One by one, they all left. To fight, to celebrate. I didn't care where. The temple was empty. The Soulflayer slain. But my task was not yet finished. The great gemstone known as the Heart of Hakkar lied on the ground next to the lifeless body of the great serpent. The deep red color of the gemstone seemed deeper, almost.. pulsing. Beating. It did not feel cold as stones usually are, but.. warm. Soft. Like velvet.
It feels so soft, almost.. unreal. If I push just a little bit.."
"No! Do not join us!"
What? Who was that?
"No! Do not listen!"
No, no! What was I doing?! Get off me! I.. I can't touch the Heart with my bloody hands. And the mist.. I have to get it out of here. Otherwise he'll wake again. Clothes. Wrap it in clothes, yes. I'll fetch the clothes from the dead trolls downstairs.
After some work, the heart was wrapped in a few robes.
Now I'll just need to get it out of here. One.. two.. and three! Sheesh, it's heavy.
"Too heavy for you."
"Put us down."
"You can do it!"
"Put your back to it, filthy troll."
"It's your fault!"
"PUT ME DOWN."
"GIVE YOURSELF TO ME, SLAVE."
"I told you it's too heavy."
"Give it up."
"Surrender your blood to Him."
They are right. The Heart.. is too heavy. I should've asked one of the taurens.. I'll just rest for a bit..
"No! Keep going!"
"You'll have to get out before more come."
"The newcomers will get a chance to prove themselves."
"She won't stand a chance."
"Give it up."
Yes.. I must.. I must go on. Pull.. Yes, I'll pull it.
Moments later, I am dragging the heart along the pathways of the empty city. It has not rained the whole day, and the corpses are starting to stink. The voices.. have quieted down. My wounds.. are closing. But this is taking too long. The sun is already setting. The city.. looks beautiful.
"You deserve your rest."
"No! Keep moving!"
"Lazy troll! Get on it!"
Just for a few.. no! Another of their tricks. But I'm smarter. I am. Hehe.
It will end today! Do you hear! ..end today! ..hear!
The gates..The gates.. I need to get out.. before they come. Out, yes. Into the jungle, yes. To Yojamba, yes. A surprise for them. Haha. A big surprise. Hahaha.
The dead.. stay out of my way. Away, away from the gates. Into the jungle. Sounds. Watched. I reek. Blood. Of course. Hehe. Come. Good. Hungry. So am I.
"What was that? You two, check it out."
"What is it, private?"
"Looks like a troll, sir. It's eating a tiger. Raw."
"I am not interested in it's dietary practices, private. Trolls don't hunt alone. Keep looking."
"It seems wounded. I think it's alone, sir."
"I'll be the judge of that. Now, move in from both sides. No sound."
Careless. Humans. Pinned. Bleeding.
"Good work, men. Now what do we have here?"
"Oh, a spirited one. Keep it restrained. Maybe we can use it for fun. Or target practice."
"What's that, troll? Answer me!"
Haha. Human points at the heart. Human wants to know.
"I think it's laughing, sir."
"Not for long."
"Now let's see.. By Faol! This ruby is huge!"
"Oh, wow. We're rich."
"Captain, should we report this to the Colonel?"
"What's there to report? We just found a troll. It's not a strange thing to encounter in Stranglethorn. Isn't that right, private?"
"Yes, sir. Just a troll, sir. Nothing special to report, sir."
"Good. Now pick it up and let's go back and hide this. I know a gemcutter that won't ask too many questions. Get the troll, too."
Morning. Ow, my head..
"No, get up now!"
"There's no time!"
The Heart.. The Heart! Where? Exposed.. But who..
"No, Cover it quickly!"
Heart.. dangerous.. clothes..
"Now move! The river is not far away."
"Let us out!"
The human, but how..
"You tricked us!"
Haha. Humans were too nosy. They're doomed now.
"Move! There'll be more soon!"
The river. Must move before.. more..
Cooler. Yes. Stink less. Easier to move.
Go see dwarves. Dwarves can help.
"No, stay away from them!"
"Yes, lure more!"
"More for Him."
"Go see the dwarves, puppet."
"Yes, the dwarves are your friends. They know much about gems."
"Show them this big gem you've found."
No.. gem not for dwarves. Zandalar. Yes. Smart trolls. Know what to do.
A few hours later..
Water. Close. Island.
"You can swim. Go on."
"Just a short way to go."
"No, put on the helmet first."
"Nothing to it."
"You're a good swimmer."
"The Heart will pull you beneath the surface."
What Heart? My heart?
"No, the Heart of Hakkar."
"Put on the helmet or you'll drown. They'll find it and bring it back."
Drown bad. Gem. Heart. To smart trolls. So tired.
Voices right. Gem is heavy. Helmet is heavy. Walking is tiring. Rest.
"No, keep going."
"Just up to the shore and you're done."
Demanding voices. I want to sleep.
"Sleep at the island. The island has nice beds."
Beds. Sand. Island.
"Hey, who's that?"
"It looks like a troll, but what's with that helmet?"
"I think she walked here."
"Hey! Get the witch doctor, quickly!"
"Get that diving helmet off, you fools!"
"Oh, hello there. What brings you to our island?"
Smart trolls know.. know.. gem.
"Hey bossman, is this what I think it is?"
"She.. she brought the Heart.."
"You might not remember me, but I'm Molthor. You've done good."
Spider.. told me.. to bring gem.. to smart trolls..
"Yes, she did. You mentioned serving the Venom Queen the last time you were here."
"Yes. She's proud of you. Now come, there's one last thing to do. You, carry her."
"Begin the ritual, my servants. We must banish the heart of Hakkar back into the void!"
"Save the Heart!"
"We'll find you."
"We won't forget."
"What are you doing, troll?"
"STOP THEM, SLAVE."
"KILL THEM ALL."
"RIP THEIR THROATS OUT."
"RETURN MY HEART."
