Rabbits. Marbelma always did love rabbits. She wanted a pet rabbit, but her mother wouldn’t let her have one. ‘I don’t want no rabbit leavin’ poop all over my nice clean floor’ she’d say. So, she got her a stuffed rabbit many years ago. It was cute for a while, but Marbelma was beginning to outgrow it. She was twelve years old, for Light’s sake! She wasn’t a baby anymore.
So if Mom wouldn’t get her a rabbit, Marbelma would just have to catch one herself.
She knelt behind a bush as she watched the snowshoe rabbit munching on what grass was able to poke through the snow. It was cold, kneeling in the snow that went up to her knees, but Marbelma didn’t mind it. She was a Snowshoe after all - her bloodline was built for life in the cold. Ice was practically her element!
She leapt out from the bush in am…bush! But the rabbit was too fast and took off. Marbelma growled and pounded her fist in the snow. “Consarn it!”
“Marbeeeelllmaaaaa!” she heard her mother’s voice call over the snow. “Diiiiiiineeeeerrrr!!!”
She sighed, her breath visible in the cold. She got up and walked back home, sulking the whole way. She’ll get that bunny one of these days.
When Marbelma returned home and removed her jacket, she joined her family at the dinner table - her mother, her father, and her Uncle Barter. Uncle Barter lived in the house’s basement and worked as an independent brewer. Her father, meanwhile, was a mountaineer. A captain, in fact! All the other mountaineers had to do what he told them to! It sounded like a really cool job.
“So, we pinched another snuff shipment comin’ in from the east.” her father said.
“Dark Irons?” Uncle Barter asked.
“That’s what I used to think, but now I ain’t so sure.” Da replied. “I asked (Loch Modan man) about it, and he said that the last shipment he pinched was by the dam, which tells me it’s comin’ in from somewhere up north.”
“Could still be Dark Irons.” Barter said. “I’ve heard they’ve got a few hideouts in the Wetlands. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had a lab there.”
“Alright, alright, that’s enough work talk, Faldor.” Ma scolded Da as she set dinner down on the table - blood sausages! Marb’s favorite! “Especially with your child at the table.” she added in a whisper that she thought Marbelma couldn’t hear (she totally could).
“So Marbelma, what were you doin’ out there in the cold before Dinner?” Barter asked in an attempt to change the subject away from drug shipments to something more family-friendly.
“Nothin’.” Marbelma replied.
“Ye better not have been tryin’ ta catch a rabbit out there.” her mother scolded as she poured a glass of ale for her husband. “I told ye a million times, I don’t want no rabbit poop in this house.”
“Ah come on - Jennily has a rabbit that poops in a box!” Marbelma protested. “We got plenty of boxes we can use for poop boxes!”
“Don’t try to argue, Marbelma Snowshoe. You’re not gettin’ a rabbit and that’s final.” her mother said. “Honestly, why did the Light curse me with such a defiant, argumentative child?”
“Well, she didn’t get it from me…” Faldor muttered before sipping his ale.
“What was that?”
“Damn right, nothing.”
As Mum sat down for her own sausages, Uncle Barter changed topics again. “So, have you heard the latest news from Northrend, brother?”
“Nae, I haven’t.” Da said after another sip of ale.
“Oh for - yer a bloody mountaineer captain! Ain’t it yer job to stay informed of current military affairs?” Uncle Barter asked.
“I’m a Dun Morogh mountaineer captain, Barter.” Da said. “My duty is to these mountains and these mountains alone. Any affairs beyond our kingdom’s borders are above my pay grade.”
“Well, allow me to enlighten ye brother. I was in Kharanos the other day and I heard that the Argent Crusade is finally beginning preparations for a proper assault on Icecrown Citadel.”
“Oh really? And how do they intend to do that?”
“That’s the thing - they’re hosting a tournament!”
“A tournament! The idea is to host a big tournament - hundreds of heroes from both factions are invited, but only twenty-five winners will emerge. Those twenty-five winners will BE the assault force on the citadel!”
“What the - is the Crusade daft? They’re gonna need more than a couple dozen men to lay siege to a fortress like Icecrown.”
“No no, that’s the thing. They CAN’T use a large force because if too many of their own men die, they just turn into zombies and bolster the Scourge’s forces. So the idea instead is to send in a small team of REALLY good fighters who CAN’T easily die, and can cleave their way through the Lich King’s forces with the greatest of ease!”
Uncle Barter snapped his fingers and smiled. “Oi Faldor - there’s Argent Crusade recruiters in Kharanos. Maybe YOU could join the tournament!”
“Out of the question!” Ma interjected. “My husband risks enough life and limb right here with all those nasty troggs and trolls about! Like hell he’s going to leave us to go fight the undead, die, and leave my daughter without a father!”
“Oh come on, Ednis. We need to send as many sons of Ironforge to that tournament as we can. Don’t forget - the Horde is joining the tournament too. Last thing I want to see is a barbarous orc or a traitorous elf or worse, a bloody troll win that tournament.”
“Sorry, but Ednis is right.” Da said firmly. “Besides, someone has to guard the homefront while everyone else is in Northrend, saving the world. That’s me role, and I take pride in it.”
“Well said, Faldor.” Mum congratulated. “Now please, no more talk of that awful war at this table. From either of ye.”
Marbelma finished her dinner a few minutes later, She excused herself and headed up to her room and read her book. It was a great story book about a dwarf adventurer who braved the depths of kobold-infested catacombs for adventure and treasure. Though Mum disapproved of it, Marbelma often fantasized about becoming such an adventurer one day.
No. Not just an adventurer. A hero! Just like the heroes fighting the Lich King!
She reached under her bed and pulled out a wooden sword and made pretend that she was fighting the Undead Scourge. Take that, Kel’thuzad! Take that, Arthas! She grabbed her stuffed rabbit, Cotton, and saved the helpless civilian from the imaginary ghoul that was about eat her face! Take that, vile creature!
...Uh-oh. She had to use the little girl’s room.
She held on to Cotton as she left her room and made her way downstairs to the bathroom. Da was in the kitchen, still reading his paper. Ma was in the living room, sweeping. And Uncle Barter was probably down in the basement, working on his perfect brew again. Or at least, he said it would be perfect. It never was, but he kept trying.
