A gust of cold air blew in with the next arriving zeplin from Kalimdor, causing the troll kneeling near the fire to shiver slightly and wrap her cloak tightly around her frame. She watched this group of adventurers pile off the zeplin and shook her head at their unbridled eagerness to get out there and kill things. They’d soon learn that it would take a little time to get used to the extreme cold of the region, and to take some precautions before they could rush out into it. Tzia had been helping the troll priests tend to some of the more severe frostbite victims earlier in the day. She knew some would be lucky to keep their tails, or even their legs.
Her mood brightened when a large yellow spotted cat wandered over to sniff at her. She smiled and gently patted the well fanged head of the leopard, a friendly exchange of one large predator to another. It rumbled a greeting to her, and she smiled while the cat’s companion, a female blood elf glared and stalked away.
Tzia sighed. Sometimes being a troll and working with blood elves proved to be more trouble than it was worth. She watched the woman lean back against the forge warmed wall, and nodded. Maybe that one would learn quicker than the others she’d seen. The woman was obviously chilled already, her garments not suited to a colder clime, which the Tundra certainly was. A rumbling yawn turned her attention back to her own companion as the large cat stretched, and shook itself to its feet.
The cat rubbed its head against her shoulder, careful of her large fangs; Tzia smiled and murmured a greeting to her companion. The large lavender cat rumbled a greeting in return, and settled down closer to the fire as the zeplin took off again. The cat’s tail tapped against one of the troll’s boots, signaling that she was bored of waiting and agitated.
“Easy Ruka. Just a bit longer.” Tzia murmured, scratching the large beast behind an ear. The cat leaned into the attention, nearly overbalancing the hunter. Its glowing eyes remained fixed on the empty space where the great air ship had been. The cat was better suited to this land than she was, but then what could she expect of a cat that the goblins called a Frostsaber Pridewatcher? The cat nudged her again, this time over-balancing her and knocking her to the floor to nuzzle into her hair.
Glancing around as the sound of hammer blows on wood reached her ears, she smiled. A large section of boards were being nailed up. She noted the Orcish script over the top, and chuckled. They’d finally gotten around to her suggestion of a message board. It had taken them long enough.
Riffling into her pack, she pulled out a flat piece of Silverpine evergreen that was no larger than her thumb and a carving knife. With a few deft strokes she cut her message into the wood and slipped a leather thong through the hole at the top. Adding a touch of the blue paint she kept in a small kodo bone vial, the message became readable. She tossed that vial back into her pack, and her fingers brushed against a black choker, with a strange white-black feather and a stone troll carving that was diffrent from any that she'd seen before in Azeroth or in the Outlands.
Her attention was fixed on the piece. She touched it gently again and remembered what the orc woman that had raised her had said. It had been wrapped in the blanket she'd been found in.
Her orc mother had raised her as one of her own. There had never been any question amongst her siblings, she had been Tzia Bloodspeaker, and anyone stupid enough to question it had had her brother's large fists to answer for it. Her brothers had taught her to be a fighter. Yet her heart had led her to the life of a hunter, and she had even studied briefly under a hunter taught by the mighty Vol'Jin himself.
Ruka rumbled and nudged her again. The message stick rolled from her hand and into the flames. She didn't bother leaping for it, it was beyond saving already. She shook her head and re-wrapped the choker. Nobody here at the base in the Tundra had recognized anything about the carving or the feather. She'd have to look elsewhere for answers.
Shouldering her pack, she nodded to her companion and they made their way though throngs of new adventures and those that were heading back towards the fire coming in from outside, spattered with freezing blood.
“Tzia!” A voice called from behind her, and she turned and greeted the troll shaman with a smile.
“Good to see you, old friend. Ruka is getting impatient. I thought we’d go out for a bit, help clear up a few Nerubians from the gates.” Tzia said as the lavender cat nudged against her legs, obviously trying to hurry the hunter closer to the sounds of battle.
