Credit for beta-reading and lore advisory goes to Joe lawyer and Umodin, respectively.
A lot of people have been asking me to crosspost over on Archive of Our Own. I might do that one day, but reposting all that shit is a tedious pain in the ass, so I don't feel like it right now.
"There is something terribly wrong with this place." Jessir shuddered, looking around at the barren landscape. There was nothing but bare rock and the occasional twisted, petrified tree.
"There's no life here at all." Luna said sadly, scuffing her toe into the bone-dry soil. "Not even bacteria."
"The high elves told our historians that it used to be inhabited by trolls before some terrible event changed it forever, but as far as humanity knows Deadwind Pass has always been a place so accursed that even the sun will not look upon it." Colette replied grimly.
That was certainly true. The sky was not actually overcast, but the sunlight seemed to just wash out before reaching the ground, leaving everything greyed out and bleak. Worse, there was a constant chill wind blowing that felt like it was going through them.
"Whatever it was, we know that it had something to do with the powerful magical nexus Aegwynn mentioned she built Karazhan over." Harry chimed in. "I tried asking Azeroth, but couldn't get more than a confirmation. I might be able to access the memory once we're there, though."
"You made your tower deliberately ominous, yet that one somehow still manages to be more off-putting." Arko glowered at the top of Karazhan over the rocky hills. "I can almost see the evil radiating off it."
"The fabric of reality is weak here. Not just weak even, but fragile, like cracked glass." Harry answered thoughtfully. "And given that Medivh was possessed by the spirit of Sargeras, I think we can guess which plane he was most frequently dabbling with."
"It is good that we came here, then." Colette said firmly. "The last thing Azeroth needs is another way for the Burning Legion to enter our world."
"Ah, we're here!" Luna exclaimed, having been at the front and thus the first to see around the bend. "I can see the entrance."
"And there's the Violet Eye encampment." Harry nodded. "These are mages, so expect them to act as if they know best and everyone else is stupid, just like I do."
"It takes all the fun out of teasing you if you just admit to being a self-important ass." Jessir grumbled.
"Shame is something that other people struggle with."
Their approach was quickly noticed, both by sentries and alarm wards, so a welcoming party assembled. Given that the five of them were heavily armed and armored, said welcoming party was not, actually, very welcoming.
"Halt and identify yourselves!" The fanciest of the mages barked, looking somewhat ridiculous with a goatee that had no mustache. That really should be illegal.
"Good day." He called with just enough gregariousness to be obnoxious. "We're the Battle Harem and we'll be entering Karazhan."
Arko and Jessir looked away in embarrassment, while Luna beamed and Colette chuckled.
The Violet Eye archmage, however, just looked angry. "Are you… mocking me?!"
"Not at all." Harry assured and produced a letter. "Here you go."
The archmage looked at it suspiciously and gestured for one of his underlings to take the letter.
"Sir, this letter bears the personal seal of Archmage Jaina Proudmoore!" The underling exclaimed in shock.
"What?!" The chief mage balked and quickly snatched the letter, ripping it open.
Harry could almost see his blood pressure rising with each word he read.
"You actually call yourselves… the Battle Harem?" He intoned slowly.
"Unfortunately." Arko muttered.
"Yes!" Luna chirped happily.
"Indeed." Harry confirmed.
"And you carry Atiesh, the Greatstaff of the Guardian?" The man continued.
"Right here." Harry produced the staff, settling it on his shoulders so that the azerite blade was plainly visible. The previously seven and a half foot staff was now close to nine feet long. "As you can see, I've made some… improvements… I'm sorry, I didn't get your name?"
"Archmage Alturus." The man answered mechanically, eyes still fixed on the legendary staff.
"Nice to meet you." Harry nodded, not trying very hard to be sincere. "Anyway, if you're satisfied with our credentials, we'll be entering the tower now."
Alturus frowned tremendously. "I don't know how you convinced Archmage Proudmoore to support you in this mad venture, but I will be lodging a formal protest with the Council of Six."
Ah bureaucracy, the darkest of magics.
"Sure." Harry was unconcerned by the threat of such foul arts, for they would strike at Jaina rather than him. Perhaps it would even motivate her to quit the Kirin Tor and join them in hedonistic debauchery to escape the paperwork. "Let's go, girls."
Under the displeased gazes of the Violet Eye, they all put on their helmets and he touched the raven headpiece to the front gate of Karazhan. The wards immediately resonated with the staff and the gates swung open to allow them passage.
Archmage Alturus looked tempted to follow, but the gates slammed shut in his face.
Karazhan wasn't just a wizard's tower, it was also something of a castle, so the very first thing beyond the gates was a gatehouse. Fortunately, it was small, unmanned and undefended and they passed through easily. Clearly, whatever had taken residence was not terribly concerned with proper defense.
"Alright." Harry said, letting Atiesh hover at his side and pulling a hand drawn map from his hammerspace. "According to Aegwynn, this 'street' will take us directly to the stables, while that passage over there leads to the storage areas and the servants' quarters, and those stairs go up to the next floor. Although… judging by how warped this place feels, I wouldn't bet on it being quite as she remembers."
That was in addition to the fact that Aegwynn herself had clearly built this in the hodge-podge manner typical of a magic user with zero understanding of architecture. Harry certainly remembered how his first attempts at a tower had been a mess of edits and extra bits tacked on as he thought of them. Karazhan had been Aegwynn's first attempt and she had plainly admitted to being too proud to start over, instead brute forcing any changes she wanted.
It left the place more than a little… malleable, even without factoring in what Medivh had done with it later.
"Well, it feels more than a little bit creepy, that's for certain. And here I thought Deadwind Pass was bad." Colette quipped, tightly gripping her Voidblade. "Almost makes a girl wish she was still undead and immune to fear."
"It wouldn't help." Harry cut off any burgeoning conversation, giving the walls around them a narrow-eyed glare. "That's not normal fear you're feeling, it's a warning. This entire tower is a giant soul trap – anyone that dies here, stays here."
"Good thing we weren't planning on dying, then." Jessir joked, clearly trying to lighten the mood.
"Nobody ever does." Arko wasn't having it and kept her guard up, sword ready and eyes scanning for threats.
"Some people do." Luna voiced her disagreement. "I've seen some really elaborate suicide plans. There was this one-"
"Not the time, dear." Harry interrupted. "Stay focused, we're bound to get attacked by trapped souls soon. I shouldn't have any trouble freeing them, but with how thin the dimensional barrier is here, they'll likely remain semi-corporeal. Most of them will be some combination of trapped in the past, insane and outright malevolent, so don't be afraid to cut them down."
"But wouldn't that destroy their souls?" Arko asked in consternation.
"Souls aren't that easily destroyed and none of our weapons are designed to strike at them anyway." He shook his head. "At worst they'll pull themselves back together and reappear in a few hours, at best you'll be sending them onwards."
With that issue settled, they cautiously advanced. Colette and Arko were at the front, brandishing their swords, Harry took up a rearguard position just in case they were attacked from the back and Jessir and Luna stayed in the middle, where the chance of being forced into melee was minimal.
The caution proved largely unnecessary, as their progress along the 'street' was unmolested, save for the ominous atmosphere of Karazhan.
"Curious." Colette murmured, peering into the stable once they reached it. "This place has been abandoned for decades, yet the hay looks fresh."
"Probably locked in time." Harry postulated. "We might find corpses in similar states."
"There's a cheery thought." Arko muttered.
"If you keep grumbling like that you'll turn into a dwarf." Jessir teased.
"That could be a fun bit of roleplay." Luna said with clear interest. "Harry could probably whip up a potion for it."
"Since it was Jessir's idea, she can be the one to do it." Arko retorted vindictively.
A loud, distorted neigh cut off any further conversation and they all tensed, staring into the stable. The thunder of hooves followed and a small herd of spectral horses burst out of the stable.
The Battle harem was quick to spring to action. Luna cast blessings of protection to prevent them from being swept away by the momentum and false mass of the stampede, Harry weaved a necromantic spell of exorcism to weaken them, Jessir began thinning the herd with blessed arrows and the two front liners cut down any horses that came into reach of their blades.
"I am really liking this sword." Colette said once it was over, admiring her Voidblade.
Harry had forged it for her out of liquid Void and an alloy of arcanite and adamantine. The end result was a sword whose blade was so dark it drank in light, but solid enough to cut just about anything. It also served as an excellent channel for her Shadow magic, far superior to the runeblade she had used as a death knight.
"Glad to hear it, now let's move in." Harry grinned slightly behind his helmet and nodded towards the entrance to the stables.
They barely stepped over the entrance when they were attacked again, this time by spectral stable hands.
The spirits shouted words that only they could hear and attacked with a blind frenzy, disregarding their lack of weaponry. Unlike with the horses, Arko and Colette were less willing to just cut them down.
"Harry, could you hurry up, please?!" Arko shouted, fending off a persistent spirit with the flat of her sword.
"Just kill them." Harry shot back blithely, matching word to deed and using the newly forged blade on Atiesh against the spirits. "They're quite insane."
He had tried to free them, and it had worked, but that did nothing for the sanity of the spirits. They would stay and keep fighting whether they were free or not, and Karazhan would re-bind them to itself in short order since they wouldn't leave.
