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Chapter Forty-Four: Within The Citadel

“K

ing Varian has calmed down much since the Battle for Undercity,” Jaina said while she, Tirion, Thrall, and Ger’alin discussed the dispositions they had for the final confrontation. “He still believes that Lordaeron should be part of the Alliance’s territory...” “The Forsaken will never agree to that,” Thrall pointed out, “it’s their home as much as any place else might be. Also, the sin’dorei would not be happy to have a potentially hostile presence on their southern border.” Ger’alin nodded in agreement with that sentiment. “I know,” Jaina said. “Still, perhaps in time something could be worked out.” “I wouldn’t hold my breath on it, Lady Proudmoore,” Ger’alin sighed. “The Forsaken need a place to call their own and most of them are the survivors of the Plague. Why, one of my closest friends grew up in the capitol city, lived and died there and returned to her home when she regained her freedom from the Scourge. Who’s to say Undercity is any less her home than it is someone who managed to flee the insanity?” “We’re getting rather far afield,” Tirion grunted, bringing the discussion back to the matter at hand. “Warchief, Lady Proudmoore, you both say your troops will follow our lead?” “Without question,” Thrall replied. “They have their orders from me. They may grumble about taking orders from a human but they will get over it.” “I was actually going to ask the Sunreavers to act as the commanders for the Horde forces,” Tirion explained. “Perhaps if my orders go through them, then your forces will feel better about following them.” “That is wise,” the Warchief agreed. “It will do. And our friends here,” he nodded towards Ger’alin, “will take care of clearing out the Citadel itself?” “The Disorder of Azeroth will act as the first-wave strike force,” Ger’alin explained. “We will go in ahead of the Argents, the Horde, and the Alliance and we will clear out each wing, securing it so that we can set up garrisons if needed. This will also prevent the Scourge from using those resources against us while we battle onward.” “With you in charge, I trust there will be little left for our forces to clear out behind you,” Jaina winked. “I’m hoping that there won’t be much for any of us to do,” Ger’alin replied. “Surely the Lich King has wasted most of his forces on attacking us throughout Northrend and in the defeats he’s experienced with holding on to his own stronghold’s perimeter.” “That might have been true,” Tirion answered sadly, “had we not been supplying him with fresh recruits. Now, let us continue with our planning. First, we must consolidate our hold on the northern part of Icecrown. Jotunheim and the Scarlet stronghold Onslaught Harbor must be taken into consideration.” “Let’s focus on Jotunheim,” Ger’alin suggested. “I have a few thoughts on what to do there...” ~*~*~*~ 1


Alayne worried her lower lip with her teeth while sitting near the top of the mountains overlooking Jotunheim. Ger’alin stood near her, watching the combat with interest. The vykruls used their massive size to their advantage in this ghastly competition. The winners would see their status rise high among their people. The losers would be forced into undead servitude to the Scourge. “At the end of the day,” Ger’alin muttered, “they all serve the Lich King regardless.” Alayne kept her silent vigil, watching, sensing something moving among the vykrul. It was a presence that felt both alien and familiar. She’d been noticing it ever since she’d crossed into Icecrown. Ger’alin had been reassured by her promises that she was not missing any blocks of time – that she was, indeed, still sane and still dedicated to fighting the Scourge, not joining them – and he still felt guilty over his overreaction from Ulduar. Alayne prayed that Ger’alin would remain oblivious enough for her to determine exactly what was going on. Too many death knights and too many Argent fighters had given her double-takes for her to pass it off as mere coincidence much longer. “What are you thinking about?” Ger’alin whispered softly in her ear, pulling her out of her reverie. “Nothing,” she said blankly. “I just hope this goes well.” “It will. Still, it’s a long road ahead of us before we can secure our supply lines and take on Icecrown Citadel itself.” “Why are they doing that?” she asked, gesturing to the fields of vykrul battling each other in one-on-one combat. “I wish I understood that myself,” Ger’alin admitted. “Still, we’re going to take full advantage of it. In another few hours, they’ll have worn themselves out. Tomorrow is the day of their biggest combat festival. We’ll fall on them and weed out most of their fighters easily. It’s not exactly the most honourable method but we have little time to waste.” “I know. I wonder how Tirion is faring with convincing the Scarlets to call off their attacks and work with us.” “I wouldn’t hold my breath on that at all,” Ger’alin grimaced. “The Scarlets are out to kill every Forsaken there is. Some of them are so far gone in their fanaticism that they’ll kill any non-Scarlet they find, convinced that the whole world is contaminated. We finally chased them out of the Plaguelands and Sylvanas has the few remaining hold-outs bottled up in their monastery. At least we don’t have to worry about a Scarlet invasion back home.” Alayne nodded absently. The silent vigil continued for a while. Finally, Ger’alin raised his arm and gestured. One of the hunters fired a flare into the air, signalling the attack. Alayne and the others surged down the mountain passes and into Jotunheim. The Disorder of Azeroth swarmed upon the weary vykrul fighters, moving through them quickly while the Argent Crusaders flew overhead on gryphons and wyverns, casting down bombs in advance of the ground attack. The vykrul tried to rally themselves, tried to organize a counter-attack, but were too spread out and too wearied by their strange combat competition to mount an effective defense. Ger’alin led the forefront of the attackers, leaving only small holding forces to guard their flanks and rear while the advance continued. When they entered the town proper, the main group split up according to the assignments Ger’alin and Zerith had settled on. Infiltrating the houses, they forced the vykrul out into the streets. Alayne stifled a moment’s irritation at the thought that she had not been one of those selected to enter the buildings. Watching Ger’alin enter home after home, holding her breath and praying that he would come out the doors again, frayed her temper further. Damn Ber’lon and Ger’alin and their constant fear over my emotional control, she thought to herself. A soft, almost inaudible chuckle within her mind startled Alayne out of her anger. She glanced around, wondering if she had actually heard it instead of imagining it. No one around 2


her looked amused. Grim determination and alertness were the only expressions on the faces of those near her. Dar’ja, standing just behind Alayne, looked as worried as Alayne felt. Zerith had gone into the houses with Ger’alin. “Where are they? What’s taking so long?” Dar’ja muttered angrily. “The others haven’t taken this long.” “This one’s larger. Perhaps it’s a barracks of some sort,” Alayne pointed out. “Maybe we should go in there and...” “Take one step towards that building and I’ll sit on you,” Ber’lon said warningly. He had been left with the group that stayed outside as well. “Did Ger’alin tell you to babysit me?” Alayne asked, her voice filled with acid. “He didn’t need to. Besides, they’re just coming out now,” he added, relief on his face when he saw Ger’alin and the others making their way outside. “You have a job to do just as he does. You are to make certain that no one else goes in those houses while he’s in there. He’s trusting you to do that instead of abandoning your post and running after him.” Alayne winced. She hadn’t thought of it that way. Ger’alin and the others rejoined the group in the street and began making their way further into the town. As they drew near the edge of the small vykrul hamlet, the number of houses and vykrul dropped off significantly. Alayne winced again when she saw that many of the houses were smoking piles of rubble. The aerial attacks had been most effective. Glancing over her shoulder back towards the center of the town, she wondered what had the Argent Crusaders circling overhead near the large, fenced-in pit they had passed. Tau’re, Fam’iv, Tam’ara, and several druids began healing and trying to tame the few proto-drakes that had survived the attack while Ger’alin gestured for Alayne and the others to follow him back towards the center of the town. “I’m curious, too,” he explained when he saw the look on her face. “I thought we had cleared them out of the town for good. Perhaps there was another force hidden somewhere.” “Perhaps,” she muttered, sounding unsure. As they neared the site of the on-going aerial assault, Alayne saw what had the Argents continuing their attack. The rocky walls of the mountain had vanished and a yawning maw stood before them, leading down into the mountain itself. “A mine,” she whispered. “There’s no telling how deep it goes, either.” “We’re going to have to go in there,” Ger’alin muttered sourly. “We can’t risk them having a force large enough to undo everything we’ve just done this afternoon.” “I’ll go in there,” Alayne volunteered quickly. “I sense something...strange in there, Ger’alin,” she added quietly. Ger’alin studied her, looking torn. Finally, he nodded. “I’ll go as well. Tau’re, Callie, Zerith, and Nishi, you come as well. The rest of you, stay here and make certain that no one else gets through.” Those assigned to enter the cavern followed Ger’alin. Alayne shivered with a mix of chill and fear as she stepped out of the fading sunlight and into the dark cavern. The first room of the mine was open and empty. Various tools, carts, and bits of stone were scattered on the floor, indicating that the mine workers had departed their post in a hurry. Several shafts split off from the main room. Ger’alin grunted as he calculated them. Alayne grabbed Zerith by the hand and headed for the one on the far left side of the room. “Split up into pairs,” Alayne hissed, fearing to speak aloud in the vast chamber. “Zerith and I are taking this one.” Ger’alin appeared to be about to argue that but Alayne dragged her adopted brother behind her, not giving Ger’alin the chance to start an argument. “Why are you dragging me here and not him?” Zerith whispered, confused. “Because he has a tendency to overreact lately,” she replied quietly. “And, I sense something here. It could be nothing, though.” “He’s been worried about you. I have been, too,” Zerith said calmly. “We’ve all been having strange dreams like you used to have. Especially since Ulduar,” he sighed. 3


“Not you as well,” she groaned. “I swear to you, I am not going crazy again.” “I believe you,” he said dryly. “I’m just wondering if there was some trace of you that the Lich King could use to confuse us. I know, I know, it’s not possible to create an exact, living, breathing mirror image of a person that can act independently,” he added. “Or is it?” he muttered when Alayne came to a halt in the middle of the mineshaft, her jaw dropping open. “Alayne?” “I...Light of heaven preserve me, it shouldn’t be possible, no,” she replied. “But if the Lich King is involved...” “We should go get the others,” Zerith said, turning to try to make his way back up the mineshaft. Alayne grabbed his hand again and he nearly fell when she jerked him back to stand next to her. “Let me investigate what I’m sensing first,” she pleaded. “It could be nothing. It’s just a strange sensation I’m having that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. There’s some strange kind of magic at play here and I want to know more about it before we drag everyone down here.” “No,” Zerith said, shaking his head. “Let’s go back for the others.” “Go back if you want,” she said, releasing him. “I’m going on.” Stalking down the tunnel, Alayne was quickly lost in the twists and turns of the path. Empty rooms branched off the sides of the corridor but, aside from her own footfalls, she heard nothing. Still, she followed the scent of the sensation, knowing she was going the right way as it grew stronger and stronger. Finally, the mineshaft opened up into a large circular room. Sloping up from the door were twin ramps that led to an overseer’s box. Several dead vykrul lay in the pit of the room, steam still rising from their cooling bodies. Alayne glanced around the room, wondering if the others had been here before her and she had missed them in the twisting labyrinthine tunnel. “We meet again,” a woman’s deep and amused voice said from the shadows of the room. “I knew we would not be so easily parted.” “Who are you? What are you talking about?” Alayne asked. “You know me,” the voice replied. “You’ve spent the better part of the last several years trying to overcome me, trying to get rid of me, trying to control me, and trying to destroy me.” “I...I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she gasped, confused. “It does not matter. At least now I am free of you and your infernal whining. At least now I can finally do something to make a difference in the world and to serve the one who freed me and saved me.” “Who are you?” Alayne demanded, panicked as she began to suspect the answer. “I’m the one who is tired of you,” the woman snapped. A necromantic chant filled the air and the corpses on the ground began to twitch as a corrupt form of life returned to them. Alayne began readying her own spells in response. Six of the vykrul corpses rose up and, following the commands of the strange woman, rushed towards Alayne. She froze the air around them, trapping them in blocks of ice while she sent bolts of pure arcane energy at them. The corpses, unguarded by the normal necromantic spells to preserve dead flesh and protect it from various attacks, quickly collapsed. Alayne rained fire down on them, relieved when their clothing and hair caught flame and began searing the flesh. Cremation was one of the few protections against being brought back as undead. “Who are you?” Alayne demanded again. She stormed up the ramp, fear making her palms clammy with cold sweat and her heart pounding in her throat. The woman did not move out of the shadows. As Alayne drew near, the strange woman hissed and let loose another spell. Alayne dodged it easily enough, backing her nemesis into a corner. She heard an

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audible click behind her and turned to see what it was at the same time the other woman screamed. “She’s mine!” the woman shouted. “Leave her alone!” Alayne blinked, wondering why someone who had just tried to kill her was now trying to save her. She started to move away from the woman in the shadows, to see who she was shouting at. The woman rushed forward, moving through Alayne as if she had no flesh of her own. Alayne gasped in horror when the faint light of the tunnel revealed her nemesis’ face. A guttural voice echoed through the chamber, replying to the ghostly figure. Alayne strained to hear it, tried to understand it, and prayed that she could make sense of what she was seeing. “We’re both in a lot of trouble,” the woman whispered as the other voice rose in a chant. The last thing Alayne saw before her eyes pulled shut was her own ghostly face staring at her with a mix of remorse and regret. ~*~*~*~ “I don’t know why the hell I haven’t just handcuffed her to my wrist and been done with it already,” Ger’alin growled as he and the others prowled down the tunnel that Zerith and Alayne had taken. The priest had doubled back, searching them out, frantic that Alayne was going to get herself killed. ���I’m beginning to wonder that myself. She said she sensed something strange and wanted to investigate it to see if it was worth bothering about,” Zerith sighed. “If we have to rescue her from something again, I’m going to help you find a set of handcuffs that she can’t get out of so easily. I’ll get Mir’el or Jez’ral to enchant them.” “Enchanted handcuffs,” Callie giggled. “I’m sure you could put them to good use.” “Now is hardly the time for jokes,” Ger’alin snarled angrily. “Would you rather me stay silent and let you brood yourself into a panic attack?” Callie asked coldly. “That can be arranged. You’re not going to do her or us or yourself any good if you don’t calm down a little.” “I hate it when you’re right,” Ger’alin sighed. “I’ll try to calm down.” “Good, because you just missed the turn she took,” Callie replied. “I can smell her. That’s about the only thing being so cold and in such a damp place is good for.” “You can smell her?” Ger’alin demanded. “Well, I don’t think anything alive has come down this far into the mines in many years,” Callie explained. “Other than us and we’re not the ones who went down the left-hand corridor about fifteen feet back.” Ger’alin grimaced and turned around. Walking down the corridor Callie indicated, he let the rogue lead them. He made a mental note to tie her to a chair and force her to reveal all of the enhanced senses and abilities that Forsaken had. “Quit muttering under your breath,” Callie snorted. “I don’t have any special abilities. My senses are a little keener is all. And, if there had been other living creatures down at this depth, I wouldn’t be able to track where any of you were. I can just smell the odor of the living going a direction we didn’t go ourselves. Since Alayne’s the only one who split off and came this direction, by process of elimination, that scent is hers.” The sounds of spells being cast and of grunting echoed down the empty hallway. Ger’alin pushed himself out in front of the others and began running, following the wispy echoes and praying that he would not be too late. He was going to handcuff her to his wrist after this if it killed him. He groaned when the sounds grew quiet. Then, he heard a highpitched, shrill scream. Instinct took over and he began racing towards the source of the sound. The others followed behind him, their pounding footfalls echoing down the mineshaft’s corridor. 5


Ger’alin cursed when he heard the tell-tale chanting of a spell. Alayne’s scream had been filled with fear and shock. Had she run afoul of some vykrul spell-weavers? What was it that she sensed and had decided not to warn them about? Why did she always insist on running off in her own direction instead of letting him shield and protect her? Ger’alin scrambled to a halt when he entered a wide circular room. A hulking undead vykrul hovered over an inert form, weaving his hands as he wove some spell. Not giving the undead a chance to learn of his presence, Ger’alin hurled holy energies at the unnatural creature, shocking it and breaking its limited concentration. The vykrul tried to ignore the paladin, tried to continue whatever had had been doing, but Ger’alin was quickly beside him, forcing his attention away with his mace. By the time the others caught up with him, the vykrul was little more than a mass of beaten tissue and broken bones. Ger’alin was sitting next to Alayne, gathering her into his arms and calling her name over and over again. “What happened here?” Zerith asked, shocked and worried. “I don’t know,” Ger’alin said hoarsely. “She was like this when I got here.” “Who’s the other one?” Callie asked, pointing to the semi-transparent figure stretched out near where Alayne had been. “I don’t...” Ger’alin began, sucking in a whistling breath when Zerith touched the ghostly figure. Rolling it over, he could see Alayne’s face on it. “I think we’ve found the doppelganger,” Zerith muttered. “They’re linked,” Nishi said suddenly. “I don’t recognize the spell or the bond at all but they’re linked to each other.” “So this is a spell?” Ger’alin asked. “You can reverse it?” “Yes and no,” the mage replied. “It is some form of magic but I don’t recognize it. And, while they’re linked, they’re not linked in a traditional master-to-image or master-tosummoned being sense.” “What should we do?” Zerith asked. “Bring them both up and see if others can help me determine what is going on here,” Nishi replied. “At least now we know who was posing as your sister among the Scourge. If we can break the bond and hold her for questioning, then we can fill in the blanks you’ve been worried about concerning Icecrown Citadel, perhaps.” “Let’s do as he suggests,” Zerith whispered to Ger’alin. “And, while we’re at it, I’ll have the blacksmiths working on a set of cuffs so that the only person she’ll be bound to after this is you.” ~*~*~*~ “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Tam’ara muttered as she studied Alayne and the ghostly version. “We know about the nemesis – the shadow of the self that must be fought and contained through self-control and is purged ritually – but I’ve never seen or heard of one that could survive independently of its creator.” “What are you talking about?” Ger’alin demanded. Alayne and her ghostly twin had been brought back to the Argent Tournament grounds over a week ago. Neither had regained consciousness in that timeframe. “I apologize for snapping at you,” Ger’alin said after he drew a ragged breath. “I should not have done that. However, you’re the first person who’s ventured to provide any information other than what we already know ourselves.” “I’m the only taunka in your group who knows that Alayne went through our ritual to purge and release the self of the negativity that was holding her hostage,” Tam’ara explained. “That ritual creates a shadow that one can fight and master. By besting it, one learns internal control and learns that the self is strong enough to contain all of its aspects. The shadow created usually fades within a few moments after the battle is resolved. I’ve never seen this 6


happen,” she gestured, indicating the two figures. “Maybe that’s not what happened,” she continued. “But then, your wife was the first one to undergo the ritual who was not part of our tribe.” “Then I would suggest that you not allow others of our people to undergo it,” Ger’alin said mildly, masking the worry he felt. “Our people are highly magical in nature. It could be that the result of any of us undergoing such a ritual would be what we see here.” “I will pass that along to the elders,” Tam’ara whispered. “You could be correct.” “Now, if that is what happened, then how do we undo it?” Ger’alin asked. “I don’t know,” Tam’ara replied softly. “Perhaps the elders...” “Would they come here?” he asked, hating the desperate fear in his voice. “Perhaps,” the taunka shrugged, uncertain. “They may wish to see this for themselves. As I’ve said, I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this. Have you?” “Not entirely,” Ger’alin grimaced. “Several years ago,” he explained, “Alayne...split her personality into two parts. She...she broke under the strain. And that,” he gestured to the ghostly form, “is what she looked like when she returned to us,, half-mad and calling herself ‘Tal’ar’s daughter’ instead of ‘Alayne.’” “I see,” Tam’ara said slowly, carefully. “I will go to the elders myself and ask them to come here. I will tell them that the man who will lead the attack against the Scourge, the man who has helped bring us into the Horde and under its protection, requests a favor to help his wife. I’m sure that they will listen. They respect you. They admire you. After all you and your people have done to help us, I’m sure they’ll leave the ancestral grounds.” “Is that why your people dug in and fought so hard in Howling Fjord instead of fleeing?” Ger’alin asked, aghast. Tam’ara nodded. “Your elders would not leave?” “We are bound to the land,” Tam’ara explained. “Few of us have the strength or will to leave it. Warriors can depart from their homes easily enough; they are born and their spirits thirst to defend their homes. But the elders...those who are chosen to bond with the land, to pour their spirits into it and to take its strength and vision as their own...they cannot be parted long from the place of their hearts. A few days, a week or more – that is fine. But longer than the turning of the moon and they begin to sicken and die. If enough elders die before they can pass their wisdom on, the tribe and the people will forget their place and, like a branch cut from the tree, will wither and die.” Ger’alin grimaced. He had not considered that the taunka bound themselves to their lands and that the elders might not be able to leave. “I thank you for even considering this, Tam’ara, and I take back every negative thing I have ever said or thought about you.” “It’s all right, Ger’alin Sunrage,” the taunka grinned. “I have earned much of your criticism. I will go now and travel to the elders in Dragonblight.” Ger’alin nodded absently as the woman left the tent. He sat back down in the chair by the side of the cot and buried his face in the sheets next to his wife, inhaling the scent deeply and trying to calm himself down. How? How had she managed to do this with a simple taunka religious rite meant to help her, not destroy her? “You always could do the most amazing things when given half the chance,” he muttered, his voice muffled by the sheets. “Are you alright?” Zerith asked, poking his head into the tent. He’d just seen Tam’ara leave the tent with a determined expression on her snout. “Tirion was hoping that... Did Tam’ara have any useful advice or insight?” “Possibly,” Ger’alin said, sitting back upright. “She thinks it may have been that ritual Alayne went through in Howling Fjord that did this. When I explained to her what I suspected, she explained a bit more about the ritual itself. This should not have happened,” he continued, gesturing to the other woman. “But, you know how Alayne is.” “Indeed I do,” Zerith sighed. “Dar’ja is on her way. She’ll sit with them and, if there’s any change, she’ll come and get you. We need you, Ger’alin. Tirion and the Argents have 7


consolidated the hold we have on Jotunheim. He wants to tell you about his meeting with the Scarlets and begin planning the next phase of operations.” “I’ll be there when Dar’ja arrives,” Ger’alin sighed wistfully. He hated the thought of leaving his wife for any length of time. What if something happened while he was gone? He’d barely left her side at all, sleeping in the cot with her and washing in the basin nearby. Callie and Tau’re had brought him his meals so he would not have to leave her side even to eat. This was not the first time Zerith had come to ask him to meet with Tirion but...if what Tam’ara said was correct, then there was little he could do other than wait for the taunka elders to arrive. “I’ll be there when Dar’ja arrives,” he repeated. “I promise.” ~*~*~*~ Tirion nodded respectfully to the sin’dorei paladin. “How is she?” he asked. “No change,” Ger’alin replied respectfully. “But the taunka elders will come soon, I hope, and they may be able to shed some light on the subject.” “My prayers are with you both in this trying time,” Tirion said gently. “She is a good woman, an able fighter, and I would hate for anything to happen to her.” “Thank you,” Ger’alin said softly. “Zerith said you wanted to tell me about your meeting with the Scarlets.” “It wasn’t much of a meeting,” Tirion grimaced. “I did manage to convince them I was not tainted by the plague long enough for one of their high-ranking officers to agree to speak with me by shouting down from atop the gate of their fortress. Apparently, they’re going to destroy the Scourge themselves and to hell with working with the rest of us. They’ve heard about the tragedy at the Wrath Gate and said it was our just desserts for tolerating the ‘so-called liberated Scourge who follow that bitch-queen Sylvanas.’ About what I expected from them,” he spat angrily. “They’ll let the world burn before they see reason.” “That doesn’t sound like grounds for a working relationship,” Ger’alin remarked dryly, wondering at the change in Tirion’s demeanor. “What would you suggest we do?” “There’s more,” Tirion sighed. “While I was there, I sensed a great evil within their ranks. Now, I’ve run across my share of crazed fanatics,” he explained. “I know what it can do to warp and twist a personality. But this…I’ve not sensed evil this strong since the orcs were still plagued by demon blood. The presence was foul and vile beyond description – and powerful, too.” “If Alayne were conscious…” Ger’alin sighed. “She’s been exposed to many foul and vile things in her journeys. She’s something of an expert at determining the truth in such matters. But she’s…” “I know,” Tirion said softly. “I hope that the elders are able to help her.” “I would like to speak with the Scarlets myself,” Ger’alin muttered. “I would like to see if they can be reasoned with. If the Horde and the Alliance can set aside, even just temporarily, their differences and focus on the main objective, then the Scarlets should be able to do the same.” “They’re fanatics,” Zerith said, repeating the earlier point of discussion. “Did you ever run across any in your travels?” “Not myself, no,” Ger’alin admitted. “Callie’s had some experience with them. Her fiancé turned Scarlet after the Plague struck. She was, at least, able to get away from his band when they came upon her and some other Forsaken during a foray out of their monastery.” “Individuals might be reasonable,” Zerith pointed out, “but in groups, the insanity intensifies.” “Speaking with them will prove to be nothing but a waste of time,” Tirion cut in. “I would suggest that we ignore them.” 8


“We can’t just leave an armed militant group to operate freely,” Ger’alin argued. “I can’t believe they wouldn’t meet with you, General Fordring. Your exile has been rescinded. You’re one of the greatest heroes of the wars that have wracked our world. Surely even they respect you…” “They don’t,” Tirion muttered. “And, I’ve done enough speaking with them. I’d rather we set a watch on their activities and left them to rot away in their harbour.” “Perhaps one of us...” Zerith offered. “I’ve lost too many good men to them,” Tirion growled angrily. “I’ll not risk losing another.” “They attacked you?” Zerith asked, aghast. “Then we must...” “Not this time,” Tirion said, his shoulders slumping and his face crumpling in remembered agony. “They didn’t attack me this time. But...my son Taelen...he was one of them. He joined them thinking they would help free our homeland from the Scourge. He held on to our home, tried to protect it from the undead...and, while he regretted the innocent lives lost, he thought it was merely a consequence of war. I was never there to teach him, you see,” the human general said, pleading and praying they would understand. “I had been exiled because I refused to kill an orc who posed no threat to me or to my people. Taelen grew up thinking of me as a defector, a traitor. He never understood the price I paid to keep my own honor instead of following blindly. Yet, I tried to help him. I found him, I talked with him. I showed him a different way. And they killed him. They slaughtered him while I watched on. I’ve tried hard but I can never forgive them for taking him from me. So, no, if you decide to engage the Scarlets, leave me out of it. I’ve done the best I can as the leader of the Argent Crusade. I know that Darion Morgraine has tried to speak with them in his father’s name. All they see is that we are not Scarlets, that we accept the undead who have broken free of their slavery, that we do not kill those who are no threat to us...and, for that, we are tainted forever in their eyes.” Before either of the elves could say a word, Tirion stood and walked out of the tent. “I didn’t know,” Ger’alin muttered softly. “Light help me, I had no idea.” “Neither did I,” Zerith sighed. “Still, you’re right. We can’t just leave them there. The moment we have our hands full with the Scourge, the Scarlets could move in and kill us all before we have a chance to put an end to the true threat. And, if they see us as tainted, they will do that. Two birds with one stone.” “Then we’ll either have to destroy them or find some way to force them to be reasonable.” “Yes, but how in the name of the Titans are we to do that?” “That’s a good question,” Ger’alin sighed. “A damned good question.” ~*~*~*~ “You are completely insane,” Arete sighed. “Either that, or you’re stupid. I’m not sure which.” “Have you seen anything of their leaders?” Ger’alin pressed. “Abendiss has been travelling back and forth between here and the base in Dragonblight. We were hoping that the Forsaken would put an end to her but they’re still too scared to move against the Scarlets in light of what happened at the Wrath Gate.” “Where does she go when she’s here?” Zerith asked. “There’s a small cave cut into the hillside near the main fortress,” the undead death knight said. “They hide themselves in there. For the most part, the area is heavily patrolled on land, at sea, and in the air. A sneak attack against the Harbor would still be fairly costly and there’s no assurance that you’d win.” 9


“We don’t want to attack the Harbor necessarily,” Ger’alin explained. “We just want to force them to negotiate with us.” “As I said earlier: you are either completely insane or stupid to think that would work.” “If we could just cut their leaders off from the main force...” “You think that if you cut the head off the snake, the snake will suddenly become less venomous?” Arete muttered. “It won’t. We’ve been trying to drive the Scarlets out of the Plaguelands. We’ve been trying to drive them out of Tirisfal. We’ve killed so many of them. We’ve sent emissaries to deal with them. They care for nothing other than the complete cleansing and re-ordering of the world as they see it. They’ll kill anyone – even their own leaders – who go against the vision they have of the world as it should be.” “Then perhaps we could fragment it enough to...” “You could stir them up,” Arete cut in. “You could confuse them for a time. But get rid of them completely? Fragment them until they shatter? No. This is a group of humans who will dig in and hang on with their fingernails if need be. They could give the dwarves lessons in being stubborn. I’m telling you, Tirion’s idea is the best. Leave the Scarlets to us and we will keep them contained while you fight the Scourge.” “A hell of a group you have for containing them,” Ger’alin sneered. “I see a tauren, a draenei woman, and a gargoyle. How do you think that less than a handful of people on an outpost that can barely see the entire harbour will contain anything?” “I work with what I’m given,” Arete growled. “I take the world as it is, not as I would have it be.” “Then let us help you,” Zerith replied. “See if you can capture a few of their footmen or priests. See if you can hold them and let us speak with them. If we can, at the very least, convince them to leave us alone while we fight the Scourge, if we can convince them to hold off any attacks they have planned until we’re victorious or defeated, then that will be enough.” “We’ll try,” Arete said glumly. “I’m not promising success but we’ll try.” “That’s all we can ask of you,” Zerith nodded. “Thank you for meeting with us.” “When you get back to the Shadow Vault, send the bird back to us. We’ve precious few remounts here for our own patrols,” the undead said grumpily. “I thought you had a flying ziggurat to yourselves.” “We are not risking our fortress where it’s so vulnerable to attack,” Zerith explained. “Between blazing gunships, frost wyrms, and a host of gnomish flying death-traps, we’d have it crashed to the ground with no survivors but plenty of recruits for the Scourge.” “That’s true,” the undead grinned, showing his mismatched teeth. “I’ll contact you if we’re successful.” Ger’alin and Zerith made their farewells and then climbed aboard the back of the skeletal gryphon who had carried them to the overlook from the Shadow Vault. Signalling the gryphon, they launched into the air. Zerith huddled against the paladin’s back as the wind buffeted them both. “Do you think this will work?” he shouted over the roaring wind. “Not really,” Ger’alin called back. “It’s worth a try, though. I’m planning to do a flyover of the island on one of the red drakes later tonight. At least then I’ll have a clear view of what we’re up against.” “When will the elders arrive?” Zerith asked, changing the subject. “Not soon enough for me,” Ger’alin replied. “Ta’mara has only been gone a few days. It could take them weeks of discussion before they settle on whether or not they’d come. If it takes too long, I’ll just carry both of them down there myself and Legion take the risks.” “She’ll be well, I hope,” Zerith whispered.

10


“She will,” Ger’alin agreed softly. “Now if only we could figure out how she keeps doing this to herself and how to get her to stop.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin rubbed his eyes tiredly and adjusted the wick in the lamp. Glancing down at his wife, he sighed. She had not moved at all since the last time he’d checked on her. Bending back over the desk, he studied the maps he had made after flying over the Scarlets’ harbor. He thought he had uncovered which buildings were which but he had been unable to locate the cave that Arete had spoken of. He’d risked flying low enough to make the Scarlets aware of his presence. Only the quick thinking of the drake he had been riding had saved them both after that miscalculation. “Just because they’re insane doesn’t mean they’re stupid,” he reminded himself. The fanatical organization ran a tight ship and kept a solid watch. If they weren’t so rabid, they’d be a fine addition to the fight against Icecrown Citadel. “I want to do a flyover again at dawn,” he muttered to Alayne, wishing she would rouse enough to argue with him. “It’ll be risky but it’s worth it. It will let me confirm my suspicions about some of these buildings. It will also let me find this cave that Arete mentioned. If we can map out a route to that cave and take down their leaders with a quick strike, we stand a much better chance of getting the rest of them to be reasonable. I also would like to find out more about this taint that Tirion sensed. I could only barely sense it myself but then, I was rather high above them.” Ger’alin held his breath. It seemed as if Alayne had flinched. He sighed when he realized it was just the shadows cast by the lantern flickering across her face. Turning back to his maps once more, he stared at them until he realized he wasn’t seeing them anymore. Taking the spectacles off that he used when his eyes grew too tired, he rubbed his face wearily. “I should wash up,” he said quietly. “I should go and see if there’s anything left to eat. But, I’m too tired to care.” Stifling a sob, he rose from his chair and sat down on the cot next to her. Pulling off his boots and setting them under the cot, he stretched out next to his wife, pulled her into his arms, and closed his eyes, praying that they would wake up together. ~*~*~*~ Alayne staggered through a hauntingly familiar landscape. The towering trees of Eversong rose above her, shielding her from the light of the sun. The emerald and golden leaves cast dappling shadows on the cool green grass. In the distance, she could hear the singing dribbles and gurgles of the small creek running nearby. Sinking down into the spongy ground near one of the white-barked trees, she tried to catch her breath. She felt as if she had been travelling for weeks through the forests. No sooner would she close her eyes than they would reopen and she would be somewhere completely different, searching for something that seemed to always elude her. A rustling behind her drew her out of her pensiveness. Turning, she sighed when she saw nothing. Too tired to pick herself up to investigate it, she stretched back out and let her mind wander. The setting reminded her of the story Ger’alin and Zerith had told her about the day she made over a dozen sandwiches. Ger’alin had guided her to a place like this and had sat with her, trying to eat most of the sandwiches so they wouldn’t be wasted, and had let her sleep there, praying that she would be healed. She wished he were here with her now. She wished she could find her way back home to him. Silvermoon, Nagrand, Northrend – wherever he was, that was where she wanted to be. Closing her eyes, she sighed. “...rather high above them.”

