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Old 06-15-2013, 08:40 AM
Timolas Timolas is offline


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The Battle of the Living Dream I

The spirit realm unhooked itself from the Temple of Zul'Gruc'Jen and peeled back with a grimace. Jin'thek went with it, watching as the Temple receded into the distance, the light of the sun becoming a dot of light, and then vanishing, until he was left in the calm cold.

With melancholy, he felt the happiness of the trolls of Zul'Aman as they cheered his name. The gorgons were defeated, as was their god and her mistress. For now, the dream was safe in his homeland. But there was still an emptiness to fill, far away.

Outside, it was the Summertide, and the snows had melted away in the mountains of Alterac. The heat of battle was almost as intense as the sun in Valen's Cut, where the last idol of man was wielded against his people. A long time ago, the human general, Valen, had won a victory. Jin'thek was happy that Valen had achieved such a victory, because without it, the Amani would have prospered and tyrannized. Now, there was the Living Dream. History's bloodshed had been necessary, so that the races would learn through their mistakes.

Now it was time for the ultimate lesson. The heat of battle became fire, warping trollish flesh with the anger of the Horror, the plague recovered from a broken world. Crimson Cabalists, the very embodiment of the final idol of man, stood upon the cliffs of the Cut, causing the plague to be borne on the winds. For those trolls who survived the plague, there was the magic of the Cabal, ready to burn them away. A song hummed through the spirit realm, reflecting the red mood of the survivors.

Jin'thek felt dismay in that song, the dismay of those who had been defeated. Exhel cried out in despair, as the trolls retreated back up their hill, north of the Cut. There was desperation, and the threat of the dream being extinguished.

In their hearts, there was a prayer.

"Do you feel it?" an old troll asked beside Jin'thek. Was it Gruc'jen? But then Jin'thek remembered that Gruc'jen was dead, gone to a place beyond Jin'thek's reach. No, it was Zanza the Restless. The old troll who watched everything, the god who did not sleep. "The song is a song of ending. The trollish Dream ends."

Jin'thek looked at the humans, secure upon the heights. There was triumph in them, and hope. A different dream. They dreamed of going home, to their families. Many dreamed of their fields, of a warm fire, and food in their bellies. They sang of their victory.

"One Dream for another." Zanza said, a glimmer in his eye. "Has it not always been so? A cycle."

But Jin'thek knew there was more to it than that.
"All cycles can be broken."

"Oh?" Zanza said, leaning forward with a quizzical look on his face. "Your people have paid everything, their blood, their lives, even. But it has not been enough. Not against the Empire, against the idols of man. What more do they have left to give, Jin'thek?"

"No, you are right." Jin'thek said heavily. "The trolls, the Atal'jin, the Atal'kaizar, they have all given up everything. Everything except each other. And now they are ready to die, together. I must go to them."

"Go to them?" Zanza asked incredulously. “You are willing to do it, then? To sacrifice godhood, to die a man? To wake up from the Dream?”

Jin’thek nodded slowly, understanding what he had to do.
“I will walk with them. And die with them, if I have to.”

Zanza was smiling.
“The path is open, then, my friend. A final chapter. Now you understand how it must be. For we must all wake up from our dreams, in time. Go. Wake up. And break the final idol of man."

Jin’thek had come to die beside his people. He could not stop the plague, nor could any troll. Not even the Atal’jin, or the druids, or the Atal’kaizar, could stop it. Not completely. Not even if all the vats of plague were destroyed on this battlefield could the plague be stopped, because more could be made. No, the true weapon that was wielded against the dream was hatred. And hatred could not be killed by the sword.

As Jin’thek stepped out, standing atop the northern hill, he saw that thousands that remained to fight the humans and their allies. They were ready to die, and understood it was the end. And there was nothing that Jin’thek could do to help them.

-

“Kill the traitors! Kill them now!” Eldengar Trollbane was yelling, his orders carried through the ranks, amongst the commanders. Jana Septim strapped on her helmet, and her lieutenants did the same. The forces of Arathor twisted into a semi-circle upon the western ridge, trying to encircle the army of Alterac. King Perenolde had declared his intention to withdraw from the battlefield, back to Alterac City, declaring neutrality. It was a profane insult, that this peasant king, rumoured to be a republican rebel from Lordaeron, would challenge him so. He had declined to acknowledge Eldengar’s rule, and now he had spited humanity itself.

The Empire of Arathor sounded its trumpets, and archers loosed, arrows tearing into the unprepared and frightened soldiers of Alterac. The Lost Legion took the brunt of the damage, but it did not scatter. It met the Arathorians with horrendous speed, its elite units breaking the encirclement.

“How... grim.” Elrich said with a sigh, watching the spectacle unfold. “I suppose you shall have what you wanted, my Emperor. A sea of blood.”

Eldengar Trollbane kicked his horse, waving Trol’kalar over his head. With inhuman speed, the Imperial Guard followed, stampeding towards the soldiers of Alterac. Eighty of the Imperial Guard were there to carve through the soldiers of Alterac like butter. Eldengar led them towards the nearest command post, led by Commander Emerson, the speech-impaired leader of that encampment. Trol’kalar spilled human blood, Eldengar’s steed kicking in a man’s skull. The Imperial Guard did not react to injuries, their heavy weapons breaking bone and drinking gore. Eldengar was sure he saw Emerson fall beneath the plate boots of the Imperial Guard, not several feet away, and the command post was soon aflame.

Alterac was ordering a general retreat from the battlefield, but Eldengar was not prepared to give them that chance. His men were waiting for the order to continue pursuit, but somebody broke through the Imperial Guard atop a mare. It was Liera, her face white with an emotion Eldengar could not comprehend.

“I don’t believe it. I don’t. You’re a monster.”

Eldengar’s mouth opened to speak, but he found no words.

“When was it that you lost your soul, Eldengar Trollbane? When did the crow come to mean more than the kingdom, or the kingdom come to mean more than the people within it?” she screamed hoarsely.

An Imperial Guard smashed his gauntlet against Liera’s thigh, causing her to wail in outraged pain. Her hands dropped to her sides, and a dagger slipped from her fingers.

“Stop! Do not harm her!” Eldengar commanded, and the Imperial Guard stepped back.

“She is an assassin, milord.” Captain Aledar was muttering. “A spy-”

“No.” Eldengar stated, mirroring absolute authority with absolute denial. As he spoke, he saw the Ramrods and Blackguard shepherding King Perenolde to safety in the west. It was now too late for pursuit. “Take her away. She is mine. Put her in chains if you must. But we’re done here, Captain. Let the soldiers of Alterac flee. We will rejoin our brothers against the trolls.”

“What is your bidding?” Aledar pressed. “What do you intend?”

“I have had enough of this pretentious game of cards, of this board game. Of water-brained captains and butter-spine cowards. Fuck the rules. We are going to destroy the trolls. We are going to attack.”

Messages were sent down to the Hesperians, Imperials and Perinany that they were to order their cavalry and vanguards to charge up the eastern ridge. Humanity was to go on the offensive. The hour had come for final victory, a final solution to the trollish menace.

And so, the Empire of Arathor descended off the western and eastern slopes, aided by the cavalry and footmen of their allies. The trolls were already charging towards them as they ordered the attack. All sanity and strategy dissolved in the grand moment of passion, the pages of history torn out and cast into the fire. Nothing else mattered, but this final act, a final sacrifice.

Saboteurs had taken the plague vats and had destroyed them, whether they were Atal’kaizar or druid or Atal’jin, it mattered not. Much of the remaining plague was poured onto the trolls in those moments, but the trolls were not deterred by it. The two armies exploded against one another across the whole of Valen’s Cut, the climax of this desperate battle resounding across the mountains of Alterac.

Hundreds died in the first few seconds, magic, arrows, swords, axes and spears doing their work, and many followed in the seconds after. Cavalry rode down trollish skirmishers, only for dire trolls to pull down horsemen from their steeds and break their bones. Feeling betrayed, soldiers of Lordaeron hacked into Atal’kaizar who had once served in the People’s Front, old tensions afire once again, and many recognized one another from years past in that struggle, once again on opposing sides of the battlefield.

But the trolls were outmatched. And so, they died. The grand gambit of their army was the Orb of Translocation. It fired, surrounded by Atal’jin, the ones who could wield it. Alyson Antille poured her strength into it, calling aid from across the sea. And so, Sandfury arrived, teleported by elf magic to Valen’s Cut, just as planned. Elf magic, which had harassed the trolls for so long, had been turned against the enemies of the trolls, by Atal’jin. It was a sweet irony. And roaring into battle, from Un’goro, the devilsaurs arrived, mounted by trolls. The sight of them struck terror into the hearts of the humans that had arrayed themselves against the trolls, and many began to flee. The devilsaurs chased them for a time, but the trolls gathered around the northern hill, trying to reforge their ranks. But it was probably too late, and all hope was slowly lost.

Together

Out and onto the ridge stepped the Zul’Kaizar made flesh, Jin’thek.

All looked with hope, with anguish, with astonishment, to see the Zul’Kaizar draw breath yet again. The communication stone of Quel’Danas, drenched in his blood, had offered him a way home. The trolls fell back, granted a moment of reprieve by their enemies. It would only be minutes before the human army had the northern hill surrounded, and the trolls would be crushed between them.

“Brothers, sisters!” Jin’thek called out, his voice amplified by the nooks and shape of the land itself. “On the Summertide, years ago, not far from this very day, I spoke with many of you in Zul’Aman, our beloved home. Most of us were enemies, then, divided by hunting grounds and old feuds. But we set those aside, and we changed the world. We Dreamed a Dream. We lived it, and many of our brethren died for it. We die for it now. It is not yet over, but I have not come to you with magic, or secret weapons, or a secret to turn the tide of this battle.”

There was understanding amongst the trolls. They knew that Jin’thek had not come to win the battle for them with godly power. There was no way to turn the plague away, no way to break the human ranks. The avatar of Jin’thek had not come to win the war for them, he had come to die with them. A final act of brotherhood, between followers and leader. The Dream would never die.

Then at last, Jin’thek said it.
“I am sorry. Sorry that trolls did not win. I tried.”

“Jin’thek!” they began to chant, overcome with compassion for their leader. “Zul’Kaizar!”

“You have not failed us, Jin’thek.” Exhel said, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We stand with you. Even now. In the end. Our victory is not about swords, or steel. Or how many lives we take. Or how many heads we chop off, or how much blood we shed. You are our Loa of the Heart. You know this.”

“We will die. Together.” Jin’thek said, eyes clear, looking to the human lines stretched across mountain pass and cliff, weapons pointed against them. “But the Dream will not die. You are right, Exhel. The Dream, it is within us. Where no sword can pierce. I proved that at Quel’Danas, in the spirit realm. Defeat will not change this fact.”

“Jin’thek!” a loud voice sounded, a giant bellowing his harmless and simple happiness. Joa’mar came bounding up the hill, catching Jin’thek in his mighty and loving arms. “You’re alive!”

Kirio followed, one hand on his hip, the other on his axe.
“You are a bit late, Jin’thek! Again! Just like at Atalm!”

Friends and old enemies gathered round. There was Maka of the Firetree, blinking tears of calm joy away, a confused but contented look on his face. Beside him was Lez’li, and the elf, Alyson Antille. They stood together, protective of one another, and united in fascination of what they beheld.

Then Jin’thek turned back towards his army. They were not sad, like he thought they would be, or disappointed. They were happy, happy to be with him, in this final hour. This was what they had prepared for. In their hearts, they knew it. The Dream was grand, it was great, it was invincible, unstoppable. But they knew that they were just trolls, in the end. They could not change the world, or break the board. Because in the end, despite heroic deeds, and great acts, they were uncivilized, not good enough. They were just trolls. Jin’thek’s eyes burned with tears, and with a heart-wrenching cry, he jumped off the ridge, to die with his comrades.

But he did not die. They caught him. He opened his eyes. He was alive again, carried by the hands of his friends. They had caught him.

A cry of defiance exploded from the trolls. They wanted to prove the Zul’Kaizar wrong, to show the Zul’Kaizar that although he had Dreamed the Dream, the Dream did not belong to him. It was not his to lose faith in. It was not his to forget, to kill. Nor was it the right of the humans to kill it.

This was not the end. And Jin’thek saw the faces of dwarves of Dun Djoldar, angry and triumphant even in the end. He saw the faces of elves, whose lives he had lived, of humans, whose families he had fought, in a different time and age. And Jin’thek shouted once again. And something shrieked in the sky. He half expected a dragon, a Bronze Dragon, come to mock him. Nozdormu himself, come to take the Dream away, to tell him that the Dark Histories awaited, that it had to be so. That there was no denying them. But it was in that moment that Anasterian Sunstrider came awake from his nightmares, from his coma, and clutched his chest in terror and understanding, understanding at last the Fon'kaz'kah.

It was in that moment that Ker’ah swooped down, shrieking from the skies, and the trolls threw their voices into the air to cry that they would not bend, they would not break, that the Dream would not die. It was not over, not yet. It was never over. The Dream could never die.
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Last edited by Timolas; 06-26-2013 at 03:05 PM..
  #1602  
Old 06-16-2013, 12:52 PM
Ashenmoon Ashenmoon is offline

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Four years ago, Zul'aman
The troll trappers were focused on the trail, all senses stalking the buck that had leaped here before them. They slipped through the undergrowth in near-silence, avoiding foliage and twigs with thoughtless ease. Lean and hungry, they had followed this prey far beyond their traditional territory. But there were too many mouths to feed back home to go back now. Such were the times.
One of them - their leader - froze suddenly, hand gesturing to stop the others. As one they came to a halt.
Instead of speaking the older troll toppled to the forest path.
"Iyaz nyamanpo, mon?"
The troll did not respond. Lying there, quiet and still.
"Ros'jin, fus tor?"
The confused trappers took a hold of their leader and rolled him onto his back. Revealing the elf-fletched arrow buried in his chest.
Lynalis raised her bow and let loose in one smooth, prepared motion. A dozen more bowstrings thrummed in the leaf-dappled twilight beneath the wide-branched trees. Blurred shafts sped sure to their targets. Heavy bodies fell to the ground.
Not all of the trappers were killed instantly. A half-dozen howled in surprise and pain, stumbling back. One of them - struck a glancing hit in his shoulder - turned and burst into the bushes next to the path. More arrows pierced the ones who had not been so quick to flee. Two roared and, ignoring their injuries, hefted war-hatches.
"E duti so Nuvazgal! E yudo bwoyar!"
It was over less than ten heart-beats later. The runner survived the longest, as was usually the case. When the trolls were all dead, the elven rangers emerged from their hiding spots.
"Well done," said Exalted Haeliel, surveying the scene with dispassionate appreciation. "I make two for you, Fanoraithe, and two for you, too, Liera. You will receive your rewards when we return to base. Let us move out."
Stepping around the growing pools of blood, Haeliel began to leave. The other rangers followed him.
"What of the arrows?" asked Lynalis.
Haeliel stopped.
"What of them?"
"Were we not supposed to replace them with the trollish shafts we found? So that the Mosstusk would believe the Amani did this? Their warlords are growing strong..."
Haeliel grimaced. "They are trolls, not detectives. If you are inclined to get yourself soaked in troll-ichor to keep their pathetic race even more down-trotten, then be my guest. I, for one, must return to the Quorum. The real war is about to begin, ranger. The Sunstrider demon will fall. Let the trolls handle themselves for once."


*


Present day, Valen's Cut
General Lee's force managed at last to bull its way through the screens of troll skirmishers that had been sent to delay them.
With Lee came much of what had remained of Lordaeron's force in the Midlands; there were Counts Barov and Tattnall, and Edwin of Malvern, and others besides. While the enemy was but a few days from the walls of Lordaeron City in the west, Lee had elected to go south and pursue the troll army which issued from the Hinterlands. It had become clear that the trolls were seeking to engage the main force of humanity before it had had time to organize. Thus Lee knew that the coming confrontation at Valen's Cut was of greater importance than his own country, and had left the region around Andorhal to fend for itself.
For most of the battle so far, Lee's combined force had struggled through mountainous terrain held by stubborn trollish resistance. But the trolls had, perhaps, not counted on Lordaeron's sons to fight so fiercely. These were no nobles blinded by illusions of glory and victory. These were the hard-bitten survivors of the apocalypse an alien race had inflicted upon their world. And they knew that ahead would the fate of the rest of that world be decided. They knew that, even as great portions of their own homeland had been burned, all of humanity had at last responded to the call against the invaders. And after having suffered so much for so long by the trolls' hands, they would not be denied this one last chance to tip the scales.
With them marched Lordaeron's elves-in-exile, the arcanists and magicians and schoolmen, the rangers and self-armed militias. Councillor Dar'khan Drathir rode with them, leading their charge.
At last they crested the final rise and with dismay beheld the battlefield of Valen's Cut. Scattered over the hills and valleys lay the dead in their thousands. Great reptilian monsters charged through the Cut, trampling men and destroying their formations. But to the sides swelled the armies of mankind like a great sea, lapping against the northern hill swarming with trolls.
The men hacked and slashed their way forward and upward with grim-eyed determination, extracting vengeance one dead troll at a time. And for a while it seemed they would be victorious. The troll lines wavered, buckled. But then they strengthened and gained new confidence, even jubilance.
Lynalis' elf-eyes raked the troll position and found the source of this new-found spirit. The blood fled her face and she stumbled to her knees.
"He lives..." she whispered hopelessly.


*


Earlier, the Sunwell Plateau
It was morning, and the rays of the sun streamed through the thick mists which were gathered over the warm rush of the Well. Those fogs - appearing first after the Battle all those months ago - grew strong during the night, as if the very waters of the Well yearned to escape earth's grasp and seek out where the sun had gone. With dawn their uneasy roiling was quieted to ponderous heavings, and lights sparkled over the slow-rippling surface of the Sunwell.
Mathredis Firestar paused three times. Once to unclasp his stola, the multicolored mark of one of the Exalted. Once to unclasp stola. multi-colored, representing faiths. He watched it drift away sadly, tugged on an unseen current. Once to cast one last reassuring look back, but the thick mists lay low on the Well's waters and he could no longer see the shore.
He waded into the Sunwell until the waters were waist-high before he paused for the third time. He plucked the amulet Alyson Antille had given him from the string around his neck and submerged it beneath the golden surface. He whispered the words of power the Seneschal of Karazhan had taught him and felt his arcane powers respond to its call.
For some reason it suddenly seemed so very simple.
When the water settled, he studied his reflection - haggard and worn, yet still young. His mane of red hair was matted and striped, but still strong. There was life in him yet, and hope for better things to come. He knew an instant of doubt that this was the right way, but suppressed it. It was too late, too late for now, anyway.
Behind his image in the glass-still surface a light had begun to shine.
The Sunwell suddenly grew cold, and the amulet in his hands very hot. Mathredis gasped in sudden pain and dropped the amulet, but it did not sink further into the deep. Instead it rose, breaking the water and floating upon its surface, sending ripples across the entirety of the Well.
Light exploded, cerulean and viridian, pale gold and wine red. A great wind burst from the amulet, sending Mathredis stumbling several steps and flattening the Well's mists. A scent of rosewood and cold winter's morning spread with it.
When Mathredis recovered, he saw a familiar figure standing a few steps away, back towards him, arms outstretched. The figure was naked, and there was a sickening tear in one of his arms, and a ragged cut gaped black across his neck. The figure stood statue-still, forbidding even in his posture of openness.
"I... live..."
And Mathredis felt a flutter of fear.

Last edited by Ashenmoon; 06-16-2013 at 01:00 PM..
  #1603  
Old 06-16-2013, 07:12 PM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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Nezario rode forward, watching the lines of the battle boil onward and backward. Men threw themselves at the trolls, who fought back with hatchets and spears and wicked swords. Magi, knights and all manner of warriors fought for dominance on the battlefield.

He kept moving forward, grasping the axe in his hand. It had been given to him for this day, but he had not yet used it. As the battle raged onward, the victory of the humans grew more likely. A smile started to creep on his face.

We are winning. The Light is showing us the way, he thought to himself, navigating past soldiers as he neared the front lines. .

Suddenly a humongous troll berserker broke through the lines and charged toward Nezario. He could feel the impact of its footsteps against his saddle, and his mount almost panicked from the impending doom. Not having expected this, he simply stared at the beast is it drew nearer. Just as it reached him, he swung his right hand at it, cutting its reaching hand with his axe.

The troll yelled in pain and drew back from the blade. Its wound was glowing bright golden, and the flesh around grew charred and dead. Nezario shared in shock and awe.

His axe glowed bright golden all of the sudden. Slowly, he lifted it up. Like a beacon, it shed its light down upon the battlefield. A smile spread on his face, and he kicked his horse forward. The corpse of the troll that had charged him had burned to little more than ashes, and was trampled by his mount.

He charged into the lines. Some of the generals behind him yelled in alarm, but he ignored it. It was his time to shine.

