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Old 10-16-2009, 09:14 AM
Zula Zula is offline

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I really owe you a lot of reading here ARM, I will see if this weekend I begin to read where I left it.
Originally Posted by Timolas roleplaying with Xie
"Take me, Xie! I know you dream of me as I dream of you; you haunt me Xie! Take me! Take me like an aminal Xie!"
Xie wants YOU to check Wulfang brainchild RIGHT NOW. SO click on this text
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Old 11-19-2009, 01:41 AM
ARM3481 ARM3481 is offline

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Chapter Twenty-Six

The sharp reek of long-spoiled meat carried to Vallabryn on the breeze again, and she maintained her vigilance over the source ahead. In the dusk's fading light, she could make out the misshapen forms in the underbrush. They moved without clear purpose, seeming to meander about as if idly awaiting instruction. Her ears caught the slight hint of ragged breaths; though it was likely unnecessary, even in death some of the creatures still seemed to go through the motions of breathing, their rotten, perforated lungs gasping ineffectually for the air that their shambling forms no longer had any need of.

Patiently she watched, keenly aware of the other Sentinels who crouched alongside her and observed the enemy in silence with their glimmering eyes. She glanced at Kaethris and was pleased to see that, though tense from awareness of the potential danger nearby, her sister appeared content to simply watch and wait rather than act on any reckless impulse to slay the enemies before them.

An hour or more had passed, and the creatures continued to simply plod about, their dead eyes staring emptily in search of anything that might present itself as prey. Still, even in the light of day the night elves had remained hidden, their large and more visible saber cats having been left several dozen yards farther back under the careful watch of two of their number amidst a cluster of particularly dense foliage to conceal their presence.

Peering slightly upward, she saw one of her warriors perched lightly atop the branches of a tree that sprawled overhead. As the sun began to set and the jungle submerged into ever deepening shadows, the Sentinel had climbed swiftly and noiselessly to the top, affording a better vantage point from which to observe the event they were now awaiting.

It pained Vallabryn to admit that she was anticipating the enemy's march against Dusklore, rather than hoping against it. Yet a renewed attack was necessary to reaching her own goal. That morning they had managed to travel farther west than she had dared hope as the Scourge promptly began marching north. After several hours the undead had again filtered south through the trees, forcing her and the other Sentinels to hide lest they be detected.

Now they awaited the enemy's renewed assault upon Dusklore's walls, hoping it would afford them an opportunity to reach the hidden entrance to the Deep Sanctum. Still, the very knowledge that the Scourge would attack their home again at least brought some small, if bitter, comfort. For another assault to be warranted meant that Dusklore had withstood the first, and may hold strong against further aggression as well.

"Commander, their behavior has changed." The words, though spoken softly, carried down from the branches above bearing a hint of urgency. "They are all moving."

Even as the words reached her ears, Vallabryn saw the nearest undead sharply turn and begin shuffling away. The creatures made no apparent effort to conceal their passage, crashing noisily through the underbrush as they moved to join their fellows to the northwest.

It was time. Turning around, she saw that Kaethris and the other Sentinels all regarded her expectantly. Vallabryn nodded once and spoke just loudly enough for them to hear, lest her voice still carry to the nearest of the departing Scourge. "Call Esande and Talassia forward with our sabers."

The new surge of assaults had begun as the last sparkling traces of sunlight dissipated at the horizon. As before, the ranks of slavering undead erupted from beneath the trees, unmindful of the swift end likely awaiting those who first reached their goal.

It was a reckless offensive, seemingly without any aim beyond hurling wave after wave of undead flesh against the defenders. Again the enemy climbed rapidly upon reaching the wall, eagerly seeking to engage those at its summit.

Arrows and bolts from archers and ballistae above had torn ragged holes in their lines, but even so most of the creatures reached their goal despite being hindered somewhat by protruding arrow shafts and some missing limbs. As before, those struck down by the force of descending projectiles continued to rise again as often as not, either ignoring their wounds entirely or dragging their shattered appendages behind like grotesque baggage.

Chopping down, Arran'nor cut deeply through the collarbone and into the torso of another slobbering terror. He pulled back, twisting the sword as he sharply wrenched it free. An explosion of bone and gore erupted from the dessicated chest, showering the stones as the creature stumbled forward to collide with his upraised shield, its approach granted unsought momentum by his attack. It feebly sought to reach around with its functioning arm as the other hung loosely from the separated shoulder. Catching his own backward motion with one firmly planted foot, he rebounded and shoved the creature back over the edge of the wall to plummet into the churning host of undead below. The sound of its landing was lost in the clamor of battle.

He prepared to engage another foe when a ghostly howl from beyond the wall quickly rose in volume and became the shattering call of a battle horn. As if guided by a shared consciousness, the undead withdrew in unison, those atop the walls disengaging from their enemies and leaping down to join their fellows. Many broke legs and arms as they landed heavily, but they still hauled themselves upright moments later to begin a staggering, uneven retreat.

Moreover, many of the retreating undead paused to seize the nearby broken bodies of their slain allies and drag them along. As he watched this, Arran'nor heard a voice speak from beside him.

"Again they reclaim their fallen." Bel'nea noted, leaning forward against the battlement to observe the enemy action below.

"Likely to to restore and throw against us again." The general replied. A momentary flash of outrage passed through him as he noticed that several of the bodies being dragged away were of his own warriors, fallen from the walls during the fight or violently heaved down by the winged beasts which sought to harry the defenders as they engaged the earthbound undead. "That they bother doing so is telling. For all the recklessness they display, it seems their numbers may have limits."

This was the fourth time the enemy had withdrawn in such a manner after launching the night's first direct assault upon the southern wall, which struck him as odd. These Scourge seemed heavily reliant upon sheer numbers coupled with the resilience and renewal of their troops that could be either replaced or reanimated once more after falling. With such strengths, one would expect them to seek to tire and overwhelm the defenders. Yet since the first charge at dusk, the enemy had thrice engaged Dusklore's defenders, only to retreat after roughly an hour of vicious struggle, then had returned less than an hour later to renew the battle.

Every time, the Scourge carried away many of the fallen from the base of the walls on the way back to the cover of the jungle beyond, and Arran'nor had noticed an increased number of enemy troops bearing hastily repaired wounds and broken-off arrow shafts from the prior engagements among those in each renewed assault.

"These staggered attacks must have some hidden purpose to them." Whitestar supplied, frowning thoughtfully. "Perhaps they think to stretch their forces by pausing to restore them between assaults."

"Each of these extended pauses in the fighting allows us to rest and rotate the guard." He said, his voice ragged and tired. "They have yet to strike at the other walls, and so every assault here has been met by fresh reserves brought to replace our wounded and exhausted." Closing his eyes, he shook his head against a brief spell of dizziness brought on by lack of sleep or rest before continuing. "Unless their commander is a fool, which I dare not assume, then there is some more sinister meaning to these attacks beyond simply prolonging the survival of their forces."

She cast a narrow glance at him, frowning. "You speak of fresh reserves, but I've yet to see you retire yourself from the defense since before the morning attack. I should think Dusklore will be ill served by a general who collapses from exhaustion during an assault."

For a fleeting moment he was visited by a feeling of familiarity, and he smiled wryly as he remembered a voice from ages past. A gentle voice that once expressed similar concerns for his wellbeing when he had gone to battle the enemies of their people.

At his silence Bel'nea faced him squarely and noticed his odd expression. "I was hardly making a jest, General."

Raising one hand placatingly, he replied. "No, I realize that. I was simply remembering something else. I suppose you have a point, but I hesitate to leave the wall when the enemy is likely to attack again within the hour."

"Such is your choice to make, of course." Shrugging, she turned back to watching the jungle's edge where the last of the departing undead were vanishing into the shadows. "Still, if some treachery arises amidst these repeated assaults, I think all within Dusklore would sooner have our Northern Bulwark at his strongest to face it."

He chuckled as an even older memory resurfaced at her use of that particular appellation. "It's been a very long time since anyone called me by that name. I'm surprised you remembered it."

"Few could have forgotten." She replied, her gaze still fixed on the jungle. "Many were the savage Gurubashi who broke against your shield. Songs were once sung of your strength and resolve in the defense of Saszanaar and the taking of these very bluffs."

"The songs." He recalled, frowning irritably. "Those, at least, were forgotten."

"Yes, of course. Forgotten." She told him with what he thought might have been amusement in her tone, though he couldn't tell for certain as she continued facing away. "General, we need you rested and fully aware, and you already look half asleep on your feet. Please go and seek your chambers. I will see to the command of the walls until you return."

Sighing, he relented. "Very well. Send me word when the enemy returns, or if any other changes arise in the disposition of their forces."

"Of course." She answered. "Now get some rest."

Ricter watched in brooding silence as his forces withdrew once more, hauling what they could salvage from among the fallen for reanimation. All was proceeding as planned, but he still chafed at the lack of immediate results.

The Eredar had systematically placed some form of enchantment throughout their forces, singling out each rotting soldier and uttering chants in that wretched tongue of his before sending it to join the next group amassing to attack. Throughout the night it continued, and the death knight had mutely obeyed each time the creature commanded him to recall their forces, only to hurl them once more at the enemy defenders a short while later.

"They must fall in great numbers for the process to work." The demon had explained irritably when Scyr'thaz carefully questioned the meaning behind the enchantments. "The spell is unstable when placed upon a living host, and only slightly less so with these dead things. It is a thing of shadow and void, and the light of day would dilute the effects. When their blood spills it will take root, and then I will begin the process of bringing down the walls."

He supposed it made sense as far as it went, but Ricter found himself growing increasingly aggravated by these roundabout means of overcoming their enemies. Such convoluted and arcane methods would be unnecessary, had the Scourge been allowed to simply do its job as it had done in Lordaeron instead of catering to the demons' plotting and trickery and tossing away numerous opportunties to bolster their ranks and fully crush all resistance.

Also there was the matter of the stranger with whom the Master had apparently reached some arrangement. The behavior of that shrouded figure, in addition to rousing Ricter's own ire, had clearly shown that it was neither an undead thrall of the Lich King nor one of the exalted few like himself who were granted power among the ranks of the Scourge while still alive. This was an outsider, and it troubled him that they should be reliant on the efforts of such a one not fully committed to the cause.

"Don't be troubling with the details of such things, my Lord." Dakuma spoke from his side, chuckling dryly. Stentor experienced a moment of disquiet as he wondered how the troll could have deduced his thoughts. At times he wondered if perhaps his teacher maintained some link beyonds his own to their Master at all times. "The Master be knowing the way of things, and this ally served us well once before. He'll not be failing or betraying us."

"Who is this ally?" He asked flatly.

Dakuma shrugged. "Who am I to be knowing? The Master, he tells what he will, and the rest I'm trusting to his wisdom."

Ricter nodded, concealing his annoyance at the troll's evasion. "And the demons' ploy? Will it work?"

"Perhaps. The Burning Legion, they're having knowledge gained by ages spent invading worlds beyond counting. Azeroth just be the latest of of them, and there may be little found here that they haven't already seen and eventually conquered elsewhere." Turning away, Dakuma called back as he began walking toward Gimbrion, who had resumed modifying their forces. "The magic protection of this place might still hold back what he plans, but if all goes as it should, those will soon be gone."

Before he could reply a low rumbling drew Ricter's attention. Turning, he could feel the steady vibration of tremendously heavy footsteps shaking the ground. The authors of the noise became visible only a moment later.

Arsogg approached at the head of his felguard, the colossal pit lord easily shoving aside trees and crushing underbrush to make a path for his troops. They marched in lockstep, shaking the earth and casting a sickly green glow about them as their flesh rippled with a faint aura of raging felfire. He noted that a few stray branches hanging overhead even smoldered and curled as the towering demons' massive shoulders brushed against them.

Something new was happening here. Ricter hadn't been told of any change in the assault plans to involve the demons' own troops, and he felt the rising anger at one more unexpected thing that might further undermine what little momentum they still had.

Then he smiled slightly as he considered the possibility that involving them in the battle might feasibly result in their destruction and allow him to properly take control of this invasion.

The pit lord stopped before Gimbrion, who finished casting his spells on one of the bloated abominations that had been hastily repaired, then sent it to rejoin the lines. The repairs were haphazard, having been carried out by the clumsy hands of other reanimated dead not truly suited to the task, and as it lumbered off its head lolled to the side lazily due to a sagging stitch in its neck.

Facing his fellow demon, Gimbrion said something sharply in the demonic tongue that Ricter couldn't understand. Arsogg nodded and turned, pointing at one of his felguard. The armored brute stepped forward and waited quietly, and Gimbrion moved toward it as Arsogg led the rest away.

Ricter's sour frown returned and he rubbed his beard as he observed the lone felguard soldier, wondering what the Eredar had in mind.

Brongus nearly ran into Victor as the paladin froze in mid-step.

"What is it now?" The dwarf asked irritably. Even as he asked, he heard a sharp noise ahead. Its familiarity caused him to realized the cause of Victor's sudden pause. He was well acquainted with the soft clicking sound of a rifle being readied to fire.

The rest of their companions also stopped, glancing ahead uncertainly in search of what had brought them to a halt. Sergeant Reiser cast a scolding glance back as several footmen began to whisper among themselves, and they fell silent.

A voice issued from ahead, low and possessed of a rolling brogue. "Aye, that's right then. Don't be comin' any closer, and keep your hands in the open. I'd be hatin' to have me lads put a fistful of shot in you before we find out if you're really alive or not. Now let's start with a name and your reasons for bein' out here."

Victor raised his hands slowly and replied. "I'm Victor Silvershield."

"Silvershield?" The unseen speaker replied, sounding surprised. "Now there's a name I'd not been expectin' to hear. The Colonel thought you lost to us when you and poor old Brongus didn't come back before the Scourge attacked us."

"I evaded the Scourge and met with Sergeant Reiser's unit after." He chose to omit his internment at the night elves' outpost for the time being, as it seemed a poor time to introduce any further complicated explanations without being pressed for them. "We've been trying to get back to the camp ever since."

"Reiser's unit, you say?" Their hidden assailant paused, then continued. "They never joined the rest of us in attackin' the undead. I'm thinkin' that's hardly a sound reason to count you lot as still alive."

Victor was about to speak again when Brongus shoved past him. The dwarf directed his gaze into the shadows among the trees and barked angrily. "Put up your peashooter and toss us the blasted chain, Hundir! We don't have the time to be waitin' for you and Efnor to puzzle it all out on your own, and as nearsighted as you are, I'd not be wagerin' a bent copper on your hitting us at more than two paces anyway."

