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Warcraft: Of Blood and Honor

Warcraft: Of Blood and Honor by Chris Metzen
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Chapter One: A Clash of Arms
A soft, cool breeze blew through the upper branches of the mighty oak trees of the Hearthglen Woods. A peaceful quiet had fallen over the tranquil forest, leaving Tirion Fordring alone with his thoughts. His gray stallion, Mirador, trotted at an easy pace along the winding hunting path. Though game had been strangely scarce for the past few weeks, Tirion came to hunt here whenever the opportunity presented itself. He preferred the grandeur and crisp air of the open country to the musty, confining halls of his keep. He had been hunting in these woods since he was a small boy and knew their numerous, winding trails like the back of his hand. This was the one place he could always find refuge from the burdens and bureaucratic pressures of his station. He mused that someday he would bring his young son, Taelan, to hunt with him so that the boy could experience the rugged majesty of his homeland for himself.
Lord Paladin Tirion Fordring was a powerful man. He was strong in both mind and body, and was counted as one of the greatest warriors of his day. Though he was slightly over fifty years of age, he still looked as fit and dynamic as he had when a younger man. His signature bushy mustache and his neatly trimmed brown hair were streaked with gray, but his piercing green eyes still shone with an energy that belied his years.
Tirion was the governor of the prosperous Alliance principality of Hearthglen, a large forested region nestled at the crossroads between the towering Alterac Mountains and the mist-shrouded shores of Darrowmere Lake. He was respected as a just governor and his name and deeds were honored throughout the kingdom of Lordaeron. His great keep, Mardenholde, was the center of commerce and trade for the bustling region. The citizens of Hearthglen took great pride in the fact that the keep's mighty walls had never fallen to invaders, even during the darkest days of the orcish invasion of Lordaeron. Yet, of late, Tirion was disgruntled to find a different kind of army scurrying worriedly through the halls of his home.
In recent weeks the keep had been overrun with traveling dignitaries and representatives from the various nations of the Alliance, who passed through Hearthglen on their secret diplomatic errands. He had met with many of them in person, offering his hospitality and assistance wherever he could. Though the dignitaries were appropriately appreciative of his efforts, Tirion could sense a growing tension within all of them. He suspected that they were charged with carrying dire news directly to the Alliance High Council. Try as he might, he could not discern the specifics behind their urgent communiqu├ęs. Yet Tirion Fordring was no fool. After thirty years of serving the Alliance as a Paladin, he recognized that only one thing could cause the otherwise stoic emissaries to be so troubled: War was returning to Lordaeron.

It had been nearly twelve years since the war against the orcish Horde had ended. It was a terrible conflict that had raged across the northlands, leaving many of the Alliance kingdoms razed and blackened in its wake. Too many brave men fell before the rampaging Horde was finally stopped. Tirion had lost a number of good friends and soldiers over the course of the war. Though the Alliance had rallied at the eleventh hour and pulled victory from the clutches of certain defeat, it had paid a heavy price. Almost an entire generation of young men had selflessly given their lives to insure that mankind would never be slaves to savage orc overlords.
Near the war's end, the battered and leaderless orc clans were rounded up and placed within guarded reserves near the outskirts of the Alliance lands. Though, as a precautionary measure, it was necessary to police the reserves with full regiments of knights and footmen, the orcs remained docile and passive. Indeed, as time passed, the orcs seemed to lose their raging bloodlust completely and lapse into a strange communal stupor. Some supposed that the foul brutes' lethargy was brought on by inactivity, but Tirion remained to be convinced. He had seen, firsthand, the orcs' brutality and savagery in battle. Memories of their heinous atrocities had plagued his dreams for years after the war. He, for one, would never believe that their warlike ways had left them completely.