Haha. Flayer.. desperate. Hahaha. Shadra. Yes. I serve Her. Scream and shout, Soulflayer.
"YOU ARE MINE. I WILL.."
Hahahaha. You will what? Go away.
Hahahahaha. Byebye now. Boom. Darkness.
"Well done, child."
Finally, the Temple of Blood. To even stand here has required many sacrifices. Sacrifices of body, of mind and of spirit. I have listened to countless stories of defeats against Hakkar. How Hakkar has literally sucked the blood out of entire armies. Even the coagulated blood inside the veins of a Forsaken. While he is called the Soulflayer, his real source of power is blood. Blood shed in altars and blood shed in combat.
The spirits of the Aspects are watching. Shadra, Hir'eek, Shirvallah, Bethekk and Ula-tek. They are waiting for their chance to escape Hakkar for good. Even without their power, Hakkar is impossible to defeat. Almost impossible, that is.
The solution presented itself in old Hakkari texts I recovered from the Sunken Temple. Those scrolls detailed the preparations for sacrifices to Hakkar. One tiny detail caught my attention. Even the most devoted Hakkarites had to go through a purification ritual, even when they have been preparing themselves for years. Why? Surely the Hakkarites would have been ready to be sacrificed from the moment they drank the corrupted blood.. Unless..
To confirm my suspicions, I had to hunt Hakkarites and sky serpents alike and collect their bodily fluids. With the help of the Apotecharies, the true nature of the Corrupted Blood was finally revealed. It is a parasite, but it is also highly toxic. This poison prevents the victim from fighting it. And the parasite takes control of the victim. Further studies revealed that the poison is quite deadly in large doses. This satisfied I disagreeociates, and they were busily distributing orders to the Deathstalkers to acquire more of this poison. I had other uses for this knowledge.
Armed with it, I had arrived to the summit of the temple. The plan had been explained to everyone beforehand. It must have sounded insane at first. Indeed, if the trolls of the Empire heard of this plan, they would have considered it to be the final proof of my madness. The final proof of my corruption. And they would not have been far from the truth.
But these. These Orcs, Tauren, Forsaken and Trolls were.. more open to new ideas. It was time to see whether it worked. We charged the Blood God.
"PRIDE HERALDS THE DOOM OF THIS WORLD! COME AND FACE THE WRATH OF THE SOULFLAYER!"
He towered over our puny figures and swung his armblades at us. The warriors barely could keep their stature when the huge scythe-like blades clanged against their shields. They tried to avoid looking up into Hakkar's eyes with little success. But Hakkar's voice seemed to come from everywhere. One by one, they stopped fighting and looked up. Then they charged at us, their allies. And one by one, we carefully purged Hakkar's control over them.
"Bring the serpent!"
It was time. This would show whether the plan was brilliant or suicidal. The difference can be vague at best. One of the hunters brought up a sky serpent and sliced it's throat. The serpent flayed in the air for a few seconds, spreading it's blood to a fine mist on the air.
By now, I think everyone had second thoughts. But we had no time for those. We all breathed deeply in the toxic mist. The poison colored our veins in a sickly green hue. Life was seeping out of us. And then..
I was overwhelmed by pain. My skin felt like it was pierced by thousand spears. It's as if my blood was forcing it's way out of me. I tried to look at my hands. Hakkar was literally calling our blood to him. And it obeyed. Then it stopped.
Our warriors returned to the fray. My robe was drenched with my own blood. But.. I did not feel the poison in me. I looked at Hakkar. He was fighting furiously, but on his skin, I could see his veins. Stained in sickly green. It's working! He is not immune to his own poison!
"Fight! The Blood God is weakened! The nightmare of a thousand years ends today!"
With newfound enthusiasm, we rejoined the fight. Hakkar flayed around with his armblades, trying to cleave us into two. His voice boomed over the valley. But despite his attempts at mind control, we stayed focused on the battle. So he tried to replenish his strength from us. But we were ready.
Still, it was not without cost. We too were exhausted. It was up to mere willpower now. Who would fall first? Our movements were becoming sluggish. Hakkar saw this, and disemboweled one of our comrades. And an another. And an another. And now he turned towards the rest of us..
Fortunately, the hunters were vigilant. We ran into the poison cloud just in time, for the drain struck us immediately aftewards.
Pain. Unimaginable pain. My own blood... dripping from my hands. Keep the blood in. Bandages.. I cannot die now. Keep the warriors.. up.. Keep firing.. Just a few more drains..
Keep firing.. Keep firing.. Another.. serpent.. Poison.. drain..
One more.. He.. turns at me! Don't.. look.. into the eyes. Aargh! My blood.. feels like.. exploding in my veins! Another serpent... Last drain.. Too much for me. Shadra, help me. Shadra, please help me. Help me..
Then it happens. I feel the soothing cold coursing through my veins. My eyes freeze over and the Blood God strikes something even he cannot penetrate. So calm. He looks exhausted. Now it's my turn.
"For Shadra! For the Aspects!"
And then it's over. The Blood God. The Soulflayer. The Faceless. Hakkar is slain. My sight fades. I hear voices. Bestial, yet gentle. They speak in unison.
"However, she cannot fulfill your wish".
"I do not wish to be captured again."
"It is too dangerous to inhabit the mortals' bodies."
"There will be no more Aspects."
"We will watch over you, child."
"There is one more task."
"Finish the job."
"Rip out the heart."
And then the voices fade. They.. do not want me. I had prepared myself in vain. Yet I will obey. My task is done. She can deal with the rest.
"Is it dead?"
"No. It's an ice troll. It's supposed to be blue."
"Just leave it. The gnomes will soon figure out what they are missing."
"Those forgetful midgets? We could haul off the whole Gnomeregan piece by piece as long as we took the blinking parts last. Besides, I smell a business opportunity here."
"With that troll? It's too young to be a bodyguard."