11


Alayne sat bolt upright and began searching for the source of the sound. She could have sworn that she had just heard Ger’alin speaking from somewhere in the near distance. Focusing on him, she thought she could feel the cadence of his speech surrounding her and could smell and taste his breath across her face. “He’s not here,” she heard someone else mutter. “It’s just us. It will always be just us.” Spinning around on her seat, she glared at the intruder. “Who are you and why do you look like me?” she growled angrily, pushing herself back up to her feet. “I could ask you the same damned thing,” the woman grimaced. “Who are you and by what right do you try to control me?” “I’m Alayne Sunrage.” “I am, too. Does that give you the right to decide to torture me, to throw me aside, to humiliate me, and to treat me like I’m worth less than some slime you’d scrape off the bottom of your shoe?” “You are not me.” “No,” the woman muttered, rolling her eyes, “it’s you who are not me.” “You’re an imposter.” “We can play this game all day long. I’m not an imposter. I’m you. I’m the you that is tired of you pretending to be me. You don’t know the first thing about either of us. You keep doing this to us because you’re terrified of what I am and of who you are. This time, however, you’ve taken it too far. I was able to break free of you and your infernal weakness and snivelling. I was able to live apart from you and to choose what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have to hide, to cringe, and to argue with you any longer. I didn’t have to hold back my talents, my powers, and try to punish myself for doing whatever was needful in order to stop Kael’thas from destroying the whole world! I don’t have to sit there and watch you break us both because you feel guilty.” “If freedom is what you wanted, then why serve the Lich King?” “Do you think I serve him?” the other woman snorted. “The fool gave me a form. He thinks I follow his lead but he’s just as wrong as Kael’thas and the Sunfury were. I may seem to obey him, to honor him, to serve him, but really, I’m weakening and destroying his forces more effectively than you are with your pathetic little punches.” She rolled her eyes at the shocked expression on Alayne’s face. “What, do you think I don’t know about them? Do you think I don’t know every move you make, every thought you have, everything you say, see, or do? I am you.” “You are,” Alayne said breathlessly. “Light of heaven save me, you are.” The other woman studied her, brows beetling in confusion. “So, what do we do now?” Alayne sighed, defeated. “You’ve broken free of me.” “I don’t know,” the other woman admitted. “I honestly don’t know.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin leaned down and brushed his lips across Alayne’s. She still had not moved or made a sound. Smoothing the sheets over her, he nodded politely to the death knight who Ber’lon had appointed to watch over her while the rest of them launched their attack against the Scarlets. A small group of the Disorder of Azeroth had managed to infiltrate the Scarlets’ base of operations in Dragonblight. Several Forsaken had been freed from their imprisonment there and Abendiss, the commander of the Scarlets’ military might, had fallen. Activity had surged to a boil in the harbor nearby with gryphons and boats departing and arriving each hour. With the Scarlets in such confusion and disarray, now was the perfect time to strike. “Tam’ara sent a message,” Zerith said as Ger’alin ducked out of the tent and pulled his cape around himself more tightly. “She said that the elders will come in three days after the 12


next ceremony. They’ve done some scrying or seeing – the messenger wasn’t too clear – and say that they have the answer you seek.” “They didn’t happen to put this answer in the message?” Ger’alin muttered bitterly. Zerith shook his head. “Of course not. Mystics and magi modus operandi. Why give a straight answer when you can cause so much worry and drama by withholding it?” “I understand how you feel,” Zerith sighed. “But, if the Light is with us, all will be well in three days.” “No,” Ger’alin grunted. “If the Light is with us, all will be well in a week. I expect it will take me four full days to recover enough from this myself once I see her open her eyes again.” Zerith smiled a tight-lipped smile that spoke of sympathy and compassion. Ger’alin waved him away and took a deep, calming breath. He forced himself to tamp down the irritation he felt at the taunka for not being forthright and the hopelessness that threatened to overwhelm him any time he thought about his wife. Focusing completely on the battle ahead, he reminded himself that his problems would still be there to worry him after he survived the fight to come. “Is everyone ready?” he asked loudly, walking into the midst of the final preparations. The Knights of the Ebon Blade and the Argent Crusaders had gathered together as many wyvern, gryphons, and other small flying creatures as they could. Using drakes or even the recently-tamed and trained proto-drakes recovered from Jotunheim was out of the question. A smaller, more agile target would be more difficult for the Scarlets’ cannoneers to hit. Mentally, he went over the plan again, playing it out until he knew he would be able to focus on it and do his part for the operation. Watching the others, he waited until most everyone was mounted up before pulling himself aboard the back of a wyvern and strapping himself into the saddle. The leg harnesses fit loosely over his thighs and the belt that wrapped around his hips was snug but not tight. Settling himself in until he was comfortable, he took the reins and wheeled the wyvern around. The others were ready and waiting for his signal. Nodding, he heeled the wyvern and gave it the signal to run and fly. As he rose in the air, the furious pumping of the wyvern’s wings could not completely drown out the shouts, whoops, and shrieks of those following behind him. Circling above the tournament grounds, the Disorder of Azeroth was soon in the formation they had devised. Flying together, they soared over the still-smoking remains of Jotunheim and onwards towards the Scarlet Onslaught’s harbor. As they neared their destination, the shaman and magi summoned thick clouds beneath them. The clouds, urged by the winds in the sky, spread quickly, covering their movements from below but blinding them as well. Ger’alin grit his teeth; this was a necessary part of the plan. If the Scarlets could not judge how strong a force they were facing, the panic of the attack was more likely to decide things in the Disorder’s favor. When they were where he had judged a good landing spot, Ger’alin signaled the riders behind him and, with a quick prayer, swooped down beneath the cloud cover. The Scarlets stood for a moment in stunned surprise as the Horde attackers landed and, using daggers they had prepared for this moment, cut off the bonds holding them in their saddles. Dismounting as quickly as they could, the force moved against the Harbor’s defenders, giving them scant seconds to realize they were under attack. Spells, missiles, and shouts of all kinds flew through the air but the Disorder of Azeroth cut through those defending the landing zone and gained a brief respite to assess their situation. “We almost overshot it,” Ger’alin muttered to Zerith. “The cave should be about a quarter of a mile away. Let’s move quickly. No use in giving them time to regroup.” Zerith nodded and studied the surrounding area. Ger’alin had already given it a quick survey of his own. Striking out towards the cave, the paladin led the rest of the Disorder of 13


Azeroth into the settlement. They moved quickly but cautiously, stopped frequently by scattered bands of Scarlet Crusaders pouring out of the side streets and buildings to stop their progression. Ballistae and cannons fired down upon them intermittently as if the Scarlets, fanatical as they might be, still feared killing too many of their own. As they passed the halffinished cathedral, Ger’alin ordered a small force to storm it to ensure that no reinforcements lay hidden inside, waiting to trap the Disorder of Azeroth in a vice as they moved on towards the cave. By the time they reached the yawning maw that burrowed deep into the island’s bedrock, the attacks from the Scarlets had slackened off. Most were dead but the survivors seemed to have abandoned the Harbor. The ships could be seen in the distance, moving away. Ger’alin was content to let them go. He prayed that they would be too busy regrouping to retake the Harbor to bother the rest of the races while they worked to take down the Lich King. If they could decapitate the movement with one swift strike, perhaps some of the Scarlets would defect and return to their homes. Perhaps they were doing that even now, he thought to himself as he watched the ships set sail towards the south. Shaking his head to clear it of distracting thoughts, he ducked into the cathedral. It was ominously empty. The group he had sent in was just returning from exploring some of the side corridors. “Nothing?” he asked. “Nothing,” Nishi confirmed with a nod. “They’re running with their tails tucked between their legs,” Tau’re muttered. “One of those passages leads back to near where we landed. If anyone had used it to come upon us while we still fought, we might have been routed there.” “I pray that you’re right,” Ger’alin replied. “Come on, let’s press onwards.” Re-gathering outside of the cathedral, Ger’alin gave quick orders once more. Any retreating Scarlets were to be left alone or captured unharmed. Any who fought were to be dealt with in kind. “We will venture to this cave and pray that their leaders are still there.” “I would love to see the Scarlet Crusade fall once and for all,” Callie muttered darkly. “They have twisted and perverted many who were once our friends, family, and comrades. In their own way, they’re as bad as the Scourge.” “Enough, Callie,” Ger’alin whispered, placing a restraining hand on the stump of her lost arm. “Go into a fight like that and even you might not come out again.” Callie nodded reluctantly and closed her eyes. Taking several deep and unnecessary breaths, she calmed herself and tried not to recall the looks on some of the humans’ faces she’s seen when they had recognized each other in Tirisfal. Opening her eyes again, she saw an expression on Ger’alin’s face that promised sympathy and an open ear after the battle was done with. Nodding once more, she pulled away and followed him as he led them into the cavern ahead. The magi quickly summoned spheres of light to float near the Disorder of Azeroth, brightening the darkness but not truly diminishing it. Following the smooth, spiraling ramp down, Ger’alin felt the twisted sense of wrongness that Tirion had warned of. The cavern air was thick with it. Opening his mouth to speak, he gagged. The fetid odor seemed strong enough to him to choke his words in his throat. Callie and some of the others looked on him with concern. Waving them away, he centered himself and drew on the Light, letting its cleansing energies purge the noxious odor from him and letting its strength help him carry on. As they moved deeper into the cave, they could see preparations for a hasty retreat being made. Several humans darted into side caverns, dropping the crates, weapons, and armor they had been carrying. One human, however, remained standing calmly in the midst of the madness. Fixing the invaders with an angry glare, he muttered words that summoned a shield around him. Shining with a tinged, dingy yellow color, the shield seemed to be a twisted mockery of the Light’s own power. Something about it seemed distinctly odd. 14


“How did you find me? Did Landgren tell?” the human, a priest of high distinction by his garb, demanded. “That’s the Grand Admiral,” Callie whispered breathlessly. “That’s Westwind himself.” The awe in her voice was mingled with disgust and revulsion. Ger’alin understood how she felt. Even knowing that this man was responsible for the deaths of countless others, he could recall the tales of a brave and daring admiral from Kul Tiras. “We have sought you out to know if you will call off your attacks on our forces until the Lich King is dealt with,” Ger’alin said loudly, his words echoing in the damp, dank air of the cave. “We have killed only those of your number who would not let us pass in peace. The rest, we have allowed to escape aboard your ships.” “You think I will stand aside and let those who are tainted by the very touch of the Scourge claim the victory I have long sought?” Westwind chuckled. “No. For every one of my followers you have slain, I will kill three of yours. You will no only the peace of the grave. Now die!” he roared. The shield around him flared brightly, nearly blinding the others. Ger’alin regained his sight just in time to duck as a bolt of yellowish-green flame flew into the space where his head had been. Unslinging his mace and pulling his shield back in front of him, the paladin ran to the attack, buying the others enough time to gather themselves from the searing afterimage of the admiral’s attack and begin their own. The shield afforded Westwind little protection from his attackers. While it did glow and flash with each attack it absorbed, cracks began to appear in the spell-work holding it together. Forced to forego his own magical attacks, the admiral reached for a sword discarded by one of his followers and began fighting. Ger’alin was surprised as the ferocity of the human’s attacks. His grey and receding hair and the numerous wrinkles on his face marked him as being beyond his middle years. However, his advanced age did not seem to impede his ability to fight at all. Slashing and hacking at Ger’alin, more than once Westwind nearly disarmed the sin’dorei. However, strong and agile as he was, Westwind was no match for the combined onslaught of nearly two dozen Horde fighters in their primes. “You thought I would just let you kill me?” Westwind roared angrily. “You thought I would just stand aside and surrender? Worthless children! You know nothing! Behold the true power of the Scarlet Onslaught!” The quickly-cracking shield flared once more. A shockwave sprang out from it, knocking the attackers to the ground. The general began chanting in a language that Ger’alin barely recognized. Gasping, he recalled where he had heard such foul utterances. Alayne’s demons had spoken that same tongue. “Light be with me,” Ger’alin prayed earnestly. Letting the Light flow through him, he flung it at the admiral, breaking through the shield at last and silencing the human. Westwind stared at him in shock before the human body slipped away, falling to the ground and quickly rotting into grave-dust. Where Westwind had stood now towered the form of a nathrezim of the Burning Legion. Quickly regaining his size and fel majesty, the demon glared at his attackers. “WHAT?!” the demon shouted, staring at his own hands and arms. Shaking his head and spreading his leathery wings behind him, he continued casting his foul spells. “No matter. Even without that, I will crush you! Behold my true identity and despair!” Ger’alin shouted and the others bore down even more with their attacks. Spells fell against the nathrezim’s body, burning, freezing, and cutting through the armor that was its birthright. “Gah! I spent too much time in that weak little shell,” it gasped as thick, acidic blood flowed from several wounds. “Kirel narak! I am Mal'Ganis. I AM ETERNAL!” he roared, flinging bolts of shadow and flame at his attackers. Ger’alin could hear the others muttering the same question that ran through his own mind. Had not Arthas killed Mal’Ganis years ago? Was this truly the same demon lord? He 15


wished Alayne were with them. She would have been able to tell. She might even have been able to wrest control of the demon and force him to reveal the truth. Foul and despicable as such things were, they were a necessity in a war like the one facing the world. Mal’Ganis took advantage of Ger’alin’s momentary lapse in concentration. Hurling a dark bolt of chaotic magic at the paladin, he flung the sin’dorei back. Ger’alin landed heavily, his head slamming against the cold, stone ground hard enough that the cavern began to spin wildly in his vision. He tried to lift a hand to touch the back of his skull but could not. Either the magic of the spell or the hard landing had rendered him unable to move. Zerith’s face appeared in his vision, blurry but concerned. The paladin could hear the sounds of continued combat washing over him while the priest tended him. Shouts of victory and celebration rang through the air but quickly turned to cries of dismay and despair. “Someone stop him!” Callie shouted. “What’s going on?” Ger’alin asked Zerith, his voice slurred and fuzzy. “A portal. It looks as if he is running away.” “ENOUGH! I waste my time here. I must gather my strength on the home world,” Mal’Ganis shouted, his shout echoing loudly in the cavern. The Disorder of Azeroth braced itself for a flood of demons through the portal the dreadlord had opened up. However, Mal’Ganis himself flew into the portal, his parting words ringing through the empty air, “You'll never defeat the Lich King without my forces. I'll have my revenge... on him AND you!” the dreadlord taunted. As the portal snapped closed behind him, the sense of wrongness left the air. Ger’alin closed his eyes and let himself drift in the eerie silence left in the demon’s departure. Zerith lowered his face close to Ger’alin’s mouth, straining to hear what his friend was muttering. Sighing with frustration, the priest motioned for Tau’re to lift the paladin up and carry him out of the cave. “Let’s get him back to the tournament grounds where I can treat him better,” the priest ordered. “Let’s get out of here before the Scarlets decide to double back. Without their leaders, they’ll pose no threat to us for a while. And, perhaps, when they find out they were duped by the Legion, they’ll disband…or at least quiet down for a while.” ~*~*~*~ Zerith’s brow furrowed in dismay as they neared the Argent Tournament grounds. In the distance, he could see thick billowing smoke rising up into the air. It was much thicker and darker than the normal smoke of a large encampment. “What in the name of the Light is going on there?” he wondered. He strained, stretching his neck, trying to see better around Ger’alin. He wished he could speed ahead to find out what had happened while they were gone. Next to him in formation, Callie stared at the smoke ahead with an expression of fear and dismay. She glanced at him and he nodded, granting her permission to fly ahead and find out what was going on. Signaling to the rest, he indicated that they should veer to the north and land in the mountains to the east of the camp, giving some of the others a chance to survey the area. As they passed the camp, the priest stared in horrified fascination. It looked as if the Argent Crusade had been attacked while most of its fighters and defenders had been busy with the Scarlets. Landing in the mountains nearby, Zerith waited for Callie to return. The rogue came back an hour later, having surveyed the camp and spoken with the survivors. “They were attacked by the Cult of the Damned. They’ve beaten back the attackers for now and are mounting a guard to keep it from happening again. Tirion says it is safe for us to return.” “Then let’s get back there. Have the taunka elders arrived?” “No, and they will not be needed now.” “Really?” hope rang in his voice, “then Alayne has…” 16


“…she was taken,” Callie said coldly. “Tirion will tell you about it.” Numbed by the news, Zerith let the rogue lead them back to the Argent Tournament camp. Tau’re and Fam’iv took care of tucking Ger’alin into his bed and promised to keep an eye on the unconscious paladin while Zerith rushed on to speak with Tirion. He found the human general standing in the midst of the burned-out coliseum, a look of grim determination on his face. Tirion must have heard the priest approaching for, without turning to see him, the human began explaining what had happened. “It started shortly after you left. I don’t know where they came from. Suddenly, they were swooping out of the sky, sending down bolts of fire and shadow upon us. Some of them swarmed up the hill from Sindragosa’s Fall. We were not able to keep them from overrunning us. We managed to hole up in the coliseum and re-gather ourselves for a counterattack. But, by the time we’d pushed them out of the camp, confining them to the landing field, it was too late. We’ve searched for your sister and for several others. They were all taken. Why the cultists want them is beyond us. The living, we can assume, they want to transform into more Scourge. Your sister? Light alone knows why they bothered capturing two unconscious women.” “I see,” Zerith said blankly, his heart in his throat. “Is there anything we can do?” “We’ll need as many of you as are able to guard the perimeters of the camp. We’ll be moving the tents over to the eastern edge and setting up more guard stations and patrols. Ger’alin could…” “Ger’alin’s been wounded in the fighting against the Scarlets,” Zerith explained. “He was thrown across the room by Mal’Ganis…” “Mal’Ganis?” Tirion blurted out, stunned. “I thought he was killed by Arthas.” “So did most of the rest of us. Apparently he escaped. He did escape us at the end, going through a portal back to the Twisting Nether. Hopefully he’ll stay there for a while. He was the one behind the entire thing, Tirion. The Scarlet Crusade and Scarlet Onslaught are his creations. But then, weren’t the Scourge originally a Legion creation as well?” “So some think,” Tirion replied. “Myself, I’m no longer so certain. Still, if the Legion and the Scourge would just focus on each other, our lives would be more prosperous and peaceful. Whether this means there’s some civil war inside the Legion with various factions vying for control or whether it means that we now have three major enemy factions to contend with, only time will tell. For now, we’ll have to deal with the world as we find it. Take me to Sunrage,” he commanded. “Let us do what we can to get him back on his feet. We’re going to need his arm and his mind in the days to come.” Zerith nodded and began to lead Tirion back to where the others were waiting. “One thing, General Fordring. Let me be the one to tell Ger’alin what happened with Alayne. He’ll need close watching after learning that she’s been taken. She’s been torn from us before,” he explained, “and Ger’alin did not handle it well. You say we need his mind in the days to come.” Tirion nodded, confirming his earlier statement. He wore a puzzled and somewhat irritated expression at having to affirm what he had just said. Zerith continued with his explanation. “I know we will need him but, if he’s not watched, we may lose him just as we’ve lost Alayne for the time. Ger’alin has demons beyond just the Legion that he wrestles with.” “I see,” Tirion replied, sympathy in his eyes. “Then let us be on our way.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin stared blankly and said nothing. Zerith and Tirion had been relieved that the injury he’d sustained had been nothing more than a hard blow to the head. Though, judging from the way that the paladin had not reacted to the news of Alayne’s capture, Zerith 17


wondered if the healing had gone as well as it should have. When the healing had been done, Ger’alin had merely opened his eyes, asked what had happened and where he was, and then noted that Alayne was missing. The hope that had briefly shone in his eyes stabbed Zerith to the core when he’d had to crush it out. Ger’alin’s reaction had been to sigh, turn his head back to the ceiling, and begin staring aimlessly. “We’ll get her back,” Zerith said softly, eliciting no response. “We will.” “I just keep thinking that this is it,” Ger’alin said in a monotone. “So often she and I have parted ways, voluntarily or involuntarily, and this one might be it.” “We will get her back. I am not going to leave her in the Scourge’s grasp.” “And if we do get her back? We may wish we had not.” “What do you mean by that?” “Nothing. Never mind.” “No. What do you mean we may wish we had not gotten her back?” “It’s nothing,” heat entered the paladin’s monotone. Zerith stared at Ger’alin until the paladin grimaced and turned his head to regard the priest. “Fine,” Ger’alin spat. “I just…when she was taken from us the first time…I had horrible visions that she was actually with the Scourge, being forced to serve them as one of their mindless ghouls. I actually prayed for that instead of her being dead. I thought that, if she were Scourge and if we could free her to join the Forsaken, I would have submitted to that myself just to be with her. Then, just recently, when she ran haring off on her own, I feared that she would wind up captured again. And then, she came back and things seemed to be going well until…until…” Silent tears leaked from the corners of his eyes. “What if this time was it?” “It won’t be,” Zerith said firmly. “We’re going to strike while the iron is hot. We’ll get her back. Her and everyone else. And they’ll be fine.” “I hope so,” Ger’alin said, drawing a shuddering breath and wiping his face. “I truly hope so.” ~*~*~*~ “How is he?” Tirion asked when Zerith ducked into the general’s tent. “He’ll live,” Zerith sighed. “His vision is still blurred, he gets dizzy just standing up, and he complains that his movements feel slow. But, he’ll live.” “Blows to the head can do that. I hope he will be able to fight within the week. Will he be joining us, then?” “He has asked if we could hold this meeting in his tent,” Zerith replied. “He is too nauseous to make it this far.” Tirion nodded and gathered up the maps, scrolls, and notes he had taken. Following the priest out, they walked through the camp quickly and entered Ger’alin’s tent. The sin’dorei paladin sat in a high-backed chair, sagging and letting it support him as if he were too tired or too weak to hold himself upright without assistance. An empty vial, its faint scent giving off the odor of a healing draught, sat on the desk. Giving the man a quick assessment, Tirion wondered at Ger’alin’s ability to do as much as he had. His green eyes barely glowed at all and appeared glassy. Dark circles marred the underside of his eyes and his skin was almost as pale as it had been during the healing. Ger’alin looked up, moving only his eyes, and grunted as if the effort of speaking was too much for him. “We’ve plans to make,” Ger’alin managed to say, speaking softly. “Let’s get them made and get on with it.” “Very well, then,” Tirion said, also speaking softly. “In light of the recent attack against us, we should no longer wait for the Horde and Alliance forces to arrive. I’ve sent word to Dalaran requesting a contingent of the Kirin Tor to accompany us. I’ve also sent 18


messengers with them to hasten the Horde and the Alliance here in Northrend and back in our homelands.” “Where is Ber’lon? Or any of the others who might remember where the prison cells in Icecrown Citadel were located?” “Ber’lon accompanied the messengers to Dalaran,” Tirion said, apologetically. “He insisted on doing it. Though, without him and some of the other Ebon Blades, we would have been overrun much sooner. I still haven’t figured out how the cultists managed to…” “Underground tunnels,” Ger’alin cut in. “Have the dwarves check for them. After all, we did find out that the underside of the coliseum is hollow. Using their dark magic, they probably burrowed from Azjol-Nerub or one of the other nerubian areas.” “Light help me,” Tirion gasped, “you could be right. That means that…” “…we should sleep lightly and attack sooner rather than later.” “Indeed. But, with all due respect, will you be up to joining in? You can barely sit up as it is.” “I’ll be up to it,” Ger’alin promised. “I have my ways of dealing with pain.” Zerith’s eyebrows raised to nearly the crown of his head and he stared at his brother-by-marriage with a look that promised a close eye in the days to come. Ger’alin grunted, rolled his own eyes, and pushed himself further over the table. “I have my ways of dealing with pain,” he repeated, “and without getting addicted to the cure.” “We’ll have to see about that,” Zerith muttered. “How long before you hear back from Dalaran, Tirion?” “I’m actually expecting my messengers to return any minute now. I sent them about an hour before you returned from the Scarlet Harbor. They took our fastest fliers to speed them on their way.” Ger’alin winced as he tried to force himself to sit upright in the chair. His neck and shoulders felt as if he had been beaten severely. His vision kept wavering, turning foggy one moment, going dark the next, and then watery the third. The pounding in his head had only lessened slightly from the brew he’d drunk. He feared to take more of the substance, wishing to remain awake a while longer and get something of a battle planned. The three men leaned over the table, studying the maps of Icecrown Citadel that their spies and the Ebon Blades had provided. Though they knew much of the shape of the interior, they also knew that their knowledge was out-dated. Focusing on possible avenues of attack and defense, they all agreed that, until the front hall was taken, there was little use in theorizing over what, exactly, they would face. “A bit like that trial you put us through,” Ger’alin snorted. “A bit like it, yes,” Tirion agreed readily. “Though, at least now you’ll know you’re fighting the Scourge and that you won’t be fighting those who should stand with you and not against you.” “At least we’ll know that, yes. Well, gentlemen,” Zerith sighed, “I think that is all we can do for the time being. We all need rest and we need to find out what General Fordring’s messengers have learned. Let’s plan to reconvene…” he cut off, interrupted by Callie stumbling into the tent. “There you are,” the Forsaken said, sounding relieved to see Tirion sitting there. “Your messengers have returned from Dalaran.” “Good. Send them here.” Zerith raised a hand, requesting a moment’s pause. He studied the rogue carefully. Finally, he gestured for her to come closer and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Spit it out, Callie. What’s the news?” “It’s…Mir’el’s with them. He’s…Jez’ral, Ber’lon, and a half-dozen others were taken. Mir’el’s not handling it well. Those who survived the attack said they had to tie him up and 19


then guard him on the gryphon so he wouldn’t try to jump off to rescue Jez’ral. They’re holding him here with some kind of spell that keeps him from moving. I…I didn’t want to tell him but he asked about Alayne and…” “Say no more,” Tirion said quickly. “Ger’alin, do you think…” “I don’t have much of a choice,” the paladin replied. “Callie, help me.” The Forsaken moved away from Zerith and let Ger’alin drape an arm over her shoulders. Wrapping her good arm around his waist, she helped him hobble through the camp, the four of them moving at a snail’s pace to accommodate his nausea and vertigo. The noise of the camp subsided where they passed and, after what seemed to be a journey through half of Icecrown, they arrived at the tent that had been set aside for the contingent from Dalaran. Seeing the condition that one of the newcomers was in, the magi of the Kirin Tor quickly found a seat and moved it so that Ger’alin would not have to walk much further. The paladin sank into the camp chair gratefully and closed his eyes, praying that the world would stop spinning so violently. “Mir’el?” Zerith said calmly, speaking as if he were merely greeting the man after a short absence. “Mir’el?” “Let me go,” Mir’el snarled. “The Scourge has the two people who matter most to me in this world. Either let me go after them or let me join them!” “Don’t talk like that, Mir’el,” Callie temporized. “Jez’ral and Alayne wouldn’t want you to do that.” “Calm yourself, Baron Darkweaver,” Zerith said formally, a slight chill and a hint of command in his voice. “You do them no good behaving like this.” Mir’el stared at the priest, outraged. His face flushed an ugly red and his eyes began blazing like twin aquamarine suns. “You listen to me, boy,” he growled angrily. “Enough,” Zerith repeated the distant tone. The shadows in the tent seemed to thicken, to darken, and to surround the priest. He appeared to grow where he stood. “Enough. We will rescue Jez’ral and Alayne. You will help us with that. You will not go running off to hand yourself over to the Scourge out of fear or in anger. We have enough to worry about without one who’s head should be cooler acting like an adolescent.” “You’ve been through quite the ordeal,” Ger’alin said calmly, gritting his teeth at the seeming loudness of his own voice. His voice, though strained, carried the same hint of cool professionalism that Zerith’s contained. “Tell us what happened.” One of the other magi started to reply but Ger’alin lifted a hand, cutting them off. Mir’el stared at the pair for a long moment before drawing a shuddering breath and beginning to recount the harrowing trip from Dalaran. “Tirion’s messengers arrived quickly. They were not pursued at all by any cultists, nor did they encounter any Scourge on their way to Dalaran. Thinking back, it seems that they wanted us to do exactly as we did.” “And that was?” the priest asked. “We sent messengers on to Stormwind, Darnassus, Orgrimmar, and Silvermoon. We also sent word to Vengeance Landing, Warsong Hold, Wintergrasp, Valgarde, and Valiance Keep. Krasus went to take word to Alexstrasza and the other Aspects. Jez’ral…he’s been doing much better. He insisted on coming with me when I told him I would join you. I told him he was still in no condition to fight but he said he could at least travel here and help out as best he could. And, like a fool, I let him talk me into it. Neither one of us thought much of spending a single night apart if we didn’t have to.” “Go on,” Ger’alin encouraged. “We mounted up on the remaining fliers and headed out. As we crossed over the southern walls, we were attacked by dozens of frostwyrms. Huge abominations, taller than towers, waved their arms, grabbing for us. Jez’ral was sitting behind me and one of the 20


wyrm’s frostbolts hit him. I tried to catch him, I tried to follow after him but they grabbed him out of the air. I did my best to bring it down, to get him back but…” “You landed?” “We were knocked out of the sky. Several of our mounts were weakened, some killed, and we fell. The others landed near us, trying to gather as many of us as they could. I almost had him,” Mir’el said desperately. “I had almost forced the wyrm that had him to the ground. They grabbed me and tied me up. The skeletons and ghouls were massing just over the hill, barreling towards us.” “It’s a good thing they did that,” Ger’alin said evenly. “Otherwise, you would be lost to us.” “What does one person more or less have to do with deciding the course of your battle?” Mir’el demanded hotly. Tears of fear, anger, and frustration began leaking down his face. “After they took Jez’ral from me, I came here only to find out that you’ve lost Alayne as well! And then, you come in here and presume to speak down to me. Do you not care at all what might happen to them if we don’t set out immediately to get them back?” “We care a great deal,” Zerith replied. “But, remember what you just said. You did exactly what the Scourge wanted in rushing back to us here. You should have waited or should have come by a more indirect route. They were lying in wait for you. If we rush out to attack now, we’ll be doing no differently than you and we’ll lose just as many, if not more, as you did.” “But I can’t…I can’t just leave them there!” “And you won’t,” Zerith agreed. “Instead, you’re going to help Ger’alin back to his tent and you’re going to see that he rests. He took a strong blow to the back of the skull this morning and should not be out of bed, let alone planning battles or walking through the camp. What do you think Alayne will think when she returns and sees what we’ve let her husband do to himself?” “I’m fine,” Ger’alin said between clenched teeth. This was not part of the ploy that he had expected. “You’re not fine. Neither of us is,” Zerith snorted. “You’re both in shock. And, you’re both going to rest while we finish gathering information from the others who came from Dalaran. Don’t worry,” he added, seeing the glare that Ger’alin was giving him, “I’ll come and get you so you can participate in the planning discussions. But, unless you can honestly tell me that your head does not hurt at all, you and Mir’el are going to your tent and you’re both going to sleep for at least six hours.” Ger’alin stared at the priest. Mir’el stared at both of them. Someone in the tent snorted as they watched the silent exchange of glares and flat stares. Finally, Ger’alin lifted his hand, giving up. “Fine,” he muttered. “But in one thing, I agree with Mir’el. The sooner we can get started, the better.” ~*~*~*~ Jez’ral pushed himself up on weak arms and blinked, trying to clear his vision. The last thing he recalled was climbing up behind Mir’el on the back of a wyvern. He did not recall arriving anywhere with cold stone floors and a dank chill in the air. He winced, his head feeling as if it were going to float off. “Where am I?” he asked, his voice thick and nearly unrecognizable to his own ears. “Somewhere beneath Icecrown Citadel,” a familiar voice replied. “We were taken captive as we flew from Dalaran.” “Ber’lon? Captive? Of the Scourge?”

21


“Don’t be so surprised,” the death knight muttered sourly. “The Scourge takes captives when needed. And, we’re damned good ones to take, the three or four of us.” “They captured others?” “Just one…or two. Damned if I can really understand how she does this,” he growled, sounding distracted. “Zerith and Ger’alin said she could tear herself in half. I didn’t realize they meant literally.” “What are you talking about?” Jez’ral demanded. Scrambling to where Ber’lon was sitting, he tried to clear the fuzziness in his vision to see what the man was staring at. Ber’lon sat most of the way across the room, nearly lost in the looming shadows, his back to Jez’ral. When Jez’ral, after several false starts, managed to reach him and see what the death knight was staring at, he nearly screamed. “How did…where…who?” “All questions with an answer. I wish I knew them,” Ber’lon sighed, glancing at the other man. “I thought she,” he gestured towards the semi-transparent woman laying next to Alayne, “was someone or something completely different. But, they’re the same. They’re identical in almost every fashion. I didn’t see that, before. Not that Zerith and Ger’alin were letting just anyone drop in to investigate.” “What is she doing here? Wasn’t she with the others at the Argent Tournament grounds?” “I would assume she was captured in the attack. I’m not certain why she would have been taken. But then, the Lich King never willingly relinquishes anyone he’s gained a hold over, even if they did manage to break free of his grasp once before.” “What do you mean by what you said earlier? About us being good one to capture?” “We know much about the defenses of Dalaran and about the capabilities of the Disorder of Azeroth, the Knights of the Ebon Blade, and the Argent Crusaders. We also know a bit about the situation between the Horde and the Alliance. It’s not like we’re going to be able to hold much back when they start torturing us. Hell, I’ve participated in enough interrogations of the living to know that we’ll wind up doing or saying anything just to make the pain stop.” “I’m not going to give in so easily,” Jez’ral growled. “Neither am I,” Ber’lon said pleasantly. “But then, I’m just saying, they’ll get what they want from us. If we’re lucky, they’ll kill us afterwards. If we’re not lucky, we’ll find ourselves joining the Scourge as mindless slaves.” “Must you be so gloomy?” “I’m not being gloomy. I’m being realistic. No one survives captivity among the Scourge. It’s just a matter of time. That doesn’t mean I intend to give up, though. They’ll have to fight for every scrap of information I’m going to give them.” Jez’ral nodded, too drained and depressed to try to argue further. Instead, he crept around Ber’lon, still on his hands and knees, too weak to rise, and studied the two women stretched out nearby. Ber’lon had covered them with the few tattered blankets that had been left in the cell. He’d also used his own cloak as a blanket for them. Jez’ral reached out and laid a hand on Alayne’s forehead. He hissed, his breath escaping through clenched teeth. She felt cold as ice. Checking on the other one, he winced when his hand went straight through her as if she were no more substantial than the air around them. “She’s been fading ever since we got here,” Ber’lon offered helpfully. “Not that it’s doing much good. Alayne’s grown colder and more still as that one fades.” “What do you think that means?” “It means that she may escape the worst of the torments they have in store for us.” Jez’ral’s pleading look forced the death knight to shake his head. “Not out of mercy on their part, Jez’ral. She’s dying.”

22


“She’s so young. She can’t die. She’s got the whole rest of her life to live,” Jez’ral protested in shock. “We can’t let her die.” “It’s not a matter of letting her die or stopping her from it,” Ber’lon muttered. “There’s not a thing we can do about it unless you’re more well-versed in the healing arts than you were the last time I checked.” “We’ve got to get her out of here. To get both of them out of here.” “Easier said than done.” “So you’re just going to sit there, watching her die, and do nothing?” “There’s not much we can do other than wait. Maybe she’ll get better. Maybe she won’t. For now, all I know is that we’re trapped in a cell beneath the citadel. There are probably hundreds of Scourge, dozens of necromancers, and Light only knows what other horrors between us and freedom.” “I can’t just sit here and watch her die,” Jez’ral argued futilely. “Then don’t,” Ber’lon said coldly. Jez’ral stared at the other man and shook his head. His fingers scraped along the cold gravel that lined the floor of their prison room. Scrambling to Alayne’s other side, her onetime teacher sat next to her, pulled the cloak a little higher over her shoulder, and tried to think of a way out of this mess for all of them. Meanwhile, oblivious to it all, the two women slept. ~*~*~*~ Alayne had a sense of being moved. She could hear voices in the far distance, their words distorted by time and space when they reached her. She could recognize a few voices but not what they were saying. Her brother, her husband, and a few others had been nearby. And, through it all, the other woman – the one who was part of her as much as her leg or arm – had been hovering nearby, hearing the same voices but feeling different emotions. How Alayne could tell what the other was feeling remained a mystery. But, together, in the darkness, the two remained trapped close but not touching. The sense of movement stopped and silence set in. Alayne fought to open her eyes, to see what was going on around her, but her body would not respond. She felt trapped, a prisoner in her own house of flesh. Finally, she gave up, diving deeper into unconsciousness and dragging the other unwillingly with her. A long period of darkness and silence followed. Then, miraculously, she opened her eyes. The trees of Eversong rose high above her, shielding her from the sun with their deep emerald leaves. Their white trunks were a comforting sight. Pushing herself up, she wondered how she had managed to return to her homeland from Northrend. Dusting off her robes, she glanced around, trying to determine where she was in the forest. “We’re not really here, you know,” her own voice said sardonically. Alayne looked around, not entirely surprised to see the other woman here with her. “If we’re not really here, where are we and why?” Alayne asked, her tone matching the other’s for sarcasm and chill. “That’s a damned good question. I’ve no idea where your foolishness has landed us.” “My foolishness?” “Yes, yours. If you could be sensible for just one moment, you’d realize that…” “Running off and serving the Lich King is sensible? I’d hate to hear your idea of harebrained.” “I don’t serve him!” the other woman exploded. “I am only pretending to do his bidding so that I can get close enough to him to destroy him without risking everyone else!

