The Final Verdict
The Black Temple, Eve of The Raid - Shadowmoon Valley, Outland
Illidan Stormrage looked out over the embattled mortals below, giving Supremus their best showing in combat. In the distance, his unmatched eyes spied the Fel chaos given form that was the Doomwalker, a Fel Reaver of massive size heading their way, and undoubtedly sent by Kil'jaeden to accomplish a single task. The Fel Iron construct was the Legion's answer for the raid on Nathreza. If the mortals fighting blindly for the Light did not bring him low, and he doubted they could, the massive reaver would see to it that everything he had built in this long perverted Draenei temple would be smashed to pieces.
His wings sagged, as he let out a heavy, weary sigh, and then mentally contacted his followers. "Come to me, my Demon Hunters…" He set the message on repeat for those slow on the uptake, and soon enough, they all gathered at the topmost level of the Black Temple. There was barely enough room for them, and while he had seen their effectiveness in true combat against the Legion, he knew either the small army of mortals or the Doomwalker would likely lay them low. He resolved to, somehow, handle both problems but there was a far greater prize they needed to acquire, if his plans were to succeed.
Vehlar Stormclaw was among those gathered, sitting quietly off to the side, as he was wont to do. Around him, were the other shock troops the newer Demon Hunters had begun calling Dreadwings, each with their arms crossed, waiting, as their Lord monologued.
"Illidari...my...Demon Hunters..." Illidan flapped down from his perch, and landed to the edge of the structure closest to the Hand of Gul'dan, still erupting in the distance. "With countless worlds burning in the Legion's wake you answered the call… Yet these mortals in their…ignorance… have come to destroy their own salvation. Our time is short." Illidan turned, and snarled. "I will deal with these...intruders. You must venture to Mardum, and retrieve the Sargerite Keystone." His hand flared with an image of the object his Hunters would seek, and the crowd of blind elves burned it into their memory.
With a simple motion of his hand, Illidan gestured, and opened the portal he'd been gathering energy for all 'day'. "Now go." He turned his horned head then to an unremarkable elven Hunter as the monologue continued. "But remember, should you fail…all worlds Will burn!" Properly motivated, the Demon Hunter in question dashed for the portal. As it began to close, Vehlar and his squad moved for it as well, only for Illidan to hold up a hand. At once, they stopped moving.
The portal closed, and Illidan turned to them. "For you...I have another task. Some of you will guide our forces to that wretched Felhole, and reinforce our troops. Vehlar...pick three to stay with you, and remain here. The rest of you...move." Those Dreadwings who were heading for Mardum received their mental instructions, and moved quickly off through the temple to rally the requisite forces for their reinforcement portals. Assuming the Hunters on the other side could even open them.
Vehlar's chosen three were the best at striking from the shadows, striking from the air, and controlling the Demon within. Two of them were also Kaldorei, like the majority of the shock troops. Illidan looked over Yeraeth Felgazer, Feronas Sindweller, and Kvo'thei and nodded as he seemed to approve of Vehlar's choices. He waved a hand at an outcropping that shared the temple's top with them, and a group of ten acolytes, newly tattooed and armed, walked towards the older Hunters. Illidan put a hand on Vehlar's shoulder, and led him away, as he spoke in hushed tones, for all the good that would do among sharp eared elves. "This day may very well be my last...the weight of Fate is upon us…" He gestured to the middle distance, and Vehlar followed his gaze, just then noticing with his Spectral Sight the Doomwalker headed their way.
"Kil'jaeden has sent his answer for our assault on the Dreadlords...if the mortals below do not crush our troops, that machine surely will. You are the insurance against total destruction, Vehlar Stormclaw." Illidan finished, as he turned towards the comparatively smaller Kaldorei. Vehlar looked downwards, and shook his own horned head. "The Illidari serve yo-"
But Illidan cut him off. "I will remain to deal with these threats...I do not intend to fall to them...but all we have worked for cannot be lost here...if the worst comes, if this Temple falls, it will be up to you to rebuild us, Vehlar. Nobody knows the rituals as intimately as you...no other possesses the experience to rebuild the weapons Azeroth will need to defeat the Legion."
Vehlar still seemed torn about this decision, as he wanted to test either the mortals below or the Doomwalker against his Satyric soul blades, but it seemed Illidan had other plans. He could not argue with his Lord's logic, for it was more sound than many of his commands of late had been. He knew he was likely not the only one capable of rebuilding the Illidari, as Illidan always had backup plans for his backup plans, but he acquiesced all the same. "I will do as you ask...we will keep the fight alive. Where would you have us go?"
"Azeroth." Illidan said, with no hesitation. "You survived there once undetected...you must do so again. Take our fastest Netherwing Drakes, and make for the Dark Portal. Beyond that…you must lead them."
"I would rather fight…" Vehlar snarled, turning towards the others, "But I cannot fault your contingency plan...stay alive, Illidan. Without you, the Illidari will come undone. I do not have your...charisma. They will not bow to me."
