Chapter 29: The Caverns of Time
It had taken two days and another night for them to reach the caverns. Addy had been riding on camel-back for most of that. Her backside hurt severely and for a while she had tried to walk, thinking it couldn't be worse than the dull ache in her hips. But after only half an hour of slipping on loose sand, she had begrudgingly hopped back up on the camel and continued on her way.
The caverns were unimpressive on the surface. If not for the fact that it was the only thing in miles around she probably wouldn't have looked twice at it. It was a small series of rocky mounds, some jagged peaks hundreds of feet in the air. As they approached, the low-lying rocks created a narrow entrance towards the cave, where soldiers and volunteers from all over Azeroth had set up preparing to fend off the Legion from entering the cave behind them. There were barricades and towers and all other sorts of defenses around the encampment with dozens of tents and hundreds of soldiers of all sorts.
There was a distinct separation of Horde and Alliance, but there was still an area in the middle where many people intermingled. Trolls and Draenei laughed over a cask of ale, a gnome and a goblin were arguing and tinkering over some sort of weapon, and several undead were laughing alongside stormwind humans.
Addy remembered Thronton in Pandaria, how he called them monsters. She wondered if these people thought the same, and were just hiding their thoughts for the sake of polite conversation.
An Argent man approached them, coming to attention before the Highlord. "Sir. We've secured the caverns."
Tirion Fordring gave him a tight smile, looking exhausted. Addy agreed, they had been riding all night and the light from the rising sun had only just breached the horizon. It was cold out - Addy hadn't realized how cold it would get in the desert at night.
"How many?" Tirion asked, looking at the size of the camp.
The Argent man didn't miss a step, walking alongside the Highlord as they walked towards the tents, "Two thousand. Half of them are stationed here, five hundred in Gadgetzan, and the rest are scattered around various settlements."
The lines around Tirions face tightened, "Not enough, not nearly enough."
The Argent man agreed, "It's been hard to convince people to come to this damned godless desert. People want to stay closer to their homes and defend. Can't blame them really."
Tirion nodded once, "I've brought maybe two hundred. But all well-trained Paladins - healers included."
The man nodded, "We need healers, I'll show them the healers tent later. Most of the critically injured have been moved into the caverns to stabilize them."
Addy wasn't sure how the caverns could stabilize injuries, and she felt a nervous anxiety rise in her throat. They didn't expect her to heal, did they? She hadn't done much healing in her training. Really the last time she had healed major injuries had been at the Westfall attack...and not very successfully.
She felt her throat close for a moment when she thought about the little girl...Katie. No, she couldn't fail like that again.
"I'll be heading into the Caverns myself," Tirion spoke, his jaw set in a way that showed his displeasure at the fact. "I'll be leaving you in charge of the fight out here, I'll leave about 150 men with you, take 50 into the midpoint. A small group will be headed into the central caverns to stop anything that gets by. Chromie has requested a few people to come down as well - apparently, she thinks we could help with the problem they've been having."
The man nodded, and then jumped to attention. He saluted and Tirion nodded back, and then the man was gone.
Tirion turned to a blood elf woman with pale blond hair which sparkled in the moonlight and was near blinding in the sun. Her eyes weren't the usual eerie green, but rather a burning gold, "Aster. Go split the group. I want at least three senior members in the caverns and five master healers, but the rest is up to you."
Aster nodded, not saluting, but turning and walking back towards the group silently.
Tirion turned to Father Samuel, "I'll have you and your charge with me in the caverns. Chromie asked for me specifically. I don't know why - light knows I haven't the slightest clue about portals. I know you've worked with rogues in the past and I might need your specialty to help set up once we're inside. Your apprentice should stick with you, it'll be easy to get lost in there."
Addy perked up at that. They were going into the caverns?! She felt a burning excitement in her chest. She had been deadly curious about the inside of the caves ever since she had first learned about them. Portals through time...such a thing seemed impossible…
Not for the first time, Addy realized how very far she had come from her tiny vineyard in Westfall.
Not for the first time, Anduin wondered if rogues ever slept.
He yawned and rolled his shoulders a few times as he walked down the halls of the keep, two guards behind him a few paces. He had been awoken late at night by an important missive. He had lept up and dressed quickly, his eyes weary with only a few hours of sleep under his belt.
"Has my father arrived?" He asked the guards who had awoken him.
"Yes, your highness." One of them replied, "King Greymane as well."