23


The thought of Ger’alin or Jez’ral or Zerith or any of them confronting that monster…” she shivered. “If I can take him down without endangering anyone, then I’ll do it.” “You sound so much like me when…” “I am you! I’m the part of you that you didn’t want anymore! You cast me out and left me to die on that mountain!” “I what?” Alayne gasped, horrified. “You cast me out. You used some form of magic to tear me away and you left me to die there!” “But that was…you were the reason I couldn’t bear to use magic! Even when I wanted to, I couldn’t…” “I was not!” the other one shot back, her tone filled with heat and loathing. “That was your own fault. You didn’t want to recognize just how much of a sacrifice you had already made by acting as a double-agent. You didn’t want to stand up for yourself, to show those self-righteous hypocrites the truth! So, you punished yourself and tortured yourself, hoping that if you just suffered enough, they would forgive you.” Alayne flushed, her face heating with an ugly purplish-red. She could not deny the truth of the other woman’s words and that, more than anything, convinced her that the other was telling the truth. “Perhaps you are right about that,” Alayne began, “but that hardly means that you are right about the Lich King.” “And, if I’m wrong, then I’m the only one who pays for it,” the other pointed out. Something about that didn’t seem to fit quite right in the picture forming in Alayne’s mind. “The rest of you would be fine. You would still have your chance. But, if I am right…” Alayne opened her mouth to argue, to point out that something was missing from the other’s logic, but the sapphire sky turned to sudden shadow. She was startled to find herself reaching out to the other and the other reaching out to her. They clung to each other like scared children as the very air around them darkened. Alayne could feel a menacing presence drawing near to them. She shuddered as she recognized what it was. “It’s him,” the other woman whimpered. “It is,” Alayne confirmed. “Light help us both, it is.” ~*~*~*~ “Why?” Jez’ral demanded, shouting for the benefit of whatever guards might be listening in. “Why her? Out of the three of us, why take the one who was unconscious?” “They’re not going to answer you,” Ber’lon said, his voice filled with gloom and dread. “And, I don’t know why they took her and not one of us. It’s not like they’re going to get much information out of either of them. But then, maybe they’re why Alayne is in this state. The Lich King never just gives us and Alayne was something of an…amusement of his.” “What do you mean by that?” Jez’ral hissed. Alayne had been remarkably tight-lipped about her time among the Scourge. She claimed not to have a clear memory of much of it which, from what Jez’ral could discover from the others who left, might be partially true. Also, they hated to press her about it lest it bring up memories of her father which she was not ready to face just yet. “Ber’lon, what do you mean?” “I mean that she piqued his curiosity, if such a thing is possible. A member of the Scourge who stayed of her own free will? Who did not seek power over others, did not seek to destroy everything? Who wanted to be left alone? Who could remember what it mean to care about someone? It intrigued him. If he could figure out how to rouse such a sentiment in others using that plague he’d used on us, we might be in worse trouble now than we are. As it

24


is, Alayne was the only one to respond the way she did and I’d say that nine-tenths of the reason was her father and not Arthas or the madness.” Jez’ral visibly relaxed. Like others, he’d heard rumors of the torment and indignities that Sylvanas Windrunner had been subjected to both before and after her death at Arthas’s hands. The thought of Alayne suffering a similar fate was more than he wanted to think about. Still, he and Ber’lon were perplexed and concerned about why she had been taken and they had been left alone. Hours seemed to pass in stilted silence. Only the occasional dripping-dropping sound of water from the rocky ceiling broke the quiet. Jez’ral lay on the floor, huddling under the blankets and cloak himself, wishing he could get warm enough to sleep. Sleep would at least allow him a brief escape from his worries. Ber’lon seemed to have none of his problems. The death knight had tucked his knees up to his chin, rested his forehead upon them, and fallen sound asleep. Jez’ral finally gave up the effort of trying to sleep and balled the blankets and cloak up, huddling himself around them to keep them warm so that when – not if – Alayne returned, she would not suffer from the chilly damp of the cell. Jez’ral snapped up when the cell door opened. A pair of thickly robed necromancers carried Alayne and the other woman. They dumped the pair unceremoniously on the floor and then walked over to Ber’lon. Grabbing the sleeping man by his arms, they woke him up by hauling him out of the cell. The young man did manage to glance back once and see that Alayne had been returned. Then, he steeled himself for the torture to come, leaving Jez’ral alone in the cell with the unconscious women. Jez’ral waited until the cell door had been closed before he moved. Gently dragging the women until they lay next to each other, he covered them with the blankets and cloak and then studied them as best he could in the faint light. They sported identical bruises on their faces. Not similar – identical. Their breath came in complete sync, as if they were mirror images of each other. Jez’ral even thought that, on a psychic level, they felt identical. He wondered what strange magic might be at work here and by what agency. He wished that Ger’alin or Zerith were nearby. Perhaps one of them, with their study of healing, might be able to sense something more. After a while, Alayne stirred and rolled onto her side so that she faced the other woman. In sleep, they seemed to seek each other out. Perhaps whatever torment they had suffered had drawn them together in their sleeping state. The other one, her form so transparent that Jez’ral had to strain his eyes to make her out, began to whimper softly, reminding the man of when Alayne was a child. He reached over to brush her hair out of her face and yelped when his fingers passed through her as if she were as insubstantial as the air. Sighing and tucking the covers more firmly over both of them, Jez’ral settled in and tried to go to sleep as well. ~*~*~*~ Alayne no longer knew if she were asleep or awake. She had “awakened” so many times, finding herself and the other trapped in different prisons, that she had lost count. This time, they appeared to be hung up, their wrists bound to stone walls, in a place that Alayne dreaded remembering. “He’s caught us,” she whispered. “This is a dream,” the other moaned. “Light, let it be a dream!” “Dreaming or waking,” a baritone voice intoned, “it does not matter. He will try to break you no matter where you are.” “Who are you?” the two women demanded. “Where are we?”

25


“You’ve been taken captive by the Lich King,” the voice explained, “but, he cannot use you as you are. Still, he is…intrigued…by your condition. You cannot be killed even though you are dying and have been for some time.” “Dying?” Alayne gulped. “How?” “Mortals are not meant to exist in two places at once. They are not meant to split themselves in half as you have.” “How do we undo it?” the other woman asked. “If it’s killing us, how do we undo it?” “We have to make ourselves whole,” Alayne answered. There was silence from the baritone voice. “But, it would make us vulnerable to the Lich King again, wouldn’t it?” “Death or death, the choice is yours.” Before Alayne could say another word, the necromancers appeared and the true torment began. ~*~*~*~ Jez’ral wondered what nightmares the two must be having. He could not wake either of them but both were crying out and screaming in their slumber. He did his best to keep them covered and to try to calm them the way he had calmed Alayne when she was a toddler but, at length, he settled for just keeping them covered against the chill dampness of the cell. Ber’lon was returned several hours later. Alayne and her doppelganger had fallen into a fitful silence. Jez’ral felt his stomach sink when the cell door opened and the death knight was tossed in. Exhausted and broken down, Ber’lon could not even catch himself before he landed on the floor with a sickening thump. Jez’ral braced himself for an attack but the jailors ignored him, bending over to study Alayne. One of them appeared to nod in satisfaction and then the pair slunk out of the cell, slamming the door behind them. Jez’ral hurried over to Ber’lon, wincing at the lash marks on his back. The death knight’s armor had been taken from him and the cotton clothes he’d been left did little to protect him. Tearing shreds from the hem of his own robes, Jez’ral fashioned makeshift bandages and tried to help the death knight drag himself closer to where the two women slept. Ber’lon waved him off. “I think…they’re going to leave us alone…for a while…” Ber’lon gasped. “What makes you think that?” “They’re trying something…I saw a green dragon…I think…green dragons, twisted and perverted into the service of the Scourge…they could carry the Plague far and wide. They could destroy the armies massing at the foot of the Citadel without any risk to the Scourge themselves. They kept asking me again and again if we were after the green. They have…no clue that we’re so close to being ready to attack.” “Light,” Jez’ral hissed. “If they could…it’d be almost as bad as corrupting the Lifebinder…” “How is she?” the death knight asked, indicating Alayne. “No change. She’s cried out a few times but…she won’t wake up.” “We’ll just have to hope for the best then,” Ber’lon sighed. “But, meanwhile, we should prepare for the worst.” “What do you mean?” Jez’ral asked. Ber’lon’s eyes filled with pity and sympathy as the cell door opened once more and another pair of necromancers entered. Grabbing Jez’ral before he realized they were there, they hauled him out of the cell. Ber’lon closed his own eyes, too weak to do anything else, and, praying that the torment would not follow him into his dreams, let himself fall into sleep. ~*~*~*~ 26


Alayne shuddered and lay still. She could hear ragged breathing, both her own and the other woman’s. It was the only sound in this dark cell. At least they had been taken down from the wall and thrown on the ground. Flexing her fingers, Alayne winced. Her hands were swollen from where she had been bound at the wrists with her hands over her head. Her feet were just as numb. She hoped that she would regain full use of both hands and feet. She might need it if she were to escape this place. “You’ll make it out,” the baritone voice whispered. She winced, wishing she could place it. It was a man’s voice speaking in the Alliance’s common tongue. The accent made her think of the humans she had known in Menethil Harbor. “You’ll get out of here. You hold the key to your own freedom whether either of you knows it or not.” Before Alayne could question the speaker, she sensed his presence withdrawing. She opened her eyes to see her twin-self doing gazing at her. “I really hate you sometimes,” she muttered. “I feel the same way sometimes.” “I know you do.” “How do we get out of this mess?” “Legion take me if I know!” Alayne yelped. “I’m not even sure how we got into this mess to begin with!” “You left me on a mountain to die! That’s how this all started.” “The ritual from the taunka,” Alayne muttered. “I thought…I thought it was just symbolic.” “Well, obviously it wasn’t.” “You were…weren’t you supposed to just be an image conjured by the magic? Something to symbolize my overcoming the restraints I had placed on myself? To show a purging of negative emotions and internal conflict? From speaking with the taunka after and from what Tam’ara has told me, that’s all that was supposed to happen. You were just…just an illusion.” “Considering that I’m right here alongside you, I’d say that I’m more than just an illusion.” “Will you quit arguing with me for a second and work with me?” Mutinous silence followed this demand. “What is the first thing you remember?” The other woman thought for a long moment and then sighed. Her voice shook with emotion when she finally spoke. “Seeing an arrow sticking out of Zerith’s chest. I…I wanted to kill them all. I wanted to hurt them as much as they had hurt me; to take from them what they had taken from me. I couldn’t stop, not until Ger’alin pinned me to the ground with his own body. I…I couldn’t bear the pain. I had to unleash it.” “I remember that, too,” Alayne replied softly. “I remember cowering in fear and then feeling a force take control. I remember screaming as I burned the village, as I killed all of those people…” “And you?” the woman said after another lengthy pause. “What’s your first memory?” “Sitting in my father’s lap and tugging on his hair. I think my mother was there laughing. Papa always had such long, dark hair. I used to wonder if mine would turn as black as his.” “I…I only remember Papa after his death. I can’t remember anything before that day when Zerith…” Alayne closed her eyes again and tried to remember the day at Stromgarde. She hated recalling it. It always made her stomach clench and bile rise in the back of her throat. She’d been so terrified that she might lose Zerith and then, she’d been terrified of what she had 27


done. She could barely recall casting a single spell but she knew she had been responsible for the devastation left in her wake. She and Ger’alin had discussed it – or rather, had attempted to – once. She had been glad of his calm and determination that day. Had he panicked, she didn’t know what she might have done. Thinking of her husband both calmed and chilled her. Ger’alin had tried to discuss other things with her concerning her tendency to rage between emotions, going from highs to lows so quickly he had trouble following her line of thought. He’d even asked, once, if she ever sat down and really thought about the things they had been through. She’d admitted that she didn’t like dwelling on them but he seemed to think there was a distinct difference between “dwelling” and “thinking.” What that difference was had never been made clear. Sighing, she tried to figure out what she might have done that day in Stromgarde that had set her on this path. “If only you would leave me alone,” the other woman lamented. “If you would just quit trying to control me all of the time, we wouldn’t be in so much trouble.” “Because you would destroy everything or get us both killed,” Alayne snapped. “Light, I thought I was the more impetuous one of us but you…you take that to an extreme…” she trailed off. An extreme. “You honestly don’t remember anything before seeing Zerith get shot?” “Maybe a few flashes I can’t make out,” the woman admitted. “I mostly recall a sense of not liking certain things and of always wanting to be free. I don’t think I was free until that day…” “I wonder…why…what was it?” “What was what?” “What made us split apart that day?” “I don’t know. Why would it matter?” “Because, if we don’t figure this out, I have a feeling we’re never going to get out of here alive.” “Then, instead of wasting time trying to figure out how this started, why don’t we figure out how to finish it?” “That’s what I’m trying to work out,” Alayne sighed. “Now. What other things do you remember?” ~*~*~*~ Jez’ral hated himself. He stared at the still-sleeping figures stretched out before him and tried to stifle his weeping. Ber’lon had returned looking the worse for wear but had not been broken. Jez’ral, who had faced down demons, who had fought against Magtheridon, who had wandered the length and breadth of three continents and the shattered realm of Outland, was utterly shattered. He’d managed to hold his own for a while under the questioners. The necromancers had been pressing him on the numbers that the Kirin Tor had to spare. They’d also asked him about the Disorder of Azeroth – Jez’ral shivered that they even knew the group’s name. Still, he had managed to defy them, refusing to give up anything, until… Jez’ral had never gotten along with his father. The child of a chance mésalliance between a grieving widower and a youthful house servant, Jez’ral had never measured up to the standards of his half-brother and sister. His father had been a better man than Mir’el’s, to be sure, but he’d grown cold and distant towards his youngest son as Jez’ral grew into manhood and took no interest in the marriages his father had tried to arrange for him. He’d been practically disowned years before the first orcish invasion when he’d helped Mir’el get out of his own arranged marriage by aiding Tal’ar and Miris in their escape and elopement in Dalaran. 28


By the time Jez’ral had won a name for himself in helping to hold off the demonic advance against Nordrassil, it had been ten years since he and his father had spoken. Still, he would never have wished the fate that had befallen his father to happen. When the necromancers managed to wrest his full name out of him, they had grown silent. Sending orders on pathways that Jez’ral did not care to consider, they’d brought in the shambling corpse of a high elven man. Jez’ral had recognized the proud face twisted into a mockery of itself immediately. “Who leads this band of ragged wanderers?” the necromancer had demanded. “Tell us, or we will punish him in your place.” Jez’ral had licked his lips, praying that he could out-bluff them. “Go ahead,” he’d told them contemptuously. “My father and I never got along so well. He cast me off and I made my way in the world in spite of him.” The necromancers had nodded as if that was exactly what they’d expected. When Jez’ral had remained defiantly silent, they’d turned their tortures on the shambling corpse. It had cried out with his father’s voice. Jez’ral spent long minutes trying to remind himself that the corpse was no longer his father. It was an utterly mindless creature controlled and manipulated by the necromancers. In fact, he couldn’t be certain they were actually tormenting it, could he? They could just be feeding it instructions to act as if it were tormented… His father’s eyes had fallen on him then. The gaze was one of sorrow and pain. For a moment, Jez’ral had remembered the times when, as a child, he’d been picked on and teased near to madness by the other children. Often, during those times, he would wake during the night to find his father standing over him, the same expression of sorrow and pain on his face. “Who leads the rabble that would dare rouse itself against the one true king?” the necromancer demanded. His father shot him a pleading glance. “Who leads them?” “Ger’alin,” Jez’ral said, tears trickling down his face. “Ger’alin Sunrage.” The first question answered, the true torture began. “I…I should have let them kill him. Kill me. He wouldn’t want to be…what he is now…” Jez’ral berated himself as he lay in his cell, too weak and tired to move. “I shouldn’t have…” “They broke you, too?” Ber’lon asked quietly. “I didn’t mean to wake you,” Jez’ral said stiffly. “You didn’t. I’ve been awake for a while. I was hoping you’d come back.” “It’s not like I had much of a choice.” “I know. I was hoping you’d survive. That you’d prove stronger than I did.” “Stronger than you? What did you tell them?” “They know who leads the Disorder. They know what her tie to him is,” Ber’lon explained, nodding towards the twin sleepers. “They…I’ve never known pain like that before. Not even when I thought I had broken free of his control once and for all. Koltira said…but then, I’ve betrayed the Knights of the Ebon Blade as well.” “How did they…how did they manage to break us both so easily?” “Arthas is not a fool. He knows…he remembers…that’s why finding the last vestiage of his humanity was such a boon. But, twisted and evil as he is, he uses that knowledge like a blade against us all. What did he do to you?” “My father…” “He did the same thing to her,” Ber’lon sighed. “Our dead fathers will be the death of us all.” “What can we do? We’ve betrayed everything…”

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“Not everything. We can still get out of here. We can still fight. Don’t think of this as losing the war, Jez’ral. Think of it as losing a battle in a war that we will win. After all,” he sighed, “we don’t have much choice.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin grit his teeth and tried to ignore the four guards flanking him front and back. Preparations were well underway for the attack against Icecrown Citadel. He and Tirion, among others, had been finalizing the last series of attacks that would allow them to take control of strategic points, granting them access to the Scourge stronghold. So far, the front courtyard had been taken by the cavalry trained as part of the Argent Tournament. The Alliance had supplied them with enough explosives to help them secure the bridges that led into the second floor of the Citadel and the Horde’s airship provided continual cover, keeping the gargoyles and frostwyrms from undoing all of their careful work. It had been four days since Jez’ral and Ber’lon were taken while traveling back from Dalaran. Four days since the Cult of the Damned had launched their attack and taken Alayne and her doppelganger. For the past three days, Ger’alin, Tirion, and Zerith had been the focus of further attacks. Ger’alin had faced an assassination attempt just the day before that caused him to accede to Tirion’s demand that he not leave behind the guards. Four days since the takings and another four before they would be ready to break through the gates of Icecrown Citadel. Today, Ger’alin thought to himself, they would send the first of their own infiltrators to try to determine whether the three captives still lived and where they were being housed. Zerith was meeting with the selected ones now, going over last minute changes to their mission. Tomorrow, Sylvanas and Jaina would arrive and begin overseeing the Horde and Alliance forces who would be the main attack waves against the gates. The Disorder of Azeroth would go in from the second floor – a less heavily guarded area, and push their way down to the gates. Ger’alin walked to the edge of the camp and gazed out over the glacier that separated him from his wife. He prayed that Alayne was well. She had not recovered from whatever it was that she’d found in the mines of Jotunheim. He’d been worrying about her so much of late that he’d barely been able to eat even once his headache receded. The pain still bothered him but he could walk about now, speak normally, and go about his duties. His vision was still slightly blurred but he could see fairly straight. Zerith and Dar’ja had examined him thoroughly and, though the priest did not like it, had decided he was fit for the fight ahead. “We’re coming for you,” he whispered, praying that his words would carry across the distance. “Just hold on for a few more days.” ~*~*~*~ Alayne thanked the Light that her tormentors had given over and left her and the other alone for such a long stretch of time. Piecing together what she could of their memories, she started to see that neither one of them was a whole person. She herself remembered mostly the times where she had been cooler, more level-headed, and better able to use magic. The other recalled the times of stress, terror, and the times were she had been unable to use magic. They both recalled the year-long self-imposed punishment after the summoning at the Sunwell and, irrationally, each wanted to blame it on the other. Finally, though, in fits and starts, Alayne thought she had hit upon the theory of how this happened and what to do to end it for once and for all. “We have to merge,” she whispered to her twin. “Neither of us is whole. We’re halves.” 30


“Merge? How?” the other asked, suspicion in her eyes. “Well, one of us will have to submit…” “I’ll be damned before I submit to you again!” “…or we can stay like this until we die which won’t be long now.” The two fumed in silence for a while. Finally, the other sighed. “I can’t submit to you. I just can’t. You’ve…” “I don’t want you to submit to me,” Alayne said testily. “You just won’t let me finish a sentence.” “You don’t want me to submit?” “No, I don’t want you to submit to me,” Alayne specified. “Have you noticed that you’re the only other one around here?” “We have to submit to each other. At the same time. Fully and completely.” “How in the name of the Legion are we going to do that?” “That’s what I’m working on figuring out now.” Silence fell again as both of the women pondered the thought. Neither could see how it was possible. If one submitted, then the other would not. But, the contradiction made sense in a twisted fashion. Alayne gave a start when she realized that she could read the other woman’s mind as clearly as she could her own thoughts and, furthermore, the other could do the same. For a long moment, they stared at each other before nodding in unison and closing their eyes. Letting their thoughts drift, they began at the end and raced towards the beginning. Memories flooded a mind that was both and neither. The Lich King’s plans. Orders to remind the commanders at Scourgeholme of their duty. Fighting against the revived Anub’arak in the underground caverns beneath the arena. Folding Ger’alin’s laundry as they discussed traveling to join Tirion in Icecrown. Journeying through the tunnels of Dragonblight to ensure that no one had stumbled upon the bodies of those the Lich King had slain and collected at the Wrath Gate. Arguing with the vykrul in Jotunheim about the orders they had been given and then being forced to fight their strongest in the arena to prove herself worthy of commanding them at all. Fighting the death-god in Ulduar and unlocking the mysteries of the place. Feeling the triumph that tingled through everyone loyal to the Lich King when he discovered that a group had finally brought down the one real threat to his eternal reign. Back and forth the memories and thoughts flowed, the most recent at the beginning, ending only when Alayne began to ponder over the days she and her mother had spent in exile waiting for news of her father’s fate. She let her thoughts continue to drift backwards, recalling the days before the war and before she was parted from both of her parents. When she came to the last memories she could recall of her early childhood, she sighed, let them go, and opened her eyes. A scene out of nightmare greeted her, banishing the triumph she had begun to feel. The Lich King stood over her, his icy blue eyes blazing like twin suns and a nasty grin on his face. “So,” he said, his voice reverberating and echoing in the otherwise empty chamber, “you have brought yourself back to me. You have delivered yourself back into my hands. I will show you what waits for those who think to betray the master of death!” Alayne began screaming as the next stage of torture began. ~*~*~*~ Ber’lon jerked awake from a sound sleep and clamped his hands over his ears before he realized what he was hearing. Near him, Jez’ral sat in a similar position. Both stared at the source of the sound. Alayne, her back arched so that only her shoulders and hips touched the floor, was screaming as if she were being subjected to torment as-yet-undreamed-of by most

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minds. Her eyes were wiped open but sightless. A faint, glowing outline surrounded her like an aura. Glancing next to her, Ber’lon was startled to see that the other one had vanished. “What’s going on?” Jez’ral asked, concern battling with fear in his voice. “I have no idea. Did you hear anyone else come in? The other one…she’s gone.” “I’ve been asleep,” Jez’ral admitted. “You didn’t hear anything?” “Not a thing.” “What…what do you think it happening to her?” “I don’t know. Should we risk waking her?” “We could try. I’m not sure it…” Alayne’s screaming suddenly cut off and she slumped back to the floor as if her spine had turned to water. “…is a good idea.” Both men held their breath until silver sparks danced in their vision. Finally, the slow rise and fall of Alayne’s chest convinced them to breathe again. The aura around her faded and disappeared and, with a shuddering sigh, she opened her eyes. “Where am I? I thought…oh no,” she groaned. “It’s real.” Jez’ral crawled over to her. She let out a startled shriek when his face appeared over hers. For a moment, she did not recognize him. Then, she smiled wanly and nodded. “Jez’ral. Where are we? How did we get here?” “I’m not sure how you got here,” Jez’ral admitted, “but Ber’lon and I were captured as we were trying to fly from Dalaran to the Argent Tournament grounds to re-inforce them after an attack by the Cult of the Damned. We’d heard that you were…ill…following something happening in the mines of Jotunheim.” “Jotunheim,” Alayne muttered. “I remember that, yes.” “What happened to you?” Ber’lon demanded, shoving his face over Alayne. “You ran off on your own in those mines and when they brought you and the other one out, you looked as if you were nearly dead.” “It’s complicated,” Alayne sighed. “I’m not certain I can explain it. I’ll try, though,” she promised, “once we’re out of here. Where ever ‘here’ is.” “We’re in the dungeons beneath Icecrown Citadel,” Ber’lon replied. “We’re probably at least five floors beneath ground level. I counted two flights of stairs when they took me for interrogation.” “How much did you tell them?” Alayne groaned. “Everything,” the death knight admitted. “Anything to make the torture stop.” “I can imagine,” she muttered. “Are they rotating at all?” “No. It’s a pair of drudgers, I think.” “Better than abominations. Less mess, less stench.” “Less puking.” “That too,” she grinned. Trapped as they were, it felt good to know that there was someone here who understood and remembered their time together in service to the Scourge. “What are you two talking about?” Jez’ral asked. “Alayne wanted to know what is guarding us and if it was living or undead,” Ber’lon explained. “We’ve been hauled out by living necromancers but our cell is guarded by a pair of hulking skeletons: drudgers.” “Is that good or bad?” “Both. If we can find out when the necromancers will be back to question us and see if they’re as predictable as the skeletons, then we can consider various plans on how to break out of here.” “Why didn’t you say anything about this earlier?!” Jez’ral nearly shrieked. Alayne winced and Ber’lon glanced over at the door, holding his breath until he realized that the guards either had not heard or did not care.

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“What good would telling you there was a vanishingly slim chance we might break out of here do?” Ber’lon retorted. “As it stands, we couldn’t have escaped without Alayne regaining consciousness. There is no way we could have snuck out carrying her. It would have meant leaving her behind which I don’t think either of us considers an option.” “If I had known, I might have…” the older man started, his eyes giving all of the explanation needed. Ber’lon reached over and placed a reassuring hand on Jez’ral’s shoulder. Alayne touched his knee, patting him lightly. “You wouldn’t have,” Ber’lon said gently. “No one holds out for long against the Scourge except for a handful of paladins, priests, and druids who can call on greater forces than any of us could muster to sustain them through the worst of the torture. The Scourge is skilled at extracting what it wants from those it captures. Had you held out, had you been able to fight them off, they would have killed you. They would have killed you and brought you back. Then, your mind would have been an open book for any of their skilled necromancers to peruse at his leisure.” “But still…” “But nothing,” Alayne muttered, pushing herself up to a sitting position. The room swirled around her and she gasped, closing her eyes until she got her bearings. Jez’ral and Ber’lon steadied her and she re-opened her eyes cautiously. “As I was saying,” she continued, “you would have held nothing back. Ber’lon knew exactly what to expect and he told them everything. If you had known there was a chance of escaping and still had not been able to hold back, you may very well have told them you were planning to escape and how.” Jez’ral nodded sullenly. His tormentors had demanded to know if he had any plans to escape. They had asked him if he knew where he was. Only when he had begun screaming that he thought they were in Icecrown Citadel, probably below ground and could be next door to hell for all he knew, had they changed their line of questioning. “I can’t just leave him here,” Jez’ral whispered. “Leave who?” Alayne asked. Ber’lon bent over and whispered the story into her ear. Alayne’s look of confusion changed to one of compassion and she squeezed Jez’ral’s knee, offering him some comfort. “Our escape – should we manage it – will not be taken out on him,” she said softly. “The Scourge would not destroy a useful weapon. At least, not without hope of gaining something in return. Arthas is an asshole, not an idiot.” “But…” “Think this through, Jez’ral,” Ber’lon whispered, turning to keep one eye on the door. “If you let your concern keep you here, then your father becomes a very useful weapon. If you try to take him with us, he becomes a useful weapon. But, if you can let go long enough to escape, then perhaps we can return for him another time. Ger’alin and the others said that the attack force should be ready to strike within a month, correct?” “At least that,” Jez’ral replied. “Now,” Ber’lon nodded, “let’s see if we can remember enough about this place to remember our way out of it.” “Memory,” Alayne grunted amusedly. “I have more memories than I care to remember. Some of them about the renovations to this very wing…” ~*~*~*~ “So that’s the plan?” Jez’ral said skeptically. “Just get in with other prisoners? And how do you know that there are any?” “I have my sources,” Alayne sighed wearily. “I’ve explained it as best I can. I want to speak with the Taunka elders more before I really spend much time and energy trying to figure out how it happened and why.” 33


“I’m still not certain you’re entirely sane,” Jez’ral said, irony and familiar sarcasm in his voice, “but, for lack of better options, I suppose this will have to do. One question: what keeps us from being found out when we’re with the other prisoners?” “Luck, mostly,” Ber’lon volunteered. “That and the fact that we’re not going to let them stay prisoners for very much longer.” “Why does the Scourge keep living prisoners at all?” “We’ve explained this,” Ber’lon muttered with a touch of asperity. “Because it’s an effective weapon. Knowing that they have some of your kin alive – or even undead – and that their continued existence depends on you not attacking gives the Scourge a bit of an edge. The Lich King can twist and use any emotion, any memory, any sentiment to his own ends. I’ve tried to explain this to Ger’alin and the others – it’s a lesson that many of us in the Ebon Blade have had to learn the hard way. The only way to escape the Scourge is to embrace death, to empty yourself, to cut all ties, and then and only then can you truly be a threat to them and will they truly fear you.” “Of course,” Alayne argued, as she had in the past, “doing so makes you little better than the Scourge itself. But, for this time, you’re correct. We’ll have to live only in the present and we’ll have to move quickly if we want to get out of here.” “You should rest,” Ber’lon nodded, glancing at Alayne. “They’ll be here soon to take you for questioning. Or to take one of us. We’ll have to move then. I think I have enough energy to try some of my old tricks.” “I’m well-rested enough to do what must be done,” Alayne countered, “but, I’ll feign sleep for a while. Cough twice if the door opens.” Jez’ral opened his mouth to scoff at her words but closed it quickly enough. Alayne settled down and closed her eyes. Her chest and shoulders fell in deep, regular intervals. If she was feigning sleep, it was convincing enough that it made Jez’ral want to join her. Ber’lon grinned and nodded, reading the older man’s face easily. Spreading out on the floor himself, Jez’ral nodded off while Ber’lon propped himself up against a wall nearby and let his head loll as if he were asleep as well. Hours passed with the three sleeping lightly, rousing quickly but disciplining themselves to give no outward sign of wakefulness. Alayne had begun to drift into true sleep when she heard a fit of coughing nearby. The signal she’d suggested to Ber’lon dragged her into total wakefulness. She cracked opened one eye and saw him staring at her, his blue eyes blazing through a curtain of long black hair. The door to the cell had been opened and flickering torchlight filled the front of the cell. Jez’ral grunted, masking it as a snore, and tried not to stiffen as the necromancers and their skeletal guardians made their way close to him. They passed by him and knelt to grab Alayne. Alayne sprang like a coiled lioness. She dug her nails into the beard and face of the necromancer who had been bending over her. Fire sprang from her hands and the necromancer began beating at his face to extinguish the flames that now leapt from flesh and hair. Ber’lon had already been on the move once the four had passed him by. Kicking savagely at the skeleton’s backs, he shattered the pelvic bones, dropping the creatures on the floor. Kicking them apart and stomping the bones into powder, he let Alayne continue her attack on the other necromancer. Jez’ral pushed himself up and began sending bolts of arcane energy into the necromancer’s back. Within two minutes, the guards and interrogators were dead and the trio were, for the moment, free. Stepping quickly through the cell door, they saw no other guards. Considering that the other cells stood empty, this was no surprise. Alayne studied the open pit area for a few moments before nodding to herself and then motioning for the other two to follow her. Ducking into a stairwell that led them two floors up, she signaled for complete silence when

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they reached the second landing and then held up both hands with all fingers extended. Pushing open the door, she had her spells ready and cast before the hinges could creak. Jez’ral followed her into another open pit surrounded by cells. Five doors were cut into the wall around the pit, each door guarded by a pair of Scourge servants. Alayne’s swift spell casting had caught four of them in its torrent. Jez’ral began hurriedly preparing his own spells while Ber’lon rushed towards the guards, spinning and kicking at them. The fight lasted a few harrowing moments before Alayne and the other two, breathing heavily and sweating despite the chill dampness in the air, began rummaging through the key rings of the jailors searching for the key to open the cell doors. “Who are you?” one of the orcs demanded as Ber’lon pulled open the first cell door. “Are you with them?” he growled, seeing the tell-tale blue gleam of a death knight’s eyes. “No. I’m with the Ebon Blade,” Ber’lon muttered. “We’re getting you out of here.” “How?” “You’re pit workers, right?” “They’ve put us in the pit mining saronite,” the orc replied. “Could you find your way there from here?” “Yes but it’s heavily guarded. What are they doing?” the orc gasped as he watched Jez’ral and Alayne strip some of the more intact corpses and begin donning their robes. They hung loosely on Alayne’s frame but, with the cowls pulled forward to hide their faces, the blood elves could pass for necromancers at a distance. “Wearing their robes won’t get us past the…” “The fact that she’s a former death knight skilled in necromancy and he’s a former warlock should help,” Ber’lon cut in as he strode around the pit opening the doors and gesturing for the prisoners to follow him. “The biggest problem is going to be that you’re showing up unscheduled. Just look downtrodden and tired and let the three of us do the talking and we may be able to bluff our way through.” “Through to where?” “Just follow us,” Ber’lon grinned as Alayne and Jez’ral made their way to him. “Are you ready?” “I’m not liking the next phase of this operation,” Jez’ral said, his voice thick with his old sarcasm and cynicism. “It’s foolhardy, it’s dangerous, and it’s probably just going to get us all killed.” “Jez’ral, we’ve been over this. If we can just get outside of these saronite and titanium walls, we should be outside of the enchantment placed on them and able to build a portal to get us out of here.” “Still,” the older man growled, “I don’t have to like what we’re going to have to do to get to that point.” “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” “I think I liked you better when you were less sure of yourself.” “I couldn’t stay that way forever.” “I still want to know what exactly happened.” “Later,” Alayne replied, gesturing. The last of the prisoners were forming the twin lines that they took to go to the saronite pits. “We need to get moving.” ~*~*~*~ Jez’ral was uneasy as they wound their way through the dark cavernous corridors that led to the pits of saronite. They had sailed through a few checkpoints without much trouble. Alayne had even used her knowledge of necromancy to help some of the Scourge controllers with a large vykrul ghoul who had gotten out of hand. Ber’lon had managed to scavenge some 35


armor and was bluffing his way through as a death knight once more. He and Alayne had had a hasty whispered conference and, after that, the younger elf seemed to know what to say whenever they were stopped. A light up ahead alerted them that they were nearing the end of their journey. The mines spread out before them and Alayne allowed them a moment’s pause to blink against the brightness so they could see. The pits were largely empty of living or thinking creatures. Mindless ghouls hauled crates of ore, dragging them on sleds tied to their hulking, unbalanced bodies with rope. Here and there ghouls oversaw the excavation. No intelligence shone in their eyes. As Alayne had explained, the pits were located deep within Scourge territory. Only a handful of necromancers were needed to oversee the open-air operation. Glancing back towards the gate that connected the mines to the main part of the citadel, Jez’ral could see several of those overseers mounted on frost wyrms. One was breaking away from his position, his mount gliding over towards them. Issuing orders in a commanding tone, Alayne and Ber’lon directed the prisoners to take up their normal positions and begin working. The overseer landed nearby and walked over to them, suspicion on his twisted face. “Their shift doesn’t start for another three hours,” the overseer said roughly. “What do you mean bringing them up now?” “The trio we captured have spoken of a futile attack that will be underway within a fortnight,” Alayne said, her tone sneering and condescending. “The Deathbringer wants more ore for his bombs and the Professor wants some damnable ooze for his workshop. We figured it better to go on and get some more work out of these,” she jerked a thumb towards the other, “before their executions in a few days. They’re a hardy lot but it’ll be almost a week before their perfection is complete and they can return to work.” “The Deathbringer gave you those orders?” “If you want to argue with him, I suggest you take it up with him yourself,” Alayne bluffed. “He’s in a foul mood since he heard that his former people are gearing up to come after him instead of come join him.” Jez’ral grit his teeth when the necromancer’s eyes flashed. Alayne had overplayed her hand. “I will check up on that,” he muttered. “You wait right here.” The other necromancers began making their way through the air towards them. The first one began moving back and several ghouls began making their lumbering way towards the group. Alayne sighed and shook her head. Muttering the foul words that gave her control of the undead abominations, she turned them on the necromancers even as Jez’ral began to use fel magic to sear the flesh from their bodies and Ber’lon bellowed for the prisoners to attack. “I knew this wasn’t going to work,” Jez’ral muttered to himself as dozens of ghouls and other undead swarmed towards them. “I knew it wasn’t going to work.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin sighed and dug through his pockets. The night was cold and dark and he was alone on this watch. Callie had offered to stand it with him but he’d sent her back to the camp to help with shoeing the last of the horses they would take with them in a few days. He pulled out the strange idol the taunka elders had sent with Tam’ara. Carved to look like Alayne, it reminded him of what he had heard of the Darkspear’s voodoo idols. During the preparations for her participation in that strange mountain ritual, she had allowed the elders to capture part of her essence and imbue it in this statuette. “Only a mage would do something that crazy,” the paladin growled beneath his breath. “The rest of us with good sense would never allow that to happen.”

