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/lick

  Kojak was entirely unsure of exactly what he had gotten himself into.

  The huge hunter of the bovine-humanoid Taurens kept his eyes focused on the Guild’s enigmatic leader, Norelation, and her second-in-command, Kaith. His fellow Tauren were working out the details of their planned attack through the lava caverns beneath the capital city. A group of rogue orcs from the Searing Blade had set up shop in order to do all manner of nefarious deeds and it had fallen to their Guild to cleanse the foul betrayers. Never mind that Kojak had always been under the impression that setting up the capital city above a volcanic cavern was a bad idea – they had been contacted to clear it out, and that’s what they were going to do.

  Norelation, the quiet and fearless warrior, sharpened her axe as she gestured to a map. Kaith, the inscrutable and powerful druid, nodded solemnly and showed where they could diverge on the pictorial representation of the caverns. And he, Kojak, an up-and-coming hunter with his spasmodic chicken-ostrich-thing, stood quietly waiting for action. The three Tauren on the brink of battle were indeed a formidable sight.

  Until, that is, he felt the overly-damp tongue run up his elbow. He looked down to see the last member of the Guild, a hunched orc, plaintively licking his arm. The orc stopped when he realized that he had been caught, tongue loosely hanging out of his mouth as his awkward, dull eyes stared up into Kojak’s. The corners of his mouth ticked upward, and he resumed licking, not breaking eye-contact.

  This had been going on for an hour.

  “Norelation,” Kojak said, stepping forward and almost bowling over the orc. His leader turned a weary eye his way. “Far be it for me to question your wisdom...”

  “And yet, you will do it anyway,” she sighed. Kaith chuckled.

  Kojak coughed. Frustration drove him to speak and now he had to rationalize a grievance that didn’t appear petty. “Do we really need a second hunter for this?” he asked, voice lowered. Suddenly, he felt a firm hand on the back of his head stroking his hair. The pressure lifted, then repeated. Kojak sucked in his cheeks in irritation as he realized the orc was petting him. Behind him, the other hunter’s pet – a peculiarly well-groomed wolf – was eyeing Kojak’s scrawny squawking bird-thing with a hungering curiosity. “Could you?” Kojak asked the orc, waving gingerly toward the pets.

  “Orc! Orc orcorc!” The orc shouted happily before doing a 180 and leaping toward the animals.

  Kojak turned back to Norelation. “Look,” she began, turning back to Kaith. “I know OrcOrc can be a bit much...”

  “Wait,” Kojak growled. “His name is OrcOrc?” He stifled a snort. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

  “His vocabulary is limited, Kojak,” Kaith said calmly. “Your admonishments should keep that in mind.”

  Kojak inhaled slowly, then let out his breath in a long, drawn out sigh. “Fine. But we really should get a healer. I know a shaman...”

  Norelation rolled her eyes. “Really, Kojak?”

  “What?”

  “Your recommendations haven’t been the most useful to the Guild,” Kaith said dismissively, eyes never leaving the map.

  “Are you still on about Swaimfan?”

  “When I get back the gold he stole,” Norelation began, folding her arms, “I will be more than happy to hear you out on memberships.”

  “Like I could have known he was just going to steal our stuff,” Kojak snorted. He had been the one to clear out the Guild’s bank account to pay off a gambling debt. He just let the Goblin Swaimfan take the fall. Kojak was at least 60% sure that Swaimfan’s threats of revenge had diminished during his stay at the hospital after Norelation had hacked off an arm during a dueling ‘accident.’ “It’s just... you know.”

  Norelation’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

  “BarkBark!” OrcOrc shouted from behind them. “Bark orc orc!” His wolf – which Kojak now assumed was imaginatively named BarkBark – ran between the two Tauren, crossbow in its mouth. It looked to the left, then right, then took off running again. OrcOrc, grinning madly, ran after the wolf.

  Kojak pointed at OrcOrc as though that answered the question.

  “He’s good in a fight, Kojak. Let it go,” she commanded, returning to the map.

  He tried another approach. “I’m just not comfortable trusting myself to a...” He trailed off. Kaith and Norelation looked at him. Kojak realized he had just kind of boxed himself in. He looked toward the other hunter. BarkBark was bolting away, pants dangling from its mouth. OrcOrc, crossbow returned to the strap on his back, bunny-hopping after his wolf pantless – and underpantless. Kojak snapped his gaze immediately back to his leaders. “... that.”

