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Night Terrors, Part I

Deep in the emerald heart of Val’sharah, the Dreamweavers were doing all they could to staunch the corruption seeping through their sacred groves. The Nightmare’s influence persisted, however, and though many druids had already been saved from the Sleeper’s Barrow and other satyr-infiltrated dens, some dreamers yet remained in perilous slumber. One such den, located dangerously close to the Dreamgrove, had yet to be retaken, partially because the druids feared it was entirely lost.

The missive requesting Chayce’s aid stressed the danger of the situation, the high likelihood of satyrs and demons, and the very real possibility that proximity to the den would have some sort of corrupting influence. That was probably why the offered reward was so lucrative - appealing to a person’s morality only stretched so far.

The warrior was, for all intents and purposes, a moral figure. Once adorned with the regalia of Stormwind from time defending the people of the Alliance on many fronts, had become a sword for hire most times. Though the money mattered not since the Legion invasion, a little extra coin for a mission most would hesitate to take would never be turned down. What she did with coin was a matter of great curiosity while she lived as the Dusksworn’s bodyguard, but Cylan had helped her make arrangements for it, and he was as likely to share a secret as he would a smile.

The thicket became quieter as the warrior advanced into it, the sounds of the settlements, other like-minded individuals going about their business, and even the native wildlife fading into almost nothing. The forest had become overgrown with the passage of time, but even through the dense brush and trees, thin veins of blood red could be glimpsed threading through the soil.

A stretch that created an almost grinding noise in the vertebrae in her neck came first, then the warrior reached for the blade that was strapped between her shoulderblades. The blade was easily as tall as some humans, but she wielded it easily, swinging her wrist in a motion that caused the iron to flash the red image from around her onto it as if paint had been thrown against its polished side. Some would have called the move showy, but in truth it helped adjust the blade within her gloved grip before she settled her left hand into place above the right.

Her memories, most of them, had been lost when the Legion moved upon Draenor, since then she had battled to regain her grasp on her past. Swordwork had not been something that floated away with the collision she was injured in, it was one of those muscle memories that stayed beyond her being able to remember the name of the Sentinel that had trained her.

A tangled mess of gnarled vines and foliage barred the entrance to the den, deeper threads of red twining through the dying leaves. Something like a scorch mark, black and charred, stretched out on the ground and disappeared past the unnatural barrier. It seemed the druids’ fears were completely justified.

Within the darkened armor light filled eyes took in the entwined foliage before her. Fire would be the easiest way to clear the path, but it would also attract everything she was try to keep from noticing her encroachment into the woods. Holding the sword balanced in her left hand, too nervous to put it away, she reached into her boot and pulled out a dagger, at least a dagger for the large woman, it was easily big enough to be a true sword in a gnome’s grip. Leveling her right shoulder forward she began to cut her way through the grey gnarled vines, working with the efficiency of one that did not want to stay where she was for long.

It didn’t take much work before the brittle vines snapped and broke beneath the woman’s dagger, crumbling into dust at her feet. The air that escaped the newly-opened den had the unmistakable scent of dank, ancient soil, and more worryingly, mingled with the rancid smell of decay. There was movement, though the shuffling sounds were faint, likely located deeper within.

She shouldered aside what she hadn’t cut, slipping the dagger back into her boot. Rolling her shoulders and taking a grip on the blade again, she worked her way into the darkened tunnel. Moving as quiet as a tall woman in plate could manage, she stuck to the side of the tunnel. Each step drawing her further down as she listened for danger a memory or two seeped into her mind. Shaking her head to try and clear the image of a healthy barrow.

The shuffling intensified the deeper she went, a few side caverns sadly bereft of life. Desiccated remnants of what were once bears rested amongst a few fallen imps, the walls clawed and stained, memories of a battle that had long since finished. It wasn’t a heartening sight, but something still stirred in the bowels of the barrow, so perhaps not all hope was lost.

Chayce was more than willing to allow the imps to keep up with what they were doing as she worked her way through the barrows. Sword at the ready, she slunk through the halls looking for signs of non-demonic life.

As she entered the deepest level of the barrow, past alcoves that had become tombs, Chayce could hear the defiant roars of a bear and the distinct sound of battle. It was hard to tell how many combatants there were until she entered the farthest alcove. There, a single bear defended the slumbering bodies of a handful of elves from a group of satyr and imps, wounds on the bear’s broad white shoulders and muzzle oozing blood. It looked exhausted but continued to defend, not seeming to notice the warrior’s approach.

Rushing in Chayce shouldered into a satyr shoving it into a group of imps. Bringing the sword a around to create an arc in front of her, she cleared space and pushed the demons back further. Not wanting to get too close to the bear as she wasn’t sure of its state of mind she strode forward from across the room as she snarled through the opening in her helm.

This caught the attention of the unholy spawn and gave the bear some time to recover, but it stubbornly pressed the attack, mimicking Chayce’s cleaving sword with a swiping claw.

Stepping in enough that the demons could not come between them, Chayce angled her back to be angled towards the bear creating an area of safety between her and the bear. Blood sprayed in green droplets from the swing of her blade across as she slipped through the thin neck of an imp causing the two others that were with it chittering back.

The wild creature seemed grateful, issuing a challenging roar as tooth and fang slashed through the retreating imps. The fiercely glowing eyes caught a glimpse of the warrior woman and a hint of confusion flashed within, soon replaced with the former ferocity. Friend? Foe? Something different? It was impossible to tell what the shifted druid made of her, but for now it was enough that between the two of them, the demons were falling.