Fortunately, they weren't any better fighters in death than they had been in life and were easily dispatched.
"Not the best start." Jessir murmured as the last spirit faded away, looking a bit perturbed.
"Maybe we'll be able to put them to final rest after the tower is cleared." Luna said optimistically.
"We should." Harry agreed. "Aegrwynn said that she anchored the wards on this place into an enormously powerful magical nexus, but I don't think she realized that it wasn't natural. From the impressions I'm getting from Azeroth, it's more like a wound. If we fix it, then the veil will reassert itself eventually."
"Why does the term 'easier said than done' come to mind at those words?" Colette asked sardonically.
"Because you're smart." Harry gave a playful smack to her armored butt. "Guard up, I can sense a greater power up ahead. If Aegwynn's information is still correct, then it's probably a guy called Attumen the Huntsman, and he's unlikely to be non-hostile."
They proceeded cautiously through the bizarrely circular stables. It was a design that made no real sense, but could be explained away by wizards thinking they were smart. Alternatively, the building had just reshaped itself over time to pander to Attumen's ego, as the large central area was clearly meant for his horse.
Midnight – once again under the proviso that Aegwynn's information was still valid – was clearly no natural steed. While she looked corporeal, the ghostly fires burning from her hooves would beg to differ. There was also a distinct aura of hostility around her, but all she did was paw at the ground aggressively.
A well-trained horse only charged at the behest of its rider.
"Who dares disturb my faithful steed?" A voice echoed through the stables and Attumen the Huntsman faded into view.
He had a distinctly death knight-ish look about him, but not the same as the ones beholden to the Scourge. More of a case of him being dead and a knight, really.
"That staff?" Attumen muttered, staring at Harry. "Master?... No, you are not the master! Thief! Impostor! Wretch! Come die by my blade for your insolence!"
"One on one?" Harry proposed. "Just you and me, I leave my girls out of it, you leave your horse out of it? No magic until our duel is concluded, either."
"Harry…?" Arko didn't speak the obvious question.
"I need to test out this new bladestaff of mine on a real opponent." He explained.
Sparring was good, but nothing could ever replace live combat experience.
Attumen was visibly surprised by the proposal, but was quick to agree. "An honorable duel? I prefer to hunt, but I accept your challenge."
The girls Midnight's circular stall, the spectral horse following along obediently at Attumen's command.
Harry adjusted his grip on Atiesh. Normally, he would wield it in a similar manner to a regular quarterstaff, alternatively using the bladed end or casting spells as convenient. Since he had proposed a no magic stipulation for this fight, that meant greater emphasis on the bladed end.
It had been a while since he had fought in melee proper, so he decided to give himself a little edge. Drawing deep inside on magics mastered long ago, his eyes turned a golden yellow as the dormant wolf spirit came to the fore. Not enough to change him in any significant degree, but enough that he gained a predator's eyesight and acute attention to movement.
With the wolf came aggression and Harry made the first move, launching a probing attack at the undead knight.
Attumen parried the azerite blade with his own spectral two-hander, stepping forward to get into his range.
Instead of fighting the parry, Harry moved with it and tried to brain his opponent with the staff's headpiece. The perching raven might be a bit silly and uncool-looking, but it was still quite a solid block of wood and could function as a makeshift mace
Attumen ducked just beneath the strike and tried to bring his sword around for a strike at Harry's midsection now that both ends of the bladestaff were out of position to attack or defend. Had he been using a smaller blade, it might have worked, but the longsword made the angle awkward and Harry was able to unbalance the undead knight by shoulder checking him before the blow could land.
They disengaged and twirled their weapons testingly to reaffirm their respective grips.
"You fight well, for a wizard." Attumen complimented.
"I've been practicing, but I'm still clumsy." Harry replied. "With my range advantage, I should never have let you get so close."
"You chose a difficult weapon." The undead knight commented. "Polearms were never meant to be used in duels."
"You are sounding much more reasonable than you did when you first appeared." Harry observed. "You're not being held here against your will at all, are you?"
"No, I swore an oath to serve Master Medivh for all time." Attumen confirmed.
"You realize that he was being possessed by the spirit of Sargeras, right?"
"It matters not, a sworn oath is a sworn oath."
Harry sighed with aggravation. "I hate people like you."
Even taking into account what having his spirit held in Karazhan would do, it was quite obvious that Attumen had been one of those stupidly honorable types in life. Or something like it at least.
This time it was the undead knight that went on the offensive, lunging forward with a powerful thrust. Harry parried the attack, but it was not a particularly graceful parry and didn't allow him a counter-attack. Attumen flowed into another attack and managed to score a glancing blow against his armor before Harry forced him away again.
I could obliterate him so easily. Harry groused as he made a light probing attack, careful to not leave himself exposed. Attumen was certainly a skilled warrior, objectively better than him.
Of course, part of the reason that he was having so much trouble was that his mind kept automatically jumping towards any number of spells that he could cast as he moved the bladestaff around. That was great for real fights, not so great when he was trying to practice. Well, it was probably for the best that he didn't develop a habit of disregarding potential spells he could use.
With that in mind, he went for and overhead attack with the blade and, when Attumen blocked it, conjured a mass of magic string from the headpiece that wrapped around the huntsman's legs.
"Liar! Dishonorable wretch!" Attumen roared in outrage as he toppled over.
Harry shut him up by the expedient method of stabbing him in the chest, causing the undead knight to quickly fade away.
This of course set off his mount, but it was quickly put down by Arko and Colette.
Who were looking at him with disapproval that was felt even through the helmets.
"What?" Harry asked.
"You told him that you wouldn't use magic." Colette said.
"Until our duel was concluded." He corrected. "I decided that it was concluded."
"Wizards, always so clever." Colette rolled her eyes.
"That we are, now let's see where those stairs go." Harry gestured towards the stairs in question, which were of a distinctly different construction than the rest of the stable.
"Wait, why are there stairs there?" Arko questioned. "The stable doesn't even have a second floor."
"No, but the main tower does." Luna reasoned.
"But we aren't in the main tower." The night elf paladin protested.
"Don't try to make sense of it, sweetie." Luna consoled. "A wizard did it."
"Alright, let's leave this alone for now and explore the rest of the ground floor." Harry decided. "Hopefully that idiot huntsman won't respawn before we get back, if we need to get back."
"Greetings, travelers." The specter said as they approached. "I am Berthold the Doorman, how may I assist you?"
"Hello there." Harry decided to play along. "I would like to ask about the tower."
"I will tell you what I can, but please understand that as a humble doorman, my knowledge is limited."
"Of course. Could you tell us the layout of each floor and what we are likely to find on it?"
"I am afraid not." Berthold shook his head, seeming genuinely regretful. "That would be a question better asked of Moroes the Steward."
"Makes sense." Harry said agreeably and then very deliberately passed Atiesh from one hand to the other right in front of the ghost's face. No reaction, so Berthold probably didn't even know he was dead. He saw only what he expected to see. "Where can we find this steward?"
"I believe that several nobles are currently in an audience with him in the banquet hall, on the second floor." Berthold replied, perfectly helpfully.
"And how do we get to the second floor?" Harry continued to press.
"Via the stairs behind me of course." Berthold answered.
"Of course." Harry echoed. "Is it possible to get to the second floor through the stables?"
The ghost stared at him in confusion. "Why would there be stairs to the second floor of the tower in the stables?"
"Never mind. Thank you for the help."
"My pleasure, good sir."
The conversation done, Berthold resumed staring off into space, seeing nothing and reacting to nothing until someone else addressed him. Harry turned back to the girls.
"Well, I guess that confirms the architecture has been shifting since everyone here died." He said.
"To be trapped like this… It's not right." Jessir shook her head. "Can't you just do your thing and free them?"
"They can't tell the difference between life and death, so they don't realize that they've been trapped." Luna said sadly.
"No need to get maudlin now, we'll fix this mess and be big damn heroes." Harry admonished gently. "After we rob the place."
"And just when I was thinking something nice about you." Arko sighed.
"A direct connection to the ballroom from the ground floor?" Colette wondered, peeking into the room full of dancing ghosts.
"What's so strange about that?" Jessir was puzzled.
"What isn't strange about that?" Colette was puzzled right back.
"Night elves don't much like walls or doors." Harry solved the minor mystery. "Humans, on the other hand, like to separate rooms by function, and rich humans like to further separate rooms with stairs, hallways and antechambers. I suspect that Karazhan has shrunk, leaving behind only rooms that have enough of a spiritual imprint from people to keep existing."
"That saves us a bit of walking, I guess." Arko ventured.
"It also means that most every room we see will be in some way important." Harry chuckled. "So keep your eyes open."
"That's going to make the secret passages a lot easier to spot." Luna noted happily.
"What if there aren't any secret passages?" Jessir asked.
"There are always secret passages." Harry, Luna and Colette chorused.
"Humans." Arko rolled her eyes. "Anyway, how are we getting through here? Just ignore the ghosts?"
"Can't risk it." Harry shook his head. "There's no telling if or when they'll turn hostile, and even if they're incompetent fighters, we don't need the distraction."
