Toriah closed her eyes and let the conversation flow over her as she knelt before the throne in Grommash Hold. She willed herself to be quiet and still. Just another audience. No big deal.
Outside, the warm Durotar day had given way to cool dusk, with a breeze sweeping in from the sea. With only a handful of the Kor’kron elite in attendance, the chamber seemed much larger and more cavernous than the hunter remembered. The other advisors and dignitaries had already left for the evening, leaving behind shifting shadows and a coldness that persisted despite the roaring braziers in the room. A feeling of desolate loneliness crept in at the corners of her mind. She suddenly understood why the warchief had ordered them to return at nightfall. Toriah steeled herself against the negative thoughts, refusing to let herself become unnerved.
“What do you mean they just wanted to ‘talk?’,” Hellscream demanded. “Didn’t they suggest some sort of punishment? Hard labor, at least?”
“No, warchief,” Bloodbane said. “The Ranger-General even came to apologize to her and saw her off personally.”
Toriah noted her warden spoke with a hint of mystified longing in his voice. If their supreme leader noticed, he showed no indication of it.
“WHAT?! Spineless elves! I should have known they’d be too soft to see things done properly.”
Warchief Garrosh Hellscream shoved his muscular bulk away from his seat and paced the floor, his chest heaving with barely contained rage. Toriah was counting her breaths when he stopped directly in front of her.
“Get up, elf,” he said, his guttural voice low. “I won’t have it be said I carried out the Horde’s justice without looking the offender in the eyes.”
The elf rose from the floor to her full height, which was not impressive by itself; she barely came up to the warchief’s chest. She had chosen to wear her full battle raiment, however, as it befit a veteran member of the Horde and captain of the Farstriders. The heavy and ornate armor was cumbersome, at best. Toriah only wore pieces of it when she attended war summits or met with dignitaries. This occasion was one of only a handful of times that she wore the complete set. Not that it would save her if the Maghar orc decided to crush her with his enormous fists; she only hoped that her warlike appearance would satisfy some part of his bloodthirsty demeanor.
Toriah tightened her mailed fingers around the handle of her polearm as she lifted her chin to meet the warchief’s eyes. Even though Hellscream towered over the diminutive elf, she still managed to look down her nose at him. Creating confidence she didn’t necessarily feel was a skill she practiced often, especially while in the company of other races.
“You are condemned of crimes against the Horde, Toriah,” Hellscream said. “Under normal circumstances, you would have been executed already! But, because of your record and previous service, I’m willing to be… lenient.”
He paused. A slow smile spread across his brown feral face, revealing rows of gleaming fangs. The woman did not look away or waver. Next to her, Bloodbane’s body tensed in the sudden silence. Neither one of them dared to move or breathe.
“So, I’ll give you a choice,” Hellscream finally said. “You’re going to find your own way to make it up to the Horde. Contribute to the great Horde war machine, and I shall spare you. Give me an answer by midday tomorrow. Until then, get out of my sight.”
“Yes, warchief,” Toriah said.
She saluted and marched out of the chamber with long, even strides. Bloodbane followed closely on her heels after a hurried, clumsy gesture of respect to his warchief. He could not understand his leader’s logic, but he did not question it. Hellscream was strong and cunning, and chosen to be warchief by Thrall for a reason. He had faith in his warchief, even if his charge did not.
Lost in thought, he nearly plowed into the elf, who had stopped just outside of Grommash Hold. She was smiling in the Kalimdor twilight, looking out at the steady stream of traffic making its way through the Valley of Strength. A mix of races went about their business, oblivious to the pair.
Are all elves so strange? Bloodbane thought.
“What are you smiling for?” he asked, his voice properly gruff. “You should be thinking of ways to make yourself useful, not standing there grinning like an idiot. Hellscream’s eyes—”
“‘Are upon me,'” Toriah said, completing the phrase. “Yeah, yeah. I know. I feel quite compelled to carry out his wishes this very instant. Satisfied?”
Toriah smiled wider still and was infuriatingly calm as she leaned on her weapon. The orc flexed his large hands into fists. She should be grateful for a second chance instead of maintaining her disrespect. He expected her to scramble for ideas and stay up all night planning, yet she acted as if nothing was wrong in the world. They were on his ground now, and Bloodbane saw no reason to hold back.
“Listen, you smart-mouthed little—” he began, as he moved to grab the elf’s armored shoulder.
But Toriah was no longer there.
Bloodbane only caught a glimpse of her dark red cloak flowing by, a corner of the fabric caressing his face as it passed. Stumbling forward in his momentum, he wrenched his head around to look for Toriah. She stood behind him, hands clasped behind her back, though her smile was nowhere in sight now. It had been replaced by a grim mask that made her looks decades older. Despite her bulky armor, she’d managed to evade him in an instant. A light tap from the butt of her polearm made him topple to the dusty ground.
The orc scrambled to his feet and tried to make another grab at Toriah. She gracefully sidestepped his reach, letting him fall to the ground in another ruddy cloud.
“What are you trying to accomplish with this exercise, Sergeant?” she asked, her voice kept low and even.
Toriah’s tone was not lost on Bloodbane. He’d heard it from his commanders and captains— people accustomed to giving orders because they had proven themselves as worthy leaders on the battlefield. When he finally looked up, Krodan Bloodbane found himself staring into the luminous eyes of a fearsome soldier who had seen countless wars and conflicts. In her war raiment, he saw a captain who has led campaigns, both successful and lost. Her gaze held the silent grief of her people’s bloody history, full of missteps and mistakes, and the grief of friends lost in battle. The irreverence and flippant attitude she bore so readily were the only things keeping her from succumbing to the avalanche of despair that said she should— and would— fail.
“Despite what you may think of me,” Toriah finally said, extending a hand to the orc, “we needn’t be enemies.”
Bloodbane took the proffered hand and allowed her to hoist him from the ground. He fixed his companion with a look that was not entirely hostile.
“Why do you dislike the warchief so much?” he asked as he brushed the dirt from his tabard and clothes.
Toriah looked around before a wry smile quirked at the corners of her mouth. “I don’t think that’s something we should discuss while we remain in Orgrimmar,” she said. “Unless you’re that eager to see me crushed to a pulp by your fellow orcs.”
Much to his surprise, Bloodbane found himself smiling back at the irrepressible elf. “Even if they could catch you, I’d hate for someone to take that chance from me.” He paused, his craggy features settling back into a solemn mask as he sobered. “What are you going to tell the warchief tomorrow?”
“Not sure.” Toriah shrugged. “Something will present itself at some point. It always does. Right now, I’m hungry. I always have trouble thinking on an empty stomach.”
She started down the hill for the inn, leaving the orcish sergeant bewildered in her wake. While he’d begun to understand some of her motivations, he still couldn’t believe her apparent lack of concern. He trudged after his charge, mindful of his orders. Despite Hellscream’s adamant claim that war would restore glory to both the Horde and the orcs, Bloodbane now had difficulty seeing the elf as an enemy to those goals. He hoped whatever trick Toriah had up her sleeve was a good one.
The warchief was not one to change his mind easily.