A bit of a heads up before the credits on this one.
Some dude wanted me to write a certain Naruto story bad enough that he offered to pay me for it and I'm not so fabulously wealthy that I'd turn down a chance to get paid for my hobby. If you're interested go check out "Shadow Play".
My update speed on "Metagaming?" shouldn't be noticeably impacted.
Credit for beta reading and lore advisory go to Joe Lawyer and Umodin, respectively.
Sylvanas Windrunner did not appreciate being summoned like an underling, but for the moment she needed the Horde too much to ignore the Warchief, so she arrived in Durotar at the appointed time.
She did not enjoy the bright sun either. How could she when it did nothing to warm her undead flesh? At least in the gloomy lands tainted by the Scourge, there were less reminders of what they had all lost.
Thrall was already waiting near the zeppelin tower for her arrival. Curiously, Varok Saurfang was with him. Even more curiously, so was Jaina Proudmoore.
Sylvanas had not been told why she was being summoned, only that it was important.
The two dark rangers she had brought as an honor guard took positions behind her as she approached the leader of the Horde.
"Warchief." She greeted coolly, not quite disrespectful, but certainly implying a demand for explanation.
"Sylvanas." The orc returned cordially. "I'm sure you're wondering why I asked you to come here, but the truth is that I was mostly just playing messenger. Jaina will be teleporting us to the one who truly wanted to see you."
Sylvanas' burning red eyes narrowed slightly as she turned to stare at the human archmage. If someone had wanted to see her – someone aside from Thrall – they were more than a little presumptuous to arrange that she come to them instead of making the journey themselves.
But they must also be considerably powerful if they could get the Warchief of the Horde and a mage the likes of Jaina Proudmoore to play along. Something didn't add up, however.
"Why is Saurfang here, then?" She asked.
"Varok and I are coming along for an unrelated matter." Thrall admitted.
Someone that had things of interest to the Warchief as well, hmm? Perhaps this trip would not be completely wasted, then.
"If everyone is ready, I will teleport us to Ashenvale now." Jaina spoke up.
Ashenvale? There was nothing there except trees… Ah, no, there was something. What little news she received from Kalimdor mentioned a recent event of interest.
"The archmage that set himself up there and drove out the Warsong Clan? We are going to him?" Sylvanas asked.
"Yes, Harry is a… friend." There was a peculiar inflection to Proudmoore's voice that made it seem as if she couldn't quite decide what to call the man. "And he has something for you that I think you will find extremely interesting."
Did he now? Sylvanas would be the judge of that.
With nothing further to say, Proudmoore teleported them and they found themselves inside a stone room.
Well now, that was interesting. Sylvanas was no sorceress herself, but she knew that mages did not lightly allow people to teleport through their wards. That Proudmoore was given such a privilege said a great deal about how much trust was placed in her already by this newcomer.
They had either known each other for some time or the man was an overly trusting fool.
"Harry? We're here!" Proudmoore spoke to the empty room.
"Come on up, darling!" A man's voice replied sweetly, seemingly coming from the very stones.
Proudmoore immediately flushed in embarrassment at the term of endearment and stomped towards the door, leaving the others no choice but to follow.
"Are you and this Harry… together?" Thrall asked curiously, an amused undercurrent to his words.
"No." Proudmoore denied swiftly, the blush not receding at all.
"The wizard subjects you to his sense of humor as well, then." Saurfang commiserated.
Proudmoore didn't reply, focusing instead on leading them on. She walked with a surety that betrayed at least passing familiarity.
Their destination turned out to be a comfortable sitting room and Sylvanas finally got look at their host.
He was an unusually tall man, large and powerful. If not for the palpable air of tightly controlled magic about him and the glowing green eyes, she might have thought him a warrior. Not many mages were so well built. What surprised her the most, however were the pointy ears peeking from out of his long dark hair.
A half-elf? There were not many of those and surely she would have heard of one being a powerful archmage?
"Welcome. I'm Harry, archmage." He greeted courteously. "Please, sit down." He gestured towards the furniture. "Unfortunately, the girls are out right now, but they should be back soon."
Upon saying that, he conjured up a glowing silver raven and whispered something to it that she could not catch.
Sylvanas picked a large armchair, both so that she wouldn't have to share and so that her dark rangers could take positions behind her. The chair turned out to be absurdly soft and she almost sank into it. It would be annoying to jump out of if a fight broke out.
Thrall and Saurfang looked extremely uncomfortable sharing a cushioned couch, probably more because orcish furniture tended to be bare of comforts more than anything else.
This only one spot left for Proudmoore, which was the half of a loveseat that their host was not occupying.
"What are Luna, Arko and Jessir doing?" The female archmage asked, sitting as far from Harry as possible.
"Cleaning up the Felwood." He replied, scooting closer despite Proudmoore's clear discomfort. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends, honey?"
"Don't call me honey!" She snapped in embarrassment.
"It's unseemly to have a lovers' spat in front of guests, Jaina." The man replied calmly.
"We are not lovers."
"Not yet, but the point stands."
Visibly fuming, Proudmoore made the introductions, at which point Sylvanas had just about run out of patience.
"Why did you call us here?" She demanded tersely.
To his credit, the wizard did not look put off by that at all. She could recall more than one mage that had been upset with her directness even back when she still lived.
"In the case of our green friends, it is to finish up some leftover business from the war in Ahn'Qiraj." He answered. "For you, it is to offer you a means of being restored back to life."
Contrary to what Jaina might think, he hadn't been teasing her just for fun. It certainly was fun, but there was also an ulterior motive, and that was to gauge the reactions of his guests.
Thrall and Saurfang looked only mildly amused or exasperated, respectively. Harry knew that orcs generally preferred a different type of humor, but apparently seeing your friends get embarrassed was universal.
Sylvanas and her honor guard, however, were entirely unamused. In fact, the Banshee Queen was a seething bundle of repressed hostility. She had a tight handle on it, but the lighthearted display was definitely making her angry.
The undead held an instinctive hatred of life and life-affirming action. Even if the Forsaken were free of the Lich King, that hatred would eventually hollow them out until they became indistinguishable from the Scourge.
It was only a question of how far along that process was. Fortunately, the former Ranger General seemed to still be in the green zone.
Sylvanas froze in place when he made his offer, eyes narrowing in fury.
"What game are you playing?" She demanded. "You expect me to believe such a claim?"
"If you need proof, I can give it to you." Harry offered mildly.
The Banshee Queen calmed down at his confident tone, staring at him suspiciously. "Why would you even do such a thing? You don't strike me as an altruistic sort."
"Well, aren't you perceptive." He chuckled. "As for my reasons, they are many-fold. One of them is that I want both the Horde and the Alliance to focus on the true enemies instead of being at each other's throats and the Forsaken are currently the biggest point of tension between the two factions. They have to be taken out of the picture. Destroying you by force would be difficult, time-consuming and wasteful, so I chose to find a means where you would cooperate with me."
Her escort bristled at the seeming threat, but Sylvanas just sat there, statue-like, absorbing what he said before replying. "You think that restoring us to life would destroy the Forsaken?"
"Wouldn't it?" Harry asked pointedly. "The Forsaken are made up of mostly Lordaeron humans and high elves, with a smattering of dwarves and gnomes and perhaps a handful of orcs and trolls. Aside from your undead state, you have no commonality. Take that away, and you will drift apart."
The Banshee Queen said nothing, clearly considering how much merit his words had.
"Losing the Forsaken would hurt the Horde quite badly." Thrall interjected with an admission of his own. "You are the only ally we have in the Eastern Kingdoms and the only one with mages among its number. Still, it wouldn't be right to not support you in this. I would hope we can stay on good terms even if the Forsaken are no more."
"I have accepted nothing yet." Sylvanas said cuttingly, turning back to Harry. "You have named only one reason for why you would do this and it does not benefit you personally. What do you want in exchange for?"
"I want your pet demon dead." Harry stated bluntly.
"Why?" The Banshee Queen asked. "Has Varimathras done something to earn your ire?"
"No, he's just too dangerous to be left alive."
