Blood Quest

Thura stood at the end of the great jagged chasm. The young orc's powerful hand instinctively tightened on the ax as she sought in vain a way across. Thick and muscular of limb and torso, the orc was a skilled fighter despite barely being of adult years. Yet now her broad, rough-hewn features twisted into something more childlike, more fearful, as she ran back and forth without success in her search. Her wide, tusked mouth frowned. Thura shook her head and murmured a wordless protest. Her heavy brown mane of hair, generally bound in a tail but at the moment set loose, spilled over the left side of her face.

On the other side, a tremendous battle took place, the focus of it a single, brawny male of her race and someone she knew mostly from childhood memories and tales spoken by the great orc ruler, Thrall. Facing her was a graying warrior, with a stern visage and powerful arms. Like her, he was clad in the leather kilts and harnesses of a fighter. His body was covered in old scars from other battles, other wars. Even though surrounded, the male bellowed his contempt for his monstrous foes.

And monstrous they were indeed, for they were demons of the

Burning Legion...fell creatures far taller than the brave lone warrior. They were armored and burning from head to foot with virulent yellow-green fire whose intensity vied with the fierce determination in the brown orbs of the single orc. With wicked blades and other vile weapons, they slashed again and again, seeking to break through his guard. But ever he kept them at bay with his ax, a stunning weapon that was made more fantastic in that it was carved of wood.

No...not carved. Thura recalled that a shaman had once inspected it and declared that great magic had shaped the twin-edged ax into being, magic rumored to be that of the demigod Cenarius. Cenarius had been a keeper of nature, a protector of the forest.

Whatever the amazing origin of the ax, though, it clearly had magic of its own, for it sliced through strong blades and thick armor with the ease of passing through air. Great flashes of sinister yellow-green fire sparked from the deadly wounds inflicted on them as they fell one after another to the orc's sure hand.

A deep, almost hazy emerald aura that had nothing to do with the flames of the Burning Legion draped over all, even the solitary champion. The aura itself was touched by a slight blue hue that added a sense of surrealism to the moment. Thura paid little mind to the aura, though, her anxiety rising as she continued to fail to find a crossing.

Then a new, arresting figure materialized just behind and to the left of the male orc. He was an astounding being whose tall, violet-

skinned race was known to Thura. A night elf. Yet this was no ordinary representative of that people, for thrusting from his head were a pair of mighty and elaborate antlers. Moreover, he was clad in a striking outfit that marked him not only as a druid—one of the revered keepers of nature—but clearly one of high standing, perhaps even an archdruid.

The night elf had a broader, more mature visage that gave him more individuality. He also wore a thick, green beard. His glowing, golden eyes—almost as arresting as his antlers—were plainly visible even from far away.

The coming of the night elf caught Thura's breath. Unarmed, he leaned close to the male orc to whisper something and his very presence seemed to assure the battling champion. Already the victor over many demons by himself, the older orc looked confident that he and the night elf would surely be able to stand against the bloodthirsty throng still converging on the spot.

Behind the orc, the night elf's hands suddenly filled with a long, wooden staff. He raised the staff high and as he did, the closest end suddenly sharpened to a wicked point. In front of him, the orc slashed at yet another impetuous demon, slicing off its long, narrow head, curled horns and all.

The night elf touched the point of the staff in the back of the male orc's neck.

Thura saw too late the duplicity. She shouted in vain, her words smothered by distance and the clash of arms.

From the back of the male's neck there burst a small growth. It resembled a weed, such as Thura might have trod upon a thousand times a day. Yet that weed sprouted rapidly, growing and growing within a single heartbeat.

The other orc finally sensed it. He reached back, but several dark green leaves wrapped around his wrist. The weed continued to spread, pouring over the hapless warrior's body. As it did, the leaves began sprouting terrible thorns, all pointed inward. They jabbed into the orc and wherever they did, they drew blood.

With a smile, the duplicitous night elf stepped back to admire his handiwork. Rivers of blood poured from every thorn.

The male orc shivered. His mouth gaped and he fell to one knee. The weed's tendrils covered his body until they completely bound him. Blood continued to gush from the monstrous wounds as the night elf watched with amusement.

Thura called out the male's name even though it was already too late to save him. "Broxigar!"

Suddenly, the demons faded to mist. There was only the night elf, his victim, and Thura. The night elf stepped back farther, his mocking gaze turning to her.

The golden orbs turned utterly black. They became deep pits that coldly pulled at the orc's soul.

