In the aftermath . . . Enjoy the final chapter!
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The king is gone, but he's not forgotten
75: Epilogue – The Winds of Northrend
"MAL'GANIS?!" Lord-Commander Arete suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. "The fools were taken in by demons yet again, and now they are destroyed!"
You don't have to sound so happy about it . . . Then Danthor remembered who he was talking to—hell, who he was surrounded by. I've spent too much time around death knights and undead.
They were standing in the Crimson Cathedral, though it didn't look as magnificent as the last time. Windows and pews were smashed, the carpet was in tatters, the altar was all but destroyed, and the white walls were smeared with blood. Setaal Darkmender's ghouls and a few death knights had cleared most of the bodies out, though, and for that Danthor was grateful.
While Jadorra, Munch, Jayde, and Danthor were busy fighting Grand Admiral Westwind—who revealed himself to be the dreadlord Mal'Ganis—Arete, Aurochs, Uzo, and Setaal were busy fighting off the rest of the Scarlet Onslaught. Setaal used her tincture to turn the Onslaught's dead into ghouls, and slowly the tide of battle turned. When the four of them emerged from the hidden hollow (with Munch and Jayde helping Danthor walk) after their fight with Mal'Ganis, they found nothing but bodies and ruin covering the entire Onslaught Harbor.
"I figured that since they went to such lengths to destroy Death's Rise, we'd take this harbor as our new base," Arete had told them when they first entered the cathedral. He was lazily sitting on the remains of the altar near the back. "It's much more spacious, don't you think?"
"I'd prefer if you burned it all," Danthor had said, "but it's not like you'll take into account a normal human warrior's opinion."
After Mal'Ganis disappeared, the "normal human warrior" could barely stand. When Munch, Jayde, and Jadorra went to help Danthor up from the floor where he had collapsed, they found him ranting and raving about stopping the "red-eyed destroyer." After he was helped to his feet and given a few minutes to rest, Danthor slowly returned to his normal self, though his wounds were still grievous.
"I'll take it into consideration," Arete said, "but this doesn't seem like too bad a place to make a major Ebon Blade stronghold. Plus, with the Shadow Vault so close, we can catch the vrykul city of Jotunheim in a pincer move."
Do what you want, Danthor wanted to say, but was suddenly caught in a dizziness spell and lurched forward uneasily. Jadorra managed to grab hold of him before he outright collapsed.
Arete studied his wounds. "You need some serious medical attention."
Danthor touched the scarred flesh on his face tentatively, and winced after the briefest of contact. The bleeding had mostly stopped, but he'd lost a lot of blood in his fight with Westwind/Mal'Ganis. Serious medical attention, to be sure, though he didn't quite trust the Knights of the Ebon Blade to deliver premium health services. "After," he eventually said. "First, we have to tell you about Westwind . . ."
They told Arete about their fight in the hidden hollow, and how Mal'Ganis had eventually slipped away. The revelation that Barean Westwind was actually a dreadlord (a nathrezim, as Mal'Ganis himself put it) made Arete burst out laughing. "I think celebrations are in order," he said after he finally calmed down. "I'd like to thank you four for your valiant victory."
And I'd like the top quarter of my ear back, Danthor thought, but held his tongue. He'd mentioned the deaths of Gahark, Claget, and Roderick, but Arete dwelled on them only for a second. They were just initiates, after all. In the end, we're just too different, Danthor decided.
"I'd love to," Danthor said, "but I think I should get that medical attention sooner rather than later." It was half true. He wanted to get away from death knights for a while, and be amongst his own kind—the living.
Arete blinked. "Of course. We're in a bit of disarray right now, but I'm sure we can summon someone up to take a look at—"
"Actually, I'd prefer to seek treatment back at Crusaders' Pinnacle." Danthor looked to see the confused faces of Arete, Jayde, Munch, and Jadorra. "It's nothing personal, I'm just eager to get back to the Argent Crusade and report on our victory."
The lord-commander nodded. "Of course. You've certainly earned that. At least let us give you some minor aid to hold you over until you get back."
Danthor nodded. That much was fine.
"I'll escort you back," Jadorra offered.
Danthor shook his head. "I remember the way back, you don't need to trouble yourself. I'll be sure to send the gryphon back when I get there."
Jadorra opened her mouth, about to speak, when Arete put his hand on her shoulder and said, "That's fine." He held his armored hand out. "I can honestly say that it's been a pleasure working with you. If only other Argent crusaders were like you, we'd probably get along better."
Danthor grasped his hand for a shake. "And you as well. Your magic-nullifying device really saved our asses."
"That was its job. Now we should probably get all your wounds checked out . . ."