"I have the demon under control, he is no threat."
"Bullshit." Harry retorted drily, getting a blink of surprise out of the undead woman. "Demons are bound to the Twisting Nether. Killing them here, in the prime material plane, only inconveniences them and any torture you could inflict would pale in comparison to what Sargeras would do to a traitor. You are being played."
Sylvanas said nothing, but she was clearly furious. Her guards were gripping their weapons in preparation for a fight.
"I cannot say I was ever comfortable with your decision to keep that demon around myself." Thrall admitted, getting an agreeing grunt from Saurfang.
"Either way, your opinion on the matter is largely irrelevant." Harry continued. "The Dreadlord's death is not negotiable."
He would have been interested in figuring out what exactly made the nathrezim tick, but they were too dangerous to be held captive. It was better to just kill them off when possible.
"What else?" Sylvanas ground out.
"You have alchemists working on all manner of experiments in the Undercity. Until all of them are brought properly back to life, I want that stopped."
"I suppose you do not trust them either?" The Banshee Queen's tone was almost sarcastic.
"Not in the slightest." Harry confirmed cheerfully. "The thoughts of the undead are like spikes of cold iron, devoid of mercy and compassion. Your still hearts and the necromantic magic clinging to your souls make it so. Anything your alchemists cook up would inevitably be monstrous, just as all undead inevitably turn their efforts to the destruction of life."
"You disdain us." She noted, her tone neutral but her eyes glaring.
"I may only use the discipline sparingly, but I am a rather adept necromancer myself." Harry smiled at the shocked stares from Thrall and Saurfang. Even Sylvanas' eyebrows shot up. "My interest was always more academic than practical, but I do still know a thing or two about the undead, so believe me when I say that I don't hate you for what you are, I merely know what you will become if not restored in time. In time, you won't even want to live again, but will instead desire to spread the taint of undeath. Besides, even if I wished you harm, restoring you to life is cruelest thing I could do to you."
The Banshee Queen's eyes narrowed again.
"Explain." She demanded.
"The restoration will be painful, extremely so." Harry told her. "But more than that, most of your emotions are deadened in your current state. Once you are brought back to life, all of it is going to hit you at once. I fully expect there to be a rash of suicides among the weaker-willed of the newly restored."
"You didn't tell me that!" Jaina spoke up in alarm.
"I thought it was obvious." He shrugged and patted her hand, grinning when she yanked it out of reach. "Being forcibly raised into undeath is a traumatic experience, many people have been broken by less."
They were silent for a few minutes, waiting for Sylvanas to consider the offer.
"I would like to see this 'cure' of yours." She finally said. "But even if it can do what you claim, I cannot accept it immediately."
The last sentence was spoken with bitter frustration.
"Why not?" Jaina asked, frowning.
"The Forsaken are currently engaged in war with Kel'thuzad for control of the Plaguelands." Sylvanas answered, scowling. "The Scarlet Crusade and Argent Dawn fight him as well, but they lack the numbers or supplies to do much more than defend their strongholds. They would be swiftly overrun without us. While the fools in the Scarlet Crusade consider us to be the same as the Scourge and I would gladly leave them all to die, that would only serve to make the accursed lich stronger. We cannot afford to stop fighting him long enough for the cure to be administered."
"Ah, how convenient." Harry smiled, having expected this. "You see, I have business of my own with that bag of bones, and would be more than happy to join you for an assault on Naxxramas."
"What kind of business?" She asked suspiciously.
"Two things, really. Firstly, he simply has to die and secondly, he has something that belongs to me."
"What of the Lich King?" Sylvanas leaned forward intently. "You spoke earlier of wanting the Horde and Alliance to work together against 'the true enemy'. Is he one of them?"
"Oh yes." He confirmed. "The Lich King is on my kill list."
"You have been keeping my people prisoner."
Harry soundly ignored the hostility in the Banshee Queen's tone. "Yes. They were causing trouble, so I decided that they would be better served helping me develop a means of restoring the Forsaken."
Thrall looked at the tied up and gagged Winna Hazzard and gave him a flat stare. "You have been experimenting on them."
"Obviously." Harry drawled. "It's not like any of them had any useful skills."
"Damn it, Harry, you could at least try to be less antagonistic, especially when you're trying to help people." Jaina rubbed her forehead in exasperation.
"Look at you, scolding me like a proper wife." Harry chuckled, amused at the angrily embarrassed face she made in response. "In any case, I do prefer not to lie to my allies."
And he rather doubted that Sylvanas actually cared about some minor underling. She might not even really care about the Forsaken as a whole, save for how they could facilitate her revenge. Undeath was generally not conducive to bonds of kith and kin.
"You intend to demonstrate your 'cure' on her?" Sylvanas asked, confirming his thoughts.
"Indeed." He nodded and went over to pick up a large syringe filled with a glowing liquid that shifted between gold and pale silver. "Here it is."
"Some kind of potion?" Jaina asked, puzzled. "But not meant for drinking?"
"Well, not all of the Forsaken even have a stomach… or a throat, so I had to go about things another way." Harry explained. "Initially, I had to do things with a ritual and some complex enchanted machinery, but that wasn't terribly efficient. This potion is an alchemical cocktail designed to simultaneously bind the soul to the body, revitalize the undead flesh, purge the necromantic magic and regenerate the body back to full health, mostly at the same time."
"How is it administered?" Thrall asked, staring dubiously at the rather large needle.
"Like this." Harry said cheerfully and stabbed Winna Hazzard right in the heart with the needle, depressing the plunger right after.
The bound undead made only a tiny grunt of at the stabbing, more at the impact than in any actual pain, but it wasn't long before her expression turned into a grimace and her body started convulsing. The muffled screams followed shortly after.
"It should only take a few minutes." He assured, watching the spectacle.
"Can you really do nothing about the pain?" Jaina asked, worrying at her lower lip.
"The undead can't really be knocked unconscious and by the time they're alive again it would be too late." Harry shook his head. "And that's only for the physical pain. I'm sure Sylvanas can tell you herself about the unique pain of having someone else mucking about with your soul."
The Banshee Queen declined to comment, but a perceptive observer might notice a certain tightness around her eyes.
They lapsed into silence and continued observing Winna Hazzard. At first, there was no change, but then her skeletal body began filling out. Rotted skin started pulling itself together and old wounds closed. The deathly pallor began to fade and her hair regained its wheat blonde coloring. Moments later, shadowy tendrils of necromantic magic began evaporating out of her skin and the muffled screams increased in intensity. Lastly, her tear ducts began working again and she started sweating profusely.
The entire process took about three minutes and at the end of it, the formerly undead woman was once again a living human, slumping in her bonds with clear exhaustion.
"There we go, all better." Harry said to the silent audience and pulled the gag out of her mouth. "How are you feeling?"
The newly restored woman's expression crumbled and she started wailing like a long-term torture victim realizing that it was finally over.
"Yeah, that's about what I expected." Harry nodded, paying it no mind as Jaina rushed forward to unshackle and comfort her. He turned to Sylvanas instead and held out his hand. "So, what do you say? Do we have an accord? The restoration of the Forsaken in exchange for the death of Varimathras, the cessation of all Forsaken research and military support for an assault on Naxxramas?"
She remained silent for a long while, inscrutable red eyes flitting between his outstretched hand and the restored Winna Hazzard, who had by now slipped into unconsciousness.
"The Apothecary Society is attempting to create a substance that would destroy undead." She finally said. "Why would you want us to stop that when you claim the Undead Scourge as an enemy?"
"Because I don't trust your alchemists to make something that kills only the undead, especially since Varimathras was involved in the project." He replied, still holding out his hand. "Plus, I am a better alchemist than all of them put together. I can make my own weapons."
Sylvanas narrowed her eyes for a moment, but eventually nodded, reaching out to grip his forearm in a warrior's handshake. Her skin was ice cold and the touch of unnatural undead flesh sent a shudder of instinctive revulsion up his spine, but he smiled nonetheless.
"Agreed." She rasped.
