In the slum canyons of Orcmar, on its first cold
night, the Feast of Winter Veil lived up to its name. A fresh
dusting of snow, the most that this arid land would see all winter, lay
on the ground. Curfew had been declared, and nearly all was
High on the north edge of the canyons, overlooking the moonlit Rocktusk
District and with the mighty Old Orcmar Gate standing in the distance, a
lone figure stood against the starry sky: Horse the Bull, breaking the
curfew that none dared break, with a look of shock on his long face. The
orc who called himself Kelkar lay dead in front of him at the cliff’s
edge, half of his face burned beyond recognition, the other half frozen
in an expression of haunted calm. The bull stared, as though too
surprised to be terrified and too terrified to think.
He bent to the ground and picked up a small brown sack that lay between
him and the dead orc. Terror won out a moment later, and the young bull turned and ran, south,
back towards the nearest canyon, towards a place where the dark red
rubble was rough enough to allow a pair of suitably determined beings to
clamber up. The trip down required much less determination, and the
panicked bull skidded to a stop at the bottom, rubble cascading down
after him with a clatter that echoed in the silent night. Horse cringed
at the noise, terrified, assured of his own imminent and grisly demise
at the hand of forces which he did not understand, but in a moment the
pebbles and dust had settled, and no mysterious force reached out of the
night to quench the young bull.
He stood for a moment, looking helplessly about at the dark night,
facing the unhappy choice of returning to his guild’s meager hall
without its leader, or running away again, like he had before, so many
A sudden, vaguely metallic screech pierced the night, from farther along
the canyon, and the bull jumped. A shadow shifted.
Torn between terror and curiosity, Horse stood for a moment. This time,
terror lost, and the bull crept along the darkened canyon, towards where
the noise had come from. Whatever had made it was small, and airborne:
it flitted on ahead, just out of sight, pulling Horse along towards the
end of the slum canyons.
The small shadow flapped suddenly out of the shadows and into the
moonlight, and stopped, and turned about on a leather pinion. The figure
was a winged red whelp, one of the rarified races of dragon-kin. Horse
had only ever seen one red whelp in his life, and from afar: it was the
Shadow Council’s Whelp, who relayed and enforced the Council’s iron
Horse brought himself up short just inside the canyon shadows, but the
whelp screeched again, peering intently at the bull and narrowing its
reptilian eyes. It turned back about, and flapped off down a paved
street into the gentrified – but silent – Rocktusk district. “I
guess it’s run away again,” muttered the young bull to himself.
The whelp led the bull down a maze of silent streets, past
thatched-roofed houses of increasing grandeur, along narrow, cobbled
alleys and up wide boulevards, lined with grand Winter Veil
decorations, until, nearly an hour on
and quite before Horse knew it, they had arrived at the Great Gate.
The whelp paused, bobbing gently on its red-webbed wings in the shadow
of the gate itself, waiting. Horse stood still, at an uncertain,
respectful distance, hardly breathing. For a moment, there was no
Then came a clambering from within the Old City, the approaching
footfalls of some small creature, and a moment later a gnome ran into
view. The gnome skidded to a stop in front of the whelp, and bowed low.
They conferred quietly for a moment, and then the gnome turned to Horse,
a look of gleeful inscrutability on his tiny face.
“Nowhere to go?” he piped up at the young bull. “Too bad. Curious? Stay
Then the whelp and the gnome moved quickly past Horse and back into the
A moment and another scrambling of footsteps later, an orc skidded into
view in the darkness of the Great Gate. He slid to a stop, breathing
hard and looked at the bull.
“You’re not the gnome,” he said, sounding annoyed.
“You are a bull, though,” the orc continued.
“Well spotted,” said Horse, uncertainly.
“I’m supposed to be looking for a bull,” explained the orc. “Were you
just running after the Whelp?”
“Yeah, I was, he met up with your gnome and then they disappeared.”
The orc nodded, coming forward out of the shadows. He was skinny, by orc
standards, and his face was young. He had a backpack tossed haphazardly
across his shoulders, exposed, as though he’d packed in a hurry. “I’m
supposed to tell you three things.” He looked down and creased his
forehead in concentration. Horse grinned despite himself. “I’m supposed
to tell you to go to the Drag,” said the orc, “and talk to Jebbediah
Bassbait of the Black Dragons. You’re supposed to talk to him and say
you want to disappear, and that you can be a skimmer for him. Don’t tell
him you heard it from me, and, I guess that’s all I’m supposed to tell
“Skimmer?” said the bull.
“You work the ante bags at the gambling huts.”
“Why do they call them…”
“Listen,” interrupted the orc, “don’t worry about that. If he asks you
how you know they’re called skimmers, just…” the orc paused. “Just think
quick. Don’t mention me.”
“They don’t like me, that’s why,” said the young orc.
“Then how do you know there’s a job?” pressed the bull.
“Because, until about an hour ago, it was mine. You ask too many
“Sorry,” said the bull sheepishly.
“Right,” said the orc.
The pair stood for a second, looking awkwardly around.
“Listen…” started the orc. “Doesn’t it strike you as weird that the
Whelp and a gnome led us out into a curfew, to meet by the Gate and then
go our separate ways?” He looked at Horse, his forehead furrowed.
“Yeah, weird,” muttered the bull, and he glanced over his shoulder at
the distant cliff, the edge of the slum canyons.
“There's something more to this,” said the orc conspiratorially, “than
a couple of guys getting sent off in opposite directions by the Whelp and his Gnome. So we’d better know each other’s names in case that’s not
just a hunch!” he finished cheerily. He extended his hand. “Name’s Tidus.”
Horse looked at it for a moment, then took it and shook it firmly. “My
name’s Horse,” he said.
Tidus cocked an eyebrow. “Funny name for a bull,” he said. The bull
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