The Arrival The Plan and The Loss
So then we were in the Arathi Highlands, having traveled from Orgrimmar to Undercity where I got to see the dark and gothic interior for myself. When I found myself riding a giant bat to Hammerfall, the surreal unreality of it all hit me once again. A bat the size of a Great Dane was carrying me to a battle with fictional characters that I played in a game. I had to shake my head and assure Shmee that the confusion I was feeling was nothing more than too much stimuli all at once.
Arriving soon after the rise of the moon, we glided into the center of a walled camp filled with all manner of Horde members. Trolls, Orcs, Forsaken, Tauren, and Blood Elf all decked out in battle garb were milling about and preparing for the forthcoming assault. The ring of a hammer pounding at an anvil echoed through the camp, and I could see the flames cast a glow through the crowd as we landed. A few smaller buildings lay at intervals along the inside of the wooden barrier that encircled the outpost proper. Made of medium size trees, the wall wound a serpentine pattern to enclose the outpost known as Hammerfall, it being broken only by the gate at its front and a stone cave to the rear. In its center, a building raised on stilts served as a centralized headquarters as well as bunkhouse and hospice. Below lay a makeshift stable that was currently being used to house some of the gathered army. All exhausted and in need of some rest, we were given quarters upstairs to wait the coming dawn. As tired as we were, the rest was fitful at best with the thoughts of the coming conflict keeping sleep at bay. The morning light crept across the floor as we readied ourselves and conferred with Leani about the plan for the coming battle. True to her reputation, she laid out a tactically sound plan that showed her concern for loss of life combined with the responsibility of sending those lives into combat. The sun soon found its way to the point in the sky where this story began, and I was committed to action as Shmeegun rained ice from the sky in an attempt to slow the oncoming host rather than outright kill them. I attempted to concentrate on his passive senses of hearing, sight and smell to give him an edge while he manipulated the mighty forces of magic at his beck and call. All of us had entrusted our existence to the abilities of these five newfound friends with no reservation, and as I watched the battle progress, seeing the power and abilities they commanded, I realized the choice had been a mere formality. The dark pulsing radiance of Masharret's Void Walker, its globular mass gliding to and fro as it hammered foes out of its way, preceded bolts of blackness and fire exploding from the warlock's hands. Gasalyn and her Elemental were using their inherent ice capabilities, matching Shmeegun in an attempt to stem the loss of life on both sides while keeping the enemy at bay. The roar of Oreo and the thunder of his master's gun sent waves of demoralization and fear through any that crossed their path, while choked screams signaled Radamantis was doing what he did best. Eventually I found myself back to back with Masharret, our casting becoming more conservative as our reserves ran low. Losing sight of the others among the mass of bodies, flashing weapons, and explosions of magic, we were reduced to the narrow focus of survival. Six or seven other members of the Horde were desperately fighting around us, and we did all we could to keep both themselves and us alive.
A flash of light from off to the right caught my eye, and I warned my host with a shout.
His reaction was pure instinct as he reached out in that direction without even turning and released a blast of flame that incinerated the incoming arrow meant for his head.
Thanks. He spoke quickly while casting a bolt of ice into the chest of a Night Elf that was attempting to impale one of the Orc warriors surrounding us, freezing him in mid swing.
My head too. I replied with no humor as the Orc gave him a quick nod of acknowledgement before jamming its massive sword through the frozen assailant. Then, just as quickly, he caught the point of a spear being thrust over the Night Elf's shoulder through his eye. With a single grunt as it pierced the back of his skull, he fell over dead. I had no time to feel anything about the horror around me as I felt Masharret, her back still firmly planted against mine, suddenly jolt backwards, nearly knock both of us down. The sheer size of the mage kept them both from falling, but the sharp pain in his shoulder blade told me that it had been more than a stumble.
A quick word and motion from my host caused a shield of flames to encompass the two of them, and with a groan of exertion, Shmee threw both blue hands wide, his multicolored robes rippling with the motion.
"Get close to me!" He shouted to the defenders around us, and they immediately drew into a smaller circle. Closing his hands into fists, he pulled them quickly into his chest, and I could feel an increase in pressure around us like he was gathering the air tighter to him. Then with a roar of guttural speech, he threw his arms out once again with dramatic effect. A ring of flame that started so close to us I could smell the singed hair blasted outward in all directions with such force that it hurled all the attackers up and away like dust in a hurricane. The smell of burnt grass and bodies mixed to create a stench the likes of which even my battle-hardened host coughed at. Those around us cheered loudly, brandishing their weapons at the sky. Shmeegun stopped them with a shout as he turned and lowered a groaning Masharret to the ground.
"Stay close and be tendin' your wounds. Dis be only a short reprieve; der be plenty more where dey commin' from." He didn't even see if they listened to what he said as he observed the arrow protruding from the warlock's shoulder. It had gone straight through the dried flesh, and I could feel the blood running from the puncture where it had bitten into his back.
"Get it out," she gasped, her undead features contorted in pain. "I have a healing potion that will take care of the wound, but it has to come out first."
Shmee nodded without hesitation and reached under to grasp the tip. Giving her no time to think about the pain, he swiftly snapped the arrow head off and pulled it out. Her mouth stretched in a silent scream, and the wound seeped a small amount of thick brackish-looking blood. Showing incredible stamina, she immediately reached into her robes with a shaking hand and removed a small clay vial. My host retrieved the bottle from her weakened grip and removed the stopper, pouring a small amount of the contents directly on the wound, then the rest between her black and trembling lips. The effect was almost instantaneous as I watched the gash close and her shaking ease. As her face calmed and regained some of its normal strength, I could feel Shmee's worry and knew it was about more than our companion's health.