They were invited to stay longer, but Sylvanas insisted on returning as soon as possible. Jaina Proudmoore obliged and teleported them directly back to the outskirts of Lordaeron's ruined capital city, but Sylvanas made no move to return to the Undercity right away.
Instead, she stood in place pensively, thinking about what had just happened and what she had just agreed to. She did not trust Harry in the least and would have refused any offers he made if he had tried to say that he just wanted to help. His blunt admission that he intended for his cure to 'destroy' the Forsaken put her at ease in that regard. Still, she did not doubt that he had some motives that he did not mention.
But there was no denying that he could deliver what he promised. She had seen an undead woman brought back to true life right in front of her eyes. There was now a spark of an almost forgotten emotion flickering weakly in her dead heart, which had long been filled with nothing but bitter hatred and disappointment. Hope.
"Anya, Loralen, what do you make of this?" She asked her escorts, her dark rangers being the only ones she trusted to confide in. "Do you think I made the right choice?"
"I... would like to live again." Anya admitted softly. "We could go back to Quel'thalas and help restore it."
Left unsaid was that they could not return to their homeland in their current state. Even if their kin tolerated their undead nature, it would only serve to do more harm than good. Lands where undead dwelled in large numbers took on a dread aspect and Quel'thalas could ill afford any more corruption.
Sylvanas, too, would like to return home. She would like to be able to connect to the natural world again and use the skills of a farstrider instead of a necromancer.
"I think it is worth the risk, at least to see if the archmage is truly as committed as he claims." Loralen agreed. "And I never liked that smug Dreadlord anyway."
Ah yes, Varimathras. She had agreed to kill him. The demon was a capable majordomo and lieutenant, but in exchange for restoration to true life, Sylvanas would tear out his throat with her bare hands without a moment's hesitation.
And there was also the archmage's claim that he had been playing her for a fool. The argument put forth was compelling. She needed no convincing about the treacherous nature of the nathrezim, but she had thought her threats kept Varimathras obedient. If her threats did not carry the weight she thought they did, and if the demon had greater threats hanging over his head…
Thrall hadn't come along just because of the spell to hide away C'thun's remains. He had also wanted to get the measure of Orgrimmar's new 'neighbor'.
If not for Jaina's assurance that he could at least be trusted not to harm a guest, he would not have come at all. Varok's own impressions painted the picture of a man determined to protect Azeroth, but with little use for honor as the orcs understood it.
Honor was important. Honor was what kept a man from succumbing to his passions and kept him honest, both with oneself and with others. The orcs had forgotten honor once and it had led them to being enslaved by demons. Grom Hellscream had forgotten honor more than once in pursuit of martial glory and everyone had suffered for it. Thrall could not trust a man that considered honor to be a weight around his neck.
"You never told me that your… friend was a necromancer, Jaina." Thrall said once the Banshee Queen had been teleported away.
It was as innocuous a statement as he could make while still demanding answers. Moreover, he was also dealing with a troublesome realization of his own.
He had accepted the Forsaken into the Horde because Sylvanas had sent peaceful envoys. He had accepted because he felt sympathy for their plight and because he saw the potential they had as an ally. He had accepted because they were victims of necromancy, rather than practitioners themselves.
Having paid close attention to Harry's discussion with the Banshee Queen, Thrall had begun to wonder if the line between 'victim' and 'practitioner' wasn't a lot thinner than he had thought.
He had always distrusted those who dabbled with dark powers, and sworn to never let another like Gul'dan lead the Horde astray. If what he had just heard was to be believed, then sorcerers were not the only ones that he should have been wary of, but all of those touched by dark powers.
Had he known this before, it was likely that he would have rebuffed the Banshee Queen's diplomatic efforts. And now that the Forsaken were fully part of the Horde, he could not just kick them out without showing himself as dishonorable and unreliable.
Had Harry not showed up with a means to restore the Forsaken to life, the situation could have gotten very messy.
It may yet become messy if the archmage had any nefarious ulterior motives.
"I didn't want it to color your first impression of him." Jaina admitted in response to his prompt.
"Where I was born, mages lived secret lives, hidden away from the mundane population, who did not even believe that magic was real." Harry interjected casually. "As you might imagine, a secret government ruled by mages was full of self-important twats desperately afraid of losing their power."
Yes, Thrall certainly could imagine that, but he wasn't sure where the man was going with this.
"So it was only natural that they deemed it illegal to learn any magic that would allow people to rise up and overthrow them, labeling it 'dark', even if it really wasn't. Almost all battle magic was deemed to be 'dark' for example. Jaina, you're a mage. Can you explain to the class why this was a bad idea?"
"All of a sudden I feel like an apprentice back in Dalaran." Jaina grumbled, shaking her head. "That kind of attitude would just make it impossible to determine which magics were actually dangerous to study."
"Indeed." Harry agreed. "And I, being a precocious and rebellious young wizard, decided that the government was full of shit and that I knew better. I was mostly right, because our magical government during my youth really was spectacularly incompetent and corrupt."
"What does this have to do with you being a necromancer?" Thrall interrupted.
"I was getting to that, now you've gone and ruined my flow." Harry complained
"You just like hearing yourself talk." Jaina accused, which Thrall was rather surprised by. He had never known her to be that snippy.
Harry must have really been getting under her skin.
"Yes, I do." The man admitted shamelessly. "Anyway, magic that interacts with powerful forces or concepts has a way of tainting your soul, but I was already aware of that danger by the time I really got around to messing with necromancy. It's a fascinating field of study… as long as you know to take precautions against the nihilistic hatred of life it tends to afflict you with."
"And you are claiming that you can dabble with such dark powers without being tainted?" Thrall asked skeptically.
"Every action taken causes ripples in the pond of reality. It's always a good idea to keep careful track of the ripples you cause, lest they return to you as waves and pull you under."
Poetic, but not the answer to his question. "And you can do this?"
"Been doing it for centuries." Harry stated confidently.
"I was skeptical, too, but it really seems like he can do it." Jaina interjected with a small huff. "At least, I can't imagine that his marriage to someone like Luna would work otherwise."
Ah, Luna. Thrall had heard of her. Unlike the grudging respect and irritation with which Varok had spoken of Harry, the old warrior had nothing but praise for the man's wife.
To hear Varok speak of it, fighting while under the effects of her blessings had been like fighting back when Mannoroth's blood had still been fresh in their veins, but without the blind rage. Quite a number of the Kor'kron who had fought in Ahn'Qiraj owed their lives to her and those who had gone to fight C'thun with her also spoke of how she had brought the wrath of Elune down on the abomination and hurt it more than any of them had managed.
Orcs, as a general rule, respected martial skill and disdained magic, so the respect in their voices when Luna was mentioned was especially notable.
Perhaps meeting this woman himself would help settle his doubts?
"You mentioned earlier that your mates were cleaning up the Felwood?" Thrall prompted, recalling that Varok mentioned how Harry appeared to be in a relationship with two night elves in addition to his wife.
How that worked he could not fathom. Female orcs did not share and would settle a dispute over a mate with a Mak'gora.
"Mhm." Harry hummed in confirmation. "Using a combination of druidism, alchemy and minor warlockery, I've devised a way to speed up the purification of fel tainted lands. The girls decided to handle that one."
"Warlockery is not a word, Harry." Jaina said disapprovingly.
That was the least of Thrall's objections. Was this peculiar archmage being deliberately confusing? Warlock magic was unquestioningly bad, but it was being used to cleanse fel taint, which was unquestioningly good.
Hopefully, his mates would be less confusing and help him get a clearer picture of things.
The Holy Moonlight Greatbow did not make the distinctive twang of a loosed arrow, thanks to the lack of actual string, which Jessir had to admit she kind of missed. At least the sound of an arrow whizzing through the air and sinking into flesh remained the same.
"Hey! That one was mine!" Arko complained, cutting the already fatally wounded felguard in half.
"Sorry." Jessir apologized and aimed at the next one, shooting it down before Arko could get to it.
"Damn it, Jessir, stop stealing my kills!" The paladin of Elune yelled at her friend.
"Sorry." Jessir apologized again, trying to keep down an amused grin. She waited for another demon to show up and shot it just as Arko was preparing to charge.
