8. Back into the fray
Fuzzy and Kebechet arrived back at the Humpday Heroes camp in Drustvar just after mid-morning. Anth spotted Keb out of the corner of his eye but noticed that there was no night elf near. Where an average sized, purple-skinned, long pointed ear creature should be there was instead a very tall and furry worgen. As they got closer, Anth could see that the creature had the same eye color as the Fuzzy he knew, but nothing else was the same. “Keb? Where the hell is Fuzzy?” Anth inquired, slightly worried for his friend.
“He’s right here. This is Fuzzy” Keb said.
Anth looked at the worgen for a moment. “Wait..”, he said with a grin forming on his face, “Did you change? I mean I guess obviously you did, but were you secretly a worgen this whole time?!?”
Fuzzy nodded. “Not the entire time you’ve known me but for a little while now I’ve been hiding it” There was a crowd gathering now around the new worgen including a few new faces. Questions were hurled like maces through the air.
Aldineri moved to the front of the group and then turned to address them all. “My friends, there will be plenty of time for questions later. Right now we have some new members to introduce and then some business to take care of.” Aldineri went on to introduce Trelander and Niantae and a few other new faces. “With our new brothers and sisters in arms, we have a chance at this next battle to vanquish a quite disturbing foe. He speaks in whispers from the shadows, corrupts our equipment with tempting enhancements but requires a debt to be paid in return upon their use. You may have heard of N’Zoth the Corruptor. Now it is our duty to face him in battle. But be warned, there are many rumors about this enemy. He can supposedly corrupt our very minds and turn us against one another in the middle of a fight. We must stay vigilant and help guard our fellow soldiers.” Aldineri’s voice sounded a little different. He was always so strong and confident but this time he seemed a little concerned.
Caldmaster smiled, trying to contain his excitement. He was always happy to jump into battle and rip something to shreds, even if the only thing he could see were kneecaps. Gnomes were not known for their height. In fact, gnomes were quite known for just the opposite. But what Caldmaster lacked in vertical stature he more than made up for in tactics and pure killing power. “Ok everyone, time to move out. Let’s get our protection cloaks on and go after this thing. Gear up, stock up on your foods and potions and let’s head out to Ny’alotha.”
The next several months are a blur in most memories. N’Zoth managed to affect the minds of everyone in the platoon. Each member had at least once lost control of themselves and turned against everyone. It wasn’t their fault, they were being controlled by this foul beast.
The fight with N’Zoth was brutal, chaotic, and left scars that will likely last a lifetime on the minds and bodies of the group. The battle lasted for what felt like forever. Everyone seemed to have memories, dreams almost, of fighting off corrupted enemies that took over the capital cities. But the cities themselves are not occupied by enemy forces. On more than one night, Fuzzy woke up from nightmares of the encounters with N’Zoth and his minions. After a long campaign and N’Zoth’s corruption of Azeroth nearing full contamination, Roda swung his Bile-Stained Crawg Tusks at the large Old God, activating Stormstrike in the process, in an epic killing blow that shook the ground. N’Zoth fell to near death, allowing a new anchor point that Magni and MOTHER could use to finally destroy N’Zoth once and for all. The corrupted areas dissolved, the minds of those in Azeroth started to clear, and the whispers once heard had fallen silent.
A cheer erupted around the battle-worn friends in Humpday. They had done it, they had saved the world once more. Now that the danger had been cleared, it was time for some well-earned rest for everyone. It was a chance for everything to return to normal again.
The platoon met back in Boralus for an after-battle celebration. There was the usual food, drinks, razzing of friends as they one-up each other in their retelling of how the fight went on. They shared tales of what they would do now that they were able to enjoy a peace time. As the festivities were winding down, Caldmaster leaned over to Aldineri to continue a conversation they had started while on the way back to Boralus. “I’m not saying forever, but I think quite a few of us just need some time to regenerate. That’s why I’m taking leave for a bit, I need to let my mind refresh. This battle, it was so different from any other we have faced. I’ve never had my mind manipulated by an Old God as if it were a child’s toy. I don’t think any of us have. We need to give everyone the option of staying here and continue training or wind down in their own way.
Aldineri looked down at his goblet of wine. He noticed a ripple form in the cup, and then another. It was then he felt a tear fall down his face, dancing on the edge of his cheek for a moment as if it were saying goodbye itself before letting go and falling to it’s fate. “These people, these soldiers, they are my family. I can’t let them down. What if no one comes back? What if this is the end of all of this? I’m not even sure I can keep leading them, Cald. I’m not the same Panda I used to be either. We’ve all changed and I don’t know if it’s for good or bad.”
Cald sat back in his chair. “We’ve been here before in this very decision multiple times. We may lose a couple, but the majority always come back. Especially if there is a need for a call to arms. This is a family of sorts and we are all in this together. Some of us may leave but rarely is it forever. And if they do leave forever, we’ll always remember them and we’ll always welcome them back with open arms. But we need this rest. I need this rest. And I think you do as well.”
Aldineri knew Cald was right. It was time to let everyone know. He wiped the tear from his face and looked over at his sister. She gave a thin smile, closed her eyes and gave an approving nod toward her brother. She knew what was coming and knew it had to be done. Several others saw the motions and knew what was happening. A quiet fell upon the room as Aldineri stood up.