"Do not worry over me, Vehlar Stormclaw...I have survived too long to end here. Go! Before the mortals find their way up here…"
Vehlar half sighed, half snarled, and then moved for the other Dreadwings. "Come...we are leaving." He led them through the temple, away from the sounds of fighting. He was loathe to leave without Illysanna, but she was already on Mardum. Ideally, their assault would be over fast enough to reinforce the Black Temple. His fellow Dreadwings formed a triangle around the less stealthy aspirants, as they descended from the Black Temple's northernmost side. There, Vehlar summoned the Netherwing Drakes on standby in the temple, and minutes later, they descended, enough for two riders per dragon.
"Kaineraku…" Vehlar said, approaching his mount, "You and your brood will take us to the Dark Portal. Once there, you may return to the wilds, and live free...do not go back to Shadowmoon Valley...it will only lead to your recapture."
The Nether Drake seemed caught by surprise at his words, and seemed somewhere between rage and appreciation as he growled a response in Common. "Free…? Jussst...like that? No...whipssss?"
Vehlar nodded, and the other drakes hissed in excitement. That just meant they would fly that much faster. "Yes. I've never cared for how the Dragonmaw brutes have treated you...your kin are fascinating creatures, and undeserving of such brutality. You are free to devour them as you please...I would grow a bit larger first, though." Kaineraku grinned at Vehlar, and then crouched low, as he and an aspirant climbed atop his neck.
Their journey was rather swift, and quite perilous, for the Nether Drakes brought them to the far northern edge of what was left of Shadowmoon Valley, flying along the deserted, mountainous area high enough to be out of range of spells or nets. Within half an hour of flapping through the void, their goal was in sight. Vehlar and the other Demon Hunters were focused on the Twisting Nether, however. It was an awe-inspiring sight, especially to their eyes as myriad patterns of volatile magic and mana twisted through eternity. With his eyes, Vehlar understood just how primitive the spellwork that had ripped Draenor apart truly was, and the Nether had no qualms about devouring the rest of the planet's energy.
He heard the Satyr within whisper to him, suggesting he slide off the drake, an easy mistake to make, and fall into infinity. He promised doing so would grant him more power, but Vehlar knew better. Abomination that he now was, his soul would be trapped within the Nether, where the Demon would be free to grow more powerful, along with its kin, to escape the perpetual prison his blades held them in, and be reborn in service to the Burning Legion once more. He resisted the whispers, and the others did the same, though several of the newbies almost tried to comply.
Once they landed behind the Dark Portal in the Hellfire Peninsula, Vehlar cut the bonds of slavery from the Nether Drakes' legs with little effort, and set them to do as they pleased. They winged towards the Netherstorm, where he assumed they would feast on flesh and mana until their size was enough to resist the Dragonmaw Clan's attempts at capture. They were in for harsh draconic retribution, and Vehlar felt no pity for the cruel, malformed orcs, more than happy to leave them to their deserved fate.
As Vehlar handled the drakes, the stealthiest of his chosen Dreadwings, a female Kaldorei by the name of Yeraeth, found a Sin'dorei Rogue of the Horde hiding in the shadows. With lightning fast movement Yeraeth dashed behind her and grappled her. The superior strength of the Demon Huntress had the smaller elf held in place, and open to attack. Feronas Sindweller moved to stab the blonde female. In the space of a second, Vehlar had slid over to his ever-eager apprentice, stopping his stab by simply bringing one crimson katana-like soul blade down vertically on the stabbing warglaives. They sank into the dead, crimson earth and Vehlar's ears twitched as he heard what sounded like crunching bone as they did. "Hold, Sindweller...this one may yet prove worth sparing…"
Vehlar turned to the woman, who was panting, but otherwise wisely motionless. His speech shifted from Demonic to Thalassian, and he addressed the rogue. "Your name, Blood Elf?"
"Just eat me, and get it over with Demon." She answered. She moved to struggle, but Yeraeth's knife dug into her pretty little throat, and she stiffened again.
Vehlar chuckled. "Is that what you think we do?" The visible part of his face darkened, and he frowned. "Or perhaps you've mistaken us for the mindless beasts out there." He gestured eastward, towards the ever-raging fight by Legion forces to reclaim the Dark Portal. For now at least, the Azerothian armies held them at bay.
"You are all mindless beasts!" She said, though as she started to raise her voice, Vehlar leaned in towards her. Shadow enveloped them, as the Dreadwings used the shadow magic inherent in their stolen appendages to hide their forms and sound from any overachieving guards that heard her squeak.
"We are Illidari." Vehlar said, after several moments of quiet. His smirk returned as the woman's Fel green eyes widened in recognition. "We slay Demons...we take their power, their knowledge...we use it against them...and we win."
"Liar…" The Sin'dorei hissed, "What have you won...a wasteland. I have heard of your Demon infested Temple. A defiled place of Light in a Fel ridden hole."
Vehlar tilted his hooded head in the gloom of their outstretched wings. "You have a point...but our lodgings were surprisingly comfortable...for those who survived. But this is not worth discussing...we assaulted Nathreza, the homeworld of the Dreadlords, little Blood Elf, and we returned to this Fel ridden hole victorious. We did not have to sacrifice everything just to achieve a single victory, we gave everything we were for the power to defeat the Demons...we use their own magic against them, and it works. We could show you how."
The Sin'dorei's expression shifted from skepticism to angered shock, as if the idea of her joining the Illidari was offensive. "Boasts and lies from a withered, tree-hugging husk. You have never even seen a Dreadlord. Lies will not avail you, my loyalty is to my people. Now kill me or release me, but spare me this drivel."
