal.
“Sleep now, Flinthammers. Let us pray we survive long enough for me to call in that favor some day.”