tagSci-Fi & FantasyCommander Pinter Ch. 01

Commander Pinter Ch. 01


It was colder than she thought it would be.

Pinter's boot sank shin-deep in snow as the weight of her gear finally caught up with her. Everything was amplified in this cold that pressed down like an enormous hand, adding to the weight of her gear, slowing her progress through this endless snow. Snow and wind. And mountains. The wind bit fiercely at what little of her face was exposed above the tail of her cloak, wrapped around herself and pulled high to cover her mouth.

She pumped her legs in the heavy white sheet that blanketed the ground as she traversed the steep, rocky incline. Her tears had dried hours ago, evaporated in the might of the wind. Frostfire Ridge was nothing but snow, wind, and mountains. Pinter had been walking all day now, her miles of footsteps filled in long ago even if she had the energy to give up and follow her trail back. There wasn't even a friendly flight path available to her, so she had to make the long trek on foot.

She wished more than anything for a mount, anything with strong enough legs to plow through the debilitating snow, to get her over the next rocky ridge and see the next, and the next, and the next. Daylight dwindled beneath the clouds in the east, the sky golden near dusk but promising nothing but more wind and cold for the night. Wind blasted her with another assault, and Pinter slipped as she reached her free hand for another hold on the cliff, and missed.

Pinter wailed as she caught herself with her knee, as her entire leg submerged in the freezing vice of snow. Her mail leggings weren't enough insulation, and when she staggered to her feet she knew they had soaked through. She needed to find shelter soon. She needed to build a fire. The people waiting for her would have to keep waiting. If she didn't find a cave soon she would die.

Pinter was a hunter, although she had no idea why. Since she was little she had dreams of joining the Alliance, of fighting alongside other Humans, the serene Night Elves of Darnassus, the fearsome Worgen of the north, even the exotic Draenei who wandered the streets of Stormwind and who occasionally appeared in her village in Elwynn Forest. Pinter had fallen in love with the idea of adventuring and stopping the Horde's advance. She had trapped small animals as a girl and kept them as pets. When she mentioned this to the recruiter outside the New Barracks, he had recommended her for hunter training. Pinter saw herself storming Tol Barad with other youngsters like her, beating back Trolls and Blood Elves in Alterac Valley, crushing the Orcs in the Barrens and spreading Stormwind's influence to the far reaches of Azeroth. Garrosh Hellscream had changed all that.

Training had barely commenced when Theramore was obliterated. She had only tamed her first bear when the Alliance and Horde united to lay siege to Orgrimmar. That false victory had been harsh, indeed, as Hellscream escaped to some virgin past on the home world of the Orcs, raising the army of his father Grammosh, and bringing them back to Stormwind's doorstep at the Dark Portal. The Alliance needed heroes. Azeroth needed them, and Pinter was rushed through her training.

She was deemed fit for combat after only two months, given a bow and a set of halfway decent gear, and sent rushing through the Dark Portal with Khadgar and Thrall. She survived the rout of Tanaan Jungle, and for some reason they called her "Commander." Only 19 years old and she commanded a garrison full of Alliance troops who had spilled their first Orc blood when Pinter was still in her cradle.

Pinter looked back as she finally reached the summit of her ridge. Nothing but dreary snow and thick, gray clouds spread to the horizon. She looked ahead, and she spotted dark red lava spilling from the peaks. It had to be the Stonefury Cliffs. She was close, but she would never make it before nightfall. Pinter pulled her cloak tighter and stepped onto the opposite face of the ridge. It was so much colder than she thought it would be.

She slipped. She landed hard on her butt and slid on sheer ice all the way to the foot of the ridge. Her cloak slipped up her back. Her vest slipped up, too, exposing her skin, and Pinter felt the promise of agony as she slid, as she plopped awkwardly in a snowbank and came to a rough halt. What was she doing here? She was no hero. She couldn't even find a simple instance, fulfill a basic task that Khadgar had entrusted to her. Pinter lay on her back, her cloak and her shirt disheveled around her, exposed to the cold and crying. She wiped her eyes and found her opened backpack, the four Talador orchids frosting in the wind. Pinter packed up the only beautiful things she had left, checked her bow, and swallowed enough of her tears to stand. There had to be a cave down here. She could cry herself to sleep and make her way home tomorrow. Khadgar would understand. She was useless, and she would go back to Elwynn Forest by the end of the week.

The ground rumbled beneath Pinter's feet. The snow billowed in a long line, and Pinter fell on her back as something burst through the ice.