What is it? I asked simply.
I an' I bein' out of magic til I can rest, an' I be tinkin' dat dem Alliance not be letting us rest. His voice was calm but resigned as he helped Masharret to her feet. Drawing his dagger, he looked around at the new surge of attackers headed our way.
Oreo was bleeding from several wounds, some of them showing the white of bone, but he was completely oblivious to them. The raptor charged, snapping its jaws and leaping to use the razor-like talons on its feet to tear apart any foe Nutharen directed him to. The Tauren held a tight perimeter around Gasalyn, calling orders to those few defenders left with them in his bellowing voice between blasts from his massive gun. As soon as he had lost sight of the others, he had focused on the well-being of the princess and those members of the Horde that had survived the initial onslaught. As soon as the fighting had begun, Gasalyn had led them to the top of a hill near a large boulder, giving them some form of shelter. Their backs to the stone and a troll archer with a crossbow laying atop the rock, they were doing all they could to keep a host of Night Elves, Humans, and Dwarves from overrunning their position. Another male Tauren wrapped in shamanistic garb and sporting a broken horn stood by the princess hurling bolts of lightning into the crowd. The energy lanced into a Dwarf causing his muscles to lock and keep him rigidly in place, but the rage burning in his eyes was enough to show that he was not done. A roar of pain from the raptor brought Nutharen's head about to see Oreo turn his lethal jaws on a Night Elf who had cut him across the flank. Even with the understanding that it was a life or death battle, Harley was still stunned and a little sickened at the ferocity of the beast as it literally engulfed and crushed the head of the grey-skinned attacker.
It is his nature, Nutharen spoke in a matter of fact tone, and I would do the same.
I know, and it's like that for some people where I come from, just not me! I've never had to kill anyone before, and now... He was cut off as a cry of pain issued from above him, and both Gasalyn and Oreo shouted and barked a warning. Harley watched through the Tauren's eyes as he swung around to look to see a small humanoid in black armor as it was reversing the swing of a nasty-looking mace. Time slowed as what he realized was a Gnome rogue pulled the weapon from the shattered spine of the troll archer in a sort of rebound swing. Up and over came the mace, the black and silver diamond-shaped head throbbing with red pulses, showing every drop of blood as it arced toward Nutharen's head. The Tauren brought his rifle up with agonizing slowness, and as the two weapons met, Harley saw the individual splinters and glittering pieces of metal fly away as the force of the blow smashed though and connected with his forehead.
There was no real pain, just the crack of the impact and a flash of blinding light. His ears rang loudly, blocking out the sounds of battle, and Harley found himself suddenly, blind, deaf, helpless, and frustrated as he felt the body of the behemoth that was his host crash to the ground. As soon as unconsciousness took Nutharen, Harley knew that he was defenseless, and without thinking about any consequences, he leapt forward and took control.
Pain – whole worlds of it radiated from his head and coursed throughout his entire body as he forced his eyes to open. Blurred from the agony and hazed in red from the blood flowing freely down his furry brow, his vision swam and his stomach threatened to empty its contents right then and there if he moved too fast. With every second promising imminent death, he gritted his teeth and swallowed the bile rising in his throat as he slowly rolled to one side. He could hear the battle still raging around him, the clash of weapons, Gasalyn's gritty voice speaking words of power with the subsequent hisses of ice and crackle of fire. Somewhere behind the cacophony, Harley heard the barks and snarls of Oreo still trying to make his way to his injured master. A grimace of pain mixed with a dark grin at the screams of those that got in the raptor's way crossed his features with a groan as he squeezed his eyes shut and pulled himself to his knees.
His eyes snapped back open in horror as he heard the beloved pet scream. The sound was like nothing he had ever heard; high pitched and ragged, like a horse but with a vibrating undertone that sank down as the breath ran out. He saw the armored warrior pulling the spear from the raptor's neck and advance toward him. Summoning strength he didn't know he possessed, he stood and swayed as new waves of pain tracked over raw nerves with vicious efficiency. He let the rage of seeing Nutharen's long-time companion so brutally killed suffuse him and drew one of the blades on the Taurens belt. He knew he had no idea how to use the weapon, but he was sure as hell not going to stand there and die without trying something. He raised the blade in front of him and spat some of the blood that had seeped into his mouth at the approaching assailant with a wicked grin. His vision still swam with the nausea and pain, so he couldn't tell what race the armored foe was, but he saw them pause at his defiant action which emboldened him to take a step forward and brandish the scimitar threateningly.
The sound of Gasalyn's voice finally registered through his haze, and he realized she had shouted at him more than once already. Before him, the attacker planted the tip of the spear into the ground just as something struck him in the back. He struggled with his balance while thinking it was impossible for there to be even more pain. He was awestruck at the new development; the old pain being a hammering throb, this new one was a sharp, constant scream from his nerve endings. As he dropped to his knees, he was almost relived to feel much of the pain quickly disappear into a cold numbness. Sounds began to meld together as he realized he was going into shock. Gasalyn's voice fused with the crackle of her spell. The death cry of his unseen attacker came out as metal shards striking stone and a deep, slow bellow. He felt, rather than heard, the compression of a spell going off nearby as his vision dimmed.