The kaldorei continued to step in, her blade flashing across her body. A brave satyr tried to dash in as she maneuvered, it was trying to get to the side of the bear. Chayce’s foot moved at a ninety degree angle, stepping forward on the ball of her foot, the the rear foot following to turn her body, blocking the satyr’s advance by driving the pommel of blade into the neck of the demon.

This caught the bear’s attention and it turned, seeing the woman’s intervention. Despite the strange figures and distorted specters dancing before its eyes, there was no denying that this person was helping. The bear’s demeanor changed, its fur no longer bristling when battle brought the elven woman near, and in turn it rushed to her side to maul one of the last remaining demons, sending a fresh spray of crimson across its stained pelt.

Looking for more targets as the remaining imps chattered and sprinted for the exit. Chayce took a half step after them, but her conscience interfered and stopped her in her tracks. Too long as a guard for the Dusksworns, and a tug of a memory to shielding those who were injured staying by their sides even as foes fled, their protection more important than the bloodlust that drew her often these days. Blowing a hard breath through her nose she turned partially facing the bear, but not losing site of the doorway.

“Greetings, I am Chayce Evensong.” Unsure of the bear would understand her, but wanting to show she was neither afraid, nor unaware, of the beast’s nature.

The bear shifted in a silver swirl of smoke, revealing a masculine kaldorei sprawled across the floor, a hand covering a wound in his stomach and gashes covering his arms and face. In his natural form he looked much worse for wear, his hair and beard grown out in a matted tangle, his nails unsightly claws from an extended time in the world of dreams. He panted heavily, his eyes rolling back before he managed to focus on the woman speaking. Sickly violet vines poured from her mouth and her eyes burned red, her voice twisting, contorting - no, that wasn’t right, that wasn’t real. She’d saved him from the demons. He had to focus.

“Lady Evensong,” he rasped, his voice a harsh whisper from long disuse. “Are we Dreaming?”

The man whispered an incantation under his breath, calling on the power of the earth to help lessen the severity of his wounds. His healing magic had never been particularly strong, especially now, exhausted and bewildered, unsure if he was hallucinating or lucid.

“No Emerald Dream I am afraid, we need to clear out of here before they come back.” Chayce looked at him, then the elves still sleeping, “How did you wake?” Moving to kneel near him she handed him a healing potion, “A good meal would do you better but afraid we do not have the time.”

He was awake. Awake, awake, awake, he feverishly reminded himself as the floor pulsed beneath his vision. He gratefully accepted the potion, taking a cautious sniff of it before quaffing it. Instantly the cooling relief washed over him and he groaned, moving his bloodied hand away from his side.

“I … do not know,” he admitted with a slight shake of his head, his gaze following Chayce’s to the slumbering elves. Were they tainted? Had they perished in the skirmish? He couldn’t trust his own two eyes. “They’re alive?”

Chayce walked to them, a tingle in the back of her head told her that the dreamers breathe more slowly, Do not look for breath, just touch them, it is all right, you will not get in trouble this time. Kneeling next to one of the sleepers, her brow furrowed under her helm. Reaching out slowly, as if she expected to get hit, her hand laid on a shoulder, feeling the warmth of the skin.

“Sleeping still, who knows what is happening within, but I think you saved them.” Her head turned back to look at the druid next to her. “We need to get all of you out, let me call in help.”

The druid exhaled heavily with relief. They would be all right.

“Cenarius be praised. Thanks to you, my lady … I think I can carry them on my back, if needed,” the druid said, slowly rising to his feet. His body felt so thin and weak now that the adrenaline was ebbing.

“I can take a couple, we will save them, and get you help,” Chayce said watching him, “Are you sure you can manage?” She took off her helm, the starburst scar marring her face from her jaw to her temple and up into her hairline. “I would say one at a time but the faster we clear the area, the better.”

The man’s eyes traced over the revealed scar, that confused look crossing his face again. A black and red cobweb of Nightmare crisscrossing her face--

He rubbed his face with a hand and conjured up his most charming smile. It mostly looked tired.

“Your potion will surely see me through,” he insisted, closing his eyes as the spirit of the bear flowed through him. In this form he felt more grounded in reality, somehow, if only by inches, and he carefully set to work coaxing as many of the sleeping druids onto his back as he could reasonably manage. Lady Evensong had risked much to come here, he realized, and he didn’t want to ask too much more of her.

Chayce, being the caretaker she was, watched him carefully, then she took one of the sleepers on her shoulders. There were still demons along their path and she needed to be able to move. Picking up her helm, slipping it back over her head, then taking her sword in one hand. A gentle touch to the sleeping druid on her shoulder caused another of those lingering memories to beat at the door of her mind.

“Are you ready, druid?” she asked softly. Her normal twitches of her small stretches to ensure she was in form to fight were slowed with the body she was carrying.

The bear nodded and it dawned on him that he’d forgotten to mention his name. When they were safe, he promised himself. For now it was best to focus on the task at hand. He didn’t want to put the woman in further danger, but he did allow her to go first. He would certainly be slower with the added encumbrance of his sleeping brethren.

The warrior was in no way stealthy and she wished she was, especially now. “We will be careful, but if you need to stop and rest let me know.”

Looking back at him, through the helm, “Your friends are still in your hands, do not tough this out and collapse and die on me.” The tip of her head was fierce, but a bright smile could be seen in the shadows of the darkened metal.

Chayce’s abruptness struck the druid and he blinked before bowing his head in a nod again. She spoke the truth and he couldn’t abide the thought of failure after their initial victory. So long as they made it to the barrow’s mouth, as optimistic as that thought was, he figured they would be home free.
Topics: nightmare, druids
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