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The Orcmar Shorts

"Flight"

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 still.

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 times.

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 rule.

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 movement.

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 put.”

Then the whelp and the gnome moved quickly past Horse and back into the Rocktusk night.

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.

Horse stared.

“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 you!”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“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 questions, dude.”

“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 sighed.


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