This is a story inspired by Liala's Eleventh Hour challenge. My task was that my character has been brought to Thousand Needles by important documents which turn out to be false (with or without the knowledge of my character). Since Balindah has been questing in Ferelas recently I thought I might as well centre the story around her.
The story isn't so much about exploring as it is about a couple of the quests in the zone, but I tried to give a feeling of how the zone might feel to be in.
So, here you go.
The heat was stifling. Balindah wiped the sweat from her face as the midday sun beat down and filled the Thousand Needles with hot, dry air like a rocky furnace. Even riding in the shade of the rock pillars didn't help, as the heat radiated from every surface and a hot wind blew up from the south, whistling around the canyon.
Balindah murmured to her Kodo, who was suffering with the long journey. "It's alright, girl, soon we'll be in the forests." The road continued between the tall pillars.
Off to one side of the road Balindah noticed something. She pulled up her Kodo and squinted into the bright sunlight. There was definately something lying there, under the shadow of one of the tall rock spires. She dismounted and went over for a closer look. It was the body of a centaur - one of the Galak tribe who lived near this area of the Thousand Needles.
Another corpse, she thought. The cries of birds of prey had been following her for a little while - Balindah realised she should have guessed. She had seen a few corpses of different species on the road from Tanaris, lying around in the sun, victims of the hyena packs or casualties of the skirmishes between Centaur and the Tauren tribes who lived here. It was a hard land, and hard fought over, and the corpses lent the place a certain smell in the hot climate that made travelers hasten their way to cooler and safer places.
She was just about to continue on her way north when she noticed the unfortunate centaur clutched a piece of paper. Balindah eased the letter out from under the lifeless hand. It was a letter, sealed with a wax circle stamped with a small skull symbol. She looked around furtively, then curiosity got the better of her and she broke the seal and unfolded the letter.
The note looked like it had been scrawled in a great hurry.
Some distance up the dusty road, she approached Whitereach Post, a small hut dwarfed under the massive rock pillars. Several Tauren men stood around the camp, but it was a goblin who saw her coming and called out a greeting.
"Hey, how you doin'?!" he called, as she approached. "I'm Wizlo Bearingshiner. I'm just passing through myself, but with all the delays I'm starting to wonder whether I'm going to make it to my clients in time! So what is it that you're doing in these parts?"
"Um, hi. I'm actually looking for Kanati Greycloud?" Balindah dismounted and held her Kodo steady as she looked questioningly at the others standing around the campsite.
"I am he." A large Tauren stepped forward, looking curiously at Balindah. She pulled the letter out of her pack and handed it over, saying, "I found this on a centaur not far up the road." She gestured with a toss of her head.
Kanati Greycloud scanned the note and nodded. "Those damned centaurs! Why can't they just leave us be?" He looked angrily at the area around the outside of the camp, then glanced at the axes hanging from the young Tauren's belt. "Thank you for your warning, Ms...?" he trailed off.
"Balindah Stormcaller." She smiled grimly. "You're welcome. The centaur never delivered his note but I'm guessing the attack may still come."
"It's likely," Kanati Greycloud nodded, scowling. "I'll send word to Freewind Post to ask for some extra protection, but for now could I ask you, Miss Stormcaller, to fight with me against these vile assassins?"
Balindah groaned inwardly. She had really been looking forward to reaching the cooler forest, but these hunters were most likely impressed by the Lightning flickering around her, marking her a Shaman. She rubbed the flank of her Kodo gently - the poor thing was thirsty after their trek up from the Shimmering Flats earlier in the day. She said, "I will stay until the morning."
As the afternoon passed and the sun dropped behind the edge of the canyon, the air cooled a little and a warm breeze blew through the valley. Balindah sat in camp near the cook fire and chatted with the Tauren hunters as the shadows lengthened and the late sun cast a golden glow over the tops of the mesas.
One of the hunters, Motega Firemane, was troubled about the assassination note. He said to Balindah as he passed her a plate of Hot Wolf Ribs, "This is unusual for the Galak. They will defend their territory but an offensive attack isn't their style."
She looked at him, surprised. "You think someone else may be behind this?"
Motega Firemane chewed thoughtfully. "I wonder, " he said, "if the note you found was planted there. We have had many clashes with the Grimtotem Tribe lately, but would they really stoop so low as to send the centaurs against us?"
Kanati Greycloud threw a rib bone into the basic campfire in disgust. "Those Grimtotem are capable of anything, but do you think any of them could write well enough to produce that note?"
Motega Firemane laughed loudly and thumped Kanati Greycloud on the shoulder. "By the Earthmother, you're right!"
The goblin, who had joined them for a bite to eat, suddenly put down his plate and motioned to the others "Quiet, quiet! I heard something." Wizlo's pack Kodo grunted nervously behind them.
They had all turned around to peer into the shadows when, with a whoosh and a thud, a single arrow landed in the dust just next to Wizlo's plate.
The group jumped up with a shout and raised their weapons. Balindah had placed her totems around the camp earlier just in case - now she uttered a few words and refreshed their power. Her lightning shield arced and popped as she recast it.
Three centaurs leapt from the shadows behind one of the rock spires and charged towards them, screaming battlecries. Balindah leapt into battle, swinging her axes at the centaurs, muttering spells to summon the power of the earth and storms to shock them. She could tell the others weren't as experienced in close battle, but they managed to hold the attackers off while she finished each centaur off. Balindah felt the rush and fury of the wind as she rained down blows on the last centaur, finally planting her axe in the centaur's back and severing his spine as he tried to stab Kanati Greycloud. The lifeless body dropped to the dust and the victors stood, panting in the twilight.
Belindah allowed her summoned elemental power to flow back out of her and into the soil, as she took a deep breath and exhaled again.
"Nice work," said Kanati Greycloud, eyeing Balindah's axe, still buried in the centaur's back.
Wizlo Bearingshiner sidled out of the spot behind the hut where he had been hiding. "That was great!" he enthused. "They all came at us and then down they went, bang, boom!!" He made chopping axe motions with his hands.
The others rolled their eyes at each other and headed back to the fireside to treat their minor wounds. Balindah smiled at Wizlo as she cleaned her axes with an old rag she pulled from her pack. "I saw your masterful evasion efforts there, well done!" She winked at the goblin, who blushed and stammered something about protecting their rear.
They passed a watchful night without further attack and in the early morning, Balindah bade farewell and good luck to the hunters. They thanked her for her help and Wizlo urged her to keep it real, and she set off to the northwest to get to Ferelas before the heat of the day set in.