A startled silence was the only response at first, then the speaker finally replied, his voice carrying a trace of uncertainty. "Brongus, can that really be you? We thought you dead!"

"Aye, and I'm sure you've been fast enough breakin' into me stash of brew when you heard. Now throw me that Light-blessed chain so we can prove we're still breathin'."

Another pause was followed by a bout of hushed muttering, then a faint jingling as a small object flew out from among the trees. It glittered under the moonlight as Brongus caught it in mid-air. He held the polished chain length up in plain sight to ensure that all could see that there were no visible effects from his flesh touching the sanctified metal. Grunting affirmatively, he handed it to Victor, who did the same.

"Well, is that enough for you, then?" Brongus asked grumpily. "Cause I'm pretty tired of standing around debatin' when there's walking corpses and orcs about."

A rustling ahead was followed by several figures emerging from the shadows. They were all dwarves, and each hefted a rifle and wore a hooded cloak save one, who carried a heavy axe. Their apparent leader stopped and addressed Brongus. "You're just about the last thing I'd have been thinkin' to find out here, old boy."

"We weren't expecting to find anyone either." Victor said, tossing the chain length to the dwarf, who he figured must be the Hundir that Brongus had addressed. "You've no idea what a relief it is to find survivors. We were afraid the Scourge might have overwhelmed you."

"It would've been a close thing, if they'd cared to follow us." Hundir sighed and shook his head. "It was a right awful mess, paladin. We fared well enough against the undead, but then the demons broke through our lines and cut down more soldiers in a few minutes than the undead managed in the whole fight. Was near to a solid wall of the beasties, smashin' men as much as choppin' em down. I'm not sure we could've held em back if they decided to keep us in a route all the way back to shore, but they decided to hold off and let us run once the Colonel called for retreat."

"Made worse in the rain!" Another dwarf interjected, waving his left arm expansively as he hoisted a rifle with the other. "Was like sloggin' back to camp through a river of cold soup, draggin' along what wounded we could. Was a bloody disaster, is was it was!"

"Quiet, Ef." Hundir snapped. "He's got the idea of it without you throwin' in your two coppers."

Victor only vaguely heard the scolded dwarf's grumbled response as he considered the implications of what he'd just heard. Depending on the actual extent of their losses, his people might be desperate and faced with obliteration at any time, should the Scourge once more turn its gaze toward their encampment.

"Bring me to Colonel Truepath." The paladin said then, causing all present to look at him sharply. "I have to speak with him immediately." He only hoped the message he bore and the offer it represented might prove enough to save them in time.

The attack came from the north, and Vallabryn cursed her own inattention as the first slobbering monstrosity heaved itself out of the shadows at one of the saber cats. The great beast veered to the side, avoiding its attacker's wildly slashing claws as the two Sentinels riding atop struggled to remain seated.

Coldsong and the other cats whirled at the urging of their riders as a clamor erupted in the brush, followed immediately by a swarm of undead exploding from among the trees to the north.

They had nearly reached their destination undetected, but now the Scourge had found them. The attacking throng spread out in an effort to encircle the fourteen riders and their seven feline mounts as they closed in.

It was a poor location for a protracted fight. The land sloped downward from the north, and the trees were dense enough to prevent the immense saber cats from maneuvering about enough to safely engage in close combat against multiple foes. Realizing this, Vallabryn shouted to her fellow Sentinels. "Retreat! We will make for the southwest, then break west at the banks of the stream. Follow closely and avoid fighting any longer than it takes to get free of them!"

Already a few of the mounted Sentinels had begun striking down at their foes as their mounts slashed about, and these quickly dashed away from the reanimated terrors upon hearing her words as Coldsong broke into a dead run. They took up their own rapid flight close behind.

The undead followed, but had difficulty keeping up with the swift sabers. Nonetheless, the rotting host seemed undeterred by the rapidly increasing distance between them and their prey, crashing through the brush in steady pursuit.

The riders reached the stream several minutes later, and Vallabryn turned to assess the others. Noting that all twelve had arrived safely, she gestured to the west. "It lies only a few miles west from here. Quickly now, lest they realize our destination and seek a more direct path to intercept us."

Even as they urged their mounts back into a steady, loping run, she heard the barking cries from overhead. Glancing back, Vallabryn could see dark shapes flying above the tree line and knew that the Scourge's airborne terrors had located the fleeing riders and were undoubtedly relating their location to the rest.

The ground became uneven as they encountered a stretch of land alongside the stream that had been upset by the floods. Their pace slowed somewhat as they sought to navigate the shattered mess of displaced soil and overturned rocks. Behind, she could hear the calls of the enemy scouts growing louder.

Even as they cleared the sundered bank, a disturbance erupted several yards to their right; with startling speed a shape with scant flesh clinging to its bony frame leapt from the tree line and collided with the rearmost Sentinels, knocking them from their mount. In almost the same instant a lumbering abomination broke through the brush and brought its jagged blade down on the riderless saber cat, smashing it brutally down to the earth and crushing its spine as the mortally wounded beast issued a roar of startled anger and pain. Vallabryn tensed herself and fought the urge to turn and aid her sister Sentinels as several dozen more of the undead poured from the shadows of the jungle, quickly overwhelming the two dismounted Sentinels as they struggled painfully to rise where they had landed.

She realized then that the malign intellect driving the Scourge had clearly deduced their approximate course and already diverted its minions to cut them off. The creatures that had slain the two fallen night elves had turned and resumed the pursuit, staggering with unexpected speed despite their ungainly shapes.

Turning her head, she spoke quickly to Kaethris, who clung tightly to her against being thrown by Coldsong's breakneck pace. "We will have to move back among the trees. In the open here their flyers can spot us and direct the rest." The younger Wintergaze nodded against her back. "Our only hope is to lose them long enough to find the Sanctum and gain entry. It will have to be done swiftly, so remove the marked parchment from the bag on my belt now so that it is ready when we arrive."

She felt Kaethris shifting around for a moment, gripping her waist more tightly with one hand while rifling through the small pack at her belt with the other. Raising her own right fist, Vallabryn was careful to keep an iron grip on Coldsong's thick fur with the left as she wordlessly signaled to the others her intent to change direction.

Kaethris' arm then returned to clutching alongside the other, and Vallabryn saw the sheet of parchment gripped tightly in her sister's fist. Nodding, she prodded Coldsong with her heels and the bounding cat immediately turned to the right, plunging among the trees. Even over the sounds of rushing air she heard the others close behind and knew they had done the same.

All around them, she heard the bedlam of their enemies crashing about, seeking to close in on their fleeing prey. Despite the knowledge that at any moment the creatures might pounce upon them, Vallabryn kept alert for signs of something else. She knew they should be near a landmark that would reveal their position in relation to the Sanctum's entrance. There was a chance they might have already missed the place in their desperate flight, but she prayed for Elune's good grace in seeing them safely to their goal, for there was little chance of successfully doubling back to search if they had already passed it.

Cries of surprise and anger caused her to glance back and witness two more of the following saber cats being cut off by a rush of undead across their path. The creatures closed rapidly on the isolated mounts and their riders, who raised weapons in anticipation of a hopeless fight they would almost certainly lose, and again Vallabryn clenched her teeth in frustration knowing that to turn now and lend aid against such odds would doom them all.

The chase seemed to continue unabated as they rode, plummeting through the darkness. Then with an odd suddenness, the jungle fell silent.

Unwilling to trust her own senses at first, Vallabryn waited before calling a halt. Finally she raised a hand in signal and whispered the command to her mount. Coldsong and the other three remaining sabers slowed, then stopped. Keeping to their training, the riders did not question the abrupt end to their flight, but simply observed their Commander in silence and awaited her next move. Kaethris seemed about to speak, but then thought better of it and simply watched as well from her place behind Vallabryn, her manner expectant.

After what seemed an eternity of listening for any hint of their pursuers, Vallabryn finally spoke, her tone kept soft but clearly audible to the others. "Whatever the cause, the enemy seems to have lost our trail for now. They may have fallen farther behind when pausing to engage our sisters." The bitterness in her words was clearly evident as she spoke. "For all the other unnatural advantages these things possess, they seem to lack proper trackers among them. Still, we had best tread carefully lest we bring them down upon us again."

"Where are we?" Kaethris asked, carefully keeping her own voice low. "I don't know these southern jungles as well as the rest."

Looking around, Vallabryn spotted a sliver of white light to the north, peeking through a narrow break in the trees. She moved to dismount, and found that Kaethris' arms remained locked tightly at her waist, still tense from the urgency of their flight. A moment later Kaethris noticed her unconscious action and quickly withdrew them, allowing Vallabryn to climb down from Coldsong's back.

Drawing her sword and shield, Vallabryn indicated that the others should wait there as she moved toward the object she had seen.

Walking stealthily despite her armor, she crept through the trees for nearly a hundred yards before coming upon a small clearing. It was dominated by a sizable stone that she knew well, its blue-and-white marbled surface covered with barely perceptible shapes. This was the landmark she sought, and it reflected the moonlight brilliantly, its bluish facets made to look almost clear like colored glass under the pale luminescence.

She knew the stone well, and she also knew that rather than being of any relevance itself, it in fact was meant to mislead those who would seek entry to the Deep Sanctum without the blessing of those within into believing that the marker itself possibly covered the entrance. Without the proper means, none could enter unbidden save by way of mighty arts, and even they would have to realize the nature of the defenses keeping it hidden.

Satisfied by her find, she returned to the others and gestured that they should follow her to the clearing.

When they reached it, Vallabryn turned to Kaethris, who was dismounting beside the stone. She still clutched the parchment in her fist, and Vallabryn pointed at it. "Place the marked face of that parchment against the stone, little sister."

Startled, Kaethris stared at the monolithic stone for a moment before nodding. She uncrumpled the sheet and did as she was bidden, pressing the odd symbol on its surface flat against the cold stone and holding it in place with her palm.

Crossing her arms, Vallabryn observed the stone and waited in silence, as did the other Sentinels.

Several minutes passed without any obvious result, and Kaethris directed a curious glance at her sister, raising one eyebrow in an unspoken question which evoked only silence from the elder sibling. Still more time passed, and the younger Wintergaze sister finally spoke, her tone revealing a growing annoyance as she shifted to using her other hand to hold the page stationary while flexing the first to relieve its cramping. "Is something supposed to happen, or is this some sort of poorly made joke at my expense?"

"Yes, something will happen." Vallabryn replied calmly, sharing a mildly amused glance with the other Sentinels. Of those present, Kaethris was by far the youngest and she was feeling very much so as the other night elves watched through masks of impassivity resulting from far more ages of training and conditioning than her own. "Patience, little one. Though they summoned us, we can hardly expect them to have been ready for our arrival at this precise time. Besides, they must be sure of who we are before responding."

Kaethris let out an exasperated sigh. "Well how are they supposed to know who we are without coming out to see for themselves?"

Addressing her sister with an odd stare, Vallabryn nodded as if she had decided something. "There is something you should know concerning the inhabitants of the Deep Sanctum, sister. At the very least, to prevent you from reacting poorly to something unexpected. They are of our people, but they are not like us. They are users of magic, as is their master, Conservator Toradis."

"Magic?" Kaethris nearly dropped the sheet in surprise, but managed to keep it in place. "You mean arcane magic, like the Highborne?"

"Yes." Vallabryn's manner was somewhat stony as she replied, for she disliked the necessity of it but knew that there was little choice. Though she agreed with their father's choices those thousands of years before, she still at times wondered if the risk was greater than the benefits merited. "I will tell you more when we enter the Sanctum itself."

"Oh, really?" Kaethris asked sarcastically, placing her free hand against her hip and glowering impatiently at the lack of reaction from the stone. "Well, in that case I don't suppose I'll ever find out."

As the last words passed her lips a faint humming sound reached their ears, and all eight night elves directed their stares to the stone. Beneath Kaethris' palm, the parchment had begun to glow with an azure brilliance that was bright enough to stand out against the already radiantly moonlit stone's surface.

"Keep it in place." Vallabryn warned. "With the enemy potentially drawing near, I would sooner have this done quickly than be made to start over again."

Another long moment passed, then the glow dissipated. The humming ended as well, and the clearing again fell silent.

"Well, that was certainly impressive." Looking around at the unaltered clearing, Kaethris assumed a manner of mock astonishment, making no effort to conceal her sarcasm. "Blessed Goddess! What a marvelous display. Why, this can only be the vaunted Deep Sanctum you spoke of!"

Vallabryn was about to admonish her when another voice that was clearly male issued from the shadows to their right, toward the east. "You've not reached the Sanctum yet, young one. Though your patience will be rewarded soon enough." The speaker's tone sounded slightly amused.

A single figure emerged from the darkness, dressed in a simple earth-colored robe. His hands were folded before him in a relaxed fashion, the fingers interlaced. Glancing appraisingly at each Sentinel, his gaze finally settled upon Vallabryn.

"Ah, Sentinel-Commander Wintergaze." He bowed low, his manner formal. "We had hoped our summons would reach your esteemed father, though we feared he would prove unable to send aid in light of recent events. Rest assured, your arrival is most timely and we are grateful for your swift response given the obstacles you likely had to face."

"Brodal." Vallabryn replied formally. "We lost six of our sisters and three sabers in coming here. I think we had best seek the safety of your hidden Sanctum before the Scourge manages to find us again."

Brodal glanced over his shoulder. "Yes, a wise suggestion I think. The master would sooner have these undead remain ignorant of our presence, and they are for the moment largely occupied with another assault upon Dusklore's walls."

"Dusklore?" Kaethris asked, removing the sheet from the stone's surface. "What's happening there? Are they all right?"

Brodal favored her with a sympathetic smile. "The defenders fight bravely, and though many have fallen they still hold strong against the invading dead." Pausing, he turned back toward the trees to the east. "However, these are matters best discussed with Master Toradis. Please follow me."

Last edited by ARM3481; 08-05-2011 at 12:56 AM..
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Old 11-19-2009, 01:46 AM
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Chapter Twenty-Seven

With some persistent coaxing they managed to bring the four saber cats down the narrow stairway that had been carved into the earth, leading to the Deep Sanctum, though the beasts had some difficulty navigating the stairs, which weren't built to properly accommodate their massive paws. Nonetheless, the last of their feline companions was finally led down into the dimly lit tunnel below.

Brodal turned around as they reached the bottom of the stairs and gestured up the steps, muttering quietly. A gentle humming sound could be heard above, and the Sentinels looked behind to see a wavering shape manifest over the entrance and then solidify, concealing it from above.