Vehlar rose slowly, and shifted his wings until the female could see his shoulders, and the different colored pale skin that formed the bony outline of the appendage. He tilted his hooded gaze upwards then, and the Fel green glow beneath became obvious to her, as was the source of it. She was both entranced and horrified, going by her expression, and she shifted back, against Yeraeth, who was watching, expressionless, for the slightest aggression in the Sin'dorei. "Where do you think I got these wings, ignorant Blood Elf? A prayer session with the Light? The evidence of my 'boasts'," He said with actual air quotes before gesturing to the other Dreadwings, "Is right before your Fel Green eyes. Do not mistake my appearance for age...though I am rather old...I've more than enough power to deal with you. So. How shall we deal with you, nameless Blood Elf of the Horde? Do you want to spend another day watching your barbarian friends die by the hundreds? Or do you want to become a potent weapon against the Demons, that will help more of them live? Make your choice."
The Sin'dorei just stared at him, and spoke in a hoarse whisper. "You...did that to yourself...on purpose? You realize that taking in their evil makes you as evil as they are, right?"
Vehlar lowered his hooded head, and smirked. "We are similar yes, but there is a difference between Demon and Hunter...and that is our ever-burning desire for vengeance. Understand, Hordeling, nothing is more important than the Legion's demise. We have given everything to reach a level of power capable of matching theirs. They fear us, as they fear Illidan. They could fear you, as well, once you learn how best to slaughter them. Choose."
From the angle they were at, the ever-present butchery of demon and mortal Azerothian races alike was just visible in the distance. The Sin'dorei glanced over at the latest battle, and winced, as she saw a stereotypical brutish orc juggernaut be torn in half by one of the Eredar warriors with minimal effort. Her eyes then shifted back to Vehlar, and the wings of his people. She knew who was behind the Scourge that had ravaged her home, her planet, and had been responsible for sundering her people from the Kaldorei. It was hard to rationally deny a viable option against the demons that didn't involve sacrificing a massive font of power just to win a single battle. Outland had shown her, and many others, that the Legion could always field more troops, that such sacrifice was unsustainable, and would not win the day.
Finally, she spoke. "My name is Jesalia Fireseeker...if you and your kin can make a difference against the Demons...I will aid you. Fighting them the way we have been...it's not going to work. It hasn't worked for all the other worlds they've burned through. If we can take the fight to them...show me how."
Vehlar nodded at Yeraeth, and the hulking but agile woman let the tiny Sin'dorei go. The group moved to the back of the Dark Portal's platform, and hugged the wall. Jesalia spoke quietly then, returning to the shadows. "I will distract them. Watch for my signal, you'll know when you see it. That will be your chance to move through the Portal."
Vehlar nodded again, and the Demon Hunters waited quietly in the gloom of their shadow magic. Even if she did decide to simply return to the Horde and her place in it, Vehlar was confident they could handle whatever guards came for them, and still get through the portal. It was escaping on the other side, that would prove difficult.
Up above, as the latest battle raged, Jesalia arrived to find herself face to face with a human mage both of Dalaran, and the Alliance. To one who had experienced the racism of both, Jesalia saw little differentiation between the two. "Jesalia." He said, approaching her. "My Divination has detected a Demonic taint behind the Dark Portal. Did you see anything down there?"
Being one of the few Horde members that could understand Common after years of being allied with the humans of Lordaeron and their first Alliance, Jesalia often ended up as the liaison between the two factions sharing the Dark Portal's entryway. "Demonic? Nope. Nothing dangerous down there. A few Fel infused creatures wandering aimlessly, but otherwise, we are secure."
The mage peered at her and her spine tingled, as she got the sense he'd seen through her lie. "Very well. If you're not busy, we could use your blades on the Legion's officers. The battle below is not going well."
Jesalia nodded. "I will aid however I can. Reinforcements should be coming through soon, right?"
The human's eyes narrowed slightly, but it was momentary. "Yes...in about a minute. I'll leave you to your work." He turned then, and by all appearances seemed to be returning to the Alliance side of the platform. Jesalia faded into the shadows, and waited. The human began chatting to one of the Kaldorei druids, who was healing and invigorating those who managed to return from the battle below with minor injuries and a lack of mana.
Minutes later, a fresh batch of warriors from Azeroth came roaring through the portal. The Horde was high on berserker rage and the imminent din of battle, while the Alliance soldiers seemed to be quieter, and grimly determined not to die. They joined the clash below, and the tide turned. As it always did when fresh meat arrived. Unfortunately, meat was something the Legion had in bulk, and their teleporters could bring in entire squads at once. Once the soldiers marched through, Jesalia hurled a throwing dagger over the edge of the platform, where it stuck in the dirt just before the slightly darker than average shadow that she believed was one of her new allies.
She watched somewhat impressed as they climbed the massive stone base of the Dark Portal in bursts of two jumps and a wing flap. Once they were all atop the platform, they would have moments before being seen. Unfortunately, the human mage was still wary, and had been glancing in Jesalia's last known direction when Vehlar and his Dreadwings arrived atop the platform. Seeing their wings, tattoos, and familiar green eyes, he raised the alarm immediately. "Demons! Demons have snuck behind our line!"
