"Elune's Blessings to you, young defender and to you, young caretaker. I am Athridas Bearmantle and there is a matter that weighs heavily on my mind." He then explained to us a dire situation:
"Gnarlpine Invaders were seen to the west of Dolanaar, ravaging the Ban'ethil Barrow Den. The Druids of the Talon who hibernate there will be trapped in the Emerald Dream for eternity if we can not help them! The ritual of hibernation is a delicate one and can't be broken without the four Relics of Wakening. Unfortunately, these relics were placed inside the Barrow Den with the druids. It is of the utmost importance that these relics be retrieved. I have sent warriors there, but none have returned yet. Will you help me?"
I didn't hesitate one moment. It was unthinkable for me to stand by while my druid brothers were in such grave danger. I quickly assured Athridas of my assistance. I was prepared to do this task alone, if it must be, but I was relieved when Stahlin's quiet voice announced that he would accompany me. Athridas' face lit up as he heard our affirmations. "Elune bless you both. Please leave as soon as you are ready. Time is of the essence!"
We didn't waste any time. We left Dolanaar through its western exit and followed the road to Darnassus for a short bit before turning south, into the wilderness. We moved cautiously, not to attract the unwanted attention of the wild animals which we knew were around. Although we heard the hissing of nightsabres several times, we reached the small valley that led to the Barrow Den without incident. As soon as we entered, we noticed that something was wrong. An unnatural silence lay over the area.
He looked at Ilanidrac, who nodded. They turned towards the shaman and, as one, sprinted towards him. The furbolg became aware of them quickly and raised his hands to cast a spell. Yet both warriors smashed into him nearly at the same time, throwing him off balance and stunning him. Meanwhile, I had summoned roots to entangle the second furbolg and now prepared to join the melee. The shaman had recovered from the initial assault, but he was wounded. Grunting a guttural incantation, he moved his hands in a strange pattern. We tried to interrupt his spell, yet he deftly evaded our blows. As he finished, a green glow flashed around him, and his most severe wounds closed instantly. With a triumphant roar, he raised his staff above his head and brought it crashing down on Ilanidrac, who staggered under the blow. The cry of triumph turned into one of pain, though, as Stahlin's sword tore a deep gash into his left shoulder. At the same time, I hit his knee as hard as I could with my staff, making him buckle. Ilanidrac used that opportunity to thrust his sword deep into the shaman's breast. As he pulled it back out, the furbolg's body crumpled to the ground.
The second creature had worked himself free of the roots by now and charged us, infuriated by the death of his companion. Yet his madness and anger impaired his ability to fight effectively, and between the three of us, we dispatched him easily. After he fell, we braced ourselves and stepped through the archway into the Ban'ethil Barrow Den.
It was gloomy inside, and it took several moments before my eyes adjusted. A winding tunnel led down into the hillside. The air was cool and a faint, foul smell lingered on it. Quietly, we moved on downwards, towards where the druids slept and the relics must be located. At first, nothing broke the silence, but as we descended, scratching noises and hoarse, guttural sounds became hearable in the distance. More furbolgs. Soon, the tunnel widened into a cave and the path we had followed split up: To our left, one part ran down along the wall of the cave to the floor, which was several feet below us. Ahead, two bridges spanned gracefully over the cavern and led to smaller caverns on the opposite side. This had to be the upper tier of the hibernation chambers. Three furbolgs walked on the bridge, growling among themselves. We had to stop them before they reached the chambers.
With a battle cry, Stahlin and Ilanidrac rushed at the furbolgs. I closed my eyes, concentrated... and shifted. I felt my body grow, my mouth elongating into a snout, my hands becoming big paws. I roared and charged forward. A swipe of my paw sent one of the furbolgs flying from the bridge, and his body crashing unto the cavern floor. The two warriors had killed their initial target and all of us turned towards the last remaining creature, another shaman. He tried to cast a spell, put another blow from me sent him tumbling - directly towards Stahlin, who finished him with a quick thrust of his sword.
Taking a deep breath, I changed back into my normal form. I swayed for a moment, but steadied myself quickly. I went over to Ilanidrac, to tend to his wounds, but he waved me away. "I am fine. Go and see if they have disturbed the hibernation chambers." Stahlin and I crossed the bridge and entered the left-most of the small caverns. Motes of dust danced in the gloomy light. Everything seemed untouched. "Over there. That chest." Stahlin pointed to an alcove on the far side of the wall. A chest was sitting inside it. I stepped over and opened it. Inside lay a flat grey stone inscribed with an ancient symbol. This must be the Rune of Nesting, the first of the four Relics of Awakening. I took it and placed it carefully into my backpack. Meanwhile, Ilanidrac had entered the second chamber, and exclaimed "The Black Feather Quill is here, I found it!". Further examination of the small caverns showed disturbing marks. Furbolgs had clearly been inside the chambers, but it wasn't clear from the signs what they had done, apart from methodically searching the rooms. It was all the more puzzling to us that they hadn't looted the relics from the chests. There must be a deeper motivation behind this. We'd have to progress further into the Barrow to investigate this.