Then from those dark pits poured forth monstrous, ebony carrion bugs. Beetles, millipedes, roaches, and more flowed forth from the night elf's eyes in horrific streams that spilled to the ground. The vermin spread in all directions and as they did, trees and other flora materialized in their path. Yet the lush wildlife barely appeared before the vermin swarmed it. Bushes, shrubs, even the tallest trees became enveloped.

And as they were, they withered. Everything withered. Thura's world became a twisted, hideous vision.

The night elf laughed. From his mouth spilled forth more fiendish vermin—

He vanished.

Thura shouted out Broxigar's name again. With effort, the dying warrior managed to look her way. One hand broke free of the strangling weed, then stretched forth, the magical ax held out.

His mouth whispered a name—

Thura awoke with a start.

She lay there for a time, still shivering despite the fact that the woods in which she currently traveled were of a comfortable temperature. The dream played over in her mind, just as it did whenever the orc was not reliving it in her sleep.

With some effort, Thura finally rose. The small campfire that she had built earlier had long died out, only a few faint wisps of smoke left in memory. Momentarily setting down her weapon, Thura used some dirt to smother what remained of the fire, then looked around for her pack. Seizing up the small, leather sack, she retrieved the ax and started off.

It was always like this. Walking until she was dead on her feet, catching her supper, then sleeping until the dream woke her up and left her in such a state that she knew it was better to move on. In a macabre way, that suited the orc just fine. Not only was there risk of late for any who were merely sleeping, but each step took her closer to her goal, closer to avenging her blood kin.

And even more, she had come to realize, she was spurred on by another mission: to prevent a catastrophe that would not only engulf her own people.. .but all else.

The male orc, Broxigar, had been brother to her father, although their own fathers had been different. She knew of his legendary stand with his comrades against the Burning Legion, a stand which had resulted in Broxigar—or Brox—as the only survivor. Even as a child, Thura could sense the guilt he had felt at living when his friends had not.

And then Thrall, the great orc leader, had sent the veteran warrior on a mysterious mission with another. Neither had ever returned, but then, as rumor had it, an old shaman had brought back the wondrous wooden ax from the dream and left it with Thrall. That shaman had also spoken of Brox becoming a hero who had helped to save not only the orcs, but all else. Some there were who said that the shaman had then sprouted wings and flown off into the night, transforming into a gigantic bird or dragon.

Thura knew not whether all the last was true, only that when she had come of warrior age and proven her skills, Thrall himself had given her the fabled ax. She was, after all, the only left of Brox's kin save for her sole remaining uncle, Saurfang the Elder, who had himself recently lost his son in battle. The ax might have previously gone to either of the other pair, but Thrall's most trusted shaman had seen in a dream that it should go to Thura. Why, no one knew, but Thrall had listened.

Thura felt honored to wield such a weapon, an irony, she knew. Years ago, under the influence of the demon lord Mannoroth's bloodcurse, orcs under the legendary Grom Hellscream had invaded the forests of Ashenvale and slain Cenarius as he came forth to resist them. That had been in the days before Thrall had returned to his people their respect for nature. The death was regrettable...but Thura had not been part of it and so, with orcish practicality, she assumed that the spirit of Cenarius would have understood that, also.

The moment that Thura had placed her hands on it, it had felt right. But the ax had brought with it something else. Not at first, not even through the initial seasons after she had been given it. No, its secret had not revealed itself until later, and at first she had ignored it. A dream was just a dream.

Or not.

It had not taken the same shaman to finally make Thura see the truth. The spirit of her lost kin had been trying to reach out to her to demand vengeance. The dream was a hint of the truth, of that she felt certain. She had been shown how Brox had actually perished ...betrayed by one he believed a comrade.

The night elf.

And although she could not say how she knew, Thura also understood that the night elf still lived and that he could be found. All she had to do was pay attention to the dream. Each time she awoke from it, she sensed the direction that she had to walk.

The direction in which she would find the brave Brox's treacherous slayer.

Brox had spoken his name, which had rung in her head from the very first dreaming despite her never having heard it said out loud by the male orc.

Malfurion Stormrage...Malfurion Stormrage...

Thura hefted her ax.once Brox's ax. The female orc had sworn an oath to her dead uncle. She would find Malfurion Stormrage, no matter how far she had to journey and no matter what her blood quest demanded she face.

She would find Malfurion Stormrage.and then not only would the ax mete out long-overdue justice, but perhaps Thura would be able to save Azeroth before it was too late.

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