The Horde atop the platform knew the Common word for their foe, and saw where the human pointed. From both factions, came warriors on standby who were a cut above the grunts being fed to the unending carnage by the stairs. One, was an imposing Draenei Paladin wielding a hammer with a surprising amount of sharp edges for a blunt weapon. From the Horde side came a Tauren, wielding one of their signature battle totems. They charged at the group of shadowy green eyed elves by the portal's entry, but by the time they came close enough to act, they had already dashed through.
Seeing the demons were going to get into the gap in reality that led to their home world, several people acted at once. The Draenei outstretched a hand, and from it, a hammer composed solely of the Light appeared, sailing for one of the slower elves. The human mage, for his part, chucked a fireball whose tail was made of ice their way. As the Demon Hunters leapt through, the spells impacted the portal seconds later, and the entire thing began to swirl. The image of Azeroth faded, and it became a black hole in reality, showing nothing but emptiness.
Some Time Later...
For those in Outland, the Dark Portal soon reverted to normal, and minutes later, troops arrived on schedule from Azeroth. For those inside the portal, things were a bit different. Vehlar knew something was wrong when the temporary feeling of being in-between worlds lingered for almost a minute. He tried breathing, and thankfully, found that he could. Somehow.
His surroundings were a murky gray void that he seemed to be moving through though it was impossible to tell for certain. Then, he spied a familiar group of figures. One of the aspirants had been hit with a significantly powerful Light based attack, at the joint of his wing and shoulder, and the others were mending his wound as best they could.
As Vehlar joined them with a nod, still not sure what he was walking on exactly, another pair of figures emerged from the void. One was a determined looking Sin'dorei, at least to Jesalia's eyes. To the Hunters, they knew a dragon in disguise quite easily. Their aura of magic spells protecting their valuable hides gave them away. This one, was of the Bronze Dragonflight, and to Vehlar, that meant they were somewhere lost in time. Yet, a bronze dragon was the ideal creature to run into in such a situation.
The mortal guised dragon paused, as he walked past the elves. Behind him, was a truly massive orc. Vehlar noted that his tattooed skin was brown, not green, and his expression seemed to be perpetual anger. Massive manacles covered his wrists, and the dragon was all but dragging him, in the direction that Vehlar had come from. Finally, the 'elf' spoke. "Now that's odd...how did a group of Demon Hunters end up here?
"Demon eating filth…" The orc spat. "Weak, mewling elves...they must consume stronger beings just to have a hope of matching them. Pathetic."
Vehlar didn't rise to the brute's bait, but merely turned his hooded head towards the dragon. "We jumped into the Dark Portal in the midst of some intense spellwork...care to give us a hand, oh wise and scaly master of time?"
The elf sneered at him. "In my timezone, that power has been...stripped from us. But I can send you on the right path to Azeroth. You'll end up there eventually...maybe."
Vehlar tilted his head, and tried not to sound exasperated. "Maybe?"
The elf-dragon nodded, and then tilted his own head, one hand on his chin, as the other held the imposing orc's chains. Vehlar noted he seemed ready to break free, but was waiting for the opportunity. Lost in the middle of time would be a bad place to lose his guide. "Time is...a weird, wibbly wobbly...soup. You could end up anywhere. Azeroth. Pandora. The dawn of the Titan's war against the Elemental Lords, or the Hour of Twilight...it's a gamble, really."
Vehlar just stared at the elf. "Time is a weird soup?"
The elf nodded, seeming to chuckle at a joke none of them would ever understand. "Exactly, and I suppose I could guide you out of it...by why would I?" He eyed Vehlar the way an aristocrat eyes a filthy beggar on the street. "Your Demonic souls are probably better, locked off in...here…" The dragon's eyes trailed, as he glimpsed their futures, and the potential timelines without them. It was a shadow of what he had once been able to see, but from what little he could glimpse, he saw Azeroth's demise quicken, mortals and dragons alike dying by the hundreds, if they did not return.
With a heavy sigh, and a continued annoyance with just how influential the Stormrage brothers, and their pupils, tended to be to the Time Stream, he moved on, but not before gesturing at the Hunter who had spoken. "Follow your instincts. You should make it back to Azeroth around your era...keep her safe, Demon Hunters."
"Always." The Dreadwings answered, as one, and they followed as Vehlar and his group began to walk in the opposite direction of the odd pair. Vehlar closed his eyes to the void as he walked, and pictured his latest 'home' in the Stranglethorn Vale, a hidden barrow, much like the one he had in Ashenvale. As they walked, the indistinct gray began to fade, and around them, a jungle began to emerge. The air grew humid and hot, and before they realized it, the Demon Hunters found themselves in the Stranglethorn Vale, outside of Vehlar's cave, as they emerged from the dense foliage.
"Finally...we're here." Vehlar said with a weary sigh, but he straightened again, as he heard a growl. It was not the first time his home had become den to some bloody panthers, but as the source of the growl appeared, he lowered his blades, and tilted his head. It was a Stormsaber, of that he had no doubt, and it was a massive Stormsaber, to his eyes. One with a touch of nature magic in its soul. Beside the massive panther, another saber-fanged Nightsaber came. He was slightly smaller than his friend, but his pure black mane that looked both fluffy and ferocious was much more impressive.