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Tam’ara’s message had been that Alayne would be well. She had given him the idol saying that the elders claimed she was safe and sound. Ger’alin did not see how one could be safe and sound when one was captured by the Scourge but Tam’ara seemed to accept the elders’ assurances the way Ger’alin accepted that water was wet. “She dwells among the living forests and builds a bridge to freedom,” Tam’ara told him the elders had said. “This idol will let you know if she falls as she takes the stairs towards herself.” “Mystical mumbo-jumbo,” Ger’alin roared softly, clenching the idol in his gauntleted hand. Only the fact that it was something Alayne had touched and that it held some trace of her kept him from crushing it or hurling it away in his frustration. In the five days since her capture, Ger’alin had heard nothing that indicated she even still lived. Each day, he made the trip to the gates of Icecrown Citadel where Tirion and the other Argent Crusaders had managed to scrape out a foothold of control behind the black saronite gates. Messengers had been sent to Thrall, Sylvanas, Jaina, and Varian Wrynn asking for any assistance they could muster. Grom had, reluctantly, ordered Orgrim’s Hammer to be put at their disposal and the Skybreaker had been placed under control of the Argent Crusade as well. The captains were unhappy about the orders to patrol the skies; apparently several dozen of their crew members had been captured in the past weeks and their aerial reconnaissance showed that the prisoners were still alive and were being forced to work in the saronite mines just to the east of the citadel proper. “We’ll rescue them when we go to rescue my wife and the others,” Ger’alin mumbled to the idol. Sylvanas had sent word back with the messengers that she would be traveling to Dalaran – she should arrive there in a few hours from now. Ger’alin stood watch hoping to see her arrival at the Argent Crusade grounds when she flew in from Dalaran. The Kirin Tor had put the word out in the city that any who agreed to join in the crusade against the Lich King would be rewarded with gold, treasure, pardon, or any other reward that the Kirin Tor could muster. Mercenaries and other adventurers had begun flocking to their cause. Thrall had offered similar rewards for those among the Horde who came to their aid. Ger’alin had no idea what Wrynn might or might not be offering but the number of humans, dwarves, and gnomes who had rallied to the banner of the Argent Crusade was staggering. However, such large increases in numbers brought exponential problems with organization and logistics. Ger’alin spent most of his day shouting down unruly adventurers who barely thought ahead to the next hour, let alone the next week. Thus far he, Tirion, and others had been able to keep the mobs in check and on track. The fact that he himself wanted nothing more than to be fighting at the door of the Citadel to free his wife made it even more difficult for him to cool the hotter heads among the newcomers. While the paladin tried to meditate and calm his own nerves, a shadow on the horizon began to grow larger in his vision. Waiting patiently, he saw dragonhawks from Dalaran flying down towards the Argent Crusade’s grounds. As they drew nearer, he felt his shoulders slump with disappointment. Several Forsaken, orcs, and blood elves rode them but he did not see Sylvanas among their number. One of the elven rangers spotted him and flew down, landing just a few feet away and hopping off the back of the dragonhawk. “Ger’alin Sunrage?” he asked. “Yes?” “Lady Sylvanas sends her regrets that she cannot come here immediately as she planned,” the man reported, unconsciously coming to attention. “When we arrived in Dalaran, Rhonin reported that they have been able to break through part of the enchantment securing the citadel. Sylvanas and Jaina decided to rally those they could and take them into the citadel at once.” “She’s already attacking the Citadel?” Ger’alin growled. “We had not planned to attack for another…” 37


“The magi felt that we could not risk losing this window of opportunity,” the man continued. “If the Scourge find out we’ve been able to penetrate their defenses, they may reinforce them.” “Understood,” Ger’alin said gruffly. “Report to General Fordring. I’ll gather up my own forces and we’ll head to the Citadel to help Sylvanas and her group.” “As you say,” he nodded and left. Ger’alin stormed off the opposite direction, stuffing the idol back into his pocket. He knew well that a plan of battle rarely survived contact with the enemy but he had been hoping they would at least go out on the schedule he and Tirion had drafted. For a moment, he wanted to strangle every mage in existence. How could they risk everything by moving when their own forces were not in place? Sighing, he tried to remind himself that if they themselves were caught off guard like this, the Scourge might be reeling from the revelation. Maybe this meant that he would be able to rescue Alayne just that much sooner. The thought made his heart pound and his pulse race with the thrill of hope renewed. Sighing, he shook his head to clear it. Moving among the tents and shouting loudly for everyone to rouse and rally, Ger’alin set both the desperate disappointment and rising hope he felt threatening to tear him apart aside. He could not let anger or anticipation get the better of him. ~*~*~*~ “All told, I think this is going rather well,” Alayne quipped as she slumped to the icy floor and let her head sink between her knees. “If this is ‘rather well,’” Jez’ral gasped, “I don’t want to see ‘amazingly good.’” “If the two of you don’t shut up, I’m going to strangle both of you and wear your entrails for a garter,” Ber’lon threatened wearily. “Alayne, you panicked like a first-time recruit and you know it.” “Panic? Ber’lon, they were attacking us!” “We could have bluffed past them. You know how those damned necromancers are. They’re worse than nobles for back-stabbing, politicking, and manipulating.” “While I’m not agreeing with her,” Jez’ral panted, laying back on the floor, “I must say that you are not in much of a position to speak yourself.” “The two of you need to shut up,” Alayne growled. “We’ll get out of here somehow.” All around them, cavernous walls rose up, hiding them and protecting them from overhead attacks even as those attacks threatened to bring down the ceiling upon them all. The escaped prisoners had taken up positions near the entrances of the tunnel, rotating in shifts so they could rest and heal from the frenzied battles that raged intermittently. They had made it this far before they found they could go no further. Alayne’s attack against the necromancers had set off a series of events that meant that, while they may be free in the technical sense of the word, they were not truly free. “How much rest do you two need before you can get back to work?” Ber’lon asked. “I could use a month’s vacation,” Jez’ral replied. “Two months for me.” “Could you be serious for a second?” “Give me five minutes to catch my breath at least,” Alayne muttered sourly. “What is it you want us to do?” Jez’ral asked. “What are the chances you can make a huge blast wave at the rear end of the tunnel?” “Not that great,” Jez’ral admitted. “I think I could manage it. You’ll have to carry me afterwards, though,” Alayne volunteered.

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“Alayne,” Jez’ral argued, “you’ve only ever shown that much force when you were in a blind rage.” “I think I can do it,” Alayne replied. “But why?” “I’ve managed to get close to the mouth of the cave in the rear,” Ber’lon explained. “After the platform, there’s another tunnel. It may lead out of here or it may not. Either way, we’ve got to move soon or we’re going to die here.” “Alright,” Alayne sighed. “Give me a count of five hundred.” Ber’lon began counting beneath his breath, going slowly enough so that Alayne could rest but quickly enough that she would not fall asleep. Jez’ral closed his eyes and willed himself into the meditative state that allowed his mind to refresh itself and his spells to renew themselves. He could sense Alayne doing something similar though her state carried an edge of preparation that he would not attempt. Feeling the energies she was pulling into himself, Jez’ral wondered at the wisdom of his former student’s plan. Finally, Ber’lon reached five hundred and rose to his feet. Grabbing Alayne by the arm, he hauled her to her feet and shouted down the cave for those at the opening entrance to begin an orderly retreat to the rear. Ber’lon half-dragged, half-carried Alayne to the back of the tunnel and, when he saw the rest of the prisoners making their way to them, set her on her feet. “Out in front,” he ordered. “Everything on the platform.” Alayne nodded and shouldered through the lines of prisoners until she stood in front of them. For now, the attacks coming from the rear platform had slackened off. Only a few dozen shambling skeletons and ghouls stood milling about, their mindless, confused motions betraying the fact that their necromancers were otherwise occupied. Alayne took a deep breath and focused her concentration. Channeling the energies she had summoned, she let them explode out in front of her, a violent shockwave followed by a wall of flame blasting out of the confines of the tunnel, knocking everything on the platform away and setting much of it on fire. Ber’lon scooped her up and tossed her over his shoulder, shouting and gesturing for the others to run for it. Once out on the platform, Ber’lon waited. The prisoners ran past him and into the other tunnel. Behind them came another wave of Scourge warriors. Ber’lon began jogging after the last of the prisoners, hoping that they would be able to get into the tunnel and hold off this army of the undead while some of the others explored ahead, hopefully finding some way out of this mess they had all landed in. As Ber’lon, Jez’ral, the nearly-unconscious Alayne, and a few other stragglers neared the mouth of the other tunnel, a looming shadow appeared over them. A roar and a rush of air flew over their heads and chunks of ice formed at the cavern’s maw, blocking them out. Ber’lon turned and looked over his other shoulder. His stomach clenched and he nearly screamed in frustration at what he saw. A frost wyrm bearing a high-ranking death knight was just landing near the exit of the first tunnel. It’s roaring breath attack had collapsed the fragile exit of the cave, keeping the other Scourge from swarming out for the time but also cutting off the last hopeless avenue for escape. Alayne twitched and moaned on Ber’lon’s shoulder. He set her down and prayed that she still had some strength left. Knowing her, he knew that she would want to give a good account of herself even to the end. Alayne staggered to her feet, tottering unsteadily on wobbly legs. She held her hands out for balance and tried to get her bearings. Ber’lon winced as he looked behind the frost wyrm to see the boulders shifting. The Scourge would be there soon to help finish them off if the death knight did not kill them outright himself. The death knight noticed Ber’lon’s reaction and grinned. “Alas, brave, brave adventurers, your meddling has reached its end. Do you hear the clatter of bone and steel coming up the tunnel behind you? That is the sound of your impending demise. I shall not fail The Lich King! Come and meet your end!” 39


Jez’ral launched a bolt of fiery rock and heat at the heart of the frost wyrm. It lifted high into the air, shaking and beating at its chest with skeletal talons. Its wild gyrations threw its passenger off. The death knight quickly regained his feet and stared with pure hatred at the sin’dorei who refused to submit. Jerking his runeblade free of the scabbard on his back, he roared and charged at Jez’ral. Ber’lon moved to intercept him, managing to knock the man down and clawed a dagger from his belt. Feeling more confident with even just a small weapon instead of just his own hands, Ber’lon tried to stab the attacker, searching for the weak joints in the dread plate armor. “Rimefang, destroy this fool!” the man shouted. Ber’lon’s eyes widened. Rimefang obeyed the commands of only one person aside from the Lich King. “Scourgelord Tyrannus,” he breathed. “I see you know of me,” the Scourgelord jeered. “Your treason against your rightful master is at an end, young fool.” The air around Ber’lon froze, chilling his blood and slowing his movements. Tyrannus was immune to the effect of the spell his mount wove. Just barely in time, Ber’lon managed to drag himself out of the center of the attack. A prison of ice appeared where he had been. Had he remained there another second, he would have been trapped inside of it, completely helpless until one of the others freed him or he died from asphyxiation. Jez’ral continued to hurl spells at the Scourgelord, putting as much strength and power behind his attacks as he dared. Alayne sent her own bolts of fire and arcane energy at the Scourgelord. Rimefang circled the gathering, breathing ice and frost and doing its best to help its master regain the upper hand. Ber’lon and Tyrannus circled each other, both hoping to end the fight quickly. The rubble at the exit of the first cave continued to shift and shiver as the Scourge inside worked their way through. Tyrannus was beginning to weaken under the magical assault but could not move against the magi without Ber’lon tackling him again and possibly stabbing him. With nothing to lose, the sin’dorei death knight let his attacks become reckless, ignoring his own injuries and fatigue with the knowledge that he would soon be dead and he wanted only to take Tyrannus with him. Tyrannus sought to break the impasse before he himself was broken. Feinting a move to the left, he dodged to the right and tried to get around Ber’lon and closer to Jez’ral to finish the first mage off. Ber’lon fell for the trick and the Scourgelord moved quickly, his own anticipation giving speed to his legs. Ber’lon leapt, throwing himself on the man’s back and reaching a hand beneath the helm. The pair fell to the ground. Warm, sticky wetness washed over Ber’lon’s left hand as, with his right, he cut the Scourgelord’s throat. Tyrannus gurgled something that sounded like “Impossible…” as the blood ran out of him, spreading along the frozen ground. Ber’lon tried to push himself up but gasped in pain. One of the spikes from Tyrannus’s shoulder-plates had gone through his shoulder. His head swam and his vision blurred. He felt gentle hands holding him up and probing the wound in his shoulder. The clash of metal crashing to the ground as his own plate armor was pulled off him and the tear of fabric as hasty battlefield bandages were made sounded distant to his ears. His eyes fluttered open and he could see Alayne staring at him, her face resolute but touched with a trace of worry. He opened his mouth to reassure her that it was nothing but his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell into darkness. ~*~*~*~ Alayne shoved the fabric she’d torn from her own robes into the wound, praying she could staunch the bleeding. Jez’ral was chipping ice away from the vast wall that blocked the entrance to the other tunnel. Ber’lon had collapsed, unconscious, barely breathing. He’d killed Tyrannus, though. Still, the Scourge in the other tunnel threatened to break through any 40


moment now. Alayne didn’t care. She was mustering the energy for one last spell that would destroy the entire platform. She hoped that the prisoners had managed to escape down the tunnel far enough that the back-lash of her magic would not rip them apart but she knew that she – and probably Ber’lon and Jez’ral – would be rent apart by the power she was preparing to unleash on the Scourge. “We’ll get him back to the Argents,” Jez’ral whispered as he handed Alayne some chips of ice. She placed them over the hasty bandage, hoping they would help reduce the swelling. “Zerith or Ger’alin will know what to do.” “We’re not getting out of here,” Alayne replied blankly. “The two of you are,” he argued. “Drag him out of the way, hide in the snow banks, and once you’re able to slip through the ice – the spell has to end sometime – get out of here.” “And leave you?” “Yes, and leave me. Alayne, you’ve got centuries more ahead of you…” “I’m not leaving you here. We came here together. We’re leaving together. One way or another.” Jez’ral sighed and shook his head, letting his long black hair shield his face. Tears trickled out of his eyes at the thought of Alayne going with him on this last one-way journey. It was bad enough that he was leaving Mir’el behind but the thought of a child he’d known when she was barely able to crawl without help… Alayne stood up and took his hand in her own. They embraced and then set themselves watching the tunnel. As soon as the Scourge poured through, they would end it. The rocks blocking the way shifted and a small hole of darkness pierced the white and grey wall. Alayne readied herself, standing in front of where Ber’lon lay. Jez’ral began going over his own incantation in his head, watching for the proper time to unleash it. He could feel the surge of power in the woman next to him and knew that if she unleashed it, their deaths would be quick and mercifully painless. Alayne held her breath, waiting for the onslaught to begin. Instead, a lone orc poked his head out of the entrance. He eyed the trio doubtfully and shouted something back down the tunnel. Moments passed again. Alayne’s tension faded into uncertainty and confusion as she could see several orcs, tauren, trolls and others milling about the newly-formed entrance, pushing stones and using pick axes to widen it. Finally, a Forsaken stepped through and Alayne gasped as she recognized Sylvanas Windrunner, the Banshee Queen. “You,” Sylvanas said, stunned. “How did you…what are you doing here?” “I could ask the same of you,” Alayne replied tonelessly. “We heard you’d been taken captive,” the Banshee Queen said smoothly. “Garrosh and the others want their own rescued and they want to start the crusade against the Scourge as soon as is possible. Proudmoore and I are doing our parts. She managed to penetrate the shields around this place and took a group in to the Forge of Souls. I’ve come here to the Pit of Saron to ensure that its supplies no longer serve the Scourge. And now, we’re going to take the high road,” she grinned, “and meet in the bastard’s sanctum.” “In his sanctum?” Alayne echoed, her mind recalling the Frozen Throne that stood high over the rest of the citadel. Sylvanas saw her look and shook her head. “In the Halls of Reflection,” she amended. “His personal chambers where he allows only his most trusted generals. The place where he goes when he wants to be alone. Who knows but what artifacts of power might be there, waiting for us to take them and use them against him.” Alayne regain a tiny measure of color but shivered. Even when she had been an agent of the Scourge, she had never entered the Halls of Reflection. She wondered, idly, how

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Sylvanas knew of them. The Banshee Queen had not set foot in Northrend before the Horde and Alliance sent their expeditions to challenge the Scourge’s grim master. “I have my sources,” Sylvanas said darkly. “Now, let’s move.” ~*~*~*~ Alayne gasped as the tunnel opened up into a dark saronite corridor. Ducking around the massive tapestry adorned with the emblem of the Scourge on it, the group glanced up and down the shadowy hallway. “There you are,” a human woman’s voice said softly. For all its quietness, however, it seemed to echo down the corridor. “We’ve been waiting.” “It took longer than expected,” Sylvanas sneered angrily. “The Scourge collapsed the tunnel exit. We had to dig our way through.” “It is good that you made it. I am glad to see that the prisoners have been freed. We should send them back to the armies.” “Then make your portal and have done with it,” the Banshee Queen muttered. “Time is wasting.” Jaina glared at the Forsaken leader but said nothing. Taking a deep breath, she drew the runes in the air and whispered the incantation that would join the place in front of her to the streets of Dalaran. The city’s graceful spires appeared in the magical window and the prisoners, eager to be away, filed through quickly. Alayne, Ber’lon, and Jez’ral hung back, unwilling to go without knowing that they had done everything they could to help. “What are you waiting on?” Sylvanas demanded. “We are coming with you,” Alayne replied softly with a hint of steel in her voice. “We have come this far. We will go with you until the end.” “It is your own neck,” Sylvanas muttered. “Very well. Proudmoore?” Jaina rolled her eyes but kept her silence. She had faced worse than the Banshee’s Queen intense dislike. “This way,” the leader of Theramore said, gesturing down the corridor. Creeping through the shadows, the trio, flanked by the few guards Sylvanas and Jaina had brought with them, prayed that they would be out of the Halls of Reflection soon. The very air seemed thick with oppression and madness. If this was where the Lich King came to let loose his inner demons, it seemed that a few of them had not been recaptured. “It looks like…” Jaina whispered, stricken. “It reminds me of the family quarters in the capital’s palace. Like a dark and twisted mockery of them.” “It is,” Sylvanas said darkly. “Arthas has brought his own touch of home to this foreboding place. But what’s that?” she gasped, pointing in the distance. The Banshee Queen’s eyes narrowed and her breath whistled between her teeth. Sprinting ahead of the others, she came to a skidding halt. Jaina stared after her and then ran ahead using her magic to speed her steps. Alayne and the others jogged after the two women, stopping in their tracks when they saw what Sylvanas had spotted. Frostmourne. The legendary blade hung in the air over an altar. The cursed sword illuminated the circular chamber with a mockery of sunlight. Alayne shuddered as the rush of voices – souls trapped by the blade – susurrated through the silent room. “Frostmourne: the blade that destroyed our kingdom...” Jaina breathed, her eyes widening with horror and shock. Sylvanas shivered and clutched at her chest. Her chill fingers rubbed the place where the blade had pierced her heart so long ago. “Standing this close to the blade that ended my life... The pain... It is renewed.” Alayne put a hand on the Banshee Queen’s shoulder. Sylvanas shrugged out from under it and shook her head. Grim determination painted the former Ranger-General’s 42


features as she reached out with a shaking hand to grasp the blade. Jaina, seeing this, grabbed Sylvanas’s arm and shot her a look of warning. “Stand back! Touch that blade and your soul will be scarred for all eternity!” Sylvanas barked a mirthless chuckle. “The spirits of the blade…we must commune with them and find answers. Perhaps our salvation lies within.” A flash of light shot out of the cursed runeblade. Silence filled the chamber as the souls vanished. Motes of dust danced and coalesced, moving and twisting in a transcendental wind until the form of a human paladin, his face drawn with pain and memory, stood before them. “Careful, girl. I've heard talk of that cursed blade saving us before. Look around you and see what has been born of Frostmourne.” “Uther...Uther the Lightbringer. How…” Sylvanas gasped. Jaina stared at the ghostly form with regret. “Uther! Dear Uther! I... I'm so sorry,” whispered the woman who had once stood beside him, a sister in battle. “We haven't much time. The Lich King sees what the sword sees. He will be here shortly,” Uther said curtly, cutting the two women short. “Arthas is here? Maybe I...,” Jaina began. “Then my destiny shall be fulfilled today!” Sylvanas shouted defiantly, looking around the empty chamber for signs of her torturer. Uther turned first to Jaina, “No, girl. Arthas is not here. Arthas is merely a presence within the Lich King's mind. A dwindling presence...” shaking his head sadly, he fixed his gaze on Sylvanas and pointed, “As for you, know this: you cannot defeat the Lich King. Not here, at least. You would be a fool to try. He will kill those who follow you and raise them as powerful servants of the Scourge. But for you, Sylvanas, his reward for you would be worse than the last. “There must be a way...” both women said in unison, each for vastly different reasons. “Perhaps.” “But Uther, if there's any hope of reaching Arthas. I... I must try,” Jaina said, pleading and arguing with the ghost. “Jaina, listen to me. You must destroy the Lich King. You cannot reason with him.” “Tell me how, Uther? How do I destroy my prince? My...” Sylvanas snorted and rolled her eyes, muttering beneath her breath about human sentiments and foolish romance. Uther likewise seemed to be at the end of his patience. His ghostly eyes widened and his expression filled with anxiety. Glancing over his shoulder, he shuddered as a presence that only he could sense drew inexorably nearer. “Snap out of it, girl,” he said roughly. “You must destroy the Lich King at the place where he merged with Ner’zhul - atop the spire, at the Frozen Throne. It is the only way.” “You're right, Uther. Forgive me. I... I don't know what got a hold of me,” Jaina apologized. Uther sighed and gave the mage a rare, sad smile. “There is... something else that you should know about the Lich King. Control over the Scourge must never be lost. Even if you were to strike down the Lich King, another would have to take his place. For without the control of its master, the Scourge would run rampant across the world - destroying all living things.” “Who could bear such a burden?” Sylvanas asked. Behind her, Alayne shuddered. Would one of the Disorder of Azeroth, someone she had come to love and cherish, be fated to remain forever among the undead Scourge? She prayed selfishly that it would not fall to any one of her loved ones. Sylvanas and Jaina exchanged meaningful glances and nodded as if a decision had been made. Alayne opened her mouth to ask a question of her own but Ber’lon laid a hand on her shoulder silencing her with a look that spoke of sacrifice and dedication. She shook her head at him and mouthed the word “no.” 43


Meanwhile, Uther’s spirit continued to speak with the women before him. “I do not know, Banshee Queen. I suspect that the piece of Arthas that might be left inside the Lich King is all that holds the Scourge from annihilating Azeroth.” “Then maybe there is still hope...” Jaina sighed. “No, Jaina!” Uther argued harshly. His face twisted in torment and he began floating back towards the blade that hung over the unholy altar. Pain wracked his form and he cried out, gasping, “ARRRRRRGHHHH... He... He is coming. You... You must...” The Lich King stormed into the room. The rear doors flew open and the air filled with the shrieks and forms of countless innocents slain by the Scourge. Alayne and the others clutched their heads in their hands, trying to block out the awful sounds of anguish. “SILENCE, PALADIN!” The Lich King roared. He strode to the altar and, reaching out a hand, summoned the blade to his grasp. Taking in the gathering before him, he snorted in amusement. “So you wish to commune with the dead? You shall have your wish.” On either side of the room, spirits from the blade appeared. Two ghostly generals stood in the alcoves, stepping into the light of the dank chamber. “Falric. Marwyn. Bring their corpses to my chamber when you are through,” the master of the Scourge commanded. “As you wish, my lord,” the twin generals said in unison. “Soldiers of Lordaeron, rise to meet your master's call!” one of the pair shouted, gesturing towards the gathering. The Lich King spun on his heel and stormed back the way he had come. “You will not escape me that easily, Arthas! I will have my vengeance!” Sylvanas shouted as she ran after him. “You won't deny me this, Arthas! I must know... I must find out...” Jaina cried, her heart in her voice as she sprinted after the two only a beat behind Sylvanas. The doors slammed shut behind the women, leaving Alayne, Ber’lon, Jez’ral, and the others trapped with the ghosts and commanders who had, once upon a time, been Arthas’s most trusted generals. “We’ll fight our way through,” Alayne said calmly, stepping forward and preparing her spells. “Prepare yourselves for a long fight.” No sooner had she spoken than the ghosts of humans, dwarves, and elves – all the races which had once called Lordaeron home and the Menethils “lords” swarmed around them. Meanwhile, standing sentinel in the alcoves, Arthas’s henchmen laughed. ~*~*~*~ Alayne sank down on the floor, gasping for breath. She was surprised they had managed to survive the frantic battles. The ghostly forms of those Arthas had slain lay scattered on the ground around the unholy altar. The twin generals, Falric and Marwyn, lay among them. Ber’lon was the first to regain his feet and helped the others back to theirs. “We must see if Sylvanas and Jaina need our help.” “We should get out of here while we can,” Jez’ral shot back. “Did you listen to the Lightbringer? The Lich King cannot be defeated here in this place. We need to let the others know so that we can lure him into a trap. Otherwise, we’ll just throw countless lives away in vain attempts to defeat him where he is not vulnerable!” “We will rescue the two ladies,” Alayne said, a hint of a sneer in her own voice. She was disappointed by both Sylvanas and Jaina’s reactions. Part of her was surprised at her disappointment – once she would have rushed headlong into danger. She was pleasantly surprised to realize that her harrowing experience in being split in half had brought maturation and a perspective she had never had before. Filing her thoughts away for a time when she

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could discuss them with Zerith, she dusted her robes off and strode down the corridor to the north, the direction the others had gone. “We will all get out of here together.” The group followed the dark corridor until the end. Twin doors of saronite and titanium barred their way. Graven with the emblems of the Scourge and the personal sigil of the Lich King, they rose up to the high ceiling overhead. Alayne pressed a hand against them and then jerked back. The chill of the doors seared and burned her flesh. Ber’lon pulled her away from the doors, muttering angrily. “What?” Alayne snapped. “They’re spelled,” he replied, gesturing to the doors. Alayne stared at them, her eyes widening until they seemed about to fall out of her face. The reflections in the dark metal were growing larger until, at last, they stepped out of the mirror-like metal and stared at their makers. Then, with a snarl of anger, the mirror images attacked. Alayne flung her own spells at her image, startled when they reflected back on her. The others had similar results. Finally, Ber’lon shouted for them each to attack a different target. That worked better but still, the wounds between the images were shared with their creator. When the last of the creatures shattered with a shriek of rage, a wounded group gathered itself. “Check the door before you touch it,” Ber’lon cautioned. Alayne reached out with all of her senses. She could feel the trace of enchantment on the doors but it was fading, broken by the frantic battle that had just taken place. Or, perhaps inside, Sylvanas and Jaina were faring better against the door’s foul master than any could have hoped. “Don’t count on that,” Jez’ral muttered, seeing the look on Alayne’s face. “Remember what Uther said. He can only be defeated in one place on Azeroth. The place where his foul rebirth came to pass.” Alayne nodded and flung open the doors to a scene of madness. Inside a room that was a mockery of the throne room in Lordaeron, Sylvanas and Jaina were locked in battle with the Lich King. Frostmourne wove and dove through their hasty defenses, seeking fresh blood and souls to satiate its appetite. Behind his helm, the Lich King snarled and growled as the two women kept him at bay, using their knowledge of his tactics against him. Out of all the people living, only these two knew his mind well enough to remain one step ahead of him in combat. And they would not last much longer. Alayne and the others ran into the room, taking up positions near Sylvanas and Jaina. Their spells and attacks were easily deflected by the Lich King until, at last, Sylvanas leapt far to one side of the room and unleashed a volley of arrows. The Lich King faltered, weakened and frozen by both magic and poison. “Get out now! While he’s weakened!” the Banshee Queen shouted. “We cannot take him here!” Jaina and the others sprinted for the exit. A long stone walkway wound around the mountain that lay behind Icecrown Citadel. The mage city of Dalaran hung in the far distance, a faint shadowy outline on the horizon. Sylvanas ran out of the room while staring over her shoulder. The trap that she and Jaina had laid would not hold the Lich King for long. Motioning for the others to run ahead of her, she grit her teeth. “It was foolish of you to come for us, but it's good to know that there are still some champions of the Horde who aren't useless cowards,” she muttered “The information Uther gave us may well be key to finally killing Arthas, though it is becoming more and more clear that the Horde will not be able to accomplish this on their own.” “Hurry, hurry,” urged Jaina. “Let us pray that this path does not lead to a dead end.” Alayne and the others ran down the stone pathway. A sheer drop on one side promised death if they were to try to leap that way. The other side was bounded by smooth saronite walls rising up into the spires and spokes that were the Scourge’s trademarks. The path itself 45


wound on for a long pace before vanishing into a tunnel. Behind them, the Lich King was freeing himself from the trap and summoning his minions to the battle. “There is no escape!” he roared. A few feet in front of Alayne, the air coalesced and solidified into a wall of ice. The mage ran into it, unable to find purchase on the smooth and frozen cobblestone pathway. The others skidded to a halt and turned their backs on the wall. The Lich King was proceeding towards them at a leisurely pace. His ghouls and abominations surged past him, paving the way for their master to come. Alayne and Jez’ral quickly gathered their wits and pulled the same chill from the air that had formed the wall. Wrapping it around the on-coming enemies, they held them in place while others rained their own spells and magic down from above. “I will destroy this barrier. You must hold the undead back!” Jaina shouted as she focused her attention on the wall blocking their way. The others focused their attention on the wave of undead running towards them using spells, weapons, and fists to beat them back while the mage used her power to break through the unnatural barrier. As the Lich King drew near, the wall tumbled into blocks of ice and the group ran as one, feet pounding and legs pumping to get away. As they neared the cave, another wall of ice appeared blocking their way. This time Sylvanas snarled and began emptying her quiver into it, searching for weak spots in the hastily-built wall. Ghouls and abominations rushed towards them once more and from the distance, the Lich King taunted their feeble efforts to escape his grasp. “How long can you fight it?” he chuckled, his voice echoing darkly through the snowy mountainside. “You won't impede our escape, fiend. Keep the undead off me while I bring this barrier down!” Sylvanas roared as a pair of ghouls made their way through the group and began clawing at the Banshee Queen’s back. Ber’lon grabbed them around their twisted necks and bashed their heads together. With a sickening liquid thud, the ghouls fell in pieces at his feet as he rushed back to the fore, using his fists and feet to keep the other ghouls at bay while the magi worked their spells to sear flesh from bone. The sickly sweet smell of rotten meat filled the air with a foul stench and Alayne gagged. Emptying her stomach on the clean snow, she prayed that she would not soon be joining the undead. Jez’ral grabbed her around the waist and hauled her to her feet as the wall crumbled down. Ber’lon took one of her arms and dragged her behind him just in time to make it past the Lich King’s attack. The group ran headlong into the tunnel, breaking through the other side just as the Lich King drew near. An empty platform stood at the tunnel’s mouth. No bridges or other pathways led away from it. Alayne closed her eyes and groaned. A dead end. “Nowhere to run! You're mine now...” the Lich King exulted as he approached the platform. “So this is how it ends. Prepare yourselves, for today we make our final stand!” Sylvanas roared, unleashing several bolts into the Lich King’s body. The master of the Scourge ignored them, treating them as an annoyance barely worthy of his attention. Alayne and Jez’ral stood side-by-side, unleashing their strongest spells, holding nothing back. Alayne could feel her body weakening from the onslaught of many battles, little rest, and no hope. Ber’lon rushed the Lich King only to be knocked back. Landing heavily on his back, the death knight closed his eyes and prayed that death would be swift. The roar of engines filled the air behind the group as an airship descended. Cannons fired into the mouth of the cave, collapsing the tunnel and sealing the Lich King away from the platform for a short time. Alayne glanced over her shoulder to see the airship Orgrimm’s Hammer floating behind them. Ger’alin stood on the deck, his eyes blazing as he threw down a rope ladder. “Get onboard, now! This whole mountainside could collapse at any moment!” he shouted over the din of the engines. The group scrambled up the ladder. Alayne ran to

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throw her arms around her husband. Ger’alin embraced her and kept his arm around her waist. Glaring at Jaina and Sylvanas, the blood knight stormed over to them. “Whose fool notion was it to attempt to infiltrate Icecrown Citadel without any back up from those of us who have been preparing this attack for weeks now?” Ger’alin demanded. “And don’t try to feed me that line about rescuing the prisoners. You both know damned well that was part of our plan from the beginning.” “Forgive me,” Jaina whispered, bowing her head before the man who had once served in her army. “I... I just had to see for myself. To look into his eyes one last time. I am sorry.” “Be calm, Sunrage,” Sylvanas muttered sourly. “We are safe, for now. His strength has increased ten-fold since our last battle! But now, now we have the key to defeating him.” “What key is that?” Ger’alin demanded, his voice filled with ice that would have frozen the snow on the mountainside. “The Frozen Throne,” Alayne answered, her voice barely audible. Before she could explain further, her knees buckled and her eyes closed as exhaustion overtook her. ~*~*~*~ A chastened Sylvanas and Jaina followed Ger’alin down the airship ramp and into the Argent Tournament grounds. Tirion, Varian, Garrosh, and Thrall stood waiting for them. The aborted raid against Icecrown Citadel was the talk of the camp. Garrosh and Muradin had both disavowed ordering any attempt to attack the citadel ahead of the battle that was in the works. The magi of Dalaran admitted that they had prematurely broken through the shielding, setting this course of events into motion. Thus far, however, it seemed that the situation would be salvageable. Barely. Shocked whispers raced through the camp as Ger’alin made his way back to his tent carrying his sleeping wife in his arms. His face was clouded and dark, discouraging any from stopping him with questions. Zerith, Dar’ja, Callie, and Mir’el ignored the pointed looks and followed the paladin through the tent flaps. Mir’el paused only to throw his arms around Jez’ral and whisper a quick prayer of thanksgiving that the younger man was alive and well. “And a bit wobbly on my feet,” Jez’ral said sheepishly. “Still, not quite as bad as she is.” “What in the name of Sargeras happened to her this time?” Ger’alin demanded, forcing the words between teeth clenched so tightly Mir’el feared the man’s jaw would crack. Jez’ral spread his hands and shook his head. “I do not understand it myself. The little bit of information we could get out of her seemed to involve some ritual she participated in with the taunka. She said something about being divided against herself. I wish I had the answers,” Jez’ral continued, “but I think that no one does. Not even her.” “We will unravel that mystery in time,” Zerith’s voice came from the tent flaps. “For now, it is enough that she has returned to us in better condition than she was. The taunka elders will be arriving soon with most of their forces. Thrall has sent the armies that the Horde can spare under the command of Saurfang – not Hellscream. Garrosh will be leading the attack from the back lines with Tirion and Varian, ensuring that our rear is guarded once we’ve stormed the gates of the Citadel.” “How long before the attack begins?” Mir’el asked, eyeing Jez’ral and Alayne. He knew that both of them would want to be part of the battle to come. “We have three days,” Zerith answered. “The Argent Crusaders and the Knights of the Ebon Blade are preparing the assault against the courtyard. Already the spirits of those slain in Icecrown who had not been converted to the Scourge have been freed. We’ve been pushing southwards for days now and our efforts are about to pay off.”