Suddenly he felt hands turning him over and a feeling of warmth spread throughout his frame. The pain replaced the coldness and then lessened considerably as he felt the flesh on his back and head crawl and reform. Gasalyn's voice was close, and he realized she was speaking to him.
"Nutharen, can you move? We have little time." Her voice was firm with command but covered in worry. He opened his eyes just as she leaned in close, thankfully blocking out the direct rays of the sun, and grinned slightly when she saw he was conscious. Harley was still a bit disturbed by the features of the undead, but he managed a weak smile and nodded as he spoke softly.
"Yeah, I can move, but Nutharen is still out." She frowned and shook her head slightly with a whisper.
"Others are listening, Harley; you must assume the place of Nutharen for the moment."
He nodded his head slightly and sat up slowly as she stood and revealed the golden frame of a male-armored Blood Elf. The armor and weapons he carried marked him as one of the Paladin class, Knights with the ability to heal when necessary. The Elf reached forward and offered a hand to the Tauren, and Harley took it with a nod of thanks. He was surprised as, with minimal effort, the diminutive Elf almost pulled his massive frame to its feet by himself. With another nod, he thanked the bulky healer who was removing the plumed helmet to reveal equally golden hair and the surreal Elvin beauty possessed by his entire race.
"Thank you for your help..." He paused, and the Paladin thought he was waiting for a name.
"Valtoren of the Sindorei at your service." He spoke promptly with a flourished bow, and it was everything Harley could do to keep a straight face at the theatrics as he continued.
"Valtoren, then, I am in your debt." He stopped suddenly and turned. Reading the look correctly, Valtoren spoke solemnly.
"My apologies… Your pet was beyond help when I got here, and we have little enough time for you to recover. I witnessed his actions, and if I may have his name I will make sure he is remembered among the heroic fallen."
An ache filled Harley and he felt silent tears brimming in his eyes.
"Oreo. His name was Oreo," he spoke gruffly. There was a moment of silence, and then Gasalyn spoke hesitantly.
"We need to move..." Harley nodded and turned to look at her.
"I know. There's a battle going on." He spoke flatly, and the Princess laid a hand on his massive arm. Behind him, he heard Valtoren's armor rattle as he jogged back into battle.
"Jake says he's sorry and knows how much Oreo meant to you even on your world." Harley nodded with a sigh as he picked up the sword he dropped and responded.
"I know he does, but Nutharen is gonna be pissed when he wakes up."
Joe watched in unabashed amazement as Radamantis dive rolled forward, barely avoiding the slash of a descending halberd, and came to one knee with both blades sunk deep into the throat of the armored human. Actions based on instinct and training, he pulled the blades down, reversing them, and stuck them into the ground while rolling onto his back, kicking the pole out of the dying man's grip into the face of a Night Elf behind him. It smashed the nose with a satisfying crunch, and the rogue continued his reverse summersault, straightening his body and slamming his boney feet into the Elf's chest, sending him flying backwards. Drawing his knees in and releasing his grip on the blades, Rad landed on his feet once again and reacquired his weapons with blinding speed. A quick look around told him no immediate enemies were in range, but he saw an Orc some distance in front of him grappling with a large male Draenei. They were both bleeding profusely, and Rad could tell the Orc, whose back was to them, was quickly losing his strength. Replacing the daggers in their sheaths, the rogue reached into a pouch and brought forth a garrote as he sprinted forward. Four or five quick steps brought him up to speed and he leapt up while twisting his body in mid air so he faced the ground and flew over the combatants feet first. His timing perfect, he came down just behind the Draenei, wrapping the garrote around the thick blue throat. The force of the landing caused the wire to slip effortlessly into flesh, slicing all the way to the spine. Blue blood poured over the Orc, and the Draenei's silent struggle lasted only seconds before he fell to his knees and Rad released one of the wire's handles, letting it slide around the neck and back into his hand.
Breathing hard, the Orc nodded his thanks to the undead rogue as he re-coiled the deadly strangling weapon and replaced it in its pouch.
Jesus Christ, Joe whispered in awe.
It is what I do, and I have done it for a long time. Radamantis' statement held no pride or remorse. The words were a flat, emotionless fact. During the first moments of the battle, Radamantis had used his stealth to stay out of direct combat. Preferring to work alone, he had moved around the exterior of the conflict and struck down opponents before they knew he was there. Once the combat was fully joined, he moved unseen among the frenzied fighters and continued with his silent form of death until too many eyes were looking in his direction and he was forced into open battle.
This was not a detriment; the rogue simply switched tactics and continued to mow down anyone who challenged him. The only combatant he avoided face to face confrontation with were those that used magic. Joe knew he wasn't afraid to face a caster; it was just a matter of common sense. Anyone that could attack from a distance held a serious edge when it came to martial combat, and Radamantis was no fool.
The rogue drew the glowing black blades once more and was looking for another fight when a shout from his right made him spin quickly in that direction. He saw the form of a female troll with teal-colored skin releasing a dagger in his direction. There was no time to move, and he felt the wind as the blade passed a mere hair's breadth by his left ear. He was about to draw a throwing dagger of his own when he heard the troll's weapon connect with something behind him. The sound of steel on steel was followed by a curse, and Rad spun around to see an arrow hit the ground, the knife falling beside it. A short distance away, a dwarf was hurriedly re-knocking another arrow for a second shot. Radamantis didn't give him the time, and before Joe could think it, three blades were whistling through the air to sink into each eye and the throat of the bowman.
