Between Light and Shadow

"This place is unsafe. Too many passersby."

Shalkis faded into sight next to Murag. Her eyes kept that unfocused, calm gaze, but she was nervous beneath the surface. Why did this human insist on meeting in the Throne Room of Lordaeron, of all places? The Undercity guards were just a yell away. If he did indeed show up, this could turn into a bloodbath quickly. Especially if he brought friends. Many Forsaken kill humans and ask questions later. Literally. There have been so many attempts to decapitate their queen, so an Alliance force this close to Undercity would certainly be misunderstood. Or understood perfectly. This might be just a ploy to get a strike force close to Undercity without obstructions. And why did she trust him?

The human had spoken a great deal about Medivh, the prodigal sorcerer whose plans were probably not clear to even himself. He says that he wishes to continue his work, to unite the Horde and the Alliance against the Burning Legion. But under whose rule? Him?

Still, that book the two warlocks spoke of sounded interesting. Consilium Obscura. Dark Wisdom, was the translation. If this little exercise got me closer to obtaining that book, it would serve it's purpose. Yet the book itself could just be a lure..

The Sagacious Society started arriving. Murag had spoken to them. Their interest in knowledge was shared by Shalkis. They were reasonably suspicious. Not that many had arrived so far. A couple taurens, a troll, a few curious Forsaken and an orc. The orc seemed to be blind. Those dead eyes would probably be an advantage in battle, though. Mages have ways of seeing without eyes. And the wards on his clothes hinted that he was a warlock. A glance into those eyes would probably be enough to turn his enemies into overconfident fools.

Melnerag finally arrived. Alone. And just as expected, his presence generated lots of attention. Apparently Murag had failed to inform the Sagacious Society who their allies in this strike against the Scarlets were. Melnerag assured that his allies were underway, and would be summoned outside as soon as few more of them would arrive. So we moved outside.

And still the human insisted on staying just outside the entrance. There are many places in the Glades that we would not be bothered. It's as if.. Yes, it must be. His allies are fewer than he has allowed us to understand. He needs our protection. With two of his comrades, he started the ritual of summoning. One by one, they arrive from the portal. All wearing a black tabard. The tabard of the Dark Sphere.

Yes, I had dealings with them before. Back in my days with the Empire, they had contacted us and proposed that they would lure the leadership of the Shining Strand into an ambush. The offer sounded good. Too good. An ambush for the Strand could quickly turn into an ambush by the Strand and the Dark Sphere. There had been no sightings of Strand and Dark Sphere forces, so any possible cooperation they might have had, is long gone or at least irrelevant.

Still.. The Strand had made large incrusions to the north. To zealously wipe out the Forsaken and the Scourge. And that would be the reason why the Dark Sphere arrived today and why they volunteered to betray the Shining Strand. To maintain the image that they opposed the zealots. The zealots known as the Scarlet Crusade. They were the target of today's gathering.

Melnerag's words on the previous days were sweet as sugar, flavored with truth. The Scarlet Crusade is a costly distraction, tying up forces in the Plaguelands that could be used to wipe out the Scourge. They are somewhat inconvinient to the Alliance as well, but most of their "activities" are either in Forsaken or Scourge lands. Many would not mind to see them both wiped out. But the puppetmaster of the Scarlet Crusade is the real threat. Where the orcs and the Scourge have failed, the humans might succeed. That is reason enough to cooperate with Melnerag, even if and when he has ulterior motives.

I heard reports of reinforcements to the Scarlet Monastery, the closest target. I rode out to investigate. Sure enough, there was a group of humans and dwarves, blocking the way to the Monastery. They all wore a white tabard with a golden cross. I rode back and reported this fact to the main group.

"Holy Lightbringers..", was Melnerag's reply.

According to him, they were not unlike the Scarlet Crusaders. Indeed, many of them were former members. Blinded by the Light, he called them. We rode to meet them.

There they were, right outside the garden. A barrier of steel and flesh. Melnerag apparently wanted to speak to them, but I was not as hopeful as he is. But something was wrong.. The Sphere. They had stayed behind, and were summoning more. Were they betraying us so soon? Sandwiching us between enemy forces? My suspicions were unfounded, for now. They walked up to us after summoning a few more of their kin.

Melnerag and the kin of Trollbane walked up to them to discuss something. I had little hope that they would succeed: They were already here, and religious zealots are not the type that will consider their opponents' viewpoints carefully and form informed opinions. No, they would fight. Calm voices were becoming heated. Courtesies these humans were so fond of were skipped. Threats were made. And then.. swords were drawn. Finally.

There were more of us, but I was not certain that the Sphere would fight. The fight had to be short. The orc warlock had raised his hand. Death and destruction were only seconds away. I had to finish this quickly. I teleported behind the Lightbringers and unleashed my ice. The others took advantage of the confusion we created among their ranks and charged in. These "protectors" of the Light lasted only a few seconds. We proceeded to assault the exposed Monastery. They were no match for us. Melnerag was running out on the front, barking orders. Yes, we did know how to kill humans. They would display recklessness at first, but run after their folly became all too apparent. We cut our way to the monastery, and continued to the gardens. Some of the Sphere had regained their enthusiasm and were at the front lines, but.. this elf, accompanied by a wolf as black as charred wood, stayed behind. He calmly oversaw the battle, only occassionally finishing off runners with well-aimed shots. He did not have to say anything, the Sphere seemed to know what to do from his gaze alone. With the forces of the Monastery depleted and the Lightbringers again lying on the ground, we started riding towards the Plaguelands and our next target. Hearthglen.