The human footmen moved out of the way at the last moment, and Nezario’s mount slammed into the troll ranks. It was not the heavily armoured steed of a lancer, but still a well-bred horse capable of taking a few scrapes here and there. The trolls had not been prepared for cavalry, and his suddenly glowing axe wasn’t helping their morale. Most of them turned to retreat from Nezario. Some few rushed to pull him down from his mount, but he swung the weapon at them. Whenever they were founded, their wounds were set afire and they collapsed into the ground, beaten and dying.

Nezario rode deeper into the troll ranks, swinging madly. He’d never been the warrior. That had been Nevio’s fate. A fate he’d neglected. The greatest battle this generation would ever see, and Nevio wasn’t here to see it.

All for a filthy savage girl.

The trolls fell down, left and right, and the chaos grew denser. Nezario’s own uncontrollable battle cry echoed from his ears. He couldn’t stop himself from yelling out. Wait, yelling? I... Somewhere far on his left, he saw the humans breaking the troll lines and charging forward heroically. Victory, victory, victory.

Then his horse whinnied and started to fall on its side.

By pure reflex, Nezario pushed himself out of saddle and rolled away from the horse. His impact with the ground hurt, but not as much as having his leg crushed under a horse would have. The mount was bleeding profusely from its neck, and several arrows stuck out from it.

The duke stood up and looked around. The trolls were in a circle around him, but stayed back for some reason. One of them announced something in their language, and stepped forward.

Nezario looked at him. He wore the tatters of a Hesperian army uniform, as if to pretend he was a human, and wielded an intricately-crafted spear. He said something, but the din of battle covered it up.

A duel, then. Better than facing the whole horde on his own. Nezario shook his head and charged forward.

The troll easily swept his feet off him when he landed back on the ground after having jumped over the carcass of his own horse. Nezario fell down with a thud and looked up.

Nevio looked down on him. “Brother!” He yelled, a sad look on his face. “Give me your weapon. You won’t be harmed as a prisoner!”



”Yes!” Nezario shouted out, a wide smile on his face. Since he had started his fencing lessons, he had never beaten Nevio. Not once, until now.

“Relinquish your blade, foeman!” He said at his brother, who was lying on the ground after having tripped.

A wily smile spread on Nevio’s face, and suddenly he thrust his wooden practise blade between Nezario’s legs and twisted it sideways, tripping his brother.

Before Nezario knew what was happening, he was in the ground and Nevio had stood up, grabbing his weapon from him.

Count Niccolo burst to laughter. “Haha, well done, boys. Nezario still has much to learn, but you’re not perfect either, Nevio. Keep at that footwork.

“It’s unfair!” Nezario said sourly as he climbed back up. “He was in the ground. I had him beat.”

“In a real fight, you’re not vanquished as long as you keep fighting”, their father said, and fussed Nevio’s hair.




No! Nezario yelled and swung his axe at the troll, who stepped back. Nezario started climbing up, and spat at his enemy. Never!

He swore and charged forward. The troll used its spear like a quarterstaff, blocking the axe and swatting at Nezario’s hands to keep him suppressed, but it did not attack. That just made Nezario angrier. He wasn’t even taken seriously. The other trolls kept moving back to make more room for the fight.

Nezario tried to hit the troll’s fingers, but it was too fast for that. He tried to power through its defences, but the defences stayed high. He tried to think of something clever, but he could not come up with anything.

Eventually the troll swatted Nezario in the wrist, causing him to drop his axe. Nezario swore, and reached down to pick it from the ground, but the enemy slid it away from him first with the butt of the spear. The axe lost its otherworldly glow as it slid away. No! Nezario yelled and rushed for it.

The troll grabbed him and pushed him away from the axe. “It’s over, Nezario! Calm down! You lost! Just give up already...” It spoke, sounding distressed.

Nezario fell to his knees. His enemy was too skilled and too strong. There was nothing he could do. He felt his hands touch the dirty sand on the ground. You are a coward for fighting me. My brother Nevio is the warrior. If it was he you fought, you would be long dead by now.

The troll moved to put a hand on Nezario’s shoulder, so he threw sand into its face.

Miraculously, that worked. The troll flinched and gave out a yelp, letting go of Nezario, who ran for the axe. As soon as his fingers closed around its handle, the golden glow was reignited.

He heard steps behind himself, and blindly swung the axe at them.

The crescent blade bounced off the troll’s chest, leaving no mark on it.

No! Nezario yelled out. I was told I could kill anyone else, but not humans. This can’t... He tried to swing again, but it was too late for another try. The troll grabbed the axe from his hand again and threw it away, much further than before. Punching the duke in the face, it knocked him down once again. One of the trolls walked in with rope, to restrain him.

I’m not vanquished as long as I keep fighting, Nezario said and pulled his belt knife, aiming it straight into the troll’s heart. Fast as lightning, the brute grabbed his wrist, and instead took out its own jungle blade.

A sharp pain. And then nothing.

“It is a sorry thing that you failed me. And you were so close”, Thoradin’s voice said. And that was the last thing.
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Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.

Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.

Last edited by Kerrah; 06-24-2013 at 07:30 PM..
  #1604  
Old 06-16-2013, 07:18 PM
Zula Zula is offline

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Eternity is best served cold.

Eternity is best served cold.

‘Ker’ah’ Jin’thek whispered ‘Ker’ah!!’ He shouted out loud standing over the palms and arms of those trolls, Atal’jin and Atal’kaizar, who had avoided his death.

The bird replied with its typical cry as it swooped down on him, that was a sound and an image that he thought he would never see again, in any of his lives.

He wanted to ask how, or why, he wanted to know why now of all the moments the bird decided to return.

But it did not matter anymore, it had never mattered, he had decided to come down and die with the dream he had inspired, that he had spread. To die with the dream that had killed him, that made him jump into his death to save a losing battle from turning into a tragedy.

The dream that turned him into a Loa.

But his people, both troll and Atal’jin even Atal’kaizar’s who never saw his face were chanting for him. ‘Zul’kaizar Jin’thek!’ They cried, even some of the Atal’jin cried out ‘Sunking!’ in awkward Zandali

His people did not let him die; the dream had outlived him and had grown beyond his own life. He had found his way in the minds and hearts of every soul that he touched.

Neither his dream nor life not even his loahood belonged to him anymore, it hadn't belonged to him in the first place. Not since one day, a painful day, years ago he had decided to change the world of trolls, but he never realized it back then.

It was not enough.
Now he realized that it was not enough, that to change trolls, he had to change everything.

But now he knew; they had to change the world.

And that change started right now, he grabbed on to the bird’s back like he had done so many times before and flew away, towards the top of the hill.

To the south the human army seemed to be reorganizing after the shock the entrance of the Sand Trolls and their beasts produced. However something was happening there that kept them from routing, he could hear someone shouting. What? He did not know, he did not care, because they were good times for a change.

You could almost see the crevices forming and hear how slowly it began to creak, and squeak. It was about to break, but it needed one final push one final blow.

It was time for the last Idol of man to face its destiny and for once and for all now was the moment:

To break the board.

--

Eldengar was angry, furious, why couldn’t Liera understand he was performing his duty, his holy mission? Why couldn't the petty kings of men understand he did not choose his throne or the Emperorship out of personal ambition or lust for power?

The crown had chosen HIM for the duty of saving mankind, the power choose him so he could restore mankind it to its proper place in the world, to cure it from its sickness.

It had never been the other way around, hell he had not even been on the top 10 guys of the succession list.
And so, if the trolls were the sickness that was affecting and infecting mankind’s realms, then they all had to die. And take with them to their graves those parts of mankind that were infected by their vicious and unholy ways.

Why couldn’t they understand? They accused him of being a monster, but he had spared both his father and the man he wanted to kill the most. Couldn’t they see his mercy? His just ways? They wouldn’t understand, they did not want to understand, that’s why it had come down to this.

Why he had to chase away the armies of Alterac, what example would that give to everyone? They wanted neutrality? Neutrality?!! How dared they, how dared they to abandon mankind. He understood the petty Kings of men would not understand, but he had hoped she would understand. Liera was the love of his life, she was his life itself, a part of him wanted to see the world burn and escape with her far away where no one would find them.

But the Light had chosen him, his duty called and he had no way of denying who he was.

As the files of man crashed together against the unholy horde of trolls and wretched converts his anger did not recede, the hate within him only grew stronger. Like fire it rised into the skies, with every troll he killed, with every atal’something he sent to his grave. The pain of betrayal he felt only grew, he looked at the men from Hesperia. Why was he helping them? Did they deserve to be saved?

He could see the mixture of fear and contempt behind Elrich’s and Rommath’s eyes just to name two examples. He could see how the men from Hesperia and Dalaran thought he was an insane fool. They all looked at him as he was some sort of monster; they had they lack of decency to even do it in the heat of a battle so important like this. How they dared? To treat him as a monster when the real monsters were big ugly and green, and were right in front of them.

‘HOW DARE YOU?!’ He screamed as the Trol’kalar cut the neck of a troll open, his wicked blood flowing red.

Red, why did it have to be red? Like the blood of man, like the colors of Strom and Arathor. It had to be a mockery of the dark forces of the universe, to give the enemies of the light the same blood color than the light’s harbinger…

‘But no, the color of human blood and Arathor was not red, it was a much beautiful color.’ He told himself ‘A color noble and mighty; a color that could symbolize the crusade of mankind against its unholy enemies.

The color of mankind’s blood was: scarlet.’

And he was the scarlet Emperor of that crusade. A gnoll squawked has he cut off his head. He would clean the world of uncivilized races.

He could feel victory within his grasp until he heard screams on the opposite flank, looking above he saw something terrible. Something that had to come from one of the farther reaches of the nether, it was a pack of wingless dragons ridden by brown trolls.

Was it the great darkness itself that came to claim the head of the Emperor? Yes, yes it was. This was the reckoning of the world itself, he was sure of it.

No one realized it, they had all ignored it but this was a cataclysm.

And as the ranks of men broke and many started to flee, as his anger turned into something he dared not to name, fear. He told himself he could not allow himself to lose, even if those trolls had demonic dragons with them, they all had to pay.

He turned around looking for a wizard, shouting for a spell.

And then a wizard from Dalaran did it, before anyone could notice he was atop one of those demonic things, stabbing repeatedly the rider as a mage watched horrified.

‘Can you do it?’ Eldengar asked

‘I will try.’ The weakling mage answered

His voice sounded high and mighty so loud that the nearest troll on a demon would hear him; the magic had worked, so he taunted the nearest demon rider. Insults have their way of being a universal language, even animals can understand it so the troll did not doubt to charge against that lonely man.

The troll saw Eldengar standing alone with his sword, and charged on his beast who marched with its mouth open straight into him. Looking so terrible and unholy, until it tripped, breaking at the same time the invisibility of his peasant horde magic, which had worked again.

They were turned invisible, the beast fell and the peasants jumped onto them with their spears. Their life of being farmers that given them the knowledge on how to butcher a beast, and this gigantic lizard was just that for them: Butcher’s meat. The troll tried to escape but Eldengar stabbed him on his back over and over again as he squeaked like a gnoll.

The demon lay dead, the triumphant peasants over them, their skills as farmers finally paid off, but that was one of many. But as he stood over it he shouted again,

‘Men of Arathor, all of you from Hesperia to Dalaran, the beast lies dead. Killed by my peasants, by my horde, the one you all so mocked. So I wonder know, what does that make you all.’

He looked at the faces of some proud men, would they allow themselves to be shamed by former peasants?

It did not matter, he re-grouped his forces and marched against the trolls, who somehow they were celebrating has what seemed to be a giant bird flew into the hill.

He did not care, it was time to end this mockery to fuck destiny in the ass.

And then his world could start the Scarlet world of man.

--

There he was wearing reforged elven steel, and brandishing a weapon of the same material, the Zul’kaizar. The one that had united the tribes years ago to destroy elven kind, was wearing material crafted by trolls and former elves at the place that was one the city of the bloody moon. He wore only chainmail like he always did, because he wanted mobility, because it was that which was going to win the battle.

They would use the Devilsaurs and their reinforced numbers to drive man into the middle of the valley. As they seized the surrounding hills that way they would trap them in their own defensive position where their cavalry wouldn’t be useful.

And then, then they would deal with them all.

But there was one problem, somehow the eastern flank which was the one that had suffered the attack of the Devilsaurs was somehow not only regrouping but marching against them, lifting the banners of the Emperor of man.

Jin’thek knew of the return of the Emperor of man only from what his followers knew, because strangely enough, the life of the Emperor of man was not affected by his life. It meant that Jin'thek had never lived Eldengar’s life. In the best of cases in some of the lives he lived he heard about some Eldengar Trollbane, but nothing else. That man not only seemed far from the succession to the throne, but also he seemed to be nothing but a shadow in the great scheme of fate, or at least that was what it seemed. Because that man was the fetish of man incarnate, even if those who followed refused to follow him into this battle, like the Trajan boy said, the fact he called himself Emperor he had the potential to become dangerous.

Men could flock to him in desperation even if they won this battle, he could bring mankind back together offer them unity. And he couldn’t allow them that chance, so that man could not be allowed to survive.

Eldengar had to die.

--

Both armies met once again in the battlefield, the troll chanted the name of their leader as the peasants of Arathor flew their banners up high. It was in the mess of this battlefield, that both met each other. Two children of the same father, two sides of the same coin. Upon seeing each other they both realized who the other was, it was quite easy actually, given that people of their importance tend to recognize each other. And that one of them was looking for the other and surprising for both them.

--

Those dammed mongrels were attacking them again, and they seemed even more zealous than before, chanting frenetically the name of their dead god as they played their fucking battle drums. He thought of the blood he saw flying earlier, and meditated for a moment on what the hell that was. Maybe the dead god was back, maybe this was really a battle against the darkness, or maybe someone took its name to give courage. The mongrels had probably no way to distinguish their real king, since they were in the end all disgusting green mongrels. They seriously looked the same to him, the only thing that distinguished them was their hair color, which was probably the reason why the mongrels dyed it on the first place.

‘Use the bloody horn, deafen their ears with our own music.’ He said bitterly as the heralds began to blow the horn of Arathor over and over again, in an attempt to deafen the sound of the trollish battle drums.

The horde of trolls descended from the northern hills, his troops braced themselves and the sound of metal began to play in the air.

--

The humans were holding into their dam position as the sound of their battle horns kept sounding, it was a terrible orchestra he could feel the thrill of mortality again. He had to be careful, but thankfully loahood had not dulled his senses. The sound of steel against steel, of even elven steel against elven steel was also part of that orchestra.

Meanwhile Ker’ah flew up above trying to find their target, she cried out and began to fly in circles high up in the air on the far side of the battle.

He knew were to go, and he knew who could take him there.

--

An oversized trollish bird was flying over his head, he wondered for a second what was up with that. It was too far away for his archers to attack him, and the bird itself was doing nothing, then it just flew away back to trollish lines.

He wondered for a moment what the hell was that, and looked towards Rommath who remained silent.

‘What happens darling? Scared of a bird?’

Rommath remained silent for a moment, his face frozen and his eyes full of disdain.

‘I know that bird.’

‘You do? Then why is that bird alive.’

‘I wouldn’t mock that bird if I were you Eldengar.’ Rommath replied with a voice that he had never heard the elf use, it was a mixture of fear and resolve. The long ear was not kidding, and he was not drunk either.

‘What is that bird?’ He asked

‘The bird of Jin’thek, his mount, at least until her got a crimson serpent for the battle of Quel’danas.’

‘But isn’t this Jin’thek a demon god now?’ He asked slowly putting pieces together.

‘Yes, at least that is what we thought.’

‘Are you implying that the guy hid all this time somewhere, to make a sudden appearance?’ He asked trying to avoid what he feared.

‘He used blood magic at Quel’danas, at a very rudimentary level but it was enough to defeat Fenthelan.’ Rommath had seen the blood too, he too feared the same Eldengar. But his fear was not a possibility, the magister was convinced.

‘You say he is back?’ He asked in a mixture of fear and excitement, he would get the chance to face a demon god in the battlefield to prove the might of the light.

However Rommath didn’t had time to answer, the shriek of a bird interrupted him and in a fast movement of hands fire began to spew from his hands. The giant bird was swooping down, Eldengar readied the Trol’kalar atop his horse.

--

He grabbed to the feathers of his Ker’ah with one hand while with the other one he latched to his bag as it was his life, it was a crazy gamble but a needed one. The bird turned around in the air, and he felt the heat of elven fire coming from below.

A magister, he thought, probably Rommath was down there alongside with the Emperor, that would explain the use of the plague on that front.

Ker’ah turned around again and this time he was close enough to the ground for him to jump, he spilled the contents of his bag and the frogs began to fall. He flickered his hands and the frogs turned back into their forms.

He landed down, he could hear his bones cry out in pain, they were hurt but not broken. His companions landed soon afterwards, two dire trolls, Lez’li and two of his shadow hunters and Alyson were a few of them.

And before him without a doubt the Emperor of man, a surprising view. He seemed to be a bitter man, or at least his expression showed that, atop his head a simple crown of bronze crowned. Just like in legends, except that his crown was not shiny but bright green, a beautiful color that matched his red robes.

He looked into his eyes.

‘Jin’thek I assume.’ The Emperor of man said.

--

Rommath once again proved himself to be lacking in his effectiveness, the bird swooped down again and from it a troll jumped down, spilling frogs into the air that soon turned into trolls, elves and berserkers. ‘Trollish cunning at its height, using their crude and simple magic’s to their best.’ Eldengar thought

The troll standed up and looked at him, and Eldengar could feel how the mongrel was staring into his eyes. He couldn’t let him do that unpunished but he signalized the Imperial Guard to hold up for a moment. For a reason he couldn’t explain he wanted to see what this troll was going to say, to see if his tounge was like the snake gods they worshiped.

‘Jin’thek I assume’ He said with a cold voice, while he in turn looked into the eyes of the troll. The beast was not looking at him with contempt nor hate, the thing was analyzing him just like he had looked into the eyes of his peasants.

‘DIE.’ Rommath said throwing a bolt of fire, for a second Eldengar thought is this how the unholy leader of trolls dies? Killed by a simple fireball, but soon that thought found its end as a bolt of ice destroyed Rommath projectile. ‘Yes, YES’ He thought, the demon could not go in such a simple light and a drunken fool like Rommath was far from being worthy of claiming the honor to kill such a terrible beast. Also if the troll died in such a simple manner he would have founded his duty disappointing. At the same moment Rommath threw his fireball the imperial guard took advantage of the situation to take a defensive position.

‘Alyson?’ Rommath cried out in surprise and pain

‘Yes.’ An elven woman much like Liera said from the trollish group. A traitor a living example of corruption, of the world he was trying to prevent, of the world that he wanted to heal.

--

The inside of that man’s eyes was terrible, it was as chaotic as the sight of Ula’tek itself. It was chaos, it was madness, but it also reminded him of the eyes of his very own father, of many trolls he had fought in his life. That man, was he crazy? Yes he was insane, but how could he be insane to be like that in this world?

Rommath threw a ball of fire towards him, but someone from his group destroyed it with ice. Probably Lez’li or Alyson, maybe both.

‘Alyson?’ The tarnished magister cried out

‘Yes’ Alyson answered, quietly from behind Jin’thek.

Meanwhile the Emperor was now surrounded by other monsters he had heard of while he was a child. The Imperial Guards, they even had the same armor the glyphs in Ula’tek showed, he looked under their hoods and found frail and old faces.

‘They are the same.’ He whispered in Zandali.

‘So you don’t speak common tongue beast? And you managed to turn elves and humans to your unholy crusade, I am disappointed Rommath I expected more of your people and the Lordaeron weaklings.’

--

‘The beast didn’t even knew common.’ Eldengar thought.

‘The Emperor of Man I assume?’ The mongrel replied in perfect common.

‘So you speak common then, and also recognize my identity good for you.’ He replied sarcastically

‘It was easy to recognize you, you are the one clad in red armor.’ The mongrel replied as he grabbed his sword who looked like elven steel just like his weapon.

‘Not red, Scarlet like human blood. Also I wouldn’t have recognized you clad in steel your kind stole from my dear friend Rommath.’

‘Then I shall paint your crown Scarlet too.’ The mongrel replied in defiance.

‘So you came here to kill me, so smart of you. But you made a terrible mistake.’ Eldengar said while he made a gesture to his troops to wait up, he wanted to say his line.

‘You don’t fuck up with the Trollbanes.’

‘No you are right Emperor, you don’t fuck up with the Trollbanes.’

‘Glad to see you are a fast learner. A pity I have to put you and your silly horde down, you could have made good farm labor’ Eldengar replied

‘You fuck the Trollbanes.’ The green mongrel replied as all hell broke loose.

--

He had brought dire trolls for a reason, soon one of them took a horse and snapped his neck using the dead animal has bludgeon. Thankfully Eldengar was far enough from the front lines to be attacked, and also the bulk of his army couldn’t retreat to save him unless they were eager to doom their frontlines.

Lez’li and Alyson were busy entertaining Rommath in a duel of spell caster, meanwhile he and his trollish Zar’amir had engaged the Imperial guard attempting to reach the emperor.