The robed mage took note of the saber cats, which shifted around uncomfortably, their eyes darting about searching the close walls and low ceiling of the first chamber. Pointing ahead, he said"It seems that your companions are ill suited to the confines of this hall. Come, we will seek larger accommodations for them."

Vallabryn nodded and indicated that the others should follow as Brodal began walking purposefully down the long passage ahead. Coldsong grumbled irritably as she was urged along by Kaethris, who kept a reassuring hand rested on the towering cat's left shoulder.

They traveled the length of several such passages, which were wide enough for two Sentinels to stand abreast but only allowed their sabers to walk in file. Their path was lit by faintly glowing orbs filled with blessed water that emitted a ghostly light. Kaethris recalled that similar means were used ti illuminate the lower chambers of Dusklore, where supplies and armaments were stored. Finally they reached a point where the tunnel forked, and Brodal chose the left branch without hesitating.

The next chamber they entered dwarfed the others, and was host to a vision that caused Kaethris to halt in mid-step, her features clearly overcome by surprise. Vallabryn paused for a long moment, her manner unreadable at first, then strode quickly past Brodal and walked directly toward the dominating presence of the vaulted room.

The Sentinel-Commander approached the looming statue of crystal, her eyes wide as she took in the sight. Waters falling from above filled the room with the gentle music of their descent and cast dancing flashes of brilliance across the otherwise plain walls of gray stone. Bathed in that glow, her armor was made to look more like the pale white of moonlight than the silver of polished steel.

Drawing her blade, Vallabryn knelt at the edge of the pool surrounding the base of the shining statue. She lay the sword before her on the floor as she kept her eyes riveted on the figure towering overhead.

Confused, Kaethris turned and noticed that the other six Sentinels had lowered their eyes in silent veneration.

She had visited Dusklore's own temple countless times over the centuries, and like all her kin, Kaethris revered Elune as goddess and protector of her people. Yet Vallabryn's reaction here and now in particular seemed strange to her. The shining waters marked the pool as a moonwell like the one in their own temple, and for a moment she wondered if the inhabitants of the Sanctum perhaps still held the moon goddess in high esteem. She supposed it was possible, as it was said that the priesthood of Elune was already a long-established facet of the Kaldorei way of life when the Highborne first rose to power in ancient times.

Kaethris heard her elder sister speaking softly, though she couldn't make out the words. Then Vallabryn quickly retrieved her sword, sheathing the blade at her waist as she rose. She turned and approached them, her eyes fixed on Brodal.

"You honor her still." Vallabryn almost whispered the words as she stood before him. Though she clearly addressed the robed night elf, her gaze seemed distant as if she were looking through him.

Brodal nodded simply. "How could we rightly do otherwise?"

"Father told me of it, but to see this for myself..." A nearly imperceptible flash of unguarded emotion passed over the Sentinel-Commander's features, then vanished behind a mask of practiced restraint. "Thank you for this. It means more than you could ever imagine."

"We have not forgotten, Vallabryn." He looked past her at the sparkling crystalline likeness. "We who call the Deep Sanctum our home will never forget the price paid for our continuance, though it may be that we can never hope to fully repay it."

Kaethris felt a tremendous urge to ask what they were speaking of, but their somber mood caused her to hold her tongue. She decided her questions, of which she had increasingly many, could wait until later when there was more time for speaking freely.

Vallabryn seemed about to speak when another voice interceded, issuing from across the chamber. They all turned to face the source of the unexpected interruption. "Your arrival is most welcome, Commander Wintergaze." A figure in simple green robes had appeared, having emerged from an arched passage at the far side of the room. He was tall, even for one of their people, and Brodal bowed low as this newcomer approached. "Master." The mage said.

The tall elf nodded in acknowledgement of Brodal's greeting, though his eyes were set upon Vallabryn. She raised her right fist to her breastplate in salute. "Conservator Toradis." She greeted him formally. "General Wintergaze received your summons, and we have been sent to lend you aid."

Toradis smiled. "I am glad Arran'nor has not forgotten us, as we've remained so quietly hidden away for these many years." He favored the other Sentinels with a slight nod in greeting. "His vigilance has long guarded us against certain unwanted intrusions over the ages. We are most grateful, and Dusklore's protectors are ever welcome within these halls."

"Your kind words are appreciated." Vallabryn replied, though her voice carried an urgency that attested to her desire to finish with such formalities and get to the point. "Please, Conservator. Time is scarce, and I would see you freed of your difficulties and return to the walls of Dusklore as quickly as possible. What cause did you have to call for us?"

"The undead rampaging aboveground are certainly one cause for our concerns." He told her. "They have, to this point, remained unaware that we dwell here. Still, another matter has arisen that may potentially dwarf the threat of those invaders, should it be allowed to progress to its conclusion."

Vallabryn directed a flat stare at him. "Conservator, I do not know how much information you have garnered of these undead, but I can assure you the threat they pose is nearly unmatched. They are commanded by demons, sent by the Burning Legion as the vanguard of its renewed march across our world."

Toradis waved a hand dismissively. "We know of this, and I stand by my assessment." His reply caused her to assume a skeptical frown. "These undead and their Legion masters are indeed a grave threat. However, there is something brewing beneath our lands that may prove their match, or worse. The Brukuni move freely in the north amidst the confusion brought by these invaders, and they carry out the plans of their own master."

"The Brukuni?" Kaethris asked, her tone revealing her own disbelief. "But they're just trolls, and to hear the stories from my father, they're not even an especially large tribe of them. What threat can they possibly be?"

"Your father?" Toradis looked closely at her face, his expression uncertain. After a moment he smiled slightly. "You must be the younger Wintergaze daughter, then. I see it now. You favor him about the eyes and chin, but it seems to me that you bear a greater likeness to Sedraisha."

Kaethris blinked at the mention of her mother's name. "How did you...?"

"That's enough." Vallabryn interrupted sharply, looking at Toradis. "We will discuss these matters further, but we need rest from our journey before delving into them." Her tone softened as she looked at Kaethris. "And there are other things we must speak of beforehand."

Their tall host nodded in understanding and gestured toward the far end of the chamber. "I will guide you to the living quarters." Glancing at their saber cats, he added. "Your companions may remain here. The chamber is large enough that they might be spared the distressing confines of our less spacious halls and passages."

Vallabryn agreed and quickly issued orders to two of the other Sentinels concerning the arrangement of bedding for their mounts before leading Kaethris and the other four in following Toradis.

As they passed through the arch into a longer corridor, Kaethris lingered behind and cast one more glance about the room behind them, especially noting the statue in its center. The others' reactions to it still had her confounded, especially that of Vallabryn, and she wondered what about it had so shaken her elder sister.

Again the undead came, hurling themselves ineffectually against the defenders. It was the second assault since General Wintergaze's departure from the walls, and Bel'nea could still see no reason for these repeated assaults when no truly measurable gain seem to come from them.

Dusklore's protectors continued to steadily hold the line atop its southern wall, their blades systematically cutting through rotten flesh and decrepit bone as their armor afforded some measure of defense against the grasping claws of their opponents. The undead attacked recklessly, at times seeming to throw themselves into harm's way as often as they truly engaged the Sentinels.

Whitestar dashed between trouble spots along the rampart, directing groups of her fellow Sentinels to bolster the defense wherever their sisters began to falter under the sheer weight of the dead clamoring to tear them apart. The sharp thunder of ballista fire punctuated the surging tumult of the battle, their deadly projectiles smashing into the enemy troops below with devastating force to those caught in their path.

Still the enemy advance continued.

The top of the wall was slick with stinking ichor and coagulated blood from the fragments of dismembered undead that lay scattered at the Sentinels' feet. In some places it appeared as if the stained battlements themselves had become black as the decaying fluids dripped down the front of the wall, marring its pale blue surface with oozing streaks.

"Sentinel Whitestar!" A defender nearby shouted, causing Bel'nea to turn. One of the Sentinels, having just dispatched her own latest opponent, was pointing at something below. Bel'nea looked to where she pointed.

Something massive was emerging from the trees. Despite the pitch darkness, she easily distinguished it from the aura of flame in which it was wreathed, and she recognized the monstrosity approaching their walls.

It was a felguard, but this felguard was unlike any she had heard of in the tales of the demons' first invasion ten thousand years before.

The demon towered over even the largest of the Scourge's stitched terrors. She suspected that it was of impressive size normally, but even as the thing staggered forward she could perceive a slight wavering alteration in its appearance suggesting that it was steadily increasing in size. Numerous jagged, glowing symbols scorched into its flesh suggested that some spell had been cast upon it, causing it to grow in stature with every passing moment.

Its skin bulged as if some force within were struggling to burst free. The creature halted its approach for a moment, lifting a hand to its head and glancing about as if confused. Then the flames suffusing it intensified, and it uttered a pained bellow before resuming its unsteady approach.

As the Scourge parted before the swelling form of the demon, Whitestar concluded that they should not allow this thing to reach their walls. Something was dreadfully wrong and undeniably suspicious for the enemy to have sent only this one demon against them.

Turning, she shouted to the archers. "Take it down. Slay the demon before it reaches us!"

They redirected their fire, unleashing a shower of arrows upon the felguard. Like needles the arrows bristled in its skin, and again it roared, though this time it was more a sound of rage than pain. Rather than slow, the demon seemed to increase the urgency of its pace.

"Ballista!" She commanded, pointing at the still-growing felguard. Its size was already such that its head nearly reached halfway to the top of the wall.

The ballistae fired, and three massive bolts collided with the demon. One glanced off its armored leg, but the other two were buried deep into its torso, causing it to stumble. More arrows struck, and Bel'nea could clearly see that the staggering horror's eyes had both been struck out by a number of the silvery shafts.

Yet despite being blinded and dreadfully wounded, the creature regained its footing and, as if driven by some force beyond its own control, broke into a running gait. It leaned backward slightly at the waist, giving the impression that its legs were now carrying it forward regardless of the rest of its body's ability to keep pace.

It trampled dozens of Scourge underfoot as it closed with the wall, and Bel'nea felt a chilling sense of impending doom as the demon spread its arms wide, as if to embrace the stones. The defenders continued to pepper it with dozens of arrows, but nothing seemed able to halt the now truly gigantic demon and the destruction it undoubtedly sought to bring them.

As she braced against what promised to be some nameless and unavoidable catastrophe, Sentinel Whitestar thought she heard a distant noise, not unlike an explosion, issue from somewhere behind her.

The sound of a deep rumbling nearby roused Arran'nor from his deep slumber.

He had fallen asleep immediately upon reaching his chambers, barely managing to reach his sleeping pallet in time. The room was a simple affair, dominated by a stone table upon which numerous charts lay and lit by a single narrow window through which moonlight streamed. Regardless of his station, he was a soldier and defender of Dusklore above all and had never found much use for opulence or decoration.

Again he heard the same noise, and this time the room's walls seemed to shake from the resulting vibration. He immediately seized his weapon and shield, which lay propped beside where he lay, and rose to his feet. He still wore his armor, having foregone removing it in his haste to get to sleep.

As he opened the dark wooden door, he was greeted by an acrid, burning smell. A Sentinel was running past and upon seeing him, stopped and saluted. "General, we are under attack. We have lost Sentinels within the walls."

"Within the walls?" He asked sharply, looking around. Had the Scourge managed to breach the southern defense? More of his soldiers sprinted about, and he could hear shouting from all around him. "Show me where."

She nodded once and turned, breaking into a brisk run. He followed, easily keeping pace.

They traversed the halls of Dusklore quickly, passing many more Sentinels moving about with urgency, most of them with their weapons drawn in anticipation of further attack. As they entered the common yard, the source of the disturbance that had woke him became evident.

The common yard was an expansive central court covered mostly with lush grass. Numerous raised enclosures of masonry contained large plants of varying sorts, from leafy elms and oaks like those on the mainland to narrow-trunked palms and ferns akin to those of their own island. Even a number of bristly evergreens from the far north of Kalimdor could be seen among them. All were kept vibrant and alive despite the regional climate, in part by the powerful Highborne magic that Arran'nor knew existed beneath the grounds.

And upon reaching the yard, he saw that very magic had come under assault.

The grass was traced with intricate patterns of stone embedded into the earth, giving the impression of white runes and lettering carved into the greenery. Upon that ground, bodies lay strewn about; all were Sentinels, and all appeared to have been struck down by some tremendous force. Many were scorched seemingly by fire, while others appeared to have simply been bent and crushed, their armor mangled by whatever had broken them. A few were rent open, severed through at the waist or slashed open, their armor affording them little protection against the agency of their deaths.

Inwardly the General raged, but he kept an outward calm as he took in the sight. No fewer than twenty of his warriors lay dead here, clearly wiped out by something beyond their ability to fight. He had learned to accept losses in war over the ages, but it still pained him to lose even a single Sentinel. They were his soldiers; they trusted him to lead them well, and a part of him saw every life lost as a failure on his part.

At the very center of the yard, the earth had been violently disturbed. Grass and soil lay in scorched heaps around a crater several feet across, and a number of stones had also been dislodged and cast aside.

Dozens of Sentinels searched the grounds, looking for some sign pointing to the authors of this attack. One noticed their General's approach and addressed him. "We were nearby when it happened. The sounds of a battle drew me and ten others to intervene, but the damage was already done." Looking around at her brutally slain fellow Sentinels, she spat on the ground angrily. "They ripped our sisters apart, General. Whoever they were, they struck quickly and fled under cover of the smoke and debris before we could engage them."

"I pass no judgment on your abilities when I say that it was probably for the best that you failed to engage them." Arran'nor told her grimly. "Whatever did this, I would as soon not have lost more of you in its pursuit without knowing more first."

She nodded once, her face a rigid mask of controlled fury over the losses they had already incurred.

"Why would they have done this?" Asked the warrior who had accompanied him. "What gain could come from murdering our sisters here?"

He shook his head as he responded. "Remember the wars against Veshor, and the defeat we suffered when the last of the traitors turned against us. This yard is more than simply a place of gathering. I understand little of the working of such things, but I know that this common yard houses the keystones of our home's defensive wards against magic. It is from here that one may unhinge those defenses, as was first done after the Sundering, then partly undone when the Highborne turned against us."

Even as he spoke those words, a terrible realization struck, and he turned toward the south.

He could not see the walls from the common yard, but Arran'nor already knew with certainty what was likely occurring already. The enemy had struck at Dusklore's magic defenses, and was surely even now unleashing their own spellcraft where it had failed before. Sword and shield gripped tightly, he gestured around the common yard. "Post guards in this place and see to our fallen. I go now to the walls!"

His sprint through Dusklore's ancient halls was a blur, but as he went he directed any Sentinels in his path to follow. Upon reaching the southern courtyard fully thirty of his inner guard were close behind, glaives drawn in anticipation of the awaiting battle.