Tirion prayed every night, as he always had, that conflict would never endanger his people again. Perhaps naively, he hoped fervently that his young son would be spared the rigors and horrors of war. As a Paladin, he had seen far too many children orphaned or left for dead over the course of the tragic conflict. He wondered how any child could not become cold and disassociated when faced with terror and violence all around them. He would certainly never allow that to happen to his own boy, that was certain. Yet, despite his best wishes, he could not ignore the reality of the present situation. His closest aides and advisors had been telling him of the grim rumors for months now -- that the orcs were once again on the move. Hard as it was to believe, the presence of so many emissaries in his keep confirmed it to be true.
If the orcs were foolish enough to rise up again, he would do whatever it took in order to stop them. Duty had always been the one constant in his life. He had spent the majority of his years defending Lordaeron in one way or another. Though he had not been born a noble, his enthusiasm and honor had won him the rank of knight at the tender age of eighteen. Tirion served his king with undying loyalty and won a great deal of respect from his superiors. Years later, when the orcs first invaded Lordaeron, intent on crushing civilization, he was one of the first knights to be given the honor of standing with Uther the Lightbringer and being anointed as a holy Paladin.
Uther, Tirion, and a number of devout knights were handpicked by the Archbishop Alonsus Faol to become living vessels of the holy Light. Their special, sacred charge was twofold: aided by the holy Light, the Paladins would not only lead the fight against the vile forces of darkness, but heal the wounds inflicted upon the innocent citizens of humanity as well. Tirion and his fellows were given the divine power to heal wounds and cure diseases of every kind. They were imbued with great strength and wisdom that enabled them to rally their brethren and give glory to the Light. Indeed, the Paladins' leadership and strength helped to turn the tide of the war and insure the survival of humanity.
Though his own Light-given powers had waned somewhat over the years, Tirion could still feel strength and grace flow through his aging limbs. Surely he would have strength enough when he needed it the most. For his son and for his people, he would have strength enough, he vowed.

Clearing his head of concerns, Tirion stopped to get his bearings. To his surprise, he found that he'd wandered much farther up the winding path than he'd intended. The path snaked its way up and over the densely forested mountain. There were no outposts this far up, Tirion remembered. As a matter of fact, he couldn't recall the last time he had ventured up this far. He took a moment to drink in the raw beauty of the place. He could hear babbling streams nearby and smell the clean, crisp air. The sky was blue and clear as he watched two falcons circle high above. He truly loved this land. He told himself that he'd return to this spot when a more opportune moment presented itself. Running his hand through his thinning, graying hair, he chided himself for becoming so lost in thought. He had come out to hunt, after all. Tirion deftly turned his mount around on the thin path and spurred Mirador to a quicker pace back down the mountain. He pulled sharply on the reins and steered his faithful mount into the dense woods.
After a few minutes he slowed his pace and galloped into a wide clearing that surrounded the ruins of an abandoned guard tower. He stopped near the old tower's base and peered up at the lonely structure. Like many other ruins that dotted the land, it was a painful reminder of a darker time. The tower's walls were broken and scarred by blackened blastmarks. Obviously the work of orcish catapults, he thought. He remembered how the destructive machines had hurled their fiery projectiles from great distances and devastated entire villages during the war. He wondered how the ruined structure could still be standing after having been left to the unforgiving elements for so long. While examining the tower's base he caught sight of strange tracks upon the ground. He dismounted to inspect them. His blood nearly froze in his veins as he realized that the oversized tracks had not been made by any man -- and that they were fresh.
Tirion quickly looked around and found more tracks scattered throughout the clearing. He surmised that orcs had been here within the past few days at least. Could the vile brutes be mobilizing so soon, he wondered? No. There had to be some other explanation. Hearthglen's borders were secure. There was no way that a group of orcs could go undetected in his land for any length of time. Subtlety, of all things, was definitely not a part of their nature. His scouts and guardsmen would have been alerted to any orcish incursion into Hearthglen immediately upon their arrival. Yet the fresh tracks were there, just the same.

