Un'goro's light mist clung to the night elves as they trudged to the center of the crater. The Silithid had fallen back after their targets had entered the jungle-covered bowl of land, fleeing to their home in the shifting sands. Why the insectoid menace had fallen back, though, no one was sure; they had the upper hand in the battle, picking off the fleeing night elves that had lagged behind the rest of the force, devouring many of them on the spot. Why? Why had they retreated when their enemy was already in retreat?
Oh, but does it matter? a druidess thought to herself. I know everyone questions it. But does it matter what reason those devils ran for? Well, that was not quite true. One of their own did not question why the Silithid had turned tail in their moment of triumph. But no one could really blame him...
The elves traveled a great distance across the steamy jungle, finally reaching a stopping point by the volcanic formation in the middle of the crater. There, the wounded were finally laid down, finally given the care they desperately needed. The wounds they maintained were bad enough. Cleaning them turned into a pressing ordeal due to the great amount of sand that had been blasted in by the winds of the desert. They would need their bodies in good shape again soon. The druidess surveyed the encampment. They had lost so many... The threat still loomed. If these daring soldiers did not prevail against the Silithid, the enemy would sweep across the land like the veritable locusts they were, devouring all in their path, taking everything for themselves. The woman shook her head. No, they would never allow that to happen. She bit her lip. But how could they really prevent it? Too much was left to do for the night, though. The druidess returned to the resting area of the wounded, helping again with cleaning wounds, bandaging them, and placing blessings upon those she aided.
Morning brought little comfort to the elven force. Their enemy still lived, still readied itself to unleash its terrible fury against their home. So few of them remained! How could they hope to be victorious? They couldn't possibly.
The elves' commander stepped before them, climbing atop a mound of volcanic rock. He was already a middle-aged elf but appeared no less able-bodied than the rest of them. He wore a grey feathered kilt, matching spaulders, and a green scale chestpiece. His sculpted, shaven chin had grown a bit of mossy green stubble overnight, matching his mane of hair that hung down to his lower back. The elf stood taller than the others, easy to spot on any battlefield.
The elven force quieted as he raised his hand to speak.
"It is clear to me and to all of you that we lack the numbers to complete our mission," he stated grimly. Several heads lowered in quiet despair. "Many lives have been lost..." He paused. One in particular mattered dearly to him. But he could not dwell on his own loss. Not when his force depended upon him. "...But we must persevere." A few of the lowered heads raised to look up at him again, awaiting his suggestion of how exactly they would persevere. "I will leave today to seek allies to assist us in this..." He hesitated. To call it a massacre would be fitting, but utterly demoralizing. "...situation." His glowing golden eyes scanned the crowd. He needed companions, searching for someone who hadn't been completely worn out by the journey. Surely someone was able. A purple-haired Sentinel appeared awake and ready, uninjured too. Her armor had scars from the battle the day before, but was still in relatively good shape. He pointed to her. "You. Come forward." The Sentinel nodded, working her way through the crowd to the commander. He sighed, looking about the crowd again. One more would do. A magic user, preferably. Someone to act as backup in case a situation came about. A spring green-haired woman looked alert enough. He checked her garb. She wore vestments similar to the other druids with the force, appearing undamaged. Good, she was a fast runner. And she was awake. He pointed to her. "And you. Come forward." The woman nodded, stepping carefully through the crowd to the commander. The two chosen elves stood next to him, looking to him curiously. He cleared his throat. "We three will travel east to seek out our hopeful allies. The rest of you will await our return. Understood?" A murmur of consent fluttered through the group of elves. The commander bit his lip. They were quiet. Mourning. Disheartened. He nodded. That would just have to do for now.
The three elves trudged across the other end of the crater's sprawling jungle, following their quiet commander. The Sentinel rode on a provided saber, resting for the journey while the female druid led it by the reins. They had a plan. To the east of the crater was yet another desert, the windswept desert of Tanaris. The elves would cross the desert to the eastern end of it, stopping only once when the sun fell. The Sentinel would keep watch then. There, nestled in the dunes of ancient sands, was the home of the Bronze dragonflight, the Caverns of Time. No mortals had been in the caverns, of course. But the dragons guarded it with purpose. The elves knew even walking up to the Caverns' entrance would get the dragons' attention.