The main group had rided on, but I stayed behind at the Bulwark for the moment. A young troll clothed in white had tagged along with us to the Monastery, but she was not strong enough for the Plaguelands. She was speaking to a priest about something.

Horses, I heard horses. I took my trusty spyglass from my backpack and lifted it to my eye. Riding along the road was the Lightbringers. How did they recover so quickly? The main force was probably past the farms, and here I was, with a troll, a priest and a bunch of armor-plated zealots. The priest could handle himself for a moment. The troll wouldn't. I did not know what I was thinking. I summoned a portal for the troll so she could escape. Then they came. The troll had reached the safety of Orgrimmar, but I was still in harm's way. I had to delay them and warn the main group. They charged.

The priest was cut down faster than he should have, and I was next. The eyes of the zealots spoke of their contempt for my kind. To them, I was just another savage troll to cut down. They were mistaken, of course. I could not afford to die here. My task is still incomplete. Their swords stopped just inches away from my face. Frost raced over the blades and spread into their arms. I ducked to avoid the next blows and touched the ground. They were disarmed and immobilized. I could feel a a gush of cool, pure air behind me. I released it. The razor-sharp shards of ice pierced their platemails like paper. Someone put too much weight on his frozen leg, and he fell down, with the remains of his foot still sticking from the frozen ground. I did not wait for him to notice what had happened. I turned my back on the second wave of swords and blinked, a moment too late.

A short distance away, I blew into my whistle. Windclaw raced towards me from the woods. He was agitated. The wildlife here was not edible, and he knew it. I heard yells from behind me. I needed to reach the main group and warn them. I climbed on Windclaw's back and rode forwards, towards Hearthglen. The criss-cross of wounds on my back ached, but it was not intolerable. I took out my tabard from my backpack. It would cover the wounds for now. They would heal on their own.

The heavy armor of my pursuers slowed them down. I reached the main group easily. Melnerag was making yet another speech, with Murag on his side, translating it to the Horde. The Society was still suspicious, and not without reason. While Hearthglen is indeed an equal threat to the Horde, the Forsaken and the Scourge, many still considered it just an another human outpost. The elf leading the Sphere, and several others who were probably high-ranking members, appeared disinterested. They had probably heard all these pretty words before. And judging from their slight smirks, they did not believe in them this time, either. Why were they.. Shalkis' train of thought was interrupted by a thundering sound of horses. Lightbringers had caught up to them.

The fight was shorter than the last time. Their efforts were futile, even with the Scarlets attempting to take advantage of the situation, the zealots were cut down one by one. Melnerag insisted that their leader, the one called as Maelmoor, was left standing. Melnerag, Murag and the kin of Trollbane questioned him, trying to convince him. I asked a few pointed questions as well. Perhaps the truth could come crashing down on this one. I knew what festered in Stratholme, but did he? I asked him about Saiden Dathroran, the leader of the Scarlet Crusade. He knew about Dathroran. I asked whether he knows about his master. To my astonishment, he did. And still protected the Crusade. This was quite interesting. A human that wielded the Light, yet still took orders from a demon willingly. Earlier I had thought that the demon hid his presence from the Crusaders. Now I understood that he had no need to. All they had to do is to present a nice face to the Alliance to be allowed to do anything. At least one part of Melnerag's musings ringed true. The Light, at least for them, was just a club to keep the local populace in check. It was like any other power, a tool to gain more power. No matter where that power came from.

Encouraged by yet another easy victory, the main group, led by Melnerag, charged up the hill towards Hearthglen. Yet the ones who must be the leaders of the Dark Sphere, stayed behind and calmly walked towards Hearthglen. Now Shalkis understood. This was just a ruse. A delicate ploy giving the appearance of support without actually wasting resources to do it. Shalkis suppressed the urge to smile.

Even though spiders occassionally cooperated to make bigger webs, they still fought for the prey. This was becoming more and more interesting in several ways. On the surface, there was the fight against the Scarlets. There was the Concilium Obscura. There was also a desire to draw out more information about the Alliance from the sweet-talking warlock. That information would benefit the Dawn, dividing their opponents and making them too weak to resist focused strikes. And lastly, there was the Sphere. They were manouvering to assume the puppet master's position. To use this event to maintain and strengthen their mask among the Alliance. And perhaps.. to manipulate Melnerag himself. But he was not as stupid as he looked. Yes, this was becoming quite interesting.

Yells broke my thoughts once again. The main force had reached the gates, and was fighting with the guards. I joined them. Keeping an enthusiastic face was still required at this point. I did not have the book yet. But.. the Sagacious Society was becoming suspicious as well, and declared that this was more about Alliance politics than for mutual benefit. They were right of course, but they did not see any personal benefit to continue further. Melnerag spoked to them, and asked them to stay just for a while longer. We were already near the keep. When the lord of this town, Taelan Fordring was cut down, we would be done. At least that's what he said. I knew his father. I knew that he was trying to convince his son to forsake the Scarlet Crusade. A true believer, unlike Melnerag, Murag, myself, the Dark Sphere or even Maelmoor, would indeed be difficult to manipulate. Targeting Taelan made perfect sense for Melnerag. He always spoke of shades of grey, of nothing being inherently evil or inherently good. Removing anything that might convince the populace otherwise was the smart thing to do. He had much wisdom in those words, but I had found out that it is indeed possible to work with some believers.

Their unshaken minds make them fairly predicable. One they are prodded into one direction, they do not waver, quit or turn. Their actions and reactions can be predicted easily. This was something the human had failed to learn. No matter. Time to finish this little play.

We stormed the keep..

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