"Where are they?" Abbendis growled, sweeping the spyglass from end to end of Havenshire. The paladins had descended the crypt half an hour ago, and Goldring's knights encountered no more than the usual reinforcing Scourge. The Lich King had yet to show his hand, and while one might hope they would retrieve the weapon smoothly, Abbendis was not that kind of fool.
Angrily, she closed the the spyglass and turned away from the gleaming lines of knights. Jordan bowed his head to her as she left him upon the ramparts, all of the Crusade quiet now. No more Scourge touched the front lines, leaving them men anxiously waiting. The ballista were positioned to hit the Scourge encampments in Havenshire, and they waited on her signal.
On the ground again, Abbendis swung into her steed's saddle, feeling the sturdy beast easily handle her weight. She grasped the reigns and prepared to perform her rounds of checking their defenses and actions but noticed the approach of a messenger in great haste. She hailed him and trotted closer, slowing when she noticed him shouting his news – urgent then.
"The High Abbot is dead! They are inside! The Death Knights are inside!" the messenger cried, stumbling to a stop and leaning against her horse's side for breath. Stone faced, Abbendis looked towards the barracks, seeing people running around in confusion. The messenger sucked in air and reported quickly, "They wear our armor and tabards, milady. They slew High Abbot Landgren and freed the prisoner and now wreck havoc among us."
"Can you still run, boy?" she asked calmly. The whip of a man met her eyes and froze for a moment, then nodded quickly. "Then make haste to the Tyr's Hand encampment and tell General Terandis to sweep New Avalon and purge the infestation. Be quick." The young man nodded again and sprinted away.
The High General couldn't show fear. Once the messenger was gone, Abbendis' hands tightened their hold over her horse's reigns until the metal gauntlets creaked dangerously. The Lich King's counter wasn't a ground assault like Marcarius suspected. It was inside the city! The prisoner commander was freed, they were without their most powerful soldiers, and she was now without her honor guard. They were vulnerable. She was vulnerable.
A divine shield erupted around her just as the trap was sprung. The large pink fist of the Death Knight's grip ability grabbed her holy shell and ripped her from her steed to a position several dozen yards away, she grabbed her axe to slay the black knight, but then another hand grabbed her and pulled her further away from the walls, and then a third and a forth. No longer could she hope for reinforcement from Jordan and the lines, she found, as she ended finally several hundred yards away from her horse and now alone in the hilly area east of New Avalon.
Runed blades struck against her impenetrable holy barrier. Abbendis didn't count how many were there waiting for her, nor look for how many more were coming to kill her. She saw the glowing blue orbs in the eye sockets of the Scarlet Crusade helmets and swung her axe, holy light blazing up around her in a fiery aura.
In the final few seconds of the divine shield, Abbendis shouldered through the first of the Death Knights and spun to face them, leaving her back clear for the slow retreat back to New Avalon and no longer surrounded. The first of the Scourge went up in sudden flames, burned to ash before he could even fall, while the second had his sword shattered and skull cleaved in two by her swing. The rest found that her shield had disappeared.
Waves of Light and fire trailed Abbendis' axe as she swung, consuming the enemy if her weapon didn't. Many times their blades bit her armor, some catching flesh, and the same light would swirl around the new wound and leave her unharmed. The first sign of weakness was when she parried three swings at once, catching the last inches from her neck with the butt of her axe, and the combined strength momentarily overcame hers and forced her down to a knee.
Immediately, another knight stepped to around his comrades and swung towards her unprotected side. Abbendis braced herself and called for the Light, trying to stop the attack from killing her. Just as the blade descended, however, a thick, scarred staff parried the runeblade, just before someone slammed into the Death Knight and sent him stumbling back. On the other side, a whip caught the throat of another and yanked him from his feet, the sudden jerk causing him to drop his Scourge weapon.
Abbendis shrugged off the three blades from her axe and stepped back, regaining her footing. She saw Marcarius there, still in his civilian garb, with a grim expression on his face. Aelina stood at her right, lovely and wanton with her barbed whip. Though grateful for the assistance, she knew the commander to still be wounded.