Before the girls could say anything more, he drew on the Void to wreathe Atiesh's azerite blade in shadow. Then he swung it in a wide arch, sending a scything blade of shadow through the room that cleaved through all the spectral dancers.
The Penumbral Harvest was one of the spells he'd made since coming to Azeroth and it was much easier to use with a proper catalyst. In Ahn'QIraj, he'd needed a pre-made vial of liquid Void to pull it off.
"You'll have to teach me how to do that one day." Colette was very impressed.
"Will do." He agreed.
They cautiously advanced, wary of traps and ambushes, but there didn't seem to be anything of the sort waiting for them. The stairs to the third floor were visible at the other end of the ballroom, and a passage to their left led directly into the banquet hall that Berthold had mentioned, confirming Harry's hypothesis that Karazhan had shrunk down to only the commonly used rooms.
The banquet hall was clearly meant for VIPs only. The room was richly decorated and sported a large, oval table right in the middle. Seated around it was a collection of spectral nobles, apparently enjoying the party, attended to by spectral servants.
Well, most of them were enjoying the party. One looked distinctly bored and annoyed.
A nervous-looking physical undead was flitting from guest to guest, assuring them that Medivh would be back soon. That was probably Moroes.
The whole thing seemed to be stuck in a temporal loop of some sort, more than just the undead beign unable to form new memories. Even the food was still fresh.
"Should we just go in and introduce ourselves?" Luna asked quietly, making sure that her voice wouldn't carry.
"It would be risky." Colette was audibly frowning. "Undead can be volatile if their routine is disturbed."
"Especially if it's the living doing the disturbing." Harry agreed. "But this could be our only chance to get the lay of the land."
"Maybe you could pretend to be Medivh?" Luna suggested. "They obviously died waiting for him to show up."
"That might work." Colette said speculatively, looking at Harry. "I met Medivh once and he was also an unusually tall man. Take off the helmet and place a few illusions over your face and armor, and you could pass as him fairly easily."
"Won't they notice the changes done to Atiesh?" Arko pointed out a potential problem.
"Moroes might." Harry conceded. "But if he's fooled by the rest of it, then he's not likely to question his master. I somehow doubt making alterations to his staff would be the strangest thing Medivh has done."
"Alright, then how about your voice?" She continued to press.
"I'll just use a mysterious tone and hope for the best."
"And how will you explain us, then?" Jessir got in on the naysayer action, gesturing to herself and the other girls.
"Well, Aegwynn did warn us that her son had become quite the deviant in his final years…"
Harry had to take a quick peek into Colette's memories to get a good mental image of pre-death Medivh, but other than that the deception wasn't hard to pull off. A conjured beard, a magically darkened hood, some loose clothing transfigured into a robe to cover his armor…
"Perfect." Colette declared. "I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference unless they were already suspicious. And might I just say that you look very handsome with a beard."
"Colette's fetishes aside, are we ready to go?" Arko asked irritably.
"I'm so proud you know what a fetish is." Harry faked being moved by emotion, but quickly got serious. "Remember, we walk in there like we own the place, completely at ease, but be ready for things to go sideways. There's no accounting for which direction of crazy undead can go in."
They all had their helmets off and their weapons sheathed, ready to really sell the deception they were going for.
"I still think we should do sentai poses if we're going to cosplay." Luna pouted. "'The Guardian and his Combat Concubines' definitely sounds like a super sentai team."
Arko and Jessir were mumbling prayers. "Blessed Elune, please don't let that name stick."
"I'd still like to know what a 'super sentai team' is and what kind of poses they do." Colette insisted.
"No, you really, really don't." Harry insisted right back. "Come on, let's do this."
They got into position; Harry at the front, Arko and Colette at his sides and a step behind and Luna and Jessir a step behind them so that they were in a rough V formation. Their entrance was bold as brass and designed to draw immediate attention, which was what it did.
Moroes looked at them and briefly looked like he might turn hostile, but recognition quickly flooded his undead face and he straightened to attention.
"Ah, Master Medivh, welcome home." The steward said smoothly. "I have been entertaining your guests in your absence, as you requested."
"Thank you, Moroes." Harry kept his voice low and mysterious to keep it unrecognizable and used a bit of magic to project it. "My apologies for my absence, I was called away by urgent matters."
The spectral guests all rushed to assure him that it was no trouble and that Moroes had been a perfect host.
They were all buying it. Good. He took a seat at the head of the table and the girls stood behind him.
"Shall I prepare the guest rooms for your companions, Master?" Moroes asked.
"No need, they will be staying in my chambers." Harry replied.
"We are the Guardian's Combat Concubines!" Luna announced enthusiastically, striking a pose.
"I see." Moroes didn't even blink at the strangeness, fortunately. "It sounds like you have quite the interesting tale to tell for your guests."
"Indeed." Harry agreed. "But first, I would like to know what has been happening in Karazhan during my absence."
If his guess was right and the 'residents' were experiencing a warped sense of time, then Moroes should be able to tell them at least something.
"Of course, sir." Moroes agreed. "What would you like to know?"
"Is there any trouble that needs handling on the upper floors?"
"I'm afraid so, sir." The steward nodded. "That stone giantess on the third floor calling itself the 'Maiden of Virtue' is still squatting in the guest quarters and attacks anyone it perceives as 'deviant'."
A stone giantess? Harry was suspicious about the nature of such a being. While he didn't yet have the full picture, he knew that the titans employed constructs to watch over their projects after they moved on. This 'stone giantess' sounded like it might be one, but what the hell was it doing in Karazhan?
"The Opera performers are running continuous rehearsals and often block access to the higher floors." Moroes continued. "They ignore my remonstrations, so you will have to punish them yourself."
Why exactly one needed to go through the opera stage to get to the higher floors apparently didn't register as strange to the steward. Karazhan had imposed a unique brand of 'common sense' on the people inside it that looked insane to an outsider.
"I see." Harry nodded gravely. "I will be sure to have a word with them."
Moroes looked pleased by that and continued with his report. "Nightbane has taken the terrace as a lair, so I have not been able to approach it or send servants to clean the alternative route to the fourth floor."
"Understandable." Harry nodded, despite having absolutely no idea who or what Nightbane was. "And the fourth floor?"
Moroes looked distinctly sour at that. "Your 'Curator' allows none to pass. I am afraid I don't know what has become of the upper floors."
"That should not have happened." Harry guessed, affecting a grim tone. "I will have to check on it immediately. My apologies, honored guests, for my early departure, but this cannot wait."
The spectral guests expressed disappointment and understanding, thanking him for taking time out of his busy schedule to have dinner with them.
They didn't even realize that he'd only just barely sat down.
The guest quarter of Karazhan was as shrunken as the rest of the tower. What guest rooms remained felt faded and insubstantial, as if they weren't quite real anymore. Just the act of them walking into them visibly stabilized them.
The main hallways, however, felt very real. By now, they had all figured out that this meant a being of some power was lurking nearby and forcibly stabilizing the part of the tower they were squatting in with their presence.
So their advance was cautious, and every room peeked into from a safe distance.
"That's a titanic watcher alright." Luna declared, staring into the scrying mirror. "Big Sis Elune says so."
A miniature telescope magically linked to a mirror could be incredibly useful.
"Right, and Moroes said that she's called the Maiden of Virtue." Harry pondered. "Did she seriously come here to spank Medivh for being a dirty boy? It seems a bit… pedestrian."
"Maybe she was drawn here by his dabbling in demon magic?" Arko offered.
"True, 'virtue' isn't necessarily referring to sex." He conceded. "And 'maiden' could be referring to her gender… however that works for a stone construct."
"Why is she just standing there, then?" Jessir wondered. "Wouldn't she have either killed Medivh or been destroyed herself a long time ago?"
"He must have bamboozled her because he wanted to study her." Luna concluded. "It's what Harry would have done."
"I would have." He admitted. "In fact, that's what we're going to do, but in reverse. If Medivh did something to screw with her mind, then we are uniquely positioned to unscrew it. The Heart of Azeroth should be extra effective against a titanic watcher and Luna's purification abilities are sufficiently bullshit that I can see it working."
"Is that wise?" Colette took up the role of naysayer. "We know nothing about how powerful the Maiden of Virtue is."
"Clearly not overwhelmingly powerful if Medivh didn't even have to kill her." Harry pointed out.
"Medivh was the Guardian of Tirisfal, arguably the most powerful being on Azeroth." Colette pointed out right back.
"And yet he still died like a bitch. If I was the one trying to deliver this world to the Burning Legion, it would have been delivered already."
That was probably a bit unfair. Medivh hadn't exactly been in his right mind with Sargeras mucking things up.
"That's not something to brag about!" Arko punched him in the shoulder with a clang of metal.
"Nonsense, competence is always worth bragging about." Harry refuted. "Now enough stalling, we've got a big stone lady to unfuck."
"Your phrasing is still horrible." Jessir grumbled.
He put away the mirror and the telescope. "Alright, Arko and Colette, you two will be the vanguard. Go in big and loud, draw her attention and split on either side of her, but focus on defense at first. Jessir, try to pin her down. I don't know how well your non-lethal arrows will work on her, but it's worth a try. Luna, blast her with purifying beams just in case it works on whatever mindfuckery Medivh did. I'll go in from the flank and bonk her over the head with Atiesh to see if the Heart of Azeroth gives me any influence over her. Best case scenario, we make friends with the giant sculpture. Worst case, we're almost optimally positioned to reduce her to rubble. Questions?"
