Disclaimer: I don't own any of what you recognize from the game, or the lore, or any in-game dialogue or quest text. I do, however, own my characters, although they beg to differ. :D No copyright infringement is intended, and I make no money from this venture.

I'm trying something a little different with my approach for the first few chapters; let me know what you think of the "snapshots."

Catai stared, wide-eyed, at the chaos before her. Huge demons and mechanical beasts beset the valiant forces of Azeroth. The portal she had just stepped through still swirled and glowed green, hooded figures carved into the stone on either side.

She gazed down the stone steps at the onslaught, awed by the sheer size of their foes, until finally reason clicked back into place. Catai quickly slipped into the shadows, berating herself for not thinking to do so sooner. If those things had seen me – She shook her head. She knew she wasn't ready to face them, not so soon after her last defeat, and certainly not alone.

Cautiously, she descended the first flight of steps, taking great pains to tread lightly and blend with the shadows. She silently thanked Elune for the natural abilities of her race; even if one of the demons looked straight at her, she would be difficult to spot.

She made her way to the war-hardened man on the terrace. As she allowed herself to become visible again, she caught his attention. "I have a message for you, sir."

The Commander looked at her in mild surprise. He blinked once, twice, then continued. "A message, you said?"

Catai handed him the folded parchment. He perused it, slowly stroking his braid, before handing it back. "The boys at Honor Hold need to hear about this. Go talk to Wildhammer, he'll send you over."

She nodded and gave a brief salute before turning in the direction of the gryphon handler, still nervously eyeing the mechanical giants. As the Commander had said, Wildhammer offered her one of his beasts for the trip to the nearby stronghold. Catai stroked its feathery neck as they took off over the frenzy.

Catai had always loved flying. She loved the safety of the air, being able to see all below her streaming by before her eyes. To watch the wildlife and the beautiful flora of Teldrassil was pure joy. She missed her home sometimes…but knew that before it could become pure again, before the taint could be eradicated from the new World Tree, many evils in Azeroth must be destroyed – and outside evils must be stopped from reaching it.

That was why she had stepped through the Dark Portal. After nearly two decades of safety, some fool had reopened it, and the threat to Azeroth had been renewed. Catai herself was one of the newest mercenaries sent to help bolster the forces stranded here many years ago.

As the gryphon approached Honor Hold, Catai was startled at what met her eyes. Not a hundred paces from the outer walls of the hold was a hundred-foot mechanical giant, the very ground shuddering under its every stride. Its head reached almost as high as the gryphon she rode. She could not tear her eyes away until the walls of the hold blocked it out as she landed next to the inn. As she dismounted the gryphon, she could feel the tremors of the hard red earth beneath her feat.

What was that thing? she wondered in alarm, not realizing she had spoken aloud until she heard a booming voice next to her.

"That, girl, was the Fel Reaver. Any more stupid questions, or are you going to just stand there?"

Catai started, then remembered herself. She passed the missive she carried to the Marshal who stood before her, then excused herself to the Inn for a bed – and a stiff drink.

"You have done well so far, young one. Report to Instructor Razuvious across the Hall; he will have your next instructions."

Thunderblaze nodded hollowly before turning to obey. The voice filled his mind, sometimes more than was natural for a mere memory, but he thought little of it. He thought little at all, of late, he mused as he walked through the hold, but the voice broke in again.

"No mercy. They have shown their weakness by their choice. There is no room for weakness among us. Show no mercy."

Thunderblaze nodded again, as if the voice were coming from someone next to him rather than from in his head. "I was told to report to you, sir."

Razuvious looked at the draenei appraisingly. "I have been told of your prowess, maggot. Let's see how you do against one of the prisoners. Take this blade and inscribe it with runes. Then, release one of the prisoners in the pit, and we shall see how well you fare." Razuvious gave a sadistic smile.

Thunderblaze smiled hollowly back, taking the greatsword. He followed Razuvious' instructions for using the runeforge, then proceeded to the Pit. "Who shall I choose?" he asked in a mocking voice. "Who would like to be released from their chains?"

Some of the prisoners strained forward, calling to him for mercy. Others, those who had been there long enough to have seen the ritual, shrank back. Thunderblaze addressed a young, strong-looking human, one of those who tried to avoid his gaze.

"You." His gaze on the prisoner was cold and steady. "Your chains will be loosed. To be freed, all you must do is defeat me." Thunderblaze's calculating smile was barely visible under his black hood as he nodded at a nearby guard.