"You were wrong, you bloody warlock," she spat as the Death Knights moved to encircle them, standing back to assess the new threat.
There was no sarcasm from him. "So I discovered. When I realized the intent to kill you without your guard, I came immediately." He thrust his staff up into the air and slammed its heel into the hard ground, causing a tremor to pass under their feet. Standing boldly, he shouted, "Now go! Return to New Avalon. I will hold off your escape."
One Death Knight laughed, twirling his blade like it was a serpent. "And what can you do against us, worm? You don't even have your enchanted armor!"
Shadows engulfed his chest in a sudden blast from Marcarius' staff, and the man stumbled back with a cry as his armor dissolved, followed by his flesh. The warlock grunted. As if a cue for them, the remaining dozen Death Knights clamored forward, calling for Abbendis' death. She watched the warlock cast a strange net of green and purple that froze the mass for a second, and she dropped to a knee, muttering a blessing of the Light to protect Marcarius.
Blue light spiraled over him as the blessing was set, but he didn't look back at her. The Death Knights broke through the net. Abbendis turned to flee, looking back to ensure Marcarius could handle himself.
Without the enchantments, the warlock's spells should have been weak and his mana pool very limited. Instead, he recklessly blasted bolts of shadow and summoned great flames, seemingly ignorant of any limitations, and when the Scourge reached him, he boldly engaged them with his worn staff. The wood stopped the blades like it was steel.
Marcarius shouted a spell in the demonic language of warlocks, and a curse settled over the Death Knights that was meant to weaken them. Immediately their movements grew sluggish, like a warrior after much fighting, and their speed slowed greatly. It evened the field spectacularly. In the meanwhile, the vicious succubus harried and bled the mob with quick strikes, yanking away anyone that seemed too steady.
Spellcasting went two ways, however. Abbendis saw the hand coming but couldn't dodge, and she was caught around the middle by the pink grip, tugged from her feet. Hands of the dead ripped free of the ground and tried grabbing Marcarius' ankles, but he jumped free and still managed to catch the airborne Abbendis by the waist, sliding back several feet from the force.
With a deep shout, Marcarius threw her back towards the city, spinning with his staff and knocking the head of the closest Death Knight. The helmet deflected it, and the knight thrust his fist forward. A smaller form of the grip caught the warlock by the throat, choking him and preventing any verbal casting.
Abbendis found her return routed by three more Death Knights, advancing towards her. One was still immolated by Marcarius' fire, but it was only the cloth, not touching him under the armor. She stepped back, feeling her back press against the solid one of Marcarius. She briefly wondered how he was still standing, wounded as he was, as well as how he was still casting spells. Surely he wasn't that naturally talented.
As one, they threw themselves against their foes, her axe cleaving towards the one to her left and Marcarius thrusting his staff towards the bulk, unleashing another blast of shadow when the choking hand spell dissipated. Abbendis found one blade in her shoulder as the woman she cleaved went up in flames. Upon healing the wound, stepping back to disengage, the burning knight went up in a violent conflagration, screaming. At the same moment, a whip caught the third around the middle and tossed him from his feet.
Abbendis ran, knowing the work of Marcarius. In the battle, the warlock found himself kicked back after a parry, and he tumbled through the dirt, coming up on a knee defiantly between them and her. The Death Knights hissed with frustration, advancing again, only to find themselves beat back by wildly strikes of Aelina's whip. Before Abbendis could get too far, a knight rose a hand purposely, but a combined attack from the two interrupted him and sent him reeling back.
Breaking free now and back into the city, Abbendis found heavy fighting taking place at the orchids, with billowing flames consuming their fields and shapes moving around them. Ignoring that, she quickly moved up the walls to find Commander Jordan, ordering reinforcements to return for Marcarius. She rejoined her own steed and rode back quickly, hearing others fall in behind her.