"What if we do fix her and she still hates us because we live in debauchery and sin?" Colette asked wrily.
"I would like to think that the titans and their constructs had better things to do than worry about the sexual habits of mortals." Harry replied just as wrily. "Either way, I'm not taking criticism on my sex life from a hunk of rock, no matter how intelligent."
There were no further questions and they go into positions.
Arko and Jessir charged in with loud battle cries, protected by shields of moonlight, and in Colette's case wreathed in a cloak of shadow.
The Maiden of Virtue immediately focused on them, her previously blank features twisting into a harsh scowl. That was honestly some amazing animation given that she was made of stone.
"Your behavior will not be tolerated." She said sternly.
Harry thought that seemed to be strangely abrupt, as if it was said during a conversation already in progress. No matter, he charged in along with Jessir and Luna.
The huntress was already firing arrows loaded with magics to restrain and disable and Luna was calling down the light of Elune on the titanic watcher.
"Your impurity must be cleansed!" The Maiden of Virtue cried out and a blast of Light-infused fire exploded around her.
You'd think an attack colloquially known as 'Holy Fire' would only target evil or being tainted by corrupt magic, but it was actually almost as indiscriminate as regular fire. The only real difference was that it sidestepped normal fire immunity, couldn't start forest fires and packed some extra oomph against anything Void-related.
Which sucked for Colette, as the golden flames attacked her particularly voraciously. She shouted in pain, but quickly called on more shadow magic to smother them, followed by Luna throwing healing magic her way to fix any damage done.
Harry ran through the blast of flame pretty much unscathed. He was familiar enough with Light magic to completely negate what little made it through Luna's shield, and the Maiden's fixation on Colette exposed her back to him.
He ran right up to her and basically poked her in the butt with the headpiece of Atiesh, just because he was feeling cheeky.
He felt a connection form immediately and reeled back in surprise as his mind was inundated with information. If not for his past dip into godhood and the recent communion with Azeroth, it may have been too much, but as it was he was able to endure to initial shock. After that, he noticed something rather… familiar.
It had been a long, long time since he'd even seen a computer and he had never really been interested in programming, but he recognized it when he saw it. The Maiden of Virtue was far different and more complex than any mere computer program, and it was certainly not technological in the same sense, but her mind was effectively running on the same principle. She was an artificial intelligence, made by magic.
It was extremely difficult to tamp down on his excitement at this discovery and focus on the task at hand. Fortunately, her operating system was also quite intuitive and his own mind was heavily regimented due to centuries of practice at the Mind Arts. It didn't take long to find the problem.
Medivh had probably tried some kind of mind control magic and tripped the contingency subroutines, then he'd doubled down and effectively broke her ability to discern friend from foe with brute force. Smart and powerful he might have been, but this was an out-of-context problem for him.
Of course, just because Harry recognized what the Maiden of Virtue was didn't instantly make him an expert. He couldn't hope to fix the damage without extensive study and experimentation.
But there was an alternative. He dug into her memory banks, which were arranged in helpful chronological order, until he found the memory of her traveling to Karazhan.
System Restore! He commanded, shaping it in the form of a spell.
It almost definitely wasn't the proper way of doing things, but with the Heart of Azeroth acting as an administrator access key it worked. Harry was ejected from the Maiden's mind as her 'software' rebooted.
He took a few steps back and gestured for the girls to do the same. A few seconds later, the Maiden of Virtue unfroze and turned to face him, her expression blank.
"How many years have I lost?" She finally asked.
"Around thirty, if I don't miss my guess." Harry replied.
"Then my mission was a failure." The Maiden frowned. "Yet Azeroth endures and you carry her artifact. Has she appointed you her champion?"
"She has." He nodded. "I will protect her until she is born."
"Then we are allies." The Maiden of Virtue nodded firmly. "The will of the titans is absolute."
A bit too slavish for Harry's liking, but he decided not to quibble about personal philosophy right now. "Do you want to help us purge Karazhan, or do you have somewhere else to be?"
"I came here to put an end to the sorcerer Medivh's depravities." She said. "I shall not leave until it is done."
"Alright then, glad to have you aboard."
"Yay, new friend!" Luna cheered.
They decided to not tangle with whatever 'Nightbane' was on the terrace, which left going through the theater. That had its own… complications.
"But I wanted to see what the Azeroth version of the Wizard of Oz is like." Luna whined as they trudged up to the fourth floor.
"I'm sure we can find some theater in Stormwind that will act it out for us." Harry assured in a long-suffering tone.
He would not have minded staying to watch the show, but they were in a bit of a hurry. Unfortunately, the spectral actors hadn't taken too well to their audience trying to walk off and got violent. They weren't much of a challenge, being actors.
Harry was amused that he could now add 'slaughtered a theater group' to his resume, even if they were technically already dead.
"You come from a different world, yet have the same entertainment?" The Maiden of Virtue asked.
"We come from a different part of the multiverse." Harry corrected. "And there is indeed a considerable amount of cultural bleed-over."
"Interesting." Was all the big stone lady said in response.
Not one for small talk, the Maiden of Virtue.
"So, where did you live before coming here?" Luna asked, disregarding the non-chattiness of their temporary party member.
"I cannot speak of it." She replied blandly.
"Can you get permission to speak of it and get back to us with it?" Harry interjected. "If there are other titanic watchers out there, I would like to collaborate with them to safeguard Azeroth."
"Perhaps." The Maiden of Virtue agreed. "I will speak to Keeper Archaedas."
They were silent for a few minutes, slowly making their way up the twisty path to the fourth floor, dispatching the occasional maddened, trapped soul.
"Is it just me, or is the air getting thicker?" Jessir asked humorously.
"Thick enough for the masonry to hang in the air all by itself." Arko snorted at the bad joke, gesturing at said floating masonry.
"Why does this path even lead outside the tower?" Colette wondered, bewildered. "I find it hard to believe that Medivh or Aegwynn would design such a convoluted means of traversing between floors."
"Oh, we're not outside." Harry chuckled. "I know it looks like we are, but we aren't. The higher we go, the less stringent reality gets. And I'm sensing a powerful source of fel energies at the edges of my range."
"I sense it, too." The Maiden of Virtue said with a stony expression. She was very good at those. "Demon corruption."
No demons yet, though. The serpentine path eventually regained stability, at least superficially. The air itself writhed with wild magic.
And then they were attacked by a swarm of what appeared to be flying, glowing eels.
Pretty much all of them had some kind area of effect attack, so you would think that it wouldn't be a problem, but the damn things turned out to be completely immune to all magical attacks.
"What the hell are these things?!" Arko yelled, bashing the toothy bastards with her gauntlets as they tried to gnaw through her armor.
"Some kind of magic leech, I think." Harry guessed much more calmly, slicing through them with his bladestaff. As annoying as their magic immunity was, they couldn't get through the spellforged arcanite or the Maiden of Virtue's stone skin. "And they don't seem native to the physical plane. All the excess wild magic must have drawn them in."
"You take us to the nicest of places." Jessir snarked, using her Holy Moonlight Shortswords to carve through the leeches.
"Damn it, even Shadow magic doesn't help. They just take on a Void aspect." Colette complained, also resorting to melee.
"I will say again; the Void is evil and should not be dabbled with." The Maiden of Virtue said sternly.
"Your Light magic isn't helping either, Karen, so less nagging and more squashing." Harry retorted irritably. The titanic watcher had not yet missed a chance to spout her opinion on Colette's specialty.
Friggin Light users.
"My name is not Karen." She frowned, splashing the last of the leeches between her hands. "I am the Maiden of Virtue."
"That's a bit of a mouthful." Luna pointed out cheerfully. "And you act like a lot of Karens we used to know."
"But it is not my name." The stone lady insisted.
Harry pressed Atiesh against her leg and, focused his will and spoke. "Change Designation [Maiden of Virtue] to [Karen]. Administrator Override."
"New designation accepted; [Karen]." Karen said robotically.
Jessir, Arko and Colette stared at him.
"What was that?"
"What was what?"
"More fishies incoming!" Luna warned, interrupting Harry's fun.
"This isn't over!" Colette promised.
"That is a big magic robot." Luna observed, staring at what they all assumed was the Curator that Moroes had mentioned.
It was a huge arcane golem whose core was practically bursting with magical power. More of those magic leeches constantly tried to attack it, only to get squished.
"I wish I could study that thing." Harry said grumpily. The thought of simply destroying a golem that had obviously had so much work invested into it rubbed him the wrong way. Even if golems were not his usual area of interest, he recognized a masterwork construct when he saw one.
"I'll be glad if we don't get stomped on." Arko huffed.
"Fighting it in this hallway will be difficult." Colette observed. "There is no room to maneuver and gives us little choice but to face it head on."
"That's probably the point." Jessir said wrily. "It can't fly or move very fast, and whatever attacks it has look short range. Out in the open we could just pick away at it at leisure."