Footsteps behind them caused Rad to turn once again, but this time more slowly as he knew it was the troll who had just saved his life. She was wearing garb similar to his, marking her as another rogue, and what flesh the leather armor didn't cover showed a map of scarring. Joe cringed as he thought of what could have caused such extensive damage and how this young female could still grin as she was after such obvious punishment.
"You bein' almost fast as me, dead one." Her voice was light but held a rasp that told of damaged vocal chords as well.
"Your skill with a blade rivals my own. My thanks for your quickness." He nodded, and Joe felt a slight confusion in his host.
What's wrong, Rad?
Something about this one… Her eyes, I have seen their like, but I cannot recall where... He let the thought hang as she continued.
"Dat bein' nottin,' I an' I was paid to be helpin' da Horde, an' you be needin help." Her attitude was cocky, but not arrogant, and she knew the difference.
"Paid?" Rad tilted his head slightly. "You're a mercenary rogue?"
"Aye," she nodded with a quick look around to confirm they were safe for the moment. "Rya da rogue, an' I don' come cheap." She held out her hand, and Rad took it as Joe felt his anxiety rise.
"Radamantis of House Exil..." His eyes snapped wide, and Joe found memories tumble forth as the rogue placed the name.
"Rya..." His voice was soft but filled with amazed disbelief, and the young troll tilted her head with a crinkled brow.
"You be hearin' my name before?"
"I... you're alive." Radamantis stood still, holding the equally confused troll's hand and tried again to speak. "Your father – I know your father." The mention of a parent caused a look of confused horror to alight on the young teal features, and she yanked her hand from his grip with a horse shout.
"Me father is dead! They tol' me before I escape!"
Then there was no time to talk as Alliance forces, shouting and brandishing weapons descended on the two, and they found themselves back to back defending one another. They were quickly surrounded and were both severely outnumbered when a massive clap of thunder erupted from somewhere near the center of the battle. Blinding bolts of lightning followed the eruption of sound, and those near its epicenter were slammed to the ground. As the dust cleared, the cries of the injured and dying were magnified a thousand fold by the sudden silence causing a vice of anguish to grip Joe's heart. Radamantis felt the emotional upheaval from his counterpart. Intuiting its source, he quickly pulled some bandages from a pouch and knelt to help a fallen combatant. Those few who were capable of action and compassion on both sides did the same. While he finished tending the wounds, he looked back for the young troll rogue and found her gone in the mass of onlookers surrounding him. Everyone else, including the companions, looked on in the sudden stillness as three robed figures appeared within the blasted area.
The tallest of them was easily recognized as Velen the prophet, leader of the Draenei people. The long flowing white robes he wore held little adornment as did the stalwart staff he leaned upon, but the long white hair and thick elegant beard emerging from the chin below outlined a face that spoke of immense knowledge. Even the most hardened warriors of the Horde gave pause at the pure ancient power that radiated from within the wizened blue eyes nestled beneath cloud-like eyebrows.
The second, Malfurion Stormrage, Night Elf druid and hero of the third war, presented a more visually striking display of authority. The earthen-colored furred animal skins he wore, along with the thick, gnarled staff he carried, veritably smoldered with the inherent magics they possessed. The forest green of the hair that flowed in thick waves from his scalp, falling in disarray over broad shoulders and compromising the neatly trimmed beard framing his squared jaw, contrasted drastically with the deep violet hue of his skin. The rippling muscles beneath the purple skin that stretched the garments he wore were a testament to the Night Elf's physical prowess, and although the Arch-Druid was less than a quarter the age of the prophet Velen, he was still considered ancient by any standard, and therefore held in high esteem by any who were in his presence. The last, a small female Night Elf with golden eyes, stood dwarfed between the two renowned Allies, and only a few of the hundreds gathered on the field knew how truly important she was.
"STOP!" Malfurion's voice was a thunderclap that sent a shockwave rebounding off the cliffs and rolling over the already stunned mass of combatants. All heads turned toward the newly materialized additions on the field, their battle lust momentarily subdued. The ancient druid lowered his upraised arms and stood silent for a moment looking over the field. His look of stern command warred with an exhausted sadness in his narrowed glowing eyes. Velen stood quietly beside him and did nothing to hide the helpless grief that ran down his face, crossing the ancient lines and furrows in his skin, to land and mix with the blood on the ground.
From where Radamantis, stood he could see Vyerna, small but not insignificant, standing between them with a similar look of heartache. The expression was mixed with the hardened acceptance of one who understood the horrors of combat, marring the innocent features with its callousness. He felt a surge of pride for the beautiful priestess, but it was tainted with the knowledge that she was losing a little piece of her humanity with each battle she faced. The rogue felt a surge of sympathy and understanding from Joe.
It is the lives we live here that force us to accept and become accustomed to the harsher realities. A lesson I learned all too well, but one I had hoped to shelter those like Vyerna from having to face. His voice was quiet and filled with sorrowful acceptance. Over the years and in these past few days, I have found that sheltering those you care for from the truth can hurt them more than the truth itself. Joe found himself surprised by the astute words from the usually reticent rogue.
We have the same understanding where I come from, but there are still people who refuse to accept that. I guess they're so terrified of pain or loss that they try to control everything that happens and are even more destroyed when it all falls apart because of their attempt at control. Radamantis nodded slowly as Malfurion began to speak again. His words amplified by magic, they reached across the battlefield to each ear with equal volume. Those of the Horde who could not understand the words still stood transfixed by the resonant voice while others hurriedly translated in horse whispers.
"This battle is a facade! Your will to fight and kill one another is not your own! With each death you feed the one truly responsible for your actions!"