She went into the bathroom and did her business, washing her hands afterwards because the last time she neglected to do that, her mother smacked her hands and said -
What was that?
Marbelma came out of the bathroom a thick white smoke coming from the kitchen. It sounded like Da was fighting something, but what? Marbelma didn’t have time to wonder what as her mother grabbed her by the hand and dragged over to the nearby closet and pushed her in. “Marbelma, no matter what happens, do not come out of here until we say so.”
“Mum, what’s-“ The door was closed before Marbelma could even finish the question. The sounds of struggle continued. Panicked yelling. Screaming. Fighting. Dishes breaking. She held tightly on to Cotton. She was getting scared.
Then, suddenly, silence. There was the sound of cabinets opening. Was it over? Marbelma stepped outside the closet and looked inside the kitchen.
There were three fresh, bloody corpses in the kitchen. Mum, Da, and Uncle Barter. Standing behind them, almost triumphantly was a tall figure. He was skinnier than the local Frostmanes and wore fancy leather armor, but the huge tusks left no doubt. It was a troll. “Zebb bip-bip.” it spoke in its tongue as it cracked open a small pony keg of Barter’s ale and started drinking directly from it. As it took a swig and then set the mug down, it made eye contact with Marbelma.
That’s when Marbelma ran.
“Pikskap!” the troll hissed as it gave chase, cornering her in the living room. Marbelma was trapped in a corner, with only Cotton to protect her. The troll was studying her, tilting its head curiously, as if unsure what to do.
That’s when she heard another crash. Another giant figure bursted through the door, but it was no troll. She was wearing glittering gold armor and was armed with a sword longer than Marbelma was tall. “Halt in the Light’s name!” she shouted in a thick accent the little dwarf never heard before. Those horns. Those hooves? Was this a draenei? Marbelma had never seen one in person before.
“Xif!” the troll cursed before attempting to run back into the kitchen. The draenei cut it off by conjuring a solid-gold hammer, seemingly out of nowhere, before throwing it at the troll, catching it in the leg. The draenei snarled and lunged at the creature, but it was slippery, nimbly dodging what would’ve been a fatal downward swing from her blade. It pulled out a pistol and fired square in her chest, but thanks to her armor, it only succeeded in making the draenei mad. Realizing it was outmatched, it pulled a black pellet from its pocket and tossed it at the ground, engulfing the room in white smoke. By the time it cleared, the troll was gone.
The draenei looked around and snarled, angry that the fiend got away. She marched out the door, ready to give chase, when she finally noticed Marbelma. She walked over to her and knelt down on one knee. “Are you alright, little one?” she asked. Marbelma nodded. She then looked over her shoulder and saw them again - the dead bodies of her family.
They were dead.
That’s when it finally clicked. They were all dead.
“…Mum……Da……..” she sobbed as the tears started to flow. The draenei glanced at their bodies, then took Marbelma into an embrace.
“I’m so sorry.” the strange, yet heavenly woman spoke as Marbelma weeped into her shoulder.
Marbelma hated the Ironforge Orphanage. It was noisy for one. The other kids were constantly running around shouting and screaming at each other. Second, the food here sucked, all cooked by a lunch lady who was always grumpy and probably hated her job. Worst of all though, was Dagrella.
Dagrella was a Dark Iron girl about Marbelma’s age who, unlike everyone else, chose this life. Her parents were still alive, she just ran away because she didn’t want to worship Ragnaros or whatever evil thing Dark Irons do. Could’ve fooled Marbelma, because Dagrella was just as evil as any other Dark Iron. She was mean and loved to bully all the other kids.
“Give her back!” Marbelma said as Dagrella played a “friendly game” of keep away with Cotton, Marbelma’s beloved stuffed rabbit and the only thing she had left of her family.
“Or what, shorty?” the Dark Iron taunted. Despite being about the same age, Dagrella was considerably taller than Marbelma. With her superior stature, she was easily able to push Marbelma onto the floor. “You know, me Da was a mage. Learned a few spells from him, even, before I ran away. Watch this!”
The taller girl tossed Cotton to the other side of the room. She then conjured a fireball in her hand. “No! Wait!” Marbelma’s pleas fell on deaf ears as the bully threw the fireball at Cotton.
The stuffed animal exploded into flames.
Marbelma was shocked, frozen, even. Cotton…..She was all she had left. It was Dagrella’s harsh laughter that snapped her out of her stupor. “Aw, is the little Bronze Baby gonna cry now? Come on, baby! Let’s see some tears!”
As the Dark Iron resumed her uproarious, sadistic laughter, Marbelma shakily stood up and stared her down. Despite the tears streaming down her cheeks, there was no more sadness within her. First the troll who murdered her family and destroyed her life. Then Dagrella, who had been tormenting her for the last two months, and finally the death of the one thing she still held dear.
There was no more sadness.
Now there was only rage.
Marbelma grabbed a fork from the nearest table and lunged at Dagrella.
“She stabbed the other child with a fork?” Eadric the Pure asked.
“Aye.” Orphan Matron Hearthkeeper replied with a nod. “They were in the dining area. Dagrella, the bully, burned up Marbelma’s stuffed rabbit. The poor girl snapped, grabbed the nearest fork and attacked Dagrella like a wild animal.”
“Oh my…” Eadric stated. The middle-aged dwarf woman nodded as she rose out of her chair and poured herself and the paladin some tea.
“I’ve been this orphanage’s matron for nearly forty years now.” Hearthkeeper said. “It’s rare to see this kind of rage in a child. The kind of rage that can lead her down a bad road later in life. That’s why I invited you here, Mr. Eadric.”
“I understand that you and some other paladins are here to recruit champions for your Argent Tournament up in Northrend?” Hearthkeeper asked as she handed the human some tea.
“Indeed. We’ve almost gathered enough champions to qualify for the tournament.” Eadric said. “I suspect this is the last time I’ll be in the Eastern Kingdoms for quite some time.”