"Take a look at these fingers. Perfect for assembly. Aand.. it's a female troll. Once she grows up, she could be useful in the inn. Some of our customers prefer exotic barmaids."
"It'll need food."
"And it'll pay for it with work. With interest, it will take years to pay off the fee for the rescue alone."
"So it'll serve as a slave?"
"That's such a rude word. She'll be an employee. Yes, an employee. This is just business."
"What's that smell? Ugh.. Look at this arm! It's damaged goods!"
"It's a troll. It'll heal."
"It better. Looking at that would scare customers. If this business of yours interferes with my business.."
"I will deal with it myself before it happens."
"You better. Now put it into the caravan and let's get moving."
What? Where am I? I know this place. The Altar of Blood. So, it worked. The Vessel succeeded. Yet.. I do not feel Shadra within me. Why? WHY?!
"Do not grief, child. We will watch over you. You know it's too dangerous."
Yes, I know. It makes sense. But still, I waited, prepared myself. I let the Vessel take over. I..
"Do not despair. This is a great victory."
"Now, make it complete."
"Rip it out."
"Destroy the heart."
I take out my dagger and cut through the tendons one at a time. The gemstone is as big as my chest. When I cut the last tendon, it rolls to the floor. I touch it. Voices. So many. Whispering. Screaming. Congratulating. Cursing. Shouting. His victims. His sacrificed followers. All here. Just waiting to be devoured. The Voice. The Voice! He is here as well!
"What's that troll doing?"
"Trying to lift that part of the big snakey thing."
"Oi! Do you need help?"
YesNo Thanks. I will be BLOODkill just fine. I'll just HELPME deliver this to the ZandalarBetrayers. I can carryCRUSHED it. Don't DESPAIRworry.
Ashenvale. The forest was certainly starting to deserve it's name. So many wars had been fought here. It was a miracle that it didn't resemble the Charred Vale or the Blasted Lands already. Warcaller Viccus had assembled many groups for this operation. The Empire, the Cult of the Void, Orcs of the Red Blade and.. Mistrunners.
Apparently the taurens had enough of the partisan attacks that Harbringer Nagur had mentioned. Their patience had been backfiring on them. When the enemies know that he Mistrunners will not retaliate nor use excessive force, they become bolder and exploit any sign of weakness they detect. Even mercy. Especially mercy. Not a day goes by without someone butchering the inexperienced taurens at Bloodhoof Village. Not a day goes by without the murderer being captured and cast out, only to have him return immediately.
The Empire's presence was a bit troubling, for there was no love lost between the Empire, the Dawn and the Mistrunners. I had my own disagreements with the Empire, and they had been making some provocative demands towards the Mistrunners as well. And as expected, I was immediately confronted by several of them. Judging from their slurred speech, they were drunk and thus deserved no more of my attention.
However, the Cult of the Void's presence was unusual. There had been some attempts at diplomacy and mutual operations, but those were less successful as they have should be. In any case, they definitely had their own agenda in play as well. They were well-known of their tactics, which placed little emphasis on survival. Either they had seen the Void one time too many or one time too less. I could not tell which one it was. The Void will pull everything in eventually. There is no need to either seek it or run from it, because both are equally futile.
The Warcaller discussed some details with his counterparts, and then gave the order to move out. We rode out from Splintertree. The main group would continue to Raynewood, Silverwing Refuge, Astranaar and eventually towards Auberdine. However, the Warcaller led his team away from the road, accompanied by the Voidies. There were a significant number of warlocks with us. And I recognised the side road. We continued to the moonwell, where the warlocks started to work. But why?
The moonwells were a known source of power for the Kaldorei. My previous studies, aided by the consultation of the Apotecharies of Undercity had revealed that each well contained a small amount of water from the Well of Eternity. The Well's corrupting powers were well-known. One of the effects was regeneration at the cost of lifespan. Formerly, the elves had little to worry about this side effect, but now they were mortal as well. But why were the warlocks suddenly so interested in them? Surely it would be redundant to corrupt something that's already inherently corrupted?
My train of thought was interrupted. Our scouts had spotted the Starseeker squadron heading our way, towards the main entrance to the well. A frontal attack.. was simply a disappointing tactical choice. We had the firepower to defend our warlocks, so they needed tactical advantage. Their folly would become obvious to them soon enough.
Their first inpatient scouts were taken care of without any effort. Their main group walked straight into the trap. Their leader was isolated and slain in seconds, and their main group was rounded up and wiped out with concentrated fire. Free of any distractions, the warlocks finished their work. Out from the well, a being of stone and sickly green fire arose. An Infernal. Interesting. I knew that the Well of Eternity was used in the first demonic summonings, but apparently even a small amount of this water is enough for a demon to slip through. The beast was brought out of the well and eventually turned into harmless rubble.
During the travel, I asked the warlock in charge, an orc called Taerak about the incantantions they had performed. He explained that the wells were a source of power and healing to the Kaldorei. But for some reason, he thought that the elves were still immortal. He was seemingly unaware of the true source of the elves' immortality. The wells indeed did mend their wounds, but the only reason they were able to use them without ill effects was their immortality. But it was not the source of it. We trolls regenerate and thus have the potential to live long, but there are limits. The few lucky ones have the grace of dying of old age. But the most common cause of death among the trolls still remains good old-fashioned violence. But I digress.
The real source of the immortality was Nozdormu the Timeless One. He had blessed Nordrassil when it was created, granting the elves immortality so they could guard the Well of Eternity under it as long as it was required. But after Nordrassil was damaged by the Battle of Mount Hyjal, it no longer could provide this blessing to the Kaldorei. Fandral Staghelm, the current Archdruid, seemed unaware that the tree itself did not grant the immortality. He set out to grow an another tree, Teldrassil. In their collective wisdom, Malfurion Stormrage and the four remaining Aspects saw the obvious selfishness of this act. Despite Malfurion's pleadings, Staghelm was adamant. The loss of his son during the War of the Shifting Sands had made him distrustful, even vengeful against the Dragonflights. Even if Nozdormu had offered to bless the new tree, Staghelm would probably have rejected the offer in his pride.
