Korina paused, her fists raised, while her eyes adjusted to the light. The walls of the alley were uneven and full of loose stones and chipped mortar. Some decaying wooden crates were piled against one wall. The tatters of what might have once been a tunic were snarled on the rough cobblestones. A rat glared at her for a moment before going back to gnawing on a moldy bread crust. She took a cautious step into the alley, peering around for signs of life.
The clatter of a pebble against the wall behind her made her suddenly turn her head, even as she realized, a moment too late, that it was the wrong direction to look. There was a groan of shifting wood and the stack of rickety crates tipped onto her, knocking her to the ground.
Korina flailed free of the rotten wood and pushed herself up in time to see the thief scamper up the stone wall of a building. She lunged for him and caught him by the ankle, dragging him down into the alley again. The boy rolled away and came up into a crouch, a little knife in one hand. There was no mockery on his face now, only a pair of narrowed eyes. She hefted her hatchet and stared him down.
“Take it back!” she snarled at him.
“Crazy kit,” the boy hissed. “It’s just a jay. You don’t got to get so burned about it.”
“Take it back!” she repeated, stalking towards him with her hatchet raised.
The boy made a lunge with his knife. Korina lurched aside and his thrust missed her. He came at her again, slashing at her ribs. She slapped at his hand with the flat of the hatchet’s blade. The knife spun from his grip and clattered on the cobbles.
Before Korina could raise the hatchet again, he punched her hard in the gut with his other hand. She doubled over as the pain convulsed her guts. He took his chance to knee her on the chin, knocking her to the ground again. As she struggled on the ground, he scrounged the cobblestones for his knife and made a run for a gap between two buildings.
Korina wrenched herself up from the ground, grabbed her hatchet and flung it after the fleeing thief. She no longer cared about Elice’s warnings. She could not let the boy get away.
The hatchet missed the boy but flew past his head and clattered against the corner of one building, knocking loose a couple of small stones and a cloud of mortar dust. The boy instinctively dove the other way and fell into an old sprung barrel which shattered at the impact. As he lay dazed on the ground, Korina ran up and grabbed hold of him to pin him against the wall. He squirmed and wrestled in her grip, but she had years of experience with the village children and she soon had hands on both his wrists and her hip in his belly to hold him still.
“Take it back!” she hissed again.
“Yes!” he squeaked. “I take it back, all of it!”
“And give me back our coin!”
“I will,” he promised. “I’d give ya the cake too, but… You wouldn’t want it now anyway.”
He stopped struggling and she warily released her hold on him. He didn’t try to run but instead fished in his breeches and came out with five warm and greasy copper pieces. Korina spat on them and wiped them with the hem of her jerkin before putting them away in her pouch, glaring at the boy all the while.
A grin spread over the boy’s face and suddenly he threw back his head in a hearty laugh.
“Well, well, welly!” he cried. “That was fun, ay?” Korina answered him with a scowl. “Oh, come on!” he persisted. “Tell me that didn’t get your heart running like buck in rut, ay? So, what do you want with the cat what sells sheep’s cheese? She owe you money for smithwork or somelike? I wouldn’t like to owe you, I wouldn’t!”
“She’s our mother,” Korina answered. “We’re looking for her. She went missing last night.”
The boy’s grin disappeared and he shrank back.
“Your mother?” he choked out. “I figured you were after her for money. That’s what it usually is when someone comes looking for one of the village folk. I thought I was helping. I’m sorry. Your mother, she’s one of the good ones. I wouldn’t have romped about like that if I’d known.”
“Good ones?” Korina asked.
“Ay, the good ones– the ones as don’t complain to the guards when we have our fun, or sometimes give us a copper or two to fetch and carry, or let us nibble on what’s left at end of market day. We have a code, we street rangers do: we don’t jay from the good ones, and we do ’em a turn if we can.”
He squinted at Korina all of sudden.
“I don’t remember you two ever being at market with her. You won’t be having a jay on me, now, would you? That’ll be most uncivil.”
“Mama doesn’t like us coming into the city with her,” Korina said. “She says there’s bad types in the city.”
The boy laughed again.
“Well, that’ll be us, ay? Bad types, truth! Ain’t no sayin’ no to it, neither. But we can be good, too, in our ways. I tell you, if you’re looking for your ma, let me help. Ay, I know just about every place a person can be hid in this city, seeing as I’ve been hid in most of them one time or the other. I’ll get the other rangers onto it, too. Most of them will know her. We can make a quick job of it.”
