Previously: The Unexpected Concert
With a grunt of effort, powerful feline jaws clamped firmly around the unconcious woman's upper arm, Hadakha dragged the pandaren translator further back into the forest undergrowth. His hasty rejuvenation spell had been just enough to keep her alive while he wrangled her away from the chaos and devastation that engulfed Twinspire Keep, but her substantial wounds had reopened on the way up here, and he renewed his spell to seal them again.
Stealthing back to the ledge overlooking Garrosh'ar Point, he surveyed the wreckage the Alliance had created on the shores of this new land, Pandaria. His voyage had started so well......
He'd been disappointed when they put Akabeko and her new Pandaren friend in a different squadron of the expeditionary fleet, but he was unable to protest too much for fear of drawing unwanted attention. Being known as a troublemaker would not make his missions any easier. And he'd be able to reestablish contact with Akabeko once they landed, so it wasn't anything major. He'd managed to send a brief, coded message to his agency head in Moonglade before he was bundled onto the ship carrying the battalion he was assigned to, letting them know that he might be out of touch for a while.
But then, a week into their journey, they'd started sailing into some thick, obviously magical mists that defied weather and made their navigation methods useless. A few days later they realised they'd lost contact with Akabeko's squadron – and then they ran across an Alliance squadron. Fighting broke out, naturally, and although Hadakha made a show of his hatred of the Alliance, it was an act – he aimed to subdue rather than kill, injure rather than cripple. It was an act he was good at, and he made sure to leave highly visible claw marks on as many Alliance bodies as possible. Not that it mattered in the end, as injured and unconcious went down alongside the dead with the sunken ships. Although he never talked about the battle, he noted a new respect in the demeanor of the remaining forces on his ship.
Finally the mists lifted, they sighted land, and the navigators were pleased to report that they'd not strayed very far from their intended course. Anticipation thrummed through the fleet, and they wasted no time in setting up fortifications and scouting the area. For Hadakha, the first few days were the most exciting. And dangerous. As one of the few druids present, he volunteered to do some aerial scouting of the area. He particularly wanted to investigate the strange structures that could be seen atop rocky spires, with no visible means of ascent.
The first time, he'd done a lazy circle of the area the ground scouts had explored, to check they'd missed nothing of importance. Then, satisfied, he flew up to the nearest building-spire. To his amazement and bafflement, it was occupied by a skeleton, apparently mid-meal judging by the dishware set out. There was nothing unusual about the room, other than it being somehow located at the top of an inaccessible peak. Shaking his head, Hadakha shifted into stormcrow form and started back towards Garrosh'ar Point.
Some instinct made him bank left just as a shadow fell over him. A huge mouth, filled with razor-sharp teeth, snapped shut beside him. With a squawk, Hadakha frantically strained for altitude, trying to see what was attacking him. A cloud serpent! He'd seen pictures of them on items carried by the pandaren translators, and had collected as much information as he could, though to these Huojin they were mostly mythological creatures. Great, he'd always wanted to be hunted by a myth.
With shocking speed the cloud serpent turned and pursued him. The agility of these things was incredible! There was only one option left to him – he would never be able to outfly it. He dove straight at the serpent's eyes, barely avoiding the snarling mouth as he swiped ineffectually at the scales around it's eyes. The serpent flinched, and he was past. Diving as fast as he could towards the forest canopy, jinking randomly, he dared not look behind him.
Recklessly plunging through the canopy, he prayed that there were no dense tangles ahead of him. It took all of his skill to level out before he hit the ground, and weave through the trees without slowing. He heard the crack of branches being smashed behind him, somehow getting closer by the second. Abruptly he broke through into a small clearing, and with a split-second decision, shifted into dire bear form. Gravity took over, and he ploughed a long line in the (mercifully) soft ground before crashing into the brush on the other side of the clearing. Slightly dazed, he ambled back to the edge of the clearing, where the cloud serpent was hesitantly casting about in confusion. Seeing Hadakha emerge, it started towards him, but stopped again when he reared up and spread his paws wide. When it still hesitated, obviously considering its chances, he roared and, lunging forward, batted it on the nose with one great swipe. That was the last straw, and the cloud serpent rose into the air and flew off.
