A Flicker of Light (SPOILERS)

The Kul Tiran battleship Iron Shrike waited in the waters between Kul Tiras and Zandalar, a route it had regularly patrolled for some time. But it was not patrolling now. It was simply waiting. So was Admiral Eliphas Aximand, who flew his flag on this vessel. The flag was his own design - a double-headed eagle carrying a pair of icy blades, with the ornate “L” sigil of Lordaeron on its chest, all done in white on a deep blue field.

“I don’t like this,” Captain Mersadie Kittridge, the ship’s master, said in the morning gloom. She had expressed that thought, or more profane versions thereof, since they had left Boralus.

“I know you don’t, Mersadie. But given what has happened… I think we have better things to do than kill each other. And I think the Horde has come to that conclusion too. Some of them, anyway.”

“Will it matter?” Sir Eran Heskin, a veteran knight wearing the colors and armor of the 7th, asked from behind him. “They all still follow her, no matter how much they grumble. It wasn’t until they came crawling to us that they rid themselves of Garrosh, and that took time-travel and wrecked lands to carry out.”

“The old man may have a point,” agreed Lord Eldred Valmy, who stood slightly behind the admiral. The worgen warlock’s eyes glowed purple from the energies he had absorbed from the late unlamented Lady Nightswan when he had been restored to life, although his magical talents were more oriented towards felfire than void magic. “Sylvanas is not a pig-headed orc with the heart of a dead Old God in his back pocket; she is a battle-hardened general with long centuries of experience under her belt. What’s coming may make Pandaria look like a barroom brawl.”

“Enough.” Aximand raised a hand to silence the chatter. “We don’t need reminding of what the future holds for us. I think we’re all intelligent enough to get the idea. I would hope we are also intelligent enough to realize that we have to live on this planet with these people, and it’s better if that planet is not on the brink of death first.” Captain Kittridge clearly did not agree with the idea of living with these people, but kept her tongue.

“Ship ahoy!” came the cry from the crow’s nest.

Ian Blanky, Kittridge’s first mate, looked up. “Where away, lass?”

“T’starboard, Mr. Blanky! Looks like a goblin clunker!”

“Hands away from weapons unless I give the word,” Aximand ordered sharply. “Anyone who so much as twitches their fingers towards a weapon without my command will answer to me.” The Kul Tiran crew looked incredibly unhappy at this, but they obeyed.

The goblin vessel came alongside, flying a flag of truce. A voice from the other deck, goblin-accented, shouted through the gloom. “Permission to come aboard for parley?”

Aximand glanced pointedly at Kittridge, who scowled at him. “Permission granted,” she shouted back.

“Clear the deck, we’re portin’ over!” The Kul Tiran crew made a space on the deck, as five figures teleported across from the goblin ship. One was the goblin captain, wearing well-cut leather armor with the tabard of the Horde’s chief school of medicine. The others were a Nightborne in magical robes, a runed staff strapped to his back; a blood elf wearing the tabard of the Blood Knight order, carrying a spear, and acting as the Nightborne’s bodyguard of sorts; a Zandalari in traditional garb, wearing an orcish skull mask and carrying a bone-carved staff… and then the last was seen.

“Forsaken!” Despite Aximand’s stern admonition, Kittridge reached for her axe-pike. Half of her crew also reached for blades, while Heskin gripped his spear and battleaxe, standing at combat ready, and even Valmy looked about to incinerate them all with felfire.

“HOLD, DAMN YOU!” Aximand shouted. He glared now at the goblin. “Explain this, Kitrik! You said nothing of bringing one of her ilk here!”

“I’m not one of hers, Admiral. You would remember that if you took a better look at me.” The Forsaken stepped forward; he wore ornate elementium armor with dragons etched onto his belt and spaulders, complimented by the dark tabard of the Ebon Blade. He carried a seemingly ethereal scythe… and despite the fact he was speaking clearly and coherently, his lower jaw was noticably absent. But Aximand had recognized the voice.