“But you also recruit squires, yes?” Hearthkeeper asked. “Children to serve as apprentices to your argent crusaders?”
“And you want us to take in this child to be a squire.” Eadric surmised.
“Marbelma’s a good girl.” Hearthkeeper assured. “She just needs guidance, I think. A Light to show her a way out of the darkness. I even have a crusader in mind.” She fished out a folder from a drawer and handed it to Eadric. The human looked through it, and found crude crayon drawings of a female draenei paladin. “That’s the woman who rescued Marbelma from that dreadful troll that night.”
“Vindicator Rhyliaandra.” Eadric said. “Yes, she was patrolling that area as a favor to the Ironforge mountaineers when she heard that commotion from the Snowshoe household. She saved that little girl’s life.”
“Aye, and I’ll bet it’d be a dream come true for little Marbles to be a squire to her.” Hearthkeeper said. “That moon goat’s practically her hero.”
“Hrm. I’ll speak to Rhyliaandra about it.” Eadric said. “She’s always been a bit of a lone wolf - prefers to operate alone. But I think I can convince her. With her sense of duty and unwavering dedication to justice, she’ll make a fine mentor to the child, I think.”
Two weeks later….
“Marbelma!” Rhyliaandra barked outside the smithy’s.
“Coming, Rhyliaandra!” Marbelma Snowshoe, newly-minted Argent Squire said as she came out of the smithy and handed the freshly-repaired sword to the Argent Crusader. The draenei inspected the weapon with a skeptical eye, then nodded with approval as she sheathed it.
“Come.” Rhyliaandra commanded. “Our boat will arrive soon.”
Marbelma shyly followed the draenei through the busy streets of Menethil Harbor towards the docks. She had only been a squire for a little over a week, and already Rhyliaandra was proving a stern master. She had given the young dwarf a wooden sword and a dummy to practice on. So far, practice sessions were nothing but a storm of blunt critiques of Marbelma’s form and technique.
“Stop swinging it blindly, and AIM for something. It’s a sword, not a club.”
“Your follow-through was too slow - an ogre would’ve smashed you by now. Again.”
“You fight like an orc. Don’t smile, that wasn’t a compliment. Orcs are primitive brutes enslaved to their own bloodlust. If you’re to be a paladin, you must hold yourself to a higher standard than that.”
It was frustrating at times, but Marbelma never blamed Rhyliaandra for it. She knew it was her own fault for not being good enough yet, and even then it wasn’t entirely her own fault. As Rhyliaandra said of her;
“Of course you are ineffective as a fighter. You are freshly mined chunk of true iron. And I am a blacksmith. My job is to melt you down, mold you into shape, temper you, and eventually forge you into a weapon of the Light. It will be a long process, but by the time I am done, you will be a worthy blade for the Light.”
Even so, Rhyliaandra’s training was brutal. She was unforgiving of mistakes, and was quick to lecture the child every time she whined for a rest.
“We are weapons of the Light, Marbelma. Does the blade desire a break from slaying its master’s enemies? Does the arrow complain about flying too fast from the bow? No - they simply do what they were made to do, as shall you.”
But even so, the training was already paying off. As she shifted the backpack laden with food, water, armor polish, everything a traveling paladin needs, Marbelma never felt so strong before. She felt like she could beat the crap out of Dagrella a dozen times over, and with continued training, she was only going to get stronger. She already fantasized about confronting that troll one day and smiting him with the Light.
As they made their way over to the docks, there was another draenei waiting for them - a male wearing ranger-like mail armor, a pair of hatchets strapped to his belt, along with several strange objects he called “totems.” It was Rhyliaandra’s brother, Roniaar, or “Uncle Roni” as he had taken to calling himself around Marbelma. He was a shaman - a practitioner of Horde magic, as Rhyliaandra once told her.
“Hello, sister!” Roniaar warmly greeted as he saw the vindicator approach. “Got everything?” In sharp contrast to his stoic sister, Roniaar was nearly all smiles all the time. Were they really family, Marbelma wondered.
“Yes.” Rhyliaandra replied. “I’m surprised to see you here so soon - and sober no less.” The vindicator sneered at her brother. She once told Marbelma that he was a ‘hedonist’, whatever that meant.
“Well, we ARE about to hop on a boat.” Roniaar said. “Seasickness combined with a hangover hardly sounded fun, so I chose to take it easy on the ale last night. Although, I DID meet this nice night elf girl…”
“Not in front of my squire, please.” Rhyliaandra said as she gestured to the young dwarf.
“Oh right! Nobody told her about the moths and elekks yet, huh?” Roniaar asked. “Don’t worry, Marbles - I’ll tell you all about it when you’re older.”
Marbelma giggled a bit. ‘Marbles.’ She liked that nickname. Her giggles were silenced, however, by a stern glare from Rhyliaandra. “I’ll go check in with the captain. The two of you stay here, and don’t go anywhere.” With that, she walked away.
“How long will the boat ride be?” Marbelma asked.
“Not too long. A few weeks, at most.” Roniaar replied. “This will be your first time to Northrend, yes?”
Marbelma nodded. “What’s it like?” she asked.
“Cold, as you can well imagine.” Roniaar answered. “And also dangerous - not just from all the undead, but vrykul and ice trolls as well.”
Marbelma shivered. Trolls. Like the one that…….well, if she saw a troll up there, she’ll help Rhyliaandra kill it.
“But it’s not all bad.” Roniaar said. “Northrend can also be quite beautiful. The awe-inspiring cliffs of the Howling Fjord. The jungles of Sholazar Basin, teeming with life. And of course, Ulduar.”
“Ulduar?” Marbelma asked. “What’s an Ulduar?”
“You’ve never heard?” the draenei asked in playful shock. “Oh, it’s an incredible story that will thrill, captivate, and-“
“Marbelma! Roniaar!” Rhyliaandra barked from the end of the dock. “We are boarding now!”
“I’ll tell you the whole story later tonight - once Miss Bossy-Hooves over there is asleep.” Roniaar whispered, earning a giggle from the dwarf. She didn’t know why Rhyliaandra seemed to dislike Roniaar so much. He was nice, and fun! He was Marbelma’s first real friend since the orphanage.