After unlatching the chains holding the man, the guard handed him a sword and shield. Instead of attacking, however, the man simply stood there, warily, weapon at the ready.

Thunderblaze smiled coldly and gave his newly inscribed sword a few experimental swings. Then he attacked.

Some of the prisoners cheered, those who had been eager to be freed. The few who had lived to see more than one of these fights, however, simply watched. They knew full well what would happen to their fellow captive; he would die in the fight at the trainee's hands – if he was fortunate. If he was unlucky enough to win, he would be caged and dragged into the room with a large pot boiling over a fire. No one saw what took place in that room, but no captive had ever emerged.

And the trainees who lost – well, the captives in the Pit had all been there once before.

Conk! Catai hit the orc over the head with the handle of her newly acquired blade before pulling a few silver coins out of his pocket. She remained hidden for a few seconds to allow another orc to move out of sight before attacking the concussed creature before her.

It was a brief fight. This new blade – and the superior poisons she had applied to it – was turning out quite nicely, she thought. She had seen the difference immediately.

After pulling the talisman off the corpse, she turned to run back to the nearby Alliance encampment, only to find herself faced with another orc, this with two skeletal minions. She cursed under her breath, turning to facer her attacker.

She immediately hit the orc over the head as she turned her attention to the minions, hoping to mitigate the damage she took. She managed to destroy one of them before the orc regained his senses, then performed an intricate move designed to speed her attacks.

Her twin blades spun furiously. First the skeleton fell, then she turned her full attention to the orc, smiling. "Now, you die."

She dodged one attack, blocked the next, then hit him hard with both blades, one in either side. Kicking, spinning, she distracted him; she feinted one way, stabbed the other. Soon he was lying on the ground, lifeless, and she creeping away, invisible.

The Alliance camp was nestled in the red, rocky hills, as safe a haven as could be found in this light-forsaken land. No plants grew here, save for the occasional weed, and the only wildlife was perverse and violent. Catai missed Teldrassil, the jades and violets and azures of her home. She missed the trees, the flowers…even the little green spiders that had so frightened her at the beginning of her journey.

You're starting to sound like a druid, fool girl. All this talk of nature. She shook herself. Some things just have to be destroyed. But that didn't end her wistfulness for peaceful times, simpler problems. Maybe when this war was over, she would go back to her home, maybe put down some roots of her own.

If this war would ever end.

"No! Please, I have five children – I'm all they have!"

Ignoring the peasant's pleas, Thunderblaze swung his greatsword once more. There is no room for mercy. The voice continued to echo in his head, spurring his movements. The crusaders must die, of course – but most importantly, kill the peasants. Do not allow them to flee. They may only be freed through death – and through death, they will come to serve the Scourge. The draenei's final stroke separated the peasant's head from his body. Kill the fleeing peasants. All of them.

Catai breathed a sigh of relief. That encounter had been closer than she cared to admit. That first boar had worn her down enough that the second fight had nearly killed her, despite her new, more powerful weapons and improved armour. She would have to do something about that.

Maybe I need more training…maybe I'm just not strong enough. Catai spent most of her time sneaking around, trying to avoid notice. Her greatest strengths were picking her fights and setting up the perfect ambush. But maybe…maybe she was using her abilities to avoid fights. And she had a feeling that was going to get her in trouble one day.

Thunderblaze spun to meet his attacker, blade swirling and gleaming in the dim glow of a dying sun. "You will serve the Scourge, maggot. If not in life, then in death will the Lich King bend you to his will, as he has bent so many of us. In death you will serve."

"The Light will prevail in the end, tainted one! The Light will prevail!" Those were the Crusader's last words before the last crushing blow was laid on him.

Thunderblaze turned calmly and wiped off his blade. The Light! he scoffed. Where had the Light gotten these poor, brainwashed peasants? Dead. They were dead because of their refusal to bend to what was only inevitable. The Scourge fed on the inherent instinct of self-preservation. Everyone in the world, regardless of race, desired power and wealth. Some misguided fools managed to stave off their desires in hopes of something better, but only long enough to be wiped out by those who gave in, exploited their natural greed.

He shook his head. Fools. They do not realize the power that can be granted them by simply giving in to the Lich King. Beyond even their dreams. It was no wonder that the village was nearly wiped out in entirety, now. The Lich King's newly raised crop of death knights was more powerful than had ever been seen before in Azeroth.

Make sure you kill the peasants. They cannot even be allowed to live – they surely cannot be allowed to flee. For all who die, the others will feel the terror of the Scourge. They must ALL feel the terror of the Scourge!