“A good idea, for both of you. I have a request from our stable master, Wolfbrother. He’s wondering if you would mind venturing far enough out to bring down a rhino calf. The meat supplies are getting short right now.” Sam’na said, her expression darkening, as yet another load of explorers and adventures rushed by, jostling the shaman, and narrowly missing stepping on Ruka’s tail.
“The Warchief and others have more things to worry about, like Arthas, than if the mounts or our companions are getting meat in their bellies. And with the Nerubians at the gates, it’s a bit harder for hunting parties to get in and out.” Tzia reminded, accepting the task with a nod, and placing a soothing hand on Ruka’s head as the large predator snarled after the group of adventures. The shaman sighed and smiled gratefully.
“ I have to get back to helping with frostbite. Idiot explorers. Come here unprepared for the weather.” The shaman grumbled, and Tzia smiled again, this time wryly. They were into a summer period right now, but the temperatures still would dip well below freezing during the day, the grasses here were hardy, and could tolerate colder temperatures better than almost anything she’d seen before. That gave many of the newcomers a false sense of safety. They figured if the grass was around, it couldn’t be that cold out. Only her time in Winterspring with Ruka had given her some idea of what to expect in colder climates, and she had come prepared.
She gave Sam’na a parting wave and altered her course to instead take her out through the stables, just so she could confirm with the stable master how much meat he needed, and to see if one of his wolves wouldn’t mind a hunting expedition.
“Huntress, I see Sam’na caught up with you?” the burly orc asked, and Tzia nodded, having learned early to let him speak without interruption.
“Good, good. I need meat for our brothers and sisters. A bull rhino would be too much meat, as would a mother. But a calf has enough meat for two to three days without it freezing solid. These wolves will not eat cooked fare, unlike some of their more spoiled cousins.” He said, shooting a glare at Ruka, who snarled, clearly reading the insult by tone of voice.
“Will your wolves be willing to help with the hunt, and transport? There are enough Nerubian legs and sinew to fashion travois for the wolves to help haul the kill back to a more retrievable location.” Tzia said, glancing at the mounds of frozen bug like corpses that piled beyond the door.
Wolfbrother grunted and shook his head. Tzia restrained a sigh, and motioned instead to Ruka. The cat sat down in front of the orc, willing to wait, while her hunter walked out into the cold and unsheathed her axe. She selected her corpses with care, hacking off the limbs and skinning some of the fresher kills until she had enough limbs and skin to form what she wanted. She then returned inside and nodded to the cat, who got to its feet and followed her to the forge area.
In the heat of the forges, Tzia found a small un-occupied corner in which to thaw the leather and sinew so that she could work with it. Once it was flexible enough to work, Tzia braided together strips of sinew into several long ropes, and set them aside. She then pulled out an awl and a bone needle. She took already tallowed sinew, and pieced together the bits of nerubian hide she’d managed to aquire, fashioning three long open ended sheathes for the mess of legs she’d hacked off the corpses.
She then took the sinew rope and the pole sheathes back outside and looped the rope to her belt. Tying the legs together with strips of sinew so that the ends overlapped, she stuffed the make-shift poles into the sheathes and quickly sewed the ends shut, binding the legs into the hides. She then crossed the three poles into a triangle and tied it off with the rope.
Stalking back inside, she took a bucket of water from the nearby well, and sluiced the bottoms of the runner poles, which immediately slicked them over with ice. She then untied the rope and settled it into a harness. She sighed and whistled for Ruka, who came with a bound. She looked over and sighed.
“Sorry about this, baby girl. I was hoping for more than just us. But, as usual, its us against a rhino.” She said to the large predator, who curled its lip up to show more fang and rumbled in disgust, clearly understanding the hunter.