"It would take a while." Harry tacitly agreed. "That thing probably has hundreds of protections layered over it, and they probably regenerate. We'll need to punch through hard and fast."
"Can't you just use the same spell you used on that big sand reaver in Ahn'Qiraj?" Arko asked.
"The Swamp of Dirac?" He asked back, getting a cautious nod back. "I could, but that's a costly spell and I don't know if the Curator would be too inconvenienced by it. Aside from being a swamp of theoretically infinite depth, it doesn't really pull anyone in. If the Curator can float or propel itself somehow, then it's useless."
"You think it can float?" Jessir asked dubiously.
"I'd make it float."
"He would." Luna agreed.
"Some of the mages I worked with were paranoid little things." Colette reminisced. "Always thinking of how their spells could be countered, or what spells the enemy might use that they would have to counter."
"That's called preparation and it is the difference between life and death." Harry retorted faux indignantly.
"Focus on the task at hand." Karen admonished sternly. "There is much work to do and we do not have time to bicker!"
"Calm your tits, Karen." Harry waved off, making Arko, Jessir and Colette choke on air in shock.
"I beg your pardon?" She demanded indignantly.
"He means that you shouldn't rush things." Luna helpfully explained.
"I grasped as much from context, but I did not appreciate his crude and insulting phrasing." Karen explained back.
"I find that a bit of crude language is highly effective if used strategically." Harry justified himself. "The surprise can unbalance your interlocutor and allow you to take control of the conversation."
He was mostly just wondering if he could get the former Maiden of Virtue to cuss like a sailor.
"That… sounds plausible." Karen sounded as if the admission was the verbal equivalent of chewing on barbed wire.
"We can talk about it in more detail later." Harry offered magnanimously. "For now, let's put together a strategy for dealing with the Curator."
They all turned speculative eyes towards the arcane golem at the end of the hallway.
An orb of pure darkness flew silently down the hallway, impacting the Curator and splashing all over it. The arcane golem immediately stopped zapping the magic leeches swarming around it and started stomping down towards its aggressors, and at a much faster pace than it honestly looked capable of at that.
Colette created her signature Void zones to slow it down and further drain the magics protecting it, while Jessir fired adamatine arrows with penetration enchantments at its knees in an attempt to jam its joints.
Harry lobbed dense spheres of ice at it, hoping to unbalance it. That didn't work, but it did at least do more damage.
The Curator continued plodding forward inexorably and the crystal in its chest piece started to glow. A moment later, a bolt of crackling arcane energy was launched forward.
Karen stepped forward, holding a quickly transfigured tower shield suited for her size and loaded down with as many protective spells as she, Luna and Harry could manage. The Curator's attack was blocked and Karen started charging forward, the shield held in front of her like a snow plow.
Colette dismissed her Void zone just as a pillar of Holy Light smashed down on the construct. Then Karen smashed into it, bracing herself against the ground and blocking the Curator's advance. Luna kept her defensive efforts focused on the titanic watcher while the other four ran around the inorganic giants.
Harry focused on keeping the area clear of the leeches, throwing icy shrapnel down the hallway as the magical discharges attracted their attention. Colette and Arko each took one side and started jabbing their greatswords into any likely looking weak spots, rapidly wearing away at the numerous protective enchantments built into the arcane golem.
Jessir waited with a very special arrow nocked to her bow. The anti-magic arrow was tricky to make and she only had a limited amount, but would work to do devastating damage to any kind of magic that wasn't deeply imbued into a physical object, such as the core of an arcane golem. She just had to wait for the right moment, or else the arrow would expend itself on the outer protections.
The Curator struggled furiously against the attack, but Karen kept it grappled and unable to focus on the two women hacking away at its legs. Wild bolts of arcane power coruscated against the moonlight shields protecting the titanic watcher, unable to penetrate.
The Holy Moonlight Greatsword and the Voidblade were powerful weapons and quickly carved away at the Curator's protections.
Jessir had been watching for the moment when they failed and loosed her arrow at the first opportunity. The projectile struck true and the arcane golem's core burst like a soap bubble, causing the construct to collapse on the floor in pieces.
"Good job, everyone." Harry praised, launching a thick wall of flame down the hallway to discourage any more magic leeches.
"The Battle Harem rules!" Luna hooted enthusiastically. "And you're pretty cool, too, Karen."
"Cool?" The titanic watcher repeated with some confusion. "Ah, I see. A metaphor." She turned towards Harry and Colette. "Your continued use of Void magic is not cool."
"And I maintain that it's about what you use it for, rather than what you're using." Harry rebuffed, using the blade of Atiesh to pry the crystals out of the Curator's remains. "So please chill out with your nagging."
"Hey now, there's no need to get so hot around the collar." Colette chimed in, audibly grinning beneath her helmet.
"You mortals seem inordinately fond of temperature metaphors." Karen noted in bemusement.
"It's a blood thing, you wouldn't get it."
"Out of control arcane golems, magic leeches all over the place, phenomena with just enough fel in them to make them actively hostile, spells that somehow gained sentience and to top it all off the architecture looks like something a concussed drunkard would put together." Harry groused and picked a discarded book off the floor. "Look at this shit! It's so disorganized a man can't even loot it properly."
"And I suppose you make it easy for invaders to loot your tower?" Colette asked sardonically.
"Depends on the invader. If it's a rival wizard with an appreciation for knowledge that manages to snuff me and I have no heirs, then yes. If it's some fanatic that hates magic, the tower will collapse into a dimensional rift and dump everything inside into the space between realities, where they will be erased from existence in past, present and future. Which might end up resurrecting me."
"You can't be serious." Arko said flatly.
"He is." Luna confirmed.
"You would reward whoever killed you as long as they weren't magic-hating zealots?" Jessir clearly didn't get it either.
"Humans aren't meant to live as long as I have." Harry explained. "It makes us go a bit… peculiar. I find it hard to take threats to my life personally these days. I'm sure Aegwynn will tell you something similar if you ask her about it."
"I'm still perfectly normal, though." Luna chimed in.
The air became thick with doubt. Luna was, of course, oblivious to it.
"We should press on." Karen stated, showing remarkable tact for a magic AI.
"Hang on, I need to sort the last of these books." Harry urged. He was already annoyed at the state of Karazan's library. It must have been a wonder once upon a time, but now it was mostly empty. Clearly, parties unknown had gotten to it before him.
"Why do you even need demonically possessed books?" Colette asked with some asperity. "Just destroy them and take the untainted ones."
"Look, if a demon thought a book was worth possessing, then it's probably worth reading." He argued, shoving untainted books into his hammerspace and tainted ones into a pre-prepared chest. "And I can repurpose these demons anyway."
"How did Azeroth herself ever choose a man like you to be her champion?" Karen asked, honestly baffled.
"Mysterious are the ways of the titans."
"Hey, are those imps?" Jessir suddenly asked, indicating the next 'room' over. It wasn't really a proper room, since they were connected by unsupported stone stairs and walkways.
"The little shits are throwing books off the ledges!" Harry squawked in outrage, now realizing why the library was such a mess. "Charge! Kill them all, before they make an even bigger mess for me to clean up!"
"Truly a dire evil." Arko snarked sarcastically, but charged all the same.
The imps saw this, naturally, but being imps couldn't do much about it.
"How did these things even get here?" Jessir asked in puzzlement, poking at one of the disintegrating corpses with the toe of her boot. "There aren't any of them ahead."
"Secret passage." Harry stated, pointing at a bookshelf.
Colette gave him a dubious look and went to knock on it, looking stunned when that produced a hollow sound.
"How did you know?" She asked.
"It's the only bookshelf that isn't ransacked." Harry lied.
The truth was that he was automatically casting detection spells with every step he took, a remnant from the time he spent blind. It wasn't something he relied on as heavily as he used to, obviously, but he had never seen a need to abandon that particular skill.
"I will not fit inside." Karen noted.
"Will you wait for us?" Luna asked hopefully. "We shouldn't be long."
"Very well." She agreed.
Terestian Illhoof perked up when he heard the telltale sound of armored feet and imp-slaying coming down the secret passage in which he made his lair. The acoustics of it made for a great early warning system.
Adventurers. Terestian loved adventurers. Who else would so obligingly come to his ritual circle to be sacrificed to his master?
The satyr warlock prepared himself to greet his 'guests', snarling at his imp pets to stay still. Proper presentation was important after all.
The group of five walked down the secret passage, four women and one man, all of them heavily armored, even the two that looked like casters. The armor was odd… there was a distinctly night elven aesthetic to some of it, especially in the helmets and gilding, but the overall effect was too harsh to belong to his former species. Strange, but irrelevant.
"Ah, you are just in time." Terestian began sinisterly. He did enjoy a bit of dramatics. "The ritual is just about to begin."
Of course it was, now that the sacrifices were here.
This was usually the part where the adventurers either bantered back or made some kind of righteous declaration. Terestian had grown to expect such things. This time, however.
"Satyr!" The female with the huge blue-ish sword roared hatefully and charged forward with clear murderous intent.
Terestian was a bit put out at being deprived of the pre-battle banter, but couldn't complain too much. After all, she was charging right into the ritual circle.
The rest of the brash swordswoman's party quickly set out slaughtering his summoned imp pets. Terestian was disappointed by their performance, but there were always more where that came from.