The second panther walked towards Vehlar, cat lips pulling into a smirk before nature magic warped and shifted its form into that of an elf Vehlar was all too familiar with. His attire hadn't changed much from the last time they'd met, save that his kilt now had several more paw/hoof marks upon it. Laronar Stormclaw leaned casually on his ancient friend, and smirked at the group. "Hello there...brother."
That, made the other elves lower their weapons slightly, as Vehlar had. The withered elf snarled, "Of all the caves in this panther-infested jungle...you chose mine!? You've got to be kidding me…"
Laronar shrugged, embodying the essence of chill as his idle left hand rested on Storm's head, and gave the massive cat rather delicious skull scritches from his strong fingers. The Stormsaber's eyes closed slightly, lips rising into an approximation of a smile as he enjoyed it, but the stiffness, the readiness to pounce, did not fade. "It was empty when I found it, and besides...it had so much room in that secret chamber. I assume you added that?"
Vehlar half sighed, half snarled, as he answered. "I did, actually. Why are you here, Laronar? Find another cave."
"Honestly, it was the familiar but unplaceable scent that led me here. Turns out it was just yours, but older. I thought you'd died, or been captured like the rest of the Demon Hunters, once Illidan was killed."
The nonchalantness with which the druid spoke did little to stop the shock the others felt at hearing his words. "What?" Vehlar snarled, "Illidan was the only Demon Hunter left at the Temple...we left it not more than an hour ago. The Sha'tari army was barely holding against Supremus."
Laronar arched an eyebrow at his brother. "Oh, they handled Supremus. And every other horror your little cult created after we banished them. Then Maeiv Shadowsong encased his slain body in crystals. The way I heard it, more Demon Hunters appeared out of nowhere, killed a few Wardens, and then suffered a similar fate. They're imprisoned now, Vehlar. You can guess where. They will never see daylight again. Most of our people assumed the Illidari were done. But that was...almost a year ago. Much has changed."
Vehlar shook his head. "We are still here...and the Legion still exists. Our exit from Outland must've moved us forward in time...but that does not change our purpose."
"And what is that purpose, exactly?" Laronar said, tilting his head. "I know, slaying Demons, but then, your hideout was brimming with Demons, according to a few friends of mine that were on the assault teams. They said it very much seemed like a Legion outpost."
"Our purpose is to stop the Legion, brother of mine. We will use any methods, even theirs, to do this. Now stand aside. This will be our new base, from here, the Illidari will rebuild." Vehlar took two steps forward, and Laronar put up a hand as Storm went from enjoying a skull rub, to snarling at Vehlar. Well did he remember Laronar's brother, and his dislike for him had only increased now that he was part demon.
"I wouldn't go in there." Laronar said, petting Storm, trying to calm him to no avail. The snarl was low and constant, rumbling like the storm for which he'd been named.
"Why not?" Vehlar answered.
Laronar gestured upwards, and above the cave, in the trees, on the branches, and some even clinging to trunks by their bark were what had to be at least forty druids, in their cat forms, their amber eyes burning to life as they melted from the shadows. "They think this is our cave." Vehlar jumped back, and his blades were out in a flash. The chorus of snarls grew, and the other Demon Hunters followed Vehlar's lead.
Laronar's eyes widened from being half-closed, almost sleepy, to wide awake very quickly. He interposed himself between Storm and his brother. "Easy now...how about we all...put our weapons away, and talk, like civilized beings?" The druids stopped growling, but Storm's low rumble was persistent, and it heralded Laronar's next words with remarkable synergy. "How about this...my best students, versus yours. Three rounds. Three duels, to the faint. Winners get the dank jungle cave, and nobody has to die."
Laronar had brought his Stormclaws to Stranglethorn to train upon the trolls who prowled its jungles, and thought themselves tamers of panthers. Through targeted attacks, he had begun making them honor the panther Loa, all the panther Loa, in an effort to stop their hunters from being ambushed. Seeing their numbers thinned and Ashamane's power grow, Laronar had paused their activities, and the newly arrived Demon Hunters presented a chance for their respective groups to bond, rather than kill each other. He was willing to find a new cave, if it meant what remained of the Illidari could be kept focused on slaying demons, instead of being hostile to everyone that wasn't them, and delving too far into the Legion's magic. He was still convinced that path led to naught but madness, but the evidence, the records, kept in the Black Temple had been shared, by those in the know. Laronar may have perched outside SI:7 to read them as an owl, but their demon slaying counts were verified, after the fact. Unsurprisingly, Shaw kept that knowledge hidden, and soon, they had all begun to train for a much greater threat.
The Lich King had begun to stir again, after years of isolation in Northrend. The Scourge rumbled awake, the forces of Death marshaled themselves, and champions of Light and life had risen to meet them.
The Dragonblight - Northrend
Alaria Stormclaw looked around the barren, frozen tundra, and sighed. Elune had sent her to this continent of death to purge the specters of undeath that festered in the darkness that other adventurers missed, or never found. She wiped Kal'serrar clean of the cultist blood it had been bathed in. She had no idea who the cultists had been, only that Elune had guided her to their hidden coven beneath the Dragonblight's ice, and swift, merciless justice had been brought to them. She shattered their dark purple crystals and magical experiments for good measure. Whatever they had been planning, she had just set it back years, or stalled their plan completely.