The sounds of chaos overhead told him he had been right, and he hoped he had arrived in time to prevent further disaster. Nodding once at his warriors, he mounted the steps leading to the wall's summit and charged.

Bel'nea staggered back as the demon collided with the wall. The force of the impact itself was greatly reduced by the stone bulwark, but she could already feel a rapidly growing sensation of impending wrongness. Something dreadful had just occurred, though she could put no name to it yet.

The felguard's aura of fire erupted, and the black stains upon the wall seemed to ignite like oil put to the flame. The entire line of defenders recoiled from the conflagration, and Whitestar felt the nearness of the flames. She thought it strange that rather than heat, she felt an impossible wave of cold emanating from them.

An instant later, the demons' spell took effect. Wherever the vile ichor of the undead had spilled, the stones crumbled like sand, the suddenly dissolving material seeming to shrivel and contract into itself. All along the wall Sentinels found themselves swiftly bereft of solid footing, and dozens plummeted helplessly forward off the wall to land among the undead waiting far below. Similarly, large numbers of the Scourge's attacking troops plunged off the fortifications alongside the defenders they had been seeking to massacre.

Bel'nea looked around frantically at her fellow Sentinels. Great rents had appeared in their lines where entire ranks of warriors had suddenly dropped to their deaths, and the only thing preventing them from being overwhelmed was the enemy's forces atop the wall suffering a similar fate.

Below, the demon issued a trembling groan, its body now completely lacking any trace of the felfire that had suffused it before. With a final gasp the felguard collapsed backward, its life burnt out by the very spell that had driven and empowered its advance moments before.

The decaying effect of the demonic spell continued, boring downward through the stones. Those Sentinels remaining hastily backed away as more of the masonry vanished, the stone rapidly corroding as it was devoured by the black ichor that had been somehow transformed into a hungering mass of fluid darkness. Whitestar's heart sank as she saw a group of six isolated warriors fall, each of them futilely reaching for something to grab onto as what was essentially an island of upright stone near the middle of the ramparts crumbled beneath them before dropping out of sight. One of their bodies struck the center of the pulsing black shadow and vanished in a flash of black flame, utterly consumed by the darkness.

Below, a renewed surge of movement became apparent as the Scourge began to mount the wall, seeming to deliberately avoid the lethal touch of the devouring shadows. They climbed rapidly, and in short order the already scattered Sentinels found themselves beset by their foes once more.

"Hold them!" A voice rang across the battlements, causing Bel'nea to turn. General Wintergaze had topped the stairs, as more Sentinels rushed past him to bolster their sisters against the assault. His eyes blazed with fury, but his manner remained composed as he strode across the rampart purposefully. His face was a stoic mask of cold resolve and without pausing he bent low in mid-step, then smoothly moved upright as his sword flashed in an upward arc, slicing open one of the undead as it charged him. The force of his attack heaved the creature off its feet as it split from groin to neck, collapsing to both sides in twin heaps of sodden flesh and bone.

The General halted at the edge of the broken wall, observing the damage as it continued to spread. He turned and took in the scene across the entire rampart and then his eyes fell upon Bel'nea.

His jaw set, he spoke firmly. "The enemy has crippled our hold here. We must withdraw to the inner defenses." Despite his outer calm, she knew it pained him to acknowledge what she also understood was an undeniable truth. "The south wall is lost. Recall all Sentinels to the Second Ring. We must move quickly to contain their advance and keep them from breaching any further."

Nodding once, she turned and shouted to her sisters. "Sound for retreat! Fall back to the next line of defense!"

The reaction was swift as Sentinels abandoned their efforts to singly engage and hold the undead in place, opting instead to force them back and away from the points of withdrawal. Dusklore's warriors fled the increasingly frenzied assault as the Scourge seemed to recognize that its victims were seeking to flee.

The ballistae turned their wrath upon the undead upon the walls, smashing open their ranks as best they could without risking harm to the Sentinels themselves. Several of the oversized bolts hammered into the creatures cresting the battlements, causing a sizable mass of them to be hurled clear and thrown off the wall, many in pieces. Suddenly freed of the dense press of undead, the remaining ranks of Sentinels broke their line, chopping down the few remaining undead stragglers before turning and sprinting toward the nearest stairs leading down to the courtyard below.

Seeing that the general retreat was in full swing, Whitestar ran to join the others in abandoning the wall. Arran'nor followed close behind, his sword dripping with the rotten fluids of slain undead. As they reached the stairs, a shape crashed into Bel'nea from behind, nearly causing her overstep and plunged headfirst down the steps. She turned, slashing out with her glaive, which glanced off her attacker's armor.

The next moment the nature of the attacker became clear to her, and she hesitated.

The dead Sentinel was rising to its feet, dark bloodstains covering half of the formerly living face and the silvery light of its eyes supplanted by an unearthly glow of putrescent green. One of its arms was horribly bent and mangled, hanging at such an angle that the shoulder had clearly been dislocated, while the other still clutched a glaive in its deathly grip. A ghastly rent had been torn in its side under the ribs, and blood continued to ooze from the lethal wound.

Standing upright, the reanimated night elf charged, its lips parting in a bestial snarl as it struck forward with the glaive.

She regained her senses and avoided the blow before it landed, stepping aside and striking with her own weapon. Her blade sliced into the creature's back as its momentum carried it past her, but it recovered with surprising speed, turning on its heel and seeking to drive its own weapon at her throat.

Rather than seek to parry or dodge the strike, Whitestar fell backward, catching her descent with one hand while using the other to drive her glaive into the dead elf's abdomen. It growled, a sound more of rage and frustration than pain, but she planted one boot on its stomach and shoved. Her blade came free from the body of her undead foe as it fell backward off the steps, crashing noisily to the stones of the courtyard below.

Horrified and enraged, she turned to see the General struggling with another of her fallen sisters. It hacked at his upraised shield with two broad-bladed glaives, ragged snarls and gasps issuing from its mouth, which was slack and dripping blood from a shattered jaw.

Arran'nor held his ground, then struck, using his shield and sword to parry both of his attacker's weapons, pinning the glaive in its right hand to the ground with his shield. Stepping past the wide swinging of its free arm, he silently lashed out, cleanly severing the creature's head.

The body shuddered for a moment, then fell with a clatter of its silver armor.

For a moment he looked at the still form at his feet, sadness clearly evident on his face. Then he turned and faced Bel'nea, ages of training overcoming the desire to stop and further mourn his fallen kin. "There will be more like these, and the enemy vanguard will top the wall again at any moment. Come, we must leave."

She knew he was right; there was no time to remove and dispose of their slain brethren here, and the enemy would undoubtedly raise those left behind as soldiers to serve its cause.

"We will repay them for this, General." She said as they descended the steps. "We will crush these undead. Despite this defeat, Elune will grant us the strength to drive them from Dusklore and remove their taint from our lands."

He remained silent and simply nodded once. Though he did not voice it, Arran'nor harbored a suspicion that something beyond these invading undead had taken a hand in the events this day. Whatever magic the demons had used to bring down the south wall, the loss of Dusklore's ancient wards against the arcane had almost certainly been intended to ensure its success. In ten thousand years, only once before had any being breached the defenses of Dusklore in such a manner and undone the magics within its walls. Only one being held the knowledge and power to accomplish such a task as had been done in the common yard.

But that being was dead. Dead and gone, his body destroyed certainly beyond even the power of these Scourge to resurrect. Kaethris had told him as much, and he trusted his daughters' words above any other save one, who had been taken from him ages past.

Something was terribly amiss, and even as he reached the bottom of the steps and ran toward the nearest arched defense point at the outer ring of the courtyard, Arran'nor felt a strange disquiet that only partly stemmed from the host of walking dead that were about to swarm into his home.

Dawn approached, and Ricter examined the shattered wall cautiously, Thirst drawn and held forward in preparation to strike. A single moving form drew his eye then, and he silently commanded his soldiers to keep their distance as he approached the prone body before him.

The Sentinel struggled weakly to rise, her body thoroughly broken by the fall from above. By some providence she had survived the descent, though she would be unlikely to recover from the injuries she had sustained from it. As he climbed down from the saddle of his skeletal horse, she rolled her head to the side and noticed his approach. The one shining eye that wasn't swollen shut widened slightly, then narrowed as she bore her teeth in an angry snarl.

Intrigued, he bent down and seized the female warrior by her long, emerald hair, heaving her to her knees. A grimace and hissing intake of breath was her only visible reaction to the pain of having her demolished form so callously hauled upright.

Smiling, he drove Thirst into the ground beside him and reached forward with his freed hand, wiping the blood from a ragged slash across her jaw while keeping her held up with the other. He examined the stain on his hand with a strange, detached intensity, then met her unwavering stare.

"You elves fought well, to have withstood us even this long." He said, his tone almost conversational. "Though other factors conspired to spare you from succumbing to my Master's power sooner, your walls are now broken, and we enter your home to finish what we've begun." A flash of brief annoyance crossed his bearded face, only to be replaced with a smile of condescending indulgence. "Tell me then, have you any final words before you enter the service of the Lich King? I sometimes find it amusing to share in the last sentiments of the damned."

For a long moment she remained motionless, her gaze remaining locked on his. Then she tensed and spat at him. The act seemed to drain what last vestiges of strength she had, and her entire body went slack. She said something under her breath in a language he didn't understand as her eye began to flutter shut.

Leaning closer, Lord Stentor smirked. "What was that?"

She regained her senses after a moment, then met his gaze again. Speaking with forced clarity, she told him. "I said that you are already beaten, dead thing." Despite her rapidly fading life, she managed to infuse her words with towering contempt and spite. "My sisters will send your chopped and broken body to your masters. They will crush you undead and the demons who command you."

"Mildly amusing, I suppose. Though hardly as creative as I had hoped." He assumed a casual air as he drew Thirst from the ground at his side. The red blade sang in his thoughts, demanding that its lust for blood be sated. "Others have made the same claims, and they now serve the Master as his unliving vassals."

"Kill me then." She replied weakly, her words becoming slurred. "The Goddess is our shield. She will protect my sisters from you, and from your Master. You will not–"

Her words cut short as Thirst plunged into her heart. The runeblade eagerly drank in her blood and soul, and the Sentinel's body shuddered once, then went limp.

Ricter felt an odd sense of dissatisfaction. Something was missing from this, for though Thirst's hunger was sated, the death knight himself felt a lacking. These Sentinels were different from the Kaldorei he slaughtered at Nashas Aran. The Highborne had perished to the last, each overcome by a satisfying final descent into fear as their vaunted immortality failed them. They were afraid of him, as were those he once subjected to dark voodoo rituals when he studied under Dakuma's tutelage in his former life.

These Sentinels were different. Like the savage orcs and the sanctimonious paladins of the Silver Hand, they perished while struggling earnestly in rigid defiance of their end. He found it irksome that rather than fear him, they looked upon him with contempt as he rent the life from them, confident that their defeat would be vindicated when they were avenged by their comrades.

The realization left a cold weight in Ricter's stomach and he again wished he had been allowed to simply sweep over this land without the demons' interference. Surely the Alliance forces camped in the east, with helpless civilians in tow, would have proven better sport than these elves who refused to properly fear him in the moment of death.

Irritated, he dropped the slain Sentinel unceremoniously to the ground and turned. The Eredar Gimbrion approached, followed by Dakuma and Scyr'thaz.

"Now you see." The demon growled, gesturing at the wall. The burgeoning sunlight had begun to cast an amber glow across it. The pools of writhing darkness that had wreaked destruction upon the stone barrier were already beginning to shrink, contracting into themselves. Nonetheless, the damage had been done, as numerous gigantic fissures had been scored through the wall, one of which nearly reached the ground. "The void spell has done its work, and the coming of day neutralizes its effects in timely fashion, that our own forces may safely enter without fear of being damaged."

"Fascinating." Scyr'thaz observed, his dead stare directed at the remains of the felguard lying at the wall's base. "You empowered the demon as a catalyst, allowing the inert reagents of the formula to bypass their defenses undetected before activating the reaction of the spell. Thusly were you able to circumvent the wards that had rebuffed our magics before."

Dakuma seemed as disinterested in the Lich's dry, scholarly analysis of the demon's spell as Ricter was, but Gimbrion himself nodded, casting a narrow gaze at the wall. "You are correct in part, Lich. I had not calculated so complete an overtaking of the walls. Some other agency played a part in this. I expected only to weaken the defenses before their wards would react and weaken the spell. Yet I can sense even now that something unexpected has occurred. Their wards have been severely weakened from within, and they never reacted to the spell at all. My attack ran its full course." His words carried a suspicious edge.

Stentor exchanged a knowing glance with Dakuma, but neither would speak to the demon of their agreement with the cloaked stranger the day before.

"It matters little." Gimbrion finally said, turning to face his undead servants. "The deed is done. Rally our forces in full. We will strike into the heart of their fortress and grind them under our heel. Let nothing escape."

Ricter nodded, then issued the silent command to his troops. Like a single vast entity, the host of undead began pouring from the jungle behind him to join their fellows in the vanguard already battling the defenders within Dusklore's walls.

Last edited by ARM3481; 05-16-2010 at 10:00 PM..
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Old 02-20-2010, 09:39 AM
smashorc smashorc is offline

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PvP Symbol - Horde great story

That's a great story. Just wondering if you plan on contiuning it?
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Old 02-20-2010, 06:17 PM
ARM3481 ARM3481 is offline

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Originally Posted by smashorc View Post
That's a great story. Just wondering if you plan on contiuning it?
Oh indeed I do, just hammering out a few changes to the next chapter or two, actually. And thank you for reading
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Old 02-21-2010, 09:27 AM
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np man it was truely wonderful read
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Old 05-16-2010, 10:18 PM
ARM3481 ARM3481 is offline

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Chapter Twenty-Eight

In the ruddy light of the setting sun, four vessels ponderously made their escape from the devastated fishing village. Their sails were further illuminated in red by the roaring flames originating from buildings torched by those fleeing the invading undead, in hopes of slowing the enemy's advance. A select few companies of soldiers had remained behind to defend the hastily erected barricades while the rest of the inhabitants and refugees from neighboring towns were loaded aboard the four ships. Yet approaching movement was visible within the perimeter of those defenses, making it clear that the Scourge had already overwhelmed those charged with delaying their pursuit.

The ship nearest to the shore jolted abruptly as a massive shape swept onto it in a blur of jagged bone and cold blue fire. The escapees on the other three vessels watched in horror as the frostwyrm set upon those on board.