So had Heskin, whose grip on his weapons tightened. “Galen?”

Sir Galen Tavener looked at the Stormwind knight and gave a solemn nod. “It has been a long time, Eran. Ever since the Second War… when we were denied the honor of going with Turalyon beyond the Dark Portal - you by wounds, and me by duty. My father went with them instead… and I have not heard from him since. I assume he is dead.”

“He is,” Heskin replied. “Buried in the cemetery at Honor Hold in Outland… and now you serve the Ebon Blade?”

“I do. I was reluctant to tie my fate to the Lich King again, just like Eliphas here - he avoided us when the call came out, because of it.” He gave a shrug. “But in all honesty… it seems a better choice than the alternative.”

“So you do not serve her?” Aximand asked.

“No, Admiral. Not anymore.” Tavener sighed, another odd noise for him. “The Dark Lady I remember is gone. I wonder if she truly existed at all. That thing who wears her face and speaks with her voice is not my Queen.”

“This is insanity!” Kittridge seethed. “Eliphas, you’re not seriously asking me to keep listening to this murderer spin his little --”

“Murderer?!” Tavener’s voice now showed anger, as did what was left of his face. “You know nothing about me, Captain. Anyone whose life I have taken has always held a blade in their hand, seeking to take mine. Even when I fought against the Scarlet Crusade with the other knights of Acherus. I do not butcher innocents. I was a knight of Lordaeron in life and, such as it is, I choose to remain one in death as well. I serve the people who call the place home… not the one who has blighted it far more than anything Arthas ever did.”

Aximand peered up at the Nightborne and his two companions. “And you, Lord Vendross? What do you and yours say about this?”

“We have all had reasons for grievance.” Randarel Vendross glanced at Valmy, who bared his fangs in an amused grin to see that the Nightborne recognized him. “But I am willing to set them aside to fight the greater threat. Before, it was the Legion. Then Azshara. Now Sylvanas. We must remove her from power now… and then if we so choose later, we can go back to killing each other until the world dies. Which may happen sooner than we expect.”

Valmy nodded, his expression now sobered. “I have my reasons for not trusting you, arcanist… I remember well how the Nightborne chose to thank people like me for helping liberate their city.” He grinned again when Randarel scowled at him. “And the Forsaken… well, we’ve said our share about them. But I agree with you. Focus on the now, and worry about later… well, later.”

Heskin had lowered his weapons, and gave a cautious nod. “Aye. King Anduin will likely have us doing something along those lines anyway.”

Aximand nodded, and looked over at Kittridge. “Mersadie?”

The captain’s glare would have drilled through Icecrown’s walls, but finally, grudgingly, she nodded. “Alright, I’ll follow your lead. But you won’t make me like it.”

“None of us be likin’ it, mam,” the skull-faced Zandalari replied with humor in his tone. “But dat be da hand dat fate be dealin’ us. We don’t got a choice but ta play it out.” The Blood Knight also nodded, her expression equally as displeased as Kittridge’s.

“Alright, then, if we’re all willin’ to deal with this, perhaps we’d best be headin’ out?” Kitrik the Assassin, who up to that point had been silent, spoke up. “Word’s come down from the folks workin’ for Saurfang about a rendezvous. A grand get-together of the armies.”

Aximand nodded. “Where?”

“Durotar,” Randarel replied. “A place called Razor Hill.”

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“Absolutely not!”

“Be reasonable, Inquisitor Underwood. We haven’t a chance against her alone, so why not look to those on the other side to end her? My grievance is with her and her drooling army of the damned.”

“Be realistic, Miss Zherron,” Gabriel Underwood, Inquisitor of the Order of Embers, retorted. His hulking frame was more fat than muscle, but still larger than the slender worgen in front of him. They were meeting in his room at the tavern in Fallhaven, where he was staying while patrolling the nearby woods for the Order. “All this business about Sylvanas does is prove Daelin right about the Horde… and proves the decision to leave the Alliance right too, if we’re following immature children into the embrace of those who have spent thirty years trying to kill us!”