‘Hiding behind some old people, this is exactly what I expected of the Emperor of man.’ He roared as he exchanged blows with a guard.

‘Think I am a fool, Jin’thek?’ Eldengar replied behind his guards

‘I think you are a monster.’ Jin’thek replied stabbing a guard in the neck

‘What didn’t you liked me gift to your people?’ Eldengar replied jumping from behind the guard to face him.

The man was clearly a monster with an obsession for sarcasm and theatrics, but he knew how to fight with a sword. The emperor lounged forward, but Jin’thek parried and threw him back, as a blow of ice from his side blew up the face of a guard who was about to stab him.

‘Surely your pretty friends are helping you now.’ Eldengar circling Jin’thek.

--

The troll knew how to fight, and his stamina was bigger than his. He had to keep his energies and try to tire the troll all that he could otherwise the beast would have him on his mercy. He wondered how much it would take for reinforcements to arrive, that would seal the fate of the Warchief, however a part of him wanted the reinforcements to come just as he took of the head of the thing.

He charged again mocking the troll ‘Why so silent Warchief? Am I breaking your dear concentration?’ He said as he kept circling the troll.

‘I am not a Warchief.’ The blue haired mongrel replied

‘Oh, aren’t you? What are you, a KING.’ He said as he charged again, his Trol’kalar blocked by the elven steel. ‘Or maybe an emperor like me?’

‘I am a dreamer.’

He couldn’t avoid it, he tried hard not too, he knew the situation was too serious for it.

But he failed, and laughed.

--

‘Why are you laughing’ Jin’thek replied on the verge of anger, he couldn’t believe this man. Was he serious? Or was he intentionally trying to mock him?

‘I am merely complimenting your dreaming capability.’ The man said once again charging, this time pushing him back. The man charged again this time with more strength, and this time he couldn’t parry and the sword smashed against his chainmail grazing his skin.

It burned worse than Hakkar as the sword gleamed on touching his blood.

‘I got you Warchief, and Trol’kalar wants more.’ Eldengar said, his smile shaping up in a mocking way
Trol’kalar it was the troll slayer, that is why his wound burned up so much and wasn’t regenerating. This time he charged, smashing his sword against the Emperors armor.

--

The trollish charge was terribly strong, for a moment he regretted not brining up a clansman with him. They were perfect after all for fighting mongrels like this one. His imperial guards were dam busy fighting those trolls he brought and reinforcements were not coming, and then he heard the horn.

He could see cavalry in the distance, literal cavalry swooping down. That distracted Jin’thek for a moment and he took his chance he charged against Jin’thek stabbing in the shoulder. The troll screamed and dropped to the ground.

He kicked off the elven sword and looked upon his prey, he could hear the other trolls shouting but the Imperial Guard kept them busy.
‘Now you will die once and for all Jin’thek, can you hear the cavalry coming to my rescue?’

‘Yes, I can hear the cavalry.’

‘You are dead Jin’thek’ Eldengar said with a smile on his face, he couldn’t believe what was about to happen it was the greatest moment of his life. ‘I win, mankind wins I go north to fuck you all.’

But the mongrel laughed, that irritated him, so as he prepared the blow he screamed ‘Enjoy your death bastard!!!’

--

As the emperor of man flashed his sword he could see them up in the sky, about to prepare their onslaught.

‘You made two mistakes mon.’ He said as the fire rained over the cavalry, the sound of burning horses and liquid fire distracted Eldengar for one split second, it was enough. He rolled away and jumped on the Emperor’s back throwing him to the ground and stabbing him on the back with a knife.

--

The horses burned, and before he realized the pain of steel entering his back was running all over his body, elven steel. The irony struck him, he felt his wife had betrayed him and she was an elf, but he never thought he would actually feel Elven steel on his back. Thankfully the armor protected the vital parts, but the weight of the troll and his armor was to much he fell to the ground cursing.

‘Damm you troll.’ He said as the troll kicked him
--

‘Two mistakes mon.’ He said struggling to breathe ‘First the joke is on you, I already died once.’

--
The dam troll had the guts to mock him in this situation, he laughed in desperation and angst. ‘Good one, and the second one?’ He said coughing up blood.

And he said with the Trol’kalar in his hand:

‘Trolls, win.’
__________________
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Last edited by Timolas; 06-16-2013 at 08:09 PM..
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Old 06-23-2013, 11:18 AM
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Ravenholdt, Plunder Isle

The team from Ravenholdt had been trekking through the mountains of Alterac for some time. The journey had been treacherous at points, making it all the more frustrating that most of them did not know where they were going.

Travot Ravenholdt: Look, not that I don’t enjoy a frosty jaunt through these old mountains, but is there a point to this little excursion? It strikes me that our attentions are required elsewhere.

Warester Van Dam: There is a point, Travot, and you’re going to see it just on the other side of this cave.

Travot hoped that didn't mean he was about to be stabbed. His fears were soon alayed. Walking through the small opening in the rocks, the team was greeted by a view of a handful of buildings mysteriously erected in the mountain’s crevasse. It was a small settlement, but the farm and water well suggested it was entirely self-sustaining. It was occupied by recognizable individuals: all agents of Ravenholdt.

Warester Van Dam: Welcome to Ravenholdt Manor.

“Cruel Barb” Friendly: When did you arrange all this @#$%, Van Dam?

Warester Van Dam: For some time, this has been part of my greater plan for Ravenholdt’s future; a plan that I don’t imagine all of you are going to like. I brought you here to explain. The truth is, this was necessary because of my own failures.

A smile crept onto Travot's face. Part of him still liked hearing Van Dam admit to failure.

Travot Ravenholdt: Go on…

Warester Van Dam: Travot, since your ancestor found a home for Thoradin’s Assassins’ Guild in these mountains two thousand years ago, Ravenholdt had maintained a secret headquarters. It’s what kept us alive. Since I took over as Grand Master four years ago, that secrecy has been completely lost. Somehow everyone knew where we were hosted: trolls; Malefactors; Chancellors; black dragons; the Collective; the list goes on. I have to own that.

Myrokos Silentform: You made the right calls, brother. We needed a staging ground for the Great War more than we needed a secret base.

Warester Van Dam: Maybe we did. But the Great War is over – its architects eliminated and the evils behind them dispelled, for the most part. If Ravenholdt is to survive for another two thousand years, it needs to return to the shadows.

Travot Ravenholdt: You put us on the world stage, Van Dam. We’ve got entangling alliances out our asses and more enemies than I can count on both hands. We’re supposed to just vanish now?

Warester Van Dam: Vanishing is what we do. But to vanish, you need smoke… That’s why Fenris had to burn.

That statement turned some heads.

Myrokos Silentform: What are you saying?

Warester Van Dam: Fenris was unsustainable. Yes, it let us rally others, but that was also its weakness. I knew when I had Xalmor Windrunner removed from Karazhan that he would retaliate with malice and spite… that’s why I didn’t simply kill him.

Myrokos Silentform: You wanted him to retaliate?

Warester Van Dam: As Travot said, Ravenhodlt had been thrust onto the world stage. It had to be removed plausibly. Azeroth needed to think us beaten, and the Malefactors had the credibility to do that.

Myrokos Silentform: So you sacrificed our own people!?

Van Dam lowered his head, clearly not proud of what he’d done.

Warester Van Dam: I’d been shuffling resources and personnel from Fenris to here in secret for some time. Unfortunately, Xalmor’s retaliation came much faster than I’d anticipated. I have no idea how he got off the island I trapped him on so quickly. I intended to have New Qu and his entire staff vacated before the Malefactor attack.

Myrokos Silentform: And who were you going to leave at Fenris? You couldn’t have removed everyone.

Warester Van Dam: No, that would have drawn suspicion. I’d been staffing the Keep with mostly specific transfers from the Ramrod Legion. I knew about the lax ethical recruitment edict you slipped into Project: Ramrod, Travot. What was it you accepted? “Banditos, brigands, pirates, outcasts, mutants, carnies, and deadbeat dads”?

Travot Ravenholdt: We needed bodies, and fast! What was I supposed to do?

Warester Van Dam: I’m not judging, Travot. But I knew a sacrifice had to be made, so I used your less reputable recruits to make it. As a form of penance.

Myrokos Silentform: Are you kidding me, Warester? Barb trained those men! They fought for you in Alterac! They were our people! And you decided they deserved to die because they robbed someone in their youth or didn’t take care of their kids? Who are you to make those decisions? We’re a guild of assassins; we’ve all got blood on our hands!

Warester Van Dam: I know. I know… But it was so Ravenholdt could survive. It was the only way to fall off the grid again. Ravenholdt must be dead to the world. That includes our allies: the Incorruptibles, the Council of Tirisfal, Stormwind, all of them.

“Cruel Barb” Friendly: The Ramrods?

Warester Van Dam: A clandestine league of assassins has no business employing a conventional military. They’ve been occupying Alterac more or less independently; I reason they would be happy to settle in their adopted home.

“Cruel Barb” Friendly: At the least they might add some much needed genetic diversity to the place…

Myrokos Silentform: And how will your agents feel about following your orders when they know that their lives are nothing more than chess pieces to you? How can you go on as the Grand Master?

Warester Van Dam: Nobody else knows. Nobody else can know. I’ve only told you of this plan, because I trust your discretion completely. Xalmor is dead, and his cult of personality will crumble without him. There’s no need for vengeance; Ravenholdt can move on.

Myrokos looked away, a silence falling over the group for a few tense moments.

Myrokos Silentform: I’m sorry, Warester. I’ll keep your secret, but I can’t be a part of this anymore. Maybe I’ll come back one day, but for now... I can’t be here knowing the cost. Goodbye, brother.

Van Dam averted his eyes as Myrokos walked away, but Barb grabbed his arm and halted his egress.

“Cruel Barb” Friendly: Where will you go?

Myrokos Silentform: I don’t know. Anandor Darafel is still at large. Someone should track him down, make sure he doesn’t do to any other children what he did to me. Maybe I’ll bring my real father with me to help.

Barb nodded in approval.

“Cruel Barb” Friendly: Good luck then… asshole.

Myrokos Silentform: Heh. Love you too, Barb.

And with that, Myrokos disappeared into the cave entrance.

Warester Van Dam: Either of you want to leave too?

Neither Travot nor Barb said anything.

Warester Van Dam: I knew you two would understand. I didn’t invite Magyver or Kid because I knew they wouldn’t, and we can’t afford to lose them at this point. I suspected Myrokos would react that way, but I had to try.

Travot Ravenholdt: You’d lie to the rest, but not him? Why?

Warester Van Dam: Because he was right. I can’t go on as Grand Master, not after what I’ve done. I’ve betrayed those I was sworn to protect. Make no mistake, I’d do it again… but I need to pay penance for my own actions. Wrathchild and I are going to Karazhan with the Council of Tirisfal. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to fix the damage that Men’heva did to this world, trying to set things right and make for us the future we were supposed to have. I thought Myrokos might take over for me, but as I suspected he can’t make the hard call when it’s necessary. But you can, Barb…

“Cruel Barb” Friendly: Me?

Warester Van Dam: You’re the only choice, Grand Master Friendly.

“Cruel Barb” Friendly: I… well, @#$. That’s quite a burden you’re putting on me.

Warester Van Dam: You can handle it. This is yours now. Bring our people home.

Van Dam looked upon Ravenholdt Manor for the last time.

Warester Van Dam: Goodbye, my friends. I can’t express how much these last four years as Grand Master have meant to me. We’ve been through so much together, and truth be told I doubted we’d make it this far. But we saved the world. You should both be proud, and so should all those that helped us along the way. We’re going our separate ways, but each of us will take this Great War with us.

And with that, Warester Van Dam walked away.

Travot Ravenholdt: So, the end of the Great War, but a new beginning for Ravenholdt?

Grand Master “Cruel Barb” Friendly: Shut the @#$% up, Travot. Let me just contemplate the gravity of this moment for a minute.

---

The pirate’s throne in Bloodsail Hold on Plunder Isle had been empty. It was surrounded by offerings of remembrance; candles, cutlasses, makrura nectar, and scrolls of protection. But the throne could not sit vacant forever.

Kraven Cobra: Its time.

Clearing away the tributes, Kraven Cobra sat down. The Commodore’s ever-loyal second was now lord of pirates.

The Bloodsails that survived the battle in Zul’Aman got the hell out of their as soon as possible, only stealing what they could carry on their persons. With Mawkiki’s death, her loyalists and trafficking business were subsumed into the Buccaneers along with what was left of the Gimp’s crew. Rumor had it the Buffoon was finally dead as well, although it wasn’t the first time such a rumor arose. In any event, he wasn’t anywhere around so his resources were gobbled up as well. The consolidation of power didn’t end there.

In a stunning display for a man who was best described by most women as “a creeper,” Kraven successfully wooed Lolita Scipio while in the Badlands and brought her faction of the Collective under his control, making his scallywags the premiere underworld criminal organization on Azeroth and scoring some primo tail in the process.

Kraven Cobra: It’s exactly what Namor would have wanted. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me…







Afterword


Barb would go on to lead Ravenholdt as the Grand Master, Magyver MacGowen by her side. They’d eventually marry, with Barb only occasionally domestically abusing her burly husband. Their first children were twins, named Viktor and Amaulthar.

Kid Gorgeous leveraged his newfound humanoid intellect to become Ravenholdt’s new Quartermaster. He had a litter of kittens with Gal Princess. Five was enough for Kid, and Gal subsequently elected to be spayed.

Percy Fayette became the new leader of the Nightslayers, a streamlined version of the original elite unit. Mission briefings were held in the Robere de Changee Memorial Ready Room.

Krasus returned to his cavernous sanctum, which served as the meeting hall of the Incorruptibles when the occasion warranted. The red dragon never forgot the benefit of assembling a team of mortal heroes to face existential threats to the planet. He became a member of Dalaran’s Council of Six and was gifted the Ancient Oculus, which came to be known as the Eye of Dalaran, to help rebuild the city. He never used another animal familiar.

Cathia Malana led her Pride of tigons to Tel’Abim, where they set up a successful home. The tigons were rarely seen thereafter, but were repeatedly the subject of rumors due to a general fascination with the race.

The Deathmantle Elite struggled to return to their normal lives after being raised into undeath by Arronax. Those that so chose to were permitted to become members of Ravenholdt.

The Manta became depressed after Namor’s death and began menacing shipping lanes once more. He was eventually killed by Krasus through use of a potent poison.

A month after the Battle of Ula-Tek, Nozari discovered she was pregnant.

Bullba retired from lumberjacking to lead her people on Fiji full-time, only occasionally felling trees with her claws… for fun.

Mama Cucina’s Spicy Meatball Company went on to corner the ground meat market in the Eastern Kingdoms, and the Meatball Man mascot became a household advertising icon.

Bellasco’s life spiraled out of control without Zero-Zero-Nine’s positive influence. It is rumored that he was the primate that initially spread the AIDS virus to humanoids on Azeroth.

A thousand years later, Bishop Natalie Seline became obsessed with the dark energies wielded by the orc necrolytes that had invaded the planet. Her studies of dark magics became obsessive, and she eventually came into possession of the only surviving copy of Tome of Eternity’s additional chapters, as authored by Tobijah Kruel.

Scavell was paralyzed after Men’heva crippled him. He eventually regained his full faculties, but shortly thereafter retired as Guardian. Erbag and Shortee Fizzlebang remained as trusted members of the Council.

Relfthra eventually escaped the pocket universe within the Eye of Dalaran that he became trapped in during the Battle of Ula-Tek. He was present when Aegywnn was appointed as Scavell’s Guardian successor, and he eventually fathered another child who he more carefully reared.

Grand Marshal Owen Zverenhoff led his people in the Ramrod Legion, as well as the mutants under Broseph Sleeve, to settle and integrate into Alterac, which continued its conflict with the trolls at the battle of Valen’s Cut.

Myrokos Silentform and Krol eventually tracked down Anandor Darafel. But that’s a story for another time…
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Old 06-24-2013, 01:45 PM
Ashenmoon Ashenmoon is offline

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Midsummer’s day, 919 years before the First War of Orcs and Humans


I. Late evening, Valen’s Cut

Over the ridges and valleys of Alterac the earth seethed with struggles great and small. The darkling firmament - pierced with early stars wheeling down their preordained courses - remained untouched by the smoke-filled breath and clamour of war and life and death below.

Southeast of the vertiginous rock formations known as the Cut of Valen the hills rose successively higher. Evergreens clung to the slopes but snarled-grass meadows claimed some of tops, where clusters of menhirs marked long-forgotten gods’ hallows. Upon one such promotory was gathered an eclectic company among the forlorn obelisks.

Their leader - an elf, like most of his companions - stood upon a rocky outcropping, heavy robes billowing and tattered cloak flowing about him carried by currents of air. In one fist he clenched a stola, a multihued stripe of cloth whose colours recalled the Faiths of the Four.

In the other he grasped the hilt of a great sword, ancient and hoary, forged ages past by long-dead masters. It stank of power and age; of a storied, primeval past submerged not far beneath its jagged edge, waiting to burst out once more. It was the Zin’rokh.

"Master..." a young red-haired elf said. "What is happening? Who is winning?"

"Victory," muttered the first elf, shaking his head. "No victory can come from this senselessness."

With an all-encompassing gesture he indicated the Second Battle of Valen's Cut.

A charnelhouse bacchanal, tens of thousands of bodies straining against each other in a murderous embrace. Clouds of hot-dry dust rising where blood-churned ground had not already become morasses of slippery mud. Wayward gusts of wind carried the noise of a hundred thousand throats raw for screaming. On the northern plateau ringing the Cut the host of the Living Dream swarmed, pushing and straining. Hesperian and Silverpine knights grimly advanced through the Cut, hacking and slashing, while all the eastern front was sheltered in confusion. To the west the charge of Arathor's legions - carrying the standards of the Emperor - faltered, stalled, and everywhere death swirled down.

"All these broken, mortal instruments - do you not see, Matha, how they have failed? Words, not swords, will end this bloodshed."

"Yes, Kariel."





II. Before noon, the Shrine of Ula-Tek

"... I saw you die!" Seranidan protested. "I watched them kill you, Kariel!"

Kariel Winthalus - the King of Elfkind, Loremaster of the Four, First among the Quorum of the Benefactors, exiled and reinstated Councillor of the Convocation of Silvermoon - grinned, enigmatic and teasing, as if savouring the last moments of a grand jest before explaining it to a confused friend.

"'They' never killed me. I was trapped, Seranidan, caught by a safeguard of the mechanism which had been used to resurrect me after Ephraim Marsh killed me. I was locked away within a pocket dimension. Mathredis Firestar found out how to release me."

"But you died... I watched that crazed half-troll carve your head off your shoulders!"

Seranidan was breathing heavily, heart beating wildly, skin clammy with cold sweat. It was too much. Even with all else that had happened here just hours past - which had been too great to truly comprehend - the return of Kariel Winthalus was too much to bear for Seranidan. The King had died at the blistering apogee of his power, at the very verge of reclaiming Silvermoon for elfkind and uniting the world against trollkind and for the Four.

Instead the mantle of leadership had passed on to Seranidan. And slowly, inexorably, despite all his efforts - allying with Marsh again, extorting the Stormwinders, trusting the maddened Rimtori - the Benefactors had fallen to their ruin and the world was worse off than ever before...

"True. But by the unholy powers of the Tower of Karazhan my visit to the gardens of Mnesthes was a short one. I was dragged back from the afterlife into this hell we call living." A wry smile, a lopsided shrug.

"... slave to Men'heva's will..."

Kariel shook his head.

"Men'heva would not bear touching me. He instigated Ephraim to end my life, knowing it was only a question of time before I rebelled against Karazhan's overlordship. But he sent the Seneschal to awaken me and make of me an example to all Men’heva’s lieutenants. But the Seneschal cared little for Silvermoon and I was soon brought down by a most unlikely creature - an elven magister who betrayed us."

Seranidan's brow was creased.

"Alyson Antille," he murmured, remembering his spies’ reports of Mathredis Firestar's movements and meetings. "She found a way to use and usurp the Seneschal's safety measures meant to control you."

Kariel nodded.

"Mathredis... the boy figured out how to bring you back. How?"

"He joined the Seneschal. For weeks, months, he travelled by her side - until her very end - and learned her secrets. Triggering the failsafe which locked me in an arcane prison was easy enough; undoing that took a great deal more effort and knowledge. And Mathredis meant not only to spring me free, but to utterly destroy my shackles. My old apprentice was dogged in his efforts and learned what he needed - some from the Seneschal, the rest from Irael the White."

"The mad disciple of Chameral?"

"The very same. Irael had studied Mezejin sorcery under the Ivory Templar for many long years. His... natural predilections made him a viable recruit of the Crimson March. Through them Irael learned many of the secrets of Karazhan as well. When the Seneschal died, Mathredis found himself - quite by chance - in a position to bargain services with Irael. And so he bought the last pieces of the puzzle needed to set me free. All my apprentice needed then was the amulet which contained me."