As the two draenei and dwarf boarded the Northspear, Marbelma couldn’t help but imagine. What wonders and dangers would she encounter in Northrend? She had never been so far from home before. It would no doubt be an exciting adventure!
She only wished that Mum and Da could see her now. They’d be so proud…
Marbelma’s light shined brightly as it traveled down her arms and into the end of her wooden hammer, before she slammed it against the draenei’s wooden shield. After years of tutelage, not only was she stronger, faster, and a more adept fighter, but months of dedicated prayer, faith, and vindication paid off. The Light not only manifested in her hands, but Marbelma found that it was strong with her.
She continued to hammer away on the other squire’s wooden shield until it finally shattered. The young draenei woman cried in surprise as she fell over, the dwarf pouncing and jumping on her stomach like a trampoline, pointing the hammer into her face. “I win.” she gloated.
“Well done, Marbelma.” Rhyliaandra congratulated from the sidelines. She turned to the other Exodar Vindicator. “Looks like your student still needs work, Jul. She lost to an opponent half her size.”
Marbelma beamed with pride as she hopped off the draenei and hefted her hammer over her shoulder. After the end of the War Against the Lich King, Rhyliaandra returned home to Azuremyst Isle, taking Marbelma with her, to continue the dwarf’s apprenticeship. Marbles had a natural talent for combat. Despite an obvious size disadvantage, she was able to overwhelm most of the other apprentice vindicators in sparring sessions though sheer fury.
But as the Lich King fell, a new threat had surfaced on Azeroth - literally. Deathwing had broken out of his prison in Deepholm and tore the world asunder. The situation got so bad, that many Alliance citizens flocked to the Exodar, seeking Prophet Velen’s council and guidance. Velen was able to calm the situation before it got too out of hand - calming the humans enough to convince them to go home and face the new world wrought by this thing that was already being called “The Cataclysm.”
Marbelma burned. The more she had heard over the last few months about events across Azeroth, the more she burned for action. Entire regions hit hard by natural disasters. New, unexplored territories revealed to the world. A mysterious new threat, known as the Twilight’s Hammer, acting as Deathwing’s army, enslaving elementals and setting them loose on the world.
But what burned Marbelma most were the tales of renewed Horde aggression. A new “Warchief” had risen to power and was deadset on making the world his. His armies were tearing apart the ancestral home of the night elves, friends and allies to the draenei ever since they crash-landed on Azeroth. They’d continue marching north, all the way to Teldrassil, and even to Azuremyst Isle unless someone stops them.
Rhyliaandra had made it clear to Marbelma that they were to wait until called. Someone had to watch the homefront, after all. But the thought of sitting here and waiting made her feel useless.
She hated feeling useless. Helpless. Cowering in a closet while the ones you cared about are slaughtered. Marbelma vowed never again to hide and cower.
Roniaar trotted up to Rhyliaandra and Marbelma as they wrapped up their training session. “Arkanon Poros, friends!” the shaman greeted. “How goes the training?”
“Well.” Rhyliaandra curtly replied. She always seemed to hold her brother in disdain, and Marbelma didn’t exactly blame her. The dwarf had nothing against shamanism - Roniaar proved the effectiveness of elemental combat back in Northrend. Rather, it was Roniaar himself that the dwarf was beginning to find grating. The drinking, the womanizing, the horrible puns - the man was an unapologetic hedonist. No wonder he chose the path of the shaman - he never would’ve cut it as a paladin.
“Well, I’ve got some news - you’ve been summoned to battle.” Roniaar said as she handed his vindicator sister a scroll. As Rhyliaandra took the scroll and read it, Marbelma could barely contain her excitement. Finally! Back on the front lines!
“Where we goin’?” Marbelma asked.
“Somewhere that isn’t too far from here.” Roniaar replied. “Mount Hyjal. The druids there have created a portal into the Firelands and are preparing to defeat Ragnaros the Firelord once and for all.”
Ragnaros? Wasn’t he the one the Dark Irons worshipped? Marbelma would get to kill the god of a hated enemy of the Bronzebeard clan? Sounds good to her!
“It says here we’ll be with the rear guard.” Rhyliaandra said. “It will fall to us to protect Hyjal from counterattack by Ragnaros’s forces?”
“Indeed.” Roniaar replied.
“Rear guard?” Marbelma asked, a little disappointed.
“Don’t worry, Marbles. The fire elementals’ counterattacks have been vicious. There will be no shortage of action on either side of the portal.” Roniaar explained. He smiled.
“In fact, you could say the situation up there is really heating up.”
Marbelma and Rhyliaandra both groaned.
One trip to a mage and a portal later, the three of them arrived on Mount Hyjal. Marbelma strained her neck looking up and up and up at the world tree, Nordrassil. It lived up to its title, being perhaps the single tallest thing she had ever seen. There was little time to sight-see, however, as the two draenei hopped atop their elekks and began their long march down the mountain road, with Marbelma riding along with Rhyliaandra on her elekk, which was more heavily armored than Roniaar’s.
Through the Circle of Cinders, past the Shrine of Goldrinn and the Grove of Aessina, before finally arriving at the Sanctuary of Malorne, the makeshift base of operations for the Guardians of Hyjal. Night had fallen, but it was already time to go to work. The three of them were told to head into the regrowth and rescue as much wildlife as they could from the encroaching fire elementals.
Not since Northrend had Marbelma seen Rhyliaandra leap into action, cutting down the fiery spirits with the Light’s wrath. Roniaar was no slouch either, calling upon the powers of the wind to snuff out the flames. The two draenei siblings shepherded the fleeing wildlife out of the forest and towards the Sanctuary of Malorne. Marbelma saw everything from tiny little squirrels to majestic stags to mighty grizzly bears, all fleeing before the advancing flames.
She stayed mostly to the sidelines. Officially, her job was to watch the elekks, but she suspected the great beasts were watching her just as closely. It didn’t take her long to develop an admiration for the strange-looking beasts that hailed from the draenei’s old home, Draenor, before the Horde came and ruined everything for them. Seemed like the Horde ruined everything for everyone.