As expected, Danthor's wounds required the most attention. Aside from Jayde taking a full-on clawing in the chest from Mal'Ganis, Munch and Jadorra got off relatively easy, with only a few minor wounds. Danthor settled for a makeshift bandage being put on the right side of his face and ear. It hurt, but the wound would keep. The same practice was applied to his other wounds (the worst of which being the slash across his chest he took from Westwind's enchanted rapier).
When he was deemed safe for travel, Danthor found himself standing out on the rocky shore of Onslaught Harbor, his undead gryphon loaded and ready to fly. "I can get there in a few hours if I really push it." Morning was already on them.
Jadorra, Munch, and Jayde were gathered to give him his final goodbyes. All three were likely to stay at the newly-renovated Harbor or be shipped off to the Shadow Vault—another Ebon Blade stronghold. There, they would continue in their fight against the Lich King. The fight that binds us all, he realized.
Munch held out his hand, much like Arete. When Danthor shook it, he said, "As a warrior, I respect your skill and spirit. Keep up the good fight, and you'll become a man of legends."
"But I'm sure history won't forget about our good orc friend Munch, either. What, with a name like that."
Munch laughed. Jayde offered him a hug. (Lightly, though, as both of their chests were injured.) "Take care of yourself," she told him. "Don't push yourself too hard, or you'll die. As much as I'd like to see you become a death knight, you're much better as a living human."
"You give yourself too little credit. Beneath that sharp tongue and icy magic hides a caring blood elf."
When Danthor turned to Jadorra, expecting a goodbye, she punched him.
He held his reddened left cheek. At least she didn't hit my right, he thought gratefully. She didn't hit too hard, but it was enough to get his attention. "What was that for?"
"For being such an asshole," she said in an unusually passionate voice. "You're just gonna leave like that? Are you too good for the likes of us now?" She snorted. "Deep down you're still just a Scarlet Crusader, biased as ever!"
Danthor took a step forward and put both his hands on her shoulders. "I won't deny it," he said. "Deep down I'm still prejudiced against all things undead. It's too well-ingrained inside of me."
The faces of Garomaw Grimhand, Lieutenant Sorenson, Rammius, Salanar the Horseman, Baron Rivendare, the Lich King, and yes, even Jadorra Shadowbane herself appeared before him. The same Jadorra who he was holding right now.
"I'm still prejudiced," he continued, "but I'm trying real hard not to be—to set myself right. Serving under Tirion and Darion and helping the Ebon Blade has changed my perception some, but it's hard to forget. Hard to forget all of the undead that have ruined my life."
He had tried to forget by fueling his hatred to Westwind and the Scarlet Onslaught as a whole, which helped him handle the fact that he was serving with death knights, but now that both were gone, he found the old hate and bias coming back. He let Jadorra go.
"Next time you see me, though, I'll be better. And you've helped me come a long way from where I started. For that, I truly thank you."
Jadorra closed her dull blue eyes and shook her head. "You idiot. Get out of here then. Next time don't expect me to be so understanding of your situation."
Danthor smiled and nodded. He got on his gryphon and gave the three death knights who've helped him grow one last look. "Thank you all for everything. Next time I see you, we'll be fighting the Lich King."
He took to the sky.
— — —
Highlord Tirion Fordring entered Danthor's room to find him sitting at the table, reading a book.
"Hey," Tirion said. "I've heard you're—"
"Shh!" Danthor held up a hand for a second. Then moved to close the book with a resounding slam. "Did you know that Kil'Jaeden the Deceiver, active leader of the Burning Legion, created the original Lich King from an orc shaman named Ner'Zhul?"
Tirion nodded, taking a step in and closing the door. "I should hope so. As leader of the major opposition against the Scourge, it wouldn't look too good if I didn't know my enemies."
Danthor leaned back in his chair, resting his hands behind his head. "So in the end, the Lich King was created in another failed attempt for Sargeras to take over all of Azeroth from the Twisting Nether." He grinned crookedly at the paladin. "When you put it like that, this whole thing seems kind of insignificant, huh?"
Tirion instinctively touched the hilt of his blade, Ashbringer. The weapon that gave him his namesake. "I suppose so. But that's not why I'm here . . ."
Danthor had arrived at Crusaders' Pinnacle three weeks ago, just in time to see the final stone of Justice Keep being put into place. There, he received medical attention for his wounds and delivered the good news about the destruction of the Scarlet Onslaught. He'd been actively recovering and helping the Argent Crusade wherever he could since.
Danthor stood up from his chair. He looked to be in fine form today. His chest and shoulder wounds were near recovered, and the wound on his face had healed to show a jagged, silver scar that travelled from the bridge of his nose to his diminished right ear. That had recovered too, and fortunately the cut didn't affect his hearing in the slightest. His hair was brushed back from his forehead, his beard was neat and trimmed, and he dressed every inch the crusader, with silver plate mail, a gray cloak, an Argent Crusade tabard, with his longsword at his side and battle-worn shield on his back.