The creature opened its jaws wide and unleashed a blast of frigid cold. Those still on the ship's decks clustered on the far side of the ship in a panic, screaming in blind terror as the deathly chill rent the life from those closest to the skeletal dragon's attack. Leaning forward, it swept one claw almost casually, ripping apart dozens of it victims and casting even more into the air. Some of the flailing bodies landed heavily on the decks, but most were hurled clear of the ship and plunged into the cold water below.

A piercing snap rang through the air as the frostwyrm tore loose the mainmast of the ship with its jaws and cast the mangled wooden beam aside. Few bodies still remained visible on the deck as the ship bucked, and those few were clearly broken and motionless. A dreadful grinding ensued as the hole where the mast had been widened from the ship's weight and violent motion. The frostwyrm reached its claws through the aperture and began prying it open even further. Then, apparently satisfied with the size of the opening, it belched a lethal breath of frost into the breach, evoking muffled screams from within as it undoubtedly killed dozens more of the terrified survivors further inside the vessel.

The reanimated terror continued its rampage against the floundering vessel. The demolished ship was quickly reduced to a hollowed out shell that began to rapidly sink as the frostwyrm perched on its upraised forward deck, ravaging its hull. Its hollow eyes burned brightly when it paused to survey the results of its attack. Then those eyes fell upon the next closest ship, and with another scream the skeletal dragon hunched its shoulders, spreading the tattered wings to take flight.

When it seemed about to leap from the ruined ship toward the next vessel, a cascade of roaring flame collided with its body. The reanimated terror stumbled, grasping with its claws to keep balanced. Finally it managed to steady itself, only to be struck by another volley from the dock where a cluster of mages who had elected to remain behind with the defenders stood arrayed in a circle, channeling their spells in unison. Their target was less shaken by the second assault, and with an enraged bellow the frostwyrm launched itself toward the shore, seeking to engage the source of the attack..

A third torrent of fiery missiles erupted from the gathering of mages, seeking to shred the frostwyrm in midair. It banked and swept past the onslaught, then dove toward its attackers.

The wind caught the three remaining ships' sails, taking hold and setting them on a smooth southwesterly course. Slowly the vision of battle between the cluster of mages and their airborne opponent began to shrink from view. Yet those on board could see that even if those ashore managed to slay the frostwyrm, they would find no respite in its defeat. The undead in the town beyond were now clearly pouring through the streets like a fluid mass and converging upon the shore. In moments, the first waves of Scourge would reach the small port and overwhelm the already embattled mages there.

Spears of brilliant golden light erupted from the mages' extended hands, lancing directly into the frostwyrm. The creature shuddered momentarily, frozen in place as the energies engulfed its skeletal body. A thunderous detonation shook the air and it vanished with startling finality as the majority of its reanimated bulk was atomized by the attack, unleashing a flash of explosive white fire.

Yet even as the Scourge's dreadful creation was obliterated, the fleeing observers could see that the end was nearing for those upon the shore. The darkening mass of earthbound Scourge rushed out of every street leading to the port, bearing down upon the mages. For several seconds their charge was met by explosive fire and flesh-rending ice, but then it ended. In rapid succession the robed figures were chopped down where they stood or dragged to the ground to be ravaged by claws and teeth.

Aboard the aft deck of the trailing vessel, two figures observed the mages' final struggles with particular intensity. Tassanda then looked at Silas, seeing that his grim frown matched her own. Those who remained behind had known what they would face, but it made the loss no less bitter to those whose survival had been bought by their sacrifice. Valuable lives had just been lost in the process of eliminating an enemy that would have otherwise pursued the escaping vessels and possibly destroyed them all.

For several minutes they watched the burning town they were leaving behind, which grew rapidly smaller as the ships held to their common course, borne by a steadily rising breeze. Finally Silas broke the dreadful quiet. “Come along, we'd best see to those below decks. I'm no proper healer, but we might be able to help with the wounded in some way.”

Turning from the rail, they descended to the lower decks, acutely aware that with every passing moment they were drifting farther and farther from everything they had ever known.

“She sleeps.” Rale observed, causing Silas to look up from the book he was examining. Tassanda was seated with her legs crossed, leaning back against the stone wall with a large tome resting in her lap, but her eyes were closed and her head drooped forward. “And dreams as well, it would seem.” He added as she mumbled to herself incoherently.

“It's hardly the first time.” Silas replied, rising slowly and setting down his own book. “She's fallen asleep standing while reading before. Generally right before falling over onto her face.”

“Should we wake her?” The elf asked, moving to rise.

“I suppose so. She'll be stooped over for at least day if she stays asleep like that.” Silas rose as well, and walked over to where Tassanda rested. Reaching down, he shook her shoulder gently. “Tassie?”

She stirred at the sudden interruption, looking around sleepily. “Hmm? Oh, did I fall asleep again?” Blinking, she closed the book in her lap and unfolded her legs to stand. “I suppose I should have placed an invigorating spell to keep me awake.”

“Never mind that.” Silas told her somewhat sternly as he observed her unsteady attempts to remain upright. “You're half dead on your feet, girl. Have you been sleeping at all since you came here?”

She waved a hand at him in a sluggish, offhanded manner. “Oh, of course I have, master. I've slept at least twice. Three times, in fact.” She paused, then amended. “No, I'm fairly sure it was twice, now that I think about it.”

“In more than twice as many days I'd imagine, if not longer.” Rale noted. “And given the habits of so many young mages, probably for no more than a few short hours at a time.” His tone made it difficult to tell if he was speaking with wry amusement, genuine concern, or some of both.

“Well?” Silas demanded, not removing his eyes from Tassanda. “What do you have to say?”

Having regained some of her awareness, yet still clearly exhausted, she shrugged while sheepishly avoiding his gaze. “Well, I guess he might be right. I had trouble enough keeping track of the time back home, where I could see the sun and stars. Down here the night looks just like the day.”

Seizing her arm firmly, Silas directed her toward the entrance, where the night elf mage Tassanda had called Elal'dirai stood observing passively. “Come along then. You've investigated enough mysteries for today. We're getting you some sleep before you hurt yourself.”

“No really, I'm fine, Silas.” She protested halfheartedly. “I just need a few minutes to rest and maybe something to eat.”

Silas was hearing none of it and spoke directly to the purple-skinned elf before them. “Please direct us to some kind of sleeping quarters.”

Glancing at the clearly fatigued young mage, the night elf nodded and gestured out toward the hall beyond. “Please, this way.” She said, leading them out of the ancient chamber.

With a sharp intake of breath Vallabryn snapped awake, her eyes immediately fixing upon the source of her sudden, unwelcome start. Her companion jostled her shoulder again, seeking her gaze and speaking quickly. “Wake, little one.” The serious implications of Shenari's next words were ill matched by the poorly contained excitement in her voice. “The insects come to kill again, and we'll not wet our blades by sleeping in the dirt.” As ever, she wore a wry half-smile as she addressed her younger friend and pupil.

Vallabryn had sought a respite from the howling winds and was seated upright with her back against a large stone, shielded against some measure of the sandstorm's wrath. Though not especially comfortable, it was still more pleasant than sleeping with her head and face in the sand, as she had quickly learned after arriving in this blasted wasteland.

The wind howled all around them, whipping about billowing clouds of dust and sand. Yet even through the raging gale she could hear another, even less welcome sound.

Rising smoothly, she peered around the edge of the boulder and beheld the source of both Shenari's excitement and the bizarre stridulation that was growing louder by the moment. In the fading light of dusk the churning swarm resembled a grotesque carpet of chitin and claw, pouring across the sand in a manic frenzy of creeping and slithering bodies. Above the encroaching mass countless shapes darted about in swarms, creating a perpetual cloud of movement shadowing the terrors below.

Vallabryn and Shenari were positioned on a high dune, hidden among several dozen of the large stone outcroppings like that which she had been leaning against. They speared upward from the sand like grasping fingers of rock, as if a great multitude of dark claws had frozen in place with their owners entombed below the sand, forever locked in a mute and futile effort to reach freedom above. The enemy appeared to be either unaware or uncaring of their presence and continued its march – if indeed it could be called such when those involved were more often inclined to skitter, crawl and burrow than to properly walk – toward the northeast.

Lost in her observation of the creatures, Vallabryn spun around sharply when Shenari's fist playfully struck her in the ribs. The other Sentinel responded to her scowl with a wide grin, unbound hair whipping about on the wind in a wild display of silver and violet. Upon reaching the desolate, wind-blasted wastes, Vallabryn had quickly resolved to keep her own hair tightly restrained in a plaited braid lest it obscure her vision. Conversely, her friend seemed almost gladdened by the extra challenge presented by having sight impeded by her madly thrashing tresses. “Are we to stay here then, and miss out on the fun?” Shenari asked, pointing at the enemy mass. “Or shall we join our sisters in the slaughter to come? If we hurry, we might even be the first to deliver news of this fine battle.”

Nodding absently, Vallabryn glanced at the throng of creatures again. “We'd best move quickly if we even hope to get back in time to fight at all. The creatures move farther north than before, perhaps seeking to outflank our lines along the mountains.”

“My compliments.” Shenari told her sourly, adopting a mock frown of consternation. “You've managed to make a perfectly good fight sound thoroughly uninteresting.”

“I see larger shapes among them.” Vallabryn continued, squinting against the harsh gusts of sand at a number of vaguely humanoid shapes clustered amidst the swarming mass. “It seems their masters join the fight this time.”

“A real challenge, then. Come along, young Wintergaze.” Her friend made a show of drawing one glaive and running a finger carefully along the edge of each of its blades in turn. “Your father wanted you to learn from this, and you'll learn little watching the show from here among the rocks.” Shenari had fully dropped her customary – and more often than not inappropriate - exuberance and spoke in a clipped, resolute manner. “We leave now.”

Letting her gaze linger on the enemy for a moment longer, Vallabryn finally turned away, drawing her own weapon. The triple-bladed glaive, traditionally wielded by her fellow Sentinels, felt strangely unfamiliar to her. Though trained in its use, she found herself longing to carry the sword and shield her father had taught her with since she was a child. Even her armor felt strange; it was of the same lighter make as that of the other Sentinels, and though she could move more freely, she felt vulnerable and exposed in the knowledge that blows which might be halted by her preferred attire would more likely skewer her while armored as she was.

Shenari noticed the distaste on her younger companion's features and assumed an imperialistic smirk. “You'll carry that blade until you can master it blinded at a dead run. Precision and aggression in balance, little Vallabryn. Those must be your weapons, and the glaive merely hones your claws for the blow. You won't always be able to hide behind that slab of metal your father taught you to lug about.”

Rather than wait for a reply – and Vallabryn was conjuring up a rather scathing one that very moment - the elder Sentinel flashed a wide grin and turned, launching herself into a sprint. She called back over the wind. “Hurry, lest our sisters kill everything before we have our chance!”

Vallabryn followed suit, and both dashed across the dunes toward the northeast, taking a slightly more easterly path to bypass the ominous swarm of insect horrors that would soon be bearing down upon their kin.

The final slivers of daylight vanished over the jagged mountains in the distance, plunging both sprinting night elves into near pitch darkness as they traversed the shifting dunes of Silithus.

“Val.” The voice was different, and unaccompanied by any jostling this time. Again she woke, less abruptly and more clearly aware of her surroundings. Kaethris smiled slightly, then spoke again. “Val, the Conservator is back. He's asking for you.”

Vallabryn rose to her feet, still disquieted by the odd sense of immediacy in her dream. For a moment she almost thought she could still feel the desert wind against her skin. Though the memories of that dark time were forever with her, it had been many long centuries since she could recall having so clearly dreamt of the bloody conflict that last drew her to the mainland, a thousand years before.

Toradis waited patiently at the entrance to the moderately sizable chamber, which was plainly adorned with several of the wall-mounted luminescent globes and a dozen beddings of straw covered with thick sheets. Behind him stood Brodal and another of the Sanctum's robed inhabitants.

“You rested well, I presume? Toradis greeted her, lowering his head in a slight bow. “I fear our accommodations are somewhat lacking when compared to those of your home.”

Vallabryn looked back at the crude bedding arrangements. “They measure well beside the stones and branches of the jungles, and I've been made to sleep on many of both.” Facing Toradis again, she asked him bluntly. “What do you require?”

“Direct and to the point.” He replied, smiling slightly. “You truly bear Arran'nor's manner and temperament. A matter of some urgency has arisen that we must speak of privately, concerning the Sanctum's defenses.” He directed a barely perceptible glance at Kaethris, who noticed nonetheless and frowned.

“Very well, we will speak elsewhere.” Vallabryn addressed Kaethris. “Stay here and try to get some rest for yourself. I'll return shortly.”

Kaethris clenched her jaw and glared at her elder sister, clearly aware that something was being kept from her, but nodded quietly rather than raise a fuss. Turning away, Vallabryn followed the tall mage out of the chamber.

The gentle music of falling water was the same as before, and Vallabryn noticed that their saber cats were lounging about at the far end of the chamber. Coldsong lifted her head as the four night elves entered, then upon seeing who it was, closed her large eyes and returned to rest.

The statue and its blessed waters still bathed the room in light, and Vallabryn glanced questioningly at Toradis as they crossed the room to the edge of the pool.

“It seemed appropriate, given the matter I've brought you to discuss.” He explained. Looking up at the statue's face, he smiled. “In a way, even now she still protects this place, if not in the same way as she once did so many centuries ago.” He glanced at his two robed companions, who each nodded and left.

“Father still bears the guilt of it.” Vallabryn said. “Every time Zshanalla blames him for what happened I can tell that some part of him agrees.”

“We were possibly mistaken in keeping it hidden, I think.” Toradis replied sadly. “Had the presence of this place been known, Dusklore's protectors might have more readily come to our aid when Veshor and his flock first discovered it.”

Crossing her arms, she stared into the rippling pool at their feet. “Or perhaps the Moonscorn and his band of traitors would have attacked all the sooner, at a time when we were even less prepared to stop them.”

“Also a possibility.” He hesitated for a moment, then asked. “Yet I am caused to wonder, why do you keep these truths hidden from your sister, even in light of these new dangers that threaten your home? The danger of our ancient enemy finding this place is gone, unless you fear these Scourge might learn of these things and use them to advantage against us?”

“That's only a part of the reason.” She replied, fixing him with a narrow gaze. “Only Kaethris and some other of our very youngest Sentinels remain ignorant of the entire tale. They know much of what happened, but not all, and only recently has she been told of this place's existence. Certain mistakes were made, and this is a poor time to bring her further doubts. Kaethris has already suffered a recent loss, and I don't wish to have her further wounded by knowledge of things that can't be changed.”