Tirion walked Mirador around to the back of the tower and drew his heavy bastard sword from the scabbard attached to his saddle. He wished fervently that he had brought his mighty warhammer instead. Though he was well-practiced with a blade, he would have preferred to wield his traditional hammer, as all Paladins did in the face of danger.
As stealthily as he could, Tirion crept around the tower and entered through what was left of its front door. A number of large wooden beams had fallen from the rickety ceiling and splintered all over the chipped stone floor. He inspected the dilapidated guardroom and found a small, makeshift fire pit near a ragged, patchwork bedroll. The fire in the ash-laden pit had only recently burnt out. Apparently the orcs had taken up residence within the old tower. Strangely, he saw no weapons or token trophies, which orcs were fond of collecting. He wondered what could possess the brutes to so recklessly squat on Alliance-held lands.
Deciding to return to the keep and gather his men, Tirion exited the tower and strode boldly out into the clearing. To his surprise, he immediately locked eyes with a gargantuan orc, who had suddenly emerged from the tree line. The orc, who seemed as startled as Tirion, dropped the bundle of firewood it had been carrying and reached for the broad battle-ax that was slung to its back. Tirion gritted his teeth and brandished his own sword threateningly. Slowly, the orc planted his feet firmly on the ground, unslinging the mighty ax.

It had been years since Tirion had laid eyes on an orc. He looked upon the brute with unabashed awe and revulsion. Yet, through his surging adrenaline, Tirion noticed that there was something quite different about this orc. Certainly, the creature was as immense and well-muscled as any other he had beheld. Its coarse, green skin and ape-like stance marked it as clearly as any other orc. Even its hideous tusks and pointed ears were reminiscent of every savage that Tirion had faced during the war. But something in the creature's stature and demeanor seemed different. There was an aged weight in its stance and far too many wrinkles around its eyes. Its ratty beard and ritually topknotted hair bore heavy streaks of gray. Where most orc warriors adorned themselves with mismatched plates of armor and spiked gauntlets, this one wore only stitched furs and ruddy leather pants. Its calm lethality and assured, comfortable battle stance clearly indicated that this orc was no rampaging youngster, but, indeed, a seasoned veteran. Despite its apparent age, it was potentially more dangerous than any orc Tirion had ever faced.
The hulking creature stood motionless for a long moment, as if daring Tirion to make the first move. Tirion quickly surveyed the tree line to make certain there were no other orcs preparing to ambush him. Peering back at the orc, he found that it had not moved even an inch. The orc nodded as if to confirm that it was alone. The creature's knowing gaze left Tirion with the impression that it wanted his full attention before it engaged him in combat.
Feeling somewhat unhinged by the orc's calm demeanor, Tirion lunged forward. The orc easily sidestepped Tirion's initial attack and brought his great ax around in a wide arc. Reflexively, Tirion ducked under the savage strike and rolled into a defensive crouch. Seizing the moment, he thrust his blade up at the orc's exposed belly. The creature expertly blocked the thrust with the haft of his ax, and leapt backward to give himself more room to maneuver. Tirion feinted to his right and then brought his blade around in a sweeping reverse thrust. Momentarily caught off guard by the clever move, the orc whirled around in the opposite direction and brought his ax down in a fast overhead swipe, meant to cut Tirion in two. Tirion rolled out of the way as the ax crashed down only inches from where he had stood. The two opponents straightened and squared off once more. They stared at one another in surprise. Tirion had to admit that the orc was as formidable a foe as he had ever faced. The grim smile that passed over the orc's bestial face seemed to impart a similar respect for Tirion's own abilities.

They began to circle one another, each sizing up the other's strengths and weaknesses. Tirion was again surprised by the orc's demeanor and focus. Every other orc he had encountered had rushed forward with reckless abandon, preferring savagery and brute force to finesse and tactical maneuvering. This orc, however, demonstrated remarkable skill and self-control.
For a moment, Tirion wondered whether or not he could actually best the creature. For a split second, he worried that his tired limbs and reflexes would fail him at a crucial moment. Sporadic thoughts of his beloved wife and son being left to fend for themselves without him flashed through his mind, weakening his resolve by a fraction. With a derisive snort, he shook off his doubts and readied his weapon. He had faced death a hundred times. He had a job to do. He relaxed slightly and reminded himself that his battle instincts were as sharp as ever. And he had the power of the Light on his side. No matter how impressive the orc's fighting prowess might be, it was still a creature of darkness as far as he was concerned -- it was the sworn enemy of humanity, and for that it had to die.