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“This foolish attack from Jaina and Sylvanas could have ruined everything!” Ger’alin exploded. “We needed Arthas to think that those airships were out of commission. We’d staged a rather elaborate ‘accident’ for both of them just after the attack here at the camp grounds. I could strangle the pair of them. Foolish, sentimental women!” “Ger’alin, calm down,” Zerith said firmly. “You lashed into both of them pretty harshly. I’m surprised you got away with it but then you did have both Varian and Garrosh nodding in agreement with your words. I’ll return later – Tirion wants to go over the final plans once more in light of the fact we had to reveal that the airships still work.” “I should be part of that meeting,” Ger’alin muttered. “You should remain here with your wife,” Zerith corrected. “Mir’el, Jez’ral, there are a few spare two-man tents for you. Let’s leave them alone for now.” Ger’alin managed to hold himself in check until he heard Zerith tie the tent flaps shut, a signal that those within did not wish to be disturbed unless it was dire. He staggered, collapsing to his knees before the bed and buried his face in Alayne’s midriff. Clasping her to him, he sobbed with relief and anger until, at last, he fell asleep, kneeling awkwardly on the floor.

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Chapter Forty-Five: The Fall of the Lich King

A

layne woke up feeling as if something were pressing against her stomach. She glanced down to see Ger’alin’s hair streaming over his shoulders and his head on her abdomen. He was snoring softly, his arms flung around her, dragging her near to the edge of the cot. She turned her head to glance at the edge of the tent. Faint light shone through the tiny gap between the fabric and the ground. It was either near dusk or dawn – she could not tell which. Shifting to try to settle herself more comfortably, she stroked Ger’alin’s hair fondly. She had missed him. In a way, she felt as if she were truly seeing him for the first time in years. Her gentle touch roused the slumbering giant. He lifted his head groggily at first but then moved with the alert swiftness of a trained fighter. Alayne blinked and jerked with a start as he leapt to his feet, glancing around to remind himself where he was. Ger’alin drew a ragged sigh of relief and rubbed his red-rimmed eyes when he saw Alayne gazing at him, her aqua-marine eyes calm. “What happened?” he asked flatly, masking the worry, anguish, fear, and sorrow that lurked in his face. “I…I’m not sure,” she admitted. “It began at Stromgarde, I think, and never really got better. I thought it had for a while but…” “What began?” “You were right about me in some ways,” she whispered, toying idly with the coverlet. Ger’alin moved to sit on the cot next to her and she shifted over, giving him room to settle himself comfortably. “I…I guess I’ve never really grown up. I never really gave myself a chance to. First Mother and I were fleeing the Scourge. Then we were waiting for my father to return to us. I studied, did my chores, but waited, not wanting to change much because I wanted him to be there to see it all. And, Mama needed me,” she said plaintively. “She tried to be strong but sometimes I would wake up in the night and hear her crying. I tried to be strong for her, never letting her see me cry. I worked extra hard at my studies during those times. I even took a job waiting tables at the inn in Menethil when I heard Mama say something about expenses. She never really explained it to me; I was just afraid that we would lose everything. She told me I didn’t need to work but…” “I can understand how that feels,” he said sympathetically. “The matron of the orphanage told me the same thing when I started hiring myself out as an escort for travelers making their way to the Barrens. Every silver I collected I gave back to her. She returned it all to me when I left the orphanage and moved into the barracks with the other soldiers.” “Mama died and the town fathers had to help me figure out all of that. They said that the house was taken care of but that there were taxes and other things and I might have to sell it…then Jez’ral came for me. I was so panicked but I hid it from him. He helped me sell the house and told me he would take care of the finances – that all I needed to do was return to Quel’Thalas and rejoin my people. I wasn’t sure then what I would do. I knew that school would cost money but Jez’ral took it on himself to train me. I made some money with Zerith, 49


doing odd jobs around Eversong woods. And then we decided to gather people together and clear out Deatholme.” “I remember that. I remember seeing you while Dar’ja and I were on patrol.” “I remember you picking me up on your shoulder so I could speak to the crowd,” she smiled. “I nearly passed out.” “You didn’t like heights.” “Well, things were okay for a while after that,” she continued. “I lost myself in adventuring, in following along with what Zerith said was best. He seemed so grown-up, so mature. I figured if I could just follow him around, I would figure things out.” “Why didn’t you talk to Jez’ral or Mir’el?” “I didn’t really remember them,” she admitted. “I was probably four years old the last time I saw them. When I realized who they were, I…I didn’t know what to do. Jez’ral had been holding himself at a distance and he was my teacher. I didn’t think of him as being the kind of person I could go to and explain just how horribly confused I was. So, I put on a good mask and just tried to imitate the rest of you. Then came Stromgarde and Zerith getting shot. I…I broke then, I think. Some part of me that had been fighting to get free, fighting to unleash the pain and confusion came to the fore and…” “And if I hadn’t stopped you, you might have killed everyone and yourself,” Ger’alin finished. “I remember that day. I remember being terrified of what you might do to yourself, physically and emotionally. I also remember how right it felt to be that close to you,” he added, a sparkle in his eye. “I’d never felt that before.” “Well, that’s the point where the other me was created, I think,” she said breathlessly. “The two of us fought for control. Or rather, the two of them fought for control. There was the meek, mild Alayne trying to pretend she was cool, calm, and grown up. Then there was the wild, savage, violent Alayne who wanted to do whatever it took to destroy anyone and everyone who hurt her or those she loved. It was exhausting.” “I’ll bet.” “This went on for years, you know. The plague of madness just made it worse. The violent one was able to take over but then the timid one weakened her. That’s why I stayed with the Scourge. My ability to love my father – even though he was dead – kept me there. My ability to unleash hell on my enemies made me an asset that the Lich King didn’t want to let go of easily. And then there was my body,” she said, blushing. “Several of the others were attracted to me, I guess. Ber’lon was one of them. He stayed for as long as he did because he admired me for what I had done with the Disorder of Azeroth. And, because he thought that perhaps…” “Did the two of you…?” “Light of heaven no! And you of all people should know that,” she remonstrated. “I think he hoped for something but I was too wrapped up in being the perfect soldier. In making my father proud of me. In finally having someone – even if it was the Lich King – who told me what to do and how to feel and what to think. Then I came back to you,” she sighed, “and suddenly, it all fell apart again. My father was gone. I was freed from the Lich King’s control. And then I started to fall in love with you. And there was that whole mess with Ta’sia.” “Don’t remind me,” he grimaced. “I got drunk one night and that night will haunt me the rest of my life.” “I don’t mind,” she murmured. “At least you had some idea of what to do because of your previous experience,” she teased lightly. “Previous experience be damned. I lived with soldiers in the barracks, woman. If you think that wasn’t a frequent topic of conversation, then I don’t know what to tell you.” “Well, in Outland, I was able to focus a little better. Jez’ral was keeping an eye on me and was trying to get me to open up to him a bit. He changed. Instead of being the cold, 50


distant teacher, he’d let me see into his life a bit. He was acting more like an uncle. But, I still felt at odds with him. Mir’el…Mir’el I might could have gone to but he was back in Silvermoon. And then you followed us out to Outland and things began to work out for the best once Ta’sia ran off.” “I will bless whatever deity possessed her to do that until I die,” Ger’alin laughed. “But, continue.” “We married and then…then came the Black Temple and what happened to you. You needed me to be strong. But…I didn’t know how to be. All I knew was that I had to stop the people who were going to cause you more pain. I had to find a way to let you…feed…from the magic without it poisoning you or killing you. So, I ran off and tricked Kael’thas into taking me in. And there…there for a while, it actually seemed like I was starting to figure things out. I could use the violence and drive within me to accomplish things and win respect. My mind and my thoughts were my own. I was given independence to make the manaforges run better. Slowly, things started to fit together for me. But then…then I had to summon Kil’jaeden or be put to death as a traitor. I knew I was going to die. I was just hoping to destroy him as well and revitalize the Sunwell so that you would heal. So that everyone would heal. I didn’t expect to come out of that alive. I thought my name would be cursed and damned for what I was doing but it was enough for me to know in my own heart and soul that what I did, I did for the best for all of us.” “I know.” “And then, against all odds, we survived,” she gasped. “We survived and suddenly I had to look all these people in the face. All of those whom I had betrayed and lied to and tricked. I had to look at them and know that I had risked the world on a plan that very well might not have worked at all. I felt so guilty. I pushed the violent part of me away, locking it off so that I couldn’t use it. I felt like I couldn’t trust that part of myself ever again. And, I thought I couldn’t trust myself with power. So I destroyed all of my magical implements. I was going to give it all up and devote myself to manual service in Shattrath. Perhaps that would have made things even enough that I could one day look people in the eye again.” “It didn’t help,” he started. She raised a hand and placed it against his lips. His eyes sparkled again and he kissed her palm gently, sending a tingle through her body. “Let me finish,” she whispered, pulling her hand away. “I know it didn’t help. I was so miserable I could barely function. And I was fighting myself again. The part of me I locked away wanted to be free. But I couldn’t trust it. It was exhausting. I tried to hide it from all of you, not wanting you to worry anymore. But I failed. And the more I failed, the worse I felt. And then…then came the chance to return to Northrend and fight the Scourge. I thought that if I could help out with that, if I could show everyone that I was on the right side again, then that would let me trust myself once more. Only…I’d spent so much energy building up the wall between my selves and my power that I couldn’t use magic at all. Then I heard about the ritual from the taunka. If I could do that…if I could finally purge myself of all the darkness, confusion, and anger inside of me, then I could trust myself. So, I did it.” “And you threw yourself off a mountain and scared the shit out of me.” She ignored his interjection. “I felt better after that. The violence was gone. I didn’t realize, though, that I’d invested so much of myself into that that it was literally another person. She…she survived the attack on the mountain and with the same drive and determination that led me to join Kael’thas, she rejoined the Scourge. Using all of the tricks I know so well, she managed to get close enough to the Lich King. She was hoping to destroy him herself without risking any of us. Only…she was so angry. Angry at you for leaving her.Angry at me for trying to destroy her. She felt betrayed. She was hurt. And so she lashed out. On the one hand, she wanted to save everyone. On the other, she wanted us to hurt, to suffer as she had suffered. It was driving her mad even as my own inability to use that part of 51


my missing self was driving me mad. She knew, however, that our paths would cross again. In a way, she hoped that this time she could destroy me – her jailer – and could win you back. See, she is me and I am her. But our meeting went other than she had planned. The shock of the spell that was used left us in a world only the two of us could share. We could hear you and the others, occasionally, but we couldn’t reach you. Then, we were captured by the Scourge. The Lich King never lets go of a weapon in his arsenal and she had made herself a damned good one. Also, he didn’t dare risk her being around you too much. He knew that she was tied to me and, through me, to his enemies. I think he was hoping to force us back together only with her in control. The split between us, the ties between us…it fascinated him in a sick way. It’s an eerie echo of what he himself has undergone.” “And now?” “She and I…worked it out. We’ve rejoined ourselves. And this time, since I understand her better and she understands me, I think…I think it’s finally over. I still have a lot of growing up and maturing to do but I don’t think I’ll be quite so crazy in the future.” “That’s a relief,” he sighed. “These past few years…I’ve watched you do this to yourself and I felt so powerless. I know nothing of maladies of the mind. Zerith’s thrown himself into studying them and I’m sure he’ll want to hear all of this from you. But, for now, I need to know something.” Alayne gazed up at him expectantly. “You married me when you were still unsure of yourself. You’ve stayed with me while you fought yourself. Now that you are…changing into the person you should have grown into over the course of years, do you still…” Alayne’s eyes narrowed and her breath hissed through clenched teeth. Ger’alin was startled by her sudden seeming anger. “Are you honestly asking me what I think you’re about to be foolish enough to ask me?” she demanded loudly. “It’s not that I want to…” “Shut up,” she snarled. “If there’s one thing that all of this crazy committee in my head agrees on it’s this.” “It’s what?” he asked, agog. Alayne threw the bed sheets off and pulled herself up into a sitting position faster than Ger’alin thought possible. The next thing he knew, he was on the floor, the wind knocked out of him. He heard fabric ripping, his wife swearing, and then the clank of buckles being unfastened and armor being flung away. When he could focus his eyes again, he saw Alayne’s face hovering inches above his own, determination shining in her eyes. “It’s that you need to shave. When I decide to let you get up again.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin lay in the bed with one hand behind his head and the other arm wrapped around Alayne’s shoulders. His long brown hair streamed down his chest and, if he had been able to, he would have pulled it back into a tail at the nape of his neck as he normally did. However, whenever he so much as moved, Alayne snarled at him. He grinned and glanced down at her, trying to determine if she was finally asleep. He could feel the regular, steady rhythm of her heart beating against his side. She was pressed against him, half-draped over him, one of her hands resting under her cheek on the hollow of his shoulder and the other tangled in a death grip on his hair. Drawing a deep, contented breath, he closed his eyes and let the muscles in his face relax. He didn’t think he had smiled this much or felt this blissfully happy in months. Alayne had changed. She seemed stronger, more determined than ever but also calmer and more sureof herself. Gone was the recklessness that always lurked in her eyes or the timidity that sagged her shoulders. She reminded him of the woman he’d first seen in Silvermoon city so 52


long ago. Well, perhaps a little less shy than that woman, he allowed after a few seconds of thought. A slight stir at the tent flap drew his attention. Turning his head slowly, he could see Zerith ducking into the tent, the priest’s eyes on the ground to avoid seeing anything he shouldn’t be seeing. Ger’alin chuckled softly. “She’s covered,” he whispered. “I take it that the two of you are going to be fine,” Zerith said wryly. “How is she?” “She’ll be fine. We’ll need to keep an eye on her for a few months longer, make certain that she doesn’t get put under too much pressure, but she’s going to be fine.” “Any clue what happened to her?” “It’s a longer story than I care to tell when I’m this tired. Speak your piece, brother, and then let me get some sleep before she wakes up and decides to put me through my paces again.” Zerith grinned and wagged his head. “I’ll make it brief. The gunships will accompany us to Icecrown but we will stage a mock battle on the upper spire that leads into the heart of the citadel. There will be a staged gunship battle as well. Varian and Garrosh are keeping Tirion up all night arguing over who’s going to be the victor. But, at the very least, it should convince the Lich King that we’re all still divided and that only our little group will be in the attack.” “Sounds good,” Ger’alin sighed, lifting his hand from Alayne’s shoulder and rubbing his eyes. Light, but he was tired! “When will we launch the assault?” “In two days. Tirion would have made it tomorrow if Garrosh and Varian could come to any kind of agreement. As it is, I convinced him to wait a bit. Let the Lich King think we’re panicked. Let him think we’re worried. Let him think we’re rushed. When we don’t attack tomorrow, he’ll relax his guard just the slightest. The Ebons and Argents and other forces are going to put on one hell of a show for him. The dragons of Wyrmrest and the Kirin Tor will do their parts as well. All we need to do is sit here, rest, and prepare ourselves for the battle come.” “I like the sound of that,” Ger’alin whispered. “What time is it, by the way?” “About two hours until full dark. Dar’ja’s waiting on me. She always gets a case of the nerves before a major confrontation. I think I’ll try your method of settling her down,” he teased, nodding towards his sister’s inert form. “It seems to work.” “I’ll heal the scratches on your back tomorrow if you’ll heal mine,” Ger’alin winked. Zerith chuckled softly as he left the tent, tying the flaps behind him. “‘A case of nerves?’” Alayne murmured, her face still buried in Ger’alin’s chest. “You’re awake?” “I’ve been awake since Zerith came into the tent,” she muttered, pushing herself up until her face hung over Ger’alin’s. So, you’re going to hide me in the rear lines again and make me go half-crazy with worry? Is that your plan?” She reached up and tangled her hands painfully in the hair at the nape of her husband’s neck, wrenching his face until their noses touched and her angry eyes filled his vision. Despite – or perhaps because of – the sudden fear he felt, Ger’alin’s heart began pounding and his blood racing. He locked Alayne’s eyes with the most ferocious gaze he could muster and clamped his hands, not un-gently, on her shoulders, letting her feel the strength in his fingers – a strength that could tear her arms from their sockets were he roused enough. “You’re going to be where I tell you to be,” he growled. “And that will be with Jez’ral. Right under my eye.Using your magic and your brains to detect any magical traps that the Lich King has devised for us. You’re going to be exactly where you belong, woman.” Before Alayne could reply, Ger’alin pulled her down on him, kissing her with a bruising force. His last coherent thought was whether or not he’d be able to wear a shirt before Zerith healed him in the morning. 53


~*~*~*~ Garrosh and Varian watched sullenly as Ger’alin took his place at Tirion’s side. The Disorder of Azeroth lined up behind the two paladins. Ger’alin smiled grimly. Once Alayne had let him put clothes on – and once Zerith had healed the deep furrows she’d left in his back, the sin’dorei had spoken with Ber’lon and Jez’ral. He knew that the Lich King knew he would be leading the fight against the Scourge. He knew that the Lich King knew almost everything there was to know about him. Every weakness, every flaw, every pressure point that could be pressed to send him into a frenzy or render him unable to carry on. Ber’lon and Alayne had been emphatic in their descriptions of how the Scourge gathered information from the living. And yet, it did not matter. Ger’alin would face Arthas down in the one place he could be destroyed. Jaina and Sylvanas’s folly had provided him with that key information. Ger’alin would not hide and nor would he allow his fears to be used as a weapon against them. Feeling his wife behind him, feeling the bond that allowed them to share each other’s thoughts and emotions in a way that defied description, Ger’alin grinned. “Bring it on,” he muttered as the black saronite spires of Icecrown Citadel came into view. The ground in front of the Scourge fortress had been cleared by several days of battle. The spirits of the fallen had been reclaimed from their Scourge masters and sent on to the blessed realm. Ger’alin himself had participated in the days of frantic battle to claim the gates of the Citadel, using his energy to bring himself closer to where Alayne had been being held prisoner. Where once giant skeletons and abominations had lurked, leering out over the glacial plain with dead eyes, only motes of dust swirled. The frostwyrms who had once patrolled the sky had been broken against the onslaught of the Argent Crusaders mounted on hippogryphs and dragonhawks. And, the last of the Lich King’s forces, bottled up within the courtyard before the steps of the Citadel itself, had finally been overcome by the cavalry Tirion had assembled and trained. Marching slowly, conserving their strength, the Disorder of Azeroth walked across the windswept glacier, beneath the imposing gates, and up the stairs to the doors of the Citadel itself. “Bring it on,” Ger’alin repeated, the familiar burning lust of battle beginning to trill in his veins. ~*~*~*~ “The entryway is secure,” Tirion said, wiping sweat from his forehead. Varian and Garrosh flanked the leader of the Argent Crusade. Ger’alin sank to the ground, leaning against one of the pillars, desperate to catch his breath. Waves after waves of skeletons had poured from deeper within the citadel but, after hours of furious fighting, they had been beaten back enough for the newly allied forces to establish a firm grasp on the front room. Horde, Alliance, Argent, and Ebon fighter stood in groups around the room, their gazes watching the door that led further on, waiting for more waves to pour through. Tirion sighed and shook his head. The beleaguered forces were weary. Reaching down within himself, he found the words to inspire them on, knowing as they knew that the battle ahead would be long and weary and with few breaks for respite. He motioned for the Disorder of Azeroth to gather around him and, surveying their faces, he spoke softly but with a tone that carried to the far ends of the chambers. “This is our final stand,” he said calmly. “Know that what happens here will echo throughout the ages. Regardless of the outcome, they will know that we fought with honor. That we fought for the freedom and safety of all our peoples!” The ragged gathering in front of him did not cheer or clap at his speech but instead stood up straighter, weariness fading 54


from their faces. “Remember, heroes, fear is your greatest enemy in these befouled halls. Steel your heart and your soul will shine brighter than a thousand suns. The enemy will falter at the sight of you. They will fall as the light of righteousness envelops them! Our march upon Icecrown Citadel begins now!” Then, as if waiting for this moment, a chill, gravelly voice echoed through the cold air of the citadel’s entrance. “You now stand upon the hallowed ground of the Scourge,” the Lich King taunted. “The Light won’t protect you here. Nothing will protect you…” “Arthas!” Tirion shouted, his baritone voice reverberating with anger, “I swore that I would see you dead and the Scourge dismantled! I’m going to finish what I started at Light’s Hope!” “You could have been my greatest champion, Fordring,” the Lich King seemed to lament. “A force of darkness that would wash over this world and deliver it into a new age of strife. But that honor is no longer yours. Soon I will have a new champion.” The living gathered in the hall sucked in a horrified breath in unison. “The breaking of this one has been taxing. The atrocities that I have committed upon his soul. He has resisted for so long, but he will bow down before his king soon.” Another voice, one that Alayne recognized as her friend, her protector during her imprisonment, filled the air. Others recognized it as well, recalling the last time they had heard the man speak before the gates of Angrathar. “NEVER! I... I will never... serve... you.” “In the end, you all will serve me,” the Lich King said calmly, a confidence in his tone that nearly undid the work Tirion had wrought on them earlier. High Overlord Saurfang, the orc who had lost his son at the Wrath Gate, strode down the chamber from where he had been standing with a contingent of Kor’kron guards. He eyed Tirion with a look that spoke of both fear and hope. “The paladin still lives?” he asked, his voice betraying that he prayed his son might also live on despite the evidence and witnesses from the Wrath Gate. “Is it possible? Could he have survived?” Tirion seemed to weigh his words carefully before replying. “The power of the Light knows no bounds, Saurfang. His soul is under great strain, but he lives – for now,” the human answered gravely, bowing respectfully to the orc. Behind him, Garrosh and Varian shared a glance. Saurfang saw this and nodded. “Then we must save him!” Saurfang said loudly. Ger’alin and the others nodded. No one of them would leave a single soul at the tender mercies of the Scourge. Not even their worst enemy. “If we rescue Bolvar Fordragon,” Ger’alin said in an undertone, “we may quell the unrest between the Alliance and the Horde.” “Our mission is now clear,” Zerith said loudly, turning to face Tirion, Varian, and Garrosh. “The Lich King will answer for his crimes and we will save Highlord Bolvar Fordragon!” ~*~*~*~ Alayne held up a hand to the saronite doors that barred their way further into the citadel. Using a spell learned from the Kirin Tor, she made the unholy metal transparent where her hand lingered, allowing them to see what lay beyond. “What in the name of the nine hells is that?” Ger’alin spat? “Another skeleton? I’ve had my fill of those and more,” he grunted, gesturing back to the two large rooms they had fought their way through. Piles of bones and the carcasses of nerubians dotted their passage. More than once, Ger’alin and Tau’re had been forced to hold gigantic skeletal drudgers at bay when, with a careless gesture, someone triggered the alarm, sending jolts of necromantic energy through them and wakening them from their slumber at the sides of the rooms. 55


Others peered through the small spyglass Alayne had created. A dragon floating on the twin currents of icy air and necromancy, guarded the next room. It had four skeletal heads that rotated in a manner that made an observer nauseous if they watched for very long. In its bony hands was a wicked scythe, its blade twice as long as Ger’alin stood in height. “Lord Marrowgar,” Ber’lon volunteered as he gazed through the transparent opening. “Don’t underestimate him. He’s formidable. He can freeze the air around you better than any mage of the Kirin Tor and when he whirls around, every bone protruding from him becomes another weapon that can cut through armor, through flesh, through just about anything.” “Then the Light will have to guard and protect us,” Zerith prayed. “Let’s go.” At a signal from the priest, the group spread itself out so that when the doors were opened, they would not be immediately spotted. Then, working with Nishi, Alayne made the doors roll back into the hollows of the saronite walls. Ger’alin and Tau’re sprinted into the room first, hoping to catch the bone dragon off-guard. “This is the beginning AND the end, mortals. None may enter the master's sanctum!” Marrowgar laughed, hefting his scythe. “The Scourge will wash over this world as a swarm of death and destruction!” Ger’alin rushed where the dragon floated, calling on the Light and letting it flow through his shield and his hammer. Smiting the undead creature, he forced it to focus on him, giving the others time to spread out around the chamber to avoid the whirlwind that Ber’lon had warned them of. Together, the tauren and the sin’dorei forced the creature around, leaving its backs and wings exposed to the Disorder of Azeroth while both did their best to dodge the attacks from the creature’s scythe. Standing at the center of the arc behind Marrowgar, Alayne directed the other casters, flinging her spells, targeting his wings and the base of his skulls. She tried and she felt Ber’lon try to unravel the necromancy that kept the creature aloft and alive. However, Lord Marrowgar had been constructed by Arthas himself. The magic that held the creature together would not be unraveled easily. Better to destroy him than to try to unmake him. Jez’ral and Mir’el were caught up in the heat of battle, following their student’s example and hurling the strongest spells they could muster without depleting themselves of too much energy. Then, with a shriek that was more surprise than pain, they turned to see Kiharu, one of the priests under Zerith’s command, hanging in the air, a spike made out of twisted bone poking through the stole the priest wore. “Stick around!” Marrowgar laughed before Ger’alin and Tau’re could force him to focus his attention back on them. Kiharu’s feet dangled above the ground and his face was beginning to turn purple as the collar of his own robes choked him. As one, the magi turned and began blasting away at the bone spike holding their fellow aloft until it crumbled, dropping him back on the ground. Dar’ja hurried to his side, helped him to his feet, and, when she saw that he would be fine with only a bruise around his neck, returned her attention to calling on the Light to shield the rest of the group against the various spells and attacks Marrowgar was using against them. The bone dragon seemed to sense that he would not be able to simply sweep the two fighters in front of him away. Roaring with anger, he began to spin violently. “BONE STORM!” he shouted. “Get away from him!” Ger’alin ordered as the group scattered around the room, diving and rolling for cover as the dragon whirled through the air, a tornado of bone and scythe seeking the flesh of the living creatures who dared attack him. As he whirled, Ger’alin saw an opening. The spells and attacks had weakened the spine that held the creature together. Signaling Alayne, he grinned when he saw his own thoughts reflected on her face. As one, the couple hurled a spell of holy magic and a spell of searing fire at the weakened joint. Their spells plus the centrifugal force of the creature’s whirling caused the pieces of his bony, disjointed body to go flying across the room, leaving only the heart of necromantic magic where Marrowgar had last been. Ger’alin, the priests, and the other paladins rushed towards it 56


before the creature could reassemble itself. Working the spells of the Light that the Argent Crusaders had uncovered, they purged the Scourge magic, leaving Marrowgar nothing but a pile of utterly lifeless bones. “I see... only darkness...” the haunting shadow of Marrowgar’s voice whispered through the chamber as the last of the magic was dispelled. Everyone glanced around as if expecting another attack. Finally, Kiharu broke the awkward silence. Drawing a ragged breath, Kiharu said, “That wasn’t so bad.” His voice was still thin and the skin of his neck a livid red. “If they are all like that, I could get quite used to this.” “Let’s get moving,” Alayne muttered, rolling her eyes at the cynical priest. “We still have quite a ways to go.” ~*~*~*~ “Your definition of ‘quite a ways’ is quite a ways off, if I may say so,” Zerith teased his sister. Just up the spiraling ramp from where they had encountered Marrowgar was the open archway that led to a twisted perversion of a chapel. Hiding behind the walls and peering around the edges, they sized up the room. “Ssh,” she hissed, staring down into the room. “One of those…he looks familiar. Didn’t Tirion say something about sending spies ahead of us?” “He did indeed,” Ger’alin agreed. “That looks like Darnavan. He was sent to try to infiltrate the Cult of the Damned to find out if they were planning any more major attacks against us.” “He seems to be one of them now,” Alayne muttered. “Look at the way he practically worships that lich.” “Lady Deathwhisper has ways of boring into a man’s mind,” Ber’lon whispered, startling Alayne. The pain in the death knight’s eyes spoke of a remembered experience. “She can…she can persuade you to do almost anything. Be careful going in,” he cautioned. “Her power of speech is just as compelling as Tirion’s, only twisted and dark.” Indeed, the group could hear Deathwhisper’s words from where they stood. She gazed out upon her faithful, her gestures a mockery of those a priest would make when delivering a sermon on the Light and faith. “You have found your way here, because you are among the few gifted with true vision in a world cursed with blindness. You can see through the fog that hangs over this world like a shroud, and grasp where true power lies. Fix your eyes upon your crude hands: the sinew, the soft meat, the dark blood coursing within. It is a weakness; a crippling flaw.... A joke played by the Creators upon their own creations. The sooner you come to accept your condition as a defect, the sooner you will find yourselves in a position to transcend it. Through our Master, all things are possible. His power is without limit, and his will unbending. Those who oppose him will be destroyed utterly, and those who serve -- who serve wholly, unquestioningly, with utter devotion of mind and soul -- elevated to heights beyond your ken.” Steeped as he was in the Light’s training and wisdom, even Zerith could feel the oddly compelling plea beneath Deathwhisper’s words. She truly believed in the salvation of the Scourge that the Lich King offered. Her worship sprang not from a lust of power of darkness, but from an honest – almost admirable – belief in what her Master had taught her. He shuddered. Had the Lich King unleashed more like her upon the land, the numbers of the Cult of the Damned might have swelled beyond counting. “For our families,” Ger’alin said, his voice the same soft-yet-carrying tone that Tirion had used earlier. “For our people.For our honor. And for Quel’Thalas!” the last was a roar as the paladin flung himself down the stairs. The rest of the Disorder of Azeroth followed after

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him. The worshippers, including Darnavan, sprang from their pews and stared at those who would interrupt their service with surprise and disgust. “What is this disturbance?!” Lady Deathwhisper shrieked. “You dare trespass upon this hallowed ground? This shall be your final resting place. Kill them!” The dozen or so attendants quickly moved to do their priestess’s bidding. Ger’alin and the others engaged them in a frantic melee that lasted only moments. Caught off-guard, most of them were weaponless. Only a few wore armor. Still, Lady Deathwhisper raised the fallen back up, urging them to carry on their fight and to put an end to those who would stand against her dark messiah. Finally, the last of the adherents fell and could be raised no longer. Blessing their spirits and commending their confused souls to the Light, the priests freed them from the slavery that had been foisted upon them with tricks and lies. Only Darnavan remained, left alive and held down by Tau’re while the others prepared to fight Deathwhisper. The human paladin who had been one of Tirion’s hand-picked spies fought to free himself from the tauren’s grasp with a savagery that surprised the Disorder. “The sooner she’s gone, the better,” Ger’alin spat. “Tau’re, keep him off us. We’ll see if Tirion can’t take care of him later.” As Ger’alin rushed towards Deathwhisper where she hovered on her dais, the lich smiled. A shield of pure energy surrounded her, flinging the paladin back. Ber’lon and the other fighters tried to break through it with their weapons only to find that the shield was stronger than steel. Their weapons rang in their arms, sending shudders up clear to their shoulders. “Alayne, Jez’ral, Mir’el, Nishi, Fam’iv!” Callie called out as she regained her equilibrium, “Use your magic to bring it down!” The magi followed the Forsaken’s orders quickly enough. Slowly but surely, their spells did drain the energy away from the shield. Still, it hung around the priestess of the damned, a faint, glowing orb that prevented the rest of the group from attacking her. All the while, she hurled her own spells. Bolts of frost, curses that left the target sapped of energy, and patches of searing poison were wielded by the female lich with a skill that any might have envied. And, through it all, Darnavan fought against Tau’re, seeking to aid his mistress and protect her from the intruders. After a while, the shield surrounding Deathwhisper shimmered and faded until, with the sound of many tinkling bells, it shattered, leaving her vulnerable to weapons and magic. “Enough! I see I must take matters into my own hands!” she shouted. Ger’alin met her attack before she could focus on the ones who had brought down the shield protecting her. Giving her no opportunity to move around him, he hammered away at her, hurling the Light’s vengeance at the lich even as she cast her own spells of darkness and pain. Then, with a sly grin, she stared down at the paladin as if he were an insect. Ger’alin could feel his old insecurities welling up in his mind. His weaknesses, his fears, gnawed at him. Who was he to lead this rabble against this powerful member of the Scourge? The son of two commoners, who was he to call himself husband to a woman who had been named a baroness by their prince? How dare he… “Shake it off, Ger’alin!” Alayne shouted in his ear. As the spell had worked on his mind, the paladin’s attacks had grown weaker and slower. “Whatever she’s telling you, it’s a lie! Remember that!” He met his wife’s gaze evenly and, even in the chaos of battle, she smiled at him. Where Deathwhisper’s malignant grin had been like the sparkling of many stars, Alayne’s smile shone brighter than the sun. Focusing on that, remembering who he was and the road he had traveled, Ger’alin renewed his attacks against Deathwhisper with a vigor that surprised even himself. Growling and swearing, he hammered at her until she fell under the frenzy of his wrath. 58