Nodding, he said. “Still, despite your efforts, in learning of this place she now stands ever nearer to learning of the past. Of your past.”

“We all have secrets, Conservator.” Her expression softened as she looked back at the towering crystalline figure before them. “We all made mistakes. Terrible mistakes bred by inexperience, pride and ...other things. I'd not force the weight of them upon any other, least of all Kaethris. They're mine alone, and I can only be grateful that in some measure fate has repaid the worst of them.”

“You speak of the destruction of those in Nashas Aran.” He sighed. “So misguided, at times cruel even, but I'd not have wished that fate for them. I still think there might have been hope.”

“Hope?” Vallabryn stared at him, astonished. “They were traitors, and for what they did I'd wish nothing less than such death, if only to remove the threat they posed. Fortune blessed us further in giving the Scourge some cause to not revive them as its undead vassals. Ten thousand years to redeem themselves, and they chose instead to sink ever deeper into hatred and vice. We gave them ample chance to set things right, and they chose reckless betrayal. In all that's occurred of late I take at least some comfort in knowing that the vilest offenders among them have been destroyed.”

Nodding in resignation, he answered. “Perhaps you're right.”

“I don't blame you for any measure of it.” She added. “You salvaged what could be redeemed from their number, but the rest...” Her voice trailed off, and she almost whispered. “You didn't see what they did, Toradis. My friends. All of them, killed by him. Tormented by the Highborne filth he consorted with. So much death and pain caused to slake their thirst for power and their foul desires. The world is rid of them now, and we're all the better for it.”

Neither spoke for several minutes as she collected her thoughts, pushing away the terrible images associated with what had happened so long ago.

Finally Toradis spoke. “I apologize for giving rise to such painful memories, but I fear matters have arisen that may force you to soon break the silence you've long held to. This place holds many secrets, and I fear the darkest of those are rising to influence the world.”

“Father never spoke of what lay here.” Vallabryn replied. “He's only told me over the ages that the Sanctum needs to be protected, just as Dusklore must be.”

“He is correct, and though I've not told him all of what lies here, he trusts me still.” Smiling distantly, Toradis added. “Such trust is rare, but rarer still is that he instilled that same trust in you. You've little reason to look fondly upon we of the Sanctum, Commander. More than many others, you have reason to hate us. Yet you do not.”

She replied flatly. “I reserve my hatred for those who earn it, Conservator. Brodal and the others stood by us when their kin betrayed my father, and proved their integrity when they joined you here to spare Dusklore from the stain of fear and suspicion.”

“I hesitate to shake that trust, but certain truths must be known.” He gestured at the chamber around them. “All this, from the Deepwell Gates to the lowest halls of the Sanctum, were created to contain an evil. An ancient darkness that I believe even now seeks to break this place's hold upon it. And in doing so, I am given cause to believe that it may be indirectly responsible for the plight faced by Dusklore itself at the hands of the Burning Legion and their undead.”

Vallabryn listened silently, then asked. “Are you suggesting that this darkness, as you call it, is responsible for the demons' return to our world?”

“The Legion returns of its own accord, and it hardly lacks for reasons to destroy our home.” He appeared troubled for a moment, then continued. “No, I speak to the invasion of our lands more specifically. I believe that the darkness beneath these lands is what has drawn these demons here in particular, even as their masters ravage Azeroth elsewhere. Perhaps they came in search of its power at first, but now one of their number may have become its slave, for he has betrayed his fellows to pursue it.”

“Betrayed?” She seemed unsurprised. “I'm hardly astonished by a demon betraying its allies. By all the tales I've heard, they're treacherous and self-serving by their very nature.”

“You have spoken to one of the visitors from across the sea, I believe.” Toradis said then. She nodded, a bit startled that he knew of it. “The Legion has come to our world in force, and their lords march at the head of their advance. Even the demon Archimonde himself has returned to finish what they failed to ten thousand years ago.”

“Yes, I had heard as much.” She confirmed, though since hearing of it from the human Silvershield she had been hoping against such details being proven true.

“For the demon to betray his masters now seems utter folly, and strengthens my belief that he acts by another's will.” The Conservator explained. “The demons invade our home once more, and their mightiest of champions again bestride this world. What madness could drive one of their own to betray them when he surely believes that they have means to conquer and destroy any here who stand against them? In the simplest of terms, by betraying them now on this world he strands himself in the very path of his former masters, who would undoubtedly punish his betrayal.”

Considering it for a moment, she finally nodded. She understood his reasoning, though she wasn't yet prepared to accept his stated cause as absolute truth. “And what is this evil, that you believe could sway a demon from its masters' will?”

“I know it only as the Voice, as its servants have called it in the past, though it may have other names.” Pointing at the stone floor, he spoke the next firmly, as if to reinforce the severity of his words. “The reason that it was absolutely vital to prevent Veshor and his followers from this place, is that in their reckless pursuit of power, they would have undoubtedly striped away the magic here and set loose what lies beneath without even comprehending the risk. In their ignorance they would have doomed us all.”

“How do you know this?” Vallabryn asked, unable to hide a slight hint of suspicion in her tone.

“The writings.” He gestured at the scrawls and etchings on the walls around them. “Some of them are meaningless. Others are merely the scribbles generally found in many of the ruined temples of those who built this place. However, in the lower tunnels there is record of the evil seeking escape, from long before the first stones were placed in Dusklore's creation; indeed, even before the trolls were driven away from the bluffs upon which your home now rests.”

“You've known of it all this time, then. If this danger exists, why keep it hidden?” She demanded. “Surely my father would have been better prepared if told that some danger of arcane origin lay beneath our feet.” She was momentarily surprised by the accusatory edge she heard in her own words.

“There is little that can be done against this evil by mere strength of arms.” He replied. “And the possibility existed that knowledge of its presence might grant its words purchase among those above ground. Simply knowing of the Voice's presence without knowing its nature might eventually grant it power and influence over those who are so aware. Our proximity to the wards containing it prevent us from being so touched, but those above ground wouldn't be so protected."

Vallabryn maintained a skeptical frown, but nodded in understanding. "I admit I'm not schooled in such matters of magic. Still, aren't we put at risk by your telling me now?"

"Such a danger is less relevant now." He answered. "The Voice is limited in its ability to affect the outside world, and it can only claim willing servants over time through prolonged urging and whispering of its commands. Thus has it ever bound the Brukuni to its will."

"Again you speak of the trolls to the north." She pointed out. "What threat can they pose? Their numbers aren't great enough to threaten even the green-skinned intruders to our lands, and they could scarcely hope to breach the walls of Dusklore."

"They are agents of the Voice, and so will undoubtedly seek out the demon at its urging, if they haven't done so already." He grimaced. "And I fear their numbers are not so small as you've been led to think. For ages they have remained loyal to the Voice, yet not acted overtly to serve its will, as such action would incite the wrath of Dusklore's protectors. My thought is that they have been waiting, and have so remained uninterested in revealing their strength until some predicated time."

"Such as the time when their demon ally would arrive?" She asked. "How then did the demon even know to seek out this Voice, having come from beyond our own world and only just arrived?"

"I do not know." Toradis admitted. "There is something amiss here. My hope is that we may prevent the harm he seeks to cause before we're made to suffer for our lack of such knowledge."

Vallabryn stared ahead for a long moment, lost in thought. Finally she spoke. "This is much to think upon, but I wonder how we're to help you Conservator. My father's army is already engaged with the undead, and I don't imagine they will shy from a lengthy siege. It may be weeks or months before they can be fully repelled."

He shook his head. "I do not seek the armies of Dusklore. I seek only cooperation, and your aid in one particular matter. This place is shielded from intrusion by numerous wards and spells. Many are deeply ingrained in the stones themselves, and bound to the very earth beneath them. Those remain inviolate for a time, but one safeguard has failed, far to the northwest."

"The northwest?" Vallabryn blinked with surprise. "Only the Jagged Shelf and the remains of Keranaar lie there."

"As well as Zul'Brukun." He replied. "A ruined temple once home to the Brukuni in times past, long before the first of your people came to these lands. An item of great power was sealed there under close watch, and many spells were placed to notify me if they were disturbed."

"And those spells have notified you of such?" She asked, already suspecting the answer.

"They have. The crystal bound to the wards at Zul'Brukun has gone dark, which means the magic there has failed and the artifact entombed therein fallen into the hands of those responsible." His manner was grim as he continued. "Recovering of that artifact is of utmost importance, but of nearly equal importance to myself is the wellbeing of those charged with its protection."

"Some of your own have been living there? Why take such a risk" Vallabryn demanded incredulously. "Wouldn't they have been vulnerable to detection by Veshor this entire time?"

"The protectors are not from this place, and they would not need fear detection, as they do not use arcane magic." Toradis hesitated before adding. "Nadronas and his brethren wield the powers of nature itself."

A long silence punctuated Vallabryn's stunned disbelief. Her every muscle had gone taut, and her right hand reflexively slid toward the weapon at her belt. She stared at the mage, her very manner wordlessly demanding an explanation from him.

"Some few of those at Nel'sanil escaped the treachery of the traitor Nightwind." He told her simply. "Their survival was facilitated by one charged with the artifact's protection, and in exchange they were given cause to aid in that duty."

"There were no survivors at the Barrow Dens." Vallabryn told him stiffly. "We would have found them."

"I apologize for having deceived you and your father in this, young Wintergaze, but I am afraid there were survivors." There was a distinct sadness in his words. "I was prevented from telling you of this until now, lest the knowledge of their location escape to our common foe or worse, to those who would know how to properly use it."

Without any spoken warning Vallabryn struck the taller elf across the jaw with her mailed fist. He made no move to avoid it and staggered back under the weight of the blow, his left hand reflexively moving to the already darkening bruise on his face.

She glared at him, breathing raggedly through clenched teeth. A part of her ached to drawn her weapon and inflict more permanent harm, but she quickly suppressed that urge.

Instead she pointed at him and spoke, her voice carrying an edge of tightly controlled rage. "Explain, Conservator. You will explain this in full. I will carry your words to my father for him to judge, but at this very moment you will explain to me precisely why you have kept this hidden, and what object could have held such value as to justify it."

Toradis observed her silently, his expression pensive.

"Well?" She demanded, her voice barely above a whisper.

"The reasons are as I stated, Commander. I would have preferred to reveal the reality of their survival, but forces beyond my power to refuse insisted that it be kept hidden." Lowering his hand from the already darkening bruise on his face, he added. "It was the will of the survivors as well, as they deemed their new charge to be of sufficient importance and danger that they would not risk exposing others to its presence."

"And what is this object they protect?" Vallabryn pressed, not yet satisfied by the answer.

Turning to the side, he gazed contemplatively into the shining waters of the pool. "An item of great power and insidious purpose. It is the Heart of Urombu, and it serves as the Voice's most powerful conduit of influence. With the Heart any servant of the Voice may speak directly to their master with unmatched clarity, and they may seize control of some victims, enslaving them directly to the Voice's will without the need to corrupt and sway them over time."

Listening carefully, Vallabryn asked. "Why not destroy it then?"

"That is not an option." Toradis replied. "When the Heart was taken from the Brukuni in ages past, the spells holding the Voice were anchored to it. Destroying the Heart could unravel those spells and once more unleash its dark power upon the world."

"Then what are we to do if this Heart has been taken?" Vallabryn had calmed somewhat, and now crossed her arms in front of her chest as she spoke.

"We must determine if any of its protectors remain at Zul'Brukun." He told her. "With their aid we might again contain the Heart's power and deny those who would loose the darkness behind it."

"Survivors..." Vallabryn's eyes widened as she remembered his words from before. "You said Nadronas! And Ashela thought...goddess, she never recovered from losing him. She died in the north thinking he was forever lost to her." Her voice caught, and she resumed glaring at him. "You said they were approached by somebody. Who protected this thing before them?"

Toradis smiled slightly, "You will have heard tales of her, I should think. Her name is Verithra the Lost Sleeper, of Ysera's brood. She and her child Chrysarra elected to watch over the Heart and prevent the Brukuni from reclaiming it after their defeat."

Vallabryn indeed knew of the Lost Sleeper. As a child she had heard many times the story of Verithra, a mighty green dragon whose mate disappeared in battle against a terrible enemy, driving her to forever search for him. It was said that she was so consumed by her desperate search that she scoured all of Azeroth; under every tree, above every cloud, under the very seas and throughout the deep places of the world. Having searched ever corner of the mundane world, she then dove into the realm of the Emerald Dream to seek him there as well and never emerged again, and the great dragon's child kept watch over her slumbering form in the material plane in the hope that her mother and father would one day return.

Noticing Vallabryn's suddenly thoughtful manner, Toradis smiled slightly. "An admittedly charming and bittersweet tale, and frequently repeated elsewhere with different names and personages filling the roles of the lost love and desperate seeker. In this case, it is largely a fabrication. Chrysarra indeed watches over her mother, but Verithra sleeps not to search for a lost mate within the Dream. She remains deliberately suspended between Azeroth's physical realm and the Emerald Dream, and in doing so keeps the Heart suspended with her, beyond the Voice's reach and that of its followers." He hesitated, then amended. "At least, she has long done so. The loss of the wards causes me to fear her efforts may have been undone."

Vallabryn watched him calmly as he explained, her initial outrage gradually dwindling. When he finished, she remained composed as she stated. "You would have me seek out and verify the safety of those who protected this Heart, then."

"That is correct." Toradis said. "It may be that without their aid the Heart cannot be again sealed away. The powers at my command are ill-suited to the task, as the object's very nature renders it far less susceptible to the touch of the arcane than that of nature itself."

Before replying she turned and looked up at the towering statue. Again she took note that the shape of the chin and cheekbones were strikingly familiar, as were the cascades of what in the subject's life had been a multitude of long silvery braids, here intricately shaped from the translucent crystal. It was a face she knew, and one she missed greatly.

"I will consider these things." She finally told him, turning back to face the ancient mage. "I'll not lightly make a decision in this matter, but more importantly, I will know all." Her jaw clenched as she spoke the last. "There will be no more secrets from you, Toradis. If there is anything more to know of the danger you foresee, I would know of it before marching into its jaws, and not merely at your convenience."

She thought she saw a momentary flash of concern in the other elf's features, but he quickly smiled and bowed. "As you wish, Commander. Even in spite of your request, I think perhaps the time for keeping secrets is already nearing its end."

Again her eyes were drawn toward the statue, but she resisted turning to face it. She forced down an urge to sigh and replied. "Perhaps it has."
Well, that took me just short of forever. Kept starting to correct things, then ending up changing more than I initially planned and having to go back and proofread again.