Rushing forward with grim resolve, Tirion slashed at the orc with every ounce of strength he could muster. The orc was forced to give ground before the Paladin's furious attack. Tirion pushed the orc backward until it felt as if his sword arm would burst into flames. The orc managed to block and counter a number of the Paladin's thrusts, but was thrown off-balance by an expertly placed strike. Tirion cut a gaping gash in the orc's thigh, sending the brute stumbling into the dust. The old orc grunted loudly as it slammed down onto the packed dirt. Gripping its bloodied leg in pain, the orc attempted to rise again, clearly expecting Tirion to take advantage of its precarious position. To its obvious surprise, Tirion backed off and slowly motioned for it to rise. The orc blinked in astonishment.
Tirion was a Paladin -- a Knight of the Silver Hand -- and to him, butchering a fallen foe in the midst of single combat was unquestionably dishonorable. The holy code of his Order demanded that he give the orc a reprieve. He nodded to the orc in assurance, and once more motioned for him to rise. Gritting his sharp, yellowed teeth in pain, the orc slowly recovered his ax and got to his feet. They stood there for a moment, facing each other with eyes locked. The orc straightened slightly and raised his clenched fist to his heart. A salute, Tirion realized. Now it was Tirion's turn to blink in disbelief. Certainly no savage orc had ever saluted him in battle before. He conceded that perhaps there was more to the fierce creature than he would have guessed. Nevertheless, it was his enemy. He nodded to the orc in understanding and raised his sword again.
This time it was the orc who surged forward. Unable to support its great weight upon its wounded leg, the orc was forced to lunge at the Paladin with short, violent leaps. Wielding its heavy ax with one hand, the mighty orc slashed wildly at Tirion. The Paladin was hard-pressed to evade the brute's savage blows, and was forced back toward the tower's entrance. Barely dodging a particularly brutal strike, Tirion crashed into the guardroom through the open doorway. Momentarily stunned, Tirion roared as the razor-sharp ax bit deep into his left arm. Fighting to keep his head clear from pain, he managed to slash at the orc's exposed hand. The surprised orc howled in rage as his ax clattered upon the stone floor. Tirion moved in, hoping to end the duel as quickly as possible.
Instantly, the orc grabbed hold of a fallen beam and swung at the advancing Paladin.
Tirion backed up a pace as the orc swung the beam in a clumsy arc. The beam smashed into the brittle wall. Dust and loose rock rained down from the high ceiling. The remaining beams creaked and groaned as the tower's walls shifted their weight. Tirion continued his attack, cutting the orc's makeshift weapon to splinters with every fevered strike. Realizing the desperate nature of its situation, the orc dropped what was left of the beam and lunged straight at Tirion with its sinewy arms outstretched. Howling in fury, the massive orc reached out for Tirion's throat. The Paladin managed to stab the orc once before the full weight of the creature's body slammed into his. The two entangled combatants crashed into the weakened wall as the rickety ceiling finally gave way and collapsed down upon them.

Tirion woke to the sounds of creaking timber and clattering stone. He blinked as thick clouds of dust settled all around him. All else was black in the shattered guardroom. His body was numb, but he could feel a great pressure upon his chest. As the dust cleared, he could see that he was pinned under a large, split beam. His legs, too, were pinned beneath immense chunks of mortar. Frantically, he looked around for any sign of the orc. He would be defenseless if the creature decided to finish him off. Reaching down, he grabbed hold of the beam and heaved with all of his remaining strength. The beam toppled to the side and clattered against the rubble.
Pain immediately flooded Tirion's body. His head swam as the open cut on his arm gushed his precious blood upon the floor. He attempted to lift himself up and felt an acute burst of pain as his broken ribs ground against one another. His right leg, too, felt like it might be broken beneath the heavy blocks of mortar. His battered body reeling from agony and exhaustion, Tirion felt as if he would black out. He could hear the remaining walls of the structure creaking and groaning. The whole tower was going to collapse. With consciousness rapidly slipping away, Tirion sensed a rustling behind him. Fighting to stay awake, Tirion barely turned to see the orc's green, menacing hands reaching out for him. His gasp of terror was cut short as blackness overtook him.
Copyright © 2000 by Blizzard Entertainment
World Wrestling Entertainment;
Title: Warcraft: Of Blood and Honor
Author: Chris Metzen
 
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ISBNs
0743418972
9780743418973

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