After the Lich King's first attacks on Orgrimmar and Stormwind, a disturbing throwback to his atrocity at Stratholme, every race had pledged to take the war to him. In Darnassus, few had been affected by his grain, and many druids had been the first to suspect it, having sensed the taint in their city from their enclave. Being a primarily fruit and vegetable eating people, only a few Kaldorei had turned, but there had been enough to once more deepen the sorrow in the ancient hearts of her people.
She let out a sharp whistle, and called to her a pink and purple colored hippogryph that had served as her mount for decades now, and set her apart further from her fellow Sentinels. Despite her supposed unqieness, she had found more and more other elves like her, wielding Elune's light not unlike a Human, Dwarf, or Draenei Paladin. Clad in heavy armor, they claimed to follow visions from Elune as she did, though she neither knew nor cared if they were copying her, or had been called as she had so very long ago, by their Goddess. Either way, Shandris let them operate as they pleased, provided they helped the Sentinel Army, and did not hinder it.
Alaria put her sisters from her mind as she and Kali winged their way back towards Icecrown, and the Argent Crusade's hastily constructed base camp within its Scourge-ridden borders. As always, they flew higher than Frost Wyrms were wont to, but that did not make the sight of the Scourge below any less terrifying. Their sheer number always astounded her, and no matter how hard the armies of the Light fought, whatever they lost in number, they regained from corpses. From Tuskarr to fellow Kaldorei, the Lich King cared not who he raised, only that they did his bidding. There was a rumor that his Death Knights had managed to resist his call, though she personally doubted the Ebon Blade were anything approaching trustworthy.
She had seen, and slain, several Death Knights that had been very much loyal to their Lich King. They cared only for slaughter, their endurance was unending, and the only spark of life that she saw within them was one that would always be bound to the Frozen Throne, and its master. As she brought Kali in over the stables she spied Illestria Bladesinger and Airae Starsinger, eyeballing her approach. They were standing between the two sides of the lengthy stables that housed the Crusader's mounts. Perched on the roof of the right side stable was Darnassus's own chosen Champion, Jaelyne Evensong, a longtime archery rival and friends of Alaria's. She hopped off Kali, and landed in a three point stance as the hippogryph went off to eat and do hippogryph things.
Jaelyne nodded to her, as she approached, and sat. It seemed the Champion was conversing from above, and the two women below fixed the two above with hard stares. "Alaria Stormclaw. I was about to go looking for you...its been a few weeks. You missed all the excitement."
It was at that moment, that Alaria noticed. The Crusader grounds were teeming with builders, and the sounds of their trade. Ballistae were being armed, spell components were being gathered, and adventurers scurried about almost frantically, trading in seals that proved their contribution's worth in exchange for mounts that belonged to the Crusade's quartermaster. "Are...are we finally assaulting the Frozen Throne!?"
Jaelyne nodded, and Alaria heard a sigh from the two below. "Arthas himself made an...appearance, at our grand tournament. The Alliance and Horde forces fought each other, surprising literally no one, and now Tirion Fordring has sent out the word. Prepare for the assault on Icecrown. Adventurers have been arriving daily from Dalaran and other places, some green, some very much not. I've never seen such a collection of so many powerful warriors."
Alaria glanced around at the Kaldorei tents, and the druids who hung around them. "Is my brother here yet?"
Jaelyne nodded. "He and his Stormclaws arrived a few days ago, looking surprisingly battered for those who can heal themselves."
"Laronar was fine!" Illestria shouted up from below, and Alaria peered down at her, arching a brow.
Airae jabbed her ribs with a sharp elbow. "Too fine, for the likes of you." Illestria started to say something about him preferring her to Airae, but the pink haired Kaldorei turned her gaze upwards and spoke over her. "Of all of them, he was the least bruised. They rested for a day before Highlord Fordring put them to work."
Alaria nodded, and then turned to Jaelyne. "What of the assault on Mord'rethar? Did we make any headway?"
That question brought a sigh from all three elves. "No." Jaelyne answered, scowling. "The damned Horde attacked from behind, and instead of aiding our forces, fought them. Between the Horde and the Scourge, the Lich King won, the dead hold the gate, and the factions are once more thirsty for the other's blood. Thrall all but killed the commander responsible, but...too little, too late. The brutes are a hindrance. The Ebon Blade managed to take the Shadow Vault...with some help. Then they set about crippling the Scourge. They took out the Fleshwerks, and have been using eager adventurers to do the rest of their work ever since, to great effect."
As the female elves chatted, none noticed the arrival of a black feathered and magnificently crested owl, until it landed beside Alaria, and hooted affectionately. Well used to her brother's forms by now, she scritched his chin, and made his owl form shiver in response. He shifted then, resuming his elven shape, and Alaria sighed. "Honestly, Lar. It's below freezing out here. Put on a shirt."