Korina was about to answer when two new figures came squeezing through the gap into the alleyway. The boy tensed as if to make a run for it, but Korina grabbed hold of him and he stayed put. The first of the new arrivals was a Stormwind city guardsman who advanced on the two of them with a wooden cudgel ready in his hand. Behind him tiptoed Elice.
“Right, then!” the guard called out. “That’s your sister?”
“Yes, sir,” Elice confirmed.
“And this is the thief?” he asked, pointing his cudgel at the boy.
“Just a misunderstanding between myself and these respectable young gentlewomen, your honor,” the boy declared, making an elaborate bow to the guard. “A little misunderstanding over a trifling sum, but it’s all been sorted now.”
“Shut your mouth!” the guard snapped.
Korina stepped forward and made an awkward little curtsey.
“It’s true, sir,” she said. “It was all a misunderstanding. My sister and I got separated, but the boy and I… talked it over. Everything’s fine.”
The guard cast a look over his shoulder at Elice.
“You said the boy stole some coin from you,” he said.
“He did,” Elice answered, not taking her incredulous eyes from her sister’s.
“He’s given it back,” Korina said.
“Free and willing, your honor!” the boy chimed in.
The guard gave an exasperated shrug and hung his cudgel back on his belt.
“I don’t have time for this,” he growled, “what with all the refugees coming in from the countryside. You, boy, get back to the orphanage where you belong, and you young ladies stay away from places like this and folk like him.” He straightened his tunic and marched away, Elice’s hasty blessing trailing after him.
With the guard gone, Elice stepped closer to her sister, her eyes still wide with doubt.
“I’m Korina Whitfeld,” Korina said to the boy. “This is my sister Elice.”
“Tammin,” the boy replied. “Call me Tam. Fourth Captain of the Glorious Cathedral Square Street Rangers, at your service, my ladies.”
“You said you’d help us look for our mother,” Korina reminded him.
“This way,” he said, ushering them out of the alley back towards the canals and the trade district. He led them over the bridge and through some alleyways, chattering away about the street rangers and some of their outlandish exploits, but in between stories of fat merchants pick-pocketed right down to their linens and guards’ helmets stolen in the midst of a parade, Korina explained to Elice what had happened.
“We shouldn’t trust him,” Elice whispered. “Who knows where he’s leading us?”
“I don’t say I trust him,” Korina answered, “but he knows now what I’ll do to him if he tries anything.”
Tam gave no sign of hearing their exchange, but he led them through open, well-kept streets, ducking down alleys alone whenever he needed to stop and talk to someone. He spoke to young beggars and street sweepers, some girls going through the broken crockery behind a wine shop, and some other girls in cheap dresses who scowled at Elice. No one had any news for him. Some of the younger ones went scampering off only to turn up later in the day to report that the could find no sign of the woman he was looking for.
Around midday, Elice and Korina had a little bread and cheese out of their sack. Korina offered some to Tam, but he declined and disappeared towards the market square. Before long he came back eating a misshapen pease pie out of his hand.
“I hope you paid for that,” Elice muttered. Tam turned his flashing smile on her.
“Fresh ones sell for a silver, see?” he explained. “Day old its only some coppers. Two days old and ain’t nobody will give money for them. Then its either give ’em to us or give ’em to the dogs, and the dogs don’t ask as nice as we do.”
Elice scowled at first, then her expression softened thoughtfully.
“I suppose that’s just,” she allowed.
“That’s the street ranger way,” he said. “We’ve all been bad enough done by. Look at me, a war orphan. My pap died fighting some filthy orcs and then they killed my ma after. Leastways, that’s what Old Matron told me. I don’t remember a thing before the orphanage.”
After their quick meal, they carried on around the towers of the mage quarter and down the tidy streets of the cathedral district. Tam talked to boys fishing in the canals and shopkeepers in the back streets. There was no news anywhere of Esma Whitfeld. Finally, Tam sagged against the post of a canal bridge and looked glumly at the girls.
“She ain’t here,” he said. “If she was here, we’d’ve found her, I promise ya.”
Elice looked at Korina and reached out for her hand.
“The forest,” Korina said. “It has to be. Orcs took her into the forest and who knows where she is now?” She squinted up at the sky. “It’ll be dark in a few hours, but if we hurry we can start looking.”
“Thank you, Tam,” said Elice. “We won’t forget all you’ve done.”
“Hoy!” he exclaimed, jumping up. “You’re never just walking away and leaving me out of it!”
“You’ve done enough,” said Korina.
“I never have!” he answered. “I’m with ya til we find her, for good or better!”
“Have you ever been in the woods before,” Elice asked.