A massive worm twisted its jaws in a crackly roar as it rose high over Pinter. Blue and white fur lined the monster's back, and its teeth spiraled in its mouth like a meat grinder as it moved closer, as it closed in on its prey.

Fear locked Pinter in place, or she thought it was fear. Her heart beat steadily in her chest from what she thought was cowardice, but her hunter training took hold without her even knowing. She reached for her bow. She found her arrow. She lined up her shot.

The worm hissed loud as it charged.

And crashed dead with a blast of white dust, curling up in its throes as its nervous system failed. Pinter's arrow stuck from the small point just above its mouth that housed the monster's brain. She panted heavily as she realized she was alive. She had won. She was too stunned to smile. Pinter stood with her gear asunder and made her way to the dead worm. The beast's oddly shaped jaws would fetch a few pieces of gold from the merchants in her garrison, and this hide would prove useful when she finally gathered enough resources to build a tannery. A flash of pride ignited in Pinter's belly as she sliced through the thick pelt and made quick work of its flesh. She folded her loot, stuffed it in her bag, and leapt down from the giant corpse.

A silhouette shambled out of the rocks. Pinter could only make out a humanoid shape wearing large shoulder guards, and she wondered if this was one of the adventurers she was supposed to meet. Before she knew it the newcomer had summoned four totems in the ground. Pinter went for her bow, but it was too late. The ground underneath the snow cracked, and living land wrapped itself like rope around Pinter's body.

She lifted three feet in the air, her arms trapped beneath the constricting Earth, her binds squeezing tightly sending fire up her spine. Pinter's vision went white, not like the snow but bright white like heavenly illumination. She gazed blindly at the clouds overhead and kicked her feet vainly beneath her, and she realized she was being tranquilized. A dozen pin pricks now became known to her, some sort of venom injecting into her system. She would be out soon. She would be dead soon after that as whoever this newcomer was finished her off no doubt. The last thing Pinter did before she went still was surrender to more tears. She really was useless. She had failed, and she would die lonely and frozen somewhere in Frostfire Ridge.

The newcomer dismissed the totems and stepped forward. It was an Orc, a woman, and she was heavily bundled up beneath a cloak that seemed to be an extension of her body. The Orc held a small mace in her left hand. Her right hand appeared as if growing from beneath the cloak holding a curved, serrated dagger. She walked to Pinter in her stone prison, and she raised the mace over her head.

Pinter whimpered just then. She was so far into the venom's paralysis that she had no knowledge of it, but the Orc woman heard. She paused, and she lowered the mace. She looked more closely at Pinter's young features. And she sighed something like resignation as she shook her head.

More wind howled through the scene. The Orc looked over her shoulder, only to see a wall of snow whipped up by a mighty storm blowing its way across the frozen plain. She waved her arms in a grand downward motion. The rocks retreated back to the Earth, releasing Pinter, who fell unconscious in the snow. The Orc's arms disappeared inside her cloak and emerged empty-handed. Then she knelt, hefted Pinter over her shoulder, and made her way back into the rocks just as the windstorm overtook Frostfire Ridge.

She woke slowly to crackling fire. For a moment Pinter thought she was safe in her bed back in the town hall, but then she felt the heavy pelt that covered her. Most of her clothes had been removed, and Pinter swirled upright and aware as she remembered a shadowy figure summoning the stones to subdue her.

It was a cave. Orange firelight danced on the walls, and the wind howled outside the entrance about thirty yards away. Pinter turned her gaze to the sound of the fire, and she saw an Orc woman kneeling, working a spit, grumbling to herself in mild frustration. The Human hunter's heart beat in her throat at the sight. The Horde! Frostfire Ridge was their base of operations in Draenor, and she had been taken by an Orc. This was an older Orc, her arms ropy with muscles, easily the match of the strongest Human male warrior or paladin. The sides of her head were bald, her gray hair splayed high over her head in a Mohawk. She would be fierce, but Pinter had to try.

Her gear hanged close by on the wall. Her bow rested beneath, her arrows neatly in their quiver. She could make it if she was quiet. Pinter slipped out from the pelt that she recognized as a thick cloak much better attuned to the frigid climate than her own. Her skin didn't pucker in gooseflesh from the cold but went warm with the fire's heat, and Pinter scooted to her bow. She plucked an arrow from her quiver. She looked back at the kneeling Orc.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," the Orc woman said in the deep voice natural to her race.

