Ald awoke to a dull throb in the back of his head. He tried to open his eyes, but the bright lights surrounding him stabbed into his pupils. He shut them quickly.
“I think he’s waking up,” said a feminine voice somewhere to Ald’s right. “Fuzzy, you better get in here so Ald can hit you like a Mack Siege Engine.”
Ald smiled and tried to speak, but only a hoarse whisper escaped his throat.
“I got you,” said the voice again, and a cup of cool liquid touched his lips. After several long sips, Ald found he could speak again. “I’d know that phrase anywhere, Tess.”
He opened his eyes again, and the lights weren’t nearly as bad. He was able to focus his vision, and sure enough, Tess was sitting by the side of the makeshift cot he found himself in. The draenei hunter was a sight for sore eyes. Literally.
Tess had disappeared from the team for a bit. Though Ald was not one to pry into someone’s personal matters, he assumed that either she had been needed elsewhere or that she had seen enough horrors throughout the years to earn herself a rest. Either way, he felt a twinge of guilt in not having reached out to see how she was. No matter how busy he became or how many foreign lands the group found themselves, these were his friends. He should have done more.
“It’s about time you woke up,” she said, a smile across her lips at his recognition. “We were starting to get worried. Flip over.”
Ald did as she asked, facing the canvas of a large tent. He knew this tent. They were in Icecrown alright. Just not anywhere near the Citadel where the former Lich King ruled. He felt a cool, wet rag graze the back of his head, parting his black and white fur. He winced as Tess pressed a little harder than his nervous system deemed acceptable.
“Oh, wow,” she said. “Yeah, he got you good. And while I can’t wait to see you tan his hide, I need to fly off to go grab some Lichbloom. It’ll reduce the swelling.” Ald turned back to face her. She packed a small knapsack full of vials and herbalist equipment, gave him a quick smile and wave, and pulled back the white curtain that separated the makeshift hospital from the rest of the enormous tent. On the other side stood Fuzzy, looking at his feet as if he had grown a sixth toe. Tess gave him a reproving look and left, leaving Ald and Fuzzy by themselves.
After a few awkward seconds, Ald rolled his eyes. “You might as well come in, Fuzzy,” he said.
Fuzzy gave a muted shrug. He nodded his head, entered the small area around Ald’s cot, and closed the curtain behind him. He settled down on a small stool next to the cot and looked up into Ald’s eyes for the first time.
“You know she was right, Ald. You would have stayed there and fought, but there are other moving parts here. I’m not saying I agree with the way things happened, but I am happy we’re here.” Fuzzy quickly looked away.
Ald remembered the first time he had met the worgen hunter in Boralus. At the time, Ald hadn’t even known he was a worgen. But that didn’t matter. What did matter was that Fuzzy was fiercely loyal and a good companion to have by his side. Though, sometimes Ald wondered why he let Fuzzy and Keb get away with murder. Figuratively, of course.
“Look, I’m not going to sit here and apologize,” Fuzzy said, speaking more quickly. “I did what I had to do, and if I was given the chance to do it again -”
Ald raised one paw to stop the worgen from speaking. “Fuzzy, all I ask is that next time…can you find a way to do it without giving me a major head wound?”
A sheepish grin spread across the worgen’s face.
“Now, if memory serves – given that mine wasn’t addled by blunt force trauma – shouldn’t we be in Icecrown Citadel? What in the world are we doing at the Argent Tournament? Last I checked, we were headed to the Lich King.” Ald shook his head. “Former Lich King, I mean.”
Fuzzy’s smile evaporated. He looked at that sixth toe again. “Well, the simplest explanation is that things didn’t go according to plan.” He looked up, saw Ald’s raised eyebrow, and continued. “We, meaning me and the unconscious you, entered the portal and found ourselves in Crystalsong Forest. We hitched a flight to Icecrown Citadel, but every single time we got close, we were attacked. By those ice dragon things. You know, like the one that attacked your garrison. We can’t get there. So, I made a landing here where we had allies. And I was shocked to find that Tess was here.”
Ald nodded. “Luckily, she knows a thing or two about healing. How long have I been out?”
“I guess a few hours. Well, maybe more than a few. Like half a day or so.”
Ald grunted and sat up. His shirt was removed, but he luckily still had his pants on. That would have been embarrassing. “What is Tess doing here exactly?”
“I don’t know. Judging by the way everyone here treats her, she’s been here for a while. Maybe ever since she took her sabbatical.”
Ald nodded. “Any news on the others? The ones who were in Stormwind?”
Fuzzy frowned. “Not quite. I sent messages to everyone I could. Told them to meet us here. I’ve heard back from several. But not anyone who was in Stormwind. Keb, Anth, Cald, and Kobi are MIA.”
That was bad news. Missing in action during a zombie outbreak. Could things be worse?
“It gets worse,” Fuzzy added. “Icecrown is in turmoil. The Lich King can’t do anything, and the undead are wreaking havoc even here at the tournament grounds. Everyone is out there trying to keep the peace, but it doesn’t look good. We may have to leave if these waves of attacks don’t stop.”
