Our first day went as well as one can expect first days to go. Most of our time was preoccupied with making the necessary arrangements to establish a base camp. I located an ideal setting by a freshwater river inlet. Judging by the old, abandoned docks nearby this site was inhabited sometime ago. As for the original inhabitants, only time can tell that tale.
For this expedition I have assembled Ajeck Rovack, and Sir S. J. Erlgadin, along with my trusted servant Barnil Stonepot. I fought alongside Ajeck’s father’s side in many battles in defense of the Alliance. Seeing her grown is quite special. Her father schooled her well in the ways of weaponry. Her skills with a bow make me wonder if there is elven blood running through those veins.
Sir S. J. Erlgadin comes from human aristocracy. His father, Count Erlgadin, was renowned for his generosity. It was the Count who lobbied for improved working conditions for the Stonemasons Guild during the restoration of Stormwind after the Second Great War.
In the years that followed after Stormwind betrayed the Stonemasons Guild, Sir Erlgadin grew bitter about the role of the nobles within the Kingdom. He no longer wished to uphold the position that his father’s bloodline had earned for him in the House of the Nobles. But I digress. The purpose of his story is not to act as a political treatise or a biography. This is the account of my experiences hunting big game in the Green Hills of Stranglethorn.
We rose with the sun. Barnil began to prepare the morning meal. I noticed Ajeck’s attention was somewhat distracted. The day’s trek would be long and our hunt would bring us close to danger. A lack of focus could easily lead to an errant mishap. Yet Ajeck seemed unable to divert her gaze from Barnil who stood by the edge of the river rinsing out his mess kit.
Just as I was about to question Ajeck’s lack of interest in the day’s hunting strategy, she reached for her quiver, drew an arrow and unleashed a shot right towards poor Barnil. But it was not Barnil that Ajeck was shooting at. For when Barnil stepped aside, mouth agape, a large river crocilisk floated to the surface with Ajeck’s arrow perfectly placed between his two large eyes.
We set out toward the west through the thick overgrowth of the tangled jungle. Moving with slow deliberate steps we paced through thick foliage in search of prey. The morning passed in frustrated silence. Nothing was stirring in the Vale, not even a breeze. By the afternoon, the expedition had grown restless. Barnil no longer strode with the cautious steps of a predator tracking prey. Rather, he clumsily clomped along the path often stepping noisily on dried leaves or fallen branches.
During one such misstep, Erlgadin laid a heavy hand on Barnil’s shoulder. Ajeck and I gave a casual glance. Assuming the man was simply giving Barnil a much-needed scolding for his carelessness. Erlgadin, however, gestured slowly with his head toward a nearby fallen tree. Gazing back at us were two piercing black eyes just above a mouthful of razor sharp fangs.
The beast was a male strangelthorn tiger. Before I could cock my rifle, Erlgadin raised his crossboaw and fired upon the beast. The bolt missed its mark and caught the beast heavily in the left flank. The tiger made a futile attempt to flee but its wound was too grave. The beast stumbled for a few tragic seconds until Barnil finished the kill with a thrown axe.
The kill brought about a festive mood amongst the expedition. Barnil poured mead for all to enjoy. But our festivities were short-lived. As we were preparing the corpse for transport back to base camp we were all caught off guard by a horrendous growl. In all my years I have never heard anything so blood curdling.
On a rocky precipice above, silhouetted by the setting sun, I could make out the largest cat of prey I have ever laid eyes upojn. I was able to loose one clumsy volley with my rifle. But the cat held his ground. He growled once again. This time louder than the first, and vanished.
We gathered our belongings and headed solemnly back to camp.
I had promised the expedition that we would spend the next day hunting panthers, as their furs are in high demand throughout Azeroth. It only makes sense that such demand should exist with all of the able-bodied hunters, trappers and fur-traders off giving their lives so valiantly in the name of the Alliance.
Ajeck, and Sir Erlgadin were anxious to learn how to hunt effectively with a Dwarven Rifle. I had the two humans leave their primitive range weapons at base camp. Barnil and I outfitted them with some of Ironforge’s finest firearms.
On this day we ventured to the south following some fresh panther tracks. Soon we reached a ravine spanned by a tremendous rope bridge. I could not help but to think of Brann’s descriptive writings of this region when I saw the engineering marvel. So often it was assumed that th enative trolls were a primitive and uneducated race. Yet as I gazed upon the master craftmanship of the bridge I was able to recognize the skill with which the Troll builders overcame the seemingly impossible feat.
Before long, Ajeck tracked the panther to the southwest. We walked quietly, guns at the ready, in anticipation of our prey. A snapping of twigs from a nearby copse of trees drew our attention immediately. Something was in there. One stern glance at Barnil was enough to convey my thoughts. Barnil slowly lowered his rifle. This kill iwas not for us. It was for our Human companions. Countless panthers had lost their lives in front of our smoking barrels. This kill would be for the Humans.
Both Ajeck and Sir Erlgadin stood poised, guns leveled at the bristling overgrowth at the base of the swaying trees. The midday sun beat heavily upon us. A slow trickle of perspiration trailed down from Elrgadin’s temple as he pulled the pin back. Upon the sound of the click, the thick flora parted and a large black panther—a beautiful specimen—darted out onto the plain.
The humans trained their sights on the panther as it ran along the edge of the tree line. The barrels of their guns moved in perfect parallel tandem. Barnil gave me an urging glance, but I shook my head no. This hunt was for the Humans. Not Barnil or me. Erlgadin fired a booming shot, missing the panther altogether. Apparently he was unprepared for the violent kickback of the rifle blast.
His gun tossed back violently in his arms. The barrel swooped sideways and came up beneath Ajeck’s rifle. Ajeck had chosen that exact moment to pull her trigger. The rifle, th eaim now knocked clumsily toward the tree line, went off with a distinct boom. A flock of birds screamed out of the canopy, scattering in every direction. A plume of smoke rose from the tree. We watched in awe as a tremendous branch fell squarely on the fleeing panther, breaking its back.
As the weeks passed our stockpile of panther, and tiger skins grew immense. I decided it was time for the expedition to shift our focus to a new challenge. Raptors.
The Humans, while appreciative of the training Barnil and I offered, decided to refrain from hunting with firearms. Ajeck was much more comfortable with a finely strung bow and Sir Erlgadin never left camp without his sturdy crossbow.
We set out at first light, heading south past the Tkashi Ruins. Barnil voiced concern that we might encounter members of the Bloodscalp Tribe. I reminded Barnil that the Bloodscalps were more concerned with destroying their tribal enemy, the Skullsplitters. Needless to say, Barnil was not comforted in the least. I, however, had a loaded rifle, a satchel full of gunpowder and three deadly hunters with me to ease any concerns of an unfriendly ambush.
I’ve stood before a towering Infernal on the battlefield, the army of the Burning Legion advancing from all directions. An unruly band of Trolls seems as harmless as a jackrabbit in the hills of Dun Morogh.
We passed the Tkashi Ruins without event, much to Barnil’s relief. The party proceeded to head westward toward the Great Sea, skirting the Ruins of Zul’Kunda just to the south. As we ascended the high sea bluffs we spotted our first raptor.
The beast never so much as detected our presence. In fact, the only greeting he received from the expedition was a bullet between the eyes. Sir Erlgadin let out a hearty “hurrah” as Ajeck nodded toward me with keen approval. I sifted through my pack in search of my pipe hoping to ejoy a celebratory smoke. Barnil began to scurry up the hillside to retrieve the Raptor’s corpse. I stared at the fallen beast with the satisfaction that accompanies every big kill.
But I could not bask in the glory of th ekill for long. For when I turned my eyes toward the horizon, several silhouettes appeared cresting the hill, just above poor Barnil.
“Flee, Barnil!” I shouted. Ajeck, Sir Erlgadin and myself loosed a volley of bullets, arrows and bolts over Barnil and toward the pursuing raptors. One of us landed a kill amidst the confusion.
Our hastily aimed shots were enough to buy Barnil’s escape. Barnil clamored back down the hill and rejoined the party. We scurried off into the jungle, a pack of ferocious Lashtail Raptors stalking our every move.
The Hunters were now the hunted.
I led the party toward the sea, hoping the shoreline would provide refuge from the raptors. In our haste we had drifted too far north to a precariously high elevation. The mistake was made. The fault was mine. We stopped just short of a sheer cliff. The raptors just a few paces behind.
I stepped slowly forward, gun raised. I had led these brave hunters to their death. I would die defending them. Lashtail Raptors are particularly fierce. Known for their unrelenting blood-thirst. They far outnumbered us. But I would be damned if I let them kill me and my comrades without shedding some of their own blood first.
Ajeck and Sir Erlgadin readied their weapons, flanking me on either side, our backs to the sea. Barnil let out a defeated sigh and drew his axe. The lashtails were almost upon us. Their steady stride had slowed. They were stalking their prey now for they knew they had us trapped.
And then something miraculous happened. From off to our side we heard the distinct and terrifying roar of the great white tiger. Despite their numbers, the raptors turned and scattered in all directions. We saw but a brief white flash as the tiger darted past us and pounced on one of the raptors. No command needed to be given. All four members of our party knew it was time to run.
We sprinted all the way back to base camp, never slowing. Later that night we sat quetly around the campfire, knowing our lives had been saved by a bizarre twist of fate. Such are the risks of the big game hunter. We toy with fate by delivering it. Yet each of us at some point will face fate’s razor sharp teeth. This Dwarf is just glad that moment did not come upon the Green Hills of Stranglethorn.