"Why are you here then?"
"I've heard from both Dalfors and Father Gustav that you plan on leaving us."
Danthor sighed. "Don't worry; I'm not leaving the Argent Crusade. Just Crusaders' Pinnacle."
"I assumed as much. Can you tell me why?"
Danthor shrugged. "Just to get a different change of pace. I've stayed cooped up in here for too long, anyways. It's time for me to get back out there and make a difference in the fight against the Scourge."
"If it's a deployment you're asking for, I can assign you to a number of different places where you would be effective," Tirion said. "I hope you don't feel you've overstayed your welcome."
Danthor shook his head. "Quite the contrary. I'm afraid that if I stay here for too long, I'll get too used to not fighting. Then what good am I to anyone?"
"We could have use of your skills here," Tirion said stubbornly. "I've been thinking about staging a tournament in Icecrown and inviting the leaders of every race. On the surface it would look just like a sport, but in truth it would be a way to get the Horde and Alliance to stop fighting endlessly amongst themselves and focus on the Scourge."
Fighting really does bring people together. The thought was so humorous that Danthor couldn't help but laugh out loud. When Tirion looked at him quizzically, he said, "Sorry, it's nothing. A tournament sounds like a great idea. If you ever manage to put it together, let me know and I'll be there. But for now, I feel like I have to go."
"If that's what you wish, I won't stop you," Tirion said.
"Then you have my blessing."
"Thanks, but I'd prefer if you'd walk with me to the Vanguard for a bit. I have to say goodbye."
Tirion knew exactly what Danthor was talking about, and happily went along with him on the walk from Crusaders' Pinnacle to the Argent Vanguard. They had managed to clear out all of Scourgeholm and were in the process of purifying the land, so there was no longer any threat on the walk.
It was unusually cold that day. The winds periodically picked up and sent a chill down every living being's spine. Overhead, the clouds looked dark and heavy. Tirion imagined there would be snow tonight.
They entered the Vanguard to see almost no one. The completion of Crusaders' Pinnacle hadn't helped repopulate the Argent Crusade's first base in Icecrown. Danthor moved briskly to Lethella's grave, and Tirion waited near the graveyard entrance as the crusader kneeled and started talking.
"Hey, it's me again. I know it hasn't been too long since I last visited, but this'll be the last time you'll hear from me in a while, I'm sure. After lookin' at me with a face like this, I'll bet you'll be happy to have a break from seeing me." He touched the jagged scar on the right side of his face. "It's just the icing on the cake of all the scars I've accumulated since I began this wild and crazy journey, I suppose. It seems like I joined the Scarlet Crusade so long ago, but whenever I think about you, it makes me feel like I just saw you yesterday, when you were fearless and wanted to destroy all undead."
Danthor paused and looked up at the darkened sky.
"It's a stance that's not completely justified, mind you, but I understand your reasoning. Hell, I'm still struggling with it myself. Still, I feel no remorse when I kill any undead of the Scourge, which is why I'm going away for a little while. You'd probably do the same thing in my place, so I'm sure you'll understand . . ." He stopped, stood up. "For your sake, I won't stop fighting until the Lich King is dead. Goodbye, Lethella. I love you."
He gave her headstone one last fleeting look and turned around to face Tirion. "I hope you meant what you said," the Ashbringer said, "because it looks like the Lich King isn't giving up any time soon."
Danthor grinned. "If I didn't mean it, I wouldn't be leaving." He held his gauntleted hand out. "I want to thank you, Tirion. You helped me when I needed it most. I don't know what I'd do without you or the Argent Crusade."
Tirion gripped Danthor's hand and smiled back. "Become a sword for hire, most like." He wasn't wrong. Fighting was all Danthor knew how to do now—without it, he had little. The Argent Crusade had saved him from a fate that could've been much darker. Danthor may have been born a farmer, but he would die a warrior. "I'm glad we stumbled across you, too. Goodbye, Crusader Kurock."
"Goodbye, Highlord Fordring."
Danthor exited the Vanguard, and entered into the vast wasteland of Icecrown. The mark of the Scourge was heavy here, and Danthor meant to help lessen their influence any way he could.
As he started his long walk, Danthor pushed his gray cloak up a little closer. The wind was starting to kick up, and it was cold.
So cold . . .
Forward into the harsh lands . . .
That's it everyone! Over a year of publication and The Scarlet Story is finally finished. I'd like to thank everyone who reviewed, favorited, and followed this story through it all. Without you guys, I wouldn't have been able to make it through to the end!
Thanks, and see you later!