Tam shuffled his feet and looked over their heads.
“I’ve been in the park,” he said. “There’s trees there, ay?”
Elice and Korina looked at each other.
“Another pair of eyes,” Korina muttered. “Can’t hurt.”
“Unless he trips over a root and hurts himself,” said Elice.
“He won’t,” said Korina. “He’s light on his feet, for a city boy.”
“Right then!” cried Tam. “Let’s off before the sun goes!”
The sky was already turning yellow when they came in sight of the little cottage. Korina slipped the pouch of coins back into the hole under the washtub and got her father’s sword from where she had hidden it in the morning. Elice changed into a rugged working dress and tended the embers of the fire while Korina went out in the south meadow to round up the sheep for the night. Tam waited in the farmyard, keeping a nervous eye on the sheep as they bounded through the gap in the fence. Elice emerged from the house with a few thick slices of bread and some apples for them to eat as they trudged towards the edge of the woods.
“There ain’t bears in these woods, is there?” Tam asked in an overly casual tone as they neared the dark line of trees.
“Oh yes,” Korina replied, equally casually, “lots of hungry bears. They can smell fear from miles away and climb trees in complete silence, you know.”
Elice gave her sister a slap on the arm and a stern look.
“Yes, there are bears in the woods,” she assured Tam, “but they won’t be anywhere near here at this time of the year. You don’t have to worry about them.”
“Just the wolves,” Korina chimed in, earning another slap.
They started down the old track to the stream where Elice always did the washing. Tam hung back, slipping nervously from treetrunk to treetrunk. Every now and then he stumbled on a root and let out a curse in some tongue Korina and Elice didn’t recognize.
Suddenly Korina stopped and held up a hand. She pointed at a shrub full of freshly snapped branches.
“Someone’s been here,” Elice whispered, drawing close to her sister.
Korina slid the sword out of its sheath and crept forward. The ground began to slope down towards the stream. In a muddy patch they could see the traces of many broad, heavy feet and the trail of something that had been dragged along. Elice gripped Korina’s arm and pointed at the tracks. Korina nodded and breathed deeply. Tam palmed his little knife and crouched in the shadow of the trees.
Together they crept down the path to the water’s edge. The sand on the pebbly bend was churned up with the traces of many heavy bodies. Korina peered at the surrounding woods, already sunk in shadow, then stepped out to look closer at the traces. There were no clear footprints, but there was a long hollow where someone had lain and perhaps struggled. Something stood out under the sand. She poked at it with the tip of her sword and unearthed a bit of frayed cord.
“It was the orcs,” Tam whispered, bending down and looking at the hollow in the sand. “They must’ve taken your ma and brought her here.”
“But the orcs are over in Lakeshire,” said Elice. “How could they have gotten here?”
“A diversion,” Korina said. “Most of the orcs attacked Lakeshrie while a few snuck through.”
“What do they want with your ma?” Tam asked. “I mean, she’s a good one and such, but why’s she special?”
Korina glared at him. He backed away and shrugged his arms.
“I don’t mean like that! Course she’s special, ay, but why’s she special to them? What do they want her for they can’t do with a Lakeshire cat, or one of them sheep?”
“Watch your mouth!” Korina shouted.
“All I’m saying is I’ve heard stories. Ay, there’s more than a few of the street rangers saw their families killed by orcs, and what came afore, and what came after. Don’t think I don’t know orcs just ’cause I’m a city cub!”
“You don’t know a thing!” Korina shouted. He clutched her father’s sword with both hands, feeling a burning heat begin to rise within her.
“Kori,” Elice said, laying a hand on her shoulder, “he’s here to help. Let’s just try to figure out what happened.”
“Mama is fine!” Korina shouted, shrugging off Elice’s touch. “She got away! Maybe she’s just hiding in the woods!”
“Well, come on out, lady sheep cheese!” Tam hollered at the trees. “Your daughter who knows everything says you’re fine, so don’t keep her waiting!”
“Stop it!” Elice cried. “You’re not helping! Either of you!”
“Your mother’s dead!” Korina yelled at Tam.
“So’s yours!” Tam shouted back with a rude gesture.
Elice threw up her hands in frustration. Suddenly a burst of flame exploded at her feet and threw her back onto the sand of the bank. The three of them stared dumbly at the flames as they flickered and vanished on the wet sand. For a moment none of them could speak.
“Elly…” Korina said, taking a halting step towards her sister.
Another burst of flame exploded around Korina, tossing her flat to the ground and knocking the sword out of her grip.