"The amulet... Alyson Antille had it, all this time?"

Kariel grinned.

"Yes. For one reason or another, despite joining the Living Dream Alyson Antille never revealed the significance of the trinket she carried. Perhaps she did not know, not fully. But Mathredis was patient. He learned that it had been an elf - not a troll - who had ended my brief second coming in Silvermoon. So he seeded the Living Dream with his agents and waited. At long last one who called himself Rayan began to suspect that Alyson Antille carried the amulet which was at the same time my prison. He sent the proper signals through Mathredis' network, and before long..."

"Mathredis teleported in and scooped up the amulet," Seranidan finished.

Kariel's grin grew wider still.

"No. He asked nicely."






III. Just past dawn, the Sunwell Plateau

The figure stood statue-still, forbidding even in his posture of openness.

"I... live..."

Mathredis felt a flutter of fear.

"Lord.... Lord Kariel..."

Slowly the figure turned - glistening wet arms still rigidly outreached, dripping golden drops of water glittering in the rising sun. Stern carved features faced Mathredis Firestar framed by pale sculpted curls of hair. Black ragged wounds gaped emptily across limbs and encircling the neck with dark bruises. Colourless eyes bore coldly into Mathredis' aghast stare.

Mathredis fell to his knees, legs betraying him.

This is not-

"Kariel... I... I tried so hard to free you... the dreams, the dreams you sent me-"

What have I done what have I done who is-

"Tell me," rasped a torn voice, tombstone chords grating against each other. "Tell me everything."

And Mathredis Firestar did.

He told the revenant of Kariel Winthalus of all that had passed since he had died, one and a half years ago. How they had lost Silvermoon and their allies, how his followers had squabbled over the succession and torn each other apart. That Rimtori, Zamashen, Chameral, Lanudal - they were all gone. Weeping, Mathredis recounted the Benefactors’ long fall from grace. How he and Seranidan had clashed while creatures like Arronax and his betrayals had brought the world to the brink of destruction...

And how Mathredis had come to see the trolls as the least of the world’s dangers. How he had seen through them a path to lasting peace.

At long last Mathredis looked up again, shoulders aching with tension and fear.

Kariel Winthalus’ spring-green eyes were smiling.

“Rise, my young apprentice. Take me to my people.”

*

From the mystic mists of the Sunwell they appeared, master and apprentice striding through a glass-still reflection of the sky above. Ripples of their passage spread through the golden surface, rings growing wider and wider.

Kariel Winthalus emerged from the waters. Awestruck servants garbed him.

There on the flagstone-manicured shores of the Sunwell he received his most devoted followers. Although the world had seen dead bodies reanimated before, such wights ever were haunted by the shadow of their making. But this Winthalus that walked among them, laughing and speaking - this Winthalus seemed lighter than air, carried by a penumbra of radiance. Several of those gathered there would later claim to have seen his hands and head surrounded by halos of light.

The Ladies of Summerdrake were the first to be overcome by emotion. As different as night and day, together they threw themselves on the ground before him.

“Lord Kariel...” gasped fair Marisal.

“You have returned!” cried dark Isirami, reaching for the hem of his simple robe.

“King Kariel is back!” someone shouted, and the crowd took up the call. “King Kariel! King Kariel!”

Lords of the Convocation shouted their greetings, and generals of the elven armies raised their arms in salute. High clerics of the Faiths gazed with rapture and exclaimed the greatness of the Gods while nobles of the great Houses bowed low. The only ones not caught in the moment was chieftain Maka’s group of observers, which was led by a wizened warlord named Moji’ko. The trolls shifted warily, hands drifting towards their weapons.

But Kariel Winthalus held up his hands for silence, and spoke.

“Kariel... yes. That was my name. King Kariel, however...” He shook his head, smiling ruefully. “I am Kariel. I come back to you now, at the crest of a falling wave. Much has changed, and much more shall change. I am Kariel the changer!”

And he turned to face chieftain Moji’ko’s group.

Mathredis held his breath. The trolls’ hands froze...





IV. Noon, the Shrine of Ula-Tek

Kariel Winthalus descended the Shrine of Ula-Tek to his followers waiting outside. Beside him walked the penitent Lord-Exalt, Seranidan, and behind him in a limping and ragged line stumbled the remains of the Exalted who had fought in the battle. Slung over Winthalus’ back was the great blade Zin’rokh.

The other forces that had participated in the desperate campaign within and around the Shrine lay camped around the wasted remains of the city that had once thrived here, exhausted. Only a handful of hours had passed in the outside world after the ending of Xythi’mort. Once enemies, these trolls and men and elves and members of every other race had stood together against the gorgons and forcess of darkness.

But most of their leaders were already gone, teleported to distant battlefronts. While Kariel Winthalus’ companions met with each other - even as Seranidan and Mathredis shook hands - he cast his gaze out over the destruction and the milling, confused men and women who had fought so desperately. They had thought the war over, the victory won. Still the world hurtled on and they were left here, forgotten and lost.

He frowned.

One last elf issued forth from the shadowy crevaces of the Shrine. He came down to stand beside his old friend.

“Winthalus... I had heard you were dead.”

“And I thought the same of you, Yol’tharion.”

“We might as well. We failed. We have all failed, Winthalus. The Benefactors my father founded have been defeated. The Prophet is dead. The Gods will never be woken, locked in a sleep tantamount to death.”

“Sleeping? No... the Gods do not sleep. They never did. They are dreams, dreams which we aspire to. Through us they live and through them our lives are given meaning. They are virtues too pure for the face of this earth, and so they exist here - within our souls.”

Winthalus’ voice rang across the field, echoing between the valleys. The forgotten masses heard his call.

“No, the Four can never die! Their dream is too deeply a part of this world, of every living thing, to die. It is the dream we all share - of virtue, of freedom! No, you faithful - celebrate! For the greatest battle has already been won. Now we must decide what to do of that victory.”

*

“Show it to me, my faithful,” Kariel had said. “Show me our dream, our Sanctuary, our new and living High Home.”

And Kariel Winthalus journeyed at last to Fagerstrom.

It had to be explained to Seranidan and those who had fought in the Shrine that events in the outside world had continued much quicker than within. Seranidan had not slept since arriving to the Shrine with Men’heva, but to the rest of the world over fifty days and nights had passed. And in that time a great troll army had passed through the Hinterlands to threaten the heart of the mannish kingdoms.

Thus he was amazed to see that the Castle, perched on its peak over the city wall, was all but healed of the scars it had sustained the day the Malefactors attacked it. For Seranidan, that was yesterday - when he had abandoned the battle of Kingsway to fight the Malefactors in that smoke-filled courtyard. And when he learned Men’heva yet lived he had mustered the Exalted against Arronax and torn apart the vile bowers of Österberg. From there they continued to fabled Ulmat Thondr and saw the truth for their own eyes and rejoiced that the Prophet yet lived. Flush with victory had the preparations been made for the Awakening of the Four.

The fulfillment of all his dreams... it had seemed so close.

Such terrors that had followed! The Exalted, cruelly decimated. And all the world had changed, leaving the Benefactors behind.

And he thought he now understood what Kariel needed to do. He had to repair the damage.




V. Afternoon, Fagerstrom and Sanctuary

There is a hill beside the rough-hewn stone of Fagerstrom’s north gate. Dressed with yellowing grass, elven artisans had taken the lump of land and shaped wandering paths of smooth gravel interspersed with statues and sorcerous fountains. From atop the hill Kariel Winthalus looked west over the city wall, seeing the castle and many houses and spires being built or repaired; and further beyond the great arm of the Misty Sea that pierced the land.

Under the vast distant sky he pivoted and gazed north and east, and saw there Sanctuary spreading to the foothills of Khaz Modan. Pavilions and gardens, streets and bazaars. Great fields and nascent palaces. Elves and humans, old men and young children, laughing, playing, living. Elfkind’s new home. Bustling with motion. Crowded with thoughts, colours, impressions.

“It is him!”

“He is back!”

“The King! King Kariel!”

*

Lord-Exalt Seranidan led the way to Fagerstrom Castle. Once there, Kariel Winthalus asked to be taken to the council chamber. And his followers asked of him:

“My lord? Shall we not go to the war room - our generals are there, ready for your orders. The Battle of Valen’s Cut is about to begin, and our armies are ready to join the fray and destroy the troll horde once and for all!”

But Kariel Winthalus waved the suggestion away.

“I have questions, questions that need answers. Bring me our advisers and councillors, our friends and allies. There is time.”

That Strattania was held by the Lebenstraum he had already understood. But the situation in the Midlands was precarious: general Lee had left Andorhal all but undefended. And in Tirisfal the drakkari army of the Frost King Gul’alarion ranged free. Winthalus asked to speak with General Lee , to hear his reasoning first-hand. Within a matter of minutes Lee, leading his men in Alterac, spoke through a Portal to Winthalus’ council in Fagerstrom.

“Master elves, well met. I regret I cannot attend your meeting in person. My forces are entangled in difficult terrain, slowed by trollish traps. Send me your arcanists, your Exalted, and I will clear these hills and strike the enemy in his back!”

Winthalus promised him they would soon send help. Then he spoke with General Lee for some time regarding the state of the Midlands and reports of Strattania’s conditions. Soon Winthalus’ arranged audience with the Capital City was due. Lee and many of the elven advisers were astonished when it became clear no reinforcements were immediately forthcoming, but the elven lord offered no comment.

Across the Portal that opened to Lordaron’s throne room sat the two Menethil brothers, Tileot and a ragged Andol. The latter carried still on him the dirt of a long road travelled recently.

“King Kariel,” greeted Tileot neutrally.

“No ‘King’, prince Tileot. ‘Kariel’ alone will suffice. I understand King Andol recently returned from a parley with the Frost King Gul’alarion. Will you speak to me of what he has said, and hear my counsel?”

“Gul’alarion,” replied Andol, “sent me to convince Lordaeron to surrender. He says it would be wise and spare many lives. Why do you care, elf? Why should we listen to you? The Lord-Exalt betrayed us and left us alone at Kingsway. And the Bloody Templar caused untold disasters - I should never have let her into my trust.”

“I care, King Andol, for Lordaeron is home to over half a million elves. Whatever you do will affect them. I care, King Andol, for through Rimtori I, Kariel Winthalus, swore to stand by Lordaeron. And you should listen, if nothing else, then as a favour for all my people has done for you - are still doing. You are not alone in this. Do you not wonder why the Drakkari have not already assaulted your walls? Northrend burns. Gularion’s own capital is burning, his villages ruined. Marshal Idonis is leading an elven army hunting the remains of the scattered Drakkari kingdom. They suffer even more than do you.”

“Then what would you have us do?”

“Join me. Come to Valen’s Cut.”

*

While Kariel Winthalus’ council continued, Sanctuary came aflame with the news of his return. As astonishing as King Kariel’s return was to the common elf, Yol’tharion’s presence stunned those loyal to the Benefactors. The people took to the streets, illusionists set the sky on fire; musicians and entertainers played their drums. An impromptu festival engulfed all of Sanctuary.

To the Castle came all the many thousands who wished to see King Kariel. Many asked to be let into his presence, of course, but only a scant few were allowed into the council chamber.

One such delegation consisted of the leaderless followers of Teliel Zamashen, the Empress-Sorceress. Among them were Sister Beatrice, Imam Cleardawn, and the viridian monk Veraris.

“Her dream yet lives,” Kariel Winthalus told them. “In me is preserved her truths.”

They kissed the floor he walked upon.

When Winthalus next spoke to the Hesperian Counts Scipio and Kaleiki, he learned the battle of Valen’s Cut had begun in truth.

“On the west flank - it seems the Alteraci failed to keep watch.” Kaleiki frowned. “The demonstrations there from earlier on grew into a full assault before they realized what was happening. General Marius is sending me and my men through the Cut, to flank them.”

“Very good. We must trust in Marius’ judgement.”

“What of you, lord Winthalus? What of the elves?” Scipio asked.

“Not yet. Soon, I promise you, I will be among you. When I do, can I count on your support?”

“For Lady Zamashen - always!” said Kaleiki intensely, before leaving to lead his charge.

Scipio, alone, hesitated. “General Marius commands the Coalition in this battle, and I have sworn myself to Grand Duke Nezario. As far as those obligations constrain me, lord Winthalus... my gratitude for Lord Seranidan and the Benefactors’ assistance in saving my land from the Stormwind invasion is very great. You can count on me, whatever you do.”

*

The situation in Fagerstrom grew out of control. The Castle gates were closed and barred. A storm of people outside cried out, chanting Winthalus’ name.

Inside, the returned leader showed little sign of urgency. When the great strategist, Nallorath, discussed options for intervening in Valen’s Cut, Kariel Winthalus remained quiet.

“What of Kul Tiras?” he asked at last. “What of the south?”

And new messengers were sent through portals to find the answers Winthalus were looking for.

Envoys to queen Elaine of Kul Tiras reported that she was on her warship, along with most of the Tirasi fleet. A great troll armada had been harassing the region for several days now, trying to find an opening. But Boralus’ ships were built my masters of their craft, and with them were marines from Stormwind and pyromages from Sanctuary. Across the high seas a loose and disconnected battle was being fought, spread over distant horizons.

Queen Arinre of Gilneas, however, could be reached.

While Arinre Greymane had never met Kariel Winthalus, they both were well informed of one another. Winthalus, for his part, professed admiration for the strongwilled woman. The many woes of Gilneas had at one point seemed about to break the country irreparably apart, but the people of the peninsula had found salvation in their young queen. Arinre I had - ruthlessly, some would say - expunged all trace of internal conflict, and secured the assistance of the Benefactors at an early stage to rebuild her broken nation. She was by now the second-longest reigning monarch in the continent, outlasted only by Halman Perenolde - who had spent much of his reign incapacitated in one way or another. At this time she had installed herself in Österberg, from whence she projected her power onto Hochstein and determined the future of the duchy’s future relationship with Stormwind.

When the enthroned Arinre appeared beyond the Portal’s window, she was sided by a familiar figure.

“Lanudal!” cried Seranidan with disbelief.

“Lord-Exalt,” wheezed Lanudal in an empty, echoing voice. “I was wondering when I would see you again.”

“How? How is this possible?”

“By the arts of the powers of Karazhan and Neemin the Maker combined... I was brought back to this, this shade of life. A slave to their will. After the fall of Karazhan I and others like me were set free. Our wills our own once more.”

Empty, black eyes sought and caught Kariel Winthalus’ gaze. Queen Arinre leaned forward quietly, curious, as if studying a strange insect.

“Old friend...”

“You were as dead as me, Kariel. The same powers brought us back. Yet the darkness which haunts me I cannot perceive behind you.”

Winthalus inclined his head towards Mathredis Firestar.

“I am indebted to my faithful apprentice. But this is not the time, Lanudal, though I am glad to see you. Queen Arinre! You have heard, of course, of the battle of Valen’s Cut. I come seeking your counsel. The war with the troll is about to end, on way or another. I would have you by our side when that happens.”

Arinre frowned.

“Valen’s Cut. The hubris of this Eldengar - he seeks to make a name for himself as great as Thoradin’s. If my counsel had been heard we would have spoken to the troll, not campaigned against him.”

Fagerstrom’s council chamber froze in shocked silence.

“It was thanks to a troll army Stormwind and all of the south was not destroyed by the Crimson March. Still the Witch Kelae and her hordes range from the borders of Hochstein to the heart of Khaz Modan... no, the trolls saved this continent. And from I have learned of events in Zul’aman recently, they have done more than just that.”

Debate followed. Many were outraged.

Reports that the trollish assault had been turned back were met by cheers. They were followed by descriptions of Eldengar’s use of the plague. Horizontal observation portals were opened far above the battlefield.

It was a massacre.

*

Rel Vitalian had aged considerably during the past few months. But when he saw Lanudal’s face - deathly pale and dark bruises aside - his face split in a wide grin.

“Lanudal! I thought you were dead!”

The discordant tones of Lanudal’s reply marred the reunion. “It is a long tale, Rel Vitalian. One we will speak of later. This is Kariel Winthalus. He wishes to speak with Mallick.”

Rel’s eyes widened.

“King Kariel is back? By the Four, the end must be near indeed. The dead are walking. But why you speak to me of my uncle, I do not know. Mallick betrayed us all.”

“He was coerced to renounce his faith, all his beliefs, to safe his life and the lives of those he protected. The Lord-Protector deserves more from you, Rel Vitalian.”

“Forgive me, master elf. But the Clans do not forgive weakness or mistakes. My uncle might as well be dead to the Vereka and the rest. They will never follow him again, even against the dog Eldengar.”

“What of Katerina? Will the clans follow her if she asks?”

The clansman’s eyes narrowed.

“What are you up to? Pulling new strings? Creating more puppets? It did not work so well last time, and we Vitali have suffered the consequences. I do not see you elves wandering the desolate wastes. I did not see Exalted by our side when Eldengar stormed Stromgarde. Where was your concern then?”

“Mistakes were made, yes. But we are here now, and against Eldengar we stand united. Will you - and Mallick - stand by us?”

*

After sending away most of those present in the chamber, Kariel Winthalus gestured for Mathredis Firestar to approach. It was time.

Firestar, in turn, motioned Alanassori forward.

She and Kariel spoke for a long while. At one point, Winthalus opened a portal himself, to the cold wastes of Northrend. Smoke and ruin littered the landscape. Arctic winds swept into the room.

Winthalus nodded. The councillors were allowed back into the chamber.

“I have avoided this until the last. Before I speak with my enemies I had to speak to my friends... and there is still one more to approach. How,” asked Kariel Winthalus, “can we end this war with the trolls, if we cannot make peace with ourselves? How can we advise mankind, when we do not listen to our own advise? We must go to Caer Darrow. We must speak to the Sunking.”






VI. Late afternoon, Caer Darrow

Midsummer’s eve gathered over the Isle of Darrow, a darkening mass of land set in a vast bronze reflection of the sky. Seagulls hung suspended in the thick, soft air, looking down.

On the southern ledge of the Isle was situated its only major settlement. Spread around a natural harbour - where lay the Sunswallow, an elven war galley from the High Home, and three damaged Lordaerean battleships being repaired, and several dozen Hesperian and Alteraci riverbarges, lakecraft and fishing vessels - was the quiet town of Sunstriders’ Rest.

The town’s slender elven architecture was distributed over only a small portion of the Isle. Most of the rest was out of bounds, belonging to the original inhabitants. From the town a small path led north, through wiry grass and stunted groves, towards the rugged peak of the Isle. There - half an hour’s walk distant - was nestled among the evergreens and gnarled oaks the simple abodes of the Druids of Caer Darrow.

Only one other road left the Rest, as the town was known, creeping along the cliffs to a high bluff on the Isle’s western edge. Crowning that hill was village-sized compound enclosed by tall screens of cloth, painted with the gold and crimson sigil of the Sunstriders.

Kariel Winthalus and two score of his followers appeared on the path a short distance from the compound.

Mathredis Firestar was worried.

“My lord, I fear this may have been unwise. We do not know how the Sunstriders will react to us... or you. We could have arranged a meeting somewhere else, perhaps. My lord...”

Kariel, nodding to something Yol’tharion had just said beside him, replied with an unconcerned wave.

“I have decided. We will speak to the Sunstriders.”

Just then, trumpets blared.

A rider stormed out of the compound upon a great, white-blazing unicorn, carrying in one hand the standard of the Sunstriders. He reigned in before them, mount rearing high.

“Hail!” cried Kariel Winthalus.

The rider sneered down at him.

“I am Ithelis, herald to the King of all Elves. And I know who you are, Kariel Kinslayer. We have been forewarned of your return - and lo! Here comes the snake. What business have you here?”

“I come to speak with the scion of the Sunstriders. I come to make peace between us.”

“Hah! Silvertongued they said you were; do you think us fools? You time your arrival too well, Benefactor. Councillor Starseeker may have left but minutes ago, but we are prepared for you.” And the herald made a sign.

From hidden spots to the side of the road emerged marksmen with nocked arrows. The curtain-like entrance to the Sunstriders’ compound was drawn back, revealing heavily armed riders and grim-faced arcanists. Winthalus' company was soon surrounded, and heavily outnumbered.

From the compound emerged Kael’thas Sunstrider.

“Kariel Winthalus,” called the prince, “did you mean what you just said - about peace? I could order your death now, if I willed it. It is what many of my councillors would want me to do.”

“And what, my prince, do you want?”

An earnest boy met his gaze.

“I want peace.”

*

“It will not be easy for any of us,” Kariel admitted as Kael’thas paced across the lavish carpets. Leaning forward, he added: “But it will be worth it. A new convocation of equals, with you as our leader.”

The young prince grimaced.

“Tanilias feared that if I, we, ever allowed the... the followers of the Four into our court again, it would be a trap. Sooner or later you would turn on us. He would probably say that this was a trap, too. That I should not listen to you.”