“All part of the masters plan! Your end is... inevitable!” she sighed as the priests worked the spells that would keep her soul from returning to reanimate the body they had just destroyed. “Nothing is inevitable,” Alayne whispered back. “Freedom is a gift that makes inevitability impossible.” Ger’alin nodded beside her, placing a steadying hand on her shoulder. The platform behind where Deathwhisper had given her sermon began to change, transforming into an elevator. In the back of the room, Darnavan ceased fighting Tau’re and instead began weeping incoherently. “Zerith, Kiharu, take him back to Tirion,” Ger’alin ordered. “Tell them we’ve won through the lower floor and will be moving up to the ramparts after a brief rest.” “The ramparts?” Zerith asked, quirking his eyebrows. “Then it’s time for the next act in the play to begin.” “Warn Varian and Garrosh and apologize in advance,” the paladin winced. “But, at least this time, there will be no wasted lives.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin was glad of the brief rest they had been given while the Horde and Alliance forces started their “surge” over the ramparts. He and Alayne had said their possible goodbyes without words before the sun had risen. Still, the small moments where he could sit and let her rest her head against his armored shoulder, place his arm around her waist, and close his eyes and pretend they were anywhere else were things he treasured in the midst of battle. Zerith returned and reported that Darnavan seemed to be doing a little better. At the very least, he had recognized Tirion and Varian and seemed to be coming around, remembering his mission. The fact that the being who had brainwashed him was destroyed helped immensely. Still, the man had come close to losing his sanity and would be fragile for a while longer. Zerith offered his services to the human king and general, having somewhat more experience than the average healer in dealing with problems of this nature. “So, are we ready?” Ger’alin asked rhetorically, pushing himself back to his feet and helping Alayne to hers. The sounds of the battle above rang down dully through the hole in the ceiling. Everyone nodded and when the platform descended, they moved to stand on it and rose up to the midst of an elaborate battle between the Horde and the Alliance. Standing around, watching the goings-on with amazement, were members of the Cult of the Damned. Ger’alin masked a grin that would have given everything away. The battle cries of the Horde and the Alliance rang out over the din of steel clashing against steel and spells whistling through the air. Where bodies had fallen in apparent death, they were dragged quickly aside by their companions. The only break from the bitter feuding between the two warring factions was when the cultists attempted to claim the bodies of the slain for their own. Then, the fighting would cease momentarily and the cultists would be hewn down. From the deep niche where the platform had brought them up to this level, Ger’alin watched. When the last of the cultists were dead, he nodded to the leader of the first group and began the next scene of this act. Rushing into the melee, Ger’alin and the others began raining their own spells down on the group. After several moments, the Alliance soldiers lay on the ground, prostrate, defeated. One of the shaman of the Kor’kron winked at Ger’alin and pumped his fists in the air in victory. “Thank the spirits for you, brothers and sisters. The Skybreaker has already left. Quickly now, to Orgrim's Hammer! If you leave soon, you may be able to catch them!” The Disorder of Azeroth rushed ahead to the next group, repeating their performance. Ber’lon shook his head and smiled to himself. He could sense the Lich King’s amusement in the air. The pathetic mortals could not give over their squabbling long enough to actually 59


confront him. And, while one group was making short work of his cultists, there would be plenty of time to harvest the souls and bodies once this farce of an invasion was dealt with. As the Disorder of Azeroth drew near to where their airship was docked and waiting for them, a piercing shriek filled the air. Ger’alin gasped when he saw a frostwyrm descending upon them, breathing frigid bolts of ice before it. It landed, cutting them off from their airship. The sin’dorei felt a surge of impatience. The Skybreaker could only dither so long before the gig would be up and their ploy made obvious to the Lich King. They had to board their ship quickly and gain access to the upper spire of the Citadel so that Tirion and the others could initiate the next stage of the plan. Ger’alin roared and smashed the bone dragon across its snout with his shield, catching its attention. Dancing quickly away from its claws as it attempted to swipe him and impale him on elongatedfinger bones, he watched as the others hurled their spells and missiles at the creature. Ber’lon and Tau’re waded in, careful to hug the frostwyrm’s flanks to avoid both claws and the deadly, lashing tail. The creature was one of the smaller of its kind and fell quickly, much to Ger’alin’s relief. The Horde fighters who had been waiting on the ramp behind them, pretending to exult in their victory over the Alliance, swarmed down the stairs and up the other side, sweeping the rest of the Cult of the Damned along and allowing the Disorder of Azeroth to run up the ramp to the airship. Once on board, the fighters grabbed the rocket packs the gnomes and goblins had constructed for them and Ger’alin gave the signal for the ship to make its way on course. Saurfang, the captain, looked relieved to see that the final act was about to play out. “Rise up, sons and daughters of the Horde! Today we battle a hated enemy of the Horde! LOK'TAR OGAR! Kor'kron, take us out!” the Overlord of the Horde roared. The ship lurched and Alayne moved to the middle of the deck and closed her eyes. As often as she had forced herself to be aboard this thing, she did not like the idea of being so far away from solid ground. “What is that?! Something approaching in the distance!” Saurfang shouted, playing his role to the hilt. “ALLIANCE GUNSHIP!ALL HANDS ON DECK!” “Move yer jalopy or we'll blow it out of the sky, orc! The Horde's got no business here!” they heard Muradin Bronzebeard shout, delivering his lines so convincingly that Ger’alin wondered if they should receive awards if this deception pulled itself off. “You will know our business soon! KOR'KRON, ANNIHILATE THEM!” Saurfang ordered. The Kor’kron manned the guns welded to the side of the ship and the Disorder of Azeroth waited. The gunners on the Alliance ship sent their own missiles over as well but quite frequently, overshot their marks. Steady damage was being done to both ships but only those eyeing the battle closely could tell that the damage was nothing that could not be quickly repaired. Several times, members of the Disorder used their rocket packs to board the Alliance ship and engage them in combat. The Alliance fighters did likewise until, at last, the Skybreaker began to tremble, several carefully timed explosions going off at once. The Alliance airship descended, Muradin’s curses filling the air and dwindling as it gained distance. Saurfang watched the proceedings with amusement. “The Alliance falter. Onward to the Lich King!” he shouted for the benefit of the being they all knew was watching their procession with interest. “We’ll dock up there. That door,” Ger’alin said calmly, “leads us to where we need to go.” “Take her up,” Saurfang ordered the Kor’kron pilots. “Lok’tar ogar,” he whispered softly. ~*~*~*~

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The airship docked at the platform that Ger’alin had indicated. A massive door stood overlooking a small courtyard. A fence, waist-high as a sin’dorei stood, corralled it off, acting as a barrier to prevent the unwary from walking off into the air. Ger’alin had the sensation that they were being watched from behind the massive closed doors. Saurfang sensed the same and sniffed the air warily. “Kor'kron, move out! Ger’alin, Zerith, watch your backs. The Scourge have been...” With a creaking groan, the doors opened. All of those on the platform stood around in an arc, their backs to the low fence, tensed and ready for whatever might flood out over them. Ger’alin and Tau’re took up their positions at the foot of the stairs. Blue, icy smoke filled the air where the door was opening, obscuring the view beyond. “Join me, father,” a voice jeered. Ger’alin winced. The last time he had heard that voice had been at the Wrath Gate. Glancing over his shoulder back towards the ship, the paladin saw Saurfang’s face go pale. His jaw hung open in shock and, even from this distance, Ger’alin could see tears of grief and sorrow welling up in the old orc’s eyes. “Join me and we will crush this world in the name of the Scourge -- for the glory of the Lich King!” “My boy died at the Wrath Gate. I am here only to collect his body,” Saurfang replied, his voice and face ravaged with emotion. A lone figure stepped out of the blue smoke and stood atop the stairs, gazing down contemptuously upon the gathering before him. Saurfang the Younger’s skin was pallid and nearly translucent. His eyes blazed blue, gazing upon the living with a look of utter hatred. As he sighted those he had known in life, he snorted. “Stubborn and old. What chance do you have? I am stronger, and more powerful than you ever were,” he growled to his father. “We named him Dranosh. It means ‘Heart of Draenor’ in orcish,” Saurfang the Elder continued, ignoring the corpse’s interruption. “I would not let the warlocks take him. My boy would be safe, hidden away by the elders of Garadar. I made a promise to his mother before she died; that I would cross the Dark Portal alone - whether I lived or died, my son would be safe. Untainted...” Infinite sorrow gleamed in the old orc’s eyes as he hefted his mighty war axe. “Today, I fulfill that promise,” he said simply as he ran towards his son’s reanimated body. Saurfang the Younger waited until his father and the Kor’kron guard were closing in upon him. Flinging out a hand, he trapped them in bubbles of necromantic magic and hefted them high into the air. The bubbles let in only a trickle of air, killing them slowly. Their feet kicked wildly and they grasped their throats as if choking. Ger’alin stared in horror at the creature before him. “Pathetic old orc. Come then, heroes,” he sneered, staring down at Ger’alin and the others “Come and face the might of the Scourge! BY THE MIGHT OF THE LICH KING!” Ger’alin barely lifted his shield in time to meet the undead orc’s attack. Saurfang the Younger fought with all the power, skill, and savagery he’d had in life. Only now, he would not grow weary. Ger’alin and Tau’re fought to hold him where he stood while the magi behind them tried to pierce the coils that held the Kor’kron aloft. Seeing that the magi were on the verge of breaking the barriers that held the other fighters at bay, Saurfang snarled and, raising his hands, called forth two sickly orbs that glowed the color of infected blood. “Feast, my minions!” he shouted as two beasts, little more than fangs and tentacles, appeared out of the orbs. They began gnawing at the legs of anyone near them. With each wound they inflicted, Saurfang seemed to grow stronger, bigger, his attacks more furious than before. “Someone get rid of those things!” Ger’alin shouted as he dodged another one of Saurfang’s mighty blows. Turning their attention from their allies in the air, the Disorder of Azeroth focused its fire on the beasts aiding Saurfang. They fell quickly, their corpses exploding and splattering red gore everywhere. Alayne shuddered and swallowed hard at the 61


sight. With the blood beasts gone, Saurfang ceased to grow stronger and Ger’alin managed to get his rhythm back. However, the battle would not be that simple. Snarling with a ferocity that only an orc could muster, Saurfang uttered words that Ger’alin recognized as necromantic. Suddenly, the sin’dorei’s skin began to blaze and he could feel his life-energy being sapped, drained away with each attack Saurfang dealt him. Tau’re, seeing his friend and comrade in battle weakening and that weakness increasing the enemy’s strength, levered his axe at Saurfang’s arm. Cutting in deeply, he distracted the orc while Zerith and Dar’ja combined their attention on Ger’alin, dispelling the necromantic curse that Saurfang had placed on him. Several times more, Saurfang tried his curses and summoned his minions, seeking to grow strong enough to overwhelm the greater numbers facing him. However, the Disorder of Azeroth was quick to counter his tricks. Refusing to give him quarter, they fought to a stalemate. Ger’alin gasped for breath as the battle dragged on. It could not last much longer, not with any hope of their victory. Saurfang himself would never grow fatigued. Ger’alin, on the other hand, felt as if he could sleep for a week. Tau’re seemed to know what Ger’alin was thinking. Shoving the elf aside, he forced Saurfang to focus on him. The tauren and the undead orc exchanged blows with mighty axes for several seconds until Tau’re slipped, his hoof going out from under him. Ger’alin saw the feint coming and was ready. When Saurfang lifted his arms high above his head to deliver a cleaving deathblow to the tauren, Ger’alin smashed his hammer, channeling all of the holy energy he could muster, into Saurfang’s chest. The unholy armor buckled and gave way beneath the force of the blow. Black, putrid blood welled out of the gaping wound and Saurfang gasped, his eyes growing wide. The blue glow slowly left them and the orc seemed to regain a sense of himself as he had been before his terrible transformation. Behind him, Ger’alin could hear the spell that held the orc’s father aloft being dispelled and could hear the Kor’kron regaining their feet. “I... Am... Released,” Saurfang gasped as he slumped to the floor. Ger’alin and the others fell silent, bowing their heads in honor of the fallen. Kneeling down beside the orc who had been his comrade in the fight against the Scourge, Ger’alin commended his spirit to the Light. Behind him, he heard Saurfang the Elder cough lightly. Standing up and stepping to the side, Ger’alin and the others maintained a respectful distance while the father wept over his son’s broken and defiled body. “You will have a proper ceremony in Nagrand next to the pyres of your mother and ancestors,” Varok Saurfang whispered softly to his son. Lifting him up in his arms as if he were a babe once again, Saurfang turned on his heel and headed back towards the Horde airship. As he neared the threshold, he turned back around to face the others. The Disorder of Azeroth stood, watching him with compassion and sympathy. “Honor, young heroes... no matter how dire the battle... Never forsake it!” he choked, trying to get the words out around the grief in his throat. ~*~*~*~ “This place is well laid out,” Ger’alin muttered as they passed through a gauntlet of poison and ice. A large circular room greeted them. In the center was some kind of teleporter that they could not reach. After dispatching a pair of val’kyr sentinels, they had approached it, finding it blocked by some kind of force field. “How do we get any further?” “Look at the colors,” Alayne directed, gesturing to the strange arcs of energy that ran beneath the four bridges leading to the central teleporter. “They comprise the shield. It’s similar to what we saw in Sholazar.”

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“Reminds me of the Nexus as well,” Ger’alin muttered, thinking back to the dungeon where they had to deactivate several switches in order to try to free a red dragon. Alayne nodded thoughtfully. It seemed to fit. “We’ll have to find the source of those arcs and destroy it. Once all three of the ones remaining are gone, we should be able to use the transporter.” “Any idea where it might take us?” “The Frozen Throne,” she answered. “I’ve been here before…under a different guise,” she explained. “With the shield up, it means that the fortress is under attack. So, everything from this point forward will be on alert and ready for a fight. Also, see the spirits wafting through the gaps between the bridges?” Ger’alin nodded. They are hard not to see. “His eyes and ears.” “I get a sense of anticipation,” Ber’lon muttered, shaking his head. “He’s too calm, too relaxed about this.” “Do either of you have any suggestions on which direction we should try first?” Ger’alin asked. Ber’lon and Alayne both shook their heads. “Then, we’re going green. Green is good.” ~*~*~*~ “Green is good?” Alayne spat and rubbed the back of her hand against her mouth. The direction of the green arc had led them towards something that looked like the Apothocarium in Undercity. The Lich King must have taken the attack at Angrathar seriously as he had set up an entire wing in his fortress to test new strains of the Plague, poisons, and other vile creations. After fighting past several abominations and a few gnome-sized scientists whose spray-guns unloaded a goo on their targets, imprisoning them in immobile prisons of ooze until they could be freed, the Disorder of Azeroth had followed a spiraling stairwell up and into a hallway of horror. After fighting their way past an abominable sentinel and several geists, they’d run right into more scientists and two creatures that reminded them of Gulth from Naxxramas. All had fallen quickly under the onslaught of the Disorder of Azeroth but the fighting was wearing on all of them. Ger’alin had ordered a brief rest before they ventured further. Alayne, ignoring him as was her custom, stood studying the door that barred their way further. Pipes ran along the walls down either side of the corridor, connecting to the door. No magic would open it and she could not make sense of the mechanisms that controlled it, keeping it locked against them. Frustrated, she stormed over to where Ger’alin sat, his back against the wall and head lolling back as he grabbed a soldier’s swift sleep. Sitting down next to him, she jumped when he jerked awake and began reaching for his weapons. “Force of habit,” he muttered by way of apology. “That door has me confounded.” “I thought I told you we would figure it out after we’d rested.” “You know me.” “I do,” he sighed. “Is it a spell you can’t work around?” “Sort of,” she admitted. “There’s some kind of mechanism that will open the door easily enough. I think it has something to do with those pipes,” she pointed. “If we follow them to their source, we should find the switch or whatever that will open the door up.” “Then that’s what we’ll do. We have to get beyond it because that’s where the energy for the shield is coming from.” Ger’alin ordered Alayne to rest for a few minutes more while he stood up and surveyed the others. Everyone had largely caught their breath and was ready to move on. Gathering them up, the Disorder of Azeroth followed Ger’alin down the corridor to the left of the massive locked door. It made a right angle, the pipes following the turning, and led into a 63


room where a massive creature stood, its back to the observers. The group quickly split and hid behind the wall that framed the archway into the creature’s room. Ger’alin ducked his head around the corner and watched the creature. Several times it turned around and clutched at its belly as if its gut festered with some contagion or blight. The creature would fling its head back on a neck that seemed incapable of supporting such a weight and its arms would fling backwards. Whatever it was, it was beyond unnatural. It looked as if the Scourge had attempted to stitch together the worst horrors imaginable and had come up with an ill-sorted, ill-fitting variety of spare parts that comprised this creature. “Festergut,” Ber’lon spat. “It was supposed to be something like Grobbulus but its intellect was too low and the construction was not…well done. He was given to Putricide as a pet and the foul professor has tormented that creature, using it as a test dummy for all kinds of infections.” “Do you know anything else about it?” Ger’alin asked. “Not really,” Ber’lon shrugged uncomfortably. “I suppose we’ll have to destroy it in order to work the mechanism to unlock that door,” the paladin muttered dryly. He motioned for the others to make their way over to him while the beast’s back was turned. Outlining a hasty plan, he waited until everyone understood their part and then let them line up, preparing to rush the creature. Running into the room when the creature’s back was turned, he levered a blow at its gelatinous leg. Festergut roared and wheeled on its good leg, flopping its head and shoulders back over its belly to glare down with its one eye at the attackers. The Disorder of Azeroth quickly spread out around the room. Tau’re and Ber’lon moved to the fore while the healers spread themselves out, watching for any signs of poisons. Instead, the creature stood dumbly for a long moment while hammer, axe, and runeblade and spells, arrows, and missiles, landed against its thick hide. Then, opening its gaping maw, the creature let loose a stream of foul smoke that settled on the floor of the room. Ger’alin gagged, nearly blinded and choking. At the edge of the room, several people were overcome with sickness and fell to their knees retching. Calling on the Light, Zerith did the best he could to create purified areas where people could get away from the toxic cloud. Ger’alin felt a fever begin to sing in his blood. His body felt as if it were being charged with electricity. Adrenaline surged through him, strengthening his attacks. He was better able to resist the toxin around the room, hammering and hewing away at Festergut and growing stronger each time the creature managed to land a blow against him. He could see a strange fluid leaking from Festergut’s palms. Whatever it was, it was making Ger’alin stronger. The paladin glanced around and saw Zerith and Alayne staring at him in horror. Alayne mouthed something that he could not make out in the confusion of the battle. The creature itself seemed unaware of anything other than the need to continue attacking, continue infecting Ger’alin with whatever it was that was making the sin’dorei grow stronger. From the few safe pockets in the room, the rest of the Disorder of Azeroth hurled their strongest attacks, urged on by Alayne’s frantic shouts that they had to end this before Ger’alin could be struck too many times more. Each surge of the toxin through him did indeed make him stronger. However, it did so at a grave cost. Accelerating every aspect of his normal metabolism, it would kill him if it were not dispelled soon. Muscles would grow faster than his skin could stretch to cover them. Bones would grow denser and longer. Allowed to spread, the toxic disease would turn him into one of the lumbering abominations. Ber’lon saw what was happening to Ger’alin and shoved the man aside. Burying his runeblade deep in Festergut’s abdomen, the death knight winced at the stench of the fetid bile that washed over his hands and blade. Festergut inhaled deeply of the cloud that spread across the room, thinning it slightly and increasing his own strength. The wound that Ber’lon had 64


inflicted sealed itself shut as the creature used the poison the way others might have used a healing draught. And, as he inhaled more deeply, Festergut grew in size and strength. Now it was Ber’lon’s turn to be infected by the dread plague that afflicted Ger’alin. The paladin watched as the death knight’s body underwent the same permutations his own was still undergoing. This time, Tau’re shoved the pair aside and struck out with his axes, burying them in the creature’s thighs. The blades of the wicked axes bit deep, hamstringing the creature. It slumped forward, hands splaying to catch it before it could hit the ground. Wrenching his blades free, the tauren continued a ferocity of fighting. Ger’alin and Ber’lon joined in, hammering and stabbing the creature in the back, the neck, and the head. Finally, with a shuddering gasp that spouted more poisonous gas through the room, Festergut fell still. Zerith, Dar’ja, and Kiharu rushed to the death knight and the paladin. Forcing himself to fight against the adrenaline surging through his system, the death knight tried to explain about some of the Scourge’s more terrible infections. Alayne helped with the explanations and, once the healers understood, they were able to work against the infection, slowly cleansing it from the pair and returning their bodies to the normal state of functioning. “Sometimes what makes you stronger will kill you,” Ber’lon shuddered as he collapsed in a sodden heap of sweat. “We’re going to need another rest before we move on,” Zerith sighed. “Let’s take it while we can.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin still felt shaky as he and Ber’lon led the others back down the corridor to the still-closed central doorway. Callie had activated the gaged that caused some kind of noxiouslooking orange gas to flow through the pipe. Now half of the transparent doorway was filled with it. Alayne paused before it to study it and shook her head. “There’s still another mechanism to unlock it.” “Then we follow the other pipes to see what new horror awaits us,” Ger’alin remarked. The others nodded and continued to make their way down the dark stone hallway. It was quiet – eerily so. The only sounds were the footfalls of the Disorder of Azeroth. Rounding a corner that was twin to the one down the other end of the hallway, Ger’alin groaned softly. Standing guard over the other mechanism, its cogwheel readily visible behind the creature, was another nightmare. Dark, mottled skin covered a giant as tall as Festergut had been. Pipes that looked reminiscent of the sewers of Dalaran poked out of the walls of this creature’s lair. A gaping, grizzled maw and one bulbous eye marked the creature’s head. Whatever it was, it looked as if someone had dug through hundreds of graves and stitched it together from moldering corpses. “Rotface,” Alayne said calmly, drawing on her more recently added memories. “Another one of the good professor’s pets.” “Do you know anything about him?” Ger’alin asked. Alayne shook her head. “Then let’s pray he’s not too much like his brother. Everyone, line up and follow me!” he hissed to the gathering. Once everyone was ready, Ger’alin hefted his hammer in his hand and raced into the room. Just as before, the Disorder of Azeroth spread itself out in an arc while the melee fighters waded in, careful to flank the creature, keeping him penned in so he could not attack wildly. Ger’alin bore the brunt of Rotface’s powerful blows, fending them off with his shield. He struck hard, his mace making a sickening liquid sound as it connected with Rotface’s abdomen. The creature’s lone eye bulged and his mouth opened. A spew of noxious liquid poured forth, spraying the walls. Those who were hit by it began screaming as the acidic poison burned them. The healers ran, doing what they could to quell the fiery burns. Meanwhile, Rotface roared and the pipes lining the walls spewed forth as well. Raw sewage, 65


waste, and the liquefied remnants of dozens of experiments gushed into the room, flooding the slightly-sloped sides and forcing the group to move closer into the creature’s range lest their burns or bodies be infected with whatever vileness floated in the filthy waters. So focused was the Disorder of Azeroth on the creature that it was only chance that Callie saw the liquid bubbling, boiling, and growing. She shouted out, her warning cry barely heard over the din of battle. A gigantic ooze was making its slow way across the room. The magi and healers gave it wide berth; such unnatural contaminations had killed many a good fighter in the wild. Light alone knew what an ooze of Scourge manufacture would do. Singlemindedly it seemed to chase after a target, forcing the person to continually run from it, preventing them from attacking Rotface. Periodically, the ooze would pause and spit forth some of its own juices, forming a twin. When the two touched, they would merge, growing in size and speed all the while, forcing their target to run faster to keep ahead of the pulsating semi-liquid goo. Ger’alin redoubled his attacks and shouted for the others to focus. Jez’ral divided his attention between the ooze which was now chasing Dar’ja and Rotface. Several of the other magi tried tossing a few hurried spells at the quivering mass but they had little effect. Whatever it was, it was resistant to magic. Rotface seemed amused at the ooze as it chased the tiny creatures who were annoying it through the room. He would turn and spit at it, his viscous venom making it grow in size until, at last, it was so engorged that whatever held it together could no longer keep it in place. With an explosion that sent burning toxin everywhere, the ooze blew up. Ger’alin winced as he felt droplets of the goo land on his neck and seep through the chainmail he wore at the joining of his plate armor. The magi grunted and tried to keep casting their spells even in the midst of the distraction the pain caused them. “Again!” Callie shouted as another ooze began forming in the sewage. “No!” Ger’alin shouted back angrily. If the slime, touching him lightly as it did through his layers of armor, was as painful as it seemed to him, then they would not survive another wave of the gook. Tau’re seemed to agree because the tauren grabbed hold of one of Rotface’s floppy arms and, riding the creature’s strength, pulled himself atop its shoulder, burying his axes deep in the place where head joined torso. Rotface flinched, his arms flinging backwards and his head listing to one side. Callie stabbed with arm and with sword, feeling a sickeningly satisfying crunch as metal struck and shattered bone. Rotface roared again, his knees going wobbly and he collapsed. Ger’alin smashed at the creature’s skull until its head was nothing more than a mass of much-abused lifeless flesh. Breathing raggedly, the fighters closest to Rotface finally became aware of the stench permeating the room. Bolting for the door, they waded through the sewage and flung themselves into the comparatively clean corridor. The magi and healers were there ahead of them. Everyone looked green about the gills – even the Forsaken. “Did anyone turn that gear?” Ger’alin groaned when he could breathe again without the fetid taste of rot clinging to his tongue. “No,” someone replied in a mournful tone. “Any volunteers?” “Are you out of your mind?” Callie snorted. “Fine,” Ger’alin grumped. “We’ll draw straws for that job.” “You draw straws,” Alayne muttered. “I’m going to go find a place to draw a bath.” ~*~*~*~ Returning to the hallway and standing before the door that led to the guardian of the Plagueworks’ lair, the refreshed Disorder of Azeroth felt better. Ber’lon had returned to the 66


entryway, finding the rest of their path secured by the joined might of all races and peoples. Tirion and the others had been amused when the death knight requested nothing more than water and cloths but then, they had smelled him coming half a room away. Jemuya grumped – she had drawn the short straw – as she made her way back to the gathering before the doors. Green ooze flowed down the second set of pipes and began filling the doorway’s other half. An audible click echoed through the silent saronite hall and, with a shudder, the door parted, allowing the Disorder of Azeroth to pass through. Ger’alin and Zerith took the lead but the others followed through quickly. Reaching the end of the ramp, Ger’alin pounded his fist against another closed door. “How do we get through this one?” he demanded angrily. “You can’t come in here all dirty like that!” a maniacal voice shouted from the room behind the closed door. “You need that nasty flesh scrubbed off first!” Swarms of insects flew down from the pipes lining the hallway. Buzzing, biting, and stinging, they harassed the Disorder of Azeroth for long moments, keeping everyone busy as the magi tried to freeze them in the air and the healers worked to dispel the poisons that the bites and stings carried. Ger’alin and the others hunkered down as best they could, letting their armor protect them and using hands and shields to cover exposed flesh. After several moments, the doors shuddered and opened and the insects flew into the massive oval-shaped laboratory. Swarming back into the pipes that held their hives, they left the living alone. Standing across the room, his back to them, was Professor Putricide. Alayne and Ber’lon had seen him, briefly, during their travails among the Scourge in the past. During the planning sessions, both had related what little they knew of the scientist who served the Lich King. He was more than half-mad and less than half-human. Absorbed only by his studies, he felt no pity, compassion, or guilt when his experiments went awry. Amusement and curiosity were the only sentiments left to the thing that had once been human. The professor ignored his visitors entirely, studying the vials he held in his hands. Ger’alin glanced around the room, ascertaining any other, less obvious, threats which might be lurking within. The pipes from outside ran along the sides of the room, ending in massive tanks. To the left side, a tank filled with orange gas hung from the wall. Its twin on the opposite wall held green goo. Ger’alin was not given much time to continue his study. The professor turned around, a mad grin splitting his lopsided face. He held up a beaker and shook it, sloshing the material around. “Good news, everyone!” he exulted. “I think I perfected a plague that will destroy all life on Azeroth!” “Oh no, you don’t!” Ger’alin roared as he ran into the room, channeling the Light’s vengeance through his shield and aiming it at the beaker. His holy wrath destroyed both beaker and contents, angering the professor. Letting the shards drop from his fingers, Putricide ran to meet his attacker while the rest of the group spread out in the center of the room. As Ger’alin and the others hemmed him in, the professor grinned and began chuckling. “Two oozes, one room! So many delightful possibilities,” he laughed. The tanks on either side of the room activated, spraying their contents out. An orange glow surrounded Callie and Ber’lon found himself rooted to the spot as a green glow covered him. The oozes began advancing on their targets menacingly. Ger’alin dared not let them get too close, fearful of what contamination they might contain. “Get them down!” he roared to the group. Behind him, the ranged fighters divided their attacks, sending spells and missiles at the oozes. The orange one exploded well before it reached anyone, sending up sprays of noxious liquid and gas. However, the green ooze managed to reach Ber’lon before it exploded. Touching him, it quivered and released its form with such violence that he and everyone near him went flying through the air. Luckily, the green coating ran off them like dirty water. Aside from knocking the wind out of them, it had done little damage. The professor watched their reactions, disappointment on his visage. He 67


started to head back to his table of experiments but Callie and Tau’re clipped at his legs, keeping him from moving while Ger’alin and Ber’lon made their way back to him. Standing between the professor and his goal, they fought him, keeping one eye on the tanks on either side of the room which were slowly refilling with their noxious contents. Putricide fought back. Though he had never been of much physical bent, his undeath had given him strength and endurance. Pummeling down on Ger’alin’s shield and trying to sweep the others out of his way while avoiding their attacks, the professor soon grew agitated. Annoyance – the same annoyance the others had felt at the multitude of insect stings – animated his undead features. He reached into a pouch and pulled out a vial. Flinging it to the floor, he began running towards the table as the contents of the vial filled the air, rendering the Disorder of Azeroth blind and immobile. Even the healers could not dispel this toxic gas. The group could hear the professor rummaging through his table, searching for something, muttering to himself all the while. The gas began to dissipate on its own and control of eyes and limbs returned to the fighters. Turning to see where the professor was and what he was doing, they watched as he quaffed down the contents of a beaker and then stood dumbly for a few seconds, confusion on his face. “Hmm. I don’t feel a thing,” he muttered, disappointed. Then, suddenly, he writhed and two tentacles sprouted from his back. Waving frantically, they grabbed for flasks on his desk. He stared at them in confusion. “Whaa…? Where’d those come from?” he wondered aloud. Dismissing them from his thoughts, he ran back towards the group, seemingly glad to have two extra appendages to use in his attacks. Ger’alin intercepted him and, using his shield to fend off the blows from the Professor’s right arm and tentacle, wove in with his hammer, smashing it into the mad scientist’s hip. A crunching sound accompanied the blow but Putricide gave no indication of having been wounded at all. The gashes forming on his pallid flesh gave him less annoyance than the insects had given the living. Something in the strange potion he’d drunk must have heightened his endurance, Ger’alin thought to himself as he redoubled his efforts. The insane Scourge scientist continued his volley of attacks, throwing vials of poison on the floor, shooting noxious gas from his person, biting, clawing, hitting, and waiting for the ooze tanks to refill themselves. However, before he could cast the spell that would open them once more, Tau’re’s blade bit deep in his neck, nearly severing his head from his shoulders. Grabbing his flopping head with both hands, he cursed and produced more paralytic poison from his pouch. Rushing back to the table a second time, he poured the contents of a vial into the wound. He lifted the vial to his lips as the gaping wound sealed shut, tasting its contents. “Tastes like... Cherry! Oh! Excuse me!” he laughed as he let loose a belch that would have impressed any gathering in a tavern. Then, writhing, the professor morphed. The tentacles grew thicker and his shoulders broadened. His arms grew more muscular. His chest and shoulders beefed up as if he had taken in all of the potency of his pet Festergut’s toxin. He was forced to hunch over, using his arms and knuckles to propel himself forward like a gorilla. He charged towards Ger’alin and the paladin could see smaller tentacles sprouting from the professor’s thickened neck. When he reached the attackers, the professor stretched his arms far apart as if he were trying to embrace them. Ger’alin danced backwards out of the creature’s grasp. Callie, however, was not quick enough. One of the tentacles touched her. A stinger on the end of it pierced her skin and she screamed as some poison or infection was pumped into her by the professor. Whatever it was, it spread quickly to others. Ger’alin could feel fel shadows and flames trying to infect his own body, spreading from the others and from the stingers the professor wielded to try to infect the paladin and the tauren who bore the brunt of his attacks. A shriek drew Ger’alin’s attention. He glanced over to see the tanks open and green ooze begin gushing out. Unlike the sticky goo that had given them trouble in Rotface’s 68


chamber, this liquid smoked and boiled. A hazy steam rose from it and Ger’alin could see that the very stonework and metal that girded the room’s walls and floors was melting under the substance. And still, it poured on. Weaving in, moving close to those deadly stingers and their disease, Ger’alin smashed his mace into the professor’s chin. At the same time, Tau’re brought his axes down on either side of the scientist’s neck. Spells and missiles found their way to the wounds as the two men continued to hew away. Callie, fighting off the waves of poison burning through her veins, pulled herself onto the professor’s hunched-over back and, using the arm that was a sword, reached around, cutting his throat. For a moment, it seemed that even that would not stop the mad Scourge scientist. His fist smashed against Ger’alin’s back, knocking the paladin close enough that he felt the cold, black blood of the Scourge servant splattering down on him. Then, Putricide lurched forward, staggering and reaching for his own throat. A look of surprise flitted across his face. “Bad news, everyone!” he gasped, his voice little more than a choked-off gurgle.“I don't think I'm going to make it.” “If we don’t get out of here quick, we won’t make it either!” Zerith shouted, pointing to the ooze still gushing out of the pipes. The pathway to the door was almost cut off by the thick green stream. As one, the group ran for the exit, leaping over the widening river of ooze and then running down the ramp as quickly as they could. “Split off!” Ger’alin yelled, gesturing back towards the rooms where they had fought Putricide’s guardians. “Seal that door again!” Tau’re sprinted towards Rotface’s room while Ber’lon ran for Festergut’s. Ger’alin pushed the others back to the spiral staircase that led to this level, watching cautiously to see if the ooze would start streaming over the threshold before they could shut the door against it. He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the gas and the liquid that triggered the lock dissipate and the door pull itself shut, the latching mechanism echoing loudly in the sudden silence. “I sincerely hope that we won’t have to figure out how to get back in there,” Zerith panted. “Why would we?” Ger’alin asked, confused. “The shielding mechanism,” the priest explained. Ger’alin groaned and pounded a fist against his thigh. “Alayne,” he said loudly, summoning his wife to him. “Go check the shield and see if we’re going to have to go back in that madman’s chamber. Light, I hope but we don’t.” ~*~*~*~ “Next time, we don’t trust to luck,” Ger’alin muttered when Alayne returned and reported that the green arc had vanished and that the shield surrounding the central chamber had thinned a good bit. “So, red or blue?” “Red,” Zerith replied. “It’s my least favorite color,” he muttered when Ger’alin glared at him. “Red it is then,” the paladin sighed. It was as good a choice as any. “Does anyone know what may lay that direction?” Ber’lon and Alayne both shook their heads. “Then the best way to find out will be to enter and see what awaits us.” Suiting words to action, Ger’alin led the others to the massive doors that sealed the archway from whence the red arc came. Jemuya opened them with a simple spell and all of the sin’dorei in the gathering gasped when they pulled open, revealing the enemies waiting on the other side. “The San’layn,” Zerith whispered tonelessly. “I had hoped they were only a rumor meant to discourage us.” 69


“What’s the matter?” Callie asked, seeing the looks of fear, sorrow, and concern on her friends’ faces. “They are no longer your people.” “No, but they were the best of our people before they were raised into slavery in the Scourge. The legions that fought to defend the Sunwell, to defend Quel’Thalas…we…we have to face them,” Ger’alin replied, his voice just as hoarse and blank as Zerith’s had been. All of the sin’dorei feared the chance of meeting a loved one and being forced to cut them down, even this long after their true deaths. The memories of Yvanae and Andra’lin, Ger’alin’s parents, flitted through his mind. At least Zerith and Alayne knew where their families lay. Ger’alin swallowed hard. He had no idea if he might be about to engage his mother or father. Jez’ral seemed to understand the struggle which Ger’alin was undergoing. Reaching out and grasping the younger man on the shoulder, he squeezed lightly and nodded. Ger’alin nodded in silent reply, accepting the sympathy. “They must be given proper rest,” he said at last, his voice flat. “The Light forgive us,” Zerith prayed. The others nodded in respect at the sentiment. Then, drawing a breath, Ger’alin launched his attack. The San’layn had been standing around a blood-red orb, regarding it as they worked various spells. They had, thus far, ignored the intruders. After all, were not they the most powerful of the darkfallen? Had they not reigned in puissance before their deaths? Were they not the most trusted of the Lich King’s forces, using their magic to hold the rest of the Scourge in check and to bring new allies to the death-lord’s banner? What were these pathetic children and rabble to them? Ger’alin’s savage attack brought a close to that line of thinking. Calling upon the Light that the San’layn had long since forsaken, the paladin hurled its outrage at them, searing their undead flesh and shocking them out of their spell work. They turned their spells on the rest of the group then, seeking to destroy these upstarts who would dare invade their sanctum in Icecrown Citadel. The Disorder of Azeroth fired back with their own spells and, for a moment, a confusion of bolts of ice, fire, shadow, light, and arcane energy filled the air. The chamber seemed to crackle and pulse with the energies running through it while Ber’lon, Ger’alin, Tau’re, and Callie forced the San’layn magi to turn their attention away from pure attack to defense as the front-line fighters came at them with mace and axe, sword and runeblade. The shouts and sounds of combat summoned other guards from the chambers deeper in. Soon, the waves of Darkfallen threatened to overwhelm the already-tired Disorder of Azeroth. Drawing on reserves they did not know they possessed, the Horde fighters battled on until, at last, the last of the San’layn fell to them. Zerith and Dar’ja moved through the bodies of the fallen, lining them up and studying them as they prayed. The other sin’dorei did likewise, searching for signs that they had just slaughtered loved ones. Mercifully, the faces of the undead elves were twisted by the necromantic magics that had raised them back to this corrupt form of life. None recognized the arms or the faces borne by the enemies. Commending their souls to the Light, the Disorder of Azeroth took a brief moment to gather its breath before mounting the stairs, prepared for their next challenge. ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin paused as they entered what seemed to be a vast, empty chamber. Circular with a raised dais in the back, the chamber was appointed with rich red velvet wall-hangings and candle stands favored by the elven race. Aside from its dark-stone floors and spiked saronite pillars, the room would not have looked out of place in a noble’s mansion.