Unable to hold it in any longer, the huntress burst into giggles. Even Della chuffed in amusement next to her.
"Sorry." She apologized a third time, this time somewhat meaning it. "Things have just been a bit dull lately."
"You don't say?" Arko snarked huffily, sitting down on a mossy boulder.
Luna flew in, looking vaguely concerned, followed by Keeper Ordanus and his dryad sisters, along with a few druids from the Emerald Sanctuary.
"Are you alright?" Luna asked, looking around. "We heard a scream."
"That was just Arko getting mad that she was too slow to score any kills." Jessir explained.
"I was mad at you stealing my kills!" Said night elf snarled.
"The cleansing of our sacred forests is not a game or competition." Ordanus scolded.
Now they both looked a bit guilty. "We know, we're just bored. It doesn't look like we'll be getting any more big waves."
They had arrived about three days ago and, after explaining the plan to both Ordanus and the druids, planted the fel seed Harry had created in an easily defensible position.
The demon tree that grew from it immediately began sucking up fel and producing fel fruits, which in turn attracted the attention of demons and corrupted wildlife from far and wide.
That would have been dangerous if they had all arrived in the form of an army, but low level demons were creatures of mindless instinct. With no commander or warlock to lead them, they arrived in a steady trickle or in small clumps, heedlessly stampeding to their doom. The only thing left in the area now were stragglers.
Keeper Ordanus and the druids were very conflicted. On the one hand, they were making huge progress on purifying the Felwood and killing lots of demons that would have been almost impossible to properly hunt down otherwise…
But on the other, demon tree.
Further conversation was interrupted as a glowing raven flew in front of Luna.
"Jaina is here with Thrall and Sylvanas. Can you come back?" It said and dispersed.
"Alright, looks like we're cutting things a bit short." Luna declared, speaking to Ordanus and the druids. "But you still have plenty to work with, right?"
"Yes." The ancient son of Cenarius nodded cautiously, frowning. "The more afflicted trees and animals will have to be destroyed, but that… abomination has drained enough of the fel taint in the area for us to begin purifying it."
"Cool, we'll just pick the fruits and burn the demon tree before we go, then."
"What will you do with the fruits?" One of the Emerald Circle druids asked. "They should be destroyed as well."
"Harry will take care of that." Jessir lied, slightly.
She knew perfectly well that Harry would use the fel fruits for his various projects rather than destroy them, but telling that to the druids would be a bad idea. She and Arko had been extremely put off and only relented after watching him work and determining that nothing untoward was happening. The druids would have a conniption at the thought of an archmage mucking about with demon fruit full of concentrated fel magic.
The conversation had moved away from the issue of Harry's magical practices and into a differently thorny issue altogether.
"You have made an enemy of the Warsong clan with what you did." Thrall was saying. "I have been doing what I can to calm things down, but there are rumblings about mounting on attack on this tower of yours."
"So much for orcish honor." Harry smiled mockingly. "They attacked me first and now want revenge for biting off more than they can chew? To say nothing of how they were deliberately cutting down more trees than they could move, for the sole purpose of provoking the night elves to battle."
Thrall really wanted to rebuff that claim and say that Harry was lying… but the Warsong clan had been pushing for war with the night elves for years.
"I did not know that." He admitted with an internal grimace. The Warsong had always been one of the most battle thirsty orcish clans, surpassed perhaps only by the now fractured Blackrock clan. Varok was of the Blackrock clan and felt deep shame over the things he had done while under the influence of demon blood, but far too many Warsong and Blackrock orcs remembered those days with fondness instead.
The war in Ahn'Qiraj had actually been very convenient for him and now that it was over he would have to find a new battlefield to send such orcs to. Maybe Sylvanas would appreciate some help in the Plaguelands? Either that or they could start preparing to invade Northrend, as the Scourge was an issue that would have to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
Thrall feared what would happen if they ever ran out of enemies to fight. His efforts to shift orcish culture from war to shamanism wasn't going anywhere near as well as he had initially hoped. His position as Warchief was a lot shakier than it appeared and, while none had the strength to challenge him in Mak'gora, the Horde might very well splinter if there was a prolonged period of peace.
"Well now you do." Harry said flatly. "Besides, you should never have trespassed into Ashenvale to begin with. The nerve of logging in an ancient magical forest. I'm frankly shocked that Tyrande didn't use the battle at Mount Hyjal as a way to cull your numbers. "
Thrall would not have sent Grom to Ashenvale back when they first arrived in Kalimdor if he had even the slightest inkling of what would come of it, but that was the nature of hindsight.
"Wait, are you saying that if you were in Tyrande's place that you would have let the demons kill as much of the Horde as possible before ending the battle?" Jaina asked with a deep frown.
Thrall and Varok both fixed him with expectant stares of their own.
"Does that surprise you?" Harry asked curiously. "You only allied together out of dire need and the orcs had already caused the night elves grievous harm and offense. In Tyrande's position I would have considered it poetic justice to use the orcs as meat shields against the demon advance."
"Clearly, Lady Whisperwind has more honor than you." Varok apparently could not keep his silence in the face of such an admission, his tone heavy with condemnation.
Harry hummed in agreement and shrugged. Tyrande also wasn't indirectly responsible for the deaths of billions of people. It gets a bit hard to worry about honor after you trigger a techno-magical apocalypse, even if it was to pre-empt a nuclear apocalypse.
"I really thought you were better than that, Harry." Jaina chimed with her own disapproval.
He could only chuckle and grin at her. "You really should accept my courtship, darling. I promise I'll protect that soft heart of yours."
"Don't try to distract us by flirting with me." She said sharply, but was unable to keep the heat from her cheeks.
"Oh I'm distracting, am I?" Harry's grin widened, then he sensed three people teleporting in. "And speaking of distracting, the girls are back."
Jaina looked like she wanted to continue nagging about his dishonorable behavior, but Luna practically skipping into the room prevented it. Jessir, Arko and Della followed behind her at a more sedate pace.
All three were dressed in their arcanite plate, the armor having endured C'thun's stomach acid with only cosmetic damage that was easy to buff out. Only the cloaks and gambeson beneath had needed to be remade.
"Jaina, Varok! It's good to see you again." Luna enthused before focusing on Thrall. "Hello there. Errr, lok'tar? That's how orcs greet people, right?"
"Greetings, I have heard great things about you, Lady Priestess." Thrall replied politely, rising to grasp her forearm. "And yes, lok'tar is a form of greeting among orcs."
"Just call me Luna." She beamed. "And there are Jessir Moonbow and Arko'narin, and of course Della."
Thrall and the two night elves exchanged polite and much less enthusiastic greetings, then the three of them sat down on another couch that had until this point escaped everyone's perception.
"Where did that couch come from?" Jaina asked, frowning in bewilderment.
"It was always there, I just hid it so that you would have to sit next to me." Harry explained, much to her irritation and his amusement.
"We were just talking about how Harry would have used the demons to kill off the orcs if he had been the night elf commander during the battle of Mount Hyjal." She said in a sort of petty revenge.
Harry could only smile. He must really be getting under her skin if she was letting herself get so catty.
"That does sound like him." Luna nodded in agreement.
"It sounds a bit dangerous to risk the fate of the world like that." Arko pondered, not at all upset by the revelation.
"It would probably have lowered losses on our side if done right if done right." Jessir contested.
"You don't care?" Jaina blinked in surprise.
"Harry's always been like that." Luna shrugged.
"Mhm, he's not a typical hero." Jessir postulated.
"Orcs killed Cenarius, so it would be no less than they deserve." Arko stated, having absorbed some of Harry's bluntness.
"I see…" Jaina trailed off, realizing that she might have severely misjudged the situation.
Varok and Thrall could only stay quiet and keep their faces neutral, knowing that the night elves had every reason to hold grudges. Thrall in particular had been dealing with the diplomatic fallout of Grom Hellscream killing Cenarius for years and knew that nothing good would come of speaking up on the matter now.