“Anduin is --”

“Anduin is a child, and thinks like a child, wide-eyed and ignorant. The Horde killed his father and grandfather - how many more must die? Even your patroness in Stormwind believes there can be no peace with these people!”

“What Genevra does and thinks is her own business,” Lucia Zherron replied through bared fangs. “I do not make myself a parrot to voice her views on the Light or the Horde or anything else. I work with her because she was a friend of my father.”

“A father killed by the Horde, in case you’d forgotten what you told me!” the inquisitor snapped.

“Killed by the Forsaken,” Lucia corrected. “An organization that is increasingly becoming… difficult to judge.”

“Difficult to judge? They’re monsters!”

“So am I, you imbecile!” Lucia shouted angrily, causing Gabriel to step back; even for not being physically imposing, she was still a worgen, and still quite dangerous. “You think I don’t notice the disgust on your face when you look at me? You think I don’t hear the sneering names you and your people call me? Dog-face! Beast-woman! Going from your mindview, which is so narrow it can fit perfectly in your fat head, I sleep in a kennel in my own filth and am infested with fleas!”

Gabriel’s hands shook with rage, trying not to lash out against her. “If you were anyone else, I would kill you where you stand,” he snarled. Then he turned from her, pacing. “I had thought you smarter than this, Lucia, given that you align yourself with Tyrande and her Army of the Black Moon - a force that is not fooled by this plan, and is staying home to guard their land. Yes, bring us all together… so that the banshee witch can wipe us all out. But it’s for the good of Azeroth, it will bring peace. Ooh. Ahh. And how long will that last, I wonder? I may have stayed here in Kul Tiras all through the wars, but I’ve travelled enough and seen enough to know what your ‘peace’ is. It’s baring your throat to the murderer’s blade.”

Lucia was silent; as much as she hoped it would be different this time, she had to admit he had a point. This had happened often enough before to become almost comical. “So you’re not coming.”

“My duty is to hunt witches and protect my homeland, Lucia. Whether those witches look like crook-nosed hags or walking corpses matters not. They are a blight, and must be dealt with.” He snorted derisively. “At least I have a homeland to defend.”

Lucia’s eyes narrowed. “And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what the hell that’s supposed to mean. You… people,” and Gabriel spat out the last word, “left Gilneas to the Horde and ran away with the night elves. And then when Sylvanas came and burned Teldrassil, you ran again. Someone who truly loves their land will stay and fight for it, and if needs be die for it. So run along with your boy-king and find your ‘peace’.”

Lucia sneered at him. “Fine, coward. Stay home.”

Gabriel seethed. “What did you just call me?”

“I called you a coward, you coward. So full of yourself and your hate that you’ll fight anything that doesn’t think like you. You want a fight? Have one with me.” Lucia’s body became almost ethereal, wreathed with starlight, as she gripped her father’s moon-bladed sickle in her hand. “Come on, show me what you’ve learned since you went and saw the world - at my suggestion, I might add. Come on. Take up the wicker-cat form you Kul Tirans use and play a little with me. I’ll claw your gods-damned eyes out.”

Gabriel was sorely tempted. For all that she was right - that his travels had been her idea, so he could learn more about “mainstream” druidism - he was aghast at the idea of breaking bread with the people who murdered Daelin Proudmoore, who sided with wretches like Ashvane, who slaughtered the innocent in Brennadam. Trying to keep his voice level, he said quietly, “Get out.”

“Uh-huh.” The starlight faded around Lucia. “I didn’t think so. You can’t take me in a real fight, so you’ll just sit and sputter. A bully as well as a coward.” She shook her head. “You Kul Tirans… so pig-headed. It makes me wonder why we ever needed you.” Before Gabriel could respond to that, she had quickly left as he had demanded… mainly so that he wouldn’t see the sadness in her canine face.


