Hello all, another update for my lovely and dedicated readers. Enjoy, and please forgive for any inconsistancies or spelling errors, I wrote this at 2am after a long day of work, and I have no Beta or anyone to read it over for me. I also did not read it over myself. Anyway, here it is, and review! Reviews make the author happy!
Chapter 4: As Luck Would Have It
Key attempted to sneak into what was obviously a general meeting about some future mission. The word here is "attempted", as in, it didn't work. He wasn't a rogue. The Deathstalker, (yes the same one from last night unfortunately), pinned him down with an accusing glare the second he stealthily entered the tent and tried to blend into the small group of men and women who were crowded around the table, which caught the attention of the rest of the occupants, all eyes shifting from their leader to the miscreant to dared to appear late.
Key gave a nervous chuckle and waved slightly. He didn't suffer humiliation often but right now he was feeling it all the way to his toes. Sadly, the red embarrassment on his face lit up like a beacon against the pale skin.
"Seeing as how the last member of your team has finally graced us with his presence, I can now explain your mission…again." Maltendis grimaced in obvious anger, still glaring a warning at Key. Key frowned, mouthing 'last member of your team'? to himself.
He didn't like being volunteered for something before he actually had the chance to volunteer. "What I would like you six to accomplish is this: I have just recently gotten eyewitness confirmation of the existence of our glorious city's greatest traitor, Dar'Khan Drathor." There was a ripple of angered and shocked gasps throughout the small tent, although Key was just left wondering who this fellow was. The name did sound vaguely familiar but it escaped him at the moment.
Thankfully he did not have to put his tremendous intellectual powers to work figuring out who this Dar'Khan was, because the Deathstalker was telling the story.
"Hundreds of years ago, as you all know, Arthas the Lich King invaded Eversong Woods and razed Quel'Thalas to the ground! What many of the ordinary citizenry of Silvermoon do not know is that, there was a traitor, an elf of the blackest heart, who deactivated the Elvin Runestones that protected Eversong Woods from all invaders, and invited Arthas to Silvermoon's very doorstep, where he proceeded to slaughter every last elf he could find, and finally desecrating the elves' most sacred creation, the Sunwell for his own perverse goals. This traitor who let Arthas in, Dar'Khan Drathor, was a close friend of our Regent Lord Lor'Themar Theron, and was once a Magister of the Quel'Thalas council."
"No one suspected him of his treachery until it was too late and the Scourge were inside the walls. It was thought that Dar'Khan was killed during the battle for Quel'Thalas but it appears that now we know differently. Apparently he has set himself up as the leader of the Scourge forces in their small festering fortress in the South-West corner of Ghostlands. Slowly he is poisoning our lands, turning the natural way of things into twisted, ugly perversions of nature, just as Arthas and his Lich's did to our city. We cannot allow this to continue! This wound will only grow, like a giant pustule, and must be destroyed immediately if we are to focus our efforts on helping your race be cured of its magic addiction and make it through these dark times. Dar'Khan is a major threat, make no mistake, and must not be taken lightly."
The Deathstalker's somber words fell on utter silence, every member present silent and still as the grave. He shifted, then passed his hand over his face, again setting Key's teeth on edge with that paper rasping sound.
"From what the scout could gather, Dar'Khan's Temple is well guarded by Nerubians, banshees, and wraiths. He has under him 4 lieutenants, of which I have no useful information. I chose each of you because of your unique skills and abilities in combat, and your ability to handle yourself in most situations." Here he frowned at Key, as if thinking that he was exactly the opposite of what the Deathstalker just said. Key scowled back.
He was a Paladin of some renown in Silvermoon for saving many a damsel in distress and for his bravery in battle. (Except don't ask whatshisname, Lord Arendis. It wasn't my fault that I didn't see those giant crazy bats in time.) Key endeavored to look down his nose at his fellow comrades, and succeeded in missing the next piece of the speech the Deathstalker was giving.
"-First light, be ready, gather only things you will need, you travel light. This is a fact-finding mission only. I want to know what is going on, why Dar'Khan is at Deathholme and what kind of threat he poses to us here at Tranquillien. I have alerted the other fortified Sanctums situated around Ghostlands of your quest, and they will aid you should you so need it. Good luck. For the Sunwell!" Everyone chorused back "For the Sunwell!" like a bunch of peeping hawkstriders, in Key's opinion, he darted out of the tent the moment it seemed appropriate, and even the dim unhealthy glow that was supposed to be the sun sent lances of pain through his skull.
'Ugh, I'm never drinking that much again! Well, at least not for a week or two anyway.'
