Anduin Lothar Wrynn. The last of the house that had ruled the Kingdom of Stormwind for generations. Son of the great gladiator-king Varian Wrynn. He who wielded the great blade Shalamayne, now passed to him. The great boy-king and wielder of the holy Light.
Jaina Proudmoore. Archmage turned leader of the Kirin Tor turned Lord Admiral of the human kingdom of Kil Tiras. She who betrayed her own father Daelin in order to protect the Horde and preserve the peace. The last surviving apprentice of the late Antonidas.
Thrall. Go'el of the Frostwolf Clan. Son of Durotan and Draka. Former warchief of the Horde and leader of the Earthen Ring. A slave turned gladiator turned man of peace. Father of two and husband of Aggra.
Baine Bloodhoof. Last surviving son of Cairne and chieftain of the Bloodhoof tauren. A brave warrior who went behind her back to help broker peace between the Alliance. He who helped spearhead the rebellion against her at Orgrimmar.
And here they all were. Bound and on their knees before her. With a single snap of her fingers could she end them. Break the foundation upon which the Alliance and Horde were built. But they had their own parts to play, according to the Jailer. And she too. After all, she was the great Banshee Queen.
Sylvanas Windrunner. What an interesting life she had lived. Ranger-General of Silvermoon City and the blood elves turned thrall of the lich king Arthas Menethil, turned leader of the undead Forsaken remnants of Lordaeron, turned warchief of the Horde, turned major leader of the Mawsworn. Never in all her years could she have imagined such a decorated catalogue. But here she was. Still standing, still alive. In a manner of speaking.
Her soulbearer agents had done well in bringing them before her. In their grip had the leaders barely put up a fight. Way more resourceful than her old val'kyr. The Jailer really did have the strength to back his lofty words. What she wouldn't have given to hear the old wolf's cries to distress as they plucked his surrogate son figure like a hawk hunting a mouse. The impotent Genn Greymane lacked the strength to properly muster and unify the Alliance. The name of Gilneas hardly carried any weight. After all, what value was there in a dead kingdom? Anduin was hardly a much better leader, as most of his presence resided in the family name. Varian, now there was a real leader. He would have made a much worthier prize. Perhaps the banshee would seek his spirit out within the Shadowlands to gloat. And Saurfang too if she was lucky.
"Quite the collection you've amassed here, Dark Lady." The amused grumble came from none other than Nathanos Blightcaller, her right-hand man. He stumbled in, nursing his throat as he surveyed her prizes. The scar across his windpipe stung even within the Maw. The righteous fire and fury of Tyrande Whisperwind ran deep.
"Perhaps," she simply denoted. The woman remained composed, arms behind her back as she stared out across the horizon. The mawsworn's failure to capture Tyrande had been unfortunate. But ultimately negligible.
"I do apologize for failing to bring in Tyrande," Nathanos stated with a bow. "Good help is so hard to come by these days." Though Sylvanas admired the mawsworn's strength, Nathanos was not so easily swayed. One failure had been too many in his eyes. "But regardless, no doubt the Alliance and Horde are stumbling about aimlessly to regain their footing. How I wish I could see it." Sylvanas' gaze remained fixed to the horizon, strangely ambivalent to his venomous smugness. Usually, she would indulge him to some degree. Even for her, she was unusually cold and distant. "Dark Lady, are you alright? Surely the loss of Tyrande is not such a-"
"No, Nathanos. It is not Tyrande that concerns me. There is one more we need."
"One more?" Nathanos repeated. "Who else is there?" The banshee smirked to herself at his ignorance. It always amused her to make him think.
"Come now," she said with amusement. "No story of good versus evil is complete without a hero. Everybody loves a hero, but they also love to see them fall. And who is the one in all of Azeroth that everyone loves the most?" The undead human ran a finger on his chin in quiet contemplation, mulling over her words closely. And slowly did it dawn upon him. How could he have been so oblivious?