Ah well. I suppose that's one of the inevitable pitfalls of such things. I'll have to work at avoiding that in he future.

I hope to regain at least some degree of momentum from here on, especially since it's sometimes tricky enough remembering details from twenty-plus chapters back while reading a story that's entirely written, let alone one that had a nearly six-month pause between two chapters.

Working with a secondary method of exposition here, to hopefully make it a bit more fluid. Explaining backstory via characters remembering during the narrative, while effective at times, was getting a bit clumsy by itself and certain upcoming things are going to be hard to fully express just by writing them in the past-perfect and making heavy use of the word "had". I'm not planning on going crazy with it, but it does also serve a particular purpose beyond just fleshing out backstory that will become evident in the course of things.

Well, on that note, onward to Chapter Twenty-nine. And pending any catastrophic interruptions, in a far more timely fashion than Twenty-eight...

Last edited by ARM3481; 08-05-2011 at 12:52 AM..
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Old 09-18-2010, 05:35 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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ARM, I just wanted to say I have the highest respect for both your lore-knowledge and your writing ability. Frankly, this story is why I picked here to post mine.

However, you could also consider this post to be a "kick in the pants." It's been a while...
Every ending is but a new beginning.

Last edited by DarkAngel; 09-18-2010 at 09:02 PM.. Reason: Missed comma
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Old 11-01-2010, 08:28 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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I'm not going to let you forget about this, ARM. Bumping back to top.
Every ending is but a new beginning.
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Old 11-03-2010, 08:24 AM
Defiler Defiler is offline

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You're so good that it hurts. Seriously
Amateur lore writer..Got better suggestions?
PM for suggestions or comments. Or if you want an update on the story...
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Old 11-03-2010, 06:51 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Originally Posted by Defiler View Post
You're so good that it hurts. Seriously
Did you read all this in one day? You must have a lot of time on your hands!
Every ending is but a new beginning.
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Old 11-04-2010, 01:29 AM
Defiler Defiler is offline

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Originally Posted by DarkAngel View Post
Did you read all this in one day? You must have a lot of time on your hands!
nah, not everything. A few chapters. Even reading the prologue hurts
Amateur lore writer..Got better suggestions?
PM for suggestions or comments. Or if you want an update on the story...
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Old 02-15-2011, 01:47 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Bumping back to top because I refuse to let ARM not finish a story this good.
Every ending is but a new beginning.
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Old 08-22-2011, 02:50 AM
ARM3481 ARM3481 is offline

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Chapter Twenty-Nine

For the first time since their construction, an army forced its way into Dusklore's halls. The Scourge pressed into the stone galleries and narrow passage adjacent to the southern courtyard with a new fervor, seemingly invigorated by the defenders' rapid withdrawal. In numerous places, groups of Sentinels found themselves cornered or cut off from their destinations. They fought valiantly, often chopping down twice their own number in foes, but ultimately they were crushed beneath the onrush of rotting invaders, only to rise again shortly after in thrall to the invading host.

Their progress slowed as they reached the established points of retreat just short of the common yard. Groups of Sentinels braced at designated choke points to halt the enemy advance, slicing apart the undead until limbs and mangled bodies lay in piles at their feet. What had seemed a route slowed to a grinding standoff as the Scourge threw themselves against the tightly packed ranks of night elves, were cast back, then hurled themselves forward again.

Ricter pulled his sword slowly from the chest of a captured Sentinel, savoring the momentary rush of shared relish with the living weapon as Thirst fed on her blood and soul. He moved to the next, a battered form wrapped in silvery armor that was only held upright by the stitched abomination clutching her arms, as her legs had both been slashed and broken to the point of uselessness. He spared only a moment to examine the already fading awareness in her shining stare before dispatching this prisoner in the same fashion as her kinswoman a moment before.

Nearby a collection of gravely wounded night elves were restrained by his servants, awaiting the same fate. He had expressly commanded the vanguard of undead to preserve any surviving defenders who were too injured to fight, and that command now bore fruit. Several of them shouted at him impotently in their native tongue, outrage clearly evident on their faces, and though the words themselves were nonsense to him their tone of speech implied that they were hurling all manner of profanity in his direction. They were positioned along the nearby wall to watch their compatriots' deaths, for he'd come to realize while observing his forces' advance that although these fierce women faced their own deaths without fear, they were quick to enrage upon witnessing the deaths of their kin.

Ricter preferred to inspire paralyzing fear in his victims before their deaths, but lacking that, he was content to settle for helpless anger and despair instead.

“Bring me another.” He commanded, and a pair of skeletal corpses staggered forward, roughly dragging his next kill by her shattered arms. When her captors stopped before the death knight, she spat what he supposed was some foul expletive at him, then issued a snarl of suppressed pain as one of the skeletons pulled more sharply on her ravaged limbs to haul her upright.

“The Master promised you blood, and so blood you be having.” Dakuma declared mirthfully as he approached, gesturing at the pair of elves Ricter had already slain. “And this be just the beginning. Many be the enemies of the Scourge in this land, and you'll be soon spilling their blood as well to quench your blade.”

“We have blood and more, troll.” Ricter tore his eyes away from the runes on Thirst's blade, which throbbed brightly against the dark blood as if to their own pulse. “Our numbers are finally increasing, as the fallen of these elves are mine to command. Together with our own recovered soldiers from the wall, we've almost replaced what was lost in attacking the humans and orcs. The demons' folly is nearly redressed.”

“Folly, is it?” The rumbling voice caused him to turn, and he saw Gimbrion approaching with the lich Scyr'thaz in tow. Ricter made note that the lich seemed to habitually remain at the Eredar's side, and wondered if it was by Scyr'thaz's own choice or if the Master wished to keep an agent ever close to the demon for reasons of observation.

“I speak of the traitor, my lord.” Ricter explained quickly. “His actions cost us a great deal, but with this assault we've nearly regained the strength that was lost to his deception.”

The towering warlock stared at him narrowly for a moment before finally replying. “Indeed we have. I trust you will not waste such gains in the taking of this place.” Gimbrion did not further acknowledge the death knight's presence or that of Dakuma and strode past them toward one of the archways nearby. Scyr'thaz continued to follow close behind.

“Yet we still remain tied to that creature's whims.” Stentor muttered, turning back to his next victim. He noticed that rather than facing him and her approaching death, the crippled elf's head was turned to the side and she was staring at the receding back of the departing Eredar. A bitter rage suffused him when he saw in her eyes the very fear he had sought, and failed, to evoke in these elves himself.

The fury exploded within him and he lashed out with Thirst. The blow was wild and unfocused, not only beheading the elf, but also slashing through the two undead holding her upright. All three forms collapsed in a heap, the skeletons' bones clattering about the beheaded victim, but he paid them no further attention.

Looking at the remaining prisoners, he again experienced the same lacking he had felt from slaying the broken night elf outside the wall. One of the captives met his frustrated glare and her manner slowly shifted. The pained grimace melted away from her violet features and she directed a haughty smirk in his direction. He could almost hear a contemptuous chuckle pass between her cracked and bleeding lips.

Ricter ground his teeth, the anger still suffusing him. He scarcely noticed the thrumming song of his runeblade in his thoughts as it climbed in pitch and volume, reveling in its master's fury. Gripping Thirst so tightly that the joints of his own gauntlet nearly bit into the flesh of his fingers, he pointed at the battered and crippled prisoners as he growled. “Bring me another!”

Bryson looked up from his charts and maps as a figure strode unannounced into his tent. He recognized the intruder and suppressed the sudden urge to openly reveal his irritation. Before him stood one of the more persistent sources of his recent difficulties.

Under other circumstances he might have found her beautiful, but the elf mage's delicate features were ever marred by a perpetual air of unabashed pomposity bordering on open contempt that had only grown more pronounced since Silas' decision to place her in command of the remaining mages. Her slender figure and pale golden hair failed to outshine the conceited superiority with which she addressed those around her.

Again he forced down a grimace as he rose to greet Nayda Solaris. Despite her slight stature, the elf crossed her arms and tilted her chin back slightly in what seemed an unconscious effort to appear taller than the towering human.

She spoke before he could utter any words of greeting. “Paladin, I believe we spoke last night concerning the disposition of the camp's soldiers. Why has nothing been done about our accommodations?”

“I told you then that I couldn't guarantee anything, madam.” He replied, mildly annoyed by her blatant unwillingness to address him by name. Upon their first meeting it was evident to him that she held little regard for even those who shared her own arcane calling, and less still for those who didn't.. “We're in a hostile land and our enemies have followed us here. We have to make do with what's at hand to protect what we still have .”

He was sure she heard his reply, but she waved a hand dismissively before he even finished saying the last words. “I realize that, but things as they are cannot be tolerated. We simply must take stock of what needs to be defended and what's expendable. Protecting it all at once is more than can be managed.”

His frown deepening, Bryson kept an even tone. “Your concerns are noted, but I already told you before. I won't lessen the guard and expose the civilians under our care to attack. What you're asking would concentrate our defenses wholly around mages who can already defend themselves and leave the people we're protecting only lightly guarded. ”

“And allow us to better react to an attack!” She answered heatedly, her haughty demeanor lessening in favor of outright irritation. “Spread out as they are, we can't coordinate with your men as well as if we were to focus solely on the most likely avenues of attack.”

“No.” He told her. “The decision was made before Mage Ormand departed, and he supported it. I won't have so many of my soldiers stationed in one part of camp, especially not where they'll be least able to react before an attack reaches the civilians.”

“He's right, lass.” A third voice declared from behind the mage. She and Bryson both faced the dwarf, Brongus, as he entered the tent. “If you're thinkin' he'll let you use the soldiers to protect your own and leave the rest of us to fight for ourselves, then that pretty head of yours is emptier than it looks.”

Nayda glared at the newcomer, her distaste for the dwarf made clear by the sour frown she adopted. “We weren't speaking to you, dwarf. The Colonel and I are discussing important matters that don't concern you.”

“I guess you're right. They don't concern me.” He replied absently, dropping roughly onto one of the makeshift seats. “That is, so long as the good Colonel still sees reason and doesn't start listenin' to scrawny mages who've no business makin' such decisions. Still, I'm just here answerin' master Truepath's call, and I'm not about to keep him waitin'.”

The elf's expression darkened, and for a moment Truepath almost feared she might use her arts to blast the dwarf where he sat. She opted instead to dismiss the unwelcome intrusion completely. Turning away, she moved smoothly to exit the tent.

“I'll return to discuss this further, paladin.” She called back, her tone reassuming its lofty air. “Until then, try not to let yourself be overly distracted by other...smaller matters.”

When she had gone, Brongus snorted. “Bah! I guess I'd be insulted if I gave a care to what her sort thinks.” Pulling a flask from his belt, the dwarf took a deep gulp of its contents before he wiped his chin and added. “At least she respects you though, or we'd have a real mess on our hands.”

Bryson directed an uncertain glance at Brongus. “What do you mean? She's done everything she can to undo the benefits of Silas' cooperation up to this point. She's all but declared that it's our duty to protect her and the other mages before anyone else.”

“Oh, she's not about to be gettin' friendly, but I've been around long enough to know the measure of her. Either you're someone useful she doesn't like, or someone useless who could just as well rot. That she bothers to talk to you instead of tryin' to order the men around herself puts you squarely in the first group.” His eyes narrowed a bit. “If you've seen how she talks to the other mages, you'll know what I mean. Most of the time she acts like they're her personal servants, the rest they could just as well be talking furniture. I've met elves full of themselves, and I've met mages of the same breed. That one's a nasty mix of both.”

“What was Silas thinking, leaving her in charge?” Truepath wondered aloud.

Brongus shrugged. “That Silas strikes me as right enough in the head. For a mage, anyway. Seems to me he must have had his reasons.”

Returning to his own seat, Bryson shook his head. “Whatever his reasons are, the decision's aging me a year with every passing day. My command of this position was decided by the consent of those leading every group here, and that woman seems bent on undoing it. That's not what I called you here to discuss, though.”

“No, I don't suppose it would be.” The dwarf grew serious. “You questioned young Silvershield and meself when we came back, so I'll guess this has more to do with that.”

“It does.” The Colonel confirmed. He met Brongus' gaze and asked simply. “You wove an interesting tale, but I'm looking for more specifics. What do you make of these...night elves, as you call them?”

“They're an odd lot, to be sure.” Brongus replied after only a short pause. “A mixed bunch. The Wintergaze one was friendly enough, though a bit stiff even for an elf, and I suppose the lasses who helped us find our way here were reasonable if a bit uppity. Now those ones up north, they're a different story. Jumpy and nervous, they were. Like they kept expectin' bad things to happen.”

“Rightly so by your report, as they were fighting the orcs.” Bryson pointed out.

“Aye, that's true. Still, it was somethin' more I think.” Rubbing his bearded chin thoughtfully, he continued. “There's a difference between the jitters of a soldier ready for a fight and what I saw with 'em. Theirs seemed more like the nerves of an animal that expects to get grabbed by somethin' with lots of teeth. The littlest noise would set 'em to draw arms and look for the cause, and even when talkin' to each other their eyes would start to wander in search of trouble.”

“What about their martial strength? How did they fight?” The paladin pressed intently.

Brongus frowned. “Can't say I really saw much of it, since we were runnin' away from the fight when the orcs came. The one who set us free tore through an orc well enough, though I've seen and tussled with enough orcs to know it was a young and stupid one. 'Course, she had more armor than her kin too. The other ones don't seem set to defend. Their gear's light, like it's made for fast runnin' instead of takin' punishment.” He paused again, then added. “Except the three who met us after we escaped. They wore the heavier armor too, though none of it was sturdy as what we gear our own men with.”

“The more heavily equipped ones were probably from their city, then.” Bryson mused. “They must keep heavier infantry within their home and only maintain scouts and skirmishers in the jungles without.”

“I'd say so.”Brongus agreed. “Their camp wasn't solid enough to hold against a real attack. Just a few tents and the like with lots of sentries spread around thicker than usual, but no walls or fences to get behind. Makes me think they aren't keen to dig in if somethin' big hits 'em.”

“Guerrilla attacks are probably how they handle an intrusion at first.” Leaning forward, Bryson examined the most complete map of the island he had, which was still marred by swathes of uncharted land in the north and west. “Like the Farstriders. They could break and reform before an enemy advance, isolating and whittling down groups of invaders to weaken the whole before it reaches the walls of their home.”

The dwarf coughed pointedly. “Ah, pardon me for sayin' it, but that didn't really work out very well against the Scourge when the Farstriders did it.”