He staggered over to a patch of grass that didn't look as infected as the rest, and more fell down then sat down. He gave a brief thought to what he may have missed of Maltendis' explanation, but decided it probably wasn't that important anyway. He caught enough to know they were leaving as soon as you could tell the difference between night and dawn, and he knew it was a dangerous mission, full of risk and bad guys to beat up and undead to interrogate.
He grinned at that. He loved "interrogating". Thinking on it some more, which required more effort then usual, he realized that this whole thing, him being given the note, being sent here, must have been contrived from the start, because what he noticed lacked out here was members of the Holy Order.
There were no Paladins at Tranquillien, and only one priest that he could see. And everyone knew that there was nothing the Undead feared more than a good smiting by Holy magic. He couldn't help but feel himself get a little puffed up at the thought that he was a valuable ally to this expedition, then he pondered over why he was the one chosen.
There were plenty of other, stronger and more experienced Paladins in Silvermoon. Then he wondered if maybe they had declined, which got him thinking about how serious of a risk he actually was taking, which soured his mood, which then made him decide he didn't want to think anymore. He groaned and slumped over on his back, hazy green eyes gazing into the sky.
He spent the rest of the day lounging around Tranquillien, every now and then running some errand that a Ranger or one of the cooks wanted, such as spider legs for some kind of meal (he shuddered at that and vowed to eat some jerky instead that night), or fetching some supplies that were left behind at a scouting site, or as another blade in a quick skirmish against a band of Scourge that had strayed too close to the main road. As the day wore on, he began to get restless, and he could feel the same edgy tension in the air around the small encampment.
It seemed everyone was a bit anxious about this scouting mission, and the commanders were finally looking forward to some hope of a solution to the fighting that had been going on in the Ghostlands for years. All in all it was a lot of pressure on a small group of fighters.
True to his vow to himself, Key did not partake in any drinking or gambling that night, instead choosing to turn in early so that he would be well rested and healed of his hangover by the next morning. He had a feeling he'd need his wits about him come morning.
Strangely he had a dream about a small hexagonal green box that seemed to hold something terrible and wonderful all at once. Quite puzzled, and having the feeling he'd had this dream before, he reached toward the box, but just as fingers closed around the complex locking mechanism on the lid, a Night Elf sprang out of the fog surrounding him and the object, and pounced on him, a look of alarm on her purple features.
He frowned, getting the feeling he knew her, except he made a note to avoid Night Elf girls, they tended to take things too seriously, and had this obsessive "your inferior to me because you are a Blood Elf" attitude that grated on him. Before he could ponder anymore about this, his dream slowly changed to that of a fancy darkened bedroom, complete with a voluptuous blood elf girl was standing by a four poster bed with a coy smile. Grinning, Key forgot all about the previous dream.
As ordered, the Innkeeper awoke him before dawn. She did not look impressed by having to wake him, although she did lift an eyebrow in an interested fashion when she realized he slept in nothing but a pair of short sleeping trousers. Considering she was a Forsaken, Key was still reassured by her look, knowing he was still pleasing to the eye despite his living arrangements of the moment, and felt a stab of regret that he had to immediately get ready and leave.
He spent a few moments on his hair, clasped on his armor with practiced hands, and snatched up his large sword. He strapped it to the harness on his back along with his shield, and strode down the Inn steps. He saw the rest of his small party gathered at the road leading south of Tranquillien, all standing quietly in a huddle, and not making a noise. They were all garbed in battle armor, and had a readiness about them that bespoke of long experience with handling battles.
This reassured Key, as he did not want to be in a group full of clueless recruits. Apparently the leader of this mission was Advisor Valwyn, or Valwyn Sunwing, as the Rangers who knew her called her. As soon as he walked up, Valwyn started in on the outline of the mission, which as far as Key could tell, consisted of: find out why Dar'Khan is in the Ghostlands, find out what happened to the missing scouts, search the area for anything that may prove useful in their fight against the Scourge and its forces, and detail a rough estimation of the forces being mustered and their strengths and weaknesses if possible.
All this to be found out and successfully reported back to Deathstalker Maltendis. Valwyn stressed the importance of their mission being completed successfully, and said that if there was even a chance of one of them making it back, not to mourn the others but come straight back to Tranquillien.
He found himself nodding in agreement along with the rest of them, thinking that this made sense, although deep down, the noble Paladin side of him protested the thought of leaving anyone behind, beyond hope or not. He agreed with this side wholeheartedly, and determined that he would look after the party members as best he could.
As he thought this, he began analyzing his potential teammates, to best gauge their personalities and behaviors. That was his way of deciding how useful or helpful they would be in a fight, and how they would react to certain things. It was always best to get to better know your party members before embarking on a dangerous mission with them. Physical attributes were by no means a sure way to tell, not even that individual would know what decision they would make in combat, but it was the best he had to work with at the moment.