We arrived at the second well. However, this time we were not disturbed. The Starseekers were nowhere to be seen, and the warlocks were allowed to work in peace. Their rituals were successful, and yet another rift was opened. Apparently any moonwell could be used as a portal. After all, they all contain the water of the Well of Eternity. After the rituals were done, we waited. There was an another group in Teldrassil working on a different kind of a rift. They were preparing to summon something more dangerous than an Infernal. Us.
As usual, the defenders were nowhere to be seen. We continued to the next moonwell unopposed. The guardian of the well was easily disposed of, and the warlocks started their ritual. But this time, the rift was stabilized using a special Draenethyst crystal. And suddenly it seemed so clear. The rift was too small for anything to pass through, but it was stable. This is why the mutated Draenei hunt for the crystals in the Blasted Lands. They may be driven insane from being torn from their homeworld, but there is a method in their madness. These crystals are the key to portal travel. Something that began as a simple defilement had produced highly interesting results. The Magus had once mastered the use of the crystals, but the knowledge was lost. Now it was slowly being rediscovered.
Satisfied with the results, Warcaller Viccus decided that there was no need to visit the other moonwells. He had an another target in mind. We had smuggled a small army into Teldrassil without anyone knowing about it. It was time to press the advantage. We rode straight through the abandoned gates of Darnassus and through the Craftsmen's Terrace. Towards Staghelm. Unfortunately, someone was watching. We had barely finished regrouping when they started to flock at us. Elves, humans, dwarves and gnomes. All wearing the tabard of the Alliance Watch. We fought. We killed. We kept killing. But more came. And more. And more. Unable to stem the tide, our lines buckled.
Once they had left, the Forsaken priests pulled themselves back up from the ground. They reattached their torn limbs and mended their shattered bones. Then they resurrected the rest of us. Staghelm would live for now. We had accomplished more than we set out to do already. We opened the portals back to Orgrimmar and from there we flew to Zoram'Gar and rode to rejoin the others. It was best to keep the gained knowledge limited for now. Near-successes in magic are always more catastrophic than complete failures. They were safer not knowing what we do.
We caught up to them near Auberdine. Their numbers had shrunk, and only a smaller group remained. Our arrival would boost their morale, to make sure that they would be.. available for future operations. But we were not the only reinforcements that had arrived. The boat from Ruth'eran Village had arrived, and our scouts reported massive numbers. It was time to end this charade. The day was done, and there was no need to let them give any reason to think that we had other motives than death of Staghelm today. We charged towards the flood..
"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..
"It is unusual to see so many of the Empire here.", said Shalkis.
The four trolls on their raptors stared at her, and blocked the entrance to Everlook. The snow under their raptors' paws was slowly melting. The animals had been ridden hard recently.
"Humm...Well..Oi Shalkis...How are we today?...", said the masked figure. A priest, from the looks of him. The voice belonged to Zepe, a witchdoctor of the Second Gurubashi Empire. The other three were unmasked, and their warm breaths formed small clouds in the air. She knew most of them. On Zepe's sides stood Umkankik, the legendary berserker, the chosen of Shirvallah the Tiger God. On his other side stood Keljin and Mashu, acclaimed hunters of the Empire.
"As well as can be expected. Why am I "honored" by such a presence?", Shalkis asked the trolls. Her voice was as cold as the snowy peaks, and her face was hidden by the veil, as usual. Her eyes wandered lazily, looking at each of the trolls, one by one.
On Shalkis' feet, Slayrith the spider nudged on Shalkis' robe. She glanced at the spider and nodded slightly. Slayrith skittered away towards the inn.
As by a common agreement, the four trolls grinned and dismounted.
"Well.. Ya know da Empire don't take lighleh on deserters.. Ya fool!"
The four trolls lunged at Shalkis, their weapons drawn.
Shalkis held her left arm towards the attackers while taking out a carefully carved whistle from her pocket with her right hand.
"I think not."
The four trolls' weapons were stopped inches away from Shalkis. Frost creeped along the weapons, racing towards the hilts. The ice barrier gave her enough time to blow on the whistle. A roar was heard from outside. Windclaw, Shalkis' trusty raptor, ran through the trolls, knocking them over. Shalkis grabbed the reins and climbed on her raptor's back. There was no need for words. He understood what the mistress wanted. He turned around, took a few running steps and jumped over the dazed trolls.
Zepe was the first to get back on his feet. "Get her!"
Windclaw was puzzled. Mistress wanted him to run again, but away from prey. And why did she want him to run slower than usual? The tusked ones were making some sounds far away, and Mistress made some sounds as well. Then Windclaw understood. Mistress smart. Mistress lured tusked ones away from pack of small green ones. Few easier to kill than many. But why Mistress wanted to go to towards stinking valley? Best not to worry. Mistress knows best. Bah, slippery thing! Why does Mistress want to go past this? Ah, now she wants to go that way. Big furry things live here. Maybe if Windclaw be nice, Mistress lets Windclaw eat. Yes! Now she lets me go hunt furry ones. Windclaw will come back when Mistress done with tusked ones.
The voices of the pursuers grew more and more angry. This was working well. Once she had let Windclaw go, she walked calmly towards the cliff. A dwarf's tomb lay here, tormented by the elements. Soon the dwarf would have company. She turned around, knelt and bowed her head.
She heard them approach, accompanied by growls. Despite their skill as hunters, the dire bears were apparently a match for them. She stayed still. The prey would reach the bait soon. She went over the illusion spell once more. It had done it's job.
"Any last words?", she said, still keeping her head down.
"Today it will not be me falling.", replied Keljin, confident as ever.