In the distance, she could spot Horde. They were fighting fire elementals too - brutish orcs and crafty blood elves fighting alongside noble humans and nature-loving night elves. She didn’t know how to feel about it. On the one hand, she supposed the Guardians of Hyjal could use all the help if could get and it was nice to see those damn savages making themselves useful for once. But the Alliance and Horde were at war, weren’t they? Why the truce?
Once the two draenei came over for a break and sharpen their weapons, Marbelma asked them just that. “Simple - it’s because both Alliance and Horde realize that there’s BIGGER things to worry about.” Roniaar answered. “Which, at the moment, happens to be an invasion of angry fire people.”
“Yes, it’s always SOMETHING, I’ve noticed.” Rhyliaandra scoffed. “First it was demons trying to open a gateway in the sunwell. Then it was undead up in Northrend. And now it’s an army of cultists and elementals lead by a mad dragon aspect. Why must we cease our crusade against the Horde every time a so-called ‘greater threat’ emerges?”
“Because the greater threat is usually exactly that - a [i:3d2ab087d3]greater[/i:3d2ab087d3] threat.” Roniaar argued. “Being more concerned with the Horde than with this is like being more concerned with a stain on your shirt than your house on fire.”
“But it [i:3d2ab087d3]keeps happening.[/i:3d2ab087d3]” Rhyliaandra seethed. “Don’t you get it? Every truce we forge is nothing more than a delay of the final blow. I grow weary of this endless stalemate between Alliance and Horde. Why don’t we just finish it already?”
“Well, Deathwing is the one who’s insisting on interrupting our little war with his campaign to destroy the world. So, if you’ve got a problem with the truce, take it up with him.” Roniaar said.
“It doesn’t surprise me that you would advocate working with those creatures.” Rhyliaandra growled.
“What’s THAT supposed to mean?” Roniaar asked.
“Bad enough you practice shamanism, an orcish magic, but you actually WORK for those monsters.” Rhyliaandra accused.
“We’ve been over this, Rhyli - I don’t work for the Horde, I work for the Earthen Ring. Big difference.”
“Semantics! How could you work with those green-skinned fiends? After everything they’ve done to our people! To all the Alliance!”
“Because I don’t waste time dwelling on the past, Rhyliaandra. Hating the Horde isn’t going to bring back mother and father.”
“Well, working with the Horde won’t bring [i:3d2ab087d3]her[/i:3d2ab087d3] back either, Roniaar.”
“Oh, I think you know who. Did you really think that I wouldn’t - “
“What?!” the two draenei shouted at Marbelma. The dwarf pointed over to a particularly large fire elemental burning its way through the forest in the distance, sending dozens of beasts and critters running for cover.
“We can discuss this later.” Roniaar said as he hopped atop his elekk, Rhyliaandra hopping atop hers and carrying Marbelma with her. A snap of the reigns and the two large beats stampeded their way into battle with all the confidence that came with being a ten thousand pound mammal.
Rhyliaandra’s elekk crashed into the hulking elemental while Roniaar’s chose to circle around as the shaman blasted the creature with bolts of lightning. The elemental roared as it directed its fury towards the two upstart draenei. Marbelma, no longer content to simply stay on the sidelines, took the risk of heading in closer to the action.
In her eagerness however, she tripped on something. She fell to the ground hard and looked over at what had tripped her. A branch, maybe? A root?
It was a corpse.
She had tripped on the talon of a charred hippogryph corpse. She gasped as she saw what the flames had done to the once-majestic beast. She saw many hippogryphs used by the Argent Crusade during the Argent Tournament, and she always thought they were beautiful animals. Her heart wept to see one like this.
But how did it die? Hippogryphs should be the ones most capable of escaping the flames, what with the flying and all. She looked around spotted her answer - a nest, high up in the tree above her. This hippogryph must’ve been a mother, unwilling to abandon her eggs, even in the face of this inferno.
She cast a glance over to Rhyliaandra and Roniaar, still fighting the massive elemental. They were holding their own well enough - she’s seen them both fight off worse. They hardly needed her help. She was just a squire, after all.
But a squire can still climb a tree.
You wouldn’t think of dwarves as being able climbers, with their stout physiques and all, but that’s because you’ve never seen one climb a mountain before. Climbing was an essential skill just for day-to-day survival up in the peaks of Dun Morogh. So this tree posed little challenge to Marbelma, even if it was a little on fire.
Marbelma finally reached the nest and saw the prize - a single, lonely egg. It was surrounded by the busted shells of its siblings, little baby hippogryph corpses still in them. This egg was lucky enough to still be intact. Marbelma reached out for it, and grabbed it. It was hot to the touch, but she could handle a little heat. She stuck the egg in her backpack and began to climb down.
And that’s when she noticed the fire elemental staring her down.
Somehow, it had stomped over without the young dwarf hearing it. She panicked and looked around. Where was Rhyliaandra? Or Roniaar? She spotted them fighting off a pack of those fire snake things. Where did those guys come from?
“You…” the elemental said in a booming voice. “Are a child of fire…”
“What?!” Marbelma asked.
“The Rage of the Firelands burns within you…” it said slowly.
“What are ye on about ye overgrown pilot light?!” Marbelma shouted, hoping that an insult will mask her terror.
“Embrace your destiny, as your kin have…” it said. “Serve the Firelord…And all those who have wronged you will burn…”
Marbelma growled. “I don’t even know what yer talkin’ about, but I’ll never join you! I’m a paladin! And a paladin never joins the side of evil!” she shouted at the creature. She left out the part that she was only a squire. It didn’t need to know that.
“Then burn…” The elemental said as it raised up a huge fiery fist. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning from above struck the elemental in the face. Marbelma looked up and saw Roniaar, riding atop his wind drake - a strange sort of dragon that the shaman somehow acquired in the Throne of Four Winds a few months back.
“Hold on, Marbles!” Roniaar cried as he conjured a torrent of wind to lift up Marbelma from the tree and carry her a safe distance. “Head back to the Sanctuary!”
As she landed safely on the ground, she saw Roniaar’s drake dart around the elemental’s head as he continued firing lightning bolts at the massive creature. What was that thing even talking about, calling her a “child of fire?” She didn’t know. All she knew was that it wasn’t safe here.