Kariel shrugged. There was no one else here, save Kael’thas' bodyguards. All his life the young prince had been regaled with tales of the terrible Kariel Winthalus, but faced with this gentle and forthright elf he found it hard to maintain his distrust.

“And perhaps he is right. While he is away, fighting at Valen’s Cut, I am doing my utmost to convince you to bridge the division that has torn our people apart. Together, my prince, we can make wonders - if we can only manage this first step.”

“I do not deny that I greatly desire this... but my people will say that we cannot trust you, that you were one who caused that division in the first place.”

“And there is truth to that. And perhaps there is truth to that our people was torn apart by forces much greater than any one man. But one truth we can agree to is that all of that is in the past now.”

Kael’thas nodded, slowly.

“Yes... we have fought one another for too long. If you truly renounce your claims to kingship, I would embrace any opportunity for peace, regardless of what Starseeker or Rommath or any other of my advisers would say. Were it not for my father.”

“Anasterian?”

“My father is very ill, Lord Winthalus. He has lain in a coma for the past two years. Because of what happened the day the Benefactors left Quel’danas.”

“I...”

“I understand war, Lord Winthalus. I understand that former enemies, men who have done injury to one another, may one day have to come to terms for the good of all. But while you walk and talk here with me - a miracle, they say! Returned from the dead! - my father lies comatose in a chamber of this ramshackle castle.”

A sad, contemplative mood took over. At last Kariel broke the silence.

“Perhaps... I may be able to help. Help mend the injury that I created.”

A son looked up with sudden hope, which quickly flickered out.

“Every expert healer in elfkind has tried to heal my father, Kariel. And each of them have failed. We have gone to farther straits than you can imagine to find some way, any way, to wake him up. Nothing has helped.”

“I am Loremaster of the Four Faiths, my prince. Let me try.”

*

It was unprecedented. Kael’thas’ followers very nearly refused to obey his commands.

In the end, Kariel Winthalus and Kael’thas Sunstrider were accompanied by five hand-picked elite guards into the chamber which sustained the body and life of Sunking Anasterian.

But as Lord Winthalus leaned over his unconscious father, Kael’thas felt no worry. The guards stood ready; their blades swift, their armour proof against every sorcery imaginable. All of Winthalus’ followers would be dead within instants should anything seem amiss. On the other side of the room’s only door they all waited in a nervous, outraged cluster. But all that seemed a world away.

The chamber was small but bright and airy, with a fresh fragrance of blossoms. There was not much in it except the bed in which Anasterian Sunstrider had spent the last two years of his reduced existence, a table, two pallets and a heavy cabinet. Through a small window the sun was lowering towards the rim of the Darrowmere.

Winthalus murmured in a low voice, drawing pagan signs in the air that left a multihued afterglow. At times the light seemed to cling to his fingers in fading circles, and Kael’thas stifled a sudden impulse to point them out.

They stood that way for a long time. The guards by the door, Kael’thas waiting in the middle of the room, Winthalus bowed over Anasterian’s body.

Nothing happened.

Winthalus looked at last up, a sheen of sweat on his forehead. His eyes said it all.

“I am so-”

Anasterian came to in a sudden spasm, eyes opening wide and face locked in a rictus of fear. Bird-like arms, thin and frail from his long sickness, clutched and crumpled the white gown over his chest. His mouth gaped as if trying to scream, but no sound came out - only a horrible, gagging sound.

“Father!” cried Kael’thas and threw himself at Anasterian’s side - shoving Winthalus aside. He grasped his father’s arms and tried to restrain him, to calm him down.

But Anasterian seemed oblivious to the efforts of his son, shaking and convulsing with frightening intensity. Eyes stared emptily into the ceiling.

“It... th... ove-e... rrr...” he gasped in bursts, tears welling down his creased face.

“Father! What is happening? Kariel! Do something!”

Winthalus was there once more, a great presence pressing one hand down on Anasterian’s chest.

And Anasterian froze immediately still, eyes locking with Winthalus’.

You...” he wheezed.

“Yes,” rasped a dead, rattling voice. “Me.”

And Kariel Winthalus raised one hand high over his head. His fist closed as if grasping... something. Shadows coalesced to obey the shape of his mind. Kael’thas blinked, staring with disbelief. He tried to speak but found no air in his lungs. Kariel Winthalus suddenly grew great and frightening and Kael’thas knew, knew this was wrong, this was not how it was supposed to go-

More shadows, spun from nothingness, became a great, jagged sword-

Where were the guards?

Kael’thas spun around - head spinning - and saw them, dead shapes slumped on the floor. He must have killed them already so quick oh Light what have I done-

Now Kariel Winthalus - eyes black and skin torn and bruised - held a savage blade; primeval, sprung from the night of first ages - as if all other blades were shackled forms of a conquered monster, but there - there he could look upon the thing monstrous and free. Whatever light and air had been in the chamber had fled; billowing darkness filled every space, clinging to his throat, making it impossible to breathe-

Anasterian clawed desperately at the demoniac form crouched above him, but with one hand the creature that had called itself Kariel Winthalus easily held him down.

The blade sank into Anasterian’s chest.

Black blood sprayed.

The revenant being raised its arm and stabbed again, and again, and again. Anasterian was trying to scream - why did he not die? - but could not; dark, rotten smoke burned from his throat, his eyes. Kael’thas’ lungs screamed with pain as he lay uselessly flopping on the floor, head spinning and exploding with light even as the world darkened...

He drew a great, heaving breath.

Dry, fragrant blossoms wafted in from the open window. Birds sang in the setting sun.

Opening his eyes, Kael’thas saw Lord Winthalus sitting wearily on a pallet next to Anasterian’s bed. There was no sign of the diabolical sword, nor any mark on Anasterian’s slowly rising and falling chest. The guards stood at their posts next to the door as if nothing had happened.

“I, I... what happened...” muttered Kael’thas. “I thought...”

“That I killed your father?” Winthalus asked innocently in a smooth voice.

Kael’thas gaped.

The Lord of the Benefactors bared his teeth in a joyless smile.

“Anasterian Sunstrider will never wake up from this sleep. His chest yet moves and his heart yet beats, but the life-force which animated this body and sustained the soul of your father is dead. Of that I have made sure. A few days from now the decay of the rotting body will become obvious. If the precious Light exists in his afterlife, I hope it burns him for eternity.”

“What...” mouthed Kael’thas, world still spinning and refusing to stand still. “Guards!” he shouted. “Arrest Lord Winthalus!”

They did not move. Empty-eyed they stared straight ahead.

“I have warded this room,” Kariel said. “No one outside can hear you.”

“You... this can’t be happening... you are insane! This is impossible! The most powerful wards in the world protect this room! Guards!”

“And I am Loremaster of the Four, boy. And now Anasterian Sunstrider is finally dead. These guards will go on simulating their former lives, but I suggest you reassign them somewhere far away before they are discovered.”

“What? Are you mad? You think I would help you? You and your insane sect is doomed!”

Kariel waved his hand in casual dismissal.

“Pfah! You do not seriously believe you - or our race - will survive such a battle? I will walk out of this room, boy, with you laughing by my side. You will become the Sunking who healed our nation, Kael’thas! Who healed the entire world! You will be twice the king he ever was. If you wish to honor your father, then take his name on your ascension. And we will all hail Anasterian, second of his name!”

Then the door opened.

Tanilias Starseeker burst in, eyes aflame.

“Kael’thas!” he shouted, and the young prince felt a flood of relief. Finally, this nightmare was over. Trusted Tanilias had returned from Valen’s Cut.

“Tanilias!”

“My prince, I must speak with you. Now, at once - it cannot be delayed. I beg your pardon.” Tanilias nodded curtly at Winthalus, who remained seated beside the bed. “My prince, Rommath has gone too far! He and Eldengar together - what they have done is an affront to every living being. I had to stop him.”

“What?”

“That cursed plague! Rommath sold it to Emperor Eldengar, and used it at Valen’s Cut. I and the druids - we had to stop it. Surely you see?”

Kael’thas gaped in astonishment as Tanilias Starseeker fell to his knees before him.

“There was no time to consult you, my prince. Lord Winthalus, our differences were many - but I know your people agree with me on this.”

“The plague,” Kariel Winthalus said slowly, “is a terrible invention. A contemptible weapon.”

Turning back to Kael’thas, Tanilias continued, breathless and rambling.

“My lord, I beg you to come with me to Valen’s Cut. Rommath has gone out of control. I fear he will only listen to you.”

“I...”

Tanilias rose. Only then did he seem to realize he had interrupted something.

“Oh, my prince... I am so sorry. I forgot what this must have meant for you. I take it, Lord Winthalus, that you were unable to revive the King?” Winthalus nodded. Tanilias shook his head sadly, resting a comforting hand on Kael’thas’ shoulder. “I tried to tell you, my prince... there was no real hope for Anasterian to ever wake up again. As much as it pains me to admit it, we must let him go. He has been dead for a long time in everything but name. It is long past time you took up your father’s crown and became Sunking.”

*

The trio - Prince Kael’thas, Kariel Winthalus, and Councillor Starseeker - emerged from Anasterian’s chamber in muted solemnity. Arrangements were made at once for them to travel to the battlefield. It was, as they said, well past time.

But Lord Winthalus drifted away from the group, towards the druids who had returned with Starseeker. Ignoring the elves, Lord Winthalus approached instead one of the treants. He laughed, loud and ringing, and its golden leaves rustled in response.

“By the Four... it is you, isn’t it?”

The crowd of onlookers saw Winthalus lay his hands upon its dark bark, and a penumbra of light enveloped both elf and treant.

When it was gone there were two elves, embracing one another and laughing. And it was said that the one caught in the tree had once been the fierce Amron Radiun Malad, the Templar of War and leader of the Maroon March.





VII . Sunset, Valen’s Cut

"All these broken, mortal instruments - do you not see, Matha, how they have failed? Words, not swords, will end this."

"Yes, Kariel."

Kariel Winthalus turned away from the ledge and the battle in the distance. He faced his followers.

There was Prince Kael’thas with Tanilias Starseeker by his side, next to Mathredis and Seranidan with Yol’tharion and the Exalted. Lanudal spoke excitedly with Katerina Trollbane and Rel and Mallick Vitalian. Queen Arinre was there, with the Stormwindian duke Fenris and admiral Brock of Kul Tiras. The Menethil brothers had arrived, and were speaking with the Maroon Templar, Amron Radiun Malad.

A short distance down the slope the Hesperian count Scipio and a cluster of his officers were receiving reports on the battle. Kariel walked down to them.

Count Scipio gave a quick bow.

“Lord Winthalus, let me present scout Asher of Alterac. He is a scout with King Halman’s army.”

The Alteraci wheezed an inarticulate obeisance.

“What news of the men and women of Alterac?” asked Kariel. “Is King Halman well?”

Asher shook his head. “After the bloody Arathorians attacked there nothing-was I or anyone do-could. It a massacre-was. I for life fled. Just lucky your people me-found ‘fore did-theirs. I hid and I saw what followed, with the trolls and the Arathorians. And now the Arathorian west flank crumbling-is - they say Jin'thek himself is fighting there! - and if it weren’t for that it doom spelled for us all I would be cheering Jin'thek on my own self.”

The scout finished his rant by drooling spit.

“Meanwhile,” Scipio continued the narrative with a strained air, “the forces of the Grand Duchy of Hillsbrad are advancing in the centre. Lady Adai is leading the push forward. We have cleared the lower reaches of the Cut and are pressing up the plateau, driving the trolls north. But if Eldengar cannot hold the west flank... we will be surrounded. The far east is ruled by elements of enemy skirmishers that are praying for an opportunity to pounce; Grand Duke Nezario has too few men to effectively combat them.”

“What of General Lee? His force is on our far left, is it not?”

Scipio shrugged sadly. “He is slowed down by the terrain and enemy feints. Only a fraction of his force has come down from the heights yet. By the time he can arrange his regiments for battle, the left may be completely lost.”

Queen Arinre of Gilneas spoke the outrage felt by everyone assembled there.

“What is wrong with this Eldengar? Attacking King Halman when the troll is waiting on the other side, he abandoned his assigned flank, left us open on the right - and weakened his own forces!”

King Andol snorted.

“As much as I dislike this ‘Emperor’, he may unwittingly have saved the battle. After all, King Halman intended to pull out. Eldengar made sure we at all had a left flank, albeit at the cost of a weak right.”

“Regardless of how it came to be, it is what it is.” Winthalus spoke with sudden force. “And I plan to stop it before all this has any chance to spiral further out of control. We must speak with the trolls.”

A year ago, the suggestion of a negotiated peace would have been an outrage. To some it still was; King Andol stumbled as if he could not believe what he had heard.

“Speak with them? They are brutes, demons! They have invaded my lands - my lands! My people has suffered while the rest of Lordaeron has been kept safe! We are wasting time - we should attack, now, with everything we’ve got!”

Silence followed the outburst.

Andol, face reddening, realized who he had spoken to.

“Lord Winthalus... I do not mean... I know Quel’thalas has suffered-”

“In the far south, we have seen the trolls can be reasoned with.” Duke Fenris said with an odd, protective pride. “They fought with us against the Crimson March. And they fought by the side of Stormwind’s knights against the darkness of Ula-Tek. Trolls are not brutes. They can be wise, and understanding. And they suffer from war as much as we do.”

Vitalian growled. “Cunning, maybe. He attack while elf and man was weak. He says it was his home, long ago. Hah! So say the merchants of Jintha’alor, that our highlands were their highlands before. This they say while we haggle over prices, when we sell them the pelts of prey we have hunted, grain of crops we have grown. And when the Trollbanes in Stromgarde tell us we must pay their tax and join their wars, they say that Thoradin was chieftain of all clans and that they are the sons of Thoradin. Pfah! My lands are mine own, and I follow who I will!”

“Four years of strife and bloodshed is more than enough,” Winthalus said. “But such is war that it fools us to think we must defeat our opponent for peace to be possible. That if we yield one step, they will take another. And I do not doubt that the leaders of the Lebenstraum fear the outcome of this battle as much as we do - that if we win, we will never stop marching until we have retaken Silvermoon and destroyed every trace of them on the way.”

Prince Kael’thas’ eyes narrowed.

“Do you mean we should not reclaim Silvermoon? Do you mean we should not reclaim the High Home? Councillor Winthalus...”

“I mean simply that we must speak to him. Just as we must find King Halman and try to bring him here. I do not doubt that, once we all are gathered, this can and will be resolved. But now... I take my leave. I will find the troll leader, this Jin’thek.”

*

“Trolls, win.”

Trol’kar hovered for an instant.

“Wait!” cried a new voice.

Jin'thek looked up to see a group of elves advancing through the mayhem. Leading them was an elf he had heard of only in descriptions. An elf that was supposed to be dead. But it seemed few people stayed dead these days.

In his hand Kariel Winthalus held the Zin’rokh.

“I arrive just in time, it seems.” Kariel eyed Eldengar, pinned to the ground by Jin’thek’s foot and death hovering inches from his face, without slightest concern. Meeting Jin’thek’s gaze, he asked: “You know who I am?”

“Back away, elf. Yes, I know you. I will put this dog down and then I will deal with you. That blade you hold belongs to trollkind.”

Even as they spoke Jin'thek saw the battle around them turn. Although the elves who followed Kariel Winthalus did not join the fight, Eldengar’s Arathorians and Imperial Guard were recovering. Regiments of archers were driving the batriders away, and more troops were rushing to the scene. Jin’thek had chosen to attack behind enemy lines and was running out of time to get away.

“I cannot let you kill Eldengar, I fear. Much as I would like you to.”

“Phah, elf! He is dead already - as quick as your magic is I will be quicker. Why draw this out, Kariel Winthalus? Have you come to gloat before you kill another troll?”

“Gloat...” Kariel’s confusion seemed almost as forced theatrics. “No! I come to speak with you, Jin'thek of the Living Dream. To treat with you, one leader to another. I come looking for peace.”

Eldengar - struggling uselessly on the ground - spat in rage.

“Treacherous elves! ‘Benefactor’ schemers, all of you! I should have known it was your sort who was behind sabotaging the plague vats - race traitors!”

Kariel shook his head.

“Would you believe, we Benefactors had nothing to do with that? Lord Starseeker and the druids of Darrow saw the evil of the plague on their own and rose up to challenge that evil.”

“The evil they saw did not belong to the Fon’kaz’kah, it was the evil of the ones who would use it to destroy the Dream. There have always been ones who have used atrocity against my people. You have done so yourself, Kariel Winthalus, many times while you lived. I know how you hated us, feared us, how far you would go to stop us... for I have lived your life, as I have lived many others. I was you up until you died, Kariel Winthalus. And not once did I see in your heart a capacity to forgive. Why do you want to talk now? What has changed? How can I believe you are sincere in this?”

The elf did not need to pause to think. His answers lay already prepared at the tip of his tongue.

“I have heard it said that, ‘to change one’s mind and to follow he who sets you right, is nonetheless to be the free agent that you were before’. Sometimes that can be hard to remember - and it will feel like defeat to admit your own shortcomings. But I have been shown one who have made the same erros as me and who have found their way. Her name - I doubt you have met her - was Alanassori. An elven magister of war, sympathizer to the Benefactors’ cause, a blood-maiden of Brux. And now atal’jin, and free. She showed me that the heart of the Living Dream is a force of good. She, as much as anything else that has happened to me, convinced me that I should speak with you. I am ready. For so long all the words I heard were my own. But now I am ready to listen. Ready to change. Will you not speak to me, and help me find peace between our people?”

“Peace...” said Jin'thek. “You would speak of peace while surrounding me with spears? Hah! Even if I were afraid for my life, my followers are many and devoted to the Dream. They do not need me for that, as they have shown the world many times before. They do not need to accept whatever terms you intend to force upon me. They will show the world at this battle that they cannot be defeated, but are willing to accept a true peace, on true terms. Threats here will do you no good, elf.”

Kariel frowned.

While they spoke Jin'thek’s soldiers had been driven back into a small knot behind him. They were all now surrounded by thick ranks of Imperial Guards and an increasing number of arriving elves. Were it not for Eldengar’s life being held at Jin'thek’s mercy, the trolls would be overrun within seconds. Jin’thek had allowed himself to be caught in the trap... hoping without knowing.

Sometimes you had to make a leap of faith.

“Clear away!” cried Kariel. “Clear a path between the front lines - pull back our troops and let the troll ranks advance to make of this spot right here a no-man’s land. I declare this a parley.”

*

“We tried talking to you elves and the humans for so long. What did that give us? We trolls were driven into the hills like we were beasts. So I proved we were a people, a nation! Then they called us conquerors, tyrants. But we are more - we are the Living Dream! The atal’jin and atal’kaizar show that. Yet still the world would not listen to us! So we have to show the world the Dream. Even if we have to force it down their throats so that your old kings gag on it! Then, maybe, will the Dream be left alone.”

There came a roar from the troll lines.

“What then?” asked Kariel. “Were you to walk over the cold corpses of your enemies. Would that be victory? What an empty victory where your opponents are unable, or too intimidated, to speak. Will it not merely have proved that you have become the monster you were fighting? That - when words and reason fail - you have become one who resorts to violence? Still you say it is peace, not conquest, you have come for? Then let us speak, now, and be done with this.”

“Fuck you,” growled Eldengar Trollbane, still pressed into the mud below. “Fuck you both! You think anyone will agree to any peace you make with each other? I am the fucking Emperor of Mankind! And I will not let any Light-burned two-faced elf play god with the entire fucking fate of my race!”

“Eldengar Trollbane... be silent. Your megalomaniac heroics have achieved nothing save earning you new enemies this day. This new world demands a less obvious heroism. It will not be easy convincing our followers to peace, but it will be worthwhile.”

“Worthwhile bending over for those monsters? They were the ones who attacked us, in case you forgot! Over and over, they have attacked! How many millions have died for the ambitions of this one megalomaniac troll? We can win this fucking battle and kill every last troll on this earth!” Eldengar’s blood-stained teeth shone in the dark, snapping at the end of each word.

Jin’thek growled. “It may be too hard to convince them - ones such as he. Perhaps the only peace that can be had is the one I envisioned: to show the world we are too strong to be defeated. To show them they last only because we allow them to. Then they will leave us alone.”

Kariel Winthalus snorted. “You meant to force the Coalition into terms of peace while holding them at the tip of your spears? Bold, Jin’thek, but what if your followers lose this battle? Or even if they win - how long, do you think, will a peace won by the tip of a spear be honoured?”

“What would you have me do, then? As long as the world outside the Dream does not fear us, the Dream will never be safe.”

“Safe? Tell me, Jin’thek - what is this Dream? Whose is it? Do you think the Dream belongs to you, Jin'thek? Or to trollkind? No - you have said it yourself - the Dream you dream is greater than that! It is the Four come to life, and we are all dreamers!” And Kariel Winthalus’ voice grew stronger, more agitated. “I, too, dream! I dream of a world where souls are free to follow the virtues they choose. If the secret of your dream is that those who follow it must be loyal to a leader - atal’jin - then pfafh! Then it is no better than any other fanatical dictatorship, and it will fall as all wicked things must do in the end. No, I would not be such an atal’jin. But I would be selama dela’na - guided by justice! I will be atal’kah, devoted to the totem of the Dream we all share!”