“No, it didn't.” Bryson admitted grimly. All who'd fought the Scourge quickly learned that striking from the shadows at scouts and supply trains had little effect on an army that needed neither.

They fell silent, listening to the sounds of soldiers moving just outside the tent and a nearby fire pit crackling.

Finally Brongus cleared his throat. “Well then, to the point, I guess.” He took another drink from his flask, then replaced it at his belt. “Are you gonna ask it, or should I just start talkin'?”

For a moment Bryson was amused at the dwarf's brusque manner, then his mind returned to the reason he had summoned Brongus to his tent.

“This offer of possible cooperation.” The paladin said. “You and Victor have the most experience with them, so I would hear your thoughts on it.”

Nodding slowly, Brongus answered. “It's a knotty thing, to be sure. That Wintergaze lass seemed upright enough in her claims, so there might well be an ally in these elves. There was definitely somethin' dangerous and flighty about some of 'em. Whatever she told us about her own intentions, I'm not so sure they'd all be glad for help from outsiders, even with a common enemy beatin' down their gates.”

“Victor said there was mention of two generals.” Bryson said. “And that this Commander answered to the one within their home.”

“That might be the reason, then.” The dwarf replied. “I've seen whole armies stuck in mid-march for weeks because they had too many officers sharin' rank at the top and nobody higher up to force an agreement out of 'em. Could be that one general sees the size of the Scourge's threat and the other isn't so eager to be workin' with invaders.”

“Invaders?” Bryson asked.

“If you think about it that's sort of what we are.” Brongus gestured in a rough westerly direction. “What would you be thinkin' if soldiers you never saw before started to land on your shores without an invitation?”

“That's true, I suppose.” The paladin admitted. “Therein lies the problem, master dwarf. An ally would be something worth seeking out, but I fear the risks of creating an enemy in doing so.”

Brongus grunted. “True enough. A friend's hard to keep when his brother wants you dead.” Rising from his seat, the dwarf asked. “Have you talked to young Victor any more about this?”

“Not yet.” Bryson replied. “I thought I'd seek your opinion first.”

“Well, I'm not sure my opinion's worth much, but I'll tell you this.” He turned to leave, then stopped at the tent's entrance. “Whatever else they might be, these elves fight the Scourge, and by my measure that counts for a lot.”

“By your own accounting, the orcs fight the undead as well.” Truepath told him.

Brongus nodded. “Aye, they do.”

A persistent buzzing rang across the swamp, threatening to drown out any other sound. Thick boughs arced overhead, draped with greasy ropes of moss and vines that dripped seemingly perpetual rivulets of water into shallow streams and stagnant pools. Strands of dim sunlight breached the canopy overhead, causing eerie flickers of yellow and green to shimmer across the sticky sheen of moisture accumulated on every surface.

Yet even over the din of singing insects and trickling water, the Sentinels' keen ears could detect the enemy's approach. Crouching behind a misshapen mass of undergrowth, a half dozen slender forms wrapped in silver armor silently observed the intrusion, their sparkling eyes easily cutting past the thin, strangely luminescent haze that clung to the very air about them.

The invaders were as green as their surroundings, many girt in armors ranging from studded leather to riveted steel. They carried weapons of varying kinds, though axes seemed the most common. Their movements were an incongruous mixture of practiced caution and brutishness as their eyes darted about, yet failed to prevent them from seeming to trip over every fallen branch and step into every hidden sinkhole in their path. One of their faces caught the light overhead as it stumbled, and General Highfrost nearly snarled aloud as its eyes shone an angry red above the tusks jutting upward from its maw.

One of the Sentinels spoke from behind her, the voice barely loud enough to be heard over the noises around them. “You see? The scum move farther north through the bogs to avoid our sentries. That's why they no longer march west against us.”

“Yes Yllenda, I see.” Zshanalla replied, continuing to watch the orcs through slitted eyes. She huffed with disdain when another of the creatures splashed noisily through the muck, growling what she imagined were curses under its breath as it kicked aside a lump of floating vegetation. “The beasts struggle in this place.”

“Without the noises of these swamps, we'd have all heard them passing in our sleep.” Another Sentinel remarked, eliciting soft laughter from the rest.

Zshanalla ignored the jest and spoke sharply. “We'll return with a full company to encircle them, and slaughter every last one before they can return to that structure they build in the east.” Turning while still crouched low, she faced the other five women, who had fallen silent. “Let them get deeper into the mire. The farther they are from their camp, the easier it will be to prevent their escape.”

“What of the Brukuni?” One of her companions inquired. “They claim these bogs as their home. Might they not harry the invaders?”

“Brukuni?” The general replied. “What matter are they? Their first skirmish with these orcs already led them to withdraw into the ruins they infest.” She smirked. “And even if they would emerge to protect their homes, I won't rely on primitives to remove the intruders from our lands. We will crush the orcs, and if some trolls spill blood against them as well, so much the better.”

Her companions nodded, then another spoke. “General, I...when Commander Wintergaze came, she spoke of a vast and powerful enemy in the south. Should we be engaging the orcs again when our blades might be needed elsewhere?

Highfrost directed a scowl at the woman. “Don't speak to me of that fool Arran'nor and his whelp, Breata.” She hissed, keeping her voice low despite the fury in her words. “We've already lost much to their indecision and fear. Had they struck at once as we did and helped to drive these invaders from our shores, the danger would have already passed.”

“I suppose so, General.” Breata replied, lowering her head. “But what if they're right? What if these orcs aren't the greater threat to our home? If the Legion has truly returned, perhaps we shouldn't further entangle ourselves in battle with these mortals.”

Zshanalla answered coldly. “You sound like them. I think perhaps the soft and craven ways of Dusklore's stewards have taken root in you.”

Breata hesitated, then replied. “No General, I was simply wondering if–”

“Don't think me a fool, Breata. I know of Vallabryn's actions during the route at Lowtree, and of your cooperation in releasing the prisoners.” Breata raised her head sharply, chagrined as the general pointed at the woman beside her, who had also looked up in surprise “I know of your complicity as well, Shirae.”

The other three Sentinels shifted slightly, discomfort clearly evident on their faces.

“We'll have words when we return to the others.” Zshanalla told them, to which Breata and Shirae nodded somberly. “However, the attack will then proceed without you. Yllenda?”

The Sentinel she now addressed nodded a bit apprehensively.

“You found these savages trying to sneak past our lines, so you will lead the assault at my side.” Zshanalla glowered for a moment at Breata and Shirae. “I should thrash you two myself for your actions, and I may yet. Pray to the Goddess that I leave enough of you intact to send to Arran'nor and his insolent brat. Perhaps they can find a use for you cowering behind their walls, away from the real battle.”

Shirae seemed about to speak, but Breata shook her head and the shorter woman fell silent.

Without another word, Zshanalla rose to her feet, certain that the orcs would be unable to see her through the dense foliage and clinging mist. She began the trek south, silently avoiding every puddle or piece of debris that might betray her presence if disturbed. The other five Sentinels followed close behind.

In the distance, the orcs continued their press into the swamp, unaware that their passage had been observed..

“I don't like it.” Hurtak muttered, seeking to keep his voice low as he voiced his misgivings. “The ancestors only know how many things are crawling through this muck, and I've felt eyes on me ever since we set foot in this stinking bog.”

Vorag only grunted in reply, his eyes fixed ahead in search of danger as he slogged forward at the head of the column. Thirty warriors followed him, while two more groups of like size advanced parallel to his own with several yards separating them. All moved as quietly as they could given their situation, as it was difficult to move noiselessly through a knee-deep channel of stagnant water while girt in heavy armor.

The earth beneath their feet was a thick, semifluid mass that sucked greedily at their boots with each step, and occasionally an orc would curse and growl about something bumping into or gripping his foot. Such events had quickly proven to earn no more response than a narrow glare from Vorag followed by sullen silence from the perpetrator of the outburst. Nonetheless, the orcs were on edge for good reason. This particular excursion had been ordered in the hopes of bypassing the native elves, and all present remained wary of the chance that their own scouts overlooked something that might betray them to the enemy host to the south.

“It's worse than that rotten swamp we crossed when we first came to this world.” Hurtak continued sourly. “And this mist! What kind of mist glows like that?”

Indeed, a ghostly haze clung to the surface of the water, emitting a bizarre yellow luminescence. Even more unsettling was that at times the mist almost seemed to consciously disperse before them, only to condense once more after they had passed. In addition the clouds of swarming mosquitoes and other insects whose incessant buzzing filled their ears appeared to deliberately remain clear of the mist. It meant the orcs were left unmolested by their bites and stings, but nonetheless Vorag thought it disquieting that such creatures seemed compelled to avoid the eerie haze.

Hurtak growled something else, but Vorag was no longer listening. Instead he slowed his pace as a strange noise caught his attention. Amidst the persistent din of buzzing insects, he caught something else. He raised a hand as he stopped completely, causing Hurtak to fall silent and every orc present to stare at him expectantly.

Only a moment longer he identified the source of the noise. It was the steady roar of surf, originating from somewhere ahead of them and to the right. Though still distant, it was near enough to be heard over the swamp's own noises if one listened closely for it.

He heard Udrok approaching from the rear of the column, and the old shaman spoke as he reached Vorag's side. “What is it?”

“We're close.” Vorag answered, pointing ahead. Their march had taken them on a northwesterly course, avoiding the elves' lines and so far any further contact with the local trolls as well. Their purpose was twofold; in addition to seeking a means of bypassing the enemy, they were commanded by their general to find the island's northern limits, that they might better gauge the possible range and extent of the elves' defenses.

As they'd found no further trace of the elves or their holdings, Vorag was fairly convinced that the shifting mire was largely unclaimed, and perhaps beyond even the northernmost reaches of their enemy's patrols. The former was unsurprising, as he found it difficult to imagine constructing any sort of lasting fortification atop the sucking mud and loose sand. If he could locate the northern shore and perhaps higher, more stable ground, he might establish a regional foothold. And potentially divide or even outflank any attempt by the elves to strike against the position that the orcs had conquered.

“I see something!” Hurtak declared, a bit more loudly than he should have.

Vorag still considered discovery by their enemy to the south a possible risk, and shot a dark glare at the other orc before following his gaze. It was difficult to make out through the gloom at first, but a moment of squinting intently revealed to him that the treeline broke some distance ahead of them, and something lay beyond. The shape was impossible to identify, but it appeared very large and white in color.

Whatever it was, it wasn't moving, which gave him hope that perhaps some raised ledge or outcropping of rocks awaited them which might suit their purposes.

“Keep moving.” He commanded, resuming his own steady march.

Having consigned a meekly protesting Tassanda to her sleeping quarters, Silas turned from the entrance to the small room and faced Rale, who had just finished speaking with their guide and another night elf who had joined them partway through their ascent from the lower chambers. The two kaldorei now remained silent, their hands folded before them as they waited.

“I was just speaking with Elal'dirai concerning a recent arrival in this place.” Rale told the old man. “It would seem some warriors of the kaldorei have come here to meet with our host.”

“Warriors? So these mages aren't all there is to them, then.” Silas rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Have they encountered the Scourge? I should think the undead wouldn't be shy about attacking anyone in these lands who can put up a fight.”

“They've done more than encounter the undead.” Rale told him. “Their soldiers have apparently engaged in several battles with them. Moreover, it would seem their leader is acquainted with young Victor Silvershield and the dwarf, Brongus.”

Silas' eyes widened. “Truly? Do they still live?”

“We can ask for ourselves.” He gestured at the other, male night elf. “According to Sanillan here, Toradis wishes for us to meet with these warriors as soon as we're able.”

“I suppose we should.” Silas hesitated, looking back at the door he had just passed through. “Though I'm not sure I like the idea of leaving Tassanda alone.”

“Fear not for the child.” Elal'dirai spoke, stepping forward and inclining her head slightly. “I will keep watch over her until she wakes, or until you return.”

Rale noticed his friend's further hesitance and leaned close, speaking in a low voice. “Silas, we're outnumbered here. If these people intended to do us harm, there's little we could do to prevent it. For the time being, I suspect she'll be safe in their care.”

Still not liking it, Silas was forced to agree. Though he was uncertain of their ultimate intentions, he could hardly hunker down and refuse their offers of cordiality at this point without potentially insulting or raising suspicions that he posed some threat.

Sighing, he nodded. “I suppose so.” He looked at Elal'dirai. “Please, do let me know if she wakes. I'd sooner not have her wandering off.”

The elf nodded and smiled slightly. “I will send word the moment she stirs.”

The kaldorei named Sanillan directed them toward a tall corridor, and as they followed, Silas addressed him. “So, the leader of these warriors, what shall I call him?”

Sanillan glanced back at them and smiled wryly. “Her name is Commander Wintergaze.”
So yeah...about that whole "more timely fashion" thing...

Gotta work on that. Bit of a pointer for other folks: not personally regimenting one's days at all and having no control whatsoever over one's daily schedule or job hours is really bad for consistent brainstorming and plotting out of ideas. Fries the brain to never know on a given day whether one will get home from work at 5 or 10 until it's actually 5 or 10.

Yeah...I've gotta work on that...

Last edited by ARM3481; 02-26-2012 at 02:55 AM..
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Old 08-23-2011, 10:52 AM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Wow! You're continuing this after all this time! I must admit I'd given up hope. You, sir, are a god to me. This story is what made me choose SoL for posting mine. Because I revere you so much, I'm not going to sully your honor with suggested corrections.

However, there are two issues you need to be aware of. First, periods at the end of quotations need to become commas. "So-and-so said" is the real action of the sentence.

Second, there is a minor continuity problem at the end:
Originally Posted by ARM3481 View Post
Silas' eyes widened. “Truly? Did she say if they still live?”
is followed by
The kaldorei named Sanillan directed them toward a tall corridor, and as they followed, Silas addressed him. “So, the leader of these warriors, what shall I call him?”

Sanillan glanced back at them and smiled wryly. “Her name is Commander Wintergaze.”
EDIT: Never mind. She = Elal'dirai, not She = Vallabryn. Still, it's a bit unclear.
Every ending is but a new beginning.
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Old 02-07-2015, 03:57 AM
Defiler Defiler is offline

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Posts: 48


Even after all this time, I still can't help but be amazed at how well written this creation was. If I'm not mistaken...I think it was my first proper English read - and left a mark in my own writing. No idea what is the point of me commenting here in this fashion...guess I'm just feeling a little nostalgic in one way or another.

Still. Thanks for this piece of art ARM3481. Though I'm quite certain it's the way you write that draws me in so. Heck, I'd probably like anything you write.
Amateur lore writer..Got better suggestions?
PM for suggestions or comments. Or if you want an update on the story...
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