Wiping sweat off her brow, Catai fiercely stabbed at the enraged boar. Almost – I've almost got him, she thought feverishly. She vaguely heard a noise behind her, but was so focused on her current combatant that she dismissed it. The boar was weakening, she could feel it. Just one more slice –

BOOM! At the very moment the boar fell, a giant metal construct hit the ground to her left, catching Catai's peripheral vision. She turned her head to look, furiously scrambling away –

BOOM! Another metal column struck, directly atop her. Immobilized, she could do nothing but stare as the Fel Reaver removed its leg from her and stomped away, noticing her no more than a bug underfoot.

In desperate need of healing, she picked herself up slowly, only to see another boar charging. Instinctively, she vanished from view and held very still, holding her breath, hoping the boar would get confused and wander off. She thanked Elune when it worked. The boar turned and wandered back in the other direction.

Catai gave a great sigh before slowly slinking in the direction of the nearest settlement, a Temple which she was sure contained a Healer of some sort. She dared not lose stealth long enough to eat or bandage herself, lest another beast attack her, or the Fel Reaver return; she feared she would not be able to vanish again anytime soon.

She slowly dragged herself up each step of the Temple, limping pitifully. It was too much effort to remain invisible while climbing those stairs and trying not to pass out; she had lost her stealth after two steps. Groaning, she tried her best to remain standing, but found she could no longer. Catai gingerly lowered herself to sit on the stair.

I could have died, she thought, and what then? She pulled out her packet of bandages, hoping to repair some little of the damage on her own before she attempted the stairs again. My whole purpose was to better the world – all I wanted was to restore the sanctity of the Tree, avenge my family. And it would have been gone, just like that. I got stepped on! How under heaven could I not have seen that thing?

Catai's criticism could be scathing, but no more so than when directed at herself. Some rogue she was – a hundred-foot-tall mechanical giant had managed to sneak up behind her. She was torn between blaming the unfair disparity between her own abilities and the strength of the Reaver, and berating herself for letting it get the upper hand.

She was in dire need of training, that much was certain.

"They make their stand now, outside of Death's Breach, futilely attempting to push us back in hopes of saving their horses, their homes, their citizens, their lumber. But they will not prevail. This, Deathstroke, is to be your first lesson in Scourge warfare: terror." Thunderblaze stood patiently, waiting for Highlord Mograine to finish issuing instructions to the young Death Knight initiate.

"Go to the front lines, south of here. Destroy the Scarlet Crusaders. Leave their corpses so that we may utilize them for the death march. You will learn how very useful corpses can be." The commander smiled coldly. "But, most importantly, you must kill the fleeing villagers. It is expected that their soldiers will die – but villagers? Their deaths are what strike fear into the hearts of men."

Thunderblaze felt a slight thrill at those words, knowing the extent of their accuracy. He watched the young Deathstroke gave an eager salute before turning to obey the Highlord's orders, then stepped confidently forward to pass a sheet of folded parchment to the lord.

"Ah, Thunderblaze." Mograine began breaking the seal on the document. "You have served us well, death knight. Few of your brethren have survived our initial attack upon the Scarlet interlopers. You remain as one of the strongest." Mograine perused the page, his face a stolid blank until his eyes widened almost imperceptibly.

Thunderblaze saw it.

"The entire Scarlet fleet?" Mograine's voice was aloof to the casual listener, but the draenei before him recognized the incredulity in his tone. He gave a slight nod to confirm the report.

"I was able to get aboard one of their ships, your Lordship. It was a simple matter of firing the cannons onto the beach. The ship is still in working order, but their land assault is severely crippled."

The Highlord's voice contained just a note of wonder. "Such power, Thunderblaze. I have not seen such a display of dominion in years…Not since my father wielded…" His voice trailed off, and he was silent for a moment. Thunderblaze looked on impassively, resisting the urge to shake the man for allowing such an emotional response to manifest, until Mograine continued. "It is not important. Ah – yes, your commendation, lest I forget."

Thunderblaze patiently waited while Mograine retrieved an insignia from the chest behind him. "Thank you, sir." He gave a brief, slightly lazy salute before turning away, full of his own power and control. Never would I let my emotions cloud me that way. Never. Memories are for the weak; mercy is for the weak!

Catai sat quietly at the top of Telredor, a small settlement built in the top of a giant mushroom. It reminded her of home, this marshy, misty territory. Granted, Teldrassil wasn't a marsh, but the very air was indigo, with the smell of flowers in the air. She could feel the breeze wisping around her head, tickling her ears. Small bug-noises reached her keen ears, and the breeze carried with it the most wonderful scents of growth and rain.