  Katih chuckled. “Careful. You sound like an Alliance racist.”

  Norelation snorted as Kojak threw his hands up defensively. “Hey, wait...”

  “You know, he is kind of racist,” Norelation offered. “Remember how he spoke to the Troll waitress last week?”

  “I was drunk,” Kojak shouted.

  Norelation gazed off, as if collecting a memory. “Or when we were chased out of Silvermoon City on open mic night at that crappy club in Murder Row?”

  “They do have pointy ears!” Kojak roared. “And no sense of humor!”

  “In my travels, you will seldom find a more stalwart ally,” Kaith said calmly. “Behind the simple exterior is a keen mind and resolute hunter.”

  “But I’m the team’s hunter,” Kojak muttered.

  “Sit down, Kojak,” Norelation said, frustration eking into her voice. “We have no time for this.”

  Kojak glared at the back of Norelation’s head before stomping away and sitting down in a huff. A moment later, he felt OrcOrc inching up behind him before an orcish tongue slapped wetly onto his cheek.

• • • • • Loading • • • • •

  Kojak waited outside the general store as Norelation and Kaith discussed further plans while selling the loot they had found. His tongue was jammed between his gums and lips as his eyes fell on OrcOrc, the obnoxious little greenskin watching Kojak’s ostrich-rooster-thing. He didn’t trust that little miscreant, even if he had...

  Wait... greenskin? Damn, maybe he was racist.

  He kicked at the dirt absently and folded his arms. OrcOrc looked at him then did a quick look away. You were checking to see if I was watching, weren’t you? A quick peek over his shoulder confirmed it.

  Before he could see what the mischievous greenskin – what the hell is wrong with me? – was up to, he heard Norelation approaching. “We set out for the Northern Barrens tomorrow,” she announced, adjusting her gauntlets. “You are free to do as you will until then.” OrcOrc’s eyes lit up at the words. This somehow annoyed Kojak.

  He turned his attention to her. He cleared his throat and made sure to speak in low tones. “Are we gonna talk about the,” he jutted his thumb toward OrcOrc, “situation?”

  “The only situation,” Kaith said, sidling up behind Norelation in his weird purple cat form, “is you owe him a thank you.”

  Kojak sneered. “For what, MeowMeow?” He held out a finger. “For licking my hands every time we stopped?” Another finger. “For eating stuff out of my pack?” His last finger shot up. “For trying to ride Chickenhawk?”

  “You named your pet tallstrider ‘Chickenhawk’?” Norelation asked.

  “Tallstriders!” Kojak shouted. “That’s what they’re called. Thank you.”

  “Focus, Kojak,” Kaith sighed impatiently.

  “Didn’t you also offer us food?” Norelation asked.

  “I said ‘stuff,’ boss. He tried to eat my Hearthstone.” The two leaders stifled laughter. “Guys,” he whined impatiently.

  “Are you sure this isn’t about him showing you up?” Kaith purred. Or growled. It was hard to tell when he was in fluffy kitten mode. “Taragaman the Hungerer had you by the throat when he broke through our lines and...”

  “And what?” Kojak snapped. “I could have gotten out of it if that green...” His leaders squinted. “... Eyed doofus hadn’t tackled him while screaming his name over and over like a ninny. And then clubbed him to death. With the butt of his crossbow.” The two cocked their eyebrows. “Whatever. You guys sucked at keeping him off of us.”

  Norelation sighed. “Look, he’s a friend of mine,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ve known him since he wandered into Thunderbluff a decade ago. He’s a good guy, alright?”

  “All I know is that he...” he turned to look at OrcOrc. A wave of horror washed over him. “... Has Chickenhawk’s head in his mouth!” He ran toward his fellow hunter and shoved him off his pet. The tallstrider wobbled as strands of saliva ran down its head before it started shrieking.

  “Orc?”

  “What in the name of Azeroth is your problem?” Kojak bellowed.

  “Orc orc orc OrcOrc!” the hunter shouted happily. “BarkBark?”

  “Calm down, Kojak,” Kaith shouted.

  “Stick your head in a litter box,” Kojak snapped, wheeling around. A crowd was gathering at the noise which somehow made him angrier. He pointed to OrcOrc. “We’re going to settle something outside.”

  “Kojak, you are such an asshole,” Norelation muttered with a sigh. She threw her hands in the air and started walking away. “Nine a.m. tomorrow. South gate.”