Pausing, burning-eyed Kariel Winthalus spun in a great circle, challenging the stunned watchers. But none spoke into the silence. When he faced Jin'thek once more, the elf continued in a weary voice.

“Unless you mean to say that this is you, Jin'thek? Are you these principles? Are you the Dream not even the Four Gods can embody in this world? If you claim you are so...”

Shifting his grip on the Zin’rokh, Kariel Winthalus sank to one kneel and offered the hilt to Jin'thek.

“Then... then I am atal’jin.”
  #1607  
Old 06-25-2013, 07:42 PM
Zula Zula is offline

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We come too far to give up who we are.

It was a cold Autumn night and the rain had been raging for over a week, it had been a normal day nothing exceptional, until now.

In front of him laid his tomb, and an old familiar hand pressed on his shoulder and reassured him everything was going to be all right. He missed that hand almost more than the man that was buried.

‘Why?’ He remembered he asked.

‘Because this is the way things are.’ The old man replied.

‘Then I don’t like how things are.’

‘None of us do.’

He cried and sobbed, the old man had told him it was not a proper thing to do but it mattered little.

And there as Gruc’jen took him back to his hut, he dreamt for the first time of a world were the tribes did not fought against each other.

--

Their legs were full of mud and dirt, it was also a rainy day and also the ground was shaken because of recent tribal war. They were following a lead on ‘the key’, they had just searched one of the many abandoned and overgrown temples in search of it, and has always it was to no avail.

He looked at her eyes; they were the most beautiful thing he had ever witnessed. They did what nothing else could; they soothed him and made him feel something he had long lost.

She was the love of her life, she was his dream. He could see himself having children with her, and training them to be proper chieftains like was trying to be.

They settled camp for that night, it was the last time he would see into her eyes. And he had no idea of it. During twilight they saw fire in the distance, ‘Stay here.’ He told her, he wanted her to be safe.

He and his men ran through the forests until they found a deserted village, everything was dead and long burnt. However the bodies were already buried, recently, they entered further into the village and found the source of fire. It was a bonfire creeping in the middle of the camp and in front of it a lone troll. He was not half his age, probably eleven, and was covered in mud and blood.

When he saw them he bursted into tears and sobs, Jin’thek hugged him and asked him his name.

‘Ba’jal’ The boy replied.

‘Poor thing’, he thought another victim of fate like he was, that night years ago.

They took him along, they asked him why he made a bonfire it was dangerous to do so.

And he said it was because he wanted to die, he had already buried all the persons he knew.

It filled him with anger and sadness; he thought how many Ba’jals there existed. Not having the luck of finding someone like him, he considered telling Zar’beth about him, they could raise him.

Then they smelled blood, then they ran and arrived back.

It took an eternity of all the moments in his life that was the most long one. The anxiety, the fear and finally the sorrow.

Her body was still beautiful, as he remembered it, has he had seen it the previous night. Everyone was angry or sobbing, and Ba’jal was silent. The poor boy had cried too much already, he had no tears to spare.

But he could feel it, how it seeped down into the bottom of his heart as he looked at the elven arrows on her body. As he looked the clean cut of elven steel on her neck.

And has he looked into the place were beautiful eyes would be only to find nothing, he was not even granted the comfort of seeing the body of her soul.
Night fell over them, and he wandered into the woods hoping the same elves took him.

Or that some wild animal decided to take him as his prey.

But nothing of that happened, instead that majestic bird appeared to him for the first time.

The bird didn’t attack him like a wild beast would, it remained a short distance from him staring him with its deep eyes. Eyes that showed no hate, only unconditional love, eyes that remembered him of something he had just lost.

--

He hefd his breath as braced across the water towards the bottom of the lake, he had a vision last night.

No, he had an idea, a terrible idea.

He had spent years looking across Zul’aman searched every temple and abandoned all hope. But he hadn’t searched under his own feet.

What if?

He saw the ruins and entered them, it was a tomb probably or an ancient temple.

He walked through its dark hallways, using a bottle of liquid fire to light his way through. The walls were decorated with the likeness of Ula’tek and many other Loas.

And there it was, laying on top of a pedestal like if was waiting for him. It was covered in so many layers of spiderweb that it showed it had been there for ages waiting for someone.

He should had been happy but it was the most miserable moment of his life, it had been there all along right under his feet, under his home. He had traveled so much, wasted so much time, wasted so many lives.
Wasted her life.

Why? He kept asking has he raged in the underground complex.

Why?

He cleaned his face and grabbed the Jin’rokh, it was time.

It was finally time to start his journey an share his dream.

--

The Shrine of Ula'tek was the heart of Forest Troll civilization in Zul'Aman. It wass the territory of the Amani tribe, his tribe, who waged the Troll Wars and unified the clans many, many years ago.

He concluded the tribal ritual honoring the Loa, under the eaves of his great forest. Smoke rose into the night from the cauldron in the centre of the village. Behind them, the Shrine of Ula'tek rose into the sky, a massive stone structure which acts as fortress and home. It was sacred to them, and they did not use it for idle pleasures or loitering.

Several things laid ahead, the Summertide grand festival was scheduled to begin.

Witch Doctor Gruc'jen had informed him that the Mosstusks have set up a trapping encampment to the west, alongside a river which cuts down into a valley leading towards the Maisara Hills.

They were preying on game which was essential to the Amani. Food was running short, the trolls were thirsty for war and his mbitions had yet to achieve fruition.

It was a summer night, the wind blew across the forest surrounding the shrine, its leaves rustling almost like if it was some kind of melody. As Gruc'jen informed him of the news coming up from the North he looked up to the sky for a brief moment his eyes focusing in the infinite, and then looked to his advisor his adoptive father.

''Its time.’ He said pausing for a moment ‘Send our runners to the other tribes and invite their chieftains to the Summertide, tell them we are going to celebrate it with a festival in one week.'' He said with a grim voice

''All of them my master? Even the Vilebranch??'' Gruc’jen asked skeptically

''Yes, everyone, and especially them'' He replied.

''But why? I can't understand'' Gruc’jen tried to say, but he was swiftly interrupted by the Trollish Warlord

‘’The rumors say there is upheaval among the human and elven lands and lords Gruc’jen. By seeing who heeds our invitation and comes we will know which chieftains are smart enough to see the opportunity.’ He said gesturing with his hands has he talked ‘Also, tell our warriors to be prepared for battle just in case we need them’’

‘‘As you wish mighty Warlord.’’ Gruc’jen replied almost bowing.

He watched as Gruc'jen vanished into the forest. He was not delaying in performing his task. Gruc'jen had been the sage and oracle of the Amani for generations. He was reputed and rumoured to be the voice of the Loa in Zul'Aman. His diplomatic skills and wisdom were invaluable indeed. He missed him so much

Left to his own devices that night, he was approached by one of his trappers, sweating and heaving heavily.

"Warlord! The Mosstusk trappers that invaded our territory are dead. Good for us, but the reasons why bode badly for the Amani! They were shot by arrows. Not ours. It could either by elven raiders or a rival tribe. But we might be in danger!"

''Arrows you say…’ He said meditating for a moment, there was no tribe nearby that would have any need of killing those Mosstusk trappers. They were probably were elves, he was sure of it. But even if it was the action of some other rival tribe, now was not the moment for warring against each other, this situation had to be solved.

‘This stinks of treachery the Mosstusk may blame us for this incident'' Jin'thek said the anger in his voice being far from subtle ''We can't allow the meeting to fail. Prepare the Shrine's defenses in case someone attacks us.''

''But Warlord are you leaving?'' Ba’jal asked.

''Indeed, and you alongside my best warriors will come to the Maisara Hills with me. We will have to have to explain the Mosstusks what happened; also we will take the bodies of their trappers after our priests bless them. We have to end this incident before it escalates, send our best scouts while I am gone to look for any tracks near the place the Mosstusks were killed.’’

That very same night, he gathered his very finest and left for the safety of the Shrine of Ula-tek. Alongside Baj'al, the lieutenant who gave him the report and his adoptive son, he and his warriors stealed into the night atop their bears. He, however, did no rode a bear but instead he rode a staple of leadership; a bird of prey. Yet it was something more than that; it was a beast of talons and colour, a proud mark of favour that his trolls said to be a gift from the Loa of the dragonhawks. Some other murmured that it was a strider of the plains, other said it was an abomination crossbreed between a dragonhawk and one of the fabled gryphons of the Hinterlands. None knew for certain, not even he knew, or perhaps he always did.

They rode throughout the night, thundering through the forest unopposed, until by dawn, they arrived at a clearing at the foot of the Maisara Hills. The Maisara Hills rose above the canopy of the forest, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of the Amani who have come here.

"Who goes there?" a deep voice bellowed, just as a dozen heavily armed forest trolls dropped from the trees, surrounding the party. Yet he explained his business, and the company escorted him and lieutenant Baj'al to the Mosstusk village atop the chief hill in the Maisara.

There, a bulky blad troll warlord greeted them, watched by his people. It was Overlord Nuvzagal Mosstusk himself.

"Ah, what you be doing in these lands, mon? What has the mighty Jin'thek to tell me? You are bold, mongrel. You been my enemy for many winters. Do you think I will offer you hospitality this fresh morning in the forest?"

Looking back clearly the situation required tact, Nuvzagal was clearly itching for a fight. Who knows what would have happened if he had fought him? No one, probably, maybe just madmen fumbled around that. What was important is that all rested upon the edge of a knife as the Summertide approached.

He remembered thinking how it was a misty morning and how he had always found morning mist refreshing. How few people actually knew his favorite time of day was Dawn. And more importantly how he knew he was indeed in a dire situation, Nuvzagal despite him like few people did. But he knew the troll well and he could see in his eyes his hate was actually jealousy of his heritage and intelligence. It was funny how he also hated that troll so much. intelligence. He wanted to kick the hell out his ass but he couldn’t start a fight, not then, not when the moment he hoped all his life was upon the horizon.

He remembered the surprised look on his face when he told Nuvzagal why he was there, and how he mocked him into going to the Summertide. Oh yes he remembered it all, it had been a long time ago. He remembered the Dwarves, he remembered the greed for power in the eyes of their leader and wondered what had been of their fate. He once again thought of Nuvzagal, when he confessed his intentions of uniting the tribes to him.

And then he remembered the Summertide, he could remember the excitement he felt as he drew the Jin’rokh in front of the eyes of the assembled trolls. How the trolls cheered and clapped, even the spider troll lady. She had such a sad life, poor thing.

But he also remembered when he shared his dream of seeing the city of elves paved with their bones, and of a world were only elves and men had to worry about hunger.

‘Funny’ He thought has the elf in front of him kneeled and offered him the Jin’rokh as the whole world watched.

He grabbed the sword and without even saying anything he cleaved through the elf.

Blood spewed around and hell broke loose around him.

That was what he would have done, years ago.

When did it happened? He had thought back then he had forseen everything, all the possible variables. He had been sure that he knew what would happen, step by step, as he lead his people to the glory greater of that past. To finally be sitting on a throne be made of the bones of the elf king, and watch from a window the road’s paved with elven bones. A glorious vision yes, vision of bloodshed and vengeance. Yet fate, life and its cruel twists had proved him wrong over and over again messing up his plans and expectations. He wanted to invade the humans first and contain the elves, sure that he would not match their power and Hakkar cursed him as the Kingdom of Elves fell. He wanted to pave Atalm with the bones of elves, yet it was defended and saved by a former elf. What had happened? When did it changed? When did his dream of vengeance became something more and why?

Was it Caer Darrow? Or was it the first day he lost all hope, the day that Hakkar cursed him?

‘Wait’ Jin’thek thought ‘You are right, but you are forgetting something very important.’

What?

‘The day I lost all hope.’

Yes, you are right that day was crucial and deserves more than a simply mention. I still remember your feelings like if it was yesterday. The impotence you felt when you were cursed to eventually destroy all your people, made you so desesperate that you looked up for the help of the Druids in the first place. Not to forget it also made you send a letter to your uncle.

‘No, that was not the important thing, not that, not at all.’ Jin’thek said to himself. ‘It was the day the dream began to grow around me and beyond me. It was my hope in defeating the prophet, and his outlandish claims that we were all some sort of pawns in some sort of grand game, was restored by others.’

And he wasn’t quite wrong may I tell you.

‘Are you sure? There was a plan, I had a plan, and it involved killing every goddammed elf on this world and turning humans into farm slaves. And here I am now despite all odds, despite my own death.’

You are right, Jin’thek was right. His dream was stronger than that he was bigger than him, bigger than anyone. The dream made him recover his hope in exterminating elvenkind, only to lead him to meet the only elf who could make him question that. Fate wanted to mess up with his dream, to prevent it from coming into fruition. To destroy his glorious vision of bloodshed, of seeing a city paved with the bones of the biggest monsters in the world. But his dream, his dream was stronger than that, it was bigger than him and he was not worthy of it. And he felt that the moment he met Fenthelan, the elf treated him with the thing he never expected to receive: Kindness. He had regained his hope in destroying elven kind after the encounter with despair, and now the same thing he wanted to destroy offered him respect and kindness.

Why?

That question haunted him every second up to the very moment another elf standed in front of him kneeling and asking for a chance to prove him that he could be loyal. That he could be Atal’jin.

A part of him was convinced no elf would dare to surrender; the option of surrender had always been to him a justification to later slaughter his enemies since he knew they would refuse. A way to give the elves the chance that trolls never got, but he had never hoped an elf would surrender.
Has he had never hoped an elf would die for his dream, a dream that was born proclaiming and glorifying the extermination of elvenkind. At that moment he was not sure of what to do, he thought of placing the elves in internment camps, until they found a place to ship them off or starved to death. But something stopped him, Fenthelan the elf who was not what Jin’thek believed an elf was. Was it then that day? Or the day he day? Or the Atal’kaizar joined the Dream?

His mind came back to the present and he looked into the elf’s eyes thinking of the terrible question he had just posed. And what he found behind those eyes, made him shudder. He could not believe it, even after all that happened he still couldn’t believe it.

Was he the incarnation of the Dream?

‘When the dream was mine, when I shared it for the first time five years ago I dreamt of Atalm paved with the bones of your people. I dreamt of drinking ale from the skull of your king, and later after you came into scene I dreamt of tearing away your throat with my very own hands. There was no place for Atal’jin nor Atal’kaizar in my dream.’ He looked back towards his people, to Lez’li and Alyson, towards Joa’mar and the hosts of forest, ice and sand trolls, towards the hosts of Atal’jin and Atal’kaizar.

‘That was my dream, but.’ Jin’thek said fumbling while he grabbed the Jin’rokh and Kariel got back to his feet. ‘But the dream was more than that once long before that, long ago on a rainy night I dreamt of a world were one did not had to lose their family, nor their loved ones. Were war was not waged against brother for absurd reasons. And that Dream was stronger than all the hatred and pain I suffered, it was so strong that when I met Fenthelan for the first time I felt my beliefs collapse. Because there I was in front of an elf, of my mortal enemy, and he was treating me with kindness, and I was right. Here today, those unsworn elves saved us from the horror.’ Jin’thek stabbed the Jin’rokh to the ground and looked around the many faces.

‘I lived your life Kariel, I lived the life’s of all those who were touched by my life up before I died. And there I saw it we all fear, and we all love it was there that I saw that the Atal’jin were the key to the success of the Dream. But not because they were devoted to me, because they were devoted to the dream, because in the end we all bleed and we all suffer. We all long for a night of warm and a loved one, and we all miss those who are not here. Kariel, I don’t know if I am the embodiment of the dream or not but I can tell you one thing.

Here all of us, all who shed our blood and tears for the dream.

We are the embodiment of the dream, and we are here because we want to be left alone in our lands. They belong to all of us here regardless of the race we were born.’

He said while he looked again into Kariel’s eyes, they were filled with kindness and honesty in a way they never were before. And he knew, because he had been Kariel before, the dream had even changed him, it had changed everyone. Because the dream was living.

‘So Kariel if you dream too, like I do, like we all do, then Kariel.’ He said his voice warm and calm.

‘Then, you are welcome.’ He said has he extended his arms towards the elf, in a gesture of friendship.

‘No, not the elf.’ Jin’thek whispered ‘The Atal’kah, because we are all devoted to the dream.’

Jin’thek said, correcting me for one final time because all ends with beginnings.
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  #1608  
Old 06-25-2013, 07:42 PM
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The End

of the Great War of Lordaeron
but a beginning, for many other characters and tales...
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Last edited by Timolas; 07-02-2013 at 05:52 AM..
  #1609  
Old 07-06-2013, 05:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zula View Post
all ends with beginnings.
Epilogue


And so ended the Great War of Lordaeron, though in truth, the war had spread far beyond Lordaeron itself over the years. It had started as a spark, a spark in the hearts of men, elves, trolls and dwarves. For some it had been a spark of ambition, while for others, it had been a spark of hope. That spark had turned into a wildfire, reaching across the kingdoms, as far south as Stormwind, Hochstein and Zul'Gurub, and as far north as Quel'Danas.

At last, that fire had become embers, and the heat of anger and despair born of war was turning into smoke, smoke which was being blown apart by the gentlest of mountain winds.

All that was left in the wake of these winds was death, birth and new beginnings.

-

It was a hot and dry evening in Valen's Cut. It had only been a few hours since the coming of Kariel Winthalus, and the pledge of the Atal'kah.

"The trolls will keep what they have conquered." Kariel Winthalus and Jin'thek agreed with an embrace.

"... Trolls shall be welcome in the lands of mankind, and mankind shall be welcome in the lands of the trolls. Governments and kingdoms will not interfere with the rights of the people to choose Atal'kah for themselves. War will have no place in this new world."

King Perenolde would keep Alterac, save for the ruins of Ashnord, and the parts of the country occupied by the Dream. Valen's Cut itself would be the border, the land in the valley would be divided between trollish and human influence.

The trollish sphere of influence would thus extend from Valen's across the former Kingdom of Lordaeron, through the Hinterlands, Quel'Thalas and Zul'Aman.

Jin'thek shook hands with the representative of the Coalition, and with Franek Snowburn. The last idol of man, magic, had been rendered useless against the trolls without war. No sooner had Jin'thek done that, then a voice cut into the negotiations.

"If the trolls keep what they conquered... then the Drakkari will go home." said one man, setting foot between the two armies. He was a brown-haired youth, his face lined by the scars of many struggles. His eyes betrayed a depth of pain and old age which he had gained by experience, rather than time. "They will leave my city alone."

It was Andol Corin, the Bastard. He had come here from his capital. The capital was only days away from being besieged by the Drakkari trolls, who had defeated him at the Battle of Kingsway.

Stares on both sides settled on Kariel Winthalus, the broker of the peace. The Great War of Lordaeron was over, but that ending did not spell the resolution of many old hurts. Many new beginnings could yet be born in bloodshed. And Kariel looked to Jin'thek, hopefully.

"My peace was with Kariel Winthalus." Jin'thek said plainly. "What is between you and Gul'alarion has nothing to do with this, human prince."

Andol Corin gripped the hilt of his sword, causing all parties to reach for theirs. Silence descended upon Valen's Cut, as if the Great War of Lordaeron was about to break out again.

"Give it up, Andol." Kariel Winthalus implored. "It is just an arrangement of stone. Just a symbol. Go to Silverpine, if you must, to the protectorate Sherman proclaimed. But respect this peace."

"You said-" Andol began, walking up to the elf. "That the trolls would keep what they conquered. You said that the war is over. The Drakkari will not have Lordaeron City. Because it is a symbol. A symbol for all the people who died protecting it in Strattania, in Midland, in Tirisfal. It is a symbol for what the People's Front and Maroon March died for. They died for a free Lordaeron."

Andol swung towards the officials and dignitaries of the Coalition, his eyes pleading for help. But most simply looked away in shame.
"You betray me, you betray Lordaeron!"

"The pain in your heart! Set it aside, boy!" came Amron Radiun Malad, the wizened one who had once been Maroon Templar. "It is not worth holding on to."

"You. Even you?" Andol cursed, as if Amron had slid a knife between his ribs. Outraged and disgusted, Andol Corin stormed away.

With his passing, the dignitaries of Azeroth were left in grim silence. The fragile peace quivered on an edge, needing merely the faintest whisper to push it.

Out stepped Duke Augustus Fenris, a solemn look upon him. He held his hands out ceremonially to both sides, as he once had done years ago at the first Fenris Summit. Kariel Withalus lent the man his magic, so that the Duke's voice would resound across Valen's Cut, for he trusted the Duke in this moment to deliver a fitting speech.

"It seems like a lifetime ago that the Grand Admiral of Kul Tiras was murdered above the waters of Lordamere Lake, and The Garamonde still lies wrecked not far from that very spot. Dictator Javali and King Alford Menethil drew arms against one another, an act witnessed by Lord Tendura Xie of Alterac and King Viktor Greymane of Gilneas. On that solemn day, the Great War began. The Fenris Summit led to bloodshed rather than resolution."