She really needed this time to regroup and reflect. She was lucky the Cenarion outpost in Hellfire had pointed her in this direction; the red earth had been growing hard under her feet, the dust clinging to her face, and she hadn't felt clean in weeks, despite daily baths at the Inn.

It was nice to see plants again, she thought, and druids! She thought she had left druids behind in Azeroth when she had stepped through the Portal. But druids were the very root of the night-elven civilization, dedicated to preserving the balance of nature. There was something distinctly reassuring about seeing them here; perhaps there was hope for this blighted world after all.

But Catai didn't know how much help she would be in preserving this world; put simply, she was weary. Travel-weary, homesick, but most of all, battle-weary. Perhaps she should return home now, to some of the simpler challenges. With some of the potions she had learned here, surely she might be able to restore some of the natural balance in Teldrassil? Remove the taint from the Timberlings, make the lake safe for swimming once again…

And most of all, she wanted to see her sister. Shaurelia had been a simple girl, even more in tune with nature's balance than Catai, and with much love for the lore of the night-elves. It had been her dream to train as a Druid of the Claw, gaining even more unity with nature, and with it the possibility of entering the Emerald Dream and learning many things there.

But when Catai had left, the girl had made a promise to care for their ailing grandfather, and protect what was left of their home. Catai wondered how her family was doing now, and immediately questioned if she was getting soft. She had set out at a young age to help save her home; perhaps too young, if her current line of distraction was any indication.

But Elune, did she ever miss them!

Thunderblaze strode down the path to the village of New Avalon, the Lich King's first words to him personally ringing through his head.

All that I am: anger, cruelty, vengeance – I bestow upon you, my chosen knight. I have granted you immortality so that you may herald in a new, dark age for the Scourge.

Gaze now upon the lands below us. The Scarlet Crusade scurries to undo my work, while Light's Hope stands defiantly against us – a blemish upon these Plaguelands. They must all be shown the price of their defiance.

You will become my force of retribution. Where you tread, doom will follow. Go now, death knight, and claim your destiny.1

Thunderblaze could feel the thrill of power surge through him at the thought – he was one of the chosen of the One True King. He saw a nearby Scarlet Crusader spot him and begin to cast a spell from several yards away.

Oh, no, you don't! Thunderblaze thought savagely before using a skill he had learned from the Lich King. He reached out with one arm, clenching his fingers as if squeezing the man around the throat, and jerked the arm backwards, pulling the man to him. Almost before the man's feet touched the ground, the draenei's runeblade was swirling. The man didn't last long under the onslaught. Kill or be killed. No mercy! hissed the voice in his head.

Thunderblaze stalked away silently after the conflict. That death-grip was dead useful, he thought dispassionately. He would have to use it more often.

As he reached the town, fighting his way through more Crusaders, the Lich King's voice became stronger. Leave no survivors! Mercy is for the weak, Thunderblaze, and you are strong. You are strong in the darkness – give in to it, Thunderblaze, give in to the darkness.

Even as his blade swung, glinting in the dim sunlight, Thunderblaze nodded. It made perfect sense; darkness made him stronger, so he would revel in it. Give in to the darkness!

He stepped into a house filled with simple townspeople. Some of them screamed, some fled in fear before him, some stood rooted to the spot, too afraid to move. One woman shouted at him, "This day you make my children orphans, fiend!" Something tugged at the back of the draenei's mind, but that voice, the Lich King's cold, echoing voice, overshadowed it.

Do not hesitate. Finish them!

With two swings, Thunderblaze destroyed one peasant as she rushed past him, trying to escape. He quickly killed another, and at the same time he gripped one of the escapees, pulling the man through the air to face his flying blade. That one was quickly finished also. All of the house's inhabitants came face-to-face with death one way or another…but for some, it was far more painful.

Now, to find that book the Lich King wished…

Catai sat cross-legged in the marsh, staring at a pile of strange-looking plant fragments. She tried to match them to some of the images in her book, tried to remember if she recognized any of them from her travels throughout Azeroth – there was nowhere she hadn't visited at least once – but nothing seemed to fit. She wrinkled her nose at them, then shrugged and placed them in her herb bag. Maybe one of the Cenarion druids would recognize them.

She pulled out a mortar and pestle and began crushing a small handful of white flowers. As she worked, her mind drifted to her last visit to Syurna, her trainer, in Darnassus. She had thought herself world-wise, and experienced. She now knew how naïve she had been.