As soon as the furious sword-wielder stepped inside his ritual circle, Terestian cast the spell that would chain her to it and drain her of life, sending her soul to his master in the Twisting Nether.
"Denied." The sole male in the adventuring party said mockingly, practically the very instant that he started casting. His spell of binding was disrupted before it could form, doing nothing.
Terestian was utterly baffled. That shouldn't be possible! This was his ritual circle, no outsider mage should be capable of interrupting his spells! Moreover, in order to do what he had done, the enemy mage would have had to know what he intended before he did it and prepare to cast the counter spell in advance. And what kind of spell had that been anyway? It hadn't disrupted his spell so much as simply… denied its intent to bind.
But there was no time for Terestian Illhoof to figure out what had happened, because having his spell undone in such a manor was akin to thinking that the staircase had one more step and then stumbling when it wasn't there. It was a momentary lapse, and quickly recovered from, but a moment was all it took when you had a murderous warrior with a big sword charging at you.
The glowing greatsword crashed into his unprotected abdomen and barely stopped as it cut right through him.
Meaty thunks echoed through the hidden ritual chamber as the Holy Moonlight Greatsword came down again and again on the thoroughly butchered body of the satyr warlock.
Finally, Arko's fury seemed to expend itself and she stopped, panting over the mess she'd made.
"Maybe I should have made you a Holy Moonlight Greataxe instead?" Harry mused teasingly. "That would have been better for chopping."
"I'm sorry." The night elf paladin sounded terribly embarrassed. "I don't know what came over me."
"Don't worry about it, we all get a little upset sometimes." Luna consoled.
"Unresolved anger issues with satyrs." Harry nodded to himself, more serious now. "We'll have to do something about that."
"I know, I shouldn't have just rushed in there." Arko sighed. "You're going to put me through lessons on self-control, aren't you?"
"Yep." Harry confirmed. "That means I'll need to find a lot of satyrs for you to slaughter until it gets boring enough that you don't fly into a berserker rage as soon as one of them starts condescending to you."
The night elf paladin rocked back on her heels invisible surprise. "Uh, that wasn't what I was expecting…"
"Me neither." Colette agreed, amused. "If I was still the High Priestess of the Silver Hand, I would counsel that grief is preferable to anger, even though strength is preferable to weakness… but I must admit that I am curious to see how your method works."
"You really think you can bore Arko into not going berserk on any satyrs we meet?" Jessir asked, also amused.
"Everything gets easier with practice, everything, and hatred is an exhausting emotion." Harry asserted. "She'll either run out of steam or learn to control it through sheer repetition."
"What if she doesn't?"
"Then we run out of satyrs and it becomes a non-issue."
"Sounds good to me." Arko agreed, obviously glad to escape any tedious self-control training.
Harry wondered if she would still feel the same when faced with the prospect of murdering helpless satyrs. Role reversal was an excellent tool for lancing at old trauma, in this case herself as the helpless prisoner of a cruel satyr. Being put into a position of absolute power over what she hated would do a great deal to assuage the fear that was no doubt the driving force behind Arko's rage.
She was a good-natured person, so he doubted that it would take more than half a dozen satyrs to work through her emotions.
"Did we really have to kill these… people?" Arko asked uncertainly, mostly because she wasn't sure if the bandaged energy beings were people.
"They were stealing my loot, you saw them." Harry insisted. He had no idea what exactly those guys were, but they were clearly the other reason why Medivh's library was already so sparse.
"One might argue that they were here first." Colette noted, amused more than anything.
"When two sides lay claim to the same loot, the side which is better at killing shall be considered in the right. It says so in the Adventurer's Codex."
"Really?" Jessir's voice was thick with sarcasm. "I'd love to read this Adventurer's Codex."
"You will… after I finish writing it."
"These were ethereals." Karen offered helpfully. "They are a race of astral travelers dwelling within the Twisting Nether. They are known to be collectors of arcane artifacts."
"Magic gypsies." Harry's eyebrow twitched inside his helmet, recalling that particular nuisance back on Earth. "I can already tell that we aren't going to be friends."
"Gypsies?" Colette inquired curiously.
"It's another word for a semi-nomadic people called the Romani back on Earth." Luna provided. "Harry thought they were annoying." She looked left and right shiftily and then leaned in as if sharing a deep secret. "They kept trying to migrate into areas that he didn't want them in."
"Things are so much simpler on Azeroth." Harry sighed in pleasure. "Different peoples are neatly separated by species. Here, keeping orcs and trolls and night elves and humans and everything else separate is just common sense."
"Of course it is, it's not like we could live alongside any of the other races until they learn to have some respect for nature." Arko said, puzzled.
"Just imagine trying to live alongside orcs." Jessir snorted. "We wouldn't even tolerate having those savages on the same continent if we could force them out."
"That casual sense of condescending racial superiority is one of the things I love about you girls." Harry said fondly, patting their armored rears. "I mean it, don't ever change."
"But...!" Arko sputtered, turning to Colette. "I wasn't being condescending… was I?"
The former death knight fidgeted with her gauntlets for a moment before answering. "… maybe just a little bit, but it's fine. I don't think much of the orcs either."
"That section of the library appears untouched." Karen tried to steer them back on track, pointing across one of the stone walkways.
"What does the Adventurer's Codex say about this?" Jessir asked sarcastically.
"If you encounter a suspiciously pristine area, expect it to have a powerful guardian." Harry answered immediately.
The Adventurer's Codex proved to be correct, for as soon as they entered that section of the library, a specter appeared.
It was an old man with long grey hair and an equally grey mustache. He was wearing an elaborate mage robe with the excessively high collar favored by many of the Kirin Tor archmages.
The specter's glowing blue eyes immediately fixated on Atiesh and a snarl overtook his features. "Where did you get that staff?! Did he send you?!"
Harry would have happily engaged the shade in conversation, but the questions were immediately followed by a fireball.
The spell wasn't aimed at anyone in particular, merely meant to scatter them, which it did.
"Don't throw fireballs in a library!" Harry bellowed in outrage. "What kind of wizard are you?!"
"Priorities, Harry!" Arko shouted, charging at the shade alongside Colette.
The spirit Blinked away just in time to dodge one of Jessir's arrows, leaving behind two large water elementals to keep the party's swordswomen occupied.
"I am the court conjurer of Stormwind, Nielas Aran!" The specter proclaimed with a sort of unhinged pride. "And I will be tormented no more!"
Harry recognized the name. This was Medivh's father, who died when the powers Aegwynn had locked inside the boy had awoken. His spirit must have somehow been drawn to Karazhan, and judging by what he'd said, it hadn't been a fun time.
"We aren't here to torment you, we're here to loot the tower." He said.
It was unfortunate that Karen chose that moment to smite the shade with Holy Light, making him grunt in pain.
"LIES!" Aran roared back defiantly, deflecting another of Jessir's arrows with a quick shield. "I'll freeze you all!"
The shade conjured up a fierce blizzard. Normally a good strategy against heavy armor – even if you couldn't do direct damage the cold would still do the trick. Alas for him, with the Black Carapace underneath the spellforged arcanite was fully insulated and Karen was made of stone.
Harry was honestly more worried about the books. Ice crystals and snow blowing around at hurricane winds couldn't be good for them. Not seeing Aran as too much of a threat – sure he was an obviously powerful archmage, but their group was badass and wearing super badass gear, so they'd be fine – he focused on protecting the loot.
"I can see why Aegwynn picked him to give her babies, he's pretty feisty." Luna commented. Her entire right side was coated in frost and snow, but she was as steady on her feet as a mountain.
"Are you trying to make Harry jealous?" Jessir asked, using her as a makeshift shelter against the blizzard while she shot arrows at Aran. The first attempt was swept away by the wind, so she imbued her next arrow with a trueshot enchantment. That one did hit.
"Not at all." Luna replied, casting protective blessings on the entire party to make the wind part around them.
Jessir cursed under her breath when her target conjured up a wall of ice to prevent any more hits. "Excuse me a moment." She said and Blinked into a flanking position.
"ENOUGH!" Aran roared. "If you will not freeze, then burn!"
He dispelled the blizzard and conjured flame cloaks around everyone, but instead of the relatively common defensive version, this one burned the people inside.
"That's not going to work either." Harry idly commented, refining the shield he had put up around the bookshelves. Maintaining a circular inverse shield was something he'd never had to do before and it was a little tricky. "As if I'd neglect to make us immune to the most common type of elemental attack."
"Maybe you could stop screwing around and help?!" Arko snarled, cutting through another one of the summoned water elementals. Their attacks were pushing her and Colette back, and the flaming wreath around them was turning the water to steam, messing with their sight and hearing.
"You got this." He assured. "I believe in you."
More importantly, the exercise would do them some good. They still weren't at a level that he was satisfied with and Nielas Aran was a good challenge. Luna was also holding back, making sure not to buff them too much so that they couldn't just plow through the spirit's magic.
The only fly in the ointment was Karen, who wasn't really in on the program.
"Repent!" The titanic watcher boomed with all the authority of a soccer mom utterly certain of her own righteousness. Or maybe that was just his impression. "Cast out your corrupt thoughts!"