Anduin nodded and quickened his pace. He doubted they would wait for him before starting and he wanted to be there. He didn't want to miss anything important.
The door to the war room was shut firmly and a guard quickly opened it for him. Anduin nodded in thanks and quickly entered the room.
His father and Genn were standing together, frowning down at the map in front of them. Anduin blinked in surprise to see Tess standing nearby, and she gave him a friendly smile which he returned.
At the head of the table was the man they were all here for. Mathias Shaw was standing there, looking a bit worse for wear with his usually neat red hair ruffled, and a small amount of shadow on his normally clean-shaven chin. His mustache had overgrown slightly and was no longer trimmed and styled. However, despite all of this, he looked unharmed.
"Mathias." Anduin greeted with a friendly look.
Shaw gave him a tight smile, "Your Highness."
Anduin had always had a good relationship with the spymaster. Back when he was younger, and when Shaw was a lower member of SI:7, the man had often been tasked with looking after the young prince from a distance. Anduin had always been aware of the man and in his youth had thought it quite funny to run him around by finding the best hiding places and watching the man tear his hair out trying to keep track of him.
He still didn't think the man had ever discovered the secret cave just outside the castle walls.
Anduin had been woken up due to the news that Shaw had finally returned from his mission. He and a small group of SI:7 had gone towards the new island that Khadgar had discovered, scouting it and mapping the locations of potential enemies.
"Anduin." His father nodded at him, "Alright we can start."
Anduin paused for a moment in surprise. They had waited for him after all.
Shaw made a motion to begin and Anduin walked up to the table, standing beside Tess who was strangely tense. He looked down and saw an ink map, neat but obviously hand-drawn. He quickly realized it was of the new island they had discovered. The shore was incredibly detailed, down to the last rock, and there was a place where a massive temple has been drawn on a small island to the southeast. It was the same one he had seen from the Skyfire. But other than that the inner portion of the island was nothing but blank parchment.
"Everything we have here is what we could see from shore." Shaw noted, "We didn't have a chance to move inland on the mainland. There seems to be a very large central peak in the middle of the island, with forest and swamp on the east, and more mountainous terrain in the west. I saw some villages and settlements in the north but I saw no inhabitants. There were Highborne ruins all along the east and southern coasts."
"That's to be expected." Anduin pointed out, "Especially if this is the Temple of Elune."
Shaw nodded, "The Legion seems to be focused mainly on the southern island, the one the temple is sitting on. I believe the portal is likely situated in the temple itself. The good news is that it seems that most of the demons are coming through portals directly to the attacks. The numbers guarding the island itself seem relatively small. I'm guessing they were working on the assumption that we wouldn't be able to find it."
Anduin frowned, "I thought they couldn't open portals directly to the fights? The whole point was that we needed to find the stabilized portal that they were coming through, and then they were teleporting from there to the attacks."
Shaw frowned, "It's possible they're coming through to the island, and then immediately leaving to the attacks. I just know that they weren't on the island. I didn't see any airships in the time I was there."
Varian straightened, looking down, "What's the possibility of a direct assault?"
There was a pause in the room as they all waited with bated breath.
Shaw was thinking about it, his eyes flickering back and forth over the map like he could see the island still. "With just the Alliance? Probably not. It's a smaller number than we expected, by far, but still, a force to be reckoned with."
Anduin stepped forward, "What about with the Horde?"
Shaw blinked, tilting his head, before he nodded, "Yes...yes, it's possible. If the Horde agrees to work with us, combine our forces, hit them with all we have."
Varian nodded, jaw clenched, "Then that's what we do. I'll send a letter to Vol'jin. He likely already has this information, Khadgar has never been one to withhold information from the Horde."
"We need to close the portal." Genn pointed out, "It doesn't matter how many we kill if we can't close that thing."
"Genn's right." Anduin spoke, "The Legion doesn't know where Azeroth is, they need a portal to get here. If we close it we cut them off from us."
Anduin flashed back to when he was a child, only eleven, and King of Stormwind while men and women of the Alliance stormed the Dark Portal to Outland. He had spent every waking moment leaning of the Legion, of their motives and methods. Bolvar had been proud of him, but Anduin could tell he was just humoring him. Bolvar had been the true leader of the Alliance at the time. Anduin just signed the parchments sending men and women to their deaths.