She looked inside her bag, satisfied that the hippogryph egg was still whole and in one piece. She smiled. She saved a life today, at least. No doubt Rhyliaandra will give her a good lecture about it once the fighting subsides, but it’ll be worth it. She closed the pack and ran for the Sanctuary of Malorne as fast as he little dwarven legs could carry her.
“Come on, Cinder!” Marb growled as she tugged on the hippogryph’s reins. The fiery bird huffed as she pulled back. Flameward Hippogryphs like Cinderwing were infamous for being as temperamental as they were rare, a consequence of being exposed to the Firelands’ elemental energies during the Fiery Invasion of Mount Hyjal. So, it wasn’t uncommon for Cinder to give Marbelma the occasional bit of attitude.
Ever since Cinderwing hatched, Marbelma took care of the creature like it was her own child. Partially because a paladin needed their own mount, and Cinderwing was the perfect candidate, partially because Marbelma didn’t exactly have a choice - the dwarf was the first thing Cinderwing saw after hatching, and so it was convinced that she was her mother.
So of course Marbelma took care of the creature. How could she say no? Cinder’s real mother died, making her an orphan. She and Marb were like kindred spirits. Birds of a feather, one might say.
Marbelma was trying to guide the hippogryph through the halls of Ironforge, a city that Marbelma hadn’t been to in years, mostly because the last few years had been very busy for Marbelma and her mentor, Rhyliaandra. After the Cataclysm ended and Alliance and Horde ramped up their war, the vindicator/squire duo journeyed to Pandaria to fight the Horde there and prevent the Horde from conquering the new land.
Pandaria was a hell of a time. Fighting the Horde in Krasarang, the Mogu on the Isle of Thunder, all leading up to the final, climactic showdown between Alliance and Horde with the Siege of Orgrimmar. Finally, after years of dancing around it, the faction conflict would finally reach its end.
Or so Marbelma thought.
A new warchief was crowned (a damned troll at that!) and Varian just let it happen, letting the Horde off with little more than a wag of the finger and a ‘don’t do that again.’
They’re going to do it again. They always do.
“Varian was trying to break the cycle.” Roniaar had said.
“And in doing so, he only perpetuated it.” Rhyliaandra had replied. “How long? How long until the Horde attacks again? When we will finally have the strength to END the Horde once and for all? For Light’s sake, the warchief was RIGHT THERE. We may never have another opportunity like that again…”
The truce between the factions continued throughout Draenor, as the factions marched through the Dark Portal to fight the Iron Horde. “Iron” Horde, they called it. Like there was a distinction to be made. ‘You can’t fight this Horde, but you can fight that Horde.’ It was the peak of ridiculousness.
Well, that war was over now, and a relative peace had settled over Azeroth. But Marbelma knew that this peace wouldn’t last long. It never does. She could feel in her gut that another war was on the horizon. But this one would be different from the others.
Because it would be the first war she would fight alone.
Marbelma was twenty years old now. All throughout the Cataclysm, Pandaria, and Draenor, Rhyliaandra had trained Marbelma in paladin combat. The dwarf knew every technique, every tactic. Swing, block, swing again. Such motions became all but second nature to her. Rhyliaandra was impressed. She said that she was ready.
Marbelma was ready to become a full-fledged paladin. A Knight of the Silver Hand, as recognized by the Grand Alliance. She was to attend the graduation ceremony in front of the Cathedral of Light in Stormwind in two weeks’ time.
Which is what brought the young dwarf to Ironforge. Graduating paladins were encouraged to commission their own weapons and armor, separate from the gear they had as squires, to mark them as full knights. Marbelma had been saving up her gold for years (with a little help from Roniaar - he was an annoying bastard, but he had his uses), and now had enough for a weapon and a full set of armor. And there was no better place to find a good blacksmith than Ironforge.
Marbelma looked through all the shops, and was less than impressed. Steel? Silver with blue and gold trimming? After years of training under an Exodar Vindicator, clad in golden armor decorated with purple gems, dwarven gear seemed so….basic. She was honestly hoping to find something more exotic, like a blade forged in the fires of the Red Dragonflight or an axe that decapitated a hundred Amani Chieftains. Something with a STORY behind it.
Her search took her through the Military Ward, Tinker Town, and into the Hall of Explorers. Not a single interesting blade or hammer or suit of armor that was more than just so much steel. Marbelma didn’t want to be just another rookie paladin, showing up with whatever cheap armor she could afford. She wanted to stand out! She wanted to be a beacon, both for her allies to rally around and for her enemies to cower before. She wanted to look epic, damn it. Or at least rare.
Finally, Cinderwing stopped pulling on her reigns. In fact, she suddenly started trotting ahead of the dwarf. “Now what?” Marbelma groaned, getting exasperated with the hippogryph’s willfulness. She followed after the beast until she realized where the creature was heading. That’s when she grabbed the reigns and pulled. “No! Bad girl! We don’t go in there!”
She stopped her mount just outside the entrance to the Forlorn Cavern. The bad part of Ironforge. The part where the thieves and the outlaws and the practitioners of dark magic chose to call home. And of course, it was a favorite hangout spot for the city’s populations of Dark Iron dwarves.
The hippogryph screeched in protest as it strained agains the dwarf’s grip, trying to enter the cavern. “What’s in there that you want so bad anyway?” Marbelma demanded. Whatever it was, Cinderwing wanted it bad, because it eventually broke free of its owner’s grip and charged headlong into the cavern. “Oi! Get back here!” she shouted as she took off after the renegade feather mane.
After pushing her way through a crowd of rogues, warlocks and degenerates in general, she found Cinderwing pecking at a grange full of some kind of weird red seeds. Seeds? That’s what Cinderwing wanted? How did she even smell those seeds all the way in the Hall of Explorers? “Come on, Cinder.” Marbelma whispered to the creature. “Let’s get out of here before-“
“Ah, your hippogryphs got a taste for crimson seeds, I see.” said a voice.