Closest to him stood two female elfin rogues, identical in every way, down to the armor they wore. 'Cute, wonder if they share…everything' He idly wondered, eyeing them appreciatively.
They both had deep red-gold hair, almost the color of red wine. Their hair swirled around their elegant ears and down past their shoulders. Both wore thick spiked shoulder pads, dyed black, with matching black tunics and breeches. They each carried a set of daggers on either hip, daggers down their boots, and he could just make out the hilts of more daggers in their cloaks.
Rogues, always had a dagger handy. He was glad these two were on his side. They had about them the air of professional assassins, coolly assessing their surroundings. Each time their eyes met, the would smile at each other, then continue their observations, only half listening to Valwyn. When one of the twins' heads shifted to look the other direction, he caught sight of a scar in the shape of a thin line around her slender neck, and winced in sympathy. That had to have been agony.
He was impressed with her will to survive, and wondered at the story behind the scar. Maybe if he got to know them better, one of them would tell him. He had caught their names at some point in the conversation Valwyn was having: Yasmine and Faradir Thelryn. His assessment of them; the impression he gathered was that they were good in a fight, backed each other up, and were not likely to run if the other was in danger. He nodded, that sounded right to him.
The scowling Forsaken with the glowing yellow eyes slouched behind the twins was Cedric Golthas, a mage. He had the expression of someone who had seen the worst of the world and was unimpressed thus far. Key frowned. The mage he didn't trust to not turn tail at the slightest bit of trouble. He never did trust a forsaken in a fight, and mages always seemed flighty to him, vanishing and reappearing where you least expect them to be.
Valwyn Sunwing, their leader, was a tall, leggy Blood Elf warrior with stunning black hair currently swept up in a simple ponytail. She wore strong looking and efficient armor, dented and scuffed in places, but still sufficient for battle.
Key got the impression that she would be a good leader, and he trusted her guidance. Which was good, considering he had to take orders from her after all. Of course this didn't stop his thoughts from spiraling in a somewhat downward fashion after staring at her for a few minutes. (He was a healthy male after all).
She noticed his look and raised a rather long eyebrow. He grinned cheekily at her and turned to studying their last, and yet most important, companion. The priest who was the party's healer, was a slight woman who stared attentively at Valwyn, now and then nodding absently.
She was very thin, but that was expected considering she was undead. He could see bones and gray material peeking through here and there. She wore a long shimmering blue robe and carried a stout oaken staff topped with a glowing green crystal.
Her sparse twig-like hair was held in place by a simple circlet of worked silver, and inset with a matching green crystal. Her name was Shana, and he didn't know her last name. She was rather pretty, as far as forsaken went, but he wasn't sure how the whole no eyes thing worked for her.
There were studded leather straps crisscrossing her face, covering up her eye sockets. He shivered looking at it. As if on cue, Shana turned her expressionless face toward him, and he had the impression she could see him perfectly clear.
So these were his comrades in arms. Not the most inspiring bunch, but he figured Tranquillien's leaders knew what they were doing when they assembled this scouting party. Just a simple mission right, enter large guarded fortress, find out possible dangerous secrets, count all the bad guys (or make a rough guess) and hightail it home before anyone noticed that hey, those aren't Scourge standing there! Ya right.
Valwyn gave every one of them a last firm look, then turned and headed down the path in a ground eating jog. They set a fast pace throughout the morning, and the sky eventually brightened enough to be called day in this dismal land. All around them they saw signs of the Scourge's corruption of the forest.
Trees grew twisted and bent, seeming to come alive with minds of their own. The animals had an infected yellow color to their coats, and often he saw savage fights among the wildlife for no apparent reason. All this pollution of what was right, turning something pure and good into an evil mockery of itself, disgusted him so deeply that he felt sour bile in his throat.
Eventually he had to stop observing the surroundings, and kept his eyes fixed on the backs of the twins. Which was fine by him, they had fine…backs. Being one of the only members of the party decked out in full plate armor, Key was soon sweating at the exertion. He was grateful that his duties as a freelance paladin allowed him to travel and keep in shape, or he might have humiliated himself by falling behind. Speaking of falling behind, he glanced back to watch the priest, Shana's progress.
The priestess was obviously not used to strenuous activity, and despite her state of undeath, she appeared to be panting, and had a fixed furrow between her eyes, as if concentrating deeply. Thankfully, around midday Valwyn stopped for a short break. They drank from their water skins sparingly and rested their feet. Shana dropped to the ground not far from him and just lay there, obviously trying to recover her stamina. Feeling somewhat sorry for the forsaken, he sat beside her and offered what relief he could.
He channeled a small dose of his holy energy through his hands and placed them on her arm, transferring strength and a small bit of renewal to her spirit. Immediately she straightened, and gave him such a heartfelt grateful expression that he blushed. Which he quickly covered by giving her a trademark grin and eyeing her up and down.