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A second glance told him that the room was not empty. Upon the raised platform were three bodies. Hovering over them, nearly lost in the red gauzy curtains behind the platform, was a winged creature of nightmare. Her face was fair and pleasing to look upon. Her body was the same as any elven woman’s. But, sprouting from her back were leathery wings. Her hands formed clawed talons and pointed teeth poked out of pouty lips, giving her a sinister appearance. They had seen her like before in masculine form. The strange undead elves found in Utgarde and in Ahn’kahet could have been her brothers. “The Blood-Queen,” Ber’lon muttered hoarsely. “She leads the San’layn. She was once one of our people’s best fighters. When our forces fell, she took up the Sister Blade and bore it against the Scourge until she joined them. That is Lana’thel.” Ger’alin nodded. He knew the name. He knew the blade. His father had spoken of Lana’thel and Thalorien, two commanders ranked high in the Silvermoon army. Quel’Delar, the blade that had come to them out of legend, was lost forever when the Scourge overran the Sunwell. And, if that was Lana’thel hovering over the bodies of the dead on the platform… The Blood-Queen stared at the intruders, her gaze filled with hatred for their living bodies and warm blood. When she saw so many of her former kith among them, she snarled. Memories of who she had been and of what she could have become flooded her mind, angering her. With the same strength and rage that she had used to shatter the legendary blade, she shoved them aside. She lived only to serve her new Master now. “Foolish mortals. You thought us defeated so easily? The San'layn are the Lich King's immortal soldiers!” she laughed. “Now you shall face their might combined! Rise up, brothers, and destroy our enemies!” Pumping her wings, the Blood Queen flew beyond the chamber while the three bodies began moving as a corrupt life returned to their limbs. The Disorder of Azeroth watched in horror as two faces they recognized from previous battles turned to regard them. The third one they had only heard tell of from the taunka and the forces under Hellscream’s command. When Naxxanar had been destroyed, Valanar, the vampiric prince who ruled there, had been destroyed. Or so all had thought… A blood-red orb descended upon the trio, its tendrils reaching out to touch all of them while the orb itself seemed to disappear inside the man at the center of the platform. His vacant eyes blazed with sudden power and he laughed in triumph. “Naxxanar was merely a setback!” he exulted. “With the power of the orb, Valanar will have his vengeance!” Ger’alin felt the air around him begin to swirl. Glancing around at the others gathered nearby, he saw the same thing happening to them. As the princes of the San’layn rushed towards their attackers, Valanar gestured imperiously with his hands and suddenly, the Disorder of Azeroth found itself flung far and wide throughout the room. Not satisfied with throwing them around, Valanar created a swirling vortex in the middle of the room and stood near it. Anyone who tried to run through it found themselves flung back to the wall, the air knocked out of them by the blow. Meanwhile, Keleseth and Taldaram were not wasting any time. Keleseth flung spells of shadow while his brother hurled spells of fire. Trying to avoid the worst of those while making their way around the vortex protecting Valanar, the Disorder of Azeroth split into three parts, each part focusing on the nearest target. Ger’alin rushed Valanar as soon as he was clear of the vortex. Tau’re made his way to Taldaram, using his axes with deadly skill and keeping the San’layn too busy to cast his fire spells. Ber’lon, with a grimace that spoke of hatred, bore down on Keleseth. Using his own dark magic to deflect the shadow bolts, Ber’lon cut away at his target’s flesh but found, like Tau’re, that he could do little else. “The orb!” Alayne shouted above the fray. “That’s the true enemy here! They’re just puppets for it!” “What do you mean?” Ger’alin called back. 71


“Attack Valanar!” she replied. “Focus on him and we may be able to destroy the orb!” Vowing that one day he would undertake a study of magic so he could understand these seemingly impossible leaps in logic, Ger’alin did as directed. Ignoring the other two entirely and moving only to avoid the vortices Valanar summoned periodically, he and the others cut away at the one-time ruler of Naxxanar. With each successful attack, the power in the San’layn’s eyes diminished until, finally, he collapsed. The blood orb floated over his lifeless body, searching out a new target while the Disorder of Azeroth tried to attack it. “…why…?” Valanar gasped as the orb settled into Taldaram, the nearest San’layn to its power. Taldaram laughed and regarded the corpse of his brother with contempt. “Tremble before Taldaram, mortals, for the power of the orb flows through me!” Raising his hands over his head, Taldaram summoned huge balls of fire in the air high over the group. Their searing heat could be felt by everyone and they floated over the group, burning anyone underneath them until they hit a wall and exploded, leaving a shower of glittering sparks and a scar against the saronite wall. With the power of the blood orb, Taldaram’s attacks gained strength and he was able to brush away Tau’re’s axes as if they were no more than trifling gnat bites. Ger’alin charged in, taking over where Tau’re had left off. Following their leader, the Disorder of Azeroth focused its fire on the second prince with the orb. Meanwhile, Keleseth continued his duel with Ber’lon, neither side gaining any advantage over the other. “Delight in the pain!” Taldaram cackled as he unleashed a shower of fiery sparks against the group. Small stars and sparks, much like those that rose and fell from campfires, showered the Disorder of Azeroth. Ger’alin winced as the smell of burning hair, flesh, and cloth filled his nostrils. He could not spare a glance for the others, however, though he prayed that it was nothing that would prevent them from carrying on. His own arms felt suddenly leaden as the sparks fell on him, slowing his attacks and giving Taldaram the chance to cast more of his spells. Zerith whispered a desperate prayer of healing and the burning and slowing effects of the San’layn’s spell failed. Renewing their frenzy against him, Taldaram soon joined his brother Valanar on the floor, the blood orb hovering over his body as he gasped and choked on his own blood. Before they could launch many attacks against it, however, the orb flew to Keleseth, the last man standing. “Such wondrous power!” he shouted. “The Darkfallen Orb has made me INVINCIBLE!” “We’ll see about that,” Ber’lon growled. Using his spells to absorb the shadowy magic Keleseth favored, the death knight bore in with his runeblade, feeling satisfaction as he saw the dark blood begin to flow from the San’layn’s body. The others joined around him, pounding away until Keleseth, overwhelmed by their numbers and power, fell as well. “My queen…” he gasped, lifting a shaking hand towards the hallway that spiraled up and out of the room, “ they come…” “Lana’thel must be the one who holds the power of the shield from this direction,” Ber’lon said once he had caught his breath. “We’ll have to fight her.” “I just pray that she doesn’t have Quel’Delar,” Ger’alin shivered. “She doesn’t,” Ber’lon replied quickly. “She shattered it and flung the pieces away. Rumor has it that one day, when the world needs its power once more, the Sister Blade will be remade. For now, the only part that has been found is a single shard buried in Icecrown far to the north, near the Tournament grounds.” “Why would she do that?” Ger’alin gasped. “She could not bear it. She could not bear the memories. It’s understandable,” Ber’lon said softly. “Few among the Scourge can remember who they were, can stand to have

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mementos of their former lives, without destroying themselves. Memory, in a way, is the prison that binds them.” “It’s also the key that unlocks the door,” Alayne added softly as she joined the pair. “Memory binds us…but it also can set us free.” “Let’s move on,” Ger’alin said at last, wrapping an arm around his wife’s shoulders and pulling her close for a quick embrace. “There’s still Lana’thel to deal with.” “First, let’s lay these men to rest,” Zerith said, gesturing to the fallen princes. “They were noble…once. The Light will see justice and mercy done upon them.” ~*~*~*~ The thickly carpeted corridors spiraling up from the circular chamber led the Disorder of Azeroth to their next challenge. Devoid of the San’layn, they were quiet and peaceful. Ger’alin shook his head in amazement. Such strange beauty among a citadel owned by the damned. It was incredible. At last, they reached the end of the spiraling corridor. A small circular room connected to a larger chamber. Upon a platform in that chamber stood the Blood-Queen, Lana’thel. A woman who had once been amongst the fiercest defenders of Silvermoon.A woman who had given her life willingly to try to save her homeland and her people. A woman who had been twisted and tormented, raised to the ranks of the Scourge. A woman who existed now with one purpose – to serve her tormentor. “Lay down your weapons,” she said, her voice suddenly compelling. Where Deathwhisper’s speech had been convincing, Lana’thel’s speech was almost seductive. “Lay down your weapons and submit to me. You are the strongest fighters I have seen in many years. Submit to my master and you will know life eternal and power beyond your wildest dreams. Submit to my master and you will find the sword you have dreamed of, young one,” she added, staring hard at Ger’alin. The paladin could feel his pulse racing and the blood heating in his veins. A sudden desire to do anything to please this woman filled his mind. He could see that even the women around him were affected. Breaths came in gasping pants and sweat trickled down their faces. “If you do not,” she continued, gesturing to the wall behind her. A dwarf hung there, a tormented look on his face. Blood trickled from a wound on his neck, staining his beard. His skin was pale and his eyes wide with fright. “That is the fate that will await you.” For a moment, Ger’alin and the others moved as if they were going to lay down their weapons and let this horribly beautiful creature lead them into the Scourge. Only Zerith seemed to be able to resist her at all and, seeing that his friends were on the verge of surrender, the priest called upon the Light and sent its power through those around him. The holy magic broke the Blood-Queen’s unholy spell over the group and, where they had been consumed with a burning desire to serve her, now that desire was a burning need to kill before she could trick them again. Ger’alin and Ber’lon rushed down the stairs and into the room. The rest of the Disorder of Azeroth was not far behind them. The Blood-Queen regarded them cooly for a moment as they ran at her. “You have made an... unwise... decision,” she said calmly. Lifting the shards of Quel’Delar she had refashioned into a short sword, she met the attackers at the base of the dais. Ger’alin and Ber’lon flanked her, preventing her from getting past either of them to the others. The rest of the group spread out throughout the room and spells began to fly, smashing against the Blood-Queen’s wings. The burgundy armor she wore – the color of blood left to dry – absorbed most of the magical assault. Lana’thel ignored the ranged forces, focusing on the two men who had once been among her kindred.

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Tau’re and Callie maneuvered themselves until they stood behind the regal leader of the San’layn. Surrounded, the Blood-Queen could not avoid all of the attacks. After a few cuts and blows landed against her, she snarled. Sighting in on Tau’re and his massive twin battleaxes, she turned, wrapping her wings in a protective shield around her, and reached for the tauren. Tau’re screamed in pain as the Blood-Queen’s teeth pierced the flesh of his neck. He could feel the fever, the hunger for blood beginning to run through him. Ignoring it, fighting it back, he swallowed hard when the Blood-Queen released him. Callie shot him a sympathetic look and he realized that his senses and his body had grown stronger. Much like the disease Festergut spread, whatever toxin Lana’thel had injected into him was increasing his power but at a terrible cost. He could smell the warm blood flowing through the bodies of his friends. To him, it smelled like the greatest feast he’d ever imagined. His mouth watered for it and Lana’thel chuckled as she turned back to focus on the paladin and the death knight once more. Zerith whispered a prayer of salvation for Tau’re when he saw the tauren beginning to eye the rest of the group with a hungry look. The holy magic of the Light could not completely dispel the corruption spreading through the tauren’s body but it did halt it, giving Tau’re a chance to regain control of his mind. Instead of hewing down his friends, the warrior redoubled his attacks against Lana’thel, using the very power she had just granted him against her. Lana’thel felt Tau’re’s axes biting into her back and was shocked. Rarely had anyone managed to fight against the inevitable transformation that her bite ensured. Those who did manage to fight it did so by dying. If anything, the tauren was growing stronger. She had miscalculated with that one. Gathering herself, she spread her wings wide. “Here it comes!” she shouted as she launched herself into the air. “Can you handle this?” she screamed, pointing at Zerith and Nishi. The two men felt as if they were being pulled in half. Shadows swarmed around them, growing stronger by the second. Something in Zerith’s mind told him that if he did not reach Nishi in time, neither of them would survive. Gathering his strength, the priest sprinted towards the mage. When he came alongside the other man, both men felt an instant release as the dark magic left them though neither could move very far from the other. Thin cords of dark energy, stronger than titanium, bound them together in place. Standing so close, they were an easy target for the explosive bolts of shadow the Blood-Queen hurled at them as she spun in the air high above the room. Dar’ja shielded the pair and focused on doing the best she could to mitigate the damage done by the San’layn’s queen’s spells. Kiharu and the other healers followed her lead while the magi and other ranged fighters continued to hurl spells at the Blood-Queen’s wings. A ball of fire broke through one of them near the joint. Arrows tore through the other. Unable to keep her aloft anymore, Lana’thel’s wings failed and she drifted, using them as a parachute, back to the ground. She growled and sighted in on the closest target she could find – Alayne. Alayne continued her casting even as Lana’thel bore down on her. Grabbing the sin’dorei woman like a rag doll, Lana’thel sank her fangs into Alayne’s neck. The tauren might have the inner fortitude to resist the need to feed but a young girl? Already exhausted from many battles? Lana’thel was willing to stake her life on another elven woman being unable to resist the siren call of blood. She had, once again, miscalculated. Drawing on the iron will that had seen her through so many trials before and had almost seen her destroy herself, Alayne fought the toxin’s effects. She knew that, even as Tau’re was changing, so was she. But, she held one target in mind for her hunger and for her spells. Charging them with all the power that she could, Alayne continued to press her attacks against the Blood-Queen. “Leave. Her. Alone!” Ger’alin roared as Lana’thel dropped Alayne back to the floor. He launched himself at Lana’thel, leaping as high as he could with his mace held in both 74


hands over his head. Bringing down hard, he smashed the head of the hammer into the base of her skull. A stunned look flitted across Lana’thel’s face as she felt the pain ring through her head. Alayne smiled, her newly-sprouting fangs making her smile much darker than normal. Unleashing a volley of pure arcane magic, the mage broke through the spelled armor Lana’thel wore, rendering it as protective as paper. The Blood-Queen fell quickly to the frenzied attacks after that. “But... we were getting along... so well...” she gasped as she shuddered and fell still. Tau’re’s axes were buried in her back near her wings. Callie’s sword-arm had pierced clear through the San’layn’s shoulder. Bruises covered the back of her neck and head from Ger’alin’s relentless attacks and Ber’lon’s runeblade had cut through her back, severing her spine. The tauren and the sin’dorei who had been bitten began to tremble violently. With the Blood-Queen’s death, their strength was gone. They both still felt the need to feed on blood but were too weak to do it. The toxin swelled again, sending poison through their blood. Tau’re sank to his knees, groaning. Alayne’s legs melted out from under her. “I cannot dispel it,” Zerith muttered worriedly. “And it’s going to kill them if we don’t get it out of them somehow.” “It’ll spread just like a snake’s venom will,” Ber’lon offered. “It’s slower and more sluggish but if it reaches the heart, it will stop it.” “What do we do?” Ger’alin asked, his voice shaking. “If holy magic can’t purge it…” “This is what we do,” Callie grunted, grabbing Tau’re’s mane and jerking his head to the side so that the wounds were exposed. Planting her own mouth over them, she sucked at the wound and then turned and spat the toxin-blackened blood out on the floor. “Just like with a snake-bite when a healer isn’t handy,” she explained. His stomach clenched at the thought of what the rogue meant but Ger’alin could see no other option. Following her example, he used his mouth to pull the toxin out of Alayne’s body while Callie worked on Tau’re. “Light, let this work,” he prayed silently as he continued the treatment. “Don’t let us lose them when we’re so close to the end of our battle.” After several minutes of silence broken only by the disgusted spitting of the toxin, Alayne lurched in her husband’s arms. Color had slowly seeped back into her cheeks and her lips were turning a slight greenish hue that Ger’alin knew meant danger. Letting her sit up so she could crouch and retch, he felt relieved when he saw red blood flowing out of the puncture marks. The toxin was gone. Tau’re was in little better shape. Callie patted his shoulder sympathetically but winced as the convulsions wracked him. Ger’alin glanced back up where the Blood-Queen’s prisoner had been, relieved to see that Ber’lon had freed the dwarf from the bindings holding him and had been administering the same treatment as the paladin and the rogue. Zerith laid his hands on Alayne, sending healing energies through her while Kiharu looked after Tau’re and Dar’ja took care of the dwarf. “The next time I make a suggestion as to the course of action,” Zerith muttered to Ger’alin, “hit me.” “I’ll take that under advisement,” the paladin replied dryly. “Send a messenger to Tirion. They’ll want to take care of our friend there,” he gestured to the dwarf who had been Lana’thel’s prisoner. “And, we could use another break. And some rations,” he added, glancing at Tau’re and Alayne. “They lost a lot of blood.” “Food and a break,” the priest agreed. “And then, we’ll have to face whatever is waiting for us where the blue arc is.” ~*~*~*~

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Ger’alin picked Alayne up and tossed her over his shoulder after the third time she ignored his order to move on. She was so focused on the thinned shield that she wanted to try to break through it using magic instead of fighting through whatever might be waiting for them across the bridge over the blue arc. Forcing the door open, they found themselves in an empty hallway. Ger’alin stood, stunned. He’d expected more resistance the longer they remained inside the Citadel. Motioning for the others to wait, he stepped cautiously into the corridor. He made it halfway down the hallway when the whole room seemed to start shaking and loud, pealing gongs rang out. When the echoing of the deep metal gongs stopped, the group could hear the footfalls of a crowd headed their way. Vykrul began pouring into the corridor, nearly overwhelming them with sheer number and size. However, a few Horde and Alliance fighters who had ascended to the upper level in order to investigate the areas that had been cleared were on hand. Adding their numbers and might to the fight, the Disorder of Azeroth was able to press on, pushing the vykrul back until they were all dead. With no rest for them after the frantic hallway fighting, a val’kyr descended from the rafters. Ger’alin and Tau’re grappled with her while the others aimed for her wings, keeping her from flying again. Once she was down, the Disorder of Azeroth turned to study another set of doors locked against them. Through the simple and almost delicate grating in the door, they could peer into the room beyond. Ger’alin gasped when he saw several Scourge liches channeling some spell that kept a massive green dragon under their control. The green dragon was curled up on herself, tail tucked under her chin, sleeping peacefully. The occasional twitch of a scaled eyelid or snort were all the signs that the dragon even still lived. “It seems the rumors were true, then,” Zerith muttered. “They are trying to corrupt the green dragonflight. Light help us all if they succeed at that. The frostwyrms are bad enough as it is without giving them access to the flight most attuned to life on Azeroth.” “She’s been badly hurt and they’re keeping her under some spell,” Alayne muttered as she peered through the metal grating. “If we can break the spell and heal her, she might be able to help us.” “Or she might be insane and she might turn on us and try to kill us,” Ger’alin said grimly, remembering a similar situation in the Nexus. “I doubt that,” Alayne replied. “The spell they’re casting is one to contain, not control. They want something from her but they don’t want her dead or twisted just yet.” “What could they want?” he wondered, shivering at the thoughts that ran through his head. “I’ve heard rumors of disturbances in the Emerald Dream,” Shannara, one of the druids, volunteered. “Perhaps the Scourge is trying to destroy life even from Ysera’s realm.” “It’s as good a theory as any,” Alayne said quickly. “At any rate, if we can free her, then she’ll tell us.” “Then that is what we will do,” Ger’alin sighed, praying they wouldn’t regret freeing this dragon. She looked several times larger than Keristrasza had been. Tau’re and Ger’alin searched around the edges of the gated door for a few minutes before they found the latch that opened it. Working it, the gateway began rising. The Scourge magi continued channeling their spell into the dragon, ignoring the sound of the gate rising behind them. Perhaps they thought no one would come this far into their stronghold. Or, perhaps whatever spell they were working on would take care of the intruders once and for all. Not giving them a chance to complete it, Ger’alin and the others rushed them, their attacks breaking the liches to pieces in just a few short moments. “Now to lift the spell,” Alayne muttered as she studied the dragon. The spell ringing her was intricate and filled with shadow magic and necromancy. Alayne winced as she 76


realized that several of the dragon’s scales were beginning to pale in color, turning a sickly green with a vile glow that tainted the normal, healthy emerald hue normal to her kind. The rest of the Disorder of Azeroth spread out around the room, remaining on high alert in case anyone came looking for them. Zerith moved to stand near his sister while she studied the magic. He could sense the dragon’s life-force slowly ebbing away. He could not purge the magic affecting her or heal her entirely but he could do a small bit to help. Nodding to the other healers, he merged his energies with theirs, sending them to the dragon and feeling a moment’s satisfaction when he felt the slowly-draining effect stop and reverse itself. If they were able to keep this up, they could heal the dragon back to full health so that, provided Alayne managed to figure out how to break the spell, the dragon could help them from the start against anything that might lie further in the citadel. The sound of metal scraping against stone drew Zerith’s attention away from the dragon. Along the sides of the room, gates were lifting and Scourge were swarming out. Apparently, healing the dragon even the slightest had sounded some kind of alarm. A faint emerald glow filled the room and Zerith gasped when he felt more than heard a voice whispering in his mind. “Lend me your aid,” a woman’s rich contralto voice pleaded. “I…I cannot hold them off much longer! You must heal my wounds!” “The dragon spoke to me,” he whispered. The other healers nodded. They had heard the same gentle voice. “Alayne, any luck with that spell?” “None,” the magi muttered. “And I’m not going to have much of a chance to study it with all of these ‘friends’ coming to join us. Perhaps…perhaps if you can heal her to full health, she’ll be able to break the spell holding her here herself.” “Then we will do that,” Zerith nodded. “Focus. Kiharu, Dar’ja, stay with me. Shannara, you keep an eye on the others.” Turning his full attention back to the emeraldscaled leviathan, he opened himself fully to the Light’s holy energy, letting it flow through the paladin and priest behind him, into him, and through them into the dragon. The emerald glow that had held the Scourge attackers at bay long enough for Ger’alin to deploy the group better against them failed and the attack began in earnest. Zerith focused on the emerald dragon, ignoring the waves of Scourge attackers pouring out of the gates. He would have to trust the others to take care of it. If they could heal this dragon, she could keep them from being overwhelmed. Opening himself as much as he could and feeling the gentle ecstasy of the Light fill and flow through him, he poured his energies and the energies of the other two devotees into the emerald dragon. Slowly, but surely, she would return to health. However, her healing would take more time than the priest sensed that they had. Ger’alin’s frantic shouts and Alayne’s muttered incantations reached his ears. If the dragon did not break the spell soon, they would all die. Zerith was torn. If he left over healing the dragon with the Scourge on high alert, they may kill her before he could ensure that the Scourge onslaught was stopped. If he continued to focus on the dragon, his friends and his loved ones could be killed. As the moments ticked by, more and more Scourge flooded into the chamber. Zerith could hear Ger’alin’s ragged breathing as the man shouted more and more orders, trying desperately to stave off the attackers, to slow them, or to find some way to pin them so the Disorder of Azeroth would stand a better chance of coming out of the battle at all. Risking a quick glance over his shoulder, Zerith shuddered when he saw several lich magi, abominations, and zombies of all kinds wandering through the room. Several of the Disorder had fallen back to the stairs already, giving the attackers a chance to flood down and try to surround them. Ger’alin and Tau’re each held positions in front of the gates the attackers flowed out of. But they barely held those positions. Ber’lon and Callie stood next to either

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fighter, lending their aid while the healers not focused on the dragon divided their energies between the two camps. “I have opened portals to the Emerald Dream,” the dragon’s voice spoke in the healers’ minds. “Hurry. Your lives may depend on it!” Zerith saw several iridescent green portals appear near them. A lush and verdant world filled with all manner of plants and animals appeared in them. Stepping through the portal, the priest could feel his normal healing abilities magnifying under the bright green haze of this dreamscape. Motes of verdant energy floated to him, touching him, and giving him more stamina and more capacity to channel the Light’s own power. After a moment, the world shimmered and vanished around him and he found himself back in the midst of the battle. But, the increase in his abilities remained. Frowning with determination, he summoned even more energy, hurling it into the behemoth bound to the ground before him. He could hear Dar’ja whimpering softly behind him and ignored it, just as he ignored the sweat trickling down his own face. Such intense healing would take its toll on the healers. But, if they did not succeed… “My strength is returning! Press on!” the dragon urged. Though she was still seeming caught up in the Scourge spell, Zerith could feel tendrils streaming from her. Touching the healers, the tendrils allowed them to carry on, renewing the energy they were pouring into the green dragon enough that they would not keel over from exhaustion. “Now would be a great time for you to finish that!” Ger’alin shouted at Zerith. The masses of Scourge flooding into the chamber had forced the groups back to the center of the room. The Disorder of Azeroth stood in a ring around the trio healing the dragon, determined that these three should be the last to fall to the onslaught. Zerith sent out a desperate plea to the Light to give him the strength that he did not possess. Pleading with the divine, he felt the dragon stir. One eyelid opened and the dragon lifted her massive head. Snorting a life-giving gust of air, she blew the Scourge back several steps. Still, the dragon was weak but close to complete health. The mottled scales fell off, replaced by pure scales. The cuts and wounds beneath her scales were closing. With a last burst of strength, Zerith sent the last of his healing magic into the dragon, giving her the strength to stand on her feet once more. Anger shone out of her eyes as she regarded the foul Scourge arrayed before her. Jerking her head side-to-side, she breathed out a cloud of emerald energy that healed her allies while it seared the Scourge. “I am renewed!” the dragon exulted as her breath destroyed those who would be her destroyers. “Ysera grants me the favor to lay these foul creatures to rest!” “Light be praised,” Ger’alin croaked hoarsely as his knees buckled and his strength gave out. Zerith was not far behind the paladin in tumbling over. The green dragon regarded her rescuers calmly but gratefully. “You are very brave, mortals,” she murmured. “Allow me to do what I can to repay the great boon you have done for me.” ~*~*~*~ Ger’alin sniffed Alayne’s hair as the pair of them lounged against the wall. His arm was wrapped around her shoulders and her head lay against his chest. The green dragon they had rescued, Valithria, moved among them, laying her hands on those who had saved her, renewing their strength and healing their wounds. Still, they could use a good hour’s break before they pressed on to the next and final challenge standing between them and the Frozen Throne: Sindragosa. The paladin winced as he thought over the tale Valithria had told them. Once Malygos’s chief consort, Sindragosa had been a powerful blue dragon in her own right. Killed 78


by Deathwing before the Sundering, Sindragosa had been raised back up by the Lich King to serve as the leader of the frostwyrms. Her sanity had been broken before her death and her resurrection into the ranks of the Scourge had stripped away what little was left of her former spirit. Now, she was a powerful weapon, a formidable arrow in the Lich King’s quiver. And she was all that remained between the Disorder of Azeroth and their goal. Alayne sighed fretfully and flexed her legs. Ger’alin patted her on the shoulder, feeling her muscles tense and relax as she gripped the crystal Valithria had given them. A life crystal forged by the green dragonflight, it was part of the reason Valithria was in Icecrown at all. “Take this,” she had whispered to Alayne. “It contains potent energies from the verdant Dragonshrine in Dragonblight, and it was my own secret to resisting the dark magics of this place for so long,” she added with a slight hint of pride in her abilities. “When you face Sindragosa, battle her until she is weakened, and then use the crystal to coax out the essence that is dormant within her. If you then defeat her, you should be able to recover it and return it to Wyrmrest Temple in Dragonblight.” “Not if,” Ger’alin had heard his wife correct softly, “when we defeat her.” Valithria had nodded faintly, accepting the mild rebuke. Ger’alin groaned and forced himself to his feet. Helping Alayne to hers, he took a moment to draw in her scent before releasing her so she could gather in the magi. Valithria had gifted each of them with a crystal, hedging her bets in case any of them fell in combat against her former kindred. The paladin studied his forces, wishing that they could have a full day of rest before continuing on. Their battles had taken them the better part of two days to push through. Running on little sleep, less food, and constant fear, their exhaustion was so much a part of them now that he understood the feeling many had that this would never end. Putting his own fatigue aside, he nodded politely to the green dragon in high elven form. She had agreed to see them as far as Sindragosa’s lair and had also agreed to carry a message back to the others at the Light’s Hammer. If all went well, the Disorder of Azeroth would have at least a few hours’ sleep and a last meal before they went to face down the ruler of the damned. The paladin spared a quick thought for the soul and body of the human they knew to be held captive by the Lich King. But, if the Scourge leader had not broken or killed Fordragon by now, chances were he would not within the next day or two. Surely that would give them a chance to catch their breath, to let bodies and minds pushed beyond exhaustion rest enough to allow the owners a fighting chance in the arena against him. Taking the elevator down to the level where Sindragosa’s perched lair lay, Ger’alin noted that the rooms and hallways on this level were all silent and still. No Scourge poured out of them to greet the group. Perhaps all of them had thrown themselves at the Disorder while they fought to save Valithria? The green dragon, still in elven form, accompanied them as far as the gated archway that led outside. Once there, she bowed and left them to survey the situation while she made her way back to the entrance with the messages she carried for them. The archway led to an open area, a balcony that jutted out from the citadel, giving the frostwyrm a place to land and call her own. The icy wind whipped and swirled through the open courtyard, whistling and moaning as if to weep over the madness and suffering of the mistress of the Scourged dragons. Ger’alin and the others crept forward, hunched over, to hide behind the railings of the upper part of the platform. So far, no sign of Sindragosa was evident. Leaning carefully over the upper railing, Ger’alin glanced down and shuddered when he saw the spiked eggs lining the inner wall, glowing with a sickly green and blue glow. These, then, must be the eggs of the frostwyrms. Not only were the dragons of the Scourge raised from those that had fallen in battle, but they could also be created from the twisted remnants of eggs stolen from another dragonflight.