The mawsworn had been given a very target even among such high profiles. Find him and drag him back to the Maw with the others, kicking and screaming if they had to. This target was pivotal, the thing that could make or break their plan. His capture and defeat would echo across Azeroth like the thundering bells of Lordaeron. A decisive movement that would truly kill hope and make Delaryn Summermoon eat her final words in life. Without him, any unity the Alliance and Horde could achieve would be truly gone. Plus, they had a score to settle. After all, he had been instrumental in the rebellion against her.
The hero of Azeroth. Exiled kaldorei druid turned ambassador. An esteemed legend who was the picture of humility, courage, and altruism. A man who had defied gods and demons, faced dragons and even traversed into the very heart of the world itself. Whatever it may be – void or fel, Light or shadow, Alliance or Horde, life or death, within or beyond – he stood in defiance to protect his home and its people. Rebel, fool, genius, madman, idealist, pretender, upstart, outcast, dreamer, jack of all trades. The one and only.
And he was somewhere out there, having disappeared from the world after N'Zoth's defeat. Even the Alliance's best within SI:7 could not find him. Unfortunate, for them. But her mawsworn were made of sterner stuff. They would not fail her. After all, how hard was it to apprehend one isolated man after snatching the faction leaders right from inside their cities?
Along the horizon – silhouetted against the faint light that managed to emanated through the void and darkness – did she see. Out of the three mawsworn she had sent out, only one had returned. And he was barely holding himself aloft. One of his wings was barely flapping. After an arduous journey, he collapsed upon the floor, looking more like scrap armor than a man. Or at least she assumed it was a man. So little humanity was left within them after their transformation by the Jailer. They were better off.
"My Lady…" the mawsworn soulbearer had managed as he lifted himself to his knees. His voice was weak, and his limbs trembled as he knelt before her. Sylvanas narrowed her red eyes searchingly as she awaited the surprise twist he better have in store for her.
"Captain," she coldly hissed. "Where is the rest of your regiment? And where is my target?" The rest of the mawsworn stood in silence as they awaited the news. Even their captives managed to muster some strength to bear witness.
"My Lady…" he managed yet again. "F-forgive me. He was too strong. We… failed." The soulbearer bowed his head in solemn reverence and shame. His wing had long since gone limp, draped over his shoulder like a blanket.
Sylvanas closed her eyes, fist clenched and shaking at his words. She gritted her teeth to reveal the fangs her people had inherited from their kaldorei ancestors. It had been one simple task.
"You fool!" With a shriek did her eyes rip open, the red staring straight through his blackened soul. Sylvanas swung her arm up and held the soulbearer by the throat. If there was any life within him, she'd have choked it out completely at this point with her Amazonian strength. "Do you realize what this means?!"
"My Lady!" the mawsworn attempted to bargain, holding her fist with both his hands. "Please, I beg you!"
"You can steal a king in broad daylight, but the one wandering vagrant out in the wilds slips your notice?! You ogre-headed buffoon!" The banshee swung him over her shoulder and threw the mawsworn onto the floor. His armor elicited a horrible screeching sound as it made contact. Nathanos nonchalantly lifted his boot out of the way to avoid being hit. Her rage captivated him. It had been years since he had seen her this livid. The Banshee Queen's raw and unadulterated fury was absolutely beautiful. And a little scary.
"Banshee Queen, forgive me." The mawsworn's arms trembled as he lifted himself up. He lacked the strength to stand so he resolved to merely remained seated. "Surely this is not the end of things. He is just one man."
Bad choice of words.
Her fist clenched yet again, and slowly did she turn with wide manic eyes with a glare as sharp as daggers. In that moment had the fallen kyrian learned the folly of his loose lips.
"Just one man?" she repeated in a hoarse whisper. If there was one thing she hated more was excuses, it was ignorance to the gravity of such a mistake. The mawsworn attempted to shuffle backwards, but Sylvanas narrowed the gap with a few steps. "Just one man?!" She swung her arm like an uppercut and took him by the throat yet again. "I had once thought Garrosh was the dumbest man I've had to work with, but you are truly a special case! This is not just "one man," you incompetent fool! This man has united Azeroth time and again with his words and actions! The Burning Legion, the Lich King, the Old Gods, the Iron Horde. Who do you think was there at the forefront?! I wouldn't have placed such importance on some ordinary man."