We get caught. Marbelma thought to herself. She turned to the voice’s source and, sure enough, it was a Dark Iron. He was an older Dark Iron, with a balding head but a very long beard, as if all the hair on his head migrated to his face over the years. His skin was a pale grey and, like all Dark Irons, his eyes glowed an unnatural shade of red. He wore a white smock over his clothes, and his bearded lips turned up in a smile. “Can’t say I’m surprised - these are crimson lasher seeds, straight from the Firelands. Flamewards like this beastie can’t seem to get enough of them. I can give ye a bag for sixty silver.”
She pursed her lips. “Fine.” she said. As much as she hated the idea of giving a Dark Iron her business, maybe a bag full of seeds will convinced the stubborn bird to leave this place. Sooner they do that, the better.
“So, what brings a Bronzebeard like you to the Forlorn Cavern?” the stand keeper asked as he shoveled seeds into a large bag with a small spade.
“An uppity hippogryph.” Marbelma growled as she sneered at Cinderwing. The feathermane huffed and ruffled its fiery feathers in an almost haughty way. I should’ve gotten a gryphon instead she thought to herself, and not for the first time.
“Guessin’ yer a paladin?” he asked.
“Who wants to know?” Marbelma asked.
“Well, you’re dressed like one.” he said, gesturing to the squire armor she was wearing. She was almost always wearing her armor, always ready for a fight. “Plus, I’ve got an eye for these things - used to be a paladin meself before I retired.”
Marbelma raised an eyebrow. “A Dark Iron Paladin?” she asked, skeptical that such a thing exists.
“Contrary to our reputation, we Dark Irons are no strangers to the Light.” he explained. “I mean….Fire IS technically Light, right?” he asked with a chuckle.
“I don’t think it works like that.” Marbelma said.
“Ye’d be surprised.” he replied. “After I retired, I took to becomin’ a blacksmith by trade. Ye’ll find no better smith in this wretched cavern.”
“I thought you sold seeds.” Marbelma said.
“Oh no - this is Mrs. Powderkeg’s stall.” the man said.
“Ack!” cried a Dark Iron woman as she rushed over to the stall. “Get that beast away from me stall!”
“It’s alright, Bayla. Here, I’ll cover for it.” he said as he handed her the sixty silver that Marb handed him a moment ago. “Now then, ye got a name lass?”
“My name is Ms. Fuckin’ Business. First name: None o’ yer.” Marbelma replied.
The elder dwarf simply chuckled at that. “Pleasure to meet ye, Ms. Fuckin’ Business. I’m Balokk Phoenixbeard, at yer service.”
“I don’t need service.” Marbelma said as she lead Cinderwing away from the stall and out of the Forlorn Cavern.
“You need gear. Weapons and armor. I can SMELL IT on ye.” Balokk replied.
“There’s plenty of blacksmiths in Ironforge.” Marbelma sneered.
“But none that have what I have.” Balokk pointed out. “Just come have a look at me wares. If ye don’t like what ye see, yer free to move on to greener pastures.”
Marbelma thought about it. Normally, she wouldn’t give a Dark Iron so much as the time of day. But a deviant part of her brain was curious. She supposed there was no harm in looking and then telling him where to stick it before going back to looking for a REAL blacksmith. “…Fine. Show me then, old man.” Marbelma said.
The old Dark Iron took Marbelma’s insults and disrespect in stride (which somehow irked her even more) and lead her deeper into the Forlorn Markets. A few minutes later, they’d arrived at one of the city’s many stone buildings. Marbelma tied Cinderwing’s reins to a hitching post and followed the elder dwarf inside.
It was dark inside, the large forge being the only source of light. Actually, no, not the only source. She looked at some of the armor sets on display along one wall, and realized they were dimly glowing, like embers. They seemed to glow just a little bit brighter every time Marbelma’s hand drifted close to them.
“Impressed yet?” the Dark Iron blacksmith asked.
“What sort of cursed magic is this?” Marbelma asked.
“Nothin’ cursed - I ain’t no warlock.” Balokk harrumphed. “Just good ol’ fashioned fire magic. Same kinda stuff those mages in Dalaran fling about. We Dark Irons have been proud practitioners of fire magic for centuries! I incorporate it into all me work.”
“How?” she asked.
He rapped his knuckles against his forge. A fire elemental peaked out and looked around, grumbling as though annoyed. “With a little help from me business partner, Charlie. Say hello, Charlie.”
“My name is Charralox.” the elemental hissed.
“Friends call him Charlie.” Balokk replied. The elemental sighed and returned back inside the forge, hoping to be left in piece there.
Marbelma looked back to the armor sets, and how they seemed to glow brighter every time she tried to touch them. “Are they gonna burn me?” she asked.
“No, but……hm……” Balokk replied. “Not every day armor glows like that….I wonder…..” He retreated into a back room and a few minutes later, came back with an ornate-looking weapon case - red with gold trim. He hefted it onto a nearby table and beckoned the young lass over.
“This is a very rare, special item.” he said as he unlocked the case and opened it. Marbelma gasped as she looked at the weapon inside. It was a hammer, and a truly massive one, with a long shaft and a head that was covered in spikes. The orange coloration and dim glowing made it unmistakable. “Is that…”
“Aye.” the blacksmith replied. “A Sulfuras-mold. Modeled after the legendary weapon, wielded by Ragnaros himself. The Fire Lord would only bestow these to his most trusted and loyal lieutenants. Ever since his defeat in the Molten Core, these puppies have become very rare.”
Marbelma gocked at the hammer with a strange mix of awe and disgust. This was the weapon of Ragnaros, the weapon of an enemy that has brought nothing but destruction to the world. And yet, she found the hammer strangely alluring…
“Well, don’t just stare at it, lass!” Balokk said, snapping Marbelma from her reverie. “Pick it up! Give it a go!”
Marbelma hesitantly took the hammer and picked it up. It wasn’t that difficult to wield it, so either it wasn’t as heavy as it looked, or Marbelma really hard gotten stronger over the years. Suddenly, the hammer’s head roared to life, like a torch being lit, as flames now wreathed the business end of the weapon. As Marbelma drifted her hand through the small flames, finding it didn’t burn her the way flames should, the Dark Iron blacksmith was wooping and hollering.