Keljin growled at Shalkis. She smiled behind her veil, and slowly removed it. She uttered the last words of the incantation, dispelling the illusion. The blue colors of her robes seemed to flow to the ground like wet paint, revealing her true attire. A robe in the color of ash and cold nights. Her staff, crackling with newfound power, revealed itself. She stood up, letting the last drops of the illusion flow away. She was ready.
"Shalkis! In da name o' da Emparor!", bellowed Zepe.
"Who are you to speak for Him?"[/i}, snapped Shalkis back.
[i]"Silent!", growled Umkankik.
"Ya 'ave been sentenced te death fer yer treachery!", Zepe continued.
"You may try.", she replied.
The four trolls were all now facing her. Some of them had claw marks on them. The bears obviously had caused some trouble for them.
Mashu growled at Shalkis.
"You.", she said, and pointed at Mashu. "You will fall first."
"Now...Dis be da last stand o' da great frost wizard..", Zepe proclaimed and grinned.
"Boys! Kill her!"
"You are not only a traitor to the Empire but also a heretic to Dambalah!", Keljin yelled.
"Cut her head straight off, brodda!"
Mashu lunged at Shalkis, his weapon already colored crimson from the blood of the bears. He swinged at Shalkis, but struck only thin air. He almost lost his balance, expecting there to be troll flesh to stop his blade. A giggle was heard from behind the trolls.
"We wouldn't want any of you to fall, now would we?", she teased. Umkankik ran after her.
"Ya tink ya can outrun us?", bellowed the berserker. He swinged with both of his fiery blades, but had no more success than Mashu. An ice giant in the glanced up at the furious troll, expecting him to fall. She was once again behind them.
"Outrun you? Why?"
Mashu had regained his footing, and swung once again at Shalkis. She avoided the bloody blade and slowly walked backwards towards the edge. She waited for an another swing, ducked and touched the ground.
Like a wave, the snow erupted from her. Mashu felt his feet being frozen into the ground. She was again behind him. The gusts of wind on the ledge flowed towards her, and then exploded towards Mashu. The razor-sharp ice shards tore through his armor, piercing his lung. He had to get loose, and fast. He started to hack away at the ice holding him helpless, but he had little time. Frost was already forming on her hands. He tried to swing at her legs instead, but she was just out of reach. The frostbolt hit him right on his chest. His wounds were frozen shut. The ice inside his wounds was too much, and he slumped over, his legs still frozen.
"Keel her! NOW!", Umkankik roared. Shalkis calmly turned her head toward the raging berserker, and pointed towards him.
"Heck! Kill her! Kill her!", shouted Zepe.
"Gah! Kik be next and will finish da job!", Umkankik spoke with determination. "Time ta die, sista."
"For one of us, yes."
"Got any smart stuff ta say before ya do?", he replied.
Shalkis began incanting ancient words, but Kik knew what she was doing. With a roar, he cut his own arms with his flaming blades. The pain would remind him what he was. Shalkis finished the incantation, but it did not have the intended effect. A furious troll still stood before Shalkis, not a ruminant. The berserker's eyes were blazing. Hers were as cool as the air.
"Catch me if you can."
Shalkis casted a frostbolt, but Umkankik barely noticed it hitting his shoulder. The berserker lunged at Shalkis. He caught her off-guard, and his blade sunk into Shalkis' right arm. As soon as the blade hit, frost extingushed the flame momentarily and raced along the blade and along the berserker's arm, all the way towards his legs.
She heard a snarl behind her. Zepe. The pain hit her instantly. Every sinew of her cried in agony. The berserker had already melted his legs with his other sword, and closed on her in a veritable whirlwind of blades. Shalkis closed her eyes and focused.
The tornado of metal did not reach her.. A thick shell of ice protected her. Inside, she opened her eyes. The berserker in front of her continued hacking on the ice with his burning blades, but inside the ice, there was no sound. She had a moment for herself. The troll with his blazing rage was not easily frozen. Blazing? Perhaps..
The next blow shattered the crystal-clear ice, but the blades did not hit flesh. She was back at the ledge. The berserker raced towards her, but failed to notice that the winds had died down. For a moment.
The freezing winds erupted from her hands. The berserker was pushed back momentarily, but his burning rage would not be quenched this easily. He leaned against the wind and with sturdy steps, inched his way closer to her. But suddenly the wind stopped, and flickers of flame danced in her fingertrips. The column of fire engulfed the berserker, who uttered one final roar and fell to the snow, still smoldering.
She barely dodged the spear aimed at her skull. The chosen of Bethlekk finally saw his chance. She took one step backwards on the ledge, and again touched the ground.. The frost crept up Keljin's legs. The winds died down again.
Zepe saw this move coming. Just as the razor-sharp shards were about to hit the careless hunter, a glimmering shield appeared around him. It flashed violently, trying to hold. The onslaught of wind and ice finally tore it down, but the hunter was unharmed and hacking away at the ice. Shalkis was already within safe distance. She held her arms up towards the sky.
"Bow down and despair, for Mother North comes for you!"
Keljin heard a crackling sound from the mountaintops. He looked up. massive blocks of ice were falling straight towards him. The onslaught forced him to his knees. He would not last long.
Thoughts of torment and death filled her mind. Zepe grinned. Her concentration was broken, and the onslaught on Keljin stopped. His grin was quickly wiped off his face when her eyes snapped back at him.
"This is not over yet!"
Zepe was not as familiar with the mages' tricks as the berserker, and failed to recognize the incantation in time. He found himself on all fours, with a strange urge for fresh grass. She looked back at Keljin, who had managed to lift himself up, using his spear as a support. Shalkis took out a small box from her pocket. She pressed the button on it.
"Come, my creation!"
An unnatural screech echoed in the valley behind them. Something whirred into life at a nearby snowbank, and two ruby-red eyes shone through the snow. The mechanical beast shrugged the snow off him and in a cacophony of squealing servos and whirring machinery, lifted itself up in the air.