"Why should we listen to you, Night Elf?!" The voice of an Orc bellowed from the crowd and one of equal tone responded from the gates of Hammerfall.
"Because I command it!" Those with their backs to the outpost turned to find Thrall striding through the wooden gateway, dressed in full battle gear and his massive hammer held by his side. "The Druid Malfurion speaks truly; the attack by the Alliance here today was guided by the insidious hand of The Burning Legion!" Gasps of revulsion and shouts of disbelief rippled through the defenders and those of the Alliance that understood the Horde commander. Malfurion repeated the leader's words with a similar reaction from the rest of the allied army.
"The Horde knows well what it means to fight as a slave to a demon, killing only for the pure pleasure of it. My father Durotan knew that horror and died unable to free his people from it. You all know well the story of Grom Hellscream and the sacrifice he made; his fight with Mannoroth the Destructor that destroyed them both and freed the Orcs from the blood curse. You know also that I was there and held my friend as he died and swore to never allow such a thing to happen again!" Thrall slammed his hammer into the ground at this pronouncement, causing a flash of brilliant light to erupt and augment his point with brutal finality. His voice dropped slightly as he continued but held no less intensity.
"Now, those healers still able to do so will tend to the wounded and get them safely into Hammerfall. The rest of you will sheath your weapons and help in this task." He looked directly at the Draenei and Night Elves at the center of the crowd. "I trust you will pull your people back as well." The words were more of a statement than a question, and both Velen and Malfurion nodded as they began directing the Alliance in a similar fashion. Thrall raised his hammer one last time for attention.
"If one more drop of blood is shed uselessly, the one responsible will answer to me personally!" The barely contained rage in the bellowed statement left no room for argument. Seeing his followers quickly moving about the bloodied field to follow his command, Thrall, his whole body trembling slightly with fury at the pointless deaths, lowered his hammer and signaled Leani to join him as he turned and strode back into the outpost. His final pronouncement, spoken through gritted teeth, was heard by only those within a few yards of him, but was quickly passed through the ranks.
"This battle is over."
Vyerna walked from each injured soldier to the next, her thoughts focused completely on healing the most seriously injured in true triage fashion. Filtering out the moans and cries as best she could while attempting to see the horrifically damaged bodies with a clinical eye, the priestess found herself slowly detaching from the reality around her, moving with an almost mechanical precision. Walk, crouch, examine, touch, heal, speak soothing words, stand, and repeat. Her focus was such that she jolted with surprise when Tanya's voice filled her head with a shout, and she realized that the female human had been trying to talk to her for a while.
Hey, Lady! She paused for a moment to collect herself before she responded.
My apologies Tan-Ya, I... She didn't know what to say.
It's alright, Vyerna. She sighed. I just got scared that you were gonna lose it. You're wound up so tight that my back aches! The Night Elf paused for a moment and smiled slightly.
You know something of battle and death. Vyerna stated confidently.
Well, not battle, but I've had some close calls with death and seen my share of hard times. I just know that if you go all numb and ignore your own pain it's only gonna make things worse later. Like a cut that you don't clean, it just gets worse and does more damage to you if you don't take care of it right away. I felt you doing that and was trying to talk you out of it, or at least distract you from it.
You have much wisdom, Tan-Ya. Vyerna smiled again as she headed toward another of the fallen soldiers and heard her counterpart laugh.
I don't know about wisdom, but as Marc always says, I learned all my lessons the hard way and that makes them hard to forget.
Then you are both well learned, she responded as she knelt and smiled warmly at the human male lying before her. His eyes found hers through a haze of pain, and she saw them clear slightly when they focused on her. She realized he could feel her compassion, and that alone was enough to calm him. He had suffered many different cuts to his body and his jaw lay at an unnatural angle, but the wound that was killing him was the right leg that had been sheared off at the knee and was pouring his lifeblood out to mix with the trampled and muddied ground beneath him. Laying her hands on his chest, she closed her eyes and channeled her energies into him with a renewed sense of purpose and heard him sigh with relief as his body became whole once more. Opening her eyes once more, she watched his eyes close as natural, healing sleep overtook him and beckoned to a pair of humans carrying a stretcher to come and take him. As she stood once more, she heard a familiar voice call her name and turned to see a large troll and much shorter undead moving toward her. A few of the Alliance around her stopped what they were doing and became alarmed until she assured them the approaching Horde members were friends. Looking at her with a new respect and disbelief, they went back to their duties and she headed toward Shmee and Radamantis.
She saw the look of alarm on both their faces just as she felt the tingle of magic behind her. Before any of them could react, a great pressure gripped her entire torso, crushing the breath from her lungs. She looked down to see what looked like huge red bands, then she was yanked backward into a swirl of color and the roar of wind filled her ears. The disorientation and abject fear that both she and Tanya felt were strong enough to cause her to lose consciousness. When the blackness faded and she opened her eyes, she found herself lying on an unfamiliar stone floor and felt enormous amounts of heat assailing her. Turning her head to the side, she saw bars and quickly figured out she lay in a large cage.
"Apologies to you both for the abruptness of your trip here, but I just couldn't resist!" The thunderous voice was filled with sarcastic glee, and Vyerna leapt to her feet and spun to face where it had come from. She froze in place when she saw the huge grinning maw filled with ivory swords and daggers.
"Kazzak," she whispered in horror, and he reared back in laughter so loud she clapped her hands over her ears. When he had quieted, he leaned in close once more.