At the site of the battle, one man against a dozen, Abbendis found the warlock in full retreat, stepping back quickly to prevent getting surrounded. She could tell her blessing had helped fortify his ability, but it wasn't enough to overcome the black knights. His fire and shadow spells were somehow still as powerful as ever, though coming now at a slower rate, but their use was now only to keep the knights at bay. The anti-magic shell ability the Crusade found more commonly among banshees was now being used by the knights against Marcarius.
Their charge was noticed. Rather than try to flee the mounted cavalry, the Death Knights pulled several from their horses with their grip spells, heaving their heavy blades into the scarlet armor. Abbendis and the rest shouted battle cries, weapons drawn. In the final moment before they hit, she saw from the corner of her eye Marcarius miss his final parry, taking a barbed axe into his unprotected chest.
Even so, she did not falter. Abbendis retaliated with her own axe, knocking the man from his feet and caving in his armor. He hit the ground with a strangled choke, his heart getting crushed by his own armor. The others trampled and cut down the other knights while Abbendis wheeled around for the commander that had saved her.
She found Marcarius not a bleeding corpse, but standing again with the help of his demon. Blood ran over his form, yet not nearly enough for any wound to be fatal. His shirt and tabard bore a wide hole in the front, without a wound beneath. That axe blow hadn't pierced him, somehow. She approached him slowly. Upon catching sight of her, Marcarius stiffened his stance and saluted.
"You are proving remarkably hard to kill, Commander," she told him after returning the salute. "How did you manage that without your enchanted armor?" Noticing the discolor of skin from a Death Knight disease, she cleansed him and ran a brief flash of Light to heal his wounds.
The man's look was smug as he ripped off the tattered shirt and tabard, and Abbendis saw a bundle fall from his chest, having been tucked behind the clothes. He showed his wrist, where an oddly shaped length of cloth was hastily tied. The color scheme told her of its identity, and she barked a disbelieving laugh.
"I ask, who says I was without my gear?" Marcarius said, tucking the bundle under an arm. The sneaky rat had scurried his enchantments under his clothes, rather than take the time to wear them properly – he still gained the benefits, while likely it was the robes under his shirt that protected him from the axe blow.
He took one of the unmanned horses and climbed atop, Aelina at his side like a bloodhound. Abbendis called for the men around her to gather again, preparing to return to New Avalon. Before she could give the shout, their alarm sounded. The bells atop the walls struck wildly, warning them that something was coming, something that worried Commander Jordan. Abbendis struck her reigns, her steed leaping forward.
Goldring and Pendance returned from their raids empty handed. The rumor of Mograine and the Ashbringer being inside the crypt was just a ruse – though they had found, and brought to justice, the old traitor Baron Rivendare. Nothing but time was lost for it, and once back, the numbers heavily bolstered their ranks again against the coming terror. The gryphons were saddled and armored quickly, their riders receiving an encouraging speech from the wing commander.
Abbendis truly was glad for Marcarius' precaution then, seeing the dread beasts hovering menacingly over the Scourge position, with only a couple small dots marking the bone gryphons. They had their full reserve then. Word had also reached her of a modest reinforcement of several hundred paladins and knights from Light's Hope Chapel – the leadership there knew it was quality, not quantity.
Between New Avalon and Tyr's Hand's gryphons, five scores of warbirds were ready to face the frostwyrms. Abbendis had outlined a defensive strategy for them, hoping to utilize the ballista and archers in synergy with their gryphons. In the time it would take to bring the wyrms down, however, their ranks could be devastated. Scouts had picked up the massing of Scourge ground units. The ghoul hordes had been diminished, but now the ones not burned had been put together again in the abomination horrors.
The only positive news was that the ships were in the final throes of loading supplies. Abbendis gave the word for the chosen, elite soldiers to start boarding the current ships. The Argent Dawn emissary had been brought up to speed already and pledged his men to escort their civilians from the Scarlet Enclave back to Light's Hope, and he gladly accepted the soldiers she was leaving behind to defend the last haven of Light.
While she was at the harbor, a courier from Hearthglen had reached her. His message read:
The armies of Hearthglen and Tirisfal are less than a day's ride from New Avalon. We ride with the Light shining upon our backs and the wind at our heels. Soon the Scourge will have to content with the full might of the Scarlet Crusade!
