An intense heat rolled over the shaman’s body as she exits the portal. Beads of sweat start to form as she moves along the blackened stone of the Fireland. Although the threat of the Fire Elementals had faded since the defeat of Ragnaros, the druids of Mount Hyjal kept their vigil of the molten front. Only a handful of druids could be seen patrolling around the base that had been established years ago. Vala walks towards Malfurion Reach, eyeing the mountain Furnace on the other side when a druid stopped her. The woman eyed the Draenei for a moment before asking. “What are you doing in the Molten Front?” Her tone wasn’t friendly but neither was it accusing. Vala takes out a mark, showing the druid the sign of her order.
“The Earthen Ring wants me to examine the Furnace, it should only take a couple of minutes and I’ll be out of your hair. “ Vala explains with a smile. The druidess frowns at her for a second but allows her to pass in the end. Walking quicker now to make up for lost time Vala ascends the slope, her hooves scraping against the hard stone until she makes it to the peak. Vala glances back to make sure she wasn’t followed before ducking into a small cave, well out of view from the Reach below. The cave was a part of a tunnel network which wormed its way down to the base of the Furnace. Vala followed the tunnel as instructed for a couple minute before she spotted an orange glow, radiating from behind a large bolder. Upon rounding the rock she found the source, a fire cat, sleeping with its head resting on its paw, the flames on the creatures back were smoldering like embers glowing brighter each time he inhaled. Vala sits and watches the creature for a couple minutes before gently tapping it on the nose. The feline opened its eyes and let out a long yawn, the flame flared back to life along his back, increasing the glow and the already hot temperatures. “Good morning Fireclaw.” Vala tells him with a grin on her face, “How was your catnap?”
Fireclaw rolls his eyes and lets out an annoyed growl. “Quiet, how long have you been watching me for?” He asks with narrowed eyes, “And did you bring what I asked for?” His muzzle flicks towards the pack she was carrying as he stood, arching his back into a stretch.
Vala slides the bag from her back; it hits the ground hard before the fire cat. “Of course, all the things on your shopping list. I also brought you this.” She unrolled a piece of parchment which contained a map on it of the firelands. It was crude and incomplete but showed a path north along the Smoking Highlands that would take Fireclaw to the Cinder Plains and into the grasp of the Incendiary Order. “Are you sure I shouldn’t come along, it might help if you had a member of the Earthen Ring on your side.” Vala asked looking with concern as Fireclaw slides his head through the premade straps of the bag, adjusting it on his back for a minute before responding.
Fireclaw scans over the map before replying to her. “I don’t want to spook the Incendiary Order. They’ll at least partly accept me as one of their own, but you’re an outsider. Besides if all goes well I’ll need you on the surface for the next phase. I’ll let you and the Elder know what they say as soon as I can.” Fireclaw assures her before turning and bounding down the tunnel before she can object.
Fireclaw moves as fast as the pack would allow him, darting through the tunnels as he followed the same path he did several years ago but with significantly less hostiles barring his path. That didn’t stop the fire druid from keeping his ears perked to every noise coming down the tunnel. Twice he found himself ducking into a crack in the tunnel wall when he heard a patrol stalking past. After an hour of descent Fireclaw finally makes it to the exit, looking over the smoking highlands the druid scans the horizon, trying to spot the keep from the rows of towering chimney like structures, averaging about 25 feet tall, they sort of resemble the shape of stalagmites, but instead of tapering to a point, they have cylindrical openings that continuously belch out the blackest of smoke. The smoke readily rises several hundred feet before dispersing into a hazy canopy. Fireclaw looks over the highlands and points his body north before returning to a run, unimpeded by the tunnels or patrols the feline charges between the towering chimneys, occasionally bounding over a fallen one or some rubble from a fight long ago.
It took several hours of on again, off again running before the druid finds himself in the deep along a great lake of magma, his eyes scan along the bubbling mass for a couple minutes before he turns right, moving along the lake as he tried to sniff out other being that might help him locate the path to the Cinder plains. The journey became more treacherous when Fireclaw found the magma lake to his left and a yawning abyss to his right. The Deep Chasm lay open to him as the fire druid was careful to stay as far from it as he could while navigating the thin path ahead of him. In the distance he could make out a flat expanse of land to the north of a range of mountains. Fireclaw made this his target and continued along the route.