She pointed at Keljin. The eyes of the metallic beast flashed, and it headed straight for the wounded hunter. A sharp pain tore through her legs. Betherrar, Keljin's panther. She turned toward the animal and touched the ground. The poor beast was frozen in mid-action, and never had the chance to avoid the whirlwind if ice shards. It's own blood colored it's fur crimson, and with a weak roar, the animal succumbed to the cold.
"You.. did.. well.."
Shalkis fell on her knee. She was breathing heavily. Just one more enemy to go.. The wounds on her arm and legs still bleeded, and her vision began to blur. She heard a groan from behind her. She forced herself to stand up. Zepe. The stage is ready for the final act.
"I'll get ya..", he said and let out a hacking cough.
The priest was not faring too well, either. After the hunter fell, the mechanical beast had done quite a job on the Zepe. His robe was frayed on several places, and a crimson stain was spreading on his abdomen. He lifted his staff, ready to strike. Shalkis dove towards him, with his arms outstreched. The winds died down again.
The priest saw this move coming all too clearly. He spun to the side, beyond the reach of the lethal wind. He used his momentum and swinged his great staff towards her. The blow hit her right on her left temple. She held her head briefly, and forced herself up again. She lunged again, but Zepe was ready for her.
Another mighty blow sent Shalkis dangerously close to the edge. She coughed up some blood, and slumped on the snow. A stain of blood was spreading underneath her.
"Yer dead now, Traitor.."
Zepe staggered towards Umkankik. The flames on the berserker had died down.
"Kik, get up! Ya'll hack her head off."
Zepe casted a spell to tend to the burns, and the mighty berserker staggered to his feet. He readied his warblades. The mage still lied on the ground, but.. she was laughing.
"Ever wondered why I chose this place?"
She pulled herself up, supporting herself with her knee. She dug into her backpack.
"Die!", roared the berserker.
"You will not stop me!" She was holding a bomb. Not just any bomb, but the pride of goblins, the Big One. Flames flickered on her fingertips. She quickly muttered the necessary incantations, and a barrier of ice formed around her.
The Berserker did not reach her in time. She threw the bomb at Zepe. The explosion echoed in the valley, and shook the closest peaks bare of their snow. Zepe did not have any time to avoid the blast. It threw him over the edge. The berserker was more fortunate, and got thrown into a snow bank. When the smoke cleared, she was standing there, looking at the depths where Zepe fell. The berserker quickly regained his footing, and Keljin tried to pull himself up using his spear as well. Mashu was groaning on the ground.
"Ya keeled Zepe! No ya die twice!", roared Umkankik. He charged and hacked at the barrier. Shalkis turned her head slowly, and looked Kik straight in his eyes. The blazing warblades were quickly turning the barrier into a cloud of steam. The blood loss from the wounds was becoming severe, and she began to falter.
"Her arms await.."
With those words, she fell over the edge.
Clouds whizzed past her. Cliff faces almost scraped her. The freezing ocean was closing fast. The final act has been played out. There is no need to pretend. She took a mana gem from her pocket, and held it in her hand, until it absorbed into her. Against the deafening winds, she whispered an incantation known to even most apprentice mages. She stretched out her arms. Her descent slowed down, and she went past another layer of clouds. She looked forward. The hazardous coastline of Azshara was in sight. Everything was going as planned.
They would have come to her sooner or later. She had made no efforts in Orgrimmar to prevent herself to be followed. The would-be predators had obiediently followed her. The trap was perfect. No means to escape, except through her. The inane taunts did their job, and enraged them not to realise their mistake until it was too late. But the first trap was just a smokescreen for the real trap. The fight had to be convincing. They had to believe that she gave all she could. To make them believe that she was insane enough to finish off one opponent just to d**n herself. To convince them that she had chosen to kill herself instead of being executed. If the body of Zepe did wash up on a shore later, it would suit her well. He did not survive, so she couldn't either. And if he lived, that would be acceptable as well. He would have only an inch of his life left, and she was supposedly in worse shape than the priest. He could save himself by walking on water and thus avoiding hypothermia. She could not do that. Even frost mages are not immune to the cold.
She landed gently on the northern cliffs of Azshara. The coughed up blood one more time, and bandaged her wounds. She would have to stay out of Orgrimmar for a while. Let the hunting party spread their tales about their epic battle against the "betrayer". Nobody would be interested in tracking down a dead troll. And after when she resurfaced, the act would make sure that the Empire would think twice before sending so many trolls to get her. Trolls are stubborn, yes. But no leader would spend so many troops for just one enemy. The Empire had bigger troubles than she, and they could not spare any more warriors on a wild goose chase. She started casting a teleportation spell. Using the whistle would be too risky now, someone other than Windclaw might recognize the sound.
There he was, sitting at the edge of Elder Rise. Shalkis had insisted on doing this the gentle way. Tziak, the would-be Aspect of Hir'eek. She had cared for him. Loved him. She had wanted to grow old and die with him. But those things got in the way of the Aspect's work. Hers as well. An Atai cannot hesitate when the Emperor's life is in danger. Fortunately for her, she never had to make that choice. And this would ensure that her feelings would not get into the way of the Great Task, either. Shadra had to be freed.
Slayrith had given up too easily, but an agreement is an agreement. As a condition to her agreeing to let the Vessel take over, she insisted that he would not be disposed like male spiders would. Instead of giving him happiness for the rest of his life, she chose this.
Tziak was with an another female. Shalkis had known this one. Voulan was her name. Only half-jokingly, other trolls had nicknamed her the Black Widow. One mate dead in the hands of the elves, and the other driven insane by the corrupted blood coursing in his veins, she had certainly had poor judgement in viable mates. But this was an interesting choice. Had Shalkis been here, she would have ripped her throat open. Probably both their throats. Despite her choice, Tziak was still her mate until she chose otherwise.
But the Vessel was here today, to put an end to such distractions.
"Greetings, Aspect of Hir'eek.", she said in perfect Orcish.
"Shalkis?", answered Tziak in Trollish.