There were few in attendance who could remember that day, but all knew of it.

"But the truth is, there was war even before the Fenris Summit. There was war in Lordaeron, waged by Amron Radiun Malad and Canbrad. There was war in Zul'guazu and Zul'Aman, between elf and troll. And there was war in Gilneas, between Lightist and Azure, and fighting at Ambermill, Kirin Mora battling the Kirin Tor. And even before that, there was violence."

Many were nodding, troll, man, dwarf and elf alike. All had been touched by the Great War, which was merely a climax of the hatred that was already there before.

"Today, my friends." Augustus Fenris proclaimed wearily. "Today, all of that ends. But not for all of us. We can agree to lay down our arms and go home, individually, but we can not stop Andol Corin from holding his city, no more than we can stop the Drakkari from attacking him. Even as we speak, the Crimson March rampages through Khaz Modan... and I have been informed there is war across the sea, in a desert far away. No, my friends. We can choose peace, but only for ourselves, and our neighbours, not for the world."

All waited with bated breath for Duke Augustus Fenris' next words.

"I choose... I choose to go home." the Duke said, unbuckling his sword belt. His weapon clattered to the ground. He started to walk south, in a symbolic gesture, towards distant Stormwind.

Cheers arose across Valen's Cut. One by one, the soldiers of all armies threw down their weapons, surrendering them to soil, water and time. Only the men and women Arathor refused to do so, watching contemptuously from their eastern hilltop. Even as Duke Augustus Fenris was finishing his speech, they were packing and preparing to march back to Stromgarde.

"And all are welcome in the Dream." Jin'thek finished off. "The unsworn elves may return to Zul'guazu in small numbers, as long as they mix with the Atal'jin. As for the rest of you, may you someday accept our vision of your own free-will."

And so, the episode at Valen's Cut truly came to a close. It was an ending, and it was a beginning.



-----

The Old Code

Two days later, King Perenolde stood in his throne room, alone. The shadows shifted by torchlight, teasing him with visions of people long since dead. He was sure that he saw Canbrad standing in the gloom, smiling. There were demons troubling him. Perenolde... Krowl... had not slept since before Valen's Cut.

The time had come to honour the last ties to the world he had left behind. Sword at his side, wrapped in a travelling cloak, he took in the sight of this hall, possibly for the last time. He got down on one knee, to say a prayer for lost friends, and for friends he might yet lose.

Where was the peace he had fought for?

A door opened behind him. He righted himself, drying his face.

"Where are you going?" It was a feminine and familiar voice.

Krowl looked upon Thera Sherman. The woman looked strong and proud. She was dressed in a night gown. The contempt he had seen on her face after she had been brought to Alterac was gone, but he did not know why.

"Where am I going?" Krowl mouthed, then looked down at his riding boots and belt, and remembered himself. He was dressed for a very hard journey. "I-"

"I know where you are going, Maximus Krowl." Thera Sherman said, taking a seat on a stool by one of the tables stretched across the throne room. She took his hand in hers, for the first time in many years.

"Yes." Krowl said distantly. "I made an oath, once. A pledge."

"I know." Thera managed a sad nod. "And you are still a knight of the Old Code."

"A knight is sworn to valor.
His heart knows only virtue.
His blade defends the helpless.
His might upholds the weak.
His word speaks only truth.
His wrath undoes the wicked."


They spoke it together. Krowl sat down beside her. He had to remain strong.
"I didn't manage to live up to the promises I made. Every time I tried to right my wrongs... there was always something beyond my control."

Thera Sherman rested her head on his shoulder, like she used to when they were young, a long time ago in a village in Tirisfal whose name Krowl had almost forgotten.
"I understand you, Max. You are a good man. Always have been. You are a knight of the Old Code. You fight for the helpless, for the weak. You still do."

Krowl rose to his feet, pulling himself away to make sure that Thera truly understood what he was doing, why he was dressed for a hard journey.
"I am going to Lordaeron City, Thera."

"I know." she said once again. "You are going to uphold the oath you swore to an old ally. To Andol."

Krowl lifted his helmet from the table and placed it upon his head.
"It's the only way to right the last of these wrongs. You won't try to stop me?"

Thera narrowed her eyes.
"I know you. I know this must be a goodbye. Because this is how you said goodbye last time, before the war."

Krowl's face fluttered in surprise.
"But-"

"But." Thera added. "When you said goodbye last time, you started a revolution for me and found a way to bring me back to your side, despite every odd stacked against you. I've got hope, Maximus, hope that I'll see you again, even after this."

Krowl fell to his knees before her. But he had no words to say, nothing that he could offer her to lessen her own suffering. They both knew what was to come. They spent a time in silence, until Krowl rose to his feet, a final word of instruction left to impart.

"Thera. I've prepared documents that declare Jere Kavdan my adopted heir should I fall. He will rule as Jere Perenolde the First of Alterac if I do not return."

Thera took his hands and kissed them.
"You will return."


-----

The Price of Peace

Standing atop the battlements of Lordaeron City, Andol Corin, the Bastard, had rallied all of the lieutenants and commanders of the kingdom, all the soldiers he could fit in the city squares. Peasants had started to assemble wagons of supplies and goods, leading towards the city gates.

"People of the Kingdom of Lordaeron." Andol began, holding on to the flag of his nation with one hand. "I salute you."

There was a cheer from the crowd. Everybody seemed to know what was coming.

"You have all suffered for your religions, for your country, for your countrymen. Once we were turned against one another in foolish hatred by the lies of a wizened old troll. Brother fought brother..." And as if to prove his point, Andol reached down beside him and lifted Tileot Menethil up beside him. "But that time has passed. We, as a people, stand united, in love and brotherhood. Yet in our weakness, a foreign terror has swooped into our country. Child-murderers! Monsters! They claim to bring us a dream, but all I see is the death of our culture, our language, our identity!"

The people shook their heads and stamped their feet, crying in outrage.

"They want us to bend our knees to them. But I will not. If any of you wish to, the gates are open, and you may leave. For the rest of you, you have a choice. Stand and fight beside me to hold the Kingdom of Lordaeron. Send your families south, to Hillsbrad, where they will be safe. And make a stand worthy of the annals of history. Let us be martyrs, so that a day may come when the trolls will be driven back, and this city rebuilt, and the memory of their vile dream wiped from historical record forever!"

Petals fell from the towers of Lordaeron City, and the people sang their defiance. For the next few days, columns of refugees poured from Lordaeron south, into Silverpine and Hillsbrad. At the gates of the city, Andol Corin embraced his brother, who awkwardly hugged him back.

"Tileot. You are King of Lordaeron. Do not forget what that burden means. You have a responsibility, one which our fore-bearers failed to respect. Be the man that Alford Menethil always tried to be, and could have been, had these been better days. Go."

That night, the last of the refugees departed from Lordaeron City with their King.

-

And that same night, Andol Corin realised that he did not stand alone. For while no other nations would officially pledge themselves to Lordaeron City's defence, to prevent war, that did not stop volunteers from arriving.

Atop a horse rode King Perenolde, towards the gates of Lordaeron City. With him came over one-hundred volunteers from Alterac. Andol met him at the gates.
"It has been a while, Krowl."

Krowl smiled but gave Andol a grave look.
"Don't say that name out loud please. Granted, it's not much of a secret any more... but a man has to keep up appearances, you know?"

"Just one-hundred men?" Andol asked sceptically.

"Hey. I can't empty Alterac for you, though I know any number of men would follow me if I asked. No, Andol. You and I both know this last stand is symbolic. We can't hold."

Andol looked into the distance, towards the hills, stars and gathering black clouds of night.
"We will light up the night sky, old friend."

Clearly Andol was overwhelmed to have been shown camaraderie in his darkest hours.

What he did not expect was for several more parties to emerge from the night. At their head was Amron Radiun Malad.

"Andol." Amron said, dismounting from his horse. He was wearing the typical ragged robes that he had been known for in life years ago. "I hoped to dissuade you from this. But only because I wished better for you, and for these lions of Brux who line this city's walls."

But Andol Corin bared his teeth.
"You're unworthy of calling yourself Bruxist, Amron. You are not the man I once knew."

"You mistake me." Amron said, falling to one knee before Andol. "Your spirit is the spirit of a true Bruxist. I ceased to be Maroon Templar when I was struck down. That title has lain empty, for the elf Rimtori became Rimtori the Black. No, Andol. You are the fist of Brux, you are the Maroon Templar now."

Andol fought back the maelstrom of emotion which threatened to break him. Instead he threw his head back to scream, but his deep yell was like a roar instead, a lion's roar.

Then he saw the trail of riders and soldiers who had come following Amron.

A giant of a man lowered himself from his horse, introducing himself as Khaltrax Korran.
"I had a vision, and in it, I saw a furious beast atop a burning city's battlements, declaring Brux's glory as it dripped with the blood of its enemies. I knew that it was you I saw, Andol Corin. Brux is with you, and so am I. And so are all Bruxists of the land who yet live."

-

And so the Drakkari hosts came, shaking the earth with their approach. White-skinned devils, they carpeted the plains before Lordaeron City with no end in sight to their ranks.

They waited for nightfall, and Gul'alarion stood before the city demanding its surrender one last time.

But Andol Corin stood atop the battlements beside Maximus Krowl, Amron Radiun Malad and Khaltrax Korran, and the thousands of men and women of Lordaeron who refused to surrender their way of life for a fanatic's dream - a dream whose good intentions refused to consider their lives as being valuable enough to spare. They would not bend knee to a dream that did not value who they were, and what they believed in.

And so began the Battle of Brux, lasting throughout the night. The Drakkari stormed the gates with rams and fists and maces, hammering them until they were merely splinters. They issued through Lordaeron City's gates, pinned with arrows and bloodied by blades. Though thousands fell, thousands replaced them, the full might of the Drakkari invasion launched against Lordaeron without subtlety in this one final battle between troll and man.

As the Drakkari horde smashed towards the palace, Andol Corin and his lieutenants prepared for the end.

Bloodied and glorious, they were not afraid.

"This is how it's supposed to be." Maximus Krowl said, placing a hand on Andol's shoulder. "Together, as it was in the beginning. And so again, in the end of all things."

Their swords faced the gates, as they heaved and breathed with the weight of the Drakkari. Ballistas on the wall fired down into the troll ranks, making little dent in them.

A shadow blocked out the moon, and a massive weight crashed into the courtyard of the palace. Gul'alarion, the Frost King, atop his proto-drake. The beast breathed fire, burning through the Bruxists and melting them like butter.

"I come for you, fool King! King of the Copper Crown, in all your honour, you will die like the rest!"

Ballistas fired their bolts into the proto-drake, causing it to rear and scream in pain. Gul'alarion leapt from its back, crashing into the courtyard with axe in hand.

"Halt!" Andol cried, hefting his bastard sword. "This is between Gul'alarion and I!"

The beast tried to fly away, but all heard it crash amidst the buildings and fighting outside, dead or at least grievously injured. All stared in amazement at the audacity of Gul'alarion to fly in alone, to test the Bastard in single-combat.

"Honour." Gul'alarion spat. "Those gates will burst open, Bastard, and I will be holding your head."

Andol Corin danced forwards, swinging his sword in an undercut, which was blocked by Gul'alarion's axe. The blow bounced back, as Andol had intended, and turned into a strike over his shoulder, down towards the troll's head. But Gul'alarion raised his free arm instead, and Andol's sword clattered against the Frost King's brace. With his axe-arm, Gul'alarion jabbed, bluntly knocking Andol aside.

A bolt landed at Gul'alarion's feet, but Andol cried for them to stop.
"Honour!"

"... honour." Gul'alarion mocked, kicking Andol in the face. "They call me honourable, because I am honest. Because I am straight-forward. I gave you a choice, Bastard. To leave this city or surrender. Or to die."

Andol drew a dagger from his belt and jammed it into Gul'alarion's foot, but the Frost King did not flinch. So Andol reached for his sword, just as Gul'alarion reached for him.

As Gul'alarion threw aside his axe and began to lift Andol into the air, Andol jammed his sword through Gul'alarion's belly, but even then, the Frost King did not flinch.

Instead Gul'alarion managed a hoarse laugh, ignoring the sword sticking through him. Andol squirmed in his grip.
"I want to teach you something... in this last moment... between you and me, Bastard."

Andol's face betrayed that he did not yet understand.

"You are... honourable... worthy. Worthy... I am glad, Bastard. Glad for this moment."

Then Gul'alarion tore off Andol Corin's head, and raised it into the air, just as the gates of the courtyard exploded, and the Drakkari charged in to destroy the Kingdom of Lordaeron forever.

Laughing, Gul'alarion dropped to his knees, one hand reaching for the hilt of the sword sticking through him.
"Glad... for this... moment..."

The sun was beginning to rise over the hills. It was beautiful. Gul'alarion fell forward, and died smiling.

Last edited by Timolas; 12-01-2014 at 07:29 PM..
  #1610  
Old 07-11-2013, 05:47 AM
xie323 xie323 is offline

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Postscript

The past was the past....so linear, yet so vast....a time of great battles, of heroism and villainy, of many and many realities, many green dragonflights guarding the timestreams of individual realities in the multiverse, all starting with the same results........but at one point it diverged....

The battle with Xythi'Mort however, is where the narrative braches off, into many doorways, many rooms, each with differient outcomes.

In some places Xythi'Mort wins, and all reality is devoured. Without Azeroth, the Demonic Beings from the beyond will overthrow Xythi'Mort and consume the universe forever. In some realities, Xythi'Mort wins again, and the Universe becomes a dark chasm of oblivion. In that world the cruel laughter of the Old God could have filled the entire world, but there are no echoes in the kingdom ruled by the dark abyss.

In some other worlds, where Namor succeeded there were many possibilities, perhaps it was a world where the green beings never invaded and it was the Black Dragons that destroyed Azeroth, or the Eternal Dead had won and destroyed all life on their planet in the war between the living and the dead. However, in some realities, heroes stood against them and saved the world from evil. Sometimes the Green Hordes will redeem, sometimes they won't. Sometimes the heroes had to confront the King of Man and the Red-Skinned King of the Ravenging Hordes and prevent them from moving to war. In some realities both see the light, and repent from their sins, but in some realities both succumb to their sins and are posessed by the spirit of Pride. While in others, one repents while the other is damned. They could both be heroes, or both be destroyers, or one a hero and the other a tyrant.

There are realms where Pagan worship continued, that all of the above never happened, or Lightist worship continued instead. In some cases they are tolerant of the Vanquished, in others they become destructive theocracies. In some worlds, the awakening happened ages ago, in some worlds the four Gods never existed. There are realms where mortals discover a continent to the West not to flee from the deathless....but on their own will with a spirit to explore or conquer, and set about conquering it or trading with it. In some worlds, the Fallen Prince did not become the God of Death, but became the king his nation wanted---a fair and just king, or was a tyrant, or a unremarkable king lost to history---again showing the future is subject to change. In worlds where the Deathless came, in some places he fell to darkness because of power, or because of a genuine belief to protect his subjects, or he was killed by the Demon and the Frozen One outright. Sometimes he listened to the oracale and went west, sometimes he didn't. Sometimes he redeemed as the God of Death, sometimes he only felt remorse but died anyways, and sometimes he was wholly damned.

In the end, through these realms where the world is torn asunder existed, there was no definite Armageddon, no definite mushroom cloud, no definate tragedy of the Dark Histories, the world can go in many, many directions, whether good or ill. For every world that ended, there are those that lived, and there are just as many utopias to balance the dystopias. And from the paths branching from the resolution of the Great War, the world has averted a clash-collusion with the dark histories...and has forged it's own path....

With his work done and nothing left here, Jallan stood before a door in the void....a door to another realm in the multiverse, another time, perhaps a world where he is needed by the Pagans. And with that...he saw a potential future of Azeroth. Whether it would happen in this timeline or another world with a different outcome in the future or the past... it was not known.

Thus the myth of the Dark Histories was finally broken for in the end, The future is only an infinite succession of realities and outcomes, and an boundless amount of possibilities. Thus to live now as we think mortal life should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
__________________
"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered...~Thomas Jefferson


So instead of seeing this as a continuation of an era of the 20th century that gave us so much debt and destruction and undermined our liberties and conditions today that are so dangerous, let us think that we are now moving into a new era, a new era where we are going to concentrate on liberty and freedom and property rights and peace. I believe that is the cause that we should lead and I thank you very much for being part of it.~Ron Paul
  #1611  
Old 07-25-2013, 05:10 PM
Zula Zula is offline

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Not your kind of people, Happy Together.

He opened his eyes and saw the ceiling of his bedroom back at Strom’s Keep. He tried to move but he felt a terrible pain on his back, he lifted his neck and realized he was heavy bandaged. A hand lifted over his head and pushed him back to bed, a gentle hand, it was Liera.

He fumbled to speak, but his chest hurt.

‘A month.’ She said, answering to his question. ‘I will go fetch Thales.’

‘No’ He said as he felt the stab wounds burn again.

‘Don’t strain yourself, it’s a miracle you are alive.’

He grunted, he was angry so bloody angry.

‘Why, why are you here.’ He said coughing as Liera put her hand over his chest, it felt so warm.

She had a faint smile, her eyes looked warm too loving.

‘Cause I love you.’

Another kind of stab burned deeper than the ones that the troll left him.
‘I failed you Liera.’ He said has his eyes got red. ‘ I, I wanted to destroy them for you, to give you back your Kingdom.’ He said has he tried to flex the muscles in his arms, he had been in bed for far long.

‘Eldengar…’ She said her eyes also red ‘You, you…’

‘And if I had to turn into a monster to do it.’ He coughed as he attempted to sit ‘I would do it gladly.’ He looked into her eyes, and realized even his face was bandaged.

‘You dammed fool. I can’t love a monster.’ She said her eyes filled with tears
‘Then we let them win?’ Eldengar asked, remembering the act of incredible betrayal he saw before falling unconscious. Just remembering that scene made him feel even sicker than he probably was.

‘Eldengar, I don’t care anymore, Anesterian is dead.’

He felt as his head went light for a moment; he couldn’t fall unconscious not now.

‘What?’ He managed to ask has he laid his back against the head of the bed.

‘He passed away two weeks ago, his son Kael’thas is Sunking now. He made peace with the trolls and lead our people to Fagerstrom.’

His head was spinning, ‘Fagerstrom?’ The dammed fool had made peace with the trolls? He had even relocated the high home of elves? He had went into war to restore that bloody kingdom and now he made peace with the fucking trolls.

‘Honey, it’s over.’ Liera said has she got hold of his hand, trying to calm him.
He laid back again staring into the ceiling once more, he had failed himself, the kingdom, the empire, Thoradin and most importantly the woman he loved.

‘No you didn’t.’ Liera replied ‘You were speaking aloud.’ She added noticing his surprise

‘Did I?’ He asked has Liera moved his hand towards her belly
‘Did you?’ She said with a smile.

And as he looked into her eyes she grabbed his face with her other hand.
‘Yes.’ She said

‘Yes?’ Eldengar asked confused, was she trying to tell him the correct answer?

‘Yes I want, Yes I want to marry you.’

And for the first time in ages, he had genuine smile.

----

Thales entered the room holding a trail with food, when he saw Eldengar awake the food crashed into the floor.

‘You are awake?’ YOU ARE AWAKE’ He said shrieking like those gilnean girls he had always loved.

‘Thales, the voice please.’ Liera said angrily, Thales looked embarrassed
‘Thought wouldn’t get up?’ He asked feeling tired.

‘We all did.’ Thales said his eyes filling with tears as he rushed towards Eldengar

‘Who ruled?’ He asked, but Thales ignored him hugging him instead.

‘Jana Septim, she declared herself regent with approval of the legions.’ Liera said

‘I want to meet them, now.’ He said struggling with Thales

‘I will bring them here.’ Thales said still hugging Eldengar

‘No, not here, in the throne room.’

‘But can you walk?’ Thales asked

‘Let’s find out.’ He said.

---

He limped across the hallways with Thales and Liera at his side Imperial Guards behind them.

Guards kneeled when they saw him walk, some of them even cried.

When they entered the throne room again everyone was there already. Jana Septim and most of the Tribunes were there alongside Elrich and Tatiana. Jana holded the Trol’kalar around her waist has a symbol of her regency.
They bowed as he continued his limping way towards the Eagle throne.
He turned around towards them and sat on the throne has Liera held his hand to help him.

Jana Septim approached, and gave him the Trol’kalar.

Jana Septim was sobbing.

He looked towards Liera who still held his hand and cleared his voice.
‘My friends, I present you my wife and your Empress: Liera Lightbringer.’
Silence, either they expected it, or they were so surprised they didn’t reacted.

‘We will marry tomorrow, any objections?’

‘You, you spent one month sleeping and the first thing you do is announce that you marry your concubine? Has near death made you even more insane than before?’ Tatiana said, her voice shaking.