"I'm flattered!" he exclaimed, his eyes wide with false surprise. "Not only have you impressed me by thwarting the battle in Arathi, but you know me by name!" The grin faded and the tone changed to one of menace. "How delightful." His eyes burned with hatred, and the young Night Elf knew at that moment that the demon meant to destroy her.
"What do you want, you bastard." The defiant voice came from above the cage, and Vyerna gasped as she realized that it was Tanya's! Kazzak's grin returned once more as he lowered his massive claw. Within the palm rested a multifaceted field of energy that rotated every few seconds in a random direction. Lighting crackled silently across its transparent surface, and Vyerna could see the ghostly white form of a human female floating at its center. She had much the same slight build as the Night Elf with long flowing hair and fair features with no color; the angry facial expression, and she was definitely angry, was the only defining feature of Tanya that she could see. An emptiness suddenly washed over Vyerna at the sight of the unfamiliar human, and she realized just how accustomed she had grown to hearing that voice in her head. Kazzak peered at the shimmering jewel of a prison in his hand with a look of feigned surprise.
"What do I want?" he mocked and paused to look between the two females, his expression changing to incredulous dismay, as if they should know and he was surprised they didn't. "Why, I simply want to know you better!" The words dripped with sarcastic innocence. He reached behind him and picked up a shimmering blue crystal from a golden stand. Uttering a word in the demonic tongue, one that Vyerna immediately committed to memory, he opened a portal showing the real Tanya on her living room floor, her blonde hair splayed out around her unconscious head. He began to speak again, and with each sentence he spoke, his voice became lower and more menacing, each word filled with more acidic, burning evil.
"I want to know where you come from! I want your thoughts, your feelings, and your soul. I want to see you and your kind groveling at my feet while I rend your reality apart." He paused, bringing his hand closer to his face and Vyerna saw a look of disgust cross Tanya's features.
"What I want, you insignificant little wraith, is your world burning under my feet."
Both of us stood there, mouths agape, as the portal closed. Even Radamantis, with his uncanny reflexes, had been unable to react in the time it had taken for Kazzak to grab Vyerna. With the news of his daughter still being alive, Shmeegun had wanted time to think and asked me to take control for a while. I had gladly accepted after feeling so useless during battle and had immediately found the rogue to ask him if he had seen Vyerna yet. Knowing I wanted to see her as much as he did before having to meet with Thrall and the Alliance leaders gathered in Hammerfall, we both had set out across the bloodied field in search of the diminutive elf.
As the shock of what had just happened wore off, Rad and I looked at each other with expressions that sufficiently communicated the loss and subsequent urgency to get this news to the impromptu council. With a last look at the bewildered faces of the surrounding Alliance members and the thought that they might turn on us with the idea that we were responsible, we did an immediate about face and bolted toward the wooden walls of the Horde outpost in the distance.
When we reached the top of the stairs that lead to the meeting room, the guards posted there jumped aside with one look from Radamantis, and we burst through the door. Everyone was on their feet with alarmed looks as we stood there gasping for breath. Around the table stood Thrall, Velen, Malfurion, and the surprising addition of Jaina Proudmoor; female Human mage who had joined with Thrall in the third war to beat the demon Archimonde. Most likely the single most powerful human user of magic, Jaina held a high rank in the Alliance forces and was well respected by all, but her adherence to the idea of a unified Horde and Alliance working together kept her distanced from the true circles of influence. She and Velen were the only ones standing that possessed the control and poise to keep their expressions neutral while they waited. Leani and the rest of our little split personality group finished off the roster of attendees.
"Kazzak..." I gasped.
"Portal..." Rad wheezed.
"Took Vyerna," I finished with a gulp, and the group erupted with questions and exclamations. I held up my hand, and Thrall rapped the table for silence as Rad and I finally caught our breath.
"Please explain," he stated simply. I let Radamantis do the talking so I wouldn't have to fight with the Troll dialect.
"We saw Vyerna healing one of the Alliance fallen and headed toward her with the intent on inviting her to this meeting. Shmeegun called to her, and she rose to greet us and allay any fears that the other soldiers around her might have about our approach when we saw a portal open behind her. Before we could react, Kazzak reached though, grabbing her. He pulled her back through, and she was gone. We paused only briefly, then immediately returned here." The heaviness in his voice did not go unnoticed by the others in out group including Thrall, nor did the helpless look in my eyes. Silence stretched for a few minutes before the Horde leader finally cleared his throat for attention.
"This is unfortunate," he rumbled sympathetically, "but it changes nothing. The plan Leani has suggested will go forward and, if we make haste, the possibility that the young Night Elf can be saved still remains." The others at the table nodded, and Gasalyn caught my eye with an extra nod of encouragement, telling me that it was Jake and he believed it as well.
"What be this plan?" I asked, feeling a little better.
"You will love this plan," Nutharen boomed with a half grin on his bovine face. "It smacks of one of your legendary ideas." I grinned in return, and Leani rose to relate the specifics.
"It is a threefold plan of attack involving both Horde and Alliance troops." I raised my eyebrows at Velen, and he winked as the Warrior continued.
"First, we have had scouts keeping tabs on all of the major threats throughout Outland and Azeroth for some time. Many have lost their lives to keep us informed of the evil in these lands, but the information they have gathered has always been invaluable. Although Kazzak and his minions are too powerful for anyone to stay near him long enough to keep track of his plans, we have been able to at least keep track of where he is, and right now he is at the Throne of Kil'jaeden. The reports from there have confirmed that he has been coming and going more frequently as of late, which also confirms the reports from those members of Exiled present." She paused to nod at the group in appreciation and continued.
