Arathi Highlands, Eastern Kingdoms

       Fÿnn, paladin of the Silver Hand, hero and defender of Azeroth.

      The human rested now on a stone bench, his eyes heavy and the weight of the world seemingly pulling him ever lower to the ground. His hands, resting gently on his legs, were still coated with the undead blight that had been sprayed over them in the fields of the Arathi Highlands. He hadn’t had the chance to wash yet, since they had been on lockdown after retreating back to Stromgarde Keep.

      Betrayal.

      Fÿnn had tried to remain hopeful. He tried to see as King Anduin had. The fire of Jaina’s noble goals for peace still lived in the young King’s heart, and Fÿnn had remembered the final wishes of his mother before she died in Theramore. She had wanted him to seek peace too.

      So he had.

      When Iliera and Sionis left on another adventure, he had initially waited for them to return. When nearly two months had passed, Fÿnn signed up to help the Alliance organize an event here in the highlands. He had hoped that everything would go as planned. He had allowed himself to believe that maybe peace could be brokered between the Alliance and the Horde… a real peace… a start of something new. Months of planning brought together the perfect meeting between the two sides. Everything was going as he had hoped.

       Then, she struck.

      “Fÿnn?” a voice asked. “Come along.”

      The human looked down and saw the SI:7 gnome operative known as Chip Stone; his bushy mustache contrasted against his balding head made him look slightly absurd, but the gnome had proven to be a wise listener in the past.

      The paladin followed Chip through the barracks of the Keep until they reached a small room, something that might have been a closet back in the Keep’s glory days, but now served as Chip’s office.

      “Sorry to keep you waiting so long,” the gnome said. “It’s been a long day for everyone.”

      “Of course,” Fÿnn replied.

      “Can you tell me what happened out there… what really happened out there?”

      Fÿnn took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “The Horde.”

      Chip frowned. “I am aware of—”

      “Sylvanas killed her own people,” Fÿnn said, cutting Chip off. “She slaughtered innocents.”

      “I’m reading here that the Horde didn’t kill any Alliance soldiers?”

      “That’s right,” Fÿnn replied. “The only blood spilled… if you can call it that… was their own.”

      “This is disturbing news. I knew this was a bad idea, but I—”

      “This is more than disturbing,” Fÿnn said, his voice rising. “This is bitter hatred.”

      Chip Stone looked confused. “I’m not following.”

      The Forsaken love Sylvanas. They would have died for her willingly.”

      “They disobeyed her orders.”

      “A few of them,” Fÿnn admitted. “The others were going back. She killed them too. All of them. Don’t you get it, Chip? She would rather kill her own people than risk them supporting the living people of the Alliance.”

      “Well there isn’t anything that can be done about it.”

      “We have to do something,” Fÿnn countered. “Sylvanas is too far gone. She doesn’t just dislike the Alliance, Chip. She has a bitter hatred for us. The same dark banshee queen that is currently the Warchief of the Horde!”

      “Son, listen to me. The Alliance is in a stalemate.”

      “A poorly brokered peace,” Fÿnn said, his voice rising. “A time in which Sylvanas gets to prepare for war while our King aims for peace?! It won’t do us any good. We have to be prepared. We have to take action!”

      Chip Stone was silent for a long moment. He placed his hands together and stared at Fÿnn while he silently contemplated what he was going to say next. Finally, he drew in a long breath and looked Fÿnn in the eyes. “SI:7 has been increasing the Alliance numbers in Silithus,” he explained. “The rumors are that the Horde is going to send another force down. Not just goblins this time. The word is they want to try and lock down the mining operations for themselves. We’ve already had dozens of skirmishes, but we’re talking the real deal. An army.”

      “What does Anduin think of this?”

      “The King? He thinks it best to let military minds handle these kinds of problems.”

      “So what is SI:7 doing, then?” Fÿnn pressed.

      “What if I told you we were putting together a team. Something small… well organized… that could be used to disrupt such reinforcement efforts?”

      Fÿnn furrowed his brow. “An Alliance team?”

      “That’s right. Something like a an attack squadron, perhaps.”

      The young paladin sat up straight and gave a firm nod. “I want in.”

      Chip Stone’s face warped with a wide grin. “I’m glad to hear it Fÿnn. I have yet to meet someone who holds such a proud loyalty to our beloved Alliance.”

      “You never will,” Fÿnn replied.

      “I doubt I will. I’ll get your new orders in place and organize your transport. I’ll want the team in Kalimdor, obviously. We’ll post you somewhere in Ashenvale until we know more about the Horde’s plans to move on Silithus.”

      “Understood, Sir.”

      Chip gave a quick salute to the young human and gestured to the door. “You’re dismissed, Fÿnn. Get home and get ready to travel.”