Ald took a moment to listen to his surroundings. This tent should have been filled with laughter, heated discussion, and general chatter. It was silent. The only sound he could hear was the chilling wind as it hammered the side of the tent.
“None of this makes sense, Fuzzy.” Ald shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “The loss of control over the undead should have made them unruly, sure. But these are targeted attacks. They seem organized. My garrison, Stormwind, the area around the Citadel. Something doesn’t add up. How can a horde of mindless zombies be so…effective? And just when the King has been kidnapped as well.”
“It’s not just Anduin, Ald. Reports from Boralus say that Jaina is gone. And you know how Fen keeps track of Horde movements for HDH? The response I got from him this afternoon says that a few Horde leaders are gone, too. If it really is Sylvanas who is doing this, like Greymane thinks, she has dealt a major blow to Azeroth amid all these invasions.”
Ald stood from the bed, only wincing once from the painful knot on the back of his head. Fuzzy must have taken that as the end of their conversation since he quietly stepped outside the curtain. Using a bowl of water on the stand next to his cot, Ald washed his face and hands using the same rag Tess had used. He found his leather chest armor on the floor at the end of his bed and strapped it across his body. He picked up his bags from the floor, as well, and made sure everything was in place. His supplies were intact. He even still had the small vial Decebul had sold to him. He strapped the bag over his shoulder before exiting the sick bed and entering the main tent.
As suspected, it was empty. Candles remained lit. Plates and cups were still full of food and drink. These people had left in a hurry. The only other life in the tent were Fuzzy and Opie who appeared to have just arrived. Her face was covered in fear and uncertainty. Ald could understand that fear. Anth, her husband, was missing, and his last known location was in a city currently overrun with the undead. What would she tell her little one?
Why had Ald involved the team in this? If something happened to Anth, he would never forgive himself. The man had a family.
“Oh, Ald,” Opie said as he neared the two of them. “They say when it rains, it pours. But this is a hurricane.”
“I agree, Op. We’ll find him and bring him back safe and sound.”
“I don’t mean just that,” she said. “Nathanos Blightcaller has been located. He’s at his family home in the Eastern Plaguelands.”
“I just told her that it makes no sense,” Fuzzy added. “Why would a man on the run go back to the most obvious location possible? I think it’s a trap.”
Ald nodded.”It could be. Something’s not adding up here.”
Opie and Fuzzy exchanged looks. Ald noticed.
“Is there something else I should know?”
“It’s becoming hard to get here now,” Opie said. “The frost wyrms are -”
“That’s what they’re called! Frost wyrms!” Fuzzy interrupted.
Opie smacked him on the back of his head with her open palm. “Don’t interrupt me, Fuzzball.”
“Ow, Opie,” he whined. “You shouldn’t hit your friends in the -” He stopped in mid-sentence, gave Ald a sheepish smile, and gave a small gulp. “Um, nevermind.”
“Anyways,” Opie continued. “The frost wyrms are starting to block routes all over Icecrown. I barely made it here without my mount catching a serious case of frostbite!”
Ald nodded. There were too many variables here. The Alliance and Horde leaders being kidnapped was important, but it seemed like a situation that needed to be put on the back burner for a moment. The invasions were too organized. And unfortunately, the Lich King was useless since no one could get to the Citadel. They would have to stop the undead themselves. And that could only be done with everyone available.
“Fuzzy, send word to the team. We’ll need about half here holding off the undead at the Argent Tournament grounds. The rest…well, we are going to mount a rescue mission. We’ll need everyone if we’re going to solve this little mystery.”
“That makes sense,” Fuzzy said. “But who goes on the rescue mission, and who stays here?”
“Oh, crud,” Ald said. Cald usually separated people into groups. “Use your judgement, with one exception. I want someone in particular to meet us in Stormwind.” He told Fuzzy who. “Let me know when we’re ready to go. I need to check on the situation here. Opie, mind helping him?”
She nodded, and the two of them went to a small table at the back of the tent. Ald checked his gear was in place and left the large tent. The winds truly were chilling. They whipped across his face and body. Any exposed body parts were immediately covered in snow, ice, or frost. It stung his eyes, and he slowly made his way to a nearby bonfire where he felt the warmth imbue him.
Tess landed her mount a few feet away.
“I don’t know if I’d recommend walking around just yet,” she said, rummaging in her bag to retrieve the herbs she had run out for.
“Then, you’re going to really recommend against what I’m about to do.” He told her.
“Ald, that’s just stupid. You’ll be overrun in minutes. Seconds even.”
“Maybe we will. But I’m thinking we’ll be fine. I have a plan.”
“Famous last words,” she said, rolling her eyes. She grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him on the spot. Ald felt her rub a small amount of ointment on the back of his head, and immediately the pain ebbed away. Miracle stuff these herbalists can mix!
“Tess, I hate to ask this of you. But-”
“I’ll do it,” she said quickly. “Don’t even ask. Consider me a part of the Humpday Heroes again. What can I do?”
“Stay here and help those who arrive. We need to hold off the tournament grounds as a base of operations. You seem to know people here. Help them in any way.”
She nodded. “And how will you get back to Stormwind?”
Ald smiled. “Well, that’s part of my plan, isn’t it?”