As Fireclaw crests the Deep Chasm he makes his way along the top of a narrow passage between the lake and the overhang of what once was Ragnaros’s Reach. With a bit of skill he travels several kilometers along the wall of a ravine that is barely wide enough to march a molten behemoth through, while dodging fire elementals coming and going. Eventually the ravine begins to rise and widen. Just before this happens, Fireclaw encounters a solid wall of fire elementals that cover one side of the lake to the back overhang of the Ragnaros’s reach. Several molten giant paces back and forth. On either side of the wall are outpost towers that appear to have been recently rebuilt. A dwarven shaman stands at the base of one; an orc shaman stands at the base of the other. There is no way to pass unnoticed.
Fireclaw exams the towers as he approaches, moving at a normal pace as not to arouse to much suspicion from the two shamen. His eyes scan over them, trying to think if he had seen them somewhere before. Not being able to put names to faces the fire cat continues on.
As Fireclaw approaches the towers, the kilted dwarf, sporting a wild, red beard calls out, “What can I do fer ya?”
Fireclaw squints as he looks towards the dwarf. “I’m here on business with the Incendiary Order, can you point me in the direction where I might find them.” He asks, keeping an eye out for any other shamen who might be nearby.
Fireclaw observes no additional shaman from his vantage point. But by this time, the molten giants have ceased their march. They are now looking at Fireclaw from a distance and appear to be awaiting orders.
The orc shaman eyes Fireclaw suspiciously, no comprehension evident on her face to what he had just said. The dwarf, however, strokes his beard while studying Fireclaw. “Aye, I`ve heard o them. Are ye comin with an invitation?”
“I am, my benefactor spoke with one of them earlier to set up a meeting in their territory. She should be expecting me soon.” Fireclaw answer, keeping an eye on the giants in case they choose to attack or to capture him.
“The name’s Belg Firebrew.” The dwarf proudly thuds the chest on his brown tabard with his off hand, which depicts 10 grey stones that form a ring. “Perhaps ye can give me yer name and the name o’ the person to receive ye.”
Fireclaw, realizing he wasn't going to be able to move on until he appeased the dwarf, lifts his head. “My name is Fireclaw; I’m looking for Vixen of the Incendiary Order.”
Belg registers recognition and lets out a hearty laugh. “Fireclaw. My cousin’s was s’post to be waiten fer you a’ one o’ the burnouts on Hyjal.” Belg takes a few steps forward, weapon down, and holds his hand to the side of his mouth as if telling Fireclaw a secret. “Sed the foxy firecats were recruit’n another to their oon.”
At this point the orc at the other tower is no longer overly concerned and is now clearly listening in to glean as much elusive detail as she can. The molten giants are beginning to shift their weight from one foot to the other; the smaller elementals without feet seem to be doing the equivalent motion.
“Well I don’t know much about being recruited by them but I do have important business with them.” Fireclaw explains, stepping forward to pass. The dwarf looks at him as it to stop him before stepping out of the way and allowing Fireclaw to continue.
As Fireclaw passes through the path between the towers, the world suddenly opens up before him into an expansive valley the spreads to the horizon in 3 directions. At first glance, the plains appear to be a shallow lake of fire, with ever-burning flames rippling this way and that with the drafts. But upon closer observation, one sees that the plain is covered with glowing cinder-grass and cinder-blooms. Magma lashers and ember cactuses occasionally protrude but at no point do they dominate the landscape. As Fireclaw moves through the tall grass, not wanting to stick to any animal trails in case others were following them as well, he catches the scent of flame-does and territorial markings of other wild flame stalkers.
Fireclaw’s tail twitches as he passes small outcroppings and piles of rocks trigger memories of old Druid of the Flame camps from the days of the Molten Front. At one of his old kill spots, he got within a stone’s throw of another wandering flame stalker before realizing its presence. After an exchange of fangs and menacing roars, the two pass around each other and continue on each of their ways.
Several hours later, as Fireclaw nears the low point of the valley, he detects the marking of flame stalker that hints of frankincense. Fireclaw abandons his course and begins following the trail markings through a particularly high patch of cinder-grass until he finds an overhang. There is a stash of non-fire-elemental provisions in the overhang, and a paw-print of soot smudged over the rucksack.
Fireclaw looks around and sniffs the air for anyone else in the area and upon detecting no one he carefully looks through some of the supplies that had been brought to the Firelands. After examining the bags contents Fireclaw stays in the area figuring these items were left for the Incendiary Order.
Yet a few more hours pass when Fireclaw catches the live scent of a flame stalker mixed with frankincense and a few other scent signatures: 3 other flame stalkers, and the scent of flame-doe. This get closer and closer but then eventually stops while out of sight. The voice of Fox fills Fireclaw’s head. ‘State your identity.’
Fireclaw raises his head at the voice in his head. After looking around to make sure no one was behind or within attacking range he replies. “Fireclaw, I believe we may have met before your voice is familiar enough.”
