Xander looked around at the ashen world, and then up at the swirling vortex above him. He felt the vortex pulling at him. Felt the peace that lay beyond it and he wanted that peace. His feet left the ground and he started floating.
“Xander.” He heard his name and turned, seeing Buffy.
“Hey…Buff. You’re alive?!” He was amazed, his feet dropping back to the ground.
“Not exactly.” She said, pointing behind Xander.
Xander turned and stared. They were in the valley below, the massive rises in front of them. But that was not what drew his attention. The luminescent, angelic being before him was what he focused on. She hovered, gazing at them and smiling serenely. “The world needs heroes, Alexander Harris. Heroes to fight the coming darkness and you are a hero. Will you continue the fight or do you wish to rest at last?”
Xander looked at Buffy.
“I’m not giving up yet.” Buffy said softly.
Xander nodded, his decision made. “Then neither am I.”“Then choose. Stay here, and I will restore you to the physical realm, or return to the place of your demise and I will allow you to re-enter your bodies, whole and unbroken.”
The angel spoke softly.
Buffy and Xander looked around and saw the lions, wolves and other creatures prowling the valley.
“We’ll head back to our bodies.” Buffy said.
The angel nodded once. “Peace, then, heroes of Azeroth.”End Flashback
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Xander had ‘died’ twice more since then, Buffy three times. Each time, they returned and continued the fight.
They looked up when the door to their lodge opened. Askia entered and smiled warmly. “Greetings.” She said.
“Welcome.” Buffy said, waving her in and offering her part of their meal.
Askia took the offered bread and nodded thanks. “I bring news from Chieften Cairne.”
Buffy and Xander snapped their focus to their guest now.
“You are to go to Camp Narache to begin your trials. You still wish to walk the Path of the Hero, do you not?” Askia said.
Xander and Buffy nodded.
Askia smiled. “Then come, we shall get you ready for your trials.”
Buffy and Xander rose and followed the Tauren out of the lodge and into the throng of guards cheering around them when they emerged. It had been decided among the Tauren that if Thrall had not accepted them, they could stay in Mulgore as long as they desired. But Thrall had, as had Lady Sylvanas. They were welcome in all lands of the Horde. Buffy, for her part, was excited. This was another world and if they could find a way home, she would not hesitate. ‘But,’ she thought as she looked around, ‘If not, this isn’t so bad.’
Buffy was given a simple tunic, some leather pants and a large, two-handed mallet. For Xander they settled on the advice from Master Pyreanor, with permission from Lor’themar Theron the Regent of Ouel’Thalas. Xander would meet a representative at Camp Narache and they would see if he could become a Paladin. He had shown a few signs of having the ability to train as one during their fight in Elder Rise. As such, he had been given the initiates clothes sent from Silvermoon and an old, battleworn claymore and they had been taken to Camp Narache.
As Buffy and Xander walked the long path from Thunder Bluff to Camp Narache with Askia they passed the time by listening to her describe the various creatures they passed.
“The Kodo have sustained our entire race and we live with them in peace.” Askia was saying as they waited for a herd to pass on a road. “We hunt them for food, clothing, shelter…our race is as dependant on them as we are on the blessings of the Earthmother.”
Buffy nodded and smiled as the lumbering beasts passed her. They were massive and yet they were very gentle. Askia pointed out the kodo, the plainstriders, the various prarie stalkers, swoops and harpys. Mulgore was beautiful, but dangerous, if you were not careful.
As they approached the village, Askia paused. “My younger brother is starting his journey this day as well. His name is Turgren. He is skilled in the ways of battle, but still has much to learn. It would benefit you to have companions.” She smiled.
Buffy nodded. “Especially around here.” She said. Camp Narache loomed in the distance and the haze was just beginning to get burned off of the ground by the morning sun. The camp was simple and the path was clear.
Askia turned to the two and smiled. “I would like to see you again if your journey takes you back to Thunder Bluff.” She said.
Buffy reached up and pulled the tauren into a hug. “Thank you for everything.” She said softly.
Askia hugged the much smaller human back and smiled. “I shall never forget you.” She said as she hugged Xander as well.
Xander looked at the camp and headed in with Buffy by his side. The first thing they saw was the large totem pole in the center of the village. Under it stood a massive Tauren with a spear. The two friends headed up under the gaze of the warrior.
“Greetings travelers. I have been expecting you.” The warrior said. “I am Grull Hawkwind.” He said.
“I’m Buffy, this is Xander.” Buffy said, sizing the warrior up. He was big, but she had seen much bigger at Thunder Bluff.
He nodded his heavy head and smiled. “I have heard from Cairne Bloodhoof about you. May you serve the Horde well.” He said. “This is where you shall decide if you truly wish to travel the path of the hero. It is long, arduous and rife with pain and misery…along with glory, honor and perhaps, riches.” He said. “Are you ready to begin along your path?”
Buffy and Xander nodded. “We are.” Xander said.
