At one time, the Shu’halo warrior would have had little trouble dispatching the two centaurs that loomed in the doorway of the kodo-hide tent. Had she not been heavy with child, she would have been able to twist around and block the incoming slice behind her after she had smashed her shield into the face of the stormcaller. But she had not been so fast and the sword raked down her back and sent her crashing to the ground. She had enough sense to bring her axe down on the stumbling stormcaller as they both fell, the caster dead before they even hit the dusty ground. The remaining centaur let out a roar of rage and stabbed his sword down through the warrior’s shoulder, pinning her down as she screamed out in pain and then suddenly went limp. Growling his satisfaction, the centaur whirled around to face his true prey, a small group of young Shu’halo huddled in terror in the corner of the tent. At the front of them stood a lanky black-furred Shu’halo that was older than the rest but still a child, blue eyes steadily meeting the centaur’s despite her shaking legs betraying her fear. However, the centaur had been too preoccupied with the pregnant warrior to notice that this young one had snatched up a gun from nearby. The first bullet pierced through his shoulder and sprayed the tent wall behind him dark with blood. Too late he reached for his sword as a dune-coloured mass of claws and teeth leapt onto his back and dug his fangs deep into his side. Twisting sideways to try and rid himself of the lion, the second bullet cut through his rear flank and he went down, swiftly being finished off by a powerful rake across the throat.
The black Shu’halo dropped the gun as if it were a glowing red coal and scrambled past the centaur corpses to the fallen warrior. She cried out with all her might for help as her hands fluttered around in an attempt to stem the bleeding. But the wounds were too long and deep and the sword was still impaled in the warrior’s body, blood bubbling up around its edges with each wheezed breath the adult Shu’halo took. The young one’s body trembled as she screamed out again for aid, praying and hoping with every drop of her essence that someone, anyone, would hear her.
Niqora watched the Lich King’s body clatter to the ground with feeling nothing really more than surprise and a sense of finality. The world around her seemed to fade to mere background noise as her clanmates cheered, ghosts of those fallen spoke, and the ice crackled into being around Bolvar on the throne. In this numbness she vaguely heard herself reassure everyone that she was all right and simply needed some time to herself, Blacky circling around her in agitation the entire time to drive the point home. Suddenly her clanmates were gone and the only living souls remaining on the platform were the hunter, her pet, and Tirion. Both humanoids were lost int their own thoughts and might as well have been on different planets for all they acknowledged each other’s presences.
The wind was still vilely cold this high up but its edge had since disappeared, leaving it feeling almost empty. Niqora’s hoofs felt heavy and rung sharply against the stone as she took the few steps towards the center of her platform. All that remained was the shattered blade of Frostmourne, Arthas’s body having been removed sometime when the Shu’halo had been trapped in her own world. Weariness overcame her and she fell to one knee before the sword, not even daring to touch it. Blacky slowly inched forward to her side, stretching her neck out to sniff the air around the sword tentatively and then pull herself back with a whimper. Niqora’s hand automatically reached out to soothingly stroke the wolf’s fur. Frostmourne shone dully as her own memories of her friends and family slain by the Lich King spilled forth unbiddingly…and it was then that the tears came.
The warrior had lived only long enough to bear her child, a healthy little boy with the largest brown eyes. Niqora had overheard her mother talking with another druid later, telling her how the warrior had used all her strength and will to keep herself alive so her child could survive. Upon seeing and hearing the crying baby, she had let herself go knowing she had accomplished her final task, falling still and quiet with a gentle smile on her face.
It was many moons later that Niqora sat with her father before a small fire that snapped in response to the silence of the night. Cain had offered to watch the baby that night and after feeding it some zhera milk, it was now snoring softly in a bundle next to another baby, Niqora’s new sister Anuniaq. Niqora, unable to sleep from nightmares involving the flash of centaur blades, was watching the fire even more quietly, hugging her long legs to her chest.
“Each death diminishes us, Niqo,” her father’s deep voice said softly and smoothly as not to wake the babies. They had been sitting in silence so long that him speaking had surprised Niqora and she whipped her head around to look at him. It was in his eyes that saw sympathy and worry for her and she quickly lowered her gaze.
“That is why we can not live forever, why it is unnatural to,” he continued. “We must kill to eat, we must kill to survive, and we cannot stop others around us from dying as well. Death ages us. It makes our bones weary and our minds addled. But where there is death, there is also life. The beasts of the land feed on the plants and we in turn feed on them. And then one day, we shall grow old or be wounded and join with the Earth Mother, our bodies turning to earth and birthing new plants. The cycle then begins anew, and we can rest peacefully knowing that we will provide for our descendants.”