A period of silence follows, likely just long enough for the inquirer to communicate to the others. Then the very familiar, deep smoky voice of Vixen fills Fireclaw’s head. ‘Fireclaw, when last we met, which creature contributed to the confusion that aided your escape?’
Fireclaw projects back to Fox instead of Vixen, “Spiders.”
‘Welcome, Fireclaw. We have been expecting you, though we also expected you to be with Hulfkyl Firebrew.’
Fireclaw rolls his eyes before replying. “I have my own ways into the Firelands. I prefer to keep to my own people before contracting to outside help. Now where are you all?” He projects back, looking around the area for any of the members.
‘We’re almost there.’
Four flame stalkers crest the gully ridge, each carrying in their maw a quarter of a flame doe that had been torn apart. Two of the stalkers are male, the other two female, though perhaps the one female appears more juvenile than the other three. They stop just short of a pounce’s pace away from Fireclaw and place down their portions of the flame doe. At first, just two of the flame stalkers transform, revealing the elves Fireclaw had met last time, only known as Fox and Vixen. The juvenile female and the other male remain in their feline forms. The four wait, apparently to see if Fireclaw will transform or not.
Fireclaw watches the four, ready to bolt the moment things got a little too hair. He keeps an eye out to see if anyone was sneaking around him while the four approached and set their burdens down. Fireclaw remains where he was, not making any move to change form or remove his own pack from his back. “Well you all have a wonderful set up here. It’s good to see you two again.” He lowers his muzzle towards Vixen and Fox. “Who are your friends?” He motions at the other two.
“It is a pity that you did not come with Hulfkyl: a neutral party would have been better for both of us,” Vixen muses. “Then you intend to keep your current form for our meeting?”
Fireclaw shrugs. “I’m comfortable, I have somethings from your friend, letters and the like if you could point me to your people so I can deliver them. “
Vixen exchanges glances with the other two males. “Very well.” She gestures to the female on her left. “I introduce you to Nel’lyn” Vixen then gestures to the male flamestalker, “And I have the pleasure of introducing you to Phoenix. Not all of ours are with us this day, but it is, in fact, Phoenix that your counterpart wishes you to speak to.”
The flame stalker introduced as Phoenix is clearly not as proficient with this form as the other three: even though the flame stalker looks more grizzled than the other three combined. (He is missing pieces of his ears and is marked up with many scars). But in spite of having seen many battles, his expressions are more akin to that of a flame crow (which can’t smile or frown) than of a lion or saber.
Phoenix looks to Fireclaw and cocks his head back and forth a couple of times before speaking. “Welcome, Fireclaw,” he growls. “Thank you for delivering messages for us to our loved ones.”
“I can take those off of you, if you want,” Vixen offers stepping forward. “Just on your - uh - saddlebags?”
Fireclaw takes a half step back from Vixen instinctively before relaxing his stance. “I’ll hold on to this for the time being, I’m carrying more than just letters. Elder Shadowclaw entrusted me with tool to help your people, should you agree to help.” Fireclaw looks at the assembled druids before looking over his shoulder again. “But before I continue maybe we should take this to a more secure and private place.” Fireclaw tells the one called Phoenix.
“This gully is about as sheltered as we will get, and it is where we stay tonight,” Phoenix continues to growl out his words. “We will move tomorrow. You may save your message for then, if you wish.”
Fireclaw nodded and lowered his front down, letting the bags slide gently to the ground; his paws stand next to the pack as if protecting it. “Very well if it cannot be helped. I can wait until then.” Fireclaw agreed before looking at the others as if waiting for them to act.
Fox and Vixen casually exchange glances and seem to agree on something. In a fluid motion, they start falling to their hands, but by the time they hand, they land on their feline, flaming paws. Vixen speaks through the vocal cords of this elemental form “Then will you share with us in our meal? We will need to work at tearing these apart a bit more.”
After the meal, the four decide to split the rest into watches, but decline to allow Fireclaw a watch, though he is welcome to rest with them.
When the equivalent of the day has passed, they get up and start moving to the north. The group spreads out and cantors through the cinder grass toward the scent of a herd of flame does. Only as they near a small herd do they slow down and begin to prowl. Fireclaw is sent to circumvent the herd from the other side with Fox and Vixen while Phoenix and the juvenile come at the herd from the direction they came. In a coordinated effort that can only be accomplished through long distance telepathy, the group successfully takes down a flame-doe and flame-fawn on the first advance. After tearing apart and consuming most of the doe, everyone takes a share of the carcasses and begins to head east.
