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April 11, 2011 / Bika

The Right of All Horde II

Part two of a guest series written by Verdus, following his investigation of Libby’s murder.
* * *
It took well over an hour for Verdus to ride from Ghost Walker Post to the location that the brave had given him, despite the relatively short distance between them. Most of the region was lifeless wasteland, a vast expanse of gray dust and drying bones. Pockets of habitation were few, since the land had precious little in the way of resources to offer the living, and even those areas were typically difficult to navigate between. The closest thing that the place had to roads were well-marked animal trails, and the druid’s destination was considerably off all of those beaten paths. Only his motorcycle’s over-engineered suspension and the light amplification functions of his goggles allowed him to complete the trip that night at all. Without them Verdus would have had to camp until morning, which would have been the smart move regardless, but he didn’t want to spend one second longer than necessary in that forsaken place.

When he finally arrived at the end of his bumping, jostling journey, the site wasn’t exactly what he expected. While Verdus wasn’t quite sure what that expectation had been, it certainly wasn’t the tiny, deserted settlement before him. A small collection of tents and lean-tos situated in a cleft at the base of the mountains bordering Mulgore, it was clear that the settlement hadn’t been inhabited for some time. The makeshift shelters were broken and toppled, their wood and cloth frames rapidly being reclaimed by the sands with nobody to keep them maintained. Having parked, locked and concealed his motorcycle some distance away from the ruins, Verdus found himself stepping between tattered bedrolls, crumpled shelters and the cracked fragments of primitive ceramic food bowls. Despite the camp’s obvious state of abandonment and neglect, something about the site bothered him. Perhaps it was simply in his head, the manifestation of fears about what he would find, but the quiet and stillness of the place bordered on unnatural, like he was walking through a mocked sculpture rather than a real place.

Looking around, Verdus tried to remember the directions that the Ghost Walker Post brave had given to him. A small concealed foot path at the back right of the camp, he had been told, leading up into the hills behind it. Carefully stepping through the detritus, Verdus followed the directions as best he could. The poor lighting made it difficult to find appropriate footing amid the rough terrain and the broken fragments, slowing his progress. He could have conjured any number of light sources, be they electrical lamps, magical wisps, or even a basic torch, but he didn’t want to advertise his presence or position in the camp any more than he already had. There was always the chance that whoever or whatever had killed Libby was still here, however unlikely it seemed, or perhaps some new threat altogether. So he continued to step carefully through the dark, with the dim gray-scale image rendered by his light amplifying goggles his only guide. While it certainly didn’t help relieve the foreboding aura of the place, it did help him find the path that he searched for relatively quickly.

Following the trail up, around, and back across the contours of the hill, Verdus found himself on a ridge overlooking the makeshift settlement below. As he crested the top of the path, multiple features of the ledge made attempts to grab his attention simultaneously. The first was a realization of something that had been subconsciously bothering him before he even reached the top of the path: the campsite wasn’t entirely lifeless. While he hadn’t seen it at first due to the loss of color from his goggles and a simple lack of expectation, the texture of the ground beneath his hooves was different here. Rather than ashen dirt, the ground was covered in some kind of fibrous plant life, as much moss as it was grass. Chastising himself for not sensing it earlier, Verdus reached out with his connection to the Earthmother. It was something that he typically kept closed off in these barren lands, so as not to have to endure the painful void of life that inevitably permeated the region, but here he could feel something. There was life on that ridge, weak and struggling in the harsh and unforgiving environment, but there. But there was corruption on the ridge as well, a seeping taint trying to subsume that spark of life before it could bloom into its own. The second feature which caught his eye was far less subtle. At the center of the ridge was situated an altar, a drab stone block that seemed to radiate foul magic. It was mostly likely the source of the corruption working to overtake the struggling plant life here. Verdus had to fight back the urge to smash the thing, reminding himself that he was here to find information; cleansing the area would have to wait until he’d learned all that he could.

Just a few paces to the west of the altar, near the lip of the ridge and overlooking the campsite below, was the last and most important feature to be found: a pair of standing stones. By themselves, they would have been unusual but ultimately mundane, nothing more than a pair of decorative rocks. It was what they served as a landmark for that made them important enough for the brave from Ghost Walker Post to mention, and the reason that Verdus shivered despite himself upon seeing them. Upon stepping closer, the druid could clearly see the ritual circle etched into the dirt between them, what he had simultaneously sought here and yet dreaded to find. The complex pattern of runes and sigils had kept a crisp edge despite all the time that had passed since it was used, as if the dust itself feared to come into contact with it, and he could feel, rather than see, the faint sickly purple glow that still emanated from it. A source of corruption akin to the nearby altar, it may have lacked its sibling’s age and history of use but made up for it in simple newness. Looking down at the fel device, the emotional reality finally caught up with the logical one, hitting him like a charging ogre. Rainsinger Libby had been tortured and murdered on this very spot.

It took Verdus several minutes to recover from the episode of retching that followed. It took several more to again fight back the urge to immediately raze the place. The need to call upon the full fury of the Earthmother and blast the foul site from the surface of the Azeroth was almost overpowering. Slowly, he came back to his senses, reminding himself that he needed answers first, if not for himself then for Fenniel. Cleansing could always come after, he thought with a scowl. Calming his thoughts once more, Verdus slowly lowered himself into an almost meditative state. The details and minutiae here would be critical to finding the answers that he needed, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to focus on the metaphorical trees if he remained distracted by the horrors of the forest.

With his mind clear again, Verdus began his search.

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