"You have learned much, child. Perhaps as much as I can teach you. I will admit, I had my doubts about you. But you have far surpassed what I thought you would accomplish. You have done well."

Catai had been surprised at this; Syurna had never spoken so much before – she was usually an Elf of few words. And she had certainly never expressed her doubts, not unless…

"News has reached me from Nethergarde Keep, news I hoped never to hear in my lifetime," Syurna began gravely. "They are in need of reinforcements…" She took a deep breath. "The Dark Portal has been opened once again."

Catai hadn't known what to think of this; of course she had heard all the stories as a child, tales of horror and heroism, of men leaving their world in hopes of protecting it, only to go straight to their deaths. She had heard of the terrors of the Burning Legion and its demonic masses…and, like all the Elves, she had mourned the loss of her race's power and immortality at the hands of the Legion at Mount Hyjal.

But that had all been in the past; her race had moved on to try to rebuild. To have the Portal opened again…well, she did not know what to think. "Syurna," she asked tentatively, "what has that to do with me?"

Syurna shook her head sadly. "You have done much already, Catai. You have seen much bloodshed in your quest to protect the old places of this world. But I fear it will not be enough… If the lines at the Portal are not held, I fear to know what will happen to our world."

Her heart sank. She had known that Syurna would not speak of something unless she had some task for her student…but Catai had been hoping against hope that it would not be that. Anything but that.

Catai sighed deeply. "Tell me about this world. The world beyond the portal. If I am to go there, I must know its story. Perhaps…perhaps if I know how it has suffered, it will not seem so bleak."

Syurna gave her a searching glance. "You are like no other rogue I have taught, Catai. You have much sympathy for the earth, a druidic trait." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "And yet…all I have taught you, you have absorbed easily, almost as if you were meant to know it. Mayhap you chose the right path after all."

Peasants screamed, running madly about as Thunderblaze strode through the field. He ignored them mostly, but any who crossed his path were met with the edge of a spinning runeblade. "Please, no!" some of them begged, but the death knight ignored their pathetic pleas.

He approached the old farmhouse where he knew an outpost of death knights had been set up. Calmly destroying a Scarlet knight who stood in his way, he stalked into the building, nodding at his fellow knights. They ignored him.

Upstairs, he spoke to Thassarian. "Koltira is freed, sir. He did not approve of being rescued, but he was rushing off to safety last I saw him."

Thassarian gave a slight smile. "I have seen him. I thank you, death knight."

The dwarf beside him snorted. "There is no room among the ranks of the Lich King for friends and allies, Thassarian. Any who fall behind get left behind. Those are the rules. You know that better than any of us."

Thassarian waved his hand dismissively. "We cannot afford to lose any more good soldiers, Orbaz. There are too few who pass the initiation as it is."

Orbaz Bloodbane rolled his eyes. "You begin to sound like those pitiful human commanders, Thassarian. The Lich King's will must prevail, whatever the cost." He turned to Thunderblaze. "You, draenei, have done well. Your power grows, and even now, you can hear the Lich King's voice within you growing ever stronger. Soon, you will be irrevocably his – and with that comes more power than your small mind can possibly imagine." He smiled. "Report to Knight Commander Plaguefist at the chapel to the southwest; news has reached me that they need another able-bodied knight there."

Thunderblaze saluted, smiling slightly. "Then they will get what they need."

The commander waved a hand distractedly at the new recruit, continuing to shout orders at his men. "Keep those fires going! And for Blight's sake, keep those peasants out of here! We already have enough bodies to burn the entire town down. We don't need any more fuel for this one." Finally, he turned to the new knight. "You came from Bloodbane?"

"Yes, sir," Thunderblaze replied. "You needed reinforcements?"

Commander Plaguefist rolled his eyes. "These men are useless. Good for grunt work, but useless when it comes to more important tasks. We have several captives from the Argent Dawn in the prison house there." He pointed to a wooden building to his right. The roof had been blown off, Thunderblaze surmised; he could see the fire-blackened walls, bits of wood hanging off the walls and strewn about the fields. "We haven't finished…questioning them all yet, but there's a rather feisty draenei in there – you should enjoy finishing him off."

Thunderblaze nodded emotionlessly, turning to obey.

The Commander's voice drifted over his shoulder. "Oh – and Thunderblaze? Don't bother making it quick."

Thunderblaze smiled slightly, not slowing his stride.

I've spent a lot of time on this, so please take one minute to tell me what you think! (Even if all you have to say is /yawn.)