Ashenvale Forest, Kalimdor

       The forests of Ashenvale were quiet. This wasn’t right.

       Normally the forest was alive with the sounds of life, magical energy, and other ancient secrets that sometimes whispered in the winds. When Fÿnn first arrived here, he had been surprised by the noise. During his campaign on Argus, he had grown accustomed to the sound of silence that one experienced on a dead world. In that dreadful place, instead of quiet magical whispers, he had heard distant wailing of tortured souls.

        But here there had been sound all the time. Creatures rustled the bushes and called out to their kin, the native people fought and celebrated together, and signals from various Nightelf centurions would be carried across the forest at set hours.

        Except, this morning, Fÿnn woke up to silence.

       The same deadly silence that he had experienced on Argus.

        No one else picked up on it right away. They had woken and gone about their  business as they had these last few weeks. Fresh food sizzled over a campfire as a few people shuffled here or there, sharpening weapons or polishing armor.

        Fÿnn had tried to ignore it at first. It was just his mind getting the best of him, he was nearly certain of that. So he had followed the routine, preparing his armor and weapons and heading out on a scouting mission to see where the Horde were positioned, just as he had been doing for the last ten days.

        About halfway there, the silence became overwhelming.

       “Has no one else noticed it’s completely silent?” he finally asked aloud.

        The two others that had joined him were a Night Elf and Worgen. They were both druids of the Cenarion Circle, and when they heard him speak they both raised through brows. “You noticed the change?” they asked simultaneously.

       “You did too?”

       “It’s been this way since late in our slumber,” the Worgen growled. “The silence is new, but the voices of these woods have grown quiet over the last few days. We did not expect someone of… your kind… to notice.”

        “Uh, thanks,” Fÿnn said. “What is happening to cause it?”

        “A number of things have changed,” the Night Elf answered, her voice calm, but contemplative. “Our world is wounded. The life upon it cannot escape its suffering. There are bound to be changes.”

        “Sure, but it wasn’t like this last week.”

        “Danger has come to the forest,” the Worgan said, his voice not sounding so calm. “The Horde is on the move.”

        “Perhaps,” the Night Elf said. “We shall see on our scouting mission.”

        The group rode through the forest for most of the morning, making their way to the southern edge of the forest where the trees thinned into what was known as the Barrens. It was through those lands, out toward the coast of Kalimdor, that the Horde had settled down and formed their first capital.

        Fÿnn didn’t know a lot about Orgrimmar or the citizens it held, but he did know that the Alliance had already gone into that city once to put down a growing threat. With all of the movements of the Alliance forces here in Kalimdor, he wondered if that was what they were heading toward again.

        Perhaps this time they’d do what they should have done the last time.

        Still, the roads in and out of the forest looked clear, the sentinels were guarding their posts with all due vigor, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

       “The latest SI:7 intelligence says the Horde is planning to move a large number of forces straight into Silithus,” the Worgen was saying as he looked over a few scrolls from his pack. “We’re supposed to be getting people into position in the stonetalon mountains and here in Ashenvale, then pinching the soldiers that leave the capital. It’ll really throw the Horde for a loop to be attacked like that.”

        “That would be an act of war,” Fÿnn said. “How can Anduin have possibly approved of this?”

        “He didn’t. This is all hush hush secret. No official orders. No approval from the King.”

        “So who organized this?”

        “SI:7 gives us orders. We follow them. That’s all I know, kid.”

        “My people are sailing forces to Silithus,” the Night Elf added. “We are only meant to antagonize and disrupt the Horde forces moving to the southern region. They’ll be delayed by our assault, but not hungry for war. When they arrive in Silithus, however, our sentinels will be waiting in full force. They won’t take control of that area. Not now. Not ever.”

        “Do we know when the Horde plans to move?”

        “No,” the Worgen said bluntly. “Only that it’ll come soon.”

        Fÿnn nodded. “So we’ll be ready.”

        “Alright,” the Night Elf said, her voice louder than before. “Nothing to see here today. Let’s circle back to the last two checkpoints and then return to camp.”

        “Can we make it into Astranaar today?” the Worgen asked. “I need more supplies.”

        “We’re supposed to keep our presence there to a minimum,” she replied. “Give me a list and I’ll go into town to pick it up for you later.”

        The Worgen frowned. “Fine.”

        Fÿnn turned his horse and started to follow the druids as they made their way along the forest edge to the remaining checkpoints. They would keep an eye out for any more Horde forces, then circle back past Astranaar to their camp and settle in for the evening. Soon, however, they would get word the Horde was on the move. When that happened… it would be time to strike.

        Fÿnn would be ready. The Horde was going to overstep soon. He knew it. When it did… he would be there.


TO BE CONTINUED!

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