About 2 hours later Fox appears to take the lead in following a scent trail. Fireclaw, at first, does not recognize what scent Fox is following, until realizing that it is not a conventional odor trail. As Fox’s whiskers hover above black patches in the cinder grass, occasionally a portion glows like coal in the shape of a leaf. Finally Fox arrives next to an ancient cinder cactus. Near it is a small fissure - possibly suitable for a fox den. Fox projects to Fireclaw, ‘This is it. It is a bit of squeeze, but you will find it roomier once inside.’
Fox then squeezes through the opening as only cats can do and disappears. The juvenile follows. Vixen indicates that Fireclaw goes next.
Fireclaw looks at the hole unimpressed but followed their lead. He pushed himself through the crack in the ground after the younger female and dropping into the cavern, almost landing on the previous fire cat in his haste.
The small fissure in fact gives way to a relatively roomy, underground cavern. Probably a major air bubble was trapped in the land as it originally cooled. The fact that it has no light of its own is not really a problem since all 5 members entering are glowing. In the back of the cavern lies a sack with some undefined articles inside.
“Welcome to our lair for tonight, Fireclaw,” growls Phoenix. “We will rest here. Do you feel more comfortable conducting our meeting here?”
Fireclaw took a look around the cavern for a moment, the flames of the five felines dancing along the walls revealing nothing that stood out to him right then. He turns to look at the others, sliding the pack off his back again. “Cozy, it will work though.” He agreed. “I suppose I should cut right to the chase. Elder Shadowclaw wishes to recruit your people in his fight against the Nightmare. He finds fire to be an effective tool but his own creations can cause too much destruction to the surrounding area preventing them from being considered a long term solution.” Fireclaw explain watching Phoenix carefully. “There also in the problem of infection of other druids with the corruption. However these current forms prove to prevent those traditional methods of corruption leaving your people in a unique position when it comes to the Nightmare.”
As Fireclaw speaks, Phoenix studies him with the same near-emotionless demeanor he has since their first meeting, sitting far too upright to be a wild flame stalker. The other three are sitting upright as well, but they at least are emitting tells such as ear twitching and tail flicking. Toward the end of the explanation, the juvenile female licks her chops once. There is a prolonged silence after Fireclaw finishes.
“Surely as effective as frost mages against a firehawk matriarch,” Phoenix seems to agree.
“Though we are not as immune to the madness that the nightmare poses as we are to fel corruption,” Phoenix continues matter-of-factly. “The one who began the druids of the flame convinced many of us that fire could purge madness, not realizing that he had already succumbed to madness himself.
“Nevertheless, it is a proposition of tactical shrewdness - concerning defense of the dream.” Phoenix blinks at Fireclaw. “But therein lays one of the challenges. It seems that every realm is under threat. Our order is devoted to protect Azeroth by maintaining balance in the Firelands. Smolderon was not our first choice of Firelords but since Crematius became inert he is our next viable candidate. Certainly the involvement of the Earthen Ring has granted major strides in the securing of Smolderon’s victory; I would still consider the situation delicate, at best. What precious few members could we spare to another front is an important question of world defence.”
Phoenix pauses and watches how Fireclaw responds to the laying out of this predicament.
Fireclaw listens to the leader’s explanation with a neutral expression. He glanced at the others for a moment, partly to check is they were all still there, before nodding towards Phoenix. “I understand your predicament but the Firelands seem calm enough now and the Nightmare poses a greater threat. It converts our greatest fighters, Ysera and Cenarius for example, and twists them into its slaves. If we wait too long it will only grow stronger and stronger before it cannot be stopped,” Fireclaw implores them, perhaps with more emotion than he intended.
Phoenix blinks rapidly several times, almost as if dismissing tears. Both Vixen and Fox break gaze with Fireclaw and stare at the ground. The juvenile is shifting her weight, agitated, before she stands up and stretches, but the agitation is not dissipated from her demeanor.
After a moment he gathers himself. “We wouldn’t need a lot; too many might draw the attention of the others within the Circle which could end poorly.” Fireclaw explained. “Elder Shadowclaw understands you and your people might be hesitant but he wants to assure you he’ll do everything in his power to keep those that help us safe.” Fireclaw concludes, looking between the four at their reactions.
As Fireclaw speaks the 3 named Firecats resume their gaze at Fireclaw. The most notable change from the beginning of the conversation is that Phoenix continues to have episodes of rapid blinks. The juvenile just can’t sit still and is cat-fidgeting.
“Oh and he’s also willing to make a deal of some sort.”
Vixen exchanges glances at Phoenix, who breaks eye contact with Fireclaw to meet hers. After some meaningful pause, Phoenix looks back to Fireclaw. With a low growling “hmmmmm”, Phoenix asks, “What sort of deal are we talking about?”
I like this blue but can we consider purple :^)