Tziak rose up and looked at the arrival. Voulan looked too, and her cheeks turned instantly purple. She quickly looked away.
"Good news. The trials are complete. The Work may start now."
"Who are you? You are not Shalkis. What have you done to her?", asked Tziak, his anger evident in his voice.
"I am the Vessel of Shadra. I have not harmed her. This is what she wanted."
"What she wanted? Where is she?!" Tziak was barely holding back his rage. Very unfitting behaviour for an Aspect towards an another.
"As I said, only what she wanted. She wanted to be worthy of Shadra. She is safe. This behaviour is highly unusual. You should be glad for her. Does Hir'eek not cleanse His Aspects of undesirable qualities?"
"Yes, but.. but I held onto myself! This is one of your tricks, isn't it?!" Tziak snarled towards Slayrith the Spider, who was walking slowly around, behind her.
"This is no trick. See for yourself."
Tziak opened his eyes, revealing the milky-white orbs. Tziak had lost his eyesight during his own trials, but now Tziak he could truly see. More than he ever could before. He looked at her.
Shalkis' spirit was indeed gone. The spirit made of cold flame and two blazing orbs as eyes was nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was a sculpture in the shape of her. A sculpture of crystal-clear ice, clothed in elaborate robs made of.. spider webs. Her eyes were as cold as the rest of her. And inside the ice.. it was snowing.
"It's.. it's true. She is gone.", Tziak said in a defeated voice.
"I will look forward to working together with you, Aspect of Hir'eek. Oh, and one more thing. She wanted you to have this."
The vessel pulled back her cowl and removed a Magebloom rose from her hair. She gave it to Tziak. Not even looking at her, he crushed the fragile flower in his hand, letting the thorns pierce his skin. Blood trickled from his fist, and tears from his eyes. He had given that rose to her. Shalkis had given up on him.
"Goodbye, Shalkis.", he sobbed.
"Too late for that. Until we meet again, Aspect."
"Hmm.. yess. Sshe can help you. Besseleth."
"The spider in Sishir Canyon? How? She did not seem that friendly the last time I saw her."
"Her poisson will help you ssleep. You need to ssleep deeply sso I can work in peace. It iss not lethal to you anymore."
Shalkis arrived to Sishir Canyon, just before nightfall.
"Are you sure about this?"
"Yess. I know her poisson. Thiss will work. But are you ready?"
"Yes. Make me what I need to be. Worthy of Shadra."
"Sshe will be pleasssed."
Shalkis let the great spider bite her, but instead of trying to kill her, Besseleth skittered back on her webs.
"I feel sleepy."
"Good. You sshould be. Ssleep. Now."
Shalkis collapsed to the ground. Slayrith and a few other spiders skittered towards her.
"Home? What am I.. Fire! He's burning me alive! Snow! Outside!"
"Woods. My arm still felt like it was on fire. I have to go somewhere. They will kill me if they find me. I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I don't want to die.."
Shalkis kept walking deeper into the woods. It started to snow gradually, slowly extinguishing the flames looming behind her. Soon, the burning feeling in her arm was replaced by numbness. She kept walking. The wind was getting colder.
She kept walking and walking but all she saw was more trees. She had never been this far before from the village. The weather was getting worse. She had to press herself against the wind, and the horizon was long gone.
"I can't stop. I must keep going.. I must walk.. I must walk.."
The tattered and singed robes on her were wet, and were starting to freeze on her. She no longer saw anything else than snow and an occassional tree. The snow was already waist-high, and she could barely wade forwards. She could no longer feel her arm.
She stumbled and fell into the snow. She tried to lift herself up, but her right arm wouldn't obey. Her small heart was slowing down. Ka-thump... Ka-thump.. Ka..thump.. Ka..
After what seemed like an eternity, she lifted herself up again.
"I can't stop. I must keep going.. I must walk.. I must walk.."
The tattered and singed robes on her were wet, and were starting to freeze on her. She no longer saw anything else than snow and an occassional tree. The snow was already waist-high, and she could barely wade forwards. She could no longer feel her arm.
She could no longer feel her legs. She stumbled and fell into the snow. She tried to lift herself up, but her right arm wouldn't obey. Her small heart was slowing down. Ka-thump... Ka-thump.. Ka..thump.. Ka..
After what seemed like an eternity, she lifted herself up again.
"I can't stop. I must keep going.. I must walk.. I must walk.."
The first rays of light filtered through the trees. Slayrith was finished with his work and began nudging Shalkis.
"How do you feel, troll?"
"The Vessel is now ready."
"Good. Now we can get sstarted."
Stonewrought Dam. Loch Modan. Dwarven territory. There he is. The first. He is making his rounds around the dam. That murderer! How he has the gall to..
"Calm yourself. He iss a target. Nothing more, nothing lesss."
But.. this monster has killed dozens of trolls with his own hands! He should suffer!
"SSilence. Get into possition and sslay him. Deny yoursself of any pleassure."
I sigh. Slayrith is right, of course. I walk to the edge of the ramp leading to the dam. He is coming back and vanishes behind a pillar. I am in his blind spot. I count his footsteps. Frost begins to form on my hands. One. Two. Three. Now.
Just as he passes the pillar, my frostbolt hits his right arm. The hammer is frozen into his hand. He first looks at his hand in disbelief, and then looks up to me. The second frostbolt smashes right into his beard, and his mouth is frozen solid. He tries to scrape at the ice with his left hand. He is not dead yet, but he cannot breathe through the ice.
"Thiss target is finisshed. Move on to the nexxt."
But he is not dead! I should..
I sigh, turn around and dive into the lake. By the time he finally expires and is found, I am long gone. Mountaineer Haggil is done. The next one is at Thelsamar. I find Mountaineer Cragg riding leisurely along the road. The war has been good for him. He has his own ram now. The smug..
"Ssilence. Get into possition. Do not harm the beasst."
Why? It's trained for war. It has probably cracked many..