  Kojak grabbed OrcOrc by the shoulder and started leading him out of the city. “You and me, we’re going to duel, you got that?”

  “Orc!”

  “Of course, Orc. Orc orc orckity orc!” They passed into a tiny corridor which would lead them outside of the city walls. “You think you’re so great, don’t you? With your crossbow and aim and...” He struggled to think of something else as they moved by guards and flickering braziers. “I’m the Guild’s hunter. Me.” They marched out of the gate, wadding through fields of Horde members slapping each other around. It was such a silly way to “prove” anything, this dueling, but if he was going to engineer an ‘accident’ this was the way to do it.

  “Orc!” OrcOrc shouted, shirking his way free of Kojak’s grip and skipping – skipping! – toward an open area in front of a canyon. He spun to face Kojak, readying his crossbow. “ORCORC!” he shouted, a surprisingly booming roar that paled only in comparison to his earlier shriek when a trogg had attacked BarkBark.

  Kojak smiled and unslung his bow and nocking an arrow. He exhaled slowly, steeling himself. One right between the eyes. He could take the body and load it into one of the nearby catapults and launch it somewhere remote, making it hard for anyone – let alone that dumbass – to find the body and resurrect it. Kojak counted down. 3... 2... 1...

  Twang! The arrow flew from the bow, only OrcOrc was no longer where he had been a moment ago. In a flash, BarkBark knocked down Chickenhawk and had clamped the bird’s neck in its jaw. No matter. Just kill the greeeeeeeee-at foe of the moment. Nice save.

  OrcOrc was darting to the side when Kojak fired another arrow. Somehow, the Orc just stopped forward momentum and the missile sailed harmlessly past. Another arrow went flying, but OrcOrc simply fell to the dusty earth before rolling backwards and ending upright. He gestured the crossbow up and, instead of an arrow, a bolt of force energy shot into Kojak’s face. It exploded and his world reeled.

  “Enough!” he tried to shout, but the sluggishness took hold of his jaw, making the word a syrupy-slurred “Ennnnnnf.” He slammed his foot down, a wave bucking the ground and making OrcOrc wobble in place. Kojak aimed and fired his own force arrow, striking the surprisingly athletic Orc in the chest. “How dyu liek uht?” he asked menacingly, providing that the definition of ‘menacing’ is fairly loose.

  “Orc! OrcOrc!” he responded drunkenly, but still fairly articulate.

  “Why aru so tcherfoughl?” Kojak roared. He shook his head, drawing an arrow back. He fired, missing as OrcOrc once again just fell down, laughing. Kojak clenched his teeth furiously and took out three arrows as his foe got to his feet and almost fell over again. Holding two between his fingers, he nocked the first and fired. Nimbly, OrcOrc evaded as the second arrow flew toward him. Once again, he lurched and the arrow missed as the third was already on its way. OrcOrc twisted toward Kojak and dove backward, the arrow sailing inches above him as the crossbow shot a solitary bolt.

  The bolt thwocked home. Kojak looked down at the piece of metal jutting out of his wrist. He twitched, tendrils of pain shooting up his arm. He looked up at OrcOrc, who was rising to his feet. Kojak dropped his bow, his hand lax from the fiery ache stemming from the crossbow bolt. The little bastard managed to disarm him... he won the duel? The moron – who could only shriek his own name and the name of his dumb wolf – won? Was the stupid, pointy-eared dink the better hunter?

  Kojak sat down, defeated. He had never been so embarrassed in his entire life. Well, there was that once when he tried to seduce a Blood Elf and it turned out she was suffering from magic withdrawals and only wanted to incapacitate him for his enchanted stuff. That was an awkward conversation with Norelation when she found him tied to the bedposts. Or the time that he had stepped on that Goblin mechanic and didn’t even notice it even as the shrimp was screaming for help. But this... this was definitely a new low.

  He could just hear his Guildmates laughing at him. He would never be able to live it down. He had been beaten by OrcOrc the licking, petting, leaping hunter of Ogrimmar.

  BarkBark trotted in front of him. He heard Chickenhawk start to squawk in protest over something, but it would lose interest soon enough. He heard someone approach, then sit next to him. He glanced at OrcOrc as the other hunter regarded the canyon in front of them. Then, he looked at Kojak. He patted his heart, then pointed at the Tauren.

  It took a moment to realize what that meant. He smiled wanly before nodding and returning the gesture.

D'aaaawww...

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