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I remember that it was a rather dreary, rainy day when I arrived once more in the rebuilt kingdom.  I had come to the southern human city of Stormwind on a self-imposed break of sorts from fighting the Scourge in the Plaguelands when I saw the note tacked to the doorway of the Gilded Rose Inn.

Excitement! Adventure! Glory!

“Baron Hector Krestan is seeking three to five companions for an expedition into the charred lands north of Lakeshire.  Applicants are expected to be well versed in combat and able to subsist on meager provisions for days or weeks.  Apply at the Stormwind Keep.”

That was all the advertisement said.  Miss Allison, the innkeeper, smiled her sweet smile and told me she’d just received the note a couple hours earlier.  I knew the fight in the north was an important one, but the Argent Dawn couldn’t possibly miss me too much while I was away.  I’m not much of a bootlicker, but I knew the value of serving the nobility of Stormwind, and thought I could do some good.  Applications for the Baron’s companion party began the next day, so I went to the vault, where I kept my dress armor, and began to prepare to impress.

Smithing had always been my strong suit, so I had crafted my own suit of dress plate.  I’d traded a goblin’s fortune in thorium to a dwarf in Tanaris for the plans, but setting out my plate in front of me on my bed in the inn, I knew that it had been worth it.  Silvery shining breastplate and leggings; blue boots, pauldrons, and helm.  I set to work carefully polishing them, and, admittedly, admiring my handiwork a bit.  By the time morning came around, I’d gotten a good night’s sleep, donned my armor, and was ready to go. I strapped my sheath and shield across my back and carefully made my way down the stairs of the inn. Miss Allison smiled and blushed at me as I passed, which put me in an even better mood for the upcoming day. I thought that I just might have a chance as I walked through the canals.

The day was much brighter and clearer than the one before. I marveled at the structure of Stormwind Keep that shone in the sunlight as I approached. I am a loyal son of Stromgarde, whose lands have seen grander days, but I am brother to all the human nations, save the traitors of Alterac, and appreciate the strength and honor of the southernmost kingdom of humanity.  The Keep impresses me whenever I see its spires stretching out above the Old Town, loyal guards nearly motionless at the entrance that overlooked the city’s canals. The grandeur continued within as arches supported the distant ceilings above my head, polished stone making up the floor and walls of the hallways. I was walking up the main corridor, admiring this construction, when a man in robes strode out of another hallway and right into my path, and even though he was rather thin, with no heavy armor, the look he shot me stopped me in my tracks. He was average height, with long gray hair, a short gray beard, and a stern face. His robes were purple, and every article of clothing he wore was adorned with skulls. A demon, some red thing with no eyes and thick antennae, followed him, as did a female gnome.  The gnome was clad in leather and wore ornately engineered goggles.  A small mechanical squirrel, in turn, followed at her heels.

As I said, he stared at me, looking like he expected me to apologize, though he was the one that cut me off.  After a moment, he continued walking, talking to the gnome, who did not appear to be listening. “With human nobles like this Krestan guy, it usually pays to show him that you’re not afraid of him, because sadly enough, usually they haven’t seen it before.” The gnome nodded obliviously and continued tinkering with something too small for me to see.  The demon sniffed something, then continued trailing like a happy puppy.  The squirrel skittered along in a distinctly mechanical fashion.

Upon hearing the Baron’s name, I followed the little party out of the main corridor of the keep into a side hallway. We emerged into a cavernous room full of adventurers like ourselves.  The warlock and his entourage disappeared into the crowd, and I was left standing, nearly blinded by the light reflecting off countless surfaces of finely polished armor.  It seemed like every staff was glowing, every blade ablaze with some enchantment.  My heart sank as I looked down at my own suddenly pitiful equipment and sighed. I had cared for my shield, but various servants of the Lich King had dented it over time.  My sword had been enchanted by a dwarven female with, looking back, more skill selling enchantments than actually enchanting.

Pulling myself out of my malaise, I re-sheathed my blade across my back and began to make my way through the crowd.  I had to try to force my way between two men in spiky plate, then around an elven priestess who looked as if she’d scream if my armor brushed her robes. My travel continued like this for a while, until I broke through the crowd and saw a line of people leading to a table. At the table sat a tall man with dark skin and medium length black hair. He was dressed in red Alliance military garb with spiky constructions on his mantle and a staff on his back that appeared to be aflame. The warlock and gnome I had entered with were leaving. Every applicant before me greeted the man, bowing, professing respect, acting like a servant.  Elves, men, dwarves and gnomes passed this way, each looking and sounding much more impressive than myself.

As each mercenary before me spoke with the Baron and left to work elsewhere, or to chat with the crowd at the back of the room, I realized that I had nothing to offer this man that someone else could not fulfill with stronger armor and more experience.  At that moment, the warlock’s words washed back into my mind. Act like you’re not afraid of him.  With nothing, seemingly, to lose, I placed my helm upon my head and drew my sword and shield. Two applicants remained ahead of me in line, and I examined my equipment carefully.  Finally, the assassin in front of me left, and I walked forward to face Baron Hector Krestan.  He stared at me, and I stared back at him, dropping my sword point between two stones in the floor and leaning on it slightly, shield held at my side.

“Name, warrior?” He asked, somewhat sternly but pleasantly.

I gave him first, middle and last. “Currently I work for the Argent Dawn in the north, where the soldiers of Stormwind seem scared to tread.” Here he arched a brow. “I also have experience fighting to the west in Kalimdor, serving against the centaur and demons in Desolace.”

He stared at me again.

I stared back at him and tried to will myself taller.