"Irrelevant. Thiss beasst hass nothing to do with you. Proceed."
Cragg loses his balance and tumbles to the ground as his mount suddenly shrinks into a sheep under him. His helmet clangs loudly against an exposed stone. Before he has any chance to drag himself up, frost creeps up his legs and along his back. He swings his hammer in a wide arc towards the ice grasping his legs. The blow shatters the ice. He picks himself up and starts running towards Thelsamar.
"Do not let him get away."
The fool is already dead, he just doesn't know it. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. One by one, the glowing bolts dart from my hands. One by one, they hit the running dwarf in the back. The fifth pierces the backplate and the dwarf arcs back momentarily, before falling into the ground. A small pool of blood forms up under him. Several dwarvish yells are heard from the village.
"Better. Off to the nexxt."
Once again, the lake hides my movements. Even if they had seen me enter the lake, they would not follow me. Heavy armor is not known for being an advantage underwater. I circle around Thelsamar and head south.
The Valley of the Kings. The next target is talking to an another dwarf. His back is turned against me. My fingertips tingle with frost. I aim.
The frostbolt hits the back of his skull.
"There iss no need for me to sstay any longer. You can finissh the resst yoursself."
I grab Windclaw's whistle from my pocket and use it. I would have to move faster now. The other dwarf looks in disbelief while Mountaineer Zaren slowly topples over and shatters his frozen skull on the cobblestones. I ride next to him and slowly turn my head towards him. He hesitates for a second, and then starts running toward the bunker. I whisper into Windclaw's ear and we're off. By the time the word is sent to the next watch station, I'll already be past it.
Sounds of dwarvish yells and warhorns echo behind me. Two targets left. The dwarves of the watch station were not prepared for my arrival. Their rifles were unloaded and their steamtanks shut down. One vigilant one tries to shoot me from the bunker, but is nowhere near hitting me. I vanish into the corridor. Dun Morogh and it's forests. The tanks are useless here, and the riflemen will not catch up to me. There is enough time.
Kharanos. Ironforge Guard Stoutfist is stationed here. I instruct Windclaw to hide near the trees. I would need to move quickly. The troops from the watch station would not be here in a while, but Kharanos has it's own defenders. Stoutfist is apparently talking to some traders. I start to cast my spell. He turns his head.
Like expected, he would not succumb as easily as others. He blocks the frostbolt with his shield and starts walking towards me, exposing as little as possible from himself. I hurl an another frostbolt, aiming at his brittle shield. It shatters from the impact and turns into a deadly shower of frozen steel shards. Most of them embed themselves into his platemail. One scratches his right ear. He does not flinch. The traders run into the inn to alert the others.
Now that his protection is gone, Stoutfist starts running towards me. He drops his shortsword and grabs the battlehammer from his back. He reads my movements and stops just in time to avoid my Frost Nova. He jumps over the ice and aims for my head, but I am no longer there. His hammer hits the ice harmlessly.
Before he can turn around, an another frostbolt hits him on his right leg. He staggers to turn around, and barely manages to bring his hammer in front of the next frostbolt. Mobility and weapon gone. He has lost, and he knows it. The next frostbolt shatters both his leg and his hammer. A large frozen shrapnel from the handle of the hammer impales him. Several more guards run from the inn, their rifles locked and loaded. I blow into my whistle. These are better marksmen, and almost hit Windclaw. Four targets gone, only the last remains. While they search for me in Dun Morogh, the final target is exposed. I ride into the valley to lose my pursuers.
The gates. Captain Steelhand knows something is coming. He has several other guards with him, barking orders to secure this and be on the lookout for that. Someone is starting up the steamtank close by. His eyes dart around, looking for the intruders. As expected, he spots me from my vantage point.
Steelhand had led the assault to my village so many years ago. His troops had slain my people and burned my village. He is no less vigilant and no less deadly than then. This was the time of vengeance. But vengeance was something I could not afford anymore. They were no longer my people. I were no longer a Frostmane. This was not a murderer I'm facing. This is a target. The other four are not.
A shot whizzed past my left ear. Another crumbled to frozen dust shortly before hitting my right elbow. I blinked behind them and touched the ground. Steelhand realized what I was doing and tried to shove the stock of his rifle to my stomach. But my shield prevented it. I stretched my hands out, and the snowfall seemed to quiet down for a moment. The other dwarves raised their shields.
The spiral of razor-sharp ice shards needled Steelhand. He was bleeding heavily, but did not give up. He dropped his gun. With one smooth motion, he grabbed his battlehammer and slammed it into the ground. I had not seen that coming. Taking advantage by the thunderclap, the others drawed their battlehammers as well, and freed their legs from the ice. I was barely able to encase myself in ice before their hammers hit me.
It is strange how quiet it is inside the ice. One. Two. I can hear the dull thuds while the dwarves pound on my icy sanctuary. Three. Four. They had started to pound on a single spot, and several cracks were already visible. Five. Six. The cracks widen. Seven. Eight. Final moment of tranquility. Nine. Ten.
The ice cracked, but unlike the dwarves thought, it cracked outwards. Frost caressed their legs again, and the winds quieted down. This time Steelhand's armor could not stand the onslaught. What remained was hardly recognizable as a dwarf. It is done. Five targets. The other dwarves had nothing to do with this. My task is complete, and there is nothing that binds me to Dun Morogh anymore. Before the others could free themselves from ice, I was already well beyond rifle range.
Slayrith's plan had worked. I could not be distracted by my thirst of vengeance in battle. I had to be able to concentrate, no matter whether the target was a dwarf, human, or other. Slayrith had tracked down the whereabouts of the five surviving members of the Night of Flames. I had to kill them to get my vengeance. But when I had it, I had to deny myself any pleasure of it. I had to stop thinking about them as mortal enemies. I had to stop thinking about them as enemies or allies based on their race. If they aid me in my task, they are my allies. If they interfere, they are enemies. Simple as that.