“I knew it! I knew it the moment I laid eyes on ye!” Balokk cheered. “A Sulfuras hammer doesn’t light up like that for just anyone! No doubt about it, lass. Ye’ve got a FIRE in ye!”
“A fire?” Marbelma asked. “Hold on, I ain’t no Dark Iron! I ain’t no cultist!”
“Not sayin’ ye have to be.” Balokk said. “The Molten Core and the Firelands gave people the wrong idea about fire. They view it as a destructive force. Truth is, it’s a neutral force. A tool, like that hammer. Whether it does good or bad depends on who uses it.”
“What good can fire do?” Marbelma asked.
“Well, there’s the obvious - instead of burnin’ good folk, you can burn bad folk.” Balokk explained. “Then there’s the more mundane uses we take for granted - cooking our meals, keeping our homes warm, and generally giving us comfort on cold winter nights. Much of the same can be said of the Light. Light and Fire are practically one in the same. At least, that’s the way we Dark Irons always viewed it.”
Marbelma looked back down on the hammer, which kept burning steadily like a well-fed hearth. She had to admit, out of all the weapons she saw on display, this was definitely the most epic she had seen. Legendary, even. “I’m tellin’ ye Ms. Fuckin’ Business, you were MEANT for that hammer. Sometimes we choose the weapons, other times the weapons choose us. And from the way she’s burnin’, that hammer definitely fancies ye.”
“…How much?” she asked.
“For a beauty like that, I’d normally charge a king’s ransom.” Balokk said. “But for you, I’ll offer a discount of about….oh….let’s say 500 gold.”
Marbelma winced. That’s more than half her budget. Still, for a weapon like this… “250.” she haggled.
“Haven’t ye been listenin’ lass? That’s a SULFURAS.” Balokk said. “It’s as much a collector’s item as it is weapon. I won’t go lower than 450.” he said.
“375?” she asked.
“Tell ye what - 450, AND I’ll throw in a custom-made suit of armor to go with it for an extra hundred.” he said as he crossed his arms. “That’s as good a deal as you’re gonna get today.”
She ground her teeth in frustration. She shouldn’t. 550 is simply too much.
But she could see it in her mind’s eye already. The hammer lighting up the darkness like a torch of holy fury. Smiting her enemies, leaving nothing but ash in her wake.
She imagined the troll. The troll. Burning alive until there was nothing left but a charred corpse.
She smiled at that thought.
“Deal.” she said as she took the Dark Iron’s hand and shook it.
“Pleasure doin’ business with ye.” he said. “Now then, I’m gonna need to take yer measurements, and also I’ll be needin’ yer real name.”
Marbelma sighed. “Marbelma Snowshoe?”
“Snowshoe? Ironic name for someone about to clad in holy flames.” Phoenixbeard observed.
The paladin graduation ceremony. Every year, dozens of squires are recognized as having finally completed their training and given the title of full Alliance Knights. This year’s graduates were assembled on the steps of the Cathedral like every other year’s, assembled in a wide variety of armors and armed with all kinds of swords, hammers and shields.
But few stuck out as more as Marbelma Snowshoe.
Her chest and leg pieces were a brilliant cascade of red, orange and violet, with a golden belt adorned with the stoic lion, symbol of the Alliance. Her boots were orange and and seemed to shake the ground a bit and even leave a soot-covered footprint whenever she took a step. Her shoulders and gauntlets were black with orange and gold trim, flame-shaped spikes molded adorning the shoulder pieces. Hovering above her head was red jewel that formed a fiery ring above her red hair. Finally, strapped to her back was bar-none her most impressive feature - Sulfuras, the Extinguished Hand.
Damn I feel badass. Marbelma thought to herself.
The graduation ceremony was already well underway. The Bishop Arthur was giving a long-winded speech about the next generation of champions or something. Marbelma wasn’t really listening, truth be told. She was eager for some action.
The new war had arrived.
The Burning Legion was invading once again. The Alliance tried to launch an attack on the Broken Shore, where the orc warlock Gul’dan had opened a portal to bring in an entire army of demons to Azeroth. The Alliance went a whole fleet’s worth of its worthiest champions to try and end the Legion threat before it could spread across Azeroth. Not only did they fail, but they also lost their leader. Varian Wrynn was dead, and Anduin Wrynn was the new High King of the Alliance.
And all because Varian made one big mistake - he chose to trust the Horde.
He was the one who spared the Horde after the Siege of Orgrimmar, and how did they repay this act of mercy? They left him to die at a crucial moment. Word had already reached Stormwind that the Horde lost their own leader, Vol’jin, on the Broken Shore, and that the new Warchief was Sylvanas of all people.
She was a monster. Even by Horde standards, which was no small feat - Garrosh set the bar for evil pretty damn high back in Pandaria. The Horde was bad enough with orcs and trolls at the helm, but the undead? The Horde would be worse than ever.
Good. Marbelma thought to herself. It was as if by fate that this would be the moment she finally becomes a true paladin - the exact moment when the Horde would be at its worst. When it would be the most deserving of the Light’s retribution.
Suddenly, the graduation ceremony was interrupted by an Alliance soldier, a courier judging from the satchel of scrolls and papers that hung around his shoulder. He saluted the bishop and informed him of the news - the Burning Legion was attacking again. This time, their target was Westfall. If Sentinel Hill fell, Stormwind wouldn’t be far behind.
The bishop turned to the newest generation of paladins. “The Church of the Holy Light recognizes you as full paladins.” he announced. “Now go! Fulfill your purpose!”
The paladins didn’t hesitate. They all took to their flying mounts and started flying south, towards Westfall - their first real battle, baptized in the blood of demons. As Marbelma egged Cinderwing on, she knew that this battle would only be the first of many. Once the Burning Legion was dealt with, then she could turn her attentions on the Horde. She would finally find the troll that killed her family, ruining her life, and bring to him the justice that he had eluded for too long.
He can’t hide in the darkness forever. she thought to herself, as she could feel her hammer’s flame burning ever brighter. For I will find him and drag him into the Light.
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