"My Lady! Please!" She grew tired of his begging and merely dropped him flippantly. Even in death, the mawsworn felt as though the life had been choked from him.
"He could destroy everything." Sylvanas turned back around to stare across the horizon. She needed to remain calm and composed like always. Her passion would be her undoing. After all, one minor cut on her face had been enough to break her poise. Perhaps she had allowed her ego to grow unchecked. "As long as he is free, the Alliance and Horde have a unifying voice to rally behind. Something to bring them together. Don't you see?" She turned around to see the mawsworn still upon the ground, kneeling yet again. "He is dangerous!"
"A thousand pardons, my Lady…" the mawsworn gasped. "I meant no disrespect."
"Perhaps we needn't worry," Nathanos interjected. Though he loved to see failures suffer at her hands, he felt it necessary to calm her. It would do her no good to become so irate, even if he loved to see it. "I heard the Exile finally retired. It seemed he realized the Alliance was not worth protecting after all." The thought made him huff with amusement. Only one thing was better than killing a fool, and that was breaking one. "A hero no more."
"Men like him never truly give up until they're dead, Nathanos. You know this better than anyone." Though she had been out of the loop of current events, she knew people through and through. Someone with Jur's repertoire did not just "quit." Especially not after all she had done. No, it could only end one way. Either she killed him, or he killed her. There was no in between. It was like destiny. Perhaps even poetry. The woman cleared her throat and leered down at the battered mawsworn. She felt tranquility wash over her now that she had a firm grasp upon the situation. They had managed to find him before, and they could do so again. But she would need more competent soldiers this time. Her crimson gaze fell upon the mawsworn soldiers in attendance with the prisoners. Slowly did she point out a select few she felt would be suited to succeed where the captain failed. "You lot. Scour Azeroth and bring him to me! I don't care how many of you it takes, but he will be caught no matter the cost. Now, go!" One by one did they take off, flying through the swirling clouds and darkness to hunt their target.
"My Lady, allow me to recover and I will join them on their quest." Weakly did she mawsworn captain hoist himself up by the pommel of his weapon. "I will right the wrong that I-"
"No, captain," Sylvanas coldly rebuked. "You will not. Retreat to Torghast. We will discuss this further." The undead kyrian solemnly bowed his head. He knew what awaited him back at the Jailer's domain. "The rest of you, gather the others and take them as well. And split them apart. We do not want collaborators. Nathanos, you will escort the boy-king personally." Obediently and without hesitation did the mawsworn carry out their orders, taking both the prisoners and the captain away. All they could do was exchange silent concerned glances as they were split up like mere cargo. Powerless and chained within this nightmarish hell beyond the veil. Nathanos bowed with a blissful look upon his face, elated to carry out his beloved's orders.
"As you command, Dark Lady," he assured her. "No finer hands than my own. And if the boy steps out of line, he will learn firsthand what it is the Dark Lady demands and expects. I promise you."
"Quit groveling," she snapped. "And await my command." Without awaiting a response did she depart through a waygate. Nathanos did a double take at her coldness. That one had actually stung. But she was in no mood to deal with him right now. This was now their second failure, and she would not accept a third.
"…You'll lose…" The undead human turned to the source of the croaking voice. Even in this lightless place did Anduin Wrynn still muster defiance. No doubt that damned Alliance bravado. "He'll come for us. And your master will be defeated." Nathanos merely scoffed at his impertinence.
"Very bold words for a man in chains. You underestimate our resolve."
"And you underestimate his." It hurt Anduin's pride to admit it, but he had failed him. They had all failed him. Jur had selflessly sacrificed for years to try and bridge them together, to help build a better future and world. Instead, all they could think of was fighting each other. The king had never known just how hard diplomacy was until the Exile had quit, even as a king. He certainly didn't envy his job. But when the world needed him most, they had let him down. In a way, Anduin believed this to be penance. That this was their wakeup call. But no way would they die here. No way would Azeroth falter here. Not after so much. The Exile wouldn't allow it. "I'm not afraid. He'll bring the light here and the part the darkness you've built." A mirthless gut cackle left Nathanos at his blustering.