Laronar, for his part, was clad in his war attire, which meant the rune-engraved straps of leather sitting over his bulging pectorals that functioned as his armor was back, not that it did anything to hide the heavily toned upper body that steamed in the cold of the northernmost continent. The incorrigible druid nodded at the ladies below, winked at Illestria, and then turned his unsettlingly fierce amber eyes on his sister. "The Highlord bade me look for you and Jaelyne. He is gathering the strongest warriors here for a...unique mission. He asked for you by name, sister. Said something about you being the hero of...some kind of breach?"
Alaria sighed. Being what he was, and being rather good at flying silently and out of sight, Laronar would lack the knowledge of the hard-won breach into Icecrown, that Highlord Fordring had led himself. Alaria had been present for that battle, though her part had been little more than a rallying cry at the right moment. Elune had granted the blessing that had given the warriors of the Argent Crusade the momentum and drive needed to push into Icecrown itself, and finally establish a foothold. Laronar being Laronar had probably simply flown over the mountains with his druids, without so much as an alarm being raised.
"It's a story for another time, brother. If the Highlord needs us, we should go." Alaria finally said, and both Jaelyne and Laronar nodded. The girls whistled, but by the time their mounts arrived, Laronar had already flipped into the air, and resumed his owl shape.
As they gathered in the Highlord's tent, Laronar saw the only other 'heroes' around seemed to be members of the Ebon Blade. One, he knew as Darion Mograine, once a Paladin of some renown as he heard it. The other two Death Knights, a human with the edgiest eye markings Laronar had seen in the camp, and a Sin'dorei with a massive and unsettlingly Fel green greatsword on his back, were unknown to him. From the Horde, there was only one other contribution: a shaman of the Frostwolf Clan, judging by the sparking wolf headed shoulder spaulders outlined in the Horde's classic insignia, and wolf head helm he was sporting as armor. Moreover, his tattooed skin was brown, marking him as one of the Mag'har that Garrosh Hellscream had brought with him from Outland. Unlike the Kor'kron under Hellscream, Laronar did not sense a simmering rage, but an inner calm not unlike his own, and a focus on the task at hand. He was glad the Highlord had found a level-headed Horde member for this.
As Alaria and Jaelyne finally joined them, Tirion nodded. "My thanks for gathering them, Archdruid Stormclaw." Laronar inclined his head in a deep, respectful nod, which Tirion returned, before speaking. "Just this morning, my scouts informed me of a Cult of the Damned procession leaving from Icecrown Citadel to the Cathedral of Darkness, bearing an artifact. And now I learn that it might be Arthas's own heart... a thing containing the last bit of his remaining humanity. This is a sign from the Light. As long as such an artifact exists, there is a chance that Arthas Menethil can become a man again!"
The Kaldorei, Death Knights, and Orc Shaman all shared looks of disbelief, but the Highlord was determined, as he finished, and pulled on his helm. "Meet me at the cathedral's entrance. Be sure to bring a cultist's hood—we're going incognito."
Laronar spoke, once they were outside. "You'll find spare hoods on the cultists around the cathedral. I don't need one...I will be backing you up from the shadows. Stay alive, friends." With that, he became a massive black furred Nightsaber, and melted into the shadows. If the Death Knights or shaman were impressed, it did not show.
The rest of the group acquired their disguises in short order, namely black cloaks to fit over their armor, and hoods to hide their faces. The Shaman's wardrobe was barely hidden by these efforts, but he was a suitably black mass, to those around the Cathedral of Darkness, and none of them were stopped, as they made their way in beside Tirion Fordring. After casually asking where the heart would arrive, the group was directed to the cathedral's courtyard. They fell in somewhat casually with the other cultists, as the procession carrying the heart ground to a stop.
Tirion Fordring dropped his cloak, and unsheathed the Ashbringer, but before he could so much as step forward, the sky darkened, and a toothless maw of darkness opened in the fabric of reality, vomiting forth none other than the Lich King himself. Tirion brought the Ashbringer up in a swirling upwards slash, only for Frostmourne to catch the blade easily. The two legendary swords screeched, as they held a blade lock.
"Pathetic…did you think to go unnoticed in my own domain?" Arthas hissed, as he disengaged from Fordring, and leapt backward. He leveled the Mourneblade at the group, and a wave of darkness burned their disguises to ash. The Lich King's voice rang out through the courtyard. "Slay them all!"
Tirion nodded at his group of chosen heroes, and they groked his plan in the moment, as the Light surrounded the Highlord of the Argent Crusade. He summoned a Battle Charger, and as one of the bulkier cultists tried to bar his way, the Charger trampled him to re-death without a second thought, its aura of Light burning it to dust, empowered as it was by the Ashbringer. Tirion leapt from the saddle as the magic that had temporarily brought forth his trusted mount faded, and sent him back to safety. Once more, Frostmourne and the Ashbringer clashed, and Tirion proved himself the quicker swordsman, unveiling the Lich King's heart with an outstretched hand and a hammer composed of Light, while simultaneously matching Arthas's strikes, and calling out to him. "You sound awfully confident that we will be slain, given what happened at Light's Hope, Arthas!"
Arthas's fury was a quiet hiss that came from beneath the Helm of Domination. "Lasssst time...we were on Holy ground...you will find that our situation has been...reversed!" Arthas tried to counter with a slash of his own, only for the older human to dodge it, and bring the Ashbringer around on one of his epaulets. It rebounded off the Saronite plate, but not without leaving its mark.