Grom had died a hero, freeing the orcs from Mannoroth's influence, so Thrall could not denounce him without losing the support of the clans, to say nothing of his personal feelings. Unfortunately, this meant that the blame for killing Cenarius had spread from the Warsong clan to the whole of the orcish race, not helped by the fact that the Warsong had still been in Ashenvale until recently.
The situation was a worse political tangle than anything even the humans could come up with and it made Thrall long for the days when being Warchief was a simpler affair.
"Don't look so lost now." Harry nudged her shoulder. "I'm just one man, not the leader of any kind of faction, so you don't have to concern yourself with my political opinions."
Jaina just took a deep breath and then exhaled gustily. "Let's just move on. You mentioned something about me participating in this secrecy spell you wanted to use?"
"Indeed I did. To the ritual chamber!"
"I thought this was supposed to be a spell, not a ritual?" Jaina commented, examining the ritual circle.
"Normally, yes." Harry nodded. "However, the original spell was designed to hide away relatively obscure bits of information known by only a small number of mere humans. Seeing as we are hoping to hide an unfortunately fairly widespread bit of information from a large number of mortals, dragons and who knows what else, I needed to make some modifications."
The ritual circle itself was an odd configuration that featured two small circles in the center, surrounded by an outer ring of three similar-sized circles, which were in turn ringed by another circle.
"Will it work?" Thrall asked dubiously, while Varok just looked at the whole array even more dubiously. Neither orc was terribly fond of magical rituals.
The last time Thrall had participated in one had been when he and Jaina, along with several other shamans and mages, had worked together to suppress Mannoroth's demon blood in Grom Hellscream, shortly before the fated battle against the Pit Lord where Grom died.
That ritual had been much less complex than this one appeared to be.
"Under most circumstances… no." Harry admitted. "The power requirements would simply be too high. Fortunately, I think I can get Azeroth herself to lend a hand. As the planet's world soul, the knowledge in question belongs to her most of all and if she agrees to hide it in your soul, then that will put a lot more weight behind this ritual."
"You think?" Jaina questioned, having already been informed that he could somewhat communicate with the planet's world soul.
"I'm still not attuned enough for proper communication, but I can get my intentions across. She'll know that we're doing something to protect her and should be willing to help out."
"And if she does not?" Saurfang asked, deciding to put aside his questions about talking to Azeroth as if it was a person for now.
"Then the ritual sucks us dry and we spend the next few days – or maybe weeks – having a very bad time." Harry replied casually. "We won't die or have our souls mangled, though, so all things considered the risk versus reward calculation is quite favorable."
Jaina rubbed her forehead and took a deep breath. She knew that rituals going wrong always had dire consequences for the participants, but Harry was entirely too nonchalant about it. She had the distinct feeling that he was no stranger to gambling with his life. Also, did he have to phrase it like that?
"If that happens, then Arko and Jessir will take care of us in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber until we get better, so you won't be missing out on anything much." Luna assured their three guests. "But Big Sis Elune will help out, too, so everything should go smoothly."
Harry would normally strenuously object to having outsiders, even gods (especially gods), meddling with his carefully prepared rituals, but Elune could technically be called a participant due to Luna's soul acting as a channel for her power.
And he really couldn't imagine her wishing to screw this one up for them.
"Jaina, is this a good idea?" Thrall asked seriously, wanting the opinion of someone he trusted.
"The ritual circle is obviously the work of a master." The young archmage admitted reluctantly. "Well beyond my own skill. And despite his… methods, I do still trust Harry to have Azeroth's best interest at heart. Making C'thun's avatar inaccessible is worth the risk."
Thrall looked between the two archmages and the smiling priestess, traded a glance with Saurfang and finally nodded. "Alright. What must we do?"
"First, we strip." Harry declared.
"What?!" Jaina blurted.
"Rituals are sensitive things, the less interference the better. That means no magical items or enchanted clothing." Harry lectured.
"I understand that, but can't we just wear plain linen robes?" She argued.
Given that even 'plain linen' held a certain quantity of magic in this world? Harry would really rather not.
"There's no need to be embarrassed." He told Jaina.
"That's right, you're a beautiful woman." Luna chimed in.
"This isn't just some attempt to see me naked, is it?" Jaina asked suspiciously.
"What do you take me for?" Harry asked indignantly. "I would have preferred we didn't have to get naked for this."
The ruler of Theramore was a little bit stung by that, and then immediately felt annoyed at herself for it. She didn't want Harry leering at her.
"I would have much preferred to see you naked the first time after I slowly peeled you out of your clothes and gave every newly uncovered bit of skin a kiss."
The sting disappeared immediately, to be replaced with even greater irritation, as well as embarrassment.
"Oooh, that sounds fun!" Luna enthused and turned to Jaina with big, hopeful eyes. "How do you feel about whipped cream? Harry, Jessir and Arko just don't appreciate the fun of turning your lovers into big, sexy cupcakes and licking the cream from their fun parts."
"It makes everything too sticky." Harry shook his head, giving the mildly panicked Jaina a look. "Luna has a huge sweet tooth and this is what happens if she doesn't get any goodies for a few days. You'll want to keep track of these kinds of quirks if you want to keep your head above water in this relationship."
"What relationship?!" The young archmage demanded. "We don't have a relationship! And we never will!"
"That's not true." Luna stated with the certainty of a god dictating holy writ, combining it with the look of a kicked puppy. "We're friends, that's a relationship."
Jaina faltered, unable to contradict the pout. "I… suppose."
Thrall pointedly cleared his throat, calling attention to his presence. "Were we not about to do a ritual?"
As amusing as watching Jaina get teased was, he did have a Horde to run.
"We were." Harry nodded sagely. "Now strip."
Jaina groaned as they returned back to that. "Look, the Kirin Tor has been doing rituals in linen robes for as long as anyone can remember and it was always fine."
"Amateurs." Harry sniffed disdainfully. "The only proper way to do rituals is in the buff."
"Let's gooo!" Luna cheered and tossed off the simple dress she had changed from her armor into, revealing that she was not wearing anything under it.
"Don't just toss your clothes around in the ritual room." Harry scolded, pulling off his shirt. "Either put it into your hammerspace or leave it out in the hall."
"Sorry, I'm just excited for our first ritual with Jaina." Luna apologized, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"We'll step outside for a moment." Thrall and Saurfang said and quickly shuffled towards the door. Orcs were not particularly body shy so it didn't bother them overmuch, but the… bounciness… was a bit too much for them.
Meanwhile, Jaina was gripping her staff in escalating panic as her eyes flitted from the already naked Luna's expectant look and Harry's deliberate casualness.
"Come now, Jaina, we're all mature adults here." He spoke in a completely neutral tone that somehow managed to still annoy her. "Let's be professional about this."
It could be because Luna was still bouncing and smiling in almost childish glee, or because Harry was deliberately flexing the pectoral muscles of his very muscular chest.
"Fine." She snapped with a frustrated growl, knowing full well that he was poking at her pride. "But I swear that if I hear so much as a single lewd comment or see any leering, I am going to freeze you solid."
I took all of Harry's willpower to resist the urge to say that he was already solid.
A minute later, all five of them were naked and it was time to take their places.
"Thrall and Lemontooth, you two are in the innermost circles." He directed. "Thrall over there, and Lemontooth over there."
"Lemontooth?" Thrall asked bemusedly as he stood in the indicated position.
"Because lemons are sour and he's got sour fangs." Harry explained sagely.
"One day, that atrocity you call a sense of humor will bring you ruin." Saurfang grumbled darkly.
"But it is not this day!" Harry mocked. "Anyway, the three of us will be in the middle, Jaina over there and Luna over there."
"What is even my role in this ritual?" Jaina asked, standing naked in place and keeping her eyes from straying below his waist through sheer willpower. She knew that if she was caught peeking, especially after making such a fuss earlier, the teasing would never end.
"You and Luna will just be providing extra power while I shape its purpose." He explained and turned to the two orcs. "Saurfang, you need to focus on the Secret you want to entrust to Thrall, that Secret being 'C'thun's dead avatar is in the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj.'"
"Will that truly be enough?" The old orc questioned dubiously. "What if the wrong person stumbles upon it?"