Tzia offered a chunk of mammoth to the lavender eyed feline, who quickly took the piece and bolted it down; reverting to old habit, for the cat had been birthed and raised in the cold clime of Winterspring. Tzia shivered slightly in the wind, then turned as the cat’s gaze went past her and fixed on something else. She turned, as Wolfbrother appeared leading a large beast. Her lips creased in a brief smile. He held the reins to her Brewfest Ram, Kartok.
“I figured this beast would be best suited.” He grunted and Tzia nodded, before glancing down at the beast’s giant hooves, which she knew would handle well on the ice and snow. She’d used Kartok before for moving large kills. He had the stamina and the strength to handle it.. She made a few quick adjustments to the rope, and fastened the travois to the back of the ram's saddle.
As the orc stepped back, grimacing at the beast, which was normally an alliance mount, Tzia swung up, and looked to her companion. Ruka set off at an easy trot, already moving comfortably through the chilled air. Kartok bleated once, then with her heels nudging into the beasts' sides, he ambled off after the cat.
Tzia slid from the back of her mount when the large feline crouched in the grass, tail lashing back and forth. She let the reins fall as she picked her bow from its compartment on the saddle and easily strung it. Approaching with caution, she peered through the grass, spotting the rhino calf that Ruka's attention was riveted to. She ran a hand through the cat's soft fur, then knocked an arrow.
At a sharp nod from her hunter, Ruka stalked off, slipping through the grass, blending in enough not to be spotted by the grazing rhinos or the calf. Tzia remained kneeling in the grass as she watched the large predator circle around, to get between the rest of the herd and the calf, so that Tzia would have a better shot. She supressed a rueful grin as Ruka leapt with a roar. The calf bolted, the herd scattered. Ruka chased, leaping for the throat of the large animal, yet not going for the kill, her claws raked the throat as her hunter's bow sang.
When the calf crashed to the ground, Tzia sighed, whistled Ruka off, and unsheathed her axe. She mentally judged the animal, remembering her time hunting Talbuk and Clefthoof, and brought the axe down along the flank, parting hair and flesh easily, and slicing through the fat layer to get at the good meat beneath. The hide was largely worthless, ripped and gouged from the fight, better for little more than scrap. She excised a sizeable portion and tossed it to her pet, who licked at it when it landed in the grass, then bolted chunks down raw.
"Those wolves are pampered and spoiled. Anything that can hunt this is not spoiled, eh my girl?" Tzia asked, and the cat rumbled its agreement.Tzia chuckled and turned to the task at hand.
She carefully cleaned her axe before returning it to its place, and laid the flap of skin and fat back into position before pulling the extra length of rope from her belt. She looped a portion of the rope around one limb, and then tied another around a second limb and fastened a simple harness. She glanced at Ruka who was meticulously cleaning her paws and motioned the cat forward.
Ruka willingly stepped into the harness, and waited while Tzia made a second harness and off set it enough so that the ram wouldn't trample herself or the cat while they pulled the kill onto the travois. She then clucked to Kartok, her hands guiding the reins and they lunged together repeatedly to get the calf moving along the cold ground and onto the bug leather contraption that had served the Tauren for centuries.
Once the calf was on the sled, Tzia freed Ruka from her harness and used the rope to lash the kill down, before reattatching the travois to Kartok and taking the reins. She nodded to Ruka, who fell to Kartok's heels as she led the way back to base, letting the ram plod along.
"Here, eat, eat. You earned it." Sam'na said, shoving a mamoth bone plate of rhino steak infront of the huntress. Tzia sighed, and took it, sipping carefully from a wooden bowl of sweet plum wine. Ruka snuggled closer to her hunter, almost lying on her feet, offering furry warmth against the chill. Tzia smiled. She glanced over her shoulder when she heard a yip and a snarl, and had to smother a chuckle when she realized her own wolf, Helki had just stolen a rhino rib bone from her frost wolf mount, Moka.
With Ruka at her feet, and her other companions settling in well enough, she wondered if this frozen land could actually be home for a while. After all, that was part of what she had come looking for, a home, and some answers to her past.