Light Bless You,
-High Commander Galvar Pureblood
The courier had been a disguised Scourge Death Knight, amazing considering she was surrounded by her very strongest yet none noticed him. Again, it had been Marcarius – the exhausted and weak warlock barely upright in a saddle – that noticed the blue eyes of the man and suggested she try her Turn Undead spell. The spy was quickly burned to dust, and her response was given to a gryphon rider to redirect the approaching armies to Light's Hope Chapel with the rest.
The Lich King would see them in Northrend.
All of New Avalon shook with the cry of ten thousand voices when the final frostwyrm plummeted from the sky and crashed into the abandoned inn, crushing the building. Half of their gryphon riders remained. The great wall was aflame, all the ballista upon it incinerated and the men who manned them slain nearly to the last man. Men rushed to fill the burning gaps in their lines, pitched desperately against both the Death Knight army, abominations, cultists, and spitting crypt fiends. More than a thousand Scarlet soldiers had already been slain, and it showed in the return of slavering ghouls.
Two hours of fighting later, and there were still civilians trying to evacuate. Barely three scores of crusaders and two-hundred footmen escorted them, as every available man was used in the fight or waiting to cycle in for the exhausted ones still alive. At Abbendis' command, their mages set upon dispelling the flames from the walls, and the legion of archers quickly ran up to man it.
It was their victory here. The Argent Dawn and Scarlet Crusade stood together as one against the Scourge, and not even the best the Lich King could send managed to overtake them. The airborne plague from Heigan the Unclean weakened the western side of the frontlines, where the wind blew, for a short while, until their gryphon riders swooped in and demolished the cauldrons and beat back the familiar cultist.
From the hospital, where he had been forced to return after his new battle, Marcarius outlined a quick, devious plan for their paladins. A cohort of mounted cavalry managed to storm through and trample the Scourge horde, using the Divine Shield to protect them from the loathsome Death Knights. The old training exercise of cycling points was used to keep the shields at the forefront of the charge. It was appropriately devastating, even if many of those trampled still got back up.
When the Scourge was commanded to pull back and regroup, the civilians had already cleared out and the time had come to have the soldiers on the lines begin boarding the ships. In the war council, it was proposed again that they use their strength to crush the Lich King once and for all. Their gryphons could disable or bring down the necropolis, and the Lich King would be trapped with no place to run. Not even Marcarius argued the possibility, though he was hesitant.
Before they reached a conclusion, carrier pigeons flowed in from their distant scouts. While Acherus could produce only so much filth, they were still in the Plaguelands. The Lich King had called reinforcements from elsewhere, and the death lord himself raised great monstrosities that they had never seen before. Flesh titans, the scouts called them, the weakest with the strength and size of ten abominations. Gargoyles, one scout reported, were numerous enough to block the whole sky when they flew. Only the luck of the Light could save them from the Lich King when the hordes finished gathering and he gave the order.
Worst still was the vision of the "Light" that came upon her shortly after the news. It showed her the utter destruction of her city and people, with its message for her to abandon them and come straight away. Apparently, Bishop Street received the same vision, meaning the Nathrezim had begun targeting others. He would need to be told the truth.
Fortunately, they wouldn't be there when the Scourge came. Abbendis rode abreast with the weak Marcarius along the dock to the final ship, her flag called the Sinner's Folly. They were the last to board, with this ship the grandest of all and most powerful of the warships. Captain Shely himself commanded this one.
It had been a strange march through New Avalon. The streets were empty, the whole city quiet. Wind carried dust and ash in its wake, from fires still burning places after the evacuation. The once holy land around her cried its agony at the spilled blood of innocents and the encroaching blight. Her escort had surrounded her, but only Marcarius took the position as a companion, riding with her.
At the blasts of the throaty Scourge war horn, Abbendis gave the command to Sir Goldring to take his best knights and march to Light's Hope Chapel. He was to report to Tirion Fordring and position himself under the aged paladin's direct command. The knight immediately argued, bringing up that Northrend was where he would be needed as her guard the most.