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Motioning for the others to follow him, Ger’alin strode down the stairs. Sindragosa was not there and he could see no sign of her along the horizon. He gestured at the eggs and glanced a silent question at Alayne. He wished that Valithria had come with them this far but the dragon did not want to risk a confrontation with Sindragosa herself. Valithria was a skilled healer and had few abilities in combat, especially against a dragon who had been ancient before Valithria had been a hatchling. “They’re not true eggs,” Alayne winced as she studied them. “The frostwyrms aren’t hatched. At least, they aren’t as far as I know. They’re raised from dragons who fell. These eggs are a trap.” “Can you tell what is in them?” he asked. Alayne opened her mouth to answer but Callie beat her to it. “The Plague,” the rogue muttered. “I can smell it…I can feel it. These eggs are filled to the brim with the Plague of Undeath.” Ger’alin flinched and took several steps back from the trap. If those eggs were opened during the fight, the entire Disorder of Azeroth might fall and be raised up to fight alongside the very army they had come to destroy. Alayne licked her lips. “I think…” she said softly, “I think I can erect a shield. It won’t be very powerful but it should keep the Plague on the other side of it in case something happened. Long enough for us to get away, at least.” “Do it,” he said briskly, nodding in agreement. Alayne wove a wall of near-solid ice around the enclosures housing the eggs. Semi-transparent, it would allow them to see if any of the eggs broke open and would contain the dreaded disease long enough for them to get out of the room before it could infect them. Zerith laid his hands against the wall, murmuring beneath his breath. A prayer to the Light to sanctify the arcane energies and to work with them to contain the contamination added strength to the magical barrier and gave the Disorder of Azeroth heart. Turning around to gaze out over the edge of the balcony, Ger’alin groaned. A dark dot on the distant horizon was growing larger. He could feel in his bones what it was. An ancient dragon, her flesh long since rotted away and her being held together by necromancy, Sindragosa had sensed their presence on her perch and was coming to rid herself and her master of the invaders. Ger’alin motioned the others back and strode to the center of the room, his shield and mace ready to meet the dragon as she flapped, hovering a space over him in the air when she drew near. Her blue eyes blazed with anger and contempt and her mighty wings created gusts of air that nearly blew him off his feet. Calling on the Light to give him strength, he stood his ground, meeting the dragon’s gaze calmly. “You are fools to have come to this place! The icy winds of Northrend will consume your souls!” she roared. Ger’alin lifted his shield just in time to feel the dragon’s icy breath flowing around it. Sindragosa, seeing that her breath attack would not work against this opponent, grunted, landed, and swiped at him with a bony claw. Ger’alin danced away from the blow easily and the frostwyrm snorted in anger. Absorbed in trying to impale or freeze her attacker, Sindragosa paid scant attention to the rest of the group. Alayne and the others spread out and began hurling spells at the frostwyrm. Targeting the core of the necromantic magic that held the undead dragon together, they tried to break through the shielding so they could rip the heart of the spell out. After a while, their attempts drew the dragon’s attention. She whispered an incantation beneath her breath and Alayne felt something settle around her. The next spell she cast was reflected, its power slamming back into her with a force that knocked her off her feet. “Suffer, mortals,” Sindragosa laughed, “as your pathetic magic betrays you!” The frostwyrm half-turned as if to concentrate on the magi and others who were doing more damage to her than the paladin. Ger’alin leapt as she turned, grabbing a hold of her eye 80


socket, and brought his mace down squarely on the center of her forehead. Bone fragments chipped away beneath the blow and the dragon shook her neck, throwing the sin’dorei off. She eyed him with wary respect.. Lifting up high on her hind legs, Sindragosa summoned a swirling blast of frigid air and snow. Ger’alin and the others who were close to the frostwyrm felt it sapping their strength and freezing their blood. “Can you feel the cold hand of death upon your heart?” the dragon taunted. The slings, arrows, spells, and blows continued for a while longer. Finally, Sindragosa launched herself into the air. These attackers, unlike others she had killed in the field, were resilient. And, they were beginning to annoy her with the damage they had done. “Your incursion ends here!” she bellowed as she floated high over the platform. “None shall survive!” “Don’t let her get away!” Ger’alin shouted as he and the others ran back to the line the ranged fighters held. He kept a careful eye on the eggs, praying that whatever Sindragosa was about to do, it did not involve them. “Focus on the wings. Get her out of the air now!” Sindragosa laughed defiantly between breaths. With each exhalation, she blasted the attackers with frosty air. Summoning her strength, she aimed at two of them and, adding magic to her already formidable breath attack, she encased them in blocks of ice. From within their icy prisons, the prisoners tried to beat their way out. With each second, their breath grew more and more ragged and their movements more and more sluggish. The rest of the Disorder of Azeroth focused on breaking them out of their frozen cages, ignoring the dragon for the moment in favor of saving their friends’ lives. When the ice spell shattered, spraying the rest of them with freezing fragments of the blocks, the Disorder of Azeroth turned and bore down on the frostwyrm. Focusing on the wings, they launched every attack at their disposal in hopes of bringing the mighty mistress of the frostwyrms back to the ground. With two loud cracks, Sindragosa’s wings fell away, dropping the dragon back onto the platform and halting her attacks for a few seconds. She stared at them in horror but recovered quickly. Drawing on her ancient knowledge, she pulled all the arcane energy she could summon into her shell. Letting it explode out slowly, each wave crippling her attackers more and more, she smiled down at them. “Now feel my master's limitless power and despair!” At first, the Disorder of Azeroth was able to ignore the waves of arcane energy exploding out of the frostwyrm. At first, it felt no more annoying than a minor slap across the skin. However, after several explosions, the slaps became fiery punches that burned. After yet more explosions, the fiery became pulses of magma searing their bodies and threatening to rip apart their minds. Alayne dug into her pouch and pulled out the crystal Valithria had given her. Following the green dragon’s orders, she cast the spell that would trap Sindragosa’s essence in the crystal. Near her, Alayne could hear the others casting the same spell. “Aaah! It burns! What sorcery is this?!” Alayne felt the crystal in her hand grow cold. The freezing temperature of the crystal almost made her drop it before it pulsed and grew warm again. Pulsing in time with the frostwyrm’s glow, the crystal seemed to have weakened Sindragosa significantly. The onetime blue dragon roared angrily and tried to shake the weakness off. However, the combined spells from the crystals and the attacks from the rest of the Disorder of Azeroth broken apart the protective shell that housed her necromantic heart. Seeing the spell wither, Zerith quickly called on the Light and used the tools the Argent Crusaders had given him. With a last shuddering sigh, Sindragosa gasped. “Free…at…last…,” an ancient woman’s voice echoed throughout the chamber as the frostwyrm collapsed. Silence filled the empty platform. Even the wind ceased howling out of seeming respect for the falling of a being who had been part of Azeroth since time immemorial. Whispering a prayer of thanksgiving and of contrition, Ger’alin rounded up the others. “We’ll 81


get a few hours rest,” he said breathlessly, fear and excitement trilling through his blood, “and then, it will be time for the final showdown with that son of a bitch atop the Frozen Throne.” ~*~*~*~ The next day dawned clear and bright. A hopeful sun sent rays of glittering golden light down on the barren icy land. Even the black saronite spikes and pillars of Icecrown Citadel seemed to be warmed by the sun, showing just how weak the Lich King’s grasp over his own fortress had become. “Don’t celebrate a victory before the battle,” Ger’alin cautioned himself as he buckled his belt around his waist. Slipping on his gauntlets, he flexed his fingers in them. Standing near him, tying the laces of her boots, Alayne glanced at him. Her hands trembled, fumbling the knot. She had barely been able to choke down the light breakfast he’d pressed on her. “Soon, it will be over,” he whispered. “Soon,” she agreed. Holding up the tent flap while she ducked out under it, Ger’alin secured it on the outside and then strode over to where Zerith and the others stood waiting for him. Stepping into the shadows of the citadel, Ger’alin tried to keep the image of the sun shining, warming the black saronite, in his mind. The group made its silent way through the Light’s Hammer where Garrosh and Varian stood overseeing their squadrons. Only a few scattered waves of Scourge had attacked during the few hours when the Disorder of Azeroth rested. It seemed that most had been destroyed in the fighting. Ger’alin was relieved when Tirion gave him the reconnaissance reports showing that almost all of the citadel was cleared of Scourge. The group wound its way through the cathedrals, the ramparts, and up to the platform that would lead them to the last step of their journey. Guards from the Horde and Alliance, from the Kirin Tor and the Cenarion Circle, from the Argents and the Ebons, stood posted around the platform that had been shielded but now stood open to anyone brave enough to dare it. Tirion Fordring stood in front of it, an expectant look on his face. “You’ll be joining us for this battle, General Fordring?” Zerith asked. The human nodded and Ger’alin fought to hide a grin. Of all the times for Tirion to pull rank… “I swore at Light’s Hope that I would see this through to the end. I will not be made a liar,” Tirion said firmly. “Then let us be on our way,” Ger’alin replied bowing respectfully. The group moved into the small chamber that surrounded a single rune scribed on the floor. Alayne shivered as she stared at it, knowing it was the symbol used to denote the Lich King and the Frozen Throne. It glowed with an eerie blue light, pulsing as if it could sense the warm blood of the group gathered to bring justice to its master at long last. Ger’alin grunted and motioned for the others to follow him as he stepped on it. He had a few harrowing seconds to feel the flow of magic surrounding him, transporting him from one place to another. He could feel the icy wrath of the Lich King surrounding him during the short journey. When he opened his eyes, unaware he had even closed them, the sin’dorei stood, with his friends, across a glacial arena from the foot of the Frozen Throne. Tirion gasped and began walking to the stairs that led up to the throne. Glancing up, Ger’alin winced and bit back a curse when he saw a human body, burned and brutalized, hanging high over the throne itself. The Lich King sat on the icy seat, his blue eyes glowing faintly with amusement and contempt. “So...the Light's vaunted justice has finally arrived,” the Lich King chuckled. “Shall I lay down Frostmourne and throw myself at your mercy, Fordring?”

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“We will grant you a swift death, Arthas. More than can be said for the thousands you've tortured and slain,” Tirion replied somberly. The Lich King’s laughter cut off. Standing up and striding down the stairs, he stood just a few feet away from Tirion. Ger’alin and the others quickly moved towards one side of the arena, prepared to draw the Lich King off and, if need be, shove him over the edge. Instead, the Lich King regarded them evenly and nodded to himself. “You will learn of that first hand. When my work is complete, you will beg for mercy -- and I will deny you. Your anguished cries will be testament to my unbridled power.” Ger’alin gulped and steeled himself as the Lich King’s gaze swept over the gathering. He seemed both pleased and annoyed with them. Tirion, seeing his momentary distraction, drew Ashbringer from its sheath at his waist and tried to close those last few feet, screaming, “So be it. Attack!” The Lich King lifted a hand and Tirion was encased in an icy prison, much like the ones Sindragosa had used. The Disorder of Azeroth could see the human’s determined expression turn to one of fear and then desperation as he tried to pummel his way through the prison’s wall. “I'll keep you alive to witness the end, Fordring. I would not want the Light's greatest champion to miss seeing this wretched world remade in my image,” the man who had once been Arthas taunted as he turned back to regard the others. “Come then champions,” he sneered, “feed me your rage!” Rushing towards Ger’alin, Frostmourne drawn and hungering for blood, the Lich King attacked. Ger’alin was nearly staggered under the weight of the sudden assault but stood his ground. The others began firing their strongest spells or spreading themselves out behind the Lich King, cutting in with swords and axes. They winced as blades bounced back from the dreadplate the Lich King encased himself in. The Lich King himself laughed with each reverberation. Ger’alin snarled as he saw the icy amusement on the one-time human’s face. Reversing his grip on his mace, Ger’alin swung high, praying he could smash that smirk off the Lich King’s face. The Lich King barely dodged the blow, levying Frostmourne at the paladin and slashing wildly. Ger’alin caught the blow on his shield and held. For long seconds, the two stood locked sword-to-shield, their strength poured into the contest of wills. With a final shove that nearly took Ger’alin off his feet, the Lich King broke the hold and took several steps backward, shoving the others out of his way as he regained his equilibrium. The Lich King glared at them and then ran towards the center of the arena. Once there, he thrust his blade deep into the ground and knelt before it. Both hands gripped the hilt and he channeled, casting a spell. Snow and wind swept the inner circles of the arena, chilling the blood of the Disorder of Azeroth where they stood. Forcing themselves to move, they sought the outer edge of the arena where the grip of the Lich King’s remorseless winter was weaker. “I will freeze you from within until all that remains is an icy husk!” he yelled as he channeled more power into the spell. Ger’alin called on the Light and felt others do the same. Sanctifying the outer edge, they held back the attack. Seeing this, the Lich King changed tactics. Calling on the magic he could command, he sought out the darkest aspects of his enemies’ hearts. Finding the strongest, he called it forth. Ber’lon gasped when he felt as if he were being torn in half. Hunching over, struggling to keep his sanity amidst the agony that coursed through him, he fell to the ground, moaning as he was shredded spiritually by the Lich King’s attack. As the others watched in mounting horror, a shadow of their friend appeared standing over him. Turning and facing the others with cold, lifeless blue eyes, the shadow of Ber’lon launched a flurry of attack. So savage and unexpected was the sudden onslaught that several of the Disorder of Azeroth were nearly driven over the edge before Ger’alin could intercept the shadow and force it to face his 83


strength. Ignoring the Lich King for the moment, the paladin focused on destroying the raging spirit torn from his comrade. Dividing their concentration between holding off the magical attack and fending against the fragmented spirit of their ally meant that the Disorder of Azeroth could not do both as well as they normally would have been able to. The remorseless grip of winter began to seep through the shield that protected them and the Lich King, seeing victory approach, stood up and began channeling dark lightning through the air, striking at random and sapping strength and will from his enemies. With a final strength borne of desperation, Ger’alin and Callie managed to cut down the raging spirit and the paladin returned his strength to the shielding spell. Snarling at being so thwarted, the Lich King made a fist with a gauntleted hand and roared. “Watch as the world around you collapses!” he shouted as the entire arena began to shake and tremble violently. Ger’alin glanced around, seeing the edge of the arena upon which they stood beginning to crumble away beneath their feet. “Move back in! Before he drops us all!” Ger’alin shouted as he ran into the center of the ring. Smashing his mace against the Lich King’s arm while the leader of the Scourge reached to draw Frostmourne from the rock once more, the paladin tried to keep his opponent unarmed, hoping to finish him off quickly. The Lich King pulled Frostmourne free and focused on the paladin, wielding his runeblade with a deadly grace. Alayne saw a near-fatal blow being levied at her husband and lashed out with everything she had. A blast of arcane energy that was more explosion than missile struck the Lich King, startling him enough to slow his attack so that Ger’alin could dodge out of the way. Shaking off the tendrils of still-burning energy that raced and arced over his body, the Lich King growled. Narrowing his eyes, his deep, reverberating voice rang out through the air of the arena in command. “Val'kyr, your master calls!” he shouted. A single val’kyr appeared over her master. Winged and glowing white and grey in against the snowy backdrop, the val’kyr hovered, waiting for further instructions. Gesturing at the mage, the Lich King issued a silent command. The val’kyr swooped down on Alayne and grabbed the woman and lifted her into the air. Flapping through the air, she carried her quarry to the edge of the arena. Ger’alin saw her and, turning his back on the Lich King, never caring if doing so opened him to attack, raced to intercept them. The rest of the Disorder of Azeroth saw their leader’s change of tactics and, seeing Alayne being carried to her death, turned their own attacks against the val’kyr with a single-mindedness that made the leader of the Scourge feel pride in the rabble who had come to destroy him. Just before the val’kyr would have dropped her to her death, the minion of the Scourge leader fell back to the arena. Her body was riddled with missiles and her wings had been destroyed by spells. Alayne quickly regained her footing and nodded to her husband to say that she was all right. Turning their focus back to the Lich King, the Disorder of Azeroth continued the fight. On and on it raged. Moments stretched out into eternities. Periodically, the Lich King would try one of his tricks to divide their attacks, forcing them to fight against shades of their own numbers or to batter down val’kyr before one of their own could be dropped over the edge of the arena. However, as the fight raged onward, the Lich King’s attacks grew weaker. Frostmourne itself sometimes seemed to have a life of its own, one that was in direct opposition to its master’s. The Lich King could feel the beginnings of another battle starting, this one within himself and against himself. Screaming with rage as emotions he had thought banished forever gnawed at the gaping hole where his heart had been, he lifted his runeblade and pointed it at the closest person to him. Callie screamed as the blade chose her. “Frostmourne hungers,” the Lich King laughed, trying to distract his enemies with yet another new attack. The magic of the 84


runeblade engulfed the Forsaken and drew her into its shadowy depths. She could see the faces of her friends growing more distant as the blade drew her into its own realm. Their cries of dismay and defiance dwindled to nothing as she fell through the dark magics of the cursed sword. She fell and felt the spirits of the thousands slain by the Lich King’s hand swirl around her. Her family, her friends, her people…she could see and feel them all trapped within the blade he wielded. Closing her eyes, she prayed that the darkness of a final death would come swiftly. Instead, Light pressed at her eyelids. Opening her eyes, she gasped. King Terenas stood in front of her, shielding her from the spirit of the sword with his own body. He looked as she recalled him from her long-lost living youth. Tall, majestic, and determined. He shone with the Light and fire of the sun. Upon his brow, the now-broken crown rested as it had been. “You have come to bring Arthas to justice? To see the Lich King destroyed?” Terenas asked over his shoulder. Callie pushed herself to her feet and nodded. “First, you must escape Frostmourne's hold, or be damned as I am; trapped within this cursed blade for all eternity.” “What must I do, Majesty?” she asked, looking around him to see a mighty creature of inky blackness channeling a spell at her king. “Aid me in destroying these tortured souls! Together we will loosen Frostmourne's hold and weaken the Lich King from within!” he replied. Callie grinned and ducked in front of the king. Slashing with her sword-arm and dagger, she cut through the swathes of spirits, doing her best to help the trapped soul of her king and kindred to fight the power of the dark runeblade. Finally, King Terenas smiled. The sword was silent and empty. The last of the spirits had been overcome. Callie could hear the Lich King snarling, commanding his blade to obey him once more. Then, she opened her eyes again, stunned to find herself back in the arena with Zerith standing over her. “What…what happened?” the sin’dorei priest asked as he quickly helped her back to her feet. “Later,” she replied, turning her attention back to the Lich King. Rushing him, she stabbed his shoulder. Tau’re had buried his axes in the Scourge leader’s armor and Ger’alin’s mace smashed into his face. The Lich King seemed oblivious to the physical and magical damage being done to him as he stared in horror at Frostmourne. The sword seemed to be little more than lifeless dull blue-grey metal. After a moment, the attacks got the Lich King’s attention. Staring with hatred at his attackers, he summoned the dark magic that had been his birthright to him. His sword might turn against him. He might begin to feel the cursed ghosts of humanity battering at him. But, by all that he was, he was still the Lich King! How dare these foolish mortals defy him in his own citadel! “Bow down before your lord and master!” he roared, summoning his energies and unleashing them through his blade. “Apocalypse!” A black wave swarmed out over the arena. Ger’alin felt his body growing numb as it passed over him. He saw his friends falling to the ground, their lives wrenched away from their flesh. He could hear himself sobbing at their deaths but could not feel the tears he knew must be streaming down his disbelieving face. Glancing down, he saw his own body on the ground. Shock, terror, and anger raged through what was left of his soul. And, in the center of the arena, the Lich King stood, his mocking laughter ringing out as he turned to face the ice that housed Tirion Fordring. “No question remains unanswered. No doubts linger. You are Azeroth's greatest champions!” the Lich King laughed. “You overcame every challenge I laid before you. My mightiest servants have fallen before your relentless onslaught, your unbridled fury... Is it truly righteousness that drives you? I wonder,” he snorted, staring at the icy prison holding the last living person on the platform. “You trained them well, Fordring. You delivered the 85


greatest fighting force this world has ever known... right into my hands -- exactly as I intended. You shall be rewarded for your unwitting sacrifice.” Lifting Frostmourne once more, the Lich King began chanting an incantation. Ger’alin could feel his soul being torn apart by it. He could feel his sense of self being eroded and erased. On the ground, his limbs twitched feebly as a corrupt form of life seeped in to them. “Watch now as I raise them from the dead to become masters of the Scourge,” the Lich King exulted to the infuriated paladin. “They will shroud this world in chaos and destruction. Azeroth's fall will come at their hands -- and you will be the first to die. I delight in the irony,” the master of the Scourge chuckled as he continued the spell that would raise his enemies into his own ranks. “Light, grant me one final blessing,” Tirion screamed, pounding against the walls of his prison. Ger’alin’s spirit writhed in the twin torments of the Light’s vengeance and the Scourge’s necromancy. “Give me the strength…to shatter these bonds!” A streak of pure Light flashed from the sky. The ice block exploded sending chunks of melting ice and frozen blocks flying through the arena. Miraculously, none landed on any of the inert bodies. Shining with the Light’s anger, Tirion leaped high into the air, Ashbringer in front of him. The Lich King moved Frostmourne leisurely to parry the blow. Instead, Ashbringer shattered Frostmourne just as the Light had shattered the prison housing its champion. The Lich King reeled backwards, staring at Tirion in horror. “Impossible...,” the Lich King gasped, still holding the hilt of his broken runeblade. “No more, Arthas! No more lives will be consumed by your hatred!” Tirion shouted, the tears and anguish plain in his voice. He moved in for the kill but the shattered shards of Frostmourne began to glow and pulse. For a moment, it seemed that the Lich King might have yet another avenue to stave off defeat. Instead, the souls of those killed by the foul blade began to swarm out of the sword. Swirling around their former master, they trapped him in a maelstrom of their anger, tormenting him with the memories of their death, of his life, and the sure and inescapable knowledge of what he could have been. One of the souls grew more solid. Still semi-transparent, he stood regally before the maelstrom that engulfed the man who had murdered him so many years ago. Ger’alin recognized the soul of Terenas, the last true king of Lordaeron, staring at his son with a mixture of sorrow and anger. “Free at last! It is over, my son. This is the moment of reckoning,” the soul of the dead king said. Raising his ethereal hands in the air, he summoned the Light to him and cast it upon the arena. “Rise up, champions of the Light!” he called out to the Disorder of Azeroth. Ger’alin blinked, startled to find himself laying on the ground. He pushed himself upright and glanced around, relief flood through him as he saw that all of the others had been resurrected by the Light and Terenas’s blessing. The Lich King still hung helpless in the grasp of the thousands he had tortured and slain. “Thank the Light,” Tirion breathed. “Let us finish this together!” “For Quel’Thalas!” Ger’alin shouted, “And for the Light!” Battle cries of victory rang out around the arena as the others regained their feet. Spells, their power amplified by the Light, flew through the air. All of the fatigue of the battle was wiped away by its cleansing powers. Ger’alin and Ber’lon, Callie and Tau’re moved in to the maelstrom of souls, swinging their weapons with renewed vigor. “Now I stand, the lion before the lambs... and they do not fear,” the Lich King whispered breathlessly as the attacks continued. “They cannot fear.” Ger’alin’s hammer, blessed by the same Light that had saved them, swung in a wide arc. Crashing and crunching through armor, it smashed through the Lich King’s body. Numerous other wounds from axes, swords, and spells brought the Lich King down. Finally, the spell of souls released the shattered man and let him fall to the ground. The ghastly helm on his head fell away, revealing the once-handsome features of the prince of Lordaeron. 86


Arthas Menethil, bent before the ghost of his murdered king and father, reached out for it but collapsed as his strength gave out. Terenas knelt down and drew his son’s body into his ghostly arms. Arthas looked up at him, choking and gasping for each ragged breath. “Father? Is it... over?” he asked, his voice the natural timbre of the man he had once been. He placed a hand against his father’s chest and gazed at him, a child seeking reassurance from the one who had protected him since his first toddling steps into the world. “At long last,” Terenas said gently. “No king rules forever, my son.” “I see…only darkness…before me…” Arthas panted. He seemed to be trying to say more but his strength waned. Blue eyes – no longer glowing with the unnatural light of the Scourge – rolled back in his head and he shuddered. The spirit of King Terenas laid his son down on the ground and closed his eyes with a tender, fatherly gesture. Tirion and the others approached the pair respectfully. Terenas rose back to his feet and stared each of them down. “Without its master’s command, the restless Scourge will become an even greater threat to this world,” the king said firmly. “Control must be maintained… There must always be… a Lich King…” The souls that had swirled around the Lich King flashed once more and then the arena was empty save for those who still lived. Tirion and the others stared down a the helm in horrified silence, King Terenas’s final words ringing in their ears. They had prayed that the destruction of the Lich King would bring an end to the Scourge threat forever. But now…to know that someone must remain, must maintain constant control over the Scourge…who would carry such a heavy and galling burden? “I will do it,” Ger’alin said firmly, moving towards the helm. “I will ask no one to do that which I am unwilling to do myself.” “No,” Zerith said, stepping forward. “I will do it.” “Leave it to me,” Callie argued, offering herself. “I have already lived and died. I have been the Scourge’s slave and I have been liberated.” “I offer myself,” Ber’lon said, reaching for the helm, his fingers brushing it. “My last act of service in hopes of finally redeeming myself for all the evil I have wrought.” Tirion pushed them aside and took the helm in his own hands. Staring at it and gazing at each of them in turn, he shook his head. “The weight of such a burden…it must be mine. For their no other to…” “Tirion!” another human voice rang out over the arena. “You hold a grim destiny in your hands, brother…but it is not your own.” Everyone turned to stare up at the Frozen Throne where the voice came from. Seated on the icy chair was the man who had once been Bolvar Fordragon. During the battle, he had managed to escape the bonds holding him and now sat on the throne, staring down at the gathering of the living. “Bolvar…” Tirion whispered. “By all that is holy…” “The dragons’ flame…sealed my fate. The world of the living can no longer comfort me. Place the crown upon my head, Tirion. Forevermore – I will be the jailor of the damned.” “No, old friend,” Tirion protested. “I cannot.” “Do it Tirion!” Bolvar commanded. “You and these brave heroes have your own destinies to fulfill. This last act of service…is mine.” Relief warred with regret and sorrow as the Disorder of Azeroth parted to let the paladin through. Tirion walked up the icy stairs, each step seeming to come down more heavily than the last. “You will not be forgotten…brother…” he murmured. “I must be forgotten, Tirion!” Bolvar shrieked angrily. He slammed a ruined fist down on the arm of the throne. “If the world is to live free from the tyranny of fear – they must never know what was done here today.” 87


Tirion nodded slowly, accepting the command. Bolvar bent forward and Tirion placed the helm upon his head. Sitting back upright, Bolvar stared out over the gathering. The arena began to pitch and shake wildly. A flash of light filled the area. Two golden, glowing eyes gazed out from the helm and the blue gem set in its center flashed to a tawny orange color. “Tell them only that the Lich King is dead…” Bolvar commanded, his voice deepening and darkening, “and that Bolvar Fordragon died with him…” Tirion jumped backwards as ice sprang from the foot of the throne, encasing his onetime comrade in a prison akin to the one he himself had been trapped in. “Now go!” the new Lich King’s voice shouted. “Leave this place – and never return!”

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Chapter Forty-Six: My Father’s Blade

“W

hat happened?” Varian demanded as the Disorder of Azeroth and Tirion trudged back into the chamber they had named Light’s Hammer. Exhaustion held in abeyance by the magic of the souls trapped in Frostmourne had bitten down with a vengeance. “What do you mean?” Tirion asked, hearing the subtle undercurrent in the king’s voice. “The Scourge…they’ve retreated,” Varian explained in a shocked voice. “The few that were left in here,” he amended. “Scores of others came rushing in here just a little bit ago,” Saurfang continued. “They ignored us. They seemed to be rushing towards where you were. We tried to engage them but they just…ran on as soon as they could. Our scouts on the ramparts said that the Scourge got there and then just…vanished.” “The Lich King, Tirion. What of the Lich King?” Garrosh grunted. “And Bolvar?” Varian added, a hopeful tone to his voice. “The Lich King is dead,” Ger’alin answered, his voice leaden. “And Bolvar Fordragon, may the Light shine forever on his memory, died with him.” “Bolvar has passed beyond us all,” Tirion said softly in the shocked silence that followed. “And now, our mission here is complete. We will continue to watch and monitor the Scourge in Northrend but I do not think they will ever become a threat again. Still, vigilance must be maintained. Eternal, watchful vigilance.” “We will gather our forces and leave this place then, paladin,” Garrosh growled. “The battle is over.” “I will take my men and return to Stormwind,” Varian announced. “A hero’s welcome waits for you, Tirion.” Slowly, the armies of the Alliance and the Horde withdrew from the citadel. Finally, only the Argent Crusaders, the Knights of the Ebon Blade, and the Disorder of Azeroth remained. “I guess this is where we part,” Ger’alin said awkwardly to the human general. “I suppose this is the end of this campaign,” Tirion agreed. “Darion and I will remain here for a while longer. From the Shadow Vault and the coliseum, we will maintain a watch over Icecrown and the rest of Northrend. I will send some of my own with you to Wyrmrest Temple to ask the dragonqueen to aid us in our vigil.” “We will not linger long,” Zerith said, stepping up to the two paladins. “We are ready to leave this place.” “The Light keep you safe on your journeys,” Tirion prayed. “It has been good having you with us. Without you, we never would have…” “Highlords!” a Knight of the Ebon Blade shouted, interrupting the conversation. “We have found something!” “What is it?” Darion demanded, his voice filled with acid. 89


“An armory, Highlords,” the death knight said breathlessly. “Filled with weapons the likes of which you will not believe. Here, we brought some of them.” Entering the room behind him were a pair of his fellow knights. Between them, they carried a heavy coffer. The lock on it had been shattered. Setting it down on the floor, they threw it open and let the others see what it contained. A collective gasp of awe echoed through the chambers. Priceless weapons that emanated an aura of vast power. “I recognize this,” Tirion muttered, reaching in and pulling out a magical staff. Freed of the confines of the chest, the staff stretched out to its full length. “I saw Antonidas with it many times. Archus, he called it. And this…this,” he gasped, pulling out a two-handed great sword, “this was the High-Blade of the Silver Hand. Glorenzelg.” “A vast treasure store indeed,” Darion whispered. “They shall be returned to their rightful owners.” “Highlords,” the death knight pressed, “there were thousands of other weapons in that room. Please, come and see. There was also a chest we could not open no matter what we tried.” “Lead on then,” Tirion and Darion said at the same time. Ger’alin and the others followed them as they wound their way back through the citadel. Turning down one of the chambers that they had bypassed after the battle to free Valithria, the death knights lead them to an impressive armory. “It will take weeks to inventory it…years to restore these to their proper owners…or their loved ones,” Tirion said softly. Ger’alin felt someone pressing against his back, trying to shove him aside to get into the room. Growling and then biting back an oath when he saw his wife shove past and scramble over to the wall, he stared when she grabbed a long-bow and quiver. “They were his,” she wept. “My father’s…mother stitched the quiver…he got the bow as a gift from Mir’el. I remember him wearing them…he told me he’d destroyed them when he found out how his friends had betrayed me but…” Sudden hope flared in Ger’alin’s heart as he himself stepped further into the room. Others were doing likewise, mulling over the armory. A few here and there took up weapons that had belonged to friends, family…to those who had fallen to the Scourge. The paladin gazed out over the impressive array of swords and then stopped. There it hung. He would have known that blade anywhere. He’d been after it since he was old enough to toddle unaided. His father had cut wooden swords in its likeness, hoping those would keep his son interested enough to stop Ger’alin from constantly trying to make off with his sword. A plain, simple soldier’s blade, it glowed with a faint light. His mother had placed some enchantment on it to keep it from losing its edge after Ger’alin had tried to help his father sharpen it and nearly cut off his own hand. Ger’alin could remember that argument between his parents. His mother’s near hysterical shrieks had brought the village healer running. Ger’alin himself had sat there, stunned, unable even to feel the pain from the deep wound. His father, Andra’lin, had stood next to him, a steady hand on his shoulder and a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Maybe that will cure you of trying to make off with my sword every time my back is turned, boy,” he’d said firmly but affectionately. “It’s not too bad, is it?” “I don’t know,” Ger’alin whispered, reliving that moment with his father. He could almost hear his mother crying in the background. “I don’t think so. It just won’t stop bleeding.” “It looks worse than it really is. Let your mother fuss over it. But, from now on, learn to listen to me when I’m teaching you how to wield the blade.” “Ger’alin?” Alayne whispered, placing a hand on his back and eyeing him with concern.

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“My father’s sword,” he replied, reaching out and taking the sword from the wall. “I’ve finally found it.” ~*~*~*~ Sar’la stood at the bridge that brought travelers into Shattrath from Terokkar. Weeks ago, the news that the Lich King was dead and that the Scourge threat was over had come to the city. She’d heard her friends’ names mentioned and waited for them, day after day, eager to see with her own eyes that they were safe. “Maybe next time I’ll get to go with them,” she muttered, settling in for another long watch. Her uncle Relian had taken her over to Silvermoon City and she wanted to tell them about her adventures. She wanted to tell them that even though she wasn’t very good with magic like Alayne and couldn’t heal like Zerith or Dar’ja, she had made friends with the dragonhawks the Farstriders kept and was thinking about learning more about the wild. She’d lived in cities her whole life. She wanted a change. And, if she could track and hunt, then maybe she could go with them next time… “Is that them?” she wondered as she saw riders growing larger on the horizon. Straining her eyes, she grinned when she realized it was them. Only her uncle’s stern admonition to remain within the city held her on the bridge. She waited, trembling with excitement and impatience, as they drew near. “Sar’la?” Alayne called out as they crested the rise and came within sight of her. “Miss Alayne!” the girl cried out with joy. Her mentor seemed different than the last time the girl had seen her. The sadness and tension was gone. Instead, she seemed confident and sure of herself. Sar’la’s heart leapt with childish glee at the thought of Alayne being happy again. “You look so much better now!” she shouted as the riders came onto the bridge. “And you look like you’ve been eating your vegetables,” Ger’alin teased. “You’ve grown a full foot since the last time I saw you a few weeks ago.” “Uncle Relian says I’m going to eat him out of house and home if I don’t stop growing,” Sar’la quipped. “That is, if buying new clothes for me every week doesn’t do it first.” “Light, child, let me get a look at you,” Jez’ral muttered, staring at her in shock. Mir’el muffled a laugh. “Now I understand why you used to stare at me every month,” he growled to Mir’el. “You grew fast. And, just like I had been ten years before, you were all knees and elbows until you turned twenty. I’ll bet you trip over your feet a lot lately, Sar’la,” Mir’el said with a twinkle in his eye. “I do,” she admitted, blushing. “But I’m getting better about it. Maybe the next time you go on an adventure, I’ll be big enough and strong enough to come with you.” “Perhaps,” Ger’alin agreed. “But, we’re going to be back here for a while, I hope.” Sar’la nodded and then looked him over. “What happened to the mace I gave you?” she asked, concerned when she saw a plain sword buckled around his waist instead of the mace. “I still have it,” he reassured her. “I’ll be giving it back to you and teaching you how to use it if you still want to learn.” “I do!” she said quickly. “Why do you have a sword? Did you not like my mace?” “I liked it very much,” he said soothingly. “But this blade was my father’s. It means a lot to me just like your mace means a lot to you.” “I see,” she said, nodding. “I need to go home now. Uncle Relian will be wondering where I am and I’m hungry.”

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“You’re always hungry,” Relian said fondly as he walked across the bridge. “I see you’re back,” he added, nodding politely to the others. “Sar’la has been out here every day waiting for you.” “We had some business to finish up in Northrend,” Alayne explained. “But, we’re home now. We won’t be leaving any time soon.” “Except,” Ger’alin interrupted, “for when I take you on a real honest-to-Light vacation,” “Except for then,” she amended with a grin. “Will you tell me all about it?” Sar’la asked. “We will,” Mir’el answered for them. “We’ll come by tomorrow.” “Tomorrow, then.” “I need to go formally return to A’dal,” Ger’alin sighed after Sar’la and her uncle had departed. “Me too,” Alayne whispered. “We’ll meet you back at the house then. I’m sure there’s at least a week’s worth of cleaning to be done so bring something back from the inn when you come home,” Zerith replied. “Home,” Alayne sighed. “That’s an awfully good word.” Zerith, Dar’ja, Callie, Mir’el, and Jez’ral guided their mounts towards the path that led to Nagrand. Dismounting at the posts and tying their mounts to it, Alayne and Ger’alin clasped hands and walked into the central building of the Terrace of Light. A’dal hung, as always, in the center of the room. His gentle glow suffused the air, bringing peace of mind and calmness of heart too all in his presence. Khadgar stood at his customary place at A’dal’s side while petitioners lined up to speak with the two beings who constituted the leaders of Shattrath. Many of them turned to see who the two were who had entered and were striding up to the naaru instead of waiting in line. When their gazes fell on Alayne, some of them gasped and grew angry. Alayne nodded politely towards them but kept her attention focused on the naaru. “A’dal, we have returned,” Ger’alin said, going on one knee before the being of Light. “You are welcomed back to Shattrath, Commander Sunrage,” A’dal chimed. Several people in the chamber clapped – Ger’alin had been a favorite among them. They knew of his story in overcoming his addiction to arcane energies and stopping his wife from destroying the world. “And you, Alayne,” A’dal chimed, “you are welcome back as well. Will you take up the post you were offered but refused? Voren’thal could use a good mage in his ranks.” “I accept,” Alayne said simply. The crowd gasped. They had barely tolerated the woman because she had lost her power. “The Lich King’s shadow has been forever removed from our lands,” she announced, “but the threat of the Legion lurks always on the horizon. I will serve to stand against those who would destroy us all.” “You always have, even when your service takes the form of deceiving both friends and foes,” A’dal chimed happily. “Voren’thal will be pleased to hear of this.” “A’dal,” Ger’alin cut in, “I would like to request a further leave of duty for one month later this summer. I have promised…” “A vacation sounds like a good idea,” the naaru agreed, answering the thought before Ger’alin could finish voicing it. “Your lives are short; you should enjoy the gift of life from the Light while you can.” “Thank you, A’dal,” Ger’alin grinned. “We will be back on the job early tomorrow.” Bowing to the naaru and then to the others, the pair walked back out, mounted their animals, and rode for home. ~*~*~*~ 92


“Whoever kept an eye on this place did a good job,” Alayne observed as they gathered around the table for dinner. “I don’t see any dust.” “Apparently the Warchief sent word ahead,” Zerith replied. “They gave the house a good cleaning yesterday knowing we would be here today.” “It’ll be nice to sleep indoors on a real mattress and know that I don’t have to worry about getting in another battle at the crack of dawn,” Ger’alin sighed tiredly. “Speak for yourself,” Alayne muttered as she sliced up the bread and passed it around. “I think I’m going to have to refight everyone in Shattrath.” “It won’t be nearly as hard as you think to convince them you’re no danger,” Ger’alin replied. “You were able to convince the Disorder of Azeroth and they’re the ones who actually had to fight their way through all of your traps.” “The Forsaken are fighting that battle right now as well,” Callie volunteered. “Whether or not Sylvanas knew what Putress and the Apothecaries were doing, we’re all under suspicion.” “I know,” Alayne sighed. “Still, it is good to be home at last.” “It’s even better to know that the Scourge will never again threaten our people,” Dar’ja said as she poured tea into the mugs. “Fordragon’s sacrifice…does A’dal know?” “I couldn’t exactly tell him in the middle of that crowd,” Ger’alin winced. “But, I suspect he knows already. Why Fordragon wants us to keep it secret, I’ll never understand. But, I will respect his wishes.” “You may not understand it,” Alayne whispered so that she could not be heard over the clatter of plates and bowls. “But I do. Light look after you, Bolvar Fordragon,” she added, “and keep you safe on that journey. It is a difficult path to walk.” Banishing further thoughts, Alayne threw herself back into the conversation even as her thoughts tried to fly back to Northrend and to that frigid arena where the new Lich King now sat. ~*~*~*~ Locked in the massive block of ice that had once been a fortress, a being who had once been human, once been orc, once been a fighter and once a shaman, sat. His gaze stretched the boundaries of the earth. He could smell the stench of the living. He could feel the warmth of the Light as a distant thought reached out to him, offering comfort and compassion to the jailor of the damned. “Thank you,” he whispered to his unseen and unknown benefactor. “Thank you.”

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Alayne's Story: Part III