‘Says the woman who fucked her captain.’ He replied

‘You should have died.’ She replied as a murmur spread across the throne room and Jana insulted her, but he could hear how the Imperial Guard prepared their weapons but he gestured for them to stop. He used the Trol’kalar to help him stand and limped his way across the room to were Tatiana was standing as he dragged the Trol’kalar across the floor and people moved to let him pass.

Tatiana remained immutable as Eldengar standed in front of her. ‘Yet here I am, despite all odds.’

He turned around to the Tribunes and the other people surrounding him.

‘I have failed you, trolls won, you are free to kill me if you want.’ He said has he kneeled, his legs still hurting him.

‘My Emperor, how could we?’ Jana said her face still red and filled with tears. ‘You fought the demon the best you could, but he cheated in the end.’

He lifted up his head ‘We all know that’s not true, the mongrel outsmarted me.’

‘He outsmarted all of us.’ Elrich said

Jana offered her hand to him, and helped get back up.

‘Lead us.’ She said

‘Were?’ He asked

‘South.’ A familiar voice said, and as he turned his head he saw a familiar face.

An elvish face, it was Magister Rommath donning scarlet red clothes.

‘Not all joined King Kael’thas nor Kariel, some of us still want revenge and dream of seeing our home restored, my emperor.’

‘I see, so I grasp you and your High elves want to join us?.’ He replied surprised of Rommath pledge of alliance

‘Not high, the high home is long gone, the blood of our people shed to bring forth the new one. We call ourselves blood elves to honor those fallen in our crusade.’

‘And blood is scarlet’ He thought

‘ You are right Rommath we shall expand south. Towards the unhabitated and unclaimed marshes, we shall dry them down and turn them into farmland for our soldiers for our people.’ He said has he stretched his hand towards Liera, so she could help him sit.

‘We will restore our strength, faster than any other nation of men or the dammed mongrels. The petty kings and lords will ignore us, pretend they are lies, but commonfolk will see our might.

They will see how their rightful Emperor and his faithful subjects turned the Eagle into a Phoenix, how they built a new wall to defend against the trollish threat.

Eralas’s Wall.

And then, then they will rise as we march again towards Hesperia. And if those lightdammed mongrels intervene, then they will see the power of the Empire.

Our Empire.’
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  #1612  
Old 12-09-2014, 04:12 PM
devius devius is offline

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Balor, the Kingdom of Stormwind.

A man sat on a remote dock, gazing at the deep green sea before him. Grey streaks in his hair and deep rings beneath his eyes made the Baron look twice his age. He was contemplating the past.

Nearly two years had passed since the battle at Valen’s Cut and the conclusion of the Great War. The name had stuck among the populace, but Joachim found it far too tame to describe all that had transpired. Millions had died, nations had been forged or torn asunder (or both), cities had burned, nearly every capital had been sacked, populations had been culled, and faiths had been shattered forever. All within a handful of years.

He had seen many of these atrocities first hand. He had lost all his friends and family, and become hated among his people for his failings. Why him? He had heard people whisper in passing. Why does he live when better men have fallen?

“Why me?” He asked himself that every night. He had nightmares of nearly every choice he’d made. So many lives had been lost to his impulsive decisions or lack of resolve. He would wake up in cold sweat, this time with the look of Xanthus’ rage and astonishment as he lay dying in a pool of blood still clear in his mind.

Those were the good nights, though. Every so often, he would relive Geddorath’s vision. A world perfect and devoid of pain. He would wake up crying, cursing his continued existence. Even now he considered slidding off the dock into the dark waters. Let the currents drag him down and away from this misery. He steadied himself for the jump, gripped the edge of the dock. One push, and it would all be over.

But one thing made him hesitate.

Not all had been lost in the chaos. One member of his family had survived. Harald Alten had grown into a fine young man, wise beyond his years. He had not only lived through the traumatic events with his mind intact, but developed a strong sense of justice and compassion in turn. The people loved the young Alten and were eagerly awaiting the day the barony would pass on to him.

Of course, he was already ruling in all but name, as Joachim delegated all responsibilities to him over time. The people would scorn or praise the same edicts depending on whose lips proclaimed them. Furthermore, Harald himself was more motivated to rule; he had a vision for the future while his uncle was stuck lamenting the past. Everyone was better off this way.


“Joachim?” A voice called out to him. He turned around and saw Sybil.

“Have you been brooding again? I told you to stop doing that! It’s bad for you.”
She said, waving her finger scoldingly, and continued before he could respond. “There’s a messenger from Stormwind, wants to see you.”

“Why didn’t you direct him to Harald?” Joachim complained as he stood up. His desire to brood had been drained in a single moment. In his melancholy, he had forgotten about Sybil’s ability to make himself feel less miserable.

“I did, but he insisted that he must see you specifically. He sent me off to get you like some kind of housemaid.” She said bitterly.

“But… You are.” He said sheepishly. He could never tell whether she was actually offended or just pretending. It was all a game to her.

“And you are the Baron, but we both tend to stray from our regular duties quite a lot, don’t we? Come on now.” She held out an elbow for Joachim to lock; once he did she practically dragged him back to the Alten estate.

---

The messenger was a young man, clad in the blue and gold of Stormwind with a trusty soldier’s sword on his hip. He let out a stifled shriek when Sybil slammed the doors open and pulled Joachim inside.

“The great Lord Joachim Alten, Baron of Balor and Hiji in all his grandeur!” She proclaimed sarcastically. The messenger habitually saluted before remembering the fine details of rank and courtesy and switched midway through into a bow with his arm flailing like an axe.

Joachim was too embarassed to pay any attention to the young man’s faux pais. He coughed. “Thank you Sybil, that will be all.” Please, his eyes said.

For a moment, she seemed to consider staying and tormenting the two of them some more, but then she withdrew. “Certainly, my Lord.” She said sweetly. Before closing the door, she gave the Baron a wink. She would not let him forget this mercy too soon.

“Well then.” Joachim cleared his throat and turned back to the messenger. “Why is it that you want to see me?”

“My Lord.” The young man straightened his back. “I am here to regretfully inform you that Captain Gerard Falrevere fell in the battle against the Crimson March. He died a hero.”

Joachim couldn’t help but laugh. The young man was stunned.
“M-my Lord?”

The Baron waved his hand dismissively as he stifled his laughter. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be morbid. But it’s been two years, of course I know he’s dead.” He smiled. “For a while I expected a missive to confirm it, but I suppose the backwards bureaucracy of Stormwind knows no bounds.” He still had his smile, but it was fading into one of melancholy.

“I’m sorry, but that might have been my fault, my Lord. I insisted on delivering the news personally, but I had to wait until I could take my leave.” The young man said guiltily.

“Personally? Why?” Only now did Joachim take a proper look at the young man. He realized there was something oddly familiar about him.

“I was there when he died, my Lord.” His voice broke. “I-I tried to save him but-”

“I’m sure there was nothing you could have done.” Joachim assured him. He kept studying the young man’s face.

“Right, my Lord.” The young man sighed. “There’s more.... Before he died, he said some things. I thought it was nonsense at first, but later on I could not stop thinking about it. I had to find answers, so-”

“What did he say? Tell me!” The Baron demanded.

“He asked me about my mother, and my age… My Lord.” he hastily added.

That was the moment he saw it. The jawline, of course! It all made sense now.
“And you answered?” Joachim couldn’t tell if his bafflement was showing, but the young man continued nonetheless.

“Yes. I told him I was 22, at the time. Then I told him my mother’s name, Cynthia.” His gaze faltered before continuing. “I was tending to his wounds while answering him. But there was too much bleeding, when I looked up to ask him why he wanted to know my mother’s name, he was dead.” The youth’s last words were spoken with much strain, steeped in regret.

“I… See.” Joachim replied slowly. He was sure Gerard must have realised it as well, asking those questions. But did the boy’s answers confirm it? It was too flimsy to assume just based on a jawline…

“There’s… something more.” The messengers’ voice broke Joachim out of his thoughts.

“Yes?”

“He was smiling. That’s what’s been racking my brain for so long. He heard my answers and he smiled.” He began to speak rapidly, leaving no time for pauses or stutter. “You see, I never met my father, my mother said he was some sailor and I didn’t think too much of it. But now there was the Captain and he was smiling and I just can’t get it out of my mind!” Realising he had begun to ramble, the young man slowed down. “I must know, my lord. Was he… Do you think Captain Falrevere was-?”

“Your father? Absolutely.” Joachim had no more doubts. If Gerard had accepted the boy’s answers, then so would he. “Tell me, what’s your name, boy?”

“Ricks, my lord.” He replied, floored by the Baron’s straightforward answer.

“Well then, Ricks, I’d like to invite you to stay with us at the manor while I tell you just how great a man your father was, and it will take some time. Do you accept my offer?” Joachim was smiling now, a genuine smile, for the first time in months.

Ricks’ gasped, but his excitement dwindled as quickly as it had flared up. “I’d love nothing more but I-I’ll have to ask my superiors if I can extend my-”

“Nonsense.” The Baron waved dismissively. “I am the Baron of Balor (and Hiji), your superiors have no power here.”

The young man sighed in relief. “Then I accept.”

“Excellent! Let’s go see Sybil about some refreshments before we begin, or else I’ll wear my voice out.” Joachim headed towards the door and motioned for Ricks to follow.

The young man took a few steps but then suddenly froze. “Oh, Light, I completely forgot.”

“Forgot what?” Asked Joachim, turning back around.

Ricks knelt down to take something out of his satchel. “They were going to make communal pyres for all the fallen, but I took his body aside and…” His voice trailed off as he offered the item to Joachim.

The Baron took the urn in his hands, his mouth agape. There were no words.

“His ashes.” Ricks helpfully added, then suddenly panicked. “I- I don’t know if that’s the custom here, I’m sorry if I… I thought it-”

Joachim clutched the urn close to his heart with one hand, and put the other on Ricks’ shoulder, interrupting him.
“No, boy. You’ve done good.” The Baron looked up, tears in his eyes. “You brought him home.”

---

A man sat on a remote dock, gazing at the deep green sea before him. There were three others with him, too. The man was contemplating the past, holding an urn in his hands.

“Uncle? Are you alright?” One of the three asked, but was silenced by another. “Give him time.” She whispered. The third one stood in silence, subconsciously tracing his jaw that so many had commented on.

“Gerard…” The man began. “Gerard was a man of the sea, a true friend, a hero. He lived by his code of honour, and died keeping it untarnished. He wouldn’t let betrayal, mutilation, or war stand in the way of his loyalty. Sworn to my service, he would not leave my side, even when I cast him away. And now, not even death could stop him from coming back to me.” The man nearly broke down sobbing, the others each put a hand on his back, and he recovered. “You have worked so hard, my friend, but now you can finally rest. Let the waves lull you to sleep.”

The man stood up, and gave the ashes to the sea.
  #1613  
Old 02-09-2017, 05:00 PM
HalfElfDragon HalfElfDragon is offline

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<An End, at Last>
After the Battle of Ula-Tek

As the survivors staggered down the hill, Warren Greystone limped apart from crowd. He followed the surviving agents of Ravenholdt, keeping his distance. His arm had been put in a sling, made from the dirty remains of his tunic. He had taken a crushing blow from a gorgon towards the final moments of the battle, but had luckily escaped with only a broken arm instead of a broken skull. The jungle insects nipped at his bare skin, hardly noticed among the fog of pain and exhaustion.

Warren knew that it would be a long time before he could openly display vulnerability again. He was the Bright Lord now, the warrior messiah of the Lightists of Lordaeron, fist of Archbishop Daevon Shadowbreaker’s Church. Weakness would need be hidden if he wanted to maintain his position, let alone his life. The Valankris weighed heavily at his hip.

As he reached the Ravenholdt group at the bottom, he overheard their murmured conversations. They were trying to make sense of what they had just seen, the barely-averted end of all things. Warren was still uncertain what exactly had happened himself; it had been a moment beyond mortal comprehension, describable in only metaphors. He was no poet, and so he resolved to put it out of his mind. That, at least, was not hard for him to accomplish, for there was one subject that would not leave his thoughts. Amarian Zeshuwal returned to his thoughts as regularly as waves crashed on a beach. Amarian, who he believed had redeemed herself. Amarian, whom he had cared for. Amarian, who had promised their unborn child to a demented serpent god.

He shook his head from side to side. Better to contemplate the incomprehensible fears of the past than the very real fears of the future. He looked up to the canopy above him, searching for a bit of blue sky. The sun shone through the branches of the trees, a much different sun than the last one Warren had seen. He wondered just how much time had passed in the real world while they had been away in the spirit one. As he shaded his eyes with his uninjured arm, he felt the powerful tug of an arm being swung across his shoulders. Warren turned his head and beheld his old friend, Magyver McGowan. His face had obviously been half-heartedly cleaned of the same sort of black blood that still caked his blond beard, and he wore a wide smile. Kid Gorgeous, as always, stood at his side.

Magyver began speaking in a grandiose tone.
“And so, the day was won. Together, they were the Anti-Heretic League, fearsome and totally elite.”

“What?” Warren laughed, which was both surprising and relieving to him. "Are you narrating again, Magyver?"

“Totally narrating, baby,” Magyver answered, lightly thumping Warren on the chest.

“Growl,” Kid Gorgeous added.

“Wait.” Warren paused, narrowing his eyes. “I thought you could speak Common now?”

“Kid is resting his vocal cords,” Magyver explained, putting his hands behind his head and leaning back. “It’s been a long day.”

“You don’t say,” Warren said, sighing.

He scanned the crowd, looking for familiar faces, hoping he would see more than he expected he would. Amidst all the Ravenholdt agents he knew, and those who were strangers, Warren transfixed his eyes upon a single figure. Amarian was sitting on a stone at the edge of the camp, staring off into the forest. Her blonde hair had been tied up in a bun on the top of her head, and was covered in more gorgon blood than anyone else. She had put the powers she bought from Dambala to good usage, at least. He took in a deep breath as he watched her stand up and wander alone into the thick of the jungle.

“She doesn’t look like she’s joining the mass teleport,” Magyver said, with an instructive tone. Warren opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. He simply nodded his head in the affirmative.

“Talk to her,“ Magyver said, staring Warren in the eyes. “Might be your last chance, dig it?”

Warren groaned. Magyver smacked him on the shoulder, much less gently than the last time.

“Growl,” Kid Gorgeous insisted.

“Okay, okay, fine!” Warren said. He started off after her just in time to see her slip between two trees.



Injured as he was, Warren could do no better than walk at a brisk pace after Amarian. He occasionally winced in pain, the pace straining his weak foot too much for comfort. Several times he nearly slipped on the soft, moist ground beneath his feet. Once he had left the clearing where Ravenholdt was regrouping, the footing only became more treacherous. It was a hilly mess of roots and rotten leaves. But the dense foliage did afford him one advantage. Few besides trolls could move silently through the jungle. Amarian didn’t seem to be trying to emulate their example, nor was she moving at any great pace herself, and so Warren was able to follow her by the noise. He caught sight of her as the terrain leveled out.

“Amarian!” Warren shouted. “Hey! Amarian!” The elf paused, and turned to look at him. He carefully avoided the root systems in front of him and stopped a small distance from her, standing in a rare spot of sunshine. “Where are you going?”

“Warren… do you really want to do this?” Amarian said, staring at him from the shade of the trees. Warren noticed that her eyes were still black; Dambala had not yet come to reclaim his power. It made for an unnerving sight.

“No. Yes. I… I think we have to,” He answered, trying his best to meet her eye contact. “Either we do, and we regret it, or we don’t, and we still regret it.”

“I don’t regret what I did,” Amarian crossed her arms. “Don’t bother lecturing me,”

“I… I won’t.” Warren started, and then took a second to catch his breath. Amarian raised an eyebrow. “Why aren’t you coming back with the rest of Ravenholdt?”

Amarian scoffed. “My association with Ravenholdt existed only as an extension of my relationship with you.” She answered. “And I’m under no illusions about what I’ve done to that.”

Warren averted his eyes briefly. It was only a moment, but he didn’t doubt that it was long enough to tell Amarian she was right. A warm jungle breeze passed through the trees and undergrowth, heavily with the smell of dirt and flora.

“So,” Warren begun. “Where are you going?”

It was Amarian’s turn to sigh. “I’m looking for shelter. I’m going to stay here until...” She hesitated. “Until I fulfill my side of the bargain.”

“Seriously?” Warren’s voice was louder than he intended. He had thought himself too exhausted for anger. Clearly, he had been mistaken. “The battle is over. We won. Who cares if you made a deal?”

“I don’t have a choice,” Amarian said, shaking her head. Warren detected anger, defensive anger, in her voice. “Dambala’s power is still within me. Within… her. There’s no going on back on this. I can’t break a deal with a god. What’s done is done.”

Warren grimaced, looking down at the ground. After a moment, his eyes went wide. Fumbling with his prosthetic hand, he drew the Valankris from his belt and pointed it at her. Amarian’s hand moved towards her whip.

“You said his power was still within you,” Warren explained. “The Valankris. It absorbed D’vorjakque, Geddorath…” Warren’s voice shook as he pleaded with Amarian. A tear formed in his eye. “Why not Dambala?”

“That’s not how this works,” Amarian snapped at him.

“Why not?!” Warren shouted back. “If we take his power, then he can’t–”

“Warren, I know what you want.” Amarian spoke swiftly. “You want to find out that I had a way out. That I’d never honor a deal like that. You want me to be someone you can love. But we both know the truth.” The anger in Warren’s face slowly transfigured into sadness. “And you’d know that even if this worked. Which it won’t.”

“We can at least try!” Warren begged. “This isn’t just about you and me.”

“As if I’d forgotten!” Amarian snapped back, her hand moving to her stomach. “This plan of yours… it isn’t enough. You know it isn’t enough,” she reiterated. “You were there, Warren. You saw what what Dambala is. Weakened or not, he’ll claim what’s his.”

“We can at least make him regret it,” Warren insisted. Tears stung his eyes and dripped down his face.

Amarian paused. “You’d risk a spirit’s wrath for petty revenge?”

“What other option is left?” Warren replied. After a moment, he continued. “But I can’t do it without you. I’m not going to fight you, Amarian.” He flicked his wrist downward, throwing the dagger into the ground between them.

Amarian relaxed her posture. A contemplative look spread across her face and. After what felt to Warren like an eternity, she looked back at him and smiled slightly. “You were never a very good Bruxist.”

“I guess not,” Warren returned the smile. “Maybe I’ll be a better Bright Lord.”

Amarian knelt, retrieving the Valankris from the dirt. “I hope not,” Amarian said, stepping into the narrow spot of sunlight where Warren stood.

Amarian placed the Valankris in Warren’s wounded hand, and then raised her fingers to touch the blade. She formed an open grip around it, testing the edge lightly with the tips of her fingers. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, and grasped the magic dagger tightly. As the sharp edge cut into her flesh and blood fed the forest floor, her muscles visibly tensed. Warren could see the verdant power of Dambala rush through her veins and into the Valankris. Amarian opened her eyes, once more glowing heterochromatically. With her other hand, she stroked Warren’s cheek, and then let go of the blade.

Without speaking, Amarian tore a strip of excess cloth from Warren’s make-shift sling and wrapped it around her hand as a bandage. He wiped the Valankris on the front of his pants before returning it to his belt. She took a step back, out of the light.

“What are you going to do?” Warren broke the silence. “I mean, after you’ve…”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Amarian answered. “But it will be good to decide that myself, for once.”

“I’m never going to see you again, am I?” Warren asked, looking up at her with wide eyes.

“Oh, I think you will. One day. Not that either of us will be the same,” Amarian answered, and Warren sensed the truth of her words. “I should think everything will be different after this. We might not even recognize each other.”

The elf blinked, and in a moment her eyes changed. No longer were they mismatched, one glowing viridian and the other azure. In fact, they didn’t glow at all. The eyes that stared at Warren now appeared distinctly human, and a piercing grey. A shiver ran down his spine. He couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ever seen the real Amarian. It was a foolish line of thought, he knew. Thanks to her magicks, Amarian had the rare privilege of a body that could change in time with her mind.

“Goodbye, Warren.” Amarian stared into his eyes. There was no anger, no resentment in her face.

Warren said no words, confident that his expression said enough.

He watched as she turned and continued on her way, disappearing once again into the trees. He continued staring at the place where she disappeared, until his thoughts returned to Ravenholdt and Magyver, and to the duties he would soon take up in earnest. He would be the Bright Lord, the sword of the Light, scourge of the Pagans. Yet, he would also be Warren Greystone, believer in Brux, member of the People’s Front. A rebel who refused to damn his country. A Pagan in a band of Lightists. A moderate in a war of extremists.

No doubt he would have to deal with those who refused to believe that extremism could be tempered instead of destroyed, but he knew better. And he would never forget the woman that showed him it was possible.

Warren Greystone began the hike back to the Ravenholdt camp. He had work to do. He would ensure that History was not broken. But he would also do what he could to make sure that it would not be written in blood.
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