Pinter froze as the Orc flicked her hand, sprouting a totem at her feet that glowed with a tiny yellow ball of light revolving around it.

"I could ruin your day in a heartbeat," the Orc said. "You're better off crawling back under my cloak to wait for your dinner."

Pinter set down her bow. She sat cross-legged on the wide cloak that was spread on the floor. She pulled the lip over her legs, and she eyed the Orc woman in curious suspicion.

"Where are we?" Pinter asked.

"Away from the storm," the Orc said.

"How long was I asleep?" Pinter asked.

"Does it matter?" the Orc asked. "You're alive."

Pinter looked away. She couldn't argue with that. At least this Orc, a shaman by Pinter's understanding, had found it within her to spare her life. Pinter wouldn't press the issue. She looked down at her waist, at her arms, and she saw the tiny pricks where the tranquilizer had entered her body. They were tiny red marks, and they looked like they were healing up. This shaman had probably used some enhancement to reverse the effects of the initial spell. She was alive, and she was healing. Pinter had no cause to ask for more.

"Damn the Gods," the Orc growled at the fire. Pinter smelled frying meat, and her stomach quaked at the scent. She hadn't eaten since leaving Gorgrond, a few bites of Draenic cheese one of the Rangarii had offered. She rose from the cloak and crouched her way just behind the Orc.

"What's wrong?" Pinter ventured.

"Flavorless rubbish," the Orc said, tossing away her utensil. The Orc's gear was spread open neatly as though she were used to living in the wild. She turned her head profile to Pinter, and she saw the fangs in her lower lip, the lines of age at the corner of her eye, from her nose to the edge of her mouth. The Orc sank in renewed frustration. "A simple recipe, and I left all of my reagents in the storehouse."

"Maybe I can help," Pinter said.

The Orc turned on her suddenly with flared nostrils. Pinter flinched.

"I have some flowers," Pinter said. "Some orchids. They might work."

The Orc narrowed her eyes in thought. "Get them."

Pinter found her backpack. She dug beneath the worm hide and the circular jaws, and she found the four flowers. She went back to the Orc with the orchids extended, and she bowed her head in offering. "If you think they will do."

The Orc took the flowers. She smelled them. After a moment she turned back to the fire where she crushed them in her large hands, sprinkling the fragrant remains over the pan where two flanks of elek meat simmered with what looked like jawless sleeper steaks. As the flowers cooked, their smell mixed with the aromas that already filled the cave, and Pinter's hunger spiked. But in a fantastic way. The Orc sensed it, too, lifting her head with a sniff.

"I'll be," the Orc said.

"I picked those flowers in my garrison," Pinter said. "In my garden. I never thought I would use them. I wouldn't even have known what for."

Pinter went back to the cloak, wrapping her legs in the comforting warmth. She locked up, expecting to remain in silence until they ate their small dinner.

"What is your name?" the Orc asked.

Pinter perked at the question. Should she answer? She was alive. That's all that mattered. "Pinter."

"I am Kerrak," the Orc said. "You are far from Shadowmoon Valley, Pinter."

"I came here to find four adventurers," Pinter said. "The mage Khadgar gave me my mission. We're supposed to raid the Bloodmaul Slag Mines and return with Gug'rokk's head, and whatever else we can find for ourselves."

"That won't be easy," Kerrak said.

"I realize that," Pinter said, and she drew herself tighter.

Kerrak stood, casting a long shadow over Pinter. She was maybe six inches taller, formidable in her stance, but there was a tenderness to her posture. Kerrak's leather top covered her ample breasts, and her hips ticked back and forth beneath her long skirt as she crossed the cave to Pinter's gear on the wall. Kerrak's olive green midriff was toned with strong abdominal muscles, probably from decades of fighting all the terrors of Azeroth, of dealing with Alliance scum like herself. Kerrak examined Pinter's shirt, her leggings, her hood, and she shook her head.

"You were lucky not to freeze," Kerrak said. "This gear is better suited for the jungle."

"I came through Gorgrond," Pinter said.

"This is not Gorgrond," Kerrak said. "Not at all. But this bow." The shaman picked up Pinter's bow. Her heart stopped for a second, but Pinter relaxed as Kerrak simply felt the wood, felt the core, drew the string taught and set it down. "It is sturdy. It's a good bow."

"And I'm useless with it," Pinter said.

"You downed that worm," Kerrak said. "That's impressive."

Pinter kept her head low and hugged her legs. "Why didn't you kill me?"