"Jaina." Varian suggested, "She may not like the Horde but she will work with us on this. Khadgar as well, if anyone knows anything about closing demon portals it's him."
There were a couple of soft chuckles around the room at that, but it was still tense.
"How many men can we assemble?" His father asked.
General Hammond Clay walked forward, the top general in the Stormwind army, "Within a day? About five hundred. Give me a week or two and we could probably recall another 1000 from abroad."
Varian clenched his jaw, "I don't know if we should wait…"
"The extra numbers would be good." Shaw pointed out, "It's probably best not to rush this."
Anduin frowned, "Perhaps, but we have the element of surprise for now. The longer we wait the more chances the Legion has to find out our plans."
Varian nodded and once again Anduin felt that burst of surprise at his advice being heeded. Eventually, his father sighed and leaned forward, "You have one week. Genn, send word to Moira and Mekkatorque as well. We'll need everyone we can spare."
Genn nodded, "I'll send word to Fordring as well. He wanted to know if we were planning anything. Said he would have a force able to join ours."
Anduin perked up but tried not to be obvious about it. He hadn't heard anything about Tirion Fordring's expedition to Tanaris since they left Pandaria. He hadn't heard of any attacks there, but every time he thought about it his heart started racing in anxiety. He'd had a few nightmares of Tirion returning to Stormwind, sorrow in his eyes and a familiar scarf in his hands…
"We would be grateful." Varian nodded, "We're going to need healers."
Varian avoided eye contact with Anduin, and Anduin chuckled. He knew his father expected him to argue, to demand he come with them. But he wasn't the child anymore who yearned for adventure. He had gone into war, been in battles, nearly died. The battlefield wasn't for him. He was better to be there after the fighting, to patch up wounds and help the people he would be of no use to in the field. He expected he would come on the Skyfire, keeping command while his father commanded on the field.
His heart clenched. Another person he loved in battle. He really did attract those who want to fight. Maybe that's why he had the light so strongly in him. He couldn't fight for others, but he could help those who could. Those he loved.
He cleared his throat. Looking down at the map of the accurately named Broken Shore, "How accurate is this map?"
"Very." Shaw nodded, "Thompson is nothing if not accurate."
Varian straightened, "Well then, let's send for some food. It's time to create a battle plan, and I think we're going to be here a while."
At first, Addy was left somewhat disappointed by the caverns. She was thankful to finally be out of the hot sun, and she had been able to wet down a cloth on the cool water that clung to the walls of the caves. She gently placed this cloth on the back of her neck, which was red and tender. Her nose and cheeks were also stinging a bit and she knew they were likely burnt as well.
But other than the lovely cool, they were just...caves. They stunk of mildew and stale air and the sounds of dozens of armored feet descending echoed through them, making them sound like a much larger army.
Finally, they reached a small open cavern in the tunnels. Addy still wasn't impressed but the cave itself was large. In the walls, she could see twinkling and crystals like the small hot springs cavern Anduin had shown her back in Stormwind. She was thankful it wasn't warm in this cave like it had been there.
"Alright," Tirion called out. "Aster, I want a hundred and fifty here. Set up a roadblock, shouldn't be too hard. "
And Addy could see why. There were at least three different exits from this cavern. She asked Father Samuel where they led.
"Dead ends mostly." Samuel shrugged, taking a drink from his canteen, "I think there may be a path that circles back up above. Only one path leads to the central sanctum."
Addy shifted, "We do know the path right?"
"Us?" He chuckled, "No. But we've got Chromie here, and she knows the true path. Very few mortals can navigate the caverns, and most require a guide if they need to come down here."
"Then wouldn't the demons just get lost?"
He straightened, "That's the plan. But we need to be certain. The men here will do their best to try and confuse them further."
Addy nodded, sitting down on a nearby rock and rolling her ankles. Climbing through the caves on the uneven rock was almost as bad as trekking through the desert on loose sand. Almost. Who knew fighting the Legion would require so much walking.
"We only rest a moment." The Highlord called out to the group, "Eat quickly, it's not long to the cavern but it's a rough journey."
Addy quickly ate the salted meat and hardtack that was handed out, wrinkling her nose at the taste. They were passing around something from a small canteen around the room, which she soon learned was lemon juice.
"Drink it, trust me." Father Samuel wrinkled his nose. "I don't know how long we'll be down here, and all we have is what you're eating now."
Addy drank a spoonful of the sour liquid, wrinkling her nose.