"It wouldn't matter." Harry explained patiently, knowing that the warrior was having a hard time grasping the concept of 'unknowable'. "Once this ritual is done, it will be impossible for anyone outside of those told the Secret by Thrall to perceive C'thun's avatar as long as it remains where it is. They could be staring right at it, but their minds will not be able to grasp what they are seeing. The knowledge that C'thun's dead avatar is in the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj simply won't be part of the world anymore, so none may learn it through any means."
"I see." The old orc nodded, obviously still not really getting it. "Must I do anything else for this ritual?"
"Focus on the words and speak them when the time comes." Harry nodded. "You will know when, the ritual ensures it."
"C'thun's dead avatar is in the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj." Saurfang said to himself for assurance and got an approving nod for it.
"Thrall, all you need to do is keep your entire focus on Saurfang. When he speaks the Secret, the whole of your concentration needs to be on him."
"Understood." The Warchief nodded firmly.
"Alright, good, then we can begin. Girls, your hands if you please." Harry beckoned, holding out his hands.
Jaina and Luna reached out to grasp them and each others', although the former did so with markedly less enthusiasm. They now formed a triangle formation around the two orcs.
Harry began channeling his power into the ritual, guiding the two blonde women to do so in tandem with him. He sensed Elune's helpful hand as well. The symbols etched around their feet began to glow. So far so good, but now it was time for the tricky part.
He reached with his spirit for Azeroth's nascent world soul and as expected, she immediately rushed towards him. The colossal consciousness exuded a sense of relief and gratitude for dealing with C'thun, but she was already trying to direct his attention towards other threats.
Harry threw the full force of his own will at her, the equivalent to screaming in her face, so that she would look at the here and now. The link between them was still too raw for complex communication, but he did his best to convey that it would help keep her safe and that they needed her help.
Azeroth did not have a mortal's sense of scale and the ritual they were performing was beneath her notice, but his efforts so far had apparently won him enough trust that she took a look at it.
A moment of deliberation passed, though to Harry it felt like an age, then the he felt the specific bit of knowledge they were seeking to hide being given over to the ritual.
"C'thun's dead avatar is in the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj." He heard Saurfang say and there was a moment of vertigo as the complex tapestry of memories and knowledge suddenly gained a bunch of detours around that specific bit.
Harry, Luna and Jaina let go of each other and stumbled out of the ritual circle, feeling drained.
"Odd." Thrall said thoughtfully. "The Secret feels strangely heavy, as if it would be impossible to forget."
"Secret?" Saurfang repeated, frowning. "Yes, we were going to hide a secret… but I can't remember what it was."
"That's normal." Harry told him. "The ritual was a success."
"Was that Azeroth I felt for a moment?" Jaina asked in wonder, recalling the echo of the immense presence she had felt.
"Woo, our first ritual together!" Luna cheered, pulling the other naked woman into a hug. "We should do this again sometime."
"Luna, let go!"
"It was worth it just for this sight." Harry declared, smiling at Jaina's futile attempts to escape being smothered in Luna's boobs.
The orcs had been teleported back to Orgrimmar, leaving Jaina as the only guest in their tower.
"So…" Harry began. "I notice that Thrall made no mention of my potential future knowledge. Weren't you going to tell him?"
"I've had some doubts." Jaina admitted. "Even if I trust him, this is the kind of information that's best not spread around too much."
"Keeping it in the family, hmmm?" He teased.
"We are not family." Her denials had started to take a tone of tired repetition.
"But we will be." Came the expected rebuttal from Luna.
"Jessir, I think it's time we take these two to bed." Arko concluded.
"You're right, it seems to be the only way to stop them from seducing more women." Jessir agreed.
"Eventually, you'll see that Jaina belongs with us." Harry stated calmly, allowing himself to be led away.
"Yeah!" Luna cheered. "Just look at how cute she is."
Jaina had developed some resistance to embarrassing compliments by now and had only a mild tinge of pink on her cheeks. "Before you go, I want to take Winna Hazzard to Theramore with me."
"Sure." Harry shrugged, not caring what happened to the former Forsaken.
"Take her blanket, too. I made it to help with the nightmares." Luna suggested.
Sylvanas was beyond furious, had been so for days.
After coming back from Ashenvale, she had spent a week just thinking of every possible way the deal she had agreed to could be betrayed, both by her and by Harry.
She did not truly trust him to have told her all of his reasons – he had refused to divulge what item of his Kel'thuzad had for example. But by having Thrall and Jaina Proudmoore present for their meeting, betrayal was made harder. With Thrall as Warchief and Proudmoore as a highly influential human, any double dealing and backstabbing would have dire consequences with both the Horde and the Alliance.
But there was still a chance that it may happen, so she stewed on it. And while doing so, she also kept a close eye on Varimathras to see if there was any merit to the archmage's words. Her suspicion of the demon grew stronger by the day as she noted how little he seemed to fear her despite the constant threat of death hanging over his head.
Suspicion gave way to anger as she accepted that Harry had probably been right, and she called Varimathras to a private meeting, ostensibly to discuss what she had been called to Kalimdor by the Warchief for.
The Dreadlord never even saw his death coming. The presence of her dark rangers at the meeting was hardly unusual and he had paid them no mind, so there had been a blade in his neck and a multitude of arrows in his back before he could hope to react.
But Varimathras was not the only one to feel the sting of betrayal that day. As soon as word reached the Royal Apothecary Society that Varimathras was dead, Grand Apothecary Putress and a considerable number of others immediately released the volatile substances they were working on, doing a considerable amount of damage to the Undercity as a whole. There was also a number of betrayals from outside the Royal Apothecary Society.
The only bright spot was that the Blight that had been meant for use as a weapon against the Scourge had been incomplete, or else the Forsaken might have been destroyed that day.
That did little to improve Sylvanas' mood, however, because she began to fear that Harry was also right about what undeath did to people, besides the obvious. She would have never expected such a betrayal from her fellow freed undead, the same ones who had trusted her to lead them after they broke away from the Lich King's control, yet Varimathras had suborned them right under her nose.
And then, once she declared that no more work was to be done on the Blight until further notice, several of those who had initially sided against Putress seemed to go mad. Interrogation revealed that they just wanted to keep making new plagues because they hated the living. Telling one of them of the potential cure for their undead state as an experiment only made it worse, causing the man to go nearly rabid with fury at the thought of being restored to life.
They had lost themselves and she hadn't noticed because all she cared about was getting her revenge on Arthas… just like the fallen prince of Lordaeron had become obsessed with hunting down the Dreadlord Mal'ganis.
The thought of becoming another Arthas Menethil was so repugnant that she managed to feel a semblance of nausea even with her undead body. No, as much as she didn't trust Harry to have been completely honest with her, he had proven his ability to restore the undead to true life and that had just taken a whole new urgency. She would play things straight with him, help him storm Naxxramas and get the Forsaken restored as quickly as possible.
As for her revenge… well, the Lich King was the enemy of all life. Even if the Forsaken did fall apart as he predicted, there would be no shortage of allies who shared her goals.
Adrastia had not been having nearly as much fun on Azeroth as either Harry or Luna. Starting over was always a stressful time for her, but add in the fact that this world was full of powers that she couldn't defend against and it became downright anxiety-inducing. Planetos had been much more to her liking.
"At least you still remember how to fuck me properly." She huffed breathlessly, coming down from an orgasmic high and slumping over his chest.
"Naturally." Harry smirked.
"So, what is it with you and those two night elves?" Adrastia asked, having been in Stormwind since before they had showed up at the tower.
"We're getting married." He revealed casually.
Adrastia blinked in surprised and pushed herself up to stare down at him. With some incredulity. "Married? Already? I hadn't even thought that you and Luna would ever let anyone so close again."
"They'll live for thousands of years and I want to stay in this world for a long time yet." Harry explained. "Besides, if it doesn't work out then it doesn't work out. Sure, it'll hurt for a bit, but we're a bit too old to be afraid of pain or grief."
"Speak for yourself." She huffed, slumping back down atop him.