After that encounter, Hadakha thought it best to not risk aerial travel anymore. He made his way back to base, delivered his report, and went to rest. The next few days were spent accompanying parties to the nearby pandaren town, Paw'don Village. He'd been getting intensive lessons from the Huojin translators during the voyage, so he could understand some of the negotiations, but much was still beyond him. Mostly he was there as a large, intimidating, silent threat. He found himself advocating on behalf of the locals, passing on the concerns of both the Paw'don elders and the Huojin to Ga'trul. But the warlock commander of the Horde forces refused to listen, behaving more and more erratically – bouts of rage and aggression followed by periods of doubt and fear. It was a potent mix. When Hadakha returned from a final scouting mission into the abandoned ruins of the massive fortress the locals called Twinspire Keep to find that Ga'trul had authorised both the wholesale destruction of the Paw'don orchards for food and wood, and the kidnapping of the local children to ensure cooperation, he was appalled.
The Huojin were increasingly upset and fearful, often returning to barracks with wounds caused by the officers they reported to after each failed diplomatic effort. One Huojin pandaren tried to seek refuge with the Paw'don, but was turned away. When a patrol discovered his unauthorised presence and returned him to Twinspire Keep, Ga'trul had him executed. Hadakha did some private scouting on his own, and found a well-hidden cave that offered some prospect of safety. He smuggled some supplies there over a few nights, and instructed the Huojin on how to find it should there be a chance to escape. As Ga'trul and his warlocks continued to summon more and more demonic soldiers, Hadakha began preparing his own exit strategy. Then the Alliance gunship appeared.
The carnage that ensued was immense. Hadakha didn't bother to even appear to be fighting the Alliance. He found that as long as he marched purposefully, nobody stopped to question him. The soldiers around him seemed possessed, almost like the demonic bloodlust that the orcs had suffered through in the past. Some of them looked strange, leeched of colour even as they raged or cowered. As more and more Alliance ground troops landed, he took to stalking from cover to cover in cat form, slowly making his way through the chaos to the forest near where his cave was.
At the base of the ridge he needed to climb, he discovered one of the Huojin translators, lying unconcious with long slashes covering her back and a dagger sticking out of her thigh. He'd thought she was dead, but a nearby explosion elicited a groan before she lapsed back into oblivion. Hadahka quickly pulled out the dagger, cast a rejuvenate spell on her to stem the blood flow, and dragged her away. He thought he'd got out unobserved, but a group of Alliance soldiers spotted him as he disappeared behind a tent. Rushing forward, they forced him to defend himself, and now he fought in earnest. Leaving their mangled bodies, he took the Huojin's arm in his jaws and began the ascent. At this point, speed mattered more than care, and he'd made it to cover without further encounters. Now.....now he watched the Alliance butcher the remaining Horde forces.
He was about to return to his charge when he suddenly spotted a large cloud serpent swoop down to the Twinspire Keep courtyard. A figure jumped from the back of the serpent, and appeared to be confronting the Alliance commander. Then a....shape....emerged from the commander, dark and pulsing with energy. The figure (a Pandaren? it was hard to tell) did something, and the dark shape dissipated. But Hadakha saw many more dark shapes emerging from both the Horde and the Alliance soldiers still fighting. Even from a distance he could feel the mixture of rage and fear, doubt and hatred emanating from these beings. They slaughtered indiscriminately. The figure led a small group to combat the new threat, but clearly it would not be safe around here for a very long time.
Hadakha studied the shapes for a little while, then turned and padded back to the Huojin he'd rescued. They'd lie low for a few days, hope that some of the other Huojin had made it out alive. He felt a stirring of excitement. This was his element. This is what he was trained for. Despite the horror behind him, it felt good to be operating independently once more.
Next: An Unexpected Ally