Ald could feel a knot in his throat. He took a sip of his wine and sat it down on the table. He looked around the room at all the faces he had seen so much of in the last two years. Faces he may never see again. His voice cracked as he stumbled through the first few words.. “Soldiers of the Humpday Heroes, I want to congratulate you on a job well done. This has affected us all in different ways. You have all fought so hard. We may have lost a few comrades in battle, some left and came back, some needed a little time to heal before joining us on this last engagement. Some of us left one night with purple skin and returned with fur that finally fit our names.”
Everyone chuckled and looked at Fuzzy, who was trying to silently eat but not hiding it very well. Anda shoved her elbow into his ribcage. “Will you pay attention, you big walking carpet?” she scolded.
“Sorry, I’m just so hungry!” Fuzzy said as he quietly shoved the last bite of meat from his plate into his muzzle.
Caldmaster sighed and shook his head, Kebechet rolled her eyes, and Ald snickered and continued, “I think we can all agree that we are due some relaxation. After talking this over with our other platoon leaders, we have decided to grant everyone an indefinite leave of absence…” The room began to buzz with whispers. “Now, I know some of you might be asking what next steps we are planning. We honestly aren’t sure. However, if you want to depart and return to your homes and garrisons, we understand. If you want to stay and train then that’s fine too. The choice is yours to make and yours alone. But before anyone leaves, I want to salute and toast to all of you.” Aldineri grabbed his wine and raised it as high as his arm would allow. “To the best damn team in all of Azeroth, Salud!” Everyone replied in unison, “Salud!”, and took a sip of their drinks before returning to their meal.
Conversations wound down, friends hugged and said goodbye. One by one the team drifted away into the night to their own destinations. Some wandered back to the barracks and stayed on base ton continue their training. Others boarded ships headed to other major cities. Some rode the Gryphons to their homes. Anth found Fuzzy in the remaining groups of people. “I think it’s time for us to bid farewell and head home. I’m going to take this time to spend with family and just enjoy the calm. It’s been a pleasure serving with you again, old friend. I wish you the best, and definitely stay in touch!”
Fuzzy hugged his old war pal, then hugged Opalily. “You both take care. I’m sure we’ll see each other again for another adventure.”
Opalily smirked and replied, “Yea, if I don’t kill him first!”
Fuzzy chuckled and waved goodbye before returning to his drink. He said a few other goodbyes and sat quietly in a corner of the Inn, looking out the window toward a half moon. He heard familiar footsteps behind him. “You can’t sneak up on me, you know…” he said jokingly. He could hear the eyeroll without even needing to turn around to see it.
“If I wanted to sneak up on you then I would. I’m just too tired to even try”, mumbled Kebechet. “I think it’s time for this body to head home as well. My gut doesn’t feel quite right either. It’s like there is something growing inside me. Maybe there were worms in that bread?” she said, trailing off in thought.
“Well maybe if you would chew your food instead of inhaling it whole..” joked Fuzzy.
Keb snapped back, “Hey, shut up. You damn well know that we worgen have a hard time chewing everything completely with these weird jaws we have!” She put her paw to her mouth as if she were trying to figure a way to change her own jawline to be more conducive to eating. “I’ll see you again. Take care of yourself. Buds for life?” she said, holding out her paw for a handshake.
Fuzzy nodded and smiled, reached out to shake Keb’s paw and then gave a half hug. “Buds for life. Now go take care of that cub you’re growing in your gut”
Keb immediately sneered and rolled her eyes. “You shut your furry mouth with that slander” she said as she pointed at Fuzzy and walked out of the Inn.
Fuzzy waited around, watching everyone else laugh, cry, chat, eat, and eventually leave. He was the last one remaining in the bar. He finished his whiskey, paid his tab, accidentally left a dried tentacle chunk from N’Zoth that he thought was actually a weird looking gold piece on the table as a tip, and then stumbled to the docks. He boarded a ship and headed to his garrison.
Several months later, playing with his daughters in the soft green grass just outside the encampment walls, Fuzzy could see a messenger approaching. “It’s the mail, daddy! The mail! Let’s see what they brought! Maybe it’s a letter from Uncle Anth or one of the books I’ve been waiting for!” Elliana shouted happily as she ran toward the messenger.
The mail runner hopped off her Mammoth and handed a bag to Fuzzy. He pawed through the letters and paused at one in particular. He pulled it from the bag and looked at the wax stamp. He recognized the shield of Aldineri pressed into the blue melted goop. He opened it and began reading.
Erinia put her head on her husband’s pronounced furry shoulder, which she was finally used to, and started to read the letter with him, although she didn’t have to. “I know that look” she said as she kept on reading. The next few sentences were troubling. Very troubling. She looked at Fuzzy and kissed him before hugging him tight. “They need you. We’ve loved having you home, but they need your help. This business with Sylvanas is serious and I’ll never forget what she did to our home. You should go. Find that traitor and loose every arrow you have into her heart”
Fuzzy was surprised to hear Erinia talk like that. She normally didn’t say anything about the wars or violence in front of their children. This was different. Sylvanas had destroyed their home and uprooted their lives. He gave her a glance from the corner of his eye. “Are you sure?”
Erinia scowled at something in the distance as if she were seeing a memory there. “Absolutely. We’ll help you prepare to leave in the morning.”
As he had before, Fuzzy woke up and put on his armor, said goodbye to his family, and set out to Aldineri’s garrison to meet with his platoon leader and hopefully figure out a plan to face Sylvanas. He didn’t know what exactly he was in for, but he knew he could trust his fellow teammates to help each other through it. There was a darkness forming over the lands that they had not seen before, a darkness that would not bring anything except more terror. It was as if someone had cast shadows across the lands, and he knew just the group that would wield some light…