Harry just chuckled and moved on. "Did you dig up anything interesting yet?"
"Not much. Varian Wrynn doesn't trust me and it has been difficult to get a foot in the door with any shady elements with him breathing down my neck. I am almost certain that he has that blood elf of his spying on me."
"He does." Harry confirmed with a smirk. "In fact, she's skulking in the corner over there right now."
There was a shocked intake of air from said corner, but Adrastia merely pushed herself back up and twisted around to look in the indicated direction.
"Oh, an audience. How nostalgic." The Black Widow quipped sardonically.
Valeera faded into view with a frustrated look on her face. "How did you know I was there?"
She was no longer wearing the rather skimpy gladiatorial armor that he'd first seen her in, having now traded it in for something with more complete coverage. Unfortunately, it was still an eye-searing crimson and her extremely long hair was still poking from a topknot in her hood.
"I have my ways." Harry replied mysteriously. "Did you enjoy the show?"
The blood elf rogue simply stared at him flatly with no hint of blush on her face. She must have gotten over the embarrassment already. Too bad.
"Anyway…" Harry continued when it became clear that she wasn't going to say anything. "Do you want to hear the rest of Adrastia's report?"
Valeera looked aggravated for a few seconds for completely understandable reasons. Nothing got up a spy's goat more than being discovered and then being allowed to spy.
"Fine." She finally huffed and leaned against a wall, staring at them with what could almost be called a sulky expression.
Adrastia chuckled and laid back down on Harry, ignoring the pouting elf.
Harry hummed in acknowledgement and rubbed slow circles on her back with his fingers.
"Continuing from where I left off, I have been trying to see if Varian could be convinced to ease up his hardline stance on the Defias Brotherhood, but it doesn't seem as if he will ever forgive them for the death of his wife, despite it not being certain that it was even one of them that threw the stone that killed her." She said.
You would think that in a world where resurrection was a well known ability, someone would have been able to bring the queen back, but as luck would have it, the archbishop at the time, Alonsus Faol, had been on a trip in Lordaeron during that riot, and no one else in the city at the time had the power of resurrection.
"I think he might also have transferred some of his hatred for Onyxia to them, thanks to the hand they had in his little body split adventure." Harry rolled his eyes. "Whatever, it's probably a bit late- or possibly early – for mending relations. Did you get any inkling of subversive influences?"
"I have been dropping hints that I have an interest in darker magics and have received tentative confirmation that there is a warlock coven somewhere in the city." She answered. "The Twilight's Hammer predictably seems to have a particular presence among the poor and the refugees from Lordaeron. I have been unable to identify any leaders, however, and they do not appear to have an active agenda at this time, but that will likely change, depending on how popular the faith of Elune becomes after you finish building the temple."
Doomsday cults thrived on despair and misery and never appreciated it when something gave people hope.
"Alright, keep up the good work." Harry reached down to give her booty a squeeze, then rolled her over so that he could get off the bed.
"You're leaving already?" Adrastia propped her head up with one arm and drew circles on the sheet with the other. "We only went two rounds. Is that new body not performing properly?"
Learning that Harry and Luna had upgraded their bodies again and left her in the dust was a little bit upsetting, but she supposed that she couldn't complain too much since she had no intention of getting into any fights.
"Like you said, I have a temple to build and I don't want any of my hired hands to wander off if I'm late." He said and quickly got dressed, giving a nod to the silent blood elf on his way out. "Valeera."
Adrastia sighed gustily and gave the elf a contemplative look. "I don't suppose you would be interested in having a little sweaty fun?"
It would be no substitute for Harry's cock, or any cock for that matter, but she'd never been with an elf before.
Somewhat predictably, Valeera merely scowled, gave a flat 'no' and left. Too bad.
The original plan was to set aside a small plot in the Cathedral Square for the new temple of Elune, but that plan had eventually changed.
As indicated by the name, the Cathedral Square was dominated by the Cathedral of Light and a temple of Elune simply would not fit in there.
Instead, Harry had bought out a chunk of Old Town, the oldest and poorest section of Stormwind City. He had done so at well above the price he could have done it for and then employed many of the locals as manual labor, also at wages much higher than he needed to.
Varian Wrynn had not been exactly happy at the idea of having a piece of his city bought out like that, but had eventually been persuaded to allow it. While many of Stormwind's citizens thought that Old Town had a certain rustic charm to it, none could deny that it was a problematic area. Clearing out some abandoned buildings and failing businesses, giving high paying – if short term – employment to the locals and building a temple that would provide healing, shelter and spiritual advice could only help the district out.
That was one of the reasons why the opening of the temple was made into an important event, with a whole procession moving from Stormwind Keep to it. Aside from King Varian Wrynn, Prince Anduin, Bolvar Fordragon and a collection of nobles, Harry, Luna, Jessir and Arko were also part of the procession, as was Tyrande in her capacity as the High Priestess of Elune.
For Tyrande, the condition of Old Town was more than a little baffling. Night elves had such a small and slow-growing population that poverty had never been an issue. Even in the days of the Highborne when they were more numerous, it had never really been a concern. Having more children than you were capable of providing for seemed like madness.
Further proof of human recklessness.
The newly built Temple of the Moon stuck out like a sore thumb. It was not as massive as the Cathedral of Light, but still much larger than the aging buildings around it. Moreover, it was made from pristine white marble that glowed in the sunlight and had a moonsteel crescent moon embedded into the front wall just above the double doors that reflected a gentler pale light.
Notably, it was the same type of horizontal crescent moon symbol that Luna had on her forehead, rather than the slanted one that usually represented Elune.
"What do you think?" Harry quietly murmured to her as Varian Wrynn got started on a speech about Luna protecting his son from Onyxia and how this temple was meant to honor her and her faith. "I've always been more of a 'function before form' kind of guy, so designing a temple with beauty in mind was a bit of a challenge."
"It was clearly not made by night elven hands, but it is not displeasing." Tyrande murmured back, although she would reserve any true judgment until she saw the interior. "I must question your choice of location, however."
"My experience has been that it's best to not let slums fester." He replied. "After people get used to the temple, it will serve as both a point of pride for the residents and subtly shame them into not dragging down the value of the area. Plus, the poor always make for easy converts and are the most in need of any charity work that a temple can provide."
Tyrande let out a tight-lipped sigh at his manipulative reasoning. He wasn't wrong and she could tell that he didn't even mean anything by it, but worship of Elune really shouldn't be so… utilitarian.
Varian finished his short speech and entreated Luna to show them the interior.
The blonde human-troll hybrid (and hadn't that explanation for her and Harry's suddenly pointed ears been exasperating to hear) flounced over to her and grabbed her hand.
"Come on, Tyrande, I'll need your help to put the finishing touch on the temple." Luna said exuberantly and led her inside.
Going along with it simply because it would be unseemly to tear her hand away from the other woman (and definitely not because Luna would give her a wounded pout for it), Tyrande allowed herself to be led past the doors.
It became immediately clear that the interior was much larger than the exterior. From the outside, the building looked substantially smaller than the Temple of the Moon in Darnassus, but the inside was vast enough that it might actually be able to squeeze in the entire Cathedral of Light.
It was very reminiscent of her own temple in Darnassus, a great central hall with soft grass on the floor instead of cold stone, although it lacked the trees. Great marble pillars help up a second floor balcony and a very large moonwell with an exquisite statue of Elune holding up a basin from which more water poured down sat in the center, also much like her own temple.
"You have expanded the internal space with sorcery." Tyrande noted, not actually sure if she disapproved. While night elves had long shunned the use of magic out of fear of once again drawing the Burning Legion's attention, the events of the past few years had forced her to consider whether that measure had actually been effective.
"Yep." Luna chirped with a happy grin. "We did another thing, too. Take a look at the ceiling."
Tyrande did so and frowned, it was just a plain white domed ceiling. "There is nothing there."
"Not yet." Luna said. "Harry worked hard to set the enchantment into the stone there, now we have to finish it. Call on Big Sis Elune with me and direct her power into the ceiling."