So it begins.

Standing on the dry ground of Thunder Ridge, now flooded by the Cataclysm-altered banks of the Southfury River, Urgan of the Black Harvest stared out to the southeast towards Razor Hill, watching the activity steadily increase. Not only Horde forces, but Alliance ones as well. He had listened to all the stories going around since the fall of Lordaeron, that Saurfang was now an Alliance puppet, mind-controlled by the boy-king to sow discord in the Horde. While he did not believe that the old orc’s brain had softened that much, he did believe that Saurfang would reach out to them, and the evidence of his own eyes did not lie: The Alliance forces arriving here were part of a combined army with the Horde forces, rather than an invasion army against them.

The Corruptor did not particularly care about the way Sylvanas ran things. In fact, he had been all for it, hoping he could see Stormwind burn the way Teldrassil did, see Anduin’s head on a pike atop the ruins of his castle, and no king-in-waiting to take the throne ever again. But he was also a pragmatist - it had been the reason he had survived Doomhammer’s purges after the idealistic fool had slain Blackhand to claim the title of Warchief - and knew that Sylvanas’ reign would end by her own actions. The rebellion against Garrosh had also started with a few disaffected “leaders”, and turned into a war that spanned space and time. He had not been able to witness it himself; he had been killed by Saavedro, Ketiron, and their Light-thumping lot back in Northrend before Garrosh’s ascendancy, and had been trapped in a soulstone for years afterward. Now it was happening again. He wondered if this is how it was like back then…

He wondered if his Mag’har “ghost”, the orc he could have been had he not partaken of the cup atop the Throne of Kil’jaeden all those years ago, would be part of this army. He privately doubted it, given that the Alliance had draenei. From what he had heard of the Iron Horde survivors and how Eitrigg and the “Speaker” had found them, they hated draenei. He found it hilariously ironic that the draenei had begun wiping out the orcs on that different Draenor, instead of the other way around. It made him think that perhaps the lies fed to them during the early days of the Horde - his Horde - about the draenei being a threat to all orcs hadn’t been so far off the mark after all. There but for the spirits’ grace, go we, he thought, amused at how sacrilegious it would sound coming out of him.

He also wondered if that damnable Zandalari death-priest would be there. The one who tried to make him his slave… Urgan had managed to purge whatever Zulimbasha had done (or tried to do) to him, more or less, but he stayed away from Zandalar regardless.

Hopefully, the little bastard would die in the coming bloodbath, and join his precious Bwonsamdi. That made his smile widen a bit.

He looked over towards the gates of Orgrimmar, seeing the banners - of the Horde, yes, but of the Forsaken as well - beginning to gather. They sensed it coming, too. Unlike the mostly-living armies coming to face them, though, they did not need to eat or sleep. They would be constantly vigilant, if they were not in amongst the other camp slaughtering the “traitors” like the sheep they were. It was what he would do.

Even from here, the Corruptor could feel the tension growing thick. As it did, his anticipation rose. No matter who held the field at the end of the day, he was certain that the blood would flow like the river along which he stood - and he looked forward to it. Because when the dust settled, people like him would be there to take advantage of it…

When the Horde arrived on the shores of Zandalar in the company of Talanji and Zul, Rastakhan was still King, the Golden Fleet intact, and the Great Seal of Dazar’alor was still spinning. At that time, Zulimbasha was a simple priest of Bwonsamdi, bringing healing to those who still had sand in their hourglasses, and quick and painless transition to the Other Side for those whose sands had run their course.

Much had changed in the months since. Rastakhan was dead, the Golden Fleet gone, the Great Seal still. And Zulimbasha - who had ventured many times beyond Zandalar to see the war-torn world beyond, who had gone to Pandaria to find the end of the insane path his parents had followed Zul down, who had stood before the Dark Titan’s blade in Silithus and seen the blood of Azeroth bubbling from the earth both there and at home - was now a high priest of Bwonsamdi, answerable only to the