"We have also come to the conclusion, with the help of the Prophet Velen and Malfurion Stormrage, that Kazzak is using the artifact he obtained to open the Dark Gate to access the portals throughout Outland and Azeroth. What he intends to do with this power is irrelevant; the fact that he is able to do this is why that artifact must be obtained." She stopped and nodded at Gasalyn which caused Radamantis and me to look at each other in confusion before turning back as she stood to speak.
"During my life in Stratholme I spent much time studying in furtherance of my magic, and one of the subjects that intrigued me the most was the origin of powerful artifacts. Not much is known about the Void Stone, as it is called, and most of what I read was conjecture and opinion. It was said to have been worn as a necklace by Kil'jaeden himself that he lost during the battle of the Sunwell with the Blood Elves. It is also said that it was left by Medivh after he opened the first portal to Azeroth as a pawn of Sargeras. All we know for sure is that the Stone itself is believed to have more than just the ability to open portals but that no scholar has had the time or ability to find out. In any event, it is important to all of us," she paused to look around the table and those of us from the other reality were able to get her meaning while she finished by saying, "that we get that artifact." She sat back down with a nod to Leani who stood again to continue the briefing.
"For the first wave of the attack, forty of the best from both the Horde and the Alliance will take flying mounts and begin a frontal assault on the Demon Lord to get his attention and use any and all means to keep it. Included in this vanguard will be myself, Thrall, Velen, and Malfurion, as we will need the kind of power they wield to survive long enough for the other forces to obtain their objectives."
Dat bein de mos powerful group I an' I be hearin' of in me life. Shmee spoke in an awed whisper in my head, almost causing me to jolt in surprise.
Well, I guess if they want this done fast and have us get back to where we belong while they get this stone, that's who I would vote for. But yeah, I almost wish I could watch them in battle. It's sure gonna be something to see! I brought my attention back to the table as Leani continued.
"Another group of forty Alliance and Horde, led by Lady Proudmoor, will land behind the battle a few minutes after the first attack has begun. This second assault will be to quickly remove Kazzak's minions. With the element of surprise, we hope to have them eliminated quickly so the second group can join the first against the Demon Lord." At this point Masharret raised a boney hand, and Leani nodded at her.
"Forgive my ignorance if I am speaking foolishly, but will not eighty attackers be enough to take down the demon, especially with the like of both faction leaders and an arch druid involved?" Thrall chuckled dryly and everyone turned to see him shaking his head, his tusk-filled grin one of sorrowful mirth.
"It is not a foolish question, but one asked from lack of experience. Demons are a vile but hardy lot with vast amounts of power. Kazzak is a Demon Lord, which gives him access to almost limitless influence, and his experience in combat is greater than that of all of us gathered here." He looked over at Masharret. "Yes, you are correct in believing that the combined might of this assemblage of beings is the most we have ever brought to bear against him. We could conceivably do him great harm and even destroy him, but the cost of that battle would be high, the price being almost everyone who engages him in battle. This is not out goal; unless luck is with us and we strike with complete surprise or cause a mortal wound in the beginning of the battle, we fight to secure the Void Stone as quickly as possible. This will ensure the safety of this world and hopefully bring everyone in the battle home safely." His emphasis on home was not lost on my companions and me as Thrall nodded for Leani to continue the briefing.
"The last group will include those members of House Exiled present here and the Orc warrior Wolfgorr." When she spoke the name, she extended a hand to the corner behind Rad and me, and we turned to see a massively armored and muscular Orc step closer to the table from the shadows. From the corner of my eye, I could see the conflicting expressions on the rogue's face as he fought with surprise and frustration; surprise at the appearance of the bulkily-plated warrior and frustration at missing the fact that he was there in the first place. I was no less taken aback and was immediately aware that if something that big could stay that quiet and unnoticeable then it spoke volumes about the ability the Orc possessed. Reading my emotion with an accuracy I had come to expect after the time we had spent together, Shmee spoke up.
I an' I hear of dis Wolfgorr, but dis be de firs' time seein' 'im. If he be everyting dey say he is, and he lookin' like he be, den he be da one ta be swingin' dat Suneater. At the mention of the sword we had recovered in Mechanar, which felt like ages ago now, I saw that the ornate black and red handle protruded from an even blacker-looking sheath at his side that matched the obviously magically enhanced set of armor he wore.
Barely fitting the rock hard frame of the green skinned behemoth, the armor was comprised of matte black solid metal plates with grayish highlighting, fitted specifically to each muscle bound part of his body. The helmet resembled a classic knight of the crusade style with the 'T' style opening in the front, but instead of a flat circular top, it sloped to each side from a crescent ridge that ran from the center of the 'T' in the front to the back edge. The bottom of the facial opening was worked into consecutive inwardly curving points to resemble a row of sharp teeth. The enchantment of the helmet had the added bonus of enhancing the red irises, inherent in Wolfgorr's entire race, so that they emitted a crimson glow like smoldering embers. Vicious blades adorned the gauntlets while short thick spikes jutted from the elbows and knuckles. Upon the shoulders sat a human-sized iron skull that pulsed with a blue aura, and the eyes burned with an eternal flame. The massive iron-spiked shield he carried was as tall and almost as wide as the Orc and completed the set perfectly.
Nodding to Leani and then to Thrall, he spoke in a deep, but surprisingly quiet voice.