Soon enough, the fifty or so more who were continuing had stood up and gotten ready to continue. Chromie, the small gnome dragon, was humming lightly again as they gathered. In the dim light of the cavern, she seemed to glow, with small particles of what looked like sand collecting on their skin.
"This way." Chromie pointed to one of the passages. It didn't look any different than the others. Nothing that would make someone take it or ignore it, just a normal opening in the cavern wall leading down further into the caves.
Tirion nodded, "Alright. Everyone stay close together, things can get a bit...strange down here. Don't wander off and we should be okay."
Addy wasn't sure what he meant, but she shifted slightly closer to Father Samuel.
She wasn't sure what she expected as she crossed the threshold into the tunnel, but nothing happened. It was no different than the rest of the caverns as they continued their way into the dark. A completely normal cave.
Until it suddenly wasn't.
It started small. Just a lone evergreen tree in the middle of the tunnel. It was weird enough that it made Addy pause, blinking at it. She wondered how such a thing could grow so far underground. In a desert no less.
The next thing she saw was a small house. It was of pretty consistent construction, something you might see around the various farms in Westfall and Elwynn Forest, but definitely not something you'd see in Tanaris.
"Is this the center?" Addy asked, confused. The house looked lived in. there were clothes hanging to dry in the window, and she could see jars with various preserves. As she peeked in the window she could see a meal prepared on the small wooden table.
Father Samuel grabbed her shoulder and pulled her away, "Best leave that be Miss Fairchild. You'll find nothing good."
Addy swallowed at his tone, and pulled away, a sinking feeling in her gut.
They passed various other houses as they went down. Human, orc, troll, even elven structures half-buried in the cave walls. Nobody paid them much mind, but they made Addy nervous. Were they glances into the past? If she went inside what would happen? Would she be sucked into the past? Or was the past missing these buildings as well? She wondered if people just woke up one day to find their homes gone around them…
They came to a small corner in the tunnel and Tirion paused, looking back at the group.
"Brace yourselves." He warned them, "We don't have time to stop, so no matter what keep moving."
Addy looked at Father Samuel, who looked a bit confused himself. What in the Light could be around that corner that could warrant such a warning?
But when she turned, she came to such a sudden stop that despite the Highlords warnings she couldn't help but pause and stare open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the sight before her.
"Well." Father Samuel stared at well, his eyes wide with wonder, "Would you look at that."
She was looking, and it was...it was…
It was like nothing she had ever seen. The walls of the tavern were breaking away, creating an opening into a giant space of...nothing. It was like the night sky, with stars and moons and darkness, but swirling around the darkness were colors like she'd never seen in her night sky. Purples and reds and blues all mixed with the blackness. And the stars weren't familiar, none of the constellations Anduin had shown her, the same ones she'd watched in the night sky as they crossed the desert, where there. Bits of the rock wall had broken off into these openings, floating in the space behind them.
"What is it?" A nameless dwarf asked.
"Keep walking," Tirion called back, jump-starting Addy back into action. She kept to the middle of the path, trying to stay away from the walls like she might get sucked out into the void. "It's the twisting nether, the space between worlds."
"Meddling with time has, uh...consequences." Chromie giggled, her voice like wind chimes, "It's not dangerous so long as you don't try to jump into it."
Addy stared at the darkness, a tight fear in her chest. Something about it terrified her. There was no much...nothing. She could get sucked out into the void and be stuck there, amongst the nothing, dying of thirst and famine, no hope of rescue or a way to end her suffering.
The further they traveled, the more muddled she started to feel. Her heart started racing, her mind going numb. She felt like they'd been walking for days and hours at the same time. The only reason she knew it had only been hours was her lack of hunger or thirst. Pushing each foot forward felt like swimming through thick molasses, even though she felt no real resistance to her movement. She wondered if it was some sort of magic?
But before she could even question it further, they turned into an enormous cavern and all thoughts left her mind as her eyes widened and mouth dropped open in awe at the sight before her.
It was massive! Large enough that a massive bronze dragon was sleeping in the middle of the cavern, and it barely took up any space. Various people were milling around, mostly elves that she assumed were actually dragons in disguise. Portals were opening around the room in bursts of golden dust, and others were closing just as fast. Small tunnels all reached away, some covered in beautiful greenery that looked like they to lead to a forest, another covered in flaming trees like fire was bursting from the tunnel. She looked up towards the roof of the cavern and saw even more dragons, smaller than the giant in the middle, flying around like birds high in the sky.