The others began fighting their own battles, and from the shadows, Laronar did his own work, making a timely appearance as a pair of greataxe-wielding skeletons broke the shaman's guard. He was wielding two massive hammers, but it seemed some foul magic spell from one of the cultists had slowed him, and he could barely hold them off, despite the thunderous power he possessed. Laronar took out one, as he lunged from the shadows, brought it to the ground, clamped his mouth firmly shut, and sank his lengthy saber fangs into the skull of the Scourge zombie. Foul ichor sprayed his jaw, but he did not open it, as he knew that would lead to infection he didn't have time to fight off. His claws drove back the other skeleton, as the spell upon the Orcish Shaman faded. He dodged back into the shadows with remarkable synergy, as the furious warriors brought down his thundering hammers, and reduced the Scourge warrior to bone dust. The Feral Druid made himself similarly useful for each of their allies, and they aided him in turn, as the two leaders had their own duel.
Tirion had managed to start with a commanding series of relentless strikes, but eventually, even the fires of Redemption needed a moment to cool down, and it was in that space of time that the patient Arthas struck back, and struck hard. He smashed through Tirion's guard, and a hand of shadow magic sent him flying back towards the former Prince's frozen, dead heart. Seeing it from the ground, Tirion finally realized he had come in vain. The Heart of the Lich King was a frozen, dead organ that the Scourge had planned to destroy anyway, no doubt in a manner that would not damage their lord. "I do not...require Holy ground...to drive the Ashbringer into your dead heart, Kingslayer!"
"I call your bluff…Paladin…" The Lich King answered as he spat the word, and reminder of what he had once been. Arthas's heavy boots stomped ominously towards him. "You would not destroy the last hope of redeeming Humanity's most wayward son…"
The old human coughed up a bit of blood, not enough to worry about in the moment, as he gave the fallen Paladin a grim smirk. "Wouldn't I…" With a spin to his feet that belied his age, Tirion Fordring rose, swirled, and struck the dead organ all in one swift, beautiful demonstration of sword mastery as he shouted, "There is nothing left to redeem! For Lordaeron!" Thunder boomed, and the clouds above were blown away, as the heart exploded, and caught Tirion in the blast of icy Death Magic. Arthas fell to one knee, panting raggedly through the Helm as he struggled to recover from the shock.
From the shadows, Laronar had a choice. Strike the heavily plate armored Lich King while he was vulnerable, or leap to the Highlord's defense, and carry him away. His choice was made for him, as the Sin'dorei Death Knight in their party gathered the attention of the shaman, Alaria, and Jaelyne. "The Highlord is down! Defend him!"
Seeing Tirion covered, Laronar began to move for Arthas's neck, only to pause, as his form's instinct, and his patron, bid him to stop. Then, he saw. Frostmourne was gathering power, each foul unearthly rune glowing an intense blue, as it readied an attack that would, he surmised, slay all of them. He leapt from the shadows, onto another Scourge skeleton warrior that had been hassling Mograine, and stamped on its skull with a massive paw. Then, he gestured his head at Arthas. Seeing quickly what the druid had, the Death Knight began conjuring a means of escape, and Laronar fell in to holding off the Scourge, and spending his charged Regrowth spells on those who had begun flagging, namely the Orc Shaman, and Jaelyne.
"Tirion's attack caused him significant damage…" The human with edgy eye paint hissed, through his panting.
"We should slay him!" The Sin'dorei snarled, as he leveled his greatsword at the wounded Lich King.
"No!" Mograine said, as he finished conjuring what Laronar recognized as one of the Ebon Blade's portals. "Be patient...we will get our chance. Be glad that the Highlord is now in our debt…" With that, he hefted Tirion's form onto his shoulder, grabbed the Ashbringer even as it hissed in his dead hand, and leapt through the portal. The others followed suit swiftly, and as they reappeared on the other side of it, they could see the cathedral in the distance. A pillar of frosty blue death erupted from the courtyard, with a scream of rage to match it, and the Death Knights quietly agreed then, that Mograine's call had been the right one. Such a blast would've killed any and all of them.
The Crusaders carried Tirion back to the Argent camp, where he soon regained consciousness, and once he held the Ashbringer, was back on his feet later that same day. Several days later, the Argent Crusade and Knights of the Ebon Blade launched their first attacks on the citadel that was Icecrown itself. Jaina Proudmoore and Sylvanas Windrunner, along with a requisite band of adventurers from both factions, evidently made their way into the chamber where, according to rumor, Frostmourne lay unguarded, after Arthas's injury. From what Laronar and Alaria heard, one of the spirits in the Mourneblade had told the group of how to defeat Arthas, that it had to be atop Icecrown, and this information was carried back to each faction via its respective gunship in the area as they beat a hasty retreat from an evidently temporarily stunned Arthas.
With this knowledge, the Argent Crusade and Knights of the Ebon Blade gathered before the Citadel's gates, as both factions brought their forces to bear. The final product of this tenuous alliance was named the Ashen Verdict, and as the heroes of Azeroth readied themselves in the Lich King's Foyer, each and every one of them paused, as a truly malevolent laugh echoed through Icecrown Citadel, followed by a voice they had all come to recognize over the grueling campaign.
"Fools...bring everything you have...Frostmourne Hungers..."