"I am honored that you have chosen me to carry this weapon and use it for its intended purpose against such a powerful foe. For the Horde and all of the peoples of Azeroth and Outland, I will not fail in this task and that of protecting those with me." With that simple statement spoken, he stepped back once more with a nod of respect, and once again I was astonished at how little noise he made. His eyes found mine, and I nodded respectfully as I felt a new surge of confidence at this addition to our fight. He bowed his head slightly in return as Leani began to speak again.
"Wolfgorr will lead the rest of you over the ridge when the other two battalions are fully engaged. You are to make your way through the battle as quickly as you can, without stopping if possible, to the dais that the throne sits on. Somewhere on that rise is where we believe the Stone will be located. Once you have found and retrieved the artifact, then you may search for the Night Elf priestess. The Void Stone must be recovered above all else or all that have died here and will die there will have done so for nothing." She passed her stony gaze over all of us as she spoke this last sentence and waited for each of us to show that we understood. Radamantis stared at her for many moments before finally nodding once with a grunt of acquiescence. Once that was done, Leani sat down and Thrall stood, his expression grim.
"This battle will be the last for some that join it this day. Let us enter it with our heads high, our eyes clear, and our wills strong." He paused, and as he looked each of the assembled beings in the eye, I could feel the current of pride and determination running strong and deep through the room. Everyone seemed to sit or stand just a little straighter with a new light of resolve in each expression as he continued.
"As soon as the Alliance commanders gathered here are done relaying the accord we have come to and briefing their officers, we will assemble each group near the flight master's post. Once this is done, the flights will leave immediately. Groups one and three will leave first and group two will follow after the count of fifty heartbeats." A knock at the door interrupted the Horde leader. Knowing it would only be important news that would cause anyone to interrupt this meeting, Thrall hollered for the guard to enter. He did so immediately and strode directly to his leader; leaned in close with murmured information then left as I saw Thrall set his eyes directly on me. I could see him pondering over the information he had just learned, and before he said anything about it, he rose and adjourned the meeting, asking everyone to prepare themselves. He didn't even have to ask me to stay behind as I could see by the look that whatever it was it was for my ears only. Letting the others by, I shook hands with those I hadn't met before and told the others I would be right down to join them. After they had all left, I turned to the Orc leader, and he wasted no time.
"To which of you am I speaking?" he asked calmly.
"Dis be Marc. Shmeegun be askin' me to be here for personal reasons," I replied, trying to respect my host's feelings without disrespecting his leader.
"Reasons that I believe will be faced soon enough. I know a bit about Shmeegun, and I am as surprised as he must be about what I have been told. Would that we had more time..." He paused for a moment, looking indecisive, then sighed a determined sigh and continued. "You have until the Alliance informs us they are ready for the attack, Shmeegun."
I felt confusion from my counterpart then a sharp jolt of anxiety when Thrall spoke next.
"That will not be much time, so go reunite with your daughter. Rya awaits you outside."
The look of joyous recognition on young Rya's face was immediately followed by her flinging herself into her father's arms with a barely controlled sob. Embarrassed and feeling like I was intruding on the personal moment, I retreated as far as I could within Shmeegun's mind to give them the privacy they deserved. The mage was quick to tell me that he was proud to share this moment and that he was also glad to have me there for the emotional support as well. The shock of seeing her fully grown as she stood back changed to a helpless anger as he noticed the scars that covered most of her exposed skin. Seeing the scrutiny of her condition and the reaction it was having, Rya quickly defused the situation by telling him she would explain all of it later and was just happy that the lies she was told about his death were untrue. He smiled once more, and I felt the anger recede to be replaced by the uncertain elation of one who wasn't sure if what they were experiencing was real or not.
She definitely got the best from both of you, Shmee; beautiful, tough and smart, you just make sure we get out of this alive so you can hear that tale of hers. I spoke with all seriousness and my host responded in kind.
When I be comin' back to her, I be tellin' her my own tale, Marc. She be hearin' bout you an' dem dat come wit' you an 'bout how you be savin' us all. While I struggled with pride and awkwardness, he grabbed her once more in a tight embrace as he saw Radamantis headed our way. The look on his face said time was up and that we needed to get to the flight masters. Shmee nodded at him before he got close, and the rogue nodded back and altered his course to head in that direction himself. Releasing his hold, he gently pushed Rya to arms length and looked her over one more time before speaking quietly.
"I an' I almost not believin' you to be here, but I know dat I don' want to go." He sighed as she smiled. A tear escaped her eye and slowly slid down her cheek. "You be knowin' what be happinen'?" She nodded as her smile faded. "Den you be knowin' I have to be goin.'" She opened her mouth to say something, and he held his hand gently against it to stop her and continued. "I won' be long. I be comin' back before de sun be settin.' You be makin' somtin' to eat, an' I promise I be here to be tellin' ya how good it be." He smiled, and she choked out a laugh that became a sob. He pulled her close once more and lowered his voice. "I jus foun' you again. I not be letting anyting stop me from comin' back. Besides, I an' I got me a secret weapon." She pulled back with a confused look, and he winked before laying a hand gently on her cheek. She leaned into it and they stood silent for a moment longer before he let her go and headed to join the group assembling at the flight masters. He fought hard to contain the fear and doubt that was boiling up in him, and I knew that there was nothing I could say to make a difference, so I simply put all my effort into a burst of determined confidence. The emotional turmoil receded a little, but I could still feel the tear that made its way down his face as we mounted the Nether Ray and headed off toward our fate.