"This is…" She shook her head, words escaping her.
Even Father Samuel looked stunned, his eyes scanning the cave widen and enchanted.
Tirion Fordring looked unaffected and Addy wondered just how many times one had to come down here before they could look at this like it was normal and not like an entirely different world.
"Durgan, you and your men set up camp at the entrance to the cave. It's too large for a full blockade but set up coverable positions. Jara, set up camp with your men near the back - Nuradormi will show you the way." He motioned to a pretty golden-haired elf girl with dark eyes that seemed to shine with gold dust. She nodded and took a small group with her. Addy stayed close to Father Samuel. They were the only two people not a member of the Argent Crusade who had come with the pack and apparently Father Samuel had some sort of info she was lacking because he stayed close to Tirion Fordring.
"Chromie." The Highlord called to the tiny dragon, "I believe you had something to show us?"
The small dragon started walking towards the back of the cavern, and they followed. Addy was a bit uncertain, wondering if she should be here or if she should stay with the group-making camp. But Father Samuel was going and he was really the only person she knew in this strange new place.
"These portals here." Chromie motioned to the various portals, all swirling with golden dust and opening at random around the room, "Started appearing the same time as the attacks on Tanaris."
The Highlord frowned, looking at the portals. Addy did as well, her eyes gleaming. She hadn't taken a portal before. She wondered what it felt like to go through one. She felt like it would be like plunging into water, the way the surface of it shimmered. "Do demons have the capabilities to make these portals?"
"No." Chromie giggled as if the thought was ludicrous, "If they did we would be in much more trouble. But the caverns are on a conjunction of lay lines that makes opening portals here much easier than other places, I suspect that we have a rogue dragon, perhaps a member of the infinite Dragonflight, working to help them make these doorways."
"Where do they go?" Father Samuel asked.
Chromie shrugged, "We aren't certain. The portals are unstable and could collapse at any second. We haven't dared go through any. We're working to try and stabilize one to get an idea of where they are, however…" She paused looking uncertain, "We do know that they are all going to the same time...just different places."
"They're looking for something?" Tirion concluded.
Chromie nodded, "We believe so as well. However, we do not know what. The time point is seemingly random, around 3500 years ago."
Addy's jaw dropped in surprise. 3500 years?! That seemed unfathomable. She knew that the original demon invasion was 10,000 years ago, and that itself was such a long time that it felt unreal. That there were people alive today who were alive then...it hurt her head to think about it.
Tirion nodded, "Well they can search all they want, unless they get bodies into the cavern to go through the portals then it doesn't matter."
"Well…" Chromie mused, "I suppose that depends on what's on the other side. But we need time to try and stabilize them, what with them opening and closing so quickly."
Tirion gave her a sardonic smirk, "I would think time would be the one thing you had in abundance."
"I have all the time in the world." Chromie spoke cheerfully, "But you don't."
Addy didn't really understand, but Tirion chuckled, and looked around, "We'll hold them back as long as we can, but they aren't called the Legion for nothing."
"Once we stabilize a portal and understand what's causing them, we should be able to stop them from forming again," Chromie spoke confidently - perhaps too much so.
But the Highlord didn't look perturbed, instead, he just nodded and turned to look at Father Samuel, "Father, we're on a shorter clock than you realize. The caverns are protected with time magic. By the time we are warned of an impending attack, it will have already begun."
Addy's eyes widened and she looked up at Father Samuel, worried.
Father Samuel nodded, but seemed as confused as her, "I see. What would you have us do?"
Tirion Fordring walked in the direction of the camp which was slowly setting up, "It'll be a dull and thankless task, but it needs to be done. A full-frontal assault on the caverns is likely, but I am concerned that they may send a small task force to sneak in, unseen. Have you taught your young apprentice how to consecrate the earth?"
Addy's ears perked up at the mention. It didn't sound like something she had learned, and it was confirmed when Father Samuel shook his head, looking bemused as he spoke.
"No, but this is as good a time as any to learn."
A/N: Yeah not dead whoooo. God I have been planning the next couple chapters for literally years so hopefully, they come out well. And the planning for the broken shore has begun. Hopefully, that turns out alright :)
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment you are all so lovely. As always you can find me on Tumblr stormwinds.
Until next time,