A wave of Light radiated forward from her and Aran stiffened in place. He lashed out with a spell that bound all of them – including Harry and Luna – in chains of ice.
Harry simply shrugged his off, his divine domain not really allowing such magic to take hold. Luna dispelled her own, Karen blasted them off with Holy Fire and Arko drew on Elune's power to smother the magic around her. Colette took on a Shadowform and used the nature of the Void to smother the flame wreath that way and then conjured a Void Zone under Aran.
Poor Jessir was the only one properly stuck in place, so Harry tossed a Dispel Magic her way.
"I am Nielas Aran, not some simple jester to be mocked!" The shade roared in frustration at his own lack of success, Blinking out of the Void Zone and preparing another spell.
He cast it into the center of the circular room and there was a powerful pull towards that point. Not merely the hurricane winds from earlier, but a more conceptual pull that was much harder to cancel out that simple physics.
Harry was busy maintaining the shield around his loot, so he was pulled along with everyone else.
"WHeeee!" Luna squealed as she flew through the air, casting bubble shields on everyone to prevent the impact from twisting any limbs into awkward directions.
The only one to escape the pull was Karen. Apparently being an ancient stone construct touched by the titans gave her enough conceptual weight to resist the pull.
"Now die!" Aran commanded imperiously, reversing the pulling force into a powerful Arcane Explosion.
They were tossed around the room, but the shade had another thing coming if he thought that such a diffuse attack was going to kill them through their armors and the shields Luna had put around them.
"I enjoy a little rough play from time to time, but all this foreplay is starting to drag on." Colette said darkly, picking herself up and bringing her Voidblade up for an overhead swing. The blade shimmered darkly, drinking in the light.
She swung it down and a black chasm seemed to open up across the ground, shadows writhing out of it and grasping towards the shade. The chasm widened until a big chunk of the ground was covered in black.
Aran Blinked away, but Colette continued spamming Void Zones everywhere and didn't dismiss them. Denying him any safe places to stand.
"Luna, float me!" Arko barked.
"Okay!" Luna chirped back, casting a blessing on the paladin to let her hover a foot off the ground, avoiding the effect of the Void Zones.
Thus protected, Arko was able to chase after the slippery wizard with impunity.
"Depriving your enemy of footing is always a good strategy." Harry said approvingly, already floating.
Aran was clearly panicking as he was boxed in more and more. Jessir peppered him with arrows, Arko chased after him and Karen…
Karen was spamming Holy Fire and consecrating the ground under him, which had the side effect of interfering with Colette's Void Zones to a degree.
Who knew that magical artificial intelligences could be petty?
Finally, the archmage was overwhelmed. Spectral existence aside, he wasn't immune to either injury or magical exhaustion even if he didn't feel them in the same way as a flesh and blood person. The fight had pushed him hard and he had taken injury over it, so it was little surprise that Arko and Colette finally managed to get into melee range and impaled him.
"At last, the nightmare is over." Aran gasped, sounding lucid for the first time. Then he faded away.
"Alright, good work, Battle Harem." Harry congratulated. "Take five while I loot this place."
For some reason, Arko, Jessir and Colette seemed annoyed with him.
"My respect for Medivh has just dropped considerably." Harry declared flatly.
"Huh? Why?" Colette asked in confusion. "Because of this giant chess set?"
"The only time mages use chess as an obstacle is when they want to 'subtly' brag about their intelligence." Harry explained. "As if chess has anything to do with intelligence."
"You do need a certain amount of intelligence to play it well." Jessir argued.
"Harry just doesn't like it because he's bad at it." Luna offered cheerily. "Or he was bad at it when he was young at any rate. See, his focus tends to be a bit narrow so he always ended up just moving around a few favorite pieces while ignoring the rest of the board."
"Thank you, Luna, for that bit of exposition." Harry ground out pleasantly.
The girl's shoulders shook in badly suppressed laughter.
"What about you, Luna?" Arko questioned. "Are you any good at the game?"
"Oh no, I just end up moving the pieces around randomly." She replied with a careless shrug.
"Who will play this game, then?" Colette asked. "Because I must admit that I am not much of a chess player either."
"Same here." Arko and Jessir admitted.
"I can calculate all possible moves and choose the optimal one in response to the opponent." Karen offered.
"Work for me." Harry shrugged and they made their way down to the board, though Karen had some trouble squeezing through the hallways at this point.
Who their opponent in the chess game would be became immediately obvious once they reached the board. A ghostly image of Medivh stood there, waiting.
"Is it real?" Colette asked warily, brandishing her Voidblade.
"No." Harry waved his arm through the projection. "Just an echo. But boy did we get things wrong earlier. Moroes must not have been paying much attention if he was duped by my impersonation of this guy."
"Are you ready to play?" The Echo of Medivh asked, managing to sound smug end arrogant even though it wasn't alive.
"Yes, we're ready to play."
"Excellent, then allow me to set the board." The echo said, still smugly, and gestured with its own copy of Atiesh. The chess board lit up and the pieces appeared.
Only, they weren't actually chess pieces, but images of Stormwind soldiers and Old Horde orcs from the First War.
Colette immediately stiffened and clenched her fist.
"You okay?" Luna noticed and asked.
The former death knight let out a steadying breath and nodded. "I do not appreciate having the horrors that Medivh caused reduced to a game for his amusement."
"At least it doesn't look like Medivh is all that good at chess either." Harry noted. "Karen is dominating the board."
Well, that made sense really. Even if the real Medivh had been a master chess player, this echo of him was most likely only capable of playing a few favorite strategies and not adapting much.
"Good." Colette nodded curtly.
As the Battle Harem (plus guest) progressed upwards, past Medivh's privte chambers and towards the top of the tower, the sense of fel became ever more acute, until those with more attuned senses were able to discern the nature of the source.
"A direct connection to the Twisting Nether, but unstable." Harry surmised. "And I do believe I'm sensing a powerful warlock up ahead. He must be trying to establish a permanent stable connection."
"A new invasion point, one that nobody would have known about until it was too late." Arko scowled. "The timing here is suspicious… do you think the Dark Portal is meant to be just a distraction, to take attention away from here?"
"If they have a way to communicate with each other, then it certainly could be." Harry agreed. "And if the warlock is trying to be subtle then it would explain why Karazhan isn't overflowing with demons already."
"A situation he will no doubt remedy as soon as we challenge him." Colette said tersely. "Warlocks are troublesome enough when they have to actually put some effort into summoning demons. I can only assume that having a direct connection to the Twisting Nether will make that much easier?"
"Oh yeah." Harry nodded. "We're going to need to hit him hard and fast. The longer the fight lasts, the more the odds will turn against us. Jessir, I'm going to need you to harass him. Don't give him a moment's peace to cast spells."
"Are you actually going to participate this time?" Arko asked with medium amounts of snark.
"Yes. If the warlock turns out to be as much of a pain with summoned minions as I expect, then I'll focus on cleaning those out while you and Colette get in his face." Because the best way to ruin a caster's day was to force him into melee. "Karen, can I trust you to keep the left clear while I take the right?"
"I will purify them all." The stone giantess assured.
"And I'll make sure you can all give it 110%." Luna added enthusiastically.
"How will we open the battle?" Arko asked.
"If the pattern holds then he won't be able to resist monologuing at us about how doomed we are. Humor him and use the opportunity to get closer before the fighting starts."
"What pattern?" Jessir asked bemusedly. "I haven't noticed any patterns about our enemies monologuing."
"Trust me on this, there's a pattern."
Malchezaar, prince of the Eredar, warlock of the Burning Legion, paused as a uniformly armored adventuring party and a titanic watcher, the Maiden of Virtue of all things, made their way to the Netherspace.
He had thought the stone construct to be addled and effectively feral. How had this group fixed it?
That was when he spotted the bladed staff held by the only male of the group. Atiesh, but with a sword somehow added to the base, and an artifact of unmistakably titan origin acting as a sort of pommel. The armor had a somewhat night elven aesthetic, but only one of the Highborne would be able to wield Atiesh. The blessing of Elune he could sense on it just confused the matter even further.
And what was with that eerie Void sword one of the frontliners was using? Night elves did not dabble with the Void.
Either way, this could actually be dangerous. In fact, it was dangerous. Any mage that could get that stubborn old staff to accept him was already one to be wary of, but to have a titan artifact in his possession?
Best not play around with them, no matter how welcome a little distraction from his work would be.
"Adventurers!" He bellowed in challenge, already calling upon his powers. "Come face your doom at the hands of Malchezaar and his legions!"
Infernals rained from the sky, one targeting the group and others falling everywhere else at random to deny them any safe harbor.
"Third person and declarations of doom?" The wielder of Atiesh said snidely, blasting several of the infernals with explosions of pressurized wind, powerful enough to send them hurtling out of the Netherspace or at least to the edges of it. "Does the Burning Legion hold classes on cheesy villainy?"
Malchezaar felt vaguely insulted. He wanted to punish the mage for his temerity, but those two swordswomen with the dangerous-looking blades were rapidly closing the distance… right along the path that the mage had mostly cleared earlier. Curses.