"Keyanomir right? Thank you for what you just did. A cleansing if I'm right, yes? It was much needed. I feel much refreshed. All this running is very tiring. The most exercise I see is from the Inn to the scholar's library." Her smile told him she didn't mind one bit that he had eyed her suggestively, and he was struck by the thought that forsaken women were just like other women and appreciated feeling as if they were worth the looks, even if they wanted nothing more then just that, a look.
After they set off again, he set himself beside Shana, determined to watch out for her. At some point he became aware that they had slowed their pace, and eventually they were all walking, and on a tacit agreement, no one said a word. Not a weapon jingled, and Key was glad he had had the foresight to wrap his sword in cloth before sheathing it that morning. Ahead, a long blackened furrow ripped its way through the ground. He knew this was the Dead Scar, a lasting memento of Arthas' destruction of Quel'Thalas.
This brought a fresh surge of fury from Key, who could not stand wanton disregard for the Light's creations. He felt his Holy power surge, and realized he was starting to glow a golden color. Hastily he calmed himself before anyone could notice. This happened every time he came near to a place that had been desecrated by the Scourge.
It was ingrained into every Paladin to hate the Scourge with a passion that overrode any other instinct. As his eyes followed that blight on the land, it widened and led to a large blackened gate, made of some metal alloy he couldn't name off the top of his head. The gate spanned about 20 paces across, to attach to outcroppings of natural boulder formations that made up the Mountains of Dawn, which was the border between the Ghostlands and the Plaguelands.
This made a very effective fortified area that would be impossible to get into any other way other than the front gate. He gave the whole edifice a quick once over just to confirm this. Above the gate, gray gargoyles wheeled in watchful circles. Valwyn signaled with one hand, and crept behind a nearby large rock formation. The rest of the group silently followed. Key sighed in relief once they were out of view of the black gate. It gave off a threatening aura that he really did not like.
It made his shoulder blades itch as if there was a dagger waiting to be planted between them. He was really starting to regret this, and sincerely wished that he had been smart enough to make himself scarce from Silvermoon when he received the letter. (Being a paladin did not in any way make one a perfect and upstanding member of society that willingly followed their superiors). The group crouched in a circular pattern, and Key squatted along with them, all facing each other with identical grim and pale faces.
None of them liked this. Valwyn glanced behind her, grimaced, and then started explaining their plan in a hurried whisper.
"Okay, this is what we'll do. It appears they have the gate well guarded. There are 4 sentries, 2 on either side. All 4 are wraiths, the souls of poor tortured victims that they have turned to the dark. Wraiths are fairly easy to kill as long as you find their weak spots. I believe that is up to you Yasmine and Faradir. You girls can use your special abilities to get close to them and silence them before they can alert the garrison. Once the sentries are down, we have a few seconds before the gargoyles will circle back to the gate and notice anything amiss. They are rather slow creatures, and as long as we can quickly get inside the gate and out of their sight, they should not notice that the sentries are dead."
The twins grinned at each other eagerly at the chance to kill, and each mirrored each other at reaching into a ring of pouches on their belt, coming out with a small gray packet. They then proceeded to sprinkle what appeared to be dull green powder onto their primary daggers. As they were busy doing this, Valwyn continued.
"Yasmine and Faradir will then keep watch at the gate for any disruptions, and will alert us with a dragonhawk cry if there is trouble. Cedric, I believe you said you are able to cloak yourself in invisibility, I would like you to investigate the camp and come up with a set of numbers for their forces. I want it as accurate as you can make it. Shana, you stay here dear, that fortress is no place for you."
Shana opened her decayed lips to protest but Valwyn waved her to silence.
"You're a priest, and despite being Forsaken, the Scourge will smell your holy aura from a mile off. Besides, your too valuable to risk. If something goes wrong, and Light forbid it does, we will need your skills."
She then switched her gaze to Key, who gulped. "Paladin, you follow me once inside. I know you have mastery of your holy aura and can mask your presence if needed. I think your affinity for the Scourge will be a handy asset inside. We're going to find Dar'Khan's tower and see if we can discover what is going on in Deathholme once and for all, and perhaps if we are lucky, find a way to put a stop to this Scourge infestation of our lands."
Key nodded grudgingly, not liking that his task seemed to bring about the greatest risk. Plus he did not like the idea of leaving Shana out here by herself. There were plenty of roaming Scourge that might pick up her holy scent and find her out. Then he reminded himself that she was a Forsaken, and was likely at least minimally experienced in battle.
Once Valwyn had gone over the plan again, and made sure everyone knew what to do in case something went wrong, she told them all to rest, and sent Yasmine and Faradir to scout the terrain. Once darkness set in, they would strike.