"It is far more dangerous, yes. But tell me, which matters more: the life of the High General or the thousands of lives of both civilian and soldier awaiting the axe blow at Light's Hope? You are a faithful friend and strong soldier. If you can make any difference, I want it to be there," was her solid yet gentle reprimand.
Grasping his reigns, Goldring gave her a meaningful look. "Who, then, will replace me, milady?"
Abbendis already had whom in mind. Before the small assembly, she announced, "Commander Marcarius, you are hereby relieved as your position of commander, stripped of both title and all its privileges."
The warlock barely glanced at her, a small smile on his lips. "Bummer."
Goldring's eyes were wide then, understanding, as she continued, "It seems, Marcarius, that you are in need of a position among us and I in need of a head of my guard. Perhaps we might find a mutual solution to our problems, in time."
In a flash, the gleaming longsword of Goldring was out and its tip pressed into Marcarius' throat. His horse danced under his skilled control, responding to its master's tension. "You'll protect her, warlock. You'll swear the oaths and live and die for her, and if you shirk in any of your duties, I will come for you. I will flay the skin from your back and use it as your gag for when I crucify you and flog you to death. I will use the Light to keep you alive for weeks before I am through. Am I understood?"
Marcarius, the exhausted warlock, brought up his hand and pushed the blade away with a finger. His eyes were cold though his expression dispassionate. "Quite so, yea never clearer. But the only oaths from me will be pulled through dead, cold lips, sir knight. If it isn't clear my desire to keep the High General safe already, then I recommend you check yourself to a healer for certain madness."
"He'll do perfectly," Abbendis cut in, amused, seeing Goldring's face turning red in his rage. She looked north, towards the advancing Scourge army. "Now go, Sir Goldring. You must reach Light's Hope before the Scourge do. Return Tirion's attention to the Ashbringer."
Finally, after the parting, Abbendis and half her guard reached the docks to the admiral's waiting ship. The loud scuffs of their horse's hooves and slapping waves were the only sounds. The men standing post all saluted her passing. She went up the ramp before Marcarius. Once everyone was aboard, the ramp was brought in, and the admiral shouted at the men to depart.
As her nervous horse was taken to the stables below deck, the high ranking officials that made up her 'council' rushed to Abbendis, bombarding her with comments, news, concerns, and questions about which hand to wipe with. She withheld her sigh and ignored the peaking stress, giving them her attention and words. Marcarius slunk away, as was his way.
AN: Alright I want to talk about the changes wrought by Marcarius. Originally, he was to only have a part with the demon, and so they'd be sailing out in chapter two from the Wrath-obliterated Scarlet Enclave. Instead, I decided to let him do the Blizzard-logic Adventurer thing (army can't defeat enemy for six months; all it takes it 5 quests from one man involving killing six enemies, a pipebomb, and the enemy leader's head for the army to win). However, I did this within reason. He took the best to the Scourge Roosts with him, he didn't just man one cannon to kill all the frostwyrms, he can be defeated and taken out of commission, and best of all he can be wrong. Without the Ashbringer, there was no hope for anyone in the Plaguelands when the Lich King came, so from the start it's obvious that they couldn't win out.
Now, I could have let them get the Ashbringer from Darion, let Abbendis cleanse it and wield it, and really make a whole new Wrath Expansion with Marcarius at her side. That wasn't the point of this story though. I just wanted a story that gave Abbendis the spotlight she deserved. Like Rennah, it's meant to be short and sweet, but this time a full story. Chapters are typical book length (3-5k words each), and the whole story itself is 41k words.
*If you don't know the difference so far between this story and the game yet though, know that rather than everyone in the Scarlet Enclave dead (Tyr's Hand has a pop of 9k alone, so that's a lot of dead), most of them made it to Light's Hope as refugees or soldiers. And rather than leave with a few hundred soldiers to Northrend, Abbendis now has a few thousand (and is capable of actually being a potent force in Northrend). Scarlet and Argent ties have also begun to reform.