He called for more infernals – some of the easier demons to summon if you had the power for it – and barely managed to catch a glowing arrow on his bracer as the group archer Blinked to the side and fired at him.
The arrow punctured into the fel-enchanted metal and stuck there. He could feel the familiar purity of Elune's power sizzling against it. Dangerous.
So, he had two melee fighters charging towards him in close range, easily carving through any infernals in their way – the flaming stone constructs were powerful, but not great fighters, unfortunately. Judging by the powers in use, one was some kind of Void paladin and the others was a paladin of Elune. Since when were either of those a thing?
In the back he had a priestess of Elune who had clearly blessed this entire party. On the sides he had a titanic watcher using Light magic pummeling his infernals into rubble and a poweful mage either blasting them out of the air or simply extinguishing their fires.
And lastly he had a huntress capable of Blinking around the battlefield forcing him to keep track of her lest she turn him into a pincushion.
The fight was tilted in a direction that he did not like.
He cast an Enfeeble on the huntress, sapping her strength to the point that she was too weak to carry the weight of her armor. That made her easy prey for the infernals she had been Blinking around… or it would have, if the priestess hadn't noticed and immediately purged the curse before the huntress could do more than stumble.
That didn't make any sense. Tyrande Whisperwind should be the only priestess of Elune skilled and powerful enough to pull something like that off. Where had this group of night elves come from? The Legion should have had at least some kind of information on them!
Malchezaar growled as he retreated, summoning more demons the entire time. Not just infernals this time, but also felguards and felhounds. He also called upon his demonic axes to guard against the archer's arrows, more than a little furious at how much trouble he was being given.
The two swordswomen easily carved through what little the Maiden of Virtue and the archmage failed to clear, but the felhounds had used their unique magic devouring ability to consume the protections that the priestess had bestowed upon them, which in turn allowed him to curse them with crippling pain.
As he had half expected, the priestess noticed immediately and purged them, but it had bought him enough time to conjure another cluster of infernals… directly on top of the priestess.
But she just Blinked away before they landed, at which time the archmage waded into melee with the now bladed Atiesh, easily carving them apart and hardly even pausing in unleashing devastatingly powerful spells at more distant demons.
Malchezaar was starting to get incredibly frustrated. Why did a huntress know how to Blink? Why did a priestess know how to Blink? And both of them night elves, who should not even have mages anymore! None of this made any sense!
He roared and an expanding ring of Shadow radiated out from him, striking the two swordswomen that had nearly closed into melee range and sending them flying backwards. Breathing space secured, he immediately started summoning more demons. Infernals, felguards, felhounds, doomguards… anything that his magic could reach and that he could put between himself and this dangerous group of enemies.
That irritating huntress continued trying to put arrows in him, but most he managed to parry. Until she stopped aiming for his eyes or throat and went for his legs. Then he was just a moment too slow.
The arrow stuck in the flesh of his thigh, penetrating the thick muscle and getting stuck in the bone. It burned horribly, but he was able to channel his pain and rage into retaliatory spells. Bolts of writhing shadow, waves of fel flame, infernals falling from the sky in a meteor shower, all of it assailed the group of adventurers.
The Maiden of Virtue had taken some damage and the two swordswomen were relying quite heavily on their armor to protect them, but they weren't stopping.
"Defensive formation!" The mage yelled out the command and the entire group closed ranks instead of pressing the attack.
Malchezaar ordered the demons he had summoned to mob them while he cast spells, but everyone except the mage were now using abilities to control the battlefield, almost turning the battle into a siege. Void Zones, Holy Ground, beams of moonlight that burned demon flesh and so on made advancement a nightmare.
Meanwhile, the mage was conjuring up a great orb of fire in the sky, which began to glow golden with the distinctive power of the Light.
Of course the mage was some kind of pseudo-paladin as well. That made perfect sense!
Malchezaar knew that letting that spell come to fruition was a bad idea, but he couldn't do anything about it. Warlock magic by nature chaotic and ill-suited to unraveling the more orderly spells of mages. You would think it would be the other way around, but fel corruption took time to settle in unless an overwhelming amount of it was thrown at the problem.
Given how much power he could sense in the sorcerous sun forming above their heads, anything he could throw at it would splash like water against rock.
With no better options, he threw more summoned demons at the problem and even threw his axes in an attempt to unbalance them, but nothing worked. Malchezaar was sure that he could eventually tire them out – the demons hordes were numberless, after all – but he doubted that this battle would be decided by attrition.
"Back on the attack!" The mage ordered and the false sun above them began to spew out streams of golden flame, targeting each individual demon on the battlefield.
Malchezaar managed to mostly defend himself with his axes and a dodge, and some of the doomguards took longer to die, but every other demon was obliterated pretty much instantly.
He instinctively released another shadow nova to ward off the two unorthodox female paladins, but this time they were being covered in shields of moonlight and pushed through.
Malchezaar was a prince of the eredar and had been granted some favor by Sargeras. He was over twice the height of these night elves and his axes were bigger than their torsos. For all of his boons, however, he could only focus on so many things at a time.
Fending off two powerful close range fighters that were being blessed by an even more powerful priestess, while also being attacked from a distance by a huntress with bow that was every bit as deadly as those swords while also being attacked by one of the most powerful mages he had ever heard of was simply too much.
"And that's what you get for not wearing proper armor." Harry mocked the warlock as he gurgled his last.
Honestly, the Burning Legion deserved to be destroyed simply for their idea of wearing pauldrons without any breastplates. Coincidentally, the same applied to orcs. Goddamn posers, 'ooh, look at my big pecs, ooh'. Absolutely disgusting.
"Is that really his worst sin in your eyes?" Jessir asked, amused.
"No, his worst sin is stupidity." Harry corrected. "That he already proved by selling his soul to the Burning Legion, but then he went on and compounded it by making a fashion statement instead of wearing proper protection in enemy territory."
"I'm just glad we're done here." Arko said. "I'm about ready for a long soak in the hot tub and a foot rub."
What a demanding little hedonist she became. Harry was so proud.
"Don't forget the post-adventure sexy times!" Luna chimed in.
"Of course, we can't forget that." Colette chuckled.
"This connection to the Twisting Nether still requires closing." Karen said sternly. "We cannot leave it be for another warlock to abuse."
"Can you do anything about it, Harry?" Jessir asked.
"Of course I can, I just need to find the source of dimensional instability in this area." He said confidently. "Give me a moment.
Harry stabbed Atiesh into the ground and focused on his connection to Azeroth. Even if this odd dimensional tear was ostensibly on top of Karazhan, physics had long since gone out the window. This was the closest he had ever been to the nexus of wild magical energies that had first drawn Aegwynn to build the tower in the first place.
That had been a major event and Azeroth the titan had surely been affected by it. The memory was painful for her, but with him sending assurances that he wanted to fix it, she was convinced to share it with him easily enough.
The memories flashed by with dizzying speed. An eredar female with a scythe, monstrous in both power and purpose. A ritual that consumed all life in what was now Deadwind pass, consumed even the potential for new life to resettle the land. In so doing, she had also focused all of that potential on the site of the ritual.
Azeroth's remembered pain at the defilement knocked him out of his trance.
"You alright?" Jessir asked, frowning with some concern.
"Yeah, I'm okay." Harry nodded, taking a deep breath. "So I've got good news and bad news, which do you want first."
"Good news!" Luna beat everyone to the punch.
"I know what happened to Deadwind Pass and can probably fix it, eventually."
"And the bad news?" Colette prompted cautiously.
"Some crazy cunt did the magical equivalent of applying a tourniquet to a healthy limb on Azeroth, which is why no life can endure here."
"Despicable." Karen looked as disgusted as a giant stone construct could.
"Quite. The problem is that if I do fix it while the Twisting Nether's anus is even slightly gaped in the general area of the energy release, it will almost certainly unclench and start shitting out demons like a fat kid with diarrhea."
"I could have happily lived another ten thousand years without that mental image." Arko ground out.
"So you need lots of people to hold it closed as tightly as possible when you do it." Luna might not be the most academic of magic users, but she would still easily qualify as an archmage in her own right and was quick to see the solution.
"Acting as a metaphysical buttplug is a fitting job for the Kirin Tor." Harry agreed.
OMAKE – Absolute Virtue
System Restore! Harry shaped his mental command in the form of a spell and felt it take hold.
The Maiden of Virtue froze as she was forcibly rebooted, then her gaze turned to him and her eyes glowed golden.
"Degenerates! Reprobrates!" She boomed censoriously. "Be cleansed of your sins in holy fire!"
"What was that about titans having better things to worry about than the sexual habits of mortals?!" Jessir yelled at him.
"I was wrong, alright?!" He snapped back, gliding way to get some distance.
"There is nothing sinful about having sticky fun time with the people you love!" Luna argued with the unreasonable stone giant.
"The Curse of Flesh corrupts the purity of your souls! I see it in you." The Maiden of Virtue insisted. "This is for the best."
"And this is why the Void is better than the Light." Colette interjected sardonically, with a deliberately lewd inflection. "No flexibility at all."
"Filthy harlot!" The Maiden of Virtue cried. "Cast out your corrupt thoughts!"
"You're making it worse!" Arko snapped angrily.
"We tried making it better, she wouldn't go for it!"