Silence opened up like a desert. The fire crackled, and the meat in the frying pan hissed as Kerrak mulled over her answer. "I was about to," Kerrak said. "I was breath away from crushing your skull and taking your heart."

"What stopped you?"

"I have adventured since I was old enough to leave my village," Kerrak said. "I have seen three Warchiefs. I have dealt with the Burning Legion, stormed Icecrown Citadel, shot Deathwing from the sky, and liberated my own capital from a maniac who lived to create even greater evil. I have thousands of trophies, pieces of Alliance men and women who tried to kill me over the years, all of them burning with a desire to serve something as great as what drives me and my kind, but I swear. You people get younger and younger every time. My own son was just like you."

Kerrak went quiet then. Pinter sensed the memory welling inside of the shaman, and she didn't disrupt it with a hasty word. Kerrak had taken mercy on her. She was thankful enough.

But as they ate their meal, made even more delicious with the orchids Pinter had added, Kerrak opened up. Her son's name was Druktag. He grew up enamored with Garrosh Hellscream and vowed to be a warrior like the mad Orc. When Theramore was obliterated and Vul'jin broke ranks to form his rebellion, Kerrak and Druktag had followed. They were in the frontline during the Siege of Orgrimmar. Druktag and a band of Orc warriors had accompanied the Gnomes who destroyed the Iron Juggernaut. But he had been killed in the fight, blown to bits by a stray mine. Kerrak was deep inside of Orgrimmar by then, healing the Night Elves and Trolls who ultimately subdued Garrosh. She didn't learn of Druktag's death until after it was all over.

Kerrak stared into the fire when she finished her story. Pinter wasn't sure if Orcs were capable of tears, but Kerrak's dark brown eyes sparkled with moisture. The young hunter ventured out her hand and touched Kerrak's leg. The Orc didn't even flinch, but Pinter sensed a spark of heat beneath her skirt. She thought nothing of it, though, as Kerrak placed her own thick, heavy palm over Pinter's fingers. It was a gentle connection, and Pinter's ears rang with a rush of blood to be sharing something so intimate with her enemy. They sat like that in silence, and their shadows were long and tall on the cave wall.

Pinter helped Kerrak clean up. The shaman stuck another long piece of wood in the fire with a burst of sparks that flittered and died out. The fire burned brighter, and Pinter had a good look of Kerrak's features, her age more defined in the renewed light. Pinter wondered if she would become such a veteran as Kerrak in her time, if she would even survive whatever was playing out here on Draenor. She wondered if she would train other hunters like herself and nurture their flare for adventure. She wondered many decades ahead, and suddenly her back ached from the strain of the day.

Pinter groaned and rotated her arm.

"Are you all right?" Kerrak asked.

"It was a long day," Pinter said.

"I have just the thing," Kerrak said.

The Orc went to her bags and removed a round stone, about the size of her fist. "What is that?" Pinter asked.

"A relaxant," Kerrak said. "Come here."

Pinter closed the distance. She turned around at Kerrak's gesture, and the Orc raised Pinter's arms. Pinter gasped at the heat as Kerrak touched the stone to the creamy skin of her upper back, but she relaxed as the shaman ran the stone out along her shoulder, circled, and traced down the tight muscles in her side. Pinter loosened up, and she closed her eyes as Kerrak performed whatever therapy this was.

She knew all of Pinter's zones, every possible place that was tighter than usual and ached for release. Kerrak put her free hand on Pinter's belly, holding her closer, and Pinter lost herself in the soothing ritual. She noticed a remaining bit of tension in her neck, and Kerrak seemed to hear, running the stone higher and making small circles that opened up Pinter's mind and made her forget about any sort of distress, any cold, any danger that their races seemed so desperate to perpetuate between themselves. Kerrak closed her fingertips just a little on Pinter's belly. Pinter's muscles fluttered, and she felt heat between her legs. She was one with the ritual, and she barely noticed the nub of pressure in the small of her back as Kerrak held her closer.

But then the pressure grew. Pinter opened her eyes, and she turned around. Kerrak's skirt billowed like a tent. "What the hell is that?" Pinter asked, not vindictive or angry but curious.

Kerrak didn't retreat. She stood there strong, so sure of herself. Pinter looked up at the Orc shaman's eyes, and she wanted to know. She wanted to look. She wanted Kerrak to show her. And then she did.

Kerrak undid the back of her skirt, and it fell to the floor. So did Pinter's jaw.

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