Niqora could feel his eyes follow her expression as she turned to watch the two sleeping babies. “So the more death we experience, the sooner we will die?” Her words surprised her with their weariness as soon as she spoke them.
She could sense Cain shake his head even though she could not see it. “The Shu’halo are long lived for a reason, my little Niqo, even with all the death we see.” He paused, the snap of burning wood the only sound to fill the gap. When he began to speak again, his voice was so soft, it was almost a whisper. “Honor your ancestors and friends since passed, keep them alive and happy in your memories. Make each kill as quick and as clean as possible, with respect for the life you have taken. Learn to forgive those who have wronged you, and learn to forgive yourself when you must slay to ensure your survival and the survival of your tribe. And then pass these words onto your children, and your children’s children when you are old and frail. It is in these ways that you will walk in the Grace of the Earth Mother. And while death may diminish our bodies still, her Grace will forever keep your spirit alive.”
Cain fell silent as he watched his eldest daughter simply stare at the two bundles beside them. The little boy suddenly yawned and squirmed a little before falling back into peaceful sleep again.
“His name Halruum, what does it mean?” she finally asked in a quiet voice.
Her father smiles softly and reached out to squeeze her shoulder gently. “His mother chose it herself. It means ‘life given’.”
Seeing Niqora blink quickly and hastily turn back to the fire with bright eyes, her father very carefully gathered the two sleeping bundles in his arms as not to wake them and carry them back to their tent. In the morning he would find his daughter sleeping peacefully before a dying fire, not a single nightmare haunting her dreams.
These many years later, her father’s words still echoed in Niqora’s head, just as they did now as she swiped her hand across her eyes. Memories of her husband, of other lives cut short at the hands of the Lich king flashed before her, and though they did hurt and weigh down upon her, she could now feel that the load was not as heavy. Only time would help soften the ache of the wounds now but there were other things to consider now. She could recall the dying words of Arthas, the last words of the ghosts, and the exchange between Tirion and Bolvar. She stood slowly without her eyes leaving the broken Frostmourne, though when she spoke, she was not speaking to it at all.
“I forgive you. May you walk now with the Earth Mother.” She closed her eyes and let her head fall a little lower as she whispered, “And I am sorry for what I had to do.”
It was in silence she ascended the stairs to the Lich King’s throne and stood uncontested before Bolvar seated upon it. Blacky tilted her head back and let forth a soulful howl, but Niqora had already said all the words she needed to.
Only the wind blew after that, and not even in response to what had been said. So the hunter and her companion simply left, never once looking back over the frozen platform.
It was so much warmer back in Mulgore that Niqora had to remove many of her fur layers from her armor and cram them into her packs. Blacky’s pink tongue lolled out the side of her mouth, partially from not being used to mild weather and partially from the rather pleasant mood she was in. Together they watched the windmills of Thunderbluff slowly turn in the lazy wind, merely the span of a small valley separating them from the structures. The hunter absentmindedly patted Brakk’s shoulder in thanks, her worg mount jostling a little under her happily.
Somewhere inside the Shu’halo city were Niqora’s mother, father, and younger sister, all of them keeping a watchful eye on her adopted son Tuyok. It was there that her family waited (our family she corrected herself as she glanced down at Blacky and Brakk), anxious for news of her clan’s raid into Icecrown Citadel. A sharp pain in the center of her chest reminded her that her husaband, Mysthowl, would not be there waiting with her and her hands involuntarily clenched Brakk’s reins. Blacky perked her ears towards the Shu’halo and whimpered softly, to which Niqora quietly murmured that she would be all right. She then realized that she truly believed she would be all right.
Keep them alive and happy in your memories. She knew she could never forget him, forget any of them, for as long as she lived. And she would never forget a warrior who had given so much to try and save a group of children not her own, and then give everything for one little baby. But she also knew she had ones who cared for her in Thunderbluff, in her clan, and standing with her at that very moment. Life and death were mere parts of a cycle, arms of a great turning windmill.
“We are home,” she said with a soft smile. “Let’s walk into it with Grace.”
Congratulations to Bloodriver for taking down the Lich King!
We all worked really hard on every fight in there, especially on the Lich King. It was tough sometimes but in the end, we did it! I am particularly thankful for those of you who helped us through the other bosses but couldn’t be there for the LK kill. Don’t worry, we’ll get him again for you guys too.