And it would take the might of dragons to defeat this menace. The Silithid were just as susceptible to death as the elves were, but with two key advantages. The first being their tough exoskeletons, a far cry from the soft flesh of the elven fighters. The second happened to be their sheer numbers. Fighting the insects called on a terrible sea of chattering, fluttering, clicking doom to wash over the elven forces. They erupted from the sand, poured out of burrows, and even worse, some unlucky elves were not killed on the spot during the battle. The less fortunate had been dragged down into the burrows alive, presumably to be used as food for their young. That was the worst of it; no matter what the elves did, they knew the more of them fell, the stronger the Silithid would grow. They were essentially feeding the beasts, the price of their failure in battle being their transformation from noble soldier to nutritious supplement. But there was something more, something even worse than the already wretched insects that plagued the commander's mind. They acted as one, as a hive mind. Expected, of course. But with such purpose. They could not have wanted to destroy all in their path for the sake of rearing more young, could they? No, there had to be something more. And he had felt it, too. A powerful gaze had watched the battle from afar, eyeing their movements. This must have been their queen or leader or... For fel's sake, they're bugs. Giant, disgusting bugs. Giant insects with a towering general, a beetle-like, pincir-appendaged being. He himself had sown plenty of terror, tearing through the battle. And...
The commander would not think of what else the general had done. Not right now. He watched the jungle floor in front of his feet, stepping over jutting roots. The present, he told himself. Keep your mind focused on the present. Deal with the past later...
The jungle eventually gave way to a rocky path climbing up from the crater. The reddish brown stone was crumbling somewhat, but was stable enough to ascend. Sand had trickled down in thin streams down the path, filtering between the bits of rock. The druidess followed behind her commander, tugging a bit at the saber's reins. The path was luckily not so steep as for the Sentinel to fall off the saber's back, but the sooner they climbed it the better.
Finally the climb ended. It would be easier now...
Wind flew across the shining desert, lifting light sand with it. The sand flew about, threatening to lodge in the elves' eyes if they did not respectfully lower their gaze and squint. The commander peered out over the desert, holding a hand to block the setting sun's rays. He gave a gesture to the druidess behind him. Forward, into the sea of sand.
The druidess decided she had become quite tired of sand by now...
By the end of the night, the elves had reached a halfway point. It was time to stop, to pitch a tent, and to sleep through the scorching day they knew was coming. The Sentinel would stand guard to ensure no enemies wandered close. As the druids took to the tent, the Sentinel scanned the desert. The sun had risen from the horizon and already began heating the ground. Though the sun would be an issue, she figured at least there would be no dangerous encounters. After all, their enemy had not pursued them across the crater which lay between the two deserts. The most that could give them trouble here was the local wildlife. Heyenas, buzzards, and basilisks were seen from a distance as the elves had made their night trek. The Sentinel didn't know, of course. She had slept the entire way. She gave her surroundings another scan, letting out a sigh. It would be a long day... Probably of nothing happening, too.
Inside the tent, the druidess watched as the commander settled onto his sleeping mat. He gave her a look. "Rest."
She bit her lip a moment. "Sir, with respect... Are you--"
"I said rest," he snapped, rolling onto his side to face away from her. "It's a long trek and we can't waste time!"
The druidess frowned, looking down to her hands resting on her lap. She shook her head, laying down herself. As she lay, listening to the commander's breathing slow, she heard a light pat sound from him. Another shortly followed. You need the rest more than I, Staghelm, she thought. The druidess closed her eyes slowly, attempting to clear her mind.
The following night, the elves continued their trek across the desert. The air was chilled terribly during the night, but the elves took some comfort in the moonlight reflecting off the sand to them. The mother moon was ever with them, watching their journey over the dunes. Their commander's eyes darted from place to place along the horizon, eyeing each rock that rose from the sands. The druidess watched, waiting for some sort of sign from him. What was he looking for? How would he know when he found it? The woman looked out over the horizon as well. All the rocks looked the same to her. They were dark brown, polished by the sand that constantly blasted against their faces. Within the few cracks left on them, the creamy sand filled the spaces, adding striking lines to the rock.
"There." The commander pointed to a large cluster of the brown rocks. The cluster rose high above the dunes, its presence clear even in the moonlight. The druidess peered closely at the cluster.
"What's there, sir?"
"Our salvation, hopefully..." He set off at a run for a moment, then leapt into the air, his form swiftly changing into that of a storm crow. The druidess frowned. She could not follow that quickly, not with the saber's reins in her hand and the sentinel asleep in the saddle. She sighed, quickening her pace slightly to at least make better time.