“It’s magic!” Elice cried, pulling herself up. “It’s some kind of magic. Someone’s attacking us!”
Korina pulled herself up to a crouch, grabbing the sword in both hands. Elice ran over to huddle next to her. Tam was nowhere to be seen.
“Who is it?” Korina hissed. “Where?”
“I don’t know,” said Elice.
“Why not?” Korina demanded. “You’re the one who knows magic!”
“I’m an acolyte of the Holy Light,” Elice snapped. “We learn to meditate and heal, not start fires! You should know! You’re the one who starts fires!”
“I haven’t done that in years!” Korina shouted.
A cloud of dark fog began to swirl over their heads. Korina looked up into it and thought she could see a screaming, laughing face opening its jaws to swallow her. Cold terror ran through her bones and her breath caught in her throat. Elice grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away, grunting at the effort.
They huddled up again at the edge of the open ground, their backs to an old oak tree.
“’You can’t bespell what you can’t see’” Elice muttered. “That’s what Brother Padwell taught us. If you want to cast a spell, you have to see the person you’re casting it on. If it’s true for the Holy Light, maybe it’s true for fire and smoke and whatever that is.”
“So they’re watching,” Korina said with a nod. She began to scan the edge of the woods around them, but it was impossible to see into the leafy darkness. She tried to think. If she was going to hide and watch this clearing, where would she hide? Where was there both cover and a good vantage point?
A crash of breaking branches off to her left interrupted her thoughts. A dark figure came stumbling down the bank from a dim thicket.
“Found ‘im!” Tam’s voice called out. The boy was clutching the figure’s back with one arm and both legs, while with the other hand trying to pull his knife free from where it had stuck in the creature’s ragged armor.
The thing was big, even hunched over as he tried to shake Tam off. He was built like a man, but too broad and muscular. His skin was a muddy gray-green and his eyes burned like crimson embers. Yellow fangs protruded from his mouth as he grunted and snarled. One of his ankles was twisted and wrapped up in rags from which a trail of gray-green blood dripped. There could be no doubt, none at all– this was an orc.
With a bestial roar, the orc pried Tam from his back and hurled him down on the sand. Tam groaned weakly and struggled to crawl away. The orc then turned his eyes back on Korina and Elice. He flexed his fingers, making them spark with flame and began to mutter strange words in a deep, grinding voice.
Korina yelled as loud as she could and charged at him, swinging her sword over her head. The orc caught her with a backhand blow of one massive fist and knocked her sprawling on the ground. He began to chant again, his words coming out in a snarl now. A ball of bright flame began to take shape between his palms and his eyes shifted amongst amongst the three of them. Korina and Tam were both flailing and struggling on the ground while Elice huddled against the tree. As the flame in his hands grew brighter, the orc turned towards Elice.
“Don’t you—” Korina gasped, fighting to stand up.
With a thrust of his hands, the orc sent the fiery ball surging towards Elice. Elice shrieked and threw up her arms in defense. A sphere of shimmering energy surrounded her just for a second. The ball of fire crashed against it and exploded in a burst of flame. Elice was hurled backwards into the undergrowth, dazed but unburnt.
Korina found her feet and hefted her sword.
“Don’t you dare!” she shouted at the orc and charged him again. This time he was too slow to knock her away and she managed to swing the sword straight down at his head. He dodged back, getting only a graze down his arm, but he stumbled on his wounded ankle and fell back on the sand. Tam had pulled himself into a crouch and now pounced, wrenched his dagger free from the orc’s armor, and got a few quick jabs at an exposed shoulder.
The orc roared out a harsh word and a burst of fire and smoke exploded right at his feet, knocking Korina and Tam back and throwing up a shower of sand and pebbles that hid him from view.
Korina grabbed Tam and dragged him towards the edge of the woods where Elice had disappeared. They found Elice getting shakily to her feet.
“That’s an orc!” Tam hissed. “That’s a real orc! In Elwynn Forest! A real orc making magic fire in Elwynn Forest!”
“We have to get the guards!” said Elice.
“They won’t believe us,” said Korina. “They’ll think we’re just frightened children having bad dreams or playing games. We have to stop that orc before he gets away and we have to do it now. He was already wounded, he can’t have gone far.”
“All right,” said Tam, “I’m with you, but only because you’re scarier than Old Matron with that sword.”
“We’ll stop him,” Elice agreed, “but then we have to get the guards.”
“Good,” said Korina. She turned around and peered back out into the open. “Now, where is he?”