“There is also someone here for you, young ones.” Grull motioned to the lodge to his left. “You are expected.”
Buffy and Xander headed to the lodge and saw that though it was smaller than the ones in Thunder Bluff, small was a relative term. To them, the place was huge. As they entered, they saw three others gathered around the fire. One was Tauren, huge, thick mane and sharp pointed horns that swooped down and forward, making him seem as if he was constantly charging. He carried a massive hammer on his back and was talking very animatedly with his companions. His companions were sitting and listening quietly, though one was looking annoyed and the other bored.
The bored one was an elf. Sin’Dori or Blood Elves, Buffy recalled. He was dressed in initiates clothing just like Xanders. He also carried a large sword. He was nearly six and a half feet tall with broad shoulders and a thick mane of hair. Buffy also knew he possessed a grace that belied his form.
The other was a different story. She was…well…Buffy knew right away she was undead. She was looking around the room with an annoyed look and sighed. She then spotted Buffy and Xander. Buffy noticed, just for a second, that her hands glowed and eerie green and black for a second. She then tapped the elf and pointed their way.
The elf turned and smiled broadly at Buffy. It was a smile she had seen countless times in High School. She rolled her eyes.
“Bal'a dash, malanore!” the elf said, standing quickly and moving to greet Buffy and Xander. “I am Peridar Lightwatcher, Scion of the House of Lightwatcher. We were the last guards to fight the dreaded Scourge before they crossed to assault the Sunwell.” He said. “These are my trustworthy companions, Turgren Windcatcher and Selvalersi Drizmane.” He introduced the two.
Turgren waved good naturedly and Selvalersi nodded once. “Hello…” she said, her voice sounding hollow and preternatural.
“Now that you are here, we can walk the trail of the hero together!” Peridar said. “It will be glorious!!”
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Xander stared at the withered face of the old Tauren woman smiling sweetly and looked at his friends. “I guess we can do that.” The old Tauren woman smiled and pointed to the well behind her.
Xander took one of the earthenware pitchers and filled it with water. He looked at his companions and sighed. “For the Glory of the Horde…” he said and smiled at the old Tauren. “Need us to walk you back?” he asked.
“I will be fine. These old bones would only slow you down.” She said. “Deliver this to my son, Chief Hawkwind.” She said, smiling.
Xander nodded. “Ok. We’ll see you there.” Xander turned and headed back to the Camp, Buffy and the others following behind him. Half way there, Peridar started to laugh. It was slight at first, but Buffy started to join in as did Turgren…Xander turned and glared. “Laugh it up…” he muttered. “I’ll keep the reward she offered us.”
Buffy stopped laughing. “There was a reward?”
Xander nodded. “Yup. Sure was.”
Buffy looked at Peridar and Turgren. “What was this reward?” she asked quickly. “And can we eat it?”
Turgren laughed. The small woman ate more than he did. His hunting and fishing skills were being stressed. “It is most likely coin.” He said. “We can buy simple provisions and I can make you more of the Spice Bread you liked so much.”
Buffy grinned, remembering the large, hot loaves and their delicate spicy taste. “Yum.” She muttered, quickening her pace.
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Xander entered the large dwelling and looked at the Chief. He was talking with another Tauren, who quickly stopped talking as Xander approached.
“I have this for you, Chief Hawkwind.” Xander said, handing the large pitcher to the massive Tauren.
“You carried this pitcher back at the Greatmother's bidding, I see.” Hawkwind nodded his approval as he took the pitcher. “Your willingness to help others and provide for the tauren of Camp Narache leads me to believe you would make the tribe proud in Thunder Bluff someday.”
Xander smiled as Hawkwind handed him several coins. “Please, take this as a token of appreciation.” Hawkwind said, smiling.
Xander nodded his thanks and turned to exit. He had received 17 copper coins. Not a lot, but more than they had. They would eat tonight.
“Xander…a moment.” Peridar said, walking up to Xander, his red hair trailing behind him…obviously the Blood Elfs pride.
Xander stopped and turned. “What’s up?”
“I think it is time to take you with me.” Peridar said. “We are going to Silvermoon to train you more in the ways of the Paladin.”
Xander turned to the group of Buffy, Selvalersi and Turgren all awaiting his return. “What about them?” he asked.
Peridar shrugged. “They are welcome to come.” He said. “Although Turgren does not like Silvermoon and Selvalersi wants to visit The Undercity to speak with Lady Sylvanas.”
Xander nodded. “And Buffy?”
Peridar smiled. “She is most welcome. I believe she may enjoy Silvermoon.”
Xander sighed. “I just…I really like Mulgore.”
Peridar nodded his understanding. “I know, it is indeed beautiful. But the trail of the Hero travels all over Azeroth, not only in Mulgore.”
“Besides…” Peridar continued, turning Xander to walk over to their friends. “We are coming back in a few weeks. Turgren needs to complete his trials here.”
Xander stopped as Peridar continued to walk. “You couldn’t have just SAID that?!”