Luna's habit of addressing the Moon Goddess as a big sister still felt incredibly strange and vaguely disrespectful to Tyrande, but she was admittedly curious to see what this last surprise was.
The two priestesses called upon their patron goddess together, filling the temple with a soothing, peaceful ambience. Then they directed the power towards the ceiling and the white stone became as a window into the night sky, a vast darkness bejeweled by countless stars, with Azeroth's two moons taking pride of place in the center.
Tyrande was familiar with the process of consecrating a temple in the name of Elune, and how the divine presence shrouded a place in eternal night, but she had never thought to see the beauty of the night sky reflected in cold stone. Particularly since it was in the middle of the day in Stormwind.
"Succcess!" Luna cheered. "It turned out great!"
Indeed it did. Tyrande was still staring at the ceiling, contemplating if she could ask to have the same thing done in her own temple.
"How did you do this?" She asked instead.
"Took inspiration from a magic school back home." Harry answered, having come up while she was distracted. "Had to tweak the spellwork quite a bit of course, but the basic idea was the same."
"Well, people certainly seem inspired." Jessir commented wrily, gesturing towards the humans.
Varian Wrynn was keeping a stoic face, but his son was gaping with open awe. The nobles were muttering and Archbishop Benedictus looked to be in deep thought.
"It's amazing." Arko'narin agreed absently, having not removed her eyes from the ceiling either.
"Well, I would say that you have certainly managed to create a temple worthy of Elune." Tyrande said to Harry warmly, pleased by this dedication to her goddess.
And maybe it would help set the humans on the path of living with nature instead of in spite of it.
"She reminds me of Luna." Harry admitted.
"Perhaps you would consider placing your faith in her?" Tyrande suggested. The followers of Elune did not make a habit of proselytizing, but they didn't turn down opportunities to gain converts either.
The wizard snorted in amusement. "No chance. I prefer to be on top in any relationship I have with a woman."
Tyrande felt her eyebrow twitch from the effort it took to not glare at him for that crass innuendo. The sheer gall of saying something like that about a goddess…
"Hehe, that would be fun." Luna chimed in with a giggle. "Nighttime gods are always kinky."
"Luna!" Arko groaned, clearly embarrassed.
"We're sorry, High Priestess." Jessir said, cheeks dark purple with embarrassment. "They have no shame at all."
"Yes, I can see that." Tyrande replied, her tone somewhere between dry and exasperated.
"Ooh, I just remembered." Luna smacked a fist into the palm of her hand. "Could you babysit the Moonlight dragon eggs again? Our adventure in Naxxramas shouldn't take as long as the one in Ahn'Qiraj, but I'd still rather not leave them alone. I thought Merithra would have come back to see us by now, but she still hasn't. Do you think she's okay?" Her tone switched from cheery, to sad and then to worried so rapidly that Tyrande had to wonder at how it was possible to be so emotional.
"Luna, dragons might not have the same conception of 'soon' as we do." Harry pointed out.
"They do not." Tyrande confirmed, recalling more than a few instances of dragons considering a few decades to be a very brief period of time, and that was the Red or Blue Dragonflights. It was anyone's guess how the Bronzes experienced time and the Greens could sleep for millennia. "And yes, I can look after the eggs again. When should I expect you to bring them over?"
"We don't know for sure yet." Harry shrugged. "Sylvanas has been ramping up the aggression of her campaign against the Scourge in the Plaguelands and Jaina has been in talks with the Argent Dawn at Light's Hope Chapel, so it should be soon-ish."
"Malfurion had long wished to heal those blighted lands." Tyrande murmured, remembering how she and her lover had gone across the sea a few years ago, hunting after Illidan Stormrage. "I cannot send a force of Sentinels to aid you, but I can ask for volunteers."
"The more the merrier." Luna chirped.
"Heads up, looks like Varian and his posse have gotten over their shock." Harry warned, nodding at the approaching king.
Tyrande plastered a diplomatic smile on her face and prepared to deal with the human leadership, a somewhat frustrating experience at the best of times. Varian Wrynn might mean well, but he had the subtlety of a battering ram and the flexibility of an iron rod. A good ally to have in war, not so much in peace.
The less said about Stormwind's House of Nobles, the better. Their arrogance vastly outstripped their worth in her opinion.
She had never actually met Archbishop Benedictus, so she wasn't sure what to expect from him.
Things were so much simpler before the night elves had been effectively forced by circumstance to join the Alliance.
OMAKE – Spiritual Resonance
Tyrande froze in place upon seeing the interior of the newly built Temple of the Moon.
Not because it was much larger on the inside than the outside. That barely even registered in the face of everything else.
The ceiling reflected the night sky, that was pretty impressive, but why were the moons and stars flashing and illuminating the space like that?
Why was there what appeared to be an elevated stage at the very back, from where – if Tyrande's grasp of acoustics was correct – sound would spread through the whole temple easily?
Why was there a dance floor around the moonwell?
Why were there booths and tables on the second floor and against the walls?
Why were there cages hanging from the ceiling?
Why was there a bar?!
"What is this?!" She managed to ask very, very tersely.
"Stormwind's newest and fanciest night club." Harry declared proudly. "Well, the first and only night club on Azeroth if you wanted to be technical. See, I thought about building something similar to your temple in Darnassus, but that's a bit too calm for humans. The ability to get drunk and party is generally much more valued by humanity than calm reflection. This way, Stormwind will be converted within a year."
"This is… this is not what the faith of Elune is about!" Tyrande snapped, outraged beyond comprehension. She turned to Luna. "How could you let him do this?!"
Luna blinked slowly. "I thought it sounded fun."
Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, the High Priestess decided to talk to a higher authority about this.
My lady, why did you allow this blasphemy?
… I thought it sounded fun.
IF I MIGHT HAVE A MOMENT OF YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE.
Indulge me as I tell you a tale of my real life goings on.
Way back in July of 2019, I woke up early one day and decided to take out the trash. While doing this, I pondered on my desire to replace my aging computer and lamented my stagnant financial situation that made it unwise to be making big purchases.
That was when I decided that since I was obviously unwilling to get a regular job, I would go all in on my writing hobby and try to publish an original work.
But what kind of story to write?
I looked at the bag of trash in my hand and had an epiphany, I could write trashy porn meant for sexually frustrated middle aged women! That seemed to be all the rage these days.
Well, about a month and a half ago, I published said book. Alas, I rather overestimated my ability to advertise, so it hasn't been getting much traction. And I didn't mention it in the last chapter of "Metagaming?" because I was, quite frankly, a bit embarrassed by it. Plus, I respect most of you too much to advertise such low tier literature here.
I resolved to write another book, something that I could peddle to you without feeling like a snake oil salesman.
Then I had another epiphany, three of them even.
1) It's really not up to me to decide what you read, even if it is bodice rippers.
2) You'd see it anyway once I advertised the second book, making my efforts to hide my shame moot.
3) I really want to start making money and there is a statistical likelihood that at least a few of you are into that shit.
So here we are.
If you want to go check out my first foray into the world of original fiction, you can find it under the pen name of Jennifer Haze (my research suggests that women are more likely to buy their smut from female authors, and one fake name is as good as another) on Amazon. The only title under said name at the moment is "Bindings of Lust"
Also, if you do decide to check it out, I would appreciate you not linking "Jennifer Haze" and "Noodlehammer" together on any kind of social media dumpster fire or forums you frequent. It's a vain hope, because I know that there are at least a few assholes among you that will do exactly that just to spite me. I can respect that, since I'm a spiteful asshole myself, but fuck you in advance anyway.
EDIT: Apparently, due to some kind of fuckery, neither the book nor author is currently showing up in search on the Amazon store for some people. Curse you, Bezos, you cuck!
EDIT 2: The issue appears to have been resolved.
Since I know that some of you don't bother reading the start-of-chapter author's notes, I'm adding a repeat down here.
Some dude wanted me to write a certain Naruto story bad enough that he offered to pay me for it and I'm not so fabulously wealthy that I'd turn down a chance to get paid for my hobby. If you're interested go check out "Shadow Play".
My update speed on "Metagaming?" shouldn't be noticeably impacted.
Until next time.