He seemed to smile slightly. “Yes. Well, thank you for your interest in this expedition.” He turned to an attendant, who made a few scratches on a scroll, then motioned me over. I sheathed my sword once more, attempting to somehow display ego while doing so, and stepped to the side as a bulky dwarven paladin took my place in front of the Baron.  The attendant looked up at me with a slight sneer as he took some contact information from me.  He then spoke up. “As you know, the number of applicants accepted will be quite small. Please return in one week’s time at noon to find out who will be accompanying the Baron. Good day.”  Apparently, he thought that my chances were about zero.

I stared at him through my helm a moment before turning to walk away, and he seemed to press himself back into his chair, which made me feel a little better.  I parted the crowd more easily on my way out, but once I left the keep, something odd occurred that killed my mood once more.  A young boy holding a doll literally ran into me, bouncing off my leg and falling onto his behind. Another girl that looked much like him, I’m assuming his sister, was chasing him, crying, and stopped next to her brother when she saw me. Caught up in my show of ego, I stared daggers down at the boy, whose lip quivered. He thrust the doll back into his sister’s hands and took off rapidly in the direction from which he came. The girl looked at me with unmistakable fear in her eyes at my appearance behind my helm and thick armor. Realizing how I had scared these children with my body attitude, I quickly tried to remove my helm and smile down at her, but the second my hand left my side she took off after her brother. I sighed and began to walk back toward the inn.

A week passed. I busied myself with various training regimens in Stormwind, but did manage to spend a little time relaxing as I’d promised myself I would do.  A week was the planned length of my vacation, so it was a good bit of luck that I wasn’t expected back at Light’s Hope Chapel before I’d receive word from the Baron. I don’t know if I thought I really had a chance of being taken along, or if I was just musing on the potential. I resolved to go to the announcement of the expedition, though, if just to see who did make the cut.  When the sun peeked its way through the clouds that morning, I rose and went for a swim in Elwynn, then returned, donning my silver and blue armor once more and making my way to the Keep.

I arrived to see much the same crowd talking amongst themselves.  I attempted to work my way into the group and find some conversation, but had no luck, my simple appearance drawing sneers once more. I donned my helm, this time to hide within it.  I spied the warlock and gnome I had encountered on my last visit. The gnome was speaking excitedly about something to a Knight of the Silver Hand, and the warlock was arguing loudly with a tall teal druid that looked both bored and annoyed by the demonologist’s presence.

A few minutes after noon, Baron Krestan and his weasel-looking attendant emerged into the room. The crowds parted for them, and they took their place at the back of the room. The baron raised his hands, and the conversations in the room slowly ceased. He smiled at everyone, and then began to speak.

“Mercenaries, servants of Elune and the Light, heroes of the Alliance. I welcome all of you once again to the hallowed halls of Stormwind Keep.  I have done much thinking over the last week, and while I wish I could bring all of you, the Kingdom budgets simply won’t allow it.” A few people laughed quietly. “That said, I have made my decision, and now know which four of you will be accompanying me on my expedition into the Burning Steppes.  I would like to present to you, in no particular order, my companions.” Applause broke out.

He smiled and raised his arms once more. “First, an accomplished servant of the teachings of Cenarius, and a powerful mender of wounds: Kalendrian Boughwhisper!”

Applause broke out once more. The teal elf I had noticed before waved his hand to be seen, smirked at the warlock, who grumbled childishly, and stepped forward.  Some of the audience seemed to know the night elf and shouted encouragements.  His mantle looked like claws upon each shoulder and his robes were colored green and brown.  He stood beside the baron.

“Next, a stalwart warrior, and servant of the Argent Dawn and the constant battle against the Scourge!”

The first time he said my name, I didn’t notice and was scouring the crowd for the second winner along with everyone else. The second time, I caught on, and removed my helm, attempting to force my way through the crowd. They stood with confusion and disbelief, and I eventually started shoving myself between them and forward. I popped out of the crowd, and Baron Krestan smiled at me as I took my place beside the druid, helm in hand. I smiled out at the crowd, where most of the plate-wearers grumbled in disbelief.  The baron, however, continued on as if I was the obvious choice.

“A mysterious and stoic, but efficient dreadmage, Crianas Mishunadare!”

The crowd swiftly parted for the warlock I had run into a week before – not out of respect, but because no one wanted to be too near him. He strode smugly up to the front of the room, the gnome I’d seen him with following and standing at the front of the crowd. The druid Kalendrian’s smile vanished. Ignoring the crowd, and with a venomous smirk toward the druid, the warlock took his place beside me. Peering over at my equipment, he quietly stated, “You took my advice.”

I nodded silently.

“That’s the only way he’d have chosen you,” he added. My smile began to melt a little.

The baron continued. “Finally,” he said, “a daughter of Gnomeregan who brings its technical expertise into the future, Sprit Cogtwirl Spritetoggle the Second!”

That female gnome that had accompanied the warlock grinned. She grabbed her mechanical squirrel and hugged it to her as she ran forward to take her place beside the warlock. She smiled down the row at all of us, and the Baron smiled back at her.

“To the rest of you, I thank you for your interest in the expedition. Better luck to all of you on my next adventure! Until then, please continue your service to the Alliance, and may the Light protect you all.” The baron ignored the clamor of the crowd, half-disappointment, half outrage, and greeted each of us in turn before addressing the group. “Please inform whoever you need to inform about our expedition. I expect us to be gone for about one month. Food and supplies will be provided. We will meet here one week from now. Congratulations to all of you, and I look forward to seeing you all again in seven days’ time.”

>>Chapter 2: From Elywnn to Elementals

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