"You Alliance layabouts are all the same. So sanctimonious. You all lack the vision my dark lady possesses. Her strength, her resolve."
"Your dark lady," Anduin weakly mocked, craning his neck to face him. "Didn't she tell you to quit groveling?" His smirk was met with the back of Nathanos' hand. No one besmirched him. Anduin spat upon the ground with as much defiance as he could muster. The stinging slap to his face was completely worth it.
"Load him up upon the chariot!" Nathanos ordered. The king was dragged to his feet and carted like an animal onto the pegasi-drawn cart. The undead followed him on, sitting at the back where he could observe everything. One wrong move, and the boy-king would end with an axe in his back. Or rather, he wished. Nathanos had strict orders to keep them alive. Which means he had to show restraint. For now.
With a ghostly neigh did the pegasi flap their wings, escorted by mawsworn agents as they left for Torghast. The Tower of the Damned. An eternal prison where no one ever left. For the king, his allies, and soon – Lavernius Jur himself – it would be their tomb.
With a twist of his polearm did the head separate, black liquid like blood tainting the ground. Soon did its body begin to dissolve into smoke, with loose feathers drifting in the breeze. The kaldorei druid wiped his brow from beneath his straw hat. This had been the fifth one he had killed since yesterday. No doubt they had returned after the one had gotten away. Jur chided himself for allowing it to escape. He wasn't even sure what they wanted or where they had come from. All he knew was that they had manifested out of the clouds. One minute the skies had been clear, and then next had a terrible storm set in. They were tough, but he was tougher.
"What is this?" he muttered to himself as he held the spiked mask in his hand. Its shape reminded him of Icecrown Citadel, oddly enough. But he had never seen anything like it before. Its anatomy was similar to that of a val'kyr, at least with the wings. But the val'kyr were all vrykul women. These were… something. He wasn't quite sure. All he knew was that they had been dealt with and no doubt more were coming. And his retirement in Pandaria had been going so well too.
"Strange rumors surround these things, Exile." A pandaren huntress gathered loose arrows from the terrain. She had been unfortunate enough to have been dragged into his fight when they had arrived. They weren't as interested in taking her. Which meant they weren't interested in keeping her alive either. Luckily, she was a hell of a marksman. "Tales of invasions and kidnappings have spread from overseas."
"Not my problem," he coldly growled before sheathing his polearm over his shoulder. "Somebody else can deal with it." His time to play the hero, sacrifice his own happiness, and put his life in danger was over. He had earned the right to be selfish for once.
"But… other people could be in trouble," the pandaren reasoned.
"I don't care." Her ears folded as he left her behind for the mountains. His story was well-known throughout the world, especially that he had finally retired. It took everyone by storm that the great hero ambassador just didn't believe in them anymore. Even good men ran out of steam.
But Jur didn't care about public perception. About what they thought or wanted. If the Alliance and Horde had wanted peace and protection, they would have worked harder to keep it. So any misfortune was on them in his eyes. He had lost so much for this job. His chance at a future with a family and kids, many friends, even his only real relationship. All his chances at happiness sacrificed so he could try and bring peace between two factions that never really wanted or deserved it. If they wanted his commitment and work so bad, earn it.
He was happy here. The happiest he had been since he first met the love of his life. It felt like a lifetime ago. Hard to believe they had met three years ago. And that three years of love and work were now gone. Lost to time like sands in the desert, tears in rain, dust to the wind. But he felt free again. Free to live a life for himself rather than one of servitude or being so dependent on another person. The only time he had felt unhappiness was with the arrival of these strange new enemies.
A shame, as his stay at Tian Monastery had been truly cathartic. The bags under his eyes had finally disappeared, and he could sleep properly. He felt like a new man. Then again, he supposed nothing lasted forever. But he would make them work to take his happiness. He would stand on a mountain of their corpses before he would get trapped back into his old life.
They would have to drag him to the Shadowlands itself if they wanted him to leave.