The dust and smoke were clearing, even as the light faded and the shadows lengthened. The orc, however, had not gone far. He was kneeling over a little hollow scooped out of the sand. He had a knife in his hand and was widening some of the gashes Tam had made in his shoulder. His dark blood was flowing down his arm to puddle in the sand.
“What is he doing?” Korina wondered.
“Blood magic,” Elice whispered. The two of them looked at her. “I heard Brother Padwell talking about it one time when he didn’t think any students were listening.”
“What does that do?” asked Tam.
Elice shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said, “but whatever it is, it’s bad. Very, very bad.”
“Then let’s stop him before he finishes doing it,” said Korina.
She hefted her sword and tensed her legs to make a rush across the sand at the orc. As she was drawing in her breath, the orc looked up and met her eyes. A smile twisted his mouth, baring his yellow fangs and he clenched both his fists hard.
Suddenly a gout of purple flame burst from the pool of blood. The flame twisted and doubled back on itself, then it took shape and became a creature, the size of a large dog but covered in glossy red scales. It had a big hump for shoulders, but on those shoulders was no head. Instead, a mass of snaky tentacles reared from its back, each one baring a mouth full of sharp teeth. Through its many mouths, the creature let out a rattling shriek.
As the three of them stared in horror at this new creature, the orc pointed at them and snarled a word of command. The creature turned all its heads towards them and charged.
Korina planted her feet and tried her best to ward off the snapping tentacles with her sword, but a dozen flailing mouths full of sharp teeth kept slicing at her.
“What do we do?” Tam cried.
“I don’t know!” she shouted. “Kill it!”
Tam crouched by her side, watching the creature move. Then he darted out, rolling under its belly and stabbed up as hard as he could. His knife chipped off a couple of scales and got a spurt of purple blood. The creature reared up with a wail, but then some of its tentacles snapped down, grabbed Tam and flung him surprisingly far into the underbrush.
“Tam!” Elice shouted. “I have to help him!”
“Wait!” said Korina. “Stay back!”
She began to edge to her side, away from where Tam had gone. The creature followed her, slowly turning. When the creature’s back was safely turned to where Elice was crouching in the bushes, Korina said: “Now!”
Elice darted out and ran towards where Tam had landed. The orc, who had simply been watching his creature fight, saw her move and hurled another ball of fire at her. Elice dove for the ground and the flaming ball missed her to splash against a treetrunk. The flames sputtered and died there, but Elice rolled painfully over stones and broken branches. Staying in the cover of the bushes, she crawled to where Tam lay.
“Don’t try to move,” she whispered to him. He whimpered in response. She breathed deeply and tried to remember Brother Padwell’s lessons about healing. She gently probed Tam’s arms, legs, head, and torso for wounds and broken bones. She found some bleeding cuts and bruises, but nothing worse. With relief she summoned up the familiar woundbinding prayers and began to work on his injuries.
“I was trying to help,” he said weakly.
“I know,” she assured him. “You made that thing bleed.”
“It ain’t enough. I gotta get back there and help Korina.”
“No, you have to stay here. I can’t heal you if you’re moving around. I’m only an acolyte.”
“But Korina needs us,” he pleaded.
“She needs us alive,” Elice said firmly. “You have to get to that orc and stop him from casting any more spells. But first you have to lie still so I can heal you.”
Korina was feeling her arms begin to tire from slashing at the creature’s tentacles with her sword. A flash of anger filled her mind. How many times had she run away from her lessons to play in the woods, hacking at imaginary orcs with a stick all afternoon and never feeling worn out? Yet now when it really mattered, her body was failing her. The toothy little mouths at the ends of the tentacles kept slicing at her arms she could feel her blood starting to shake off of her in drops.
She let out a scream of frustration and hacked at the creature with a powerful swing. The creature was startled by the shout and its tentacles stopped flailing for a moment, just time for Korina’s blade to strike two of them and slice their ends off. It staggered back, screaming from its remaining mouths. Korina pounced, her sword held high. The creature reared up and swiped at her with its front paws. The sword crunched against the thing’s scales and was jolted out of Korina’s hands while a sharp claw tore a gash through her leather jerkin and dug into her shoulder. She cried out in pain and sank down to the ground.
Through a blear of blood and pain she saw the creature stumble, right itself, and coil to leap at her, its snaky heads tensed and hissing. She tried to push herself up, but her arms were shaking too badly and her legs wouldn’t answer. She faintly saw Tam and Elice jump up and run towards her, but they were too far away to get between her and the creature.
At least I got to hit a real orc, she found herself thinking. That’s something I always wanted to do before I died.
Continued in Chapter 4: A point of view