We left the chambers and went down the path to the floor of the cavern. Two tunnels ran downwards, one to the left and one to the right. "The path to the right doesn't decline as strongly as the one to the left.", Ilanidrac observed. "It most likely leads to the middle tier of hibernation chambers. We should take it." Both Stahlin and I agreed, so we descended the right tunnel. We followed it for a short time, until it widened into a chamber which was almost an exact copy of the one we had just left. The only difference was that instead of two bridges there was only one, leading to a chamber which seemed to be bigger than the two above. From it came the grunts and scratching noises of furbolgs.
Rage stared to well up inside me at the thought of the furbolgs defiling the hibernation chambers. I shapeshifted again and let out a furious roar, uncaring that it might alert the furbolgs. Only seconds later, two large Gnarlpine warriors emerged from the caverns. With another roar, I threw myself at them. I reared up and enfolded one of the two in a crushing hug. Ilanidrac and Stalin engaged the second one and dispatched him quickly. The furbolg I had pinned down strained to break free, and with a surprising display of strength, he managed to break my embrace. He staggered back, fighting for breath - I must have broken at least one of his ribs. For a split-second, the pain seemed to overcome his madness. In his eyes, I could see confusion, hurt and fear instead of murderous rage. Pity for the creature filled me. Yet that moment was gone as quickly as it had come. The insanity returned to his face and with a loud bellow, he charged us. With a ferocity that none of us expected, he tore into Ilanidrac, throwing the warrior off-balance. Ilanidrac stumbled and nearly lost his footing, coming close to the edge of the bridge. But before the furbolg could press his advantage, Stahlin tackled him from the side and I raked my claws over his back. With a final anguished cry, he collapsed and lay still.
I changed back to my night elven form, when I heard Stahlin, who had gone ahead, shout out in surprise. I rushed in and a strange sight greeted me. In one of the alcoves, a ghostly figure floated in mid-air. It had the form of a Night Elf, but it was translucent and emitted a faint light. Ilanidrac, who had followed me asked "What is that?" in wonder.
"Not what, but who, young warrior." The apparition spoke. "I am called Oben Rageclaw and I am one of the druids who lie here asleep. The Gnarlpine Shaman that inhabit this place have discovered a way of separating a sleeping druid's spirit from the physical body. The furbolg have animated my physical form and are using it to attack anyone that attempts to explore the Ban'ethil Barrow Den. I am now trapped in the Emerald Dream, powerless to stop this. You must help me. The Gnarlpine Shaman all carry a strange charm which is used to perform this ritual, and I'd like to examine it. Please, bring one to me."
"I remember that the shaman we fought in the cave above carried such a thing.", I said. Stahlin nodded. I quickly walked out of the chamber and backtracked our way to the shaman's corpse. A strange talisman was fastened to the chain around his neck. I took it off his body and returned down to Oben.
"Thank you, brother druid. Let me study this for a moment... yes, now I understand. After examining this charm, I see now what must be done. Please take it, and do as I ask. You are to explore the deepest areas of the Ban'ethil Barrow Den. There, you will find my soulless body... Although I regret what I am about to tell you, I see no other way to free myself from the control of the Gnarlpine. In order for me to escape them, you must kill my physical form. Once that is done, use the voodoo charm on my fallen body. Only this way can my spirit be freed."
With these words, he turned around and hurried up the tunnel towards the exit. I looked at Stahlin and he nodded. Quietly, we descended the path. As we reached the bottom of the cave, I noticed two exits. One was a tunnel that led further down into the Barrow. That would take us to the room Oben had described, the room where his body roamed restlessly. The other exit was smaller and darker. Disturbing noises emanated from it. I motioned at it and Stahlin began to move towards it. When he peered inside, an earth-shattering cry pierced our ears.
Out of the cavern broke the largest furbolg I had ever seen. He smashed into Stahlin and nearly tore his right arm from its socket. Stahlin cried out, but managed to beat the monster back by smashing his shield into its face. I made a gesture at Stahlin, and a green light raced around him, healing bruises and closing gashes as fast as they appeared. Again, I let my shape flow and change into that of a large bear. Snarling, I ran up to Greenpaw and swiped at him. With a deftness that belied his great bulk, he evaded my blow and countered by digging his filthy claws deep into my left fore-leg. The flash of pain was intense and I nearly lost control over my form, wavering for an instant between Elf and bear. Stahlin threw himself at the giant furbolg, bashing him with his shield and hacking at him with his sword. Greenpaw fell back under the assault, giving me the time to recuperate from his attack. Stahlin tried to corner the creature, but found himself cornered instead: Greenpaw battered at him with brutal strength and it was all he could do to hold onto his weapons, while slowly moving backwards. Yet at each blow, Greenpaw howled in pain. The thorns covering Stahlin seemed to hurt him greatly. Focussed on the warrior, the furbolg seemed to have forgotten about me. I charged at him and sank my teeth deeply into his left shoulder. With a roar, he turned around violently and tore himself free, a piece of his shoulder, flesh and fur, remaining between my clenched jaws. Apparently unfazed, Greenpaw used his momentum to smash his right paw into my snout with his full strength. I felt bone give and gave a cry of pain, stumbling backwards. Greenpaw followed me, a murderous light shining in his eyes. He had only taken one step, though, before Stahlin plunged his sword deeply into his back. The furbolg didn't even cry out. The light in his eyes just dimmed and then faded. He slumped forward, pulling the sword from Stahlin's grasp.
With an effort, I managed to find enough concentration to change back into my elven form again. My left arm bore deep gashes and a touch affirmed that my nose was heavily broken. Stahlin's right arm dangled uselessly at his side and he moved carefully, favouring his right leg. Once again, I called on the healing powers of nature and green light flowed around both of us, mending our most serious wounds. Weariness and a raging thirst threatened to overcome me for a minute, and I had to sit down. I took a waterskin form my backpack and took a few deep draughts from it. In the meantime, Stahlin searched the small cavern. He came back carrying a glowing gem. "The Sapphire of the Sky." We had found the third Relic.
After resting several more minutes we continued, choosing the left of the two tunnels. It led us downwards, curving slightly. We didn't meet any opposition and walked in silence. After what seemed an eternity, the incline lessened and we could make out a soft glow ahead. The tunnel ended in a huge underground chamber. The ceiling was at least 30 feet from the floor and soft light shone through shafts in the ceiling. In the middle of the room stood a large pillar, and a path spiraled up around it. The pillar had a flat top, and from there, a bridge soared to the wall of chamber, leading to small caverns. This must be the lower tier of hibernation chambers. On the far side of the cave, a tunnel led upwards - undoubtedly it led back to the uppermost tier of chambers.
We just stood there for a moment, admiring the craftsmanship. Only then did we become aware of a silent figure with glowing eyes near the middle of the room. It seemed oblivious to us. As we moved cautiously closer, I recognized his features. It was Oben Rageclaw. When we had closed to several steps, he finally noticed us. He opened his mouth, but instead of greeting us, he uttered a feral scream. Then he transformed - where just had stood a Night Elf, there stood now a very large bear. I answered this challenge in the same way. Oben seemed driven by his animal instincts - an advantage for me, since his form was both larger and stronger than my own. Counting on him to focus on me as the (physically) larger threat, I roared defiantly to give Stahlin the opportunity to attack unhindered. It worked. Oben threw himself at me and tried to crush me in a bear hug. Fighting him, I dug my claws into his sides, but he didn't seem to notice. What he did notice was Stahlin, who employed now the same tactic that Greenpaw had used against me. He smashed his gauntleted fist into Oben's sensitive snout. Howling in pain, the transformed druid fell back from me and staggered several steps back.
I set after him and took several swipes at his unprotected underbelly, scoring deep gashes. Stahlin also stabbed at Oben's breast and his aim was true. Mortally wounded, the bear reared up one last time and roared. Then he collapsed. In death, his form shrank and twisted, returning to that of a Night Elf.
Changing myself back, I knelt beside Oben's corpse. I turned him on his back, and then lay the voodoo charm onto his bloody chest. The charm began to glow with a pulsing light, getting stronger with each beat. When it became near unbearable to look, a big flash illuminated the cave and the charm was gone. The expression on Oben's face was calm. His body didn't show any of the wounds form the previous fight. We had succeeded and released Oben's spirit.
The only thing left to do now was find the last Relic of Awakening. We ascended the pillar and crossed over to the hibernation chambers. As we entered, we found two furbolgs rummaging through the alcoves. When they noticed us, they grunted and attacked us. A lucky blow from my staff cracked the skull of the first one quickly and, outnumbering him two to one, the other proved no match. We didn't find anything in that chamber, and neither of the Furbolgs had anything on him which might be the last Relic. We moved through a small connecting tunnel to the second chamber. There, a small hole in the wall opened to a balcony overlooking the cave. On the balcony stood a large, ornate chest. Stahlin stepped over to it and opened it. Inside, there lay a small, stylized claw. The Raven Claw Talisman, the last Relic.
As we made our way back to the surface, I noticed that a feeling of peace now permeated the Barrow. We left the Den and stepped outside into moonlight. Night had fallen while we were in the Barrow. Our trip back to Dolanaar was uneventful, and when we entered the village, we already saw Athridas hurrying towards us.
"Thank Elune that you are back! Ilanidrac told me what has happened. Tell me, have you the last Relics?" At our confirmation, a sigh of relief escaped him. "Then now the time has come to save the Druids of the Talon. I shall prepare the Relics of Awakening and perform the ritual. Yet, for my work to take effect, the cursed beast responsible for this situation must be slain. Only then will the ritual be complete. It was Ursa the Mauler, chieftain of the Gnarlpine tribe, who meddled with our brethren's calling and it is Ursa the Mauler who must now pay so that they can be freed. Will you travel to the Gnarlpine stronghold to the southwest and do this?"
I looked at Stahlin and then back to Athridas. As one, we nodded.