Stormclaw @sahqoreyth
The Wild Gods

The Wild Gods

Distanced. That was the word Laronar would later use to describe his experiences with a Tauren Shan'do. Kota was always writing, meditating, or healing the scars left by the Legion. Often he would have them camp along the new eastern edge of this broken world, and the Tauren would gaze across the sea at…something. Laronar did not pry, as the war had affected everyone deeply, no matter their race.

When he did teach his student however, Laronar hung on his every word. He did indeed possess the gift for druidism, and although he found talking to nature a slow, time-consuming process, eventually, he learned how to do it at will. It never answered him as strongly as he had seen it answer Kota, but that didn't bother him.

Once he had proven adept enough at communing and meditation, Kota moved on to the Animal Totems. "My people have long worshiped those that yours calls Ancients. My clan followed the one known as Aviana, and with her blessing, it is said that my ancestors soared the skies." His face grew grim, then. "But my people are also prone to violence…when they began to use Aviana's blessing for death, she stripped us of it entirely. Only my clan, the Skyhorn, still pay homage to Ohn'ara, the Great Eagle…but now, perhaps, we may once more learn what Cenarius passed to our Ancestors so long ago. Recently, Ohn'ara the eagle has granted me her power…I used it during the fighting. If she agrees, she may lend it to you, as well."

Laronar's eyes went wide. "Are you telling me I'll be able to fly?"

The Tauren chuckled, for the first time since they'd met, and then nodded. "But first, Cenarius has suggested we reach out to the spirit of Ursoc, that we might take his form, and avenge his fallen brother, should we find demons in our travels." Though there hadn't been many left behind, there had been enough. Even now, the Ancients hunted the remaining demonic taint, but it was a threat that would continue to fester for some time.

As the Tauren explained what the Animal Totems represented, and what a druid could do with them, Laronar began to tingle with an anticipation he'd not felt so far. The spells were strange to him, though they did not entirely differ from elven sorcery. He knew it would take him many years to master the basics Kota had taught him, but with his newfound immortality, he had all the time in the world.

His teacher however, did not. By the time his master felt Laronar was ready to actually attempt shapeshifting, the young elf had aged well into the latter stages of puberty, and was now twenty-five. Though he and his Shan'do were distant, they were also friends. Both however, were strong, silent types, and much of their days were spent barely saying a word to the other, except when there was teaching and educating to be done. It was a distant silence, but a companionable one.

Having never truly embraced his own people's narrow view of the world, he found the Tauren's to be much simpler, but no less true. Laronar recognized the haughtiness not just in his people, but himself as well, and though he kept his Tauren mentor from outright slandering his people, there were many arguments he could not win, simply because the Tauren only needed to drag him to the newly made eastern ocean to illustrate his point.

He did so many times over the years, and often refused to speak to Laronar until they reached it, no matter how far away they were. Slowly, the elf had learned to tread carefully around the Tauren's stubbornness. While many of his people's stereotypes had been wrong about the so-called 'rampaging bull-men', in regards to their stubborn nature, he privately felt they had been spot on.

More often than not his instructions for a spell or an exercise had simply been, "Do it again and again until you do it right." Now, however, the lessons required something far different to what the young druid had learned so far. He did not have to ask the trees and other beings of nature to give of themselves to heal, or concentrate on pulling the magic necessary from the world itself to power a spell, he simply had to meditate, and call upon one of the beings who had chosen to support the Tauren people in their mastery of the animal forms.

For once, Laronar planned to surprise his mentor, for he already knew exactly who he would seek to call upon. Conversing with Ursoc had gone…well enough, but the grieving bear had been too unfocused to grant his power, and Ohn'ara had claimed that her form was for the Tauren's people alone, not the race that had shattered the world. All that, while discouraging, had been fine, for Laronar knew of another Ancient, who had said she would pay him a favor for saving Storm. Though Ashamane had fallen in the War of the Ancients, he had been taught that beings such as she never truly died, and with time, could even return to the mortal plane. She had also told him to call upon her, and his instincts said that this would be the right time to do so.

The hardest part of this process was leaving his body enough to properly call upon the spirit of the one he sought. Kota had not yet taught him to walk the Emerald Dream, and in fact, had made little to no mention of it. Eventually though, the young Kaldorei managed to reach the appropriate state of semi-consciousness required for conversing with such a being.

"Ashamane…" he called, hearing his words echo not only in his head, but all around him, "Ashamane…I call upon you now, seeking the favor you once promised to give me so many years ago. I am ready."

He felt her consciousness once more, far weaker than it had been when they met, but still just as fierce. A part of her power flowed into him, and as he opened his eyes again, he found his mentor watching him with a slight frown. Before he could ask what made the Tauren frown, for it was never a good sign, he felt his body shift.

His mind changed as well, as a new, unfamiliar presence joined his differently shaped skull. He knew without words that this was the 'spirit' of his new form, a part of Ashamane herself perhaps, or an ancient Nightsaber, now long departed. He did not resist the beast within, but rather embraced what it wanted to do, where it wanted to look, and slowly, he managed to figure out how to work in conjunction with the spirit, rather than against it. He could sense it wished to aid him in doing whatever it was he needed the form for, and he knew as long as he didn't deny the cat too much or too often, it would let him do as he pleased.

His eyes, already so sharp in the darkness, became even sharper, and he knew they would see just as well in the daylight. A new host of smells assailed his nose, and at first, he was overwhelmed by them. With time, he managed to sort them out. Then, he looked down, and noticed his claws, not at all unlike those of his Stormsaber's.

Thinking of his pet and loyal friend, Laronar dashed down to the river they had been camping near. The jungle that surrounded them was just as old as the forest that surrounded Hyjal, and even more untamed. In this new form, he felt at home, for the first time in years. As he reached the river, he found a still spot, and stared at his reflection in awe. His eyes remained the same, but his form astounded him.

He looked similar to the Ancient, as he recalled what Ashamane had looked like, though he was undoubtedly male. He had muscles and bulk where she had not, and though he was less sleek, he knew he could be just as stealthy as she had. With practice. An unexpected feeling of amusement rippled through his mind, and a voice echoed softly within it. "Use it well…"

As he continued to admire his new form, he heard steps behind him. One scent, he recognized as Kota, the other however, was far more primal, and to his new senses, far more challenging. His nostrils flared, and his claws dug into the earth. A rival. The beast within awoke at the challenge and promise of combat, and Laronar felt the ferocity it was ready to attack with at a moment's notice.

He whirled, snarling at the challenger, who was already ready to pounce on him, and the two giant cats paused, blinking in confusion. Storm recognized his eyes, and Laronar recognized his loyal friend. They hadn't wrestled for years, since the Stormsaber had long ago gotten strong enough to overpower the elf easily, but now, a feral grin appeared on each visage.

What would have been a fight for dominance, now would be a wrestling match. Though he was still far smaller than Storm, Laronar wanted to test his new strength anyways, and after Laronar communicated with feelings and memories that the Stormsaber was not an actual threat, the spirit in his mind was all too willing to wrestle. The two cats leapt at each other, and went down in a rolling ball of snarls and flashing claws. Too late, Laronar realized that Kota would no doubt mistake this tussle as an actual fight. To his surprise though, the Tauren seemed ready to act, but stopped.

Perhaps it was because instead of biting each other as if trying to tear the other apart, the two giant cats were actually testing just how strong they were by comparison. In that regard, Storm clearly held the advantage, but Laronar had the cunning mind of an elf behind his brawn, and as the fight went on, he managed to tire his favored pet out with relative ease, dodging the large paws as Storm expended his energy.

Kota, still watching the two, now had a rare smirk. "Finish it, apprentice." He said, quietly. Clearly, the Tauren wanted to speak. Doing so in shifted forms was, according to the Tauren, impossible, for an animal's throat and a sentient's were fundamentally different. One could handle speech, and an animal's could not. Not without some kind of magical aid, at least. And so, Laronar dodged again, and struck at Storm's legs instead, sweeping them out from under him, and pinning him down with his bulk. A maneuver that would not have worked had the Stormsaber still had all of his stamina. Finally snarling in recognition of his defeat, Laronar rolled off of his friend, and brushed against him, purring loudly, as he walked over to his mentor.

With a bit of effort, his shape returned to the one he'd been born with, and the sudden dullness of his senses saddened him slightly. The young elf was covered in sweat, and panted hard as he sat next to his mentor, letting the cool night air slowly calm him down.

Now old enough to be considered a young adult by his people, Laronar had filled out his lanky form with muscles that he still had not bothered covering with a shirt. His ragged leather pants had gone in favor of a kilt with a leaf pattern on it, and a similarly patterned belt held it up. A pair of wooden bracers also covered his forearms. He had made them himself, and was slowly learning to craft better and more flexible armor from different kinds of wood. Someday, he wanted a pair of gauntlets, but that was a long way off. Most of his creations still broke with one or two hard hits.

"So." His mentor rumbled, "What was it like?"

Finally catching his breath, the young elf sat back against the giant tree they leaned upon, grinning. "It was…by far the most exhilarating experience of my life. I've never…smelled so much. Felt so powerful. I could live in that form forever."

"And that is what makes these forms so dangerous, my student. Spend too long in your animal form, and your mind is surely forfeit." Though Laronar did not know it then, and though he slightly doubted those words in that moment, he would be battling them for the rest of his life, wherever he went. It would take millennia for him to prove them wrong, but at that moment, he simply nodded, too naïve to think that his master could possibly be wrong. To him, Kota was an infallible font of knowledge, and he was but a novice who had been allowed to drink.

More years passed, and slowly, that novice became a full-fledged druid. Kota could clearly see that Laronar had an affinity not just for the cat form, but for all the animal totems he knew of. More, even, for through Ashamane's favor, she introduced him to many, like Tortolla, Aviana, and even Aessina, though she hadn't actually said anything to him, Ashamane assured him that the Mother Wisp approved of the path he was walking. He took her word for it. In time, Ursoc had answered the young druid as well, and the two had come to an accord of sorts.

Ashamane was clearly his favored patron, but to be an effective defender of the world, for he had told the bear god that was what he believed druids needed to become, he needed to have access to various forms, for various kinds of combat. He needed to be able to counter anything the demons would throw at him, and he intended to teach others of his kind to do the same. Eventually.

That, more than anything, convinced the bear ancient, and the spirit of his brother Ursol, as it had many other Ancients. The others however, save for the Storm Crow and Ashamane, had declined to empower druids of the race that had sundered the world. If they wished to take their forms, they could offer proper, devoted worship, as had been the practice since the Wild Gods came to be. The twin bears however agreed to, at the very least, look over the potential apprentices Laronar would one day lead to them via meditation.

Over the years Laronar had taken, and eventually mastered to some degree, far more animal forms than Kota. He had an affinity for communing with the Ancients, that much was obvious, though the Tauren could never tell if it was the elf himself and his disposition, or the fact that Ashamane was vouching for him that got him so far with so many usually reclusive spirits. After finally excelling at something, it was hard for the elf to not be arrogant about it. Still, he managed to hold his pride in check, and thanked every spirit profusely after taking their form.

When he was not practicing in their forms, in various kinds of combat with Storm or Kota, who favored the Bear Form for close range fighting, he spoke to the spirits themselves. Or rather, those who wanted to speak. Sometimes it was Ursoc or Ursol. Other nights, only Ashamane would answer him, as she always did.

He even spoke to Malorne once, or a representative of his, and gave the Stag God a bit of his energy, if only to help him recover sooner. Though that gesture was appreciated, it was still nothing compared to what he needed to fully recover from his duel with the demon lord. As the Night Elf learned, the three companions traveled as well. Storm, now a fully grown six hundred pound killing machine, kept them safe from danger while the druids meditated, and even helped them live off of his kills when times were tough, and food became scarce.

More than once, the druids had to satisfy themselves by hunting in their forms, but neither truly minded the raw meat. They trusted their bodies to digest it safely while they slept, but Kota made it clear each time that sleeping in their forms for a prolonged period was a bad idea. The more often he warned of the dangers of being in the animal forms too long however, the more Laronar wondered if he truly knew what he was speaking of. He had asked each of the spirits, but only Ashamane, who had become as close a friend to the elf as Storm or his mentor by that point, ever gave him a straight answer.

"Those who have taken our forms in the past have not always done so with your skill or caution, my young druid." The panther Ancient all but purred in his head. "There have been some who have simply never turned back to what they once were, and remained in their forms until their death. Others, earned our ire by disrespecting us, and were so cursed to be half beast, and half whatever their race was. Few Night Elves have ever suffered this fate. The Tauren however, have been doing this much longer. Do as you have done so far, my druid, and you will never need worry about losing yourself, no matter how long you stay in my form."

Though she had explained much, Laronar had a sneaking suspicion that the only form he didn't have to worry about was hers. Though the other Ancients were friendly to him, and even seemed to enjoy his conversations, he recognized that they were still leery. He was, after all, a Night Elf. A Highborne, no less, and though he had hidden that from his own people, he did not doubt that the other Ancients already knew. More than once, he had been outright denied even a conversation, merely because of his heritage.

Despite that, most of the Ancients were wise enough to recognize that he, at least, did not accept the arrogant views of the now fallen Highborne. He had not even attempted to speak to those from the palace, who had apparently escaped alongside the new High Priestess. Laronar had lost track of who exactly held that title now, for he knew that Dehjana had fallen in the war, but it mattered little to him.

He still felt the pain of losing his mother, and in part blamed Elune for not protecting her. For letting him see her like that. The vision of that Doomguard striking at him still haunted his dreams, and that final cut to the tie of his people's very religion had been the last thing truly identifying him as a Kaldorei. He considered himself a child of nature, not the stars, and for some reason, many of the Ancients he spoke to found that amusing.

As more time passed, Kota grew older, and seemingly distressed. He eventually began to make it clear that he desired to try to find his people. Eventually, they had come across the Tauren living in central Kalimdor, and had discovered that the antlers Kota bore were not the norm, even after their actions during the War of the Ancients. These other Tauren had retained horns like a bull's, strong, but fundamentally different. They had told the Skyhorn that his tribe had followed Huln Highmountain when the world sundered, and instead of running west from Suramar towards Hyjal, they had made for their ancient home of Highmountain. None knew if they yet lived. Now old enough to more than survive on his own, Laronar realized that he too wanted to move on.

They had avoided the northern part of the continent for years, staying around the jungles, plains, mountains, and savannahs of the central and southern parts of the continent. Though they had initially learned much, the young elf had grown tired of seeing the same sights over and over. They had always traveled by foot as well, for although they had each mastered their respective bird form, Kota preferred to walk.

Storm could have easily followed them, even from the air, but they had always remained on foot. Before they agreed to part however, Kota informed him that they had one last Ancient to contact.

"Lo'gosh, or Goldrinn, as your people call him, is the spirit of the wolves." Kota explained, "He is wild, fierce, powerful, and very hard to please. He demands the utmost loyalty and respect, as he feels he is due such, and punishes those who do not give it. Be wary of this one, Laronar. He will not bend his will so easily." With those words ringing in his head, the elf contacted the wolf Ancient, and waited. And waited. As he felt his rear beginning to tire from sitting still so long without moving, he began to ask again for Goldrinn's attention, and out of nowhere, the wolf god gave it.

"Who dares…?" A feral snarl filled Laronar's mind, and with as much respect as he could manage, he asked for the wolf's permission to take his form, after explaining that he was the first of his people to experience the animal forms, Goldrinn howled a laugh through his head, and Laronar felt Kota twitch.

Clearly, his master heard some of what was going on, or was having a similar conversation. "Very well…Kaldorei…" He snarled the name with what seemed almost like…contempt. "You may wear my form. Tell your people of its' power, its' glory! Embrace your ferocity, and howl, Moon Elf…"

Laronar barely managed a 'thank you' before he felt the fury of the wolf Ancient pour into him. Whereas each of the other spirits, even Ashamane, had given but a small portion of themselves, this felt like Goldrinn in his entirety now flowed into the Night Elf. Only later would he realize that this power was but a fraction of Goldrinn's true fury.

With a savage howl, Laronar felt himself almost lose control as he stared at the full moon. For some reason, looking at it made him indescribably angry. He howled again, joined this time by Kota, who had also taken the form. The two wolves ran that night, howling all the way, in a primal madness that each druid could barely control. They ran, wrestled, howled, and prowled through the jungle of Feralas, knowing that on this night, no other predator could match them.

The only one that might've had a chance had stayed back at their camp. Each druid had done their utmost to guide the savage minds of the wolves away from Storm, for both were fond of him. Eventually, as the sun rose and their energy waned, Goldrinn's form melted off of them like a dust cloud, leaving both druids dazed, confused, and nude. In their initial transformation, both master and apprentice had torn through their clothes, their usual mastery of shifting gone under the fury of Goldrinn.

The two glanced at each other, and then laughed as they headed back towards where they thought their camp was. It had been a fun, but terrifying experience. "Obviously…my friend…" Kota began as they walked, "We need only use Goldrinn's form when in great peril. Do not…try to take it for fun as you do Ashamane's. You will lose yourself."

Laronar simply nodded, for once, believing those words. At least where Goldrinn was concerned, that risk was very real. Still, the admiration he felt for the wolf Ancient had only swelled. The power he had at his command…the young druid could scarcely imagine what taking that form as a true servant of Goldrinn would be like. It was as he had that thought that Ashamane shared with him a tale from her own past, one that also involved wolves. The Kaldorei had never really domesticated canines, as war panthers were walking engines of death, as well as smart, loyal, and stealthy. A fitting mount for a people who walked in the night. Despite all of this, Laronar was still curious. Goldrinn had intrigued him, though he knew he had to wait until he was a bit...wiser to try to tame that form as he had the others.

Not long after that night, master and apprentice left, as equals. "I have no more that I can teach you, my friend. Your mastery of the animal totems now exceeds my own, and all you need for the other branching paths of Druidism is time…of which you have plenty."

Laronar bowed low. "I can never thank you enough for this, Kota of the Skyhorn."

The Tauren nodded, turning before adding one last statement, one both knew was true. "You are immortal my student, and I am not. Someday, I will pass on. If you truly wish to thank me, teach my people as I know you will teach yours. Let my knowledge live on through you until you too meet the end of your days, and never forget…death is as much a part of our calling as life...and it comes for all of us eventually."

Laronar nodded. "I swear, I will." With that, the Tauren nodded once again, and then shifted into his eagle form, which sported an almost silly pair of moose antlers, and took off into the sky.

Laronar turned to pat Storm, who gave a goodbye roar that echoed through the trees, and then he shifted into his Cat Form and ran off with his loyal pet by his side once more. They headed north now, though whether or not they would see other Night Elves remained a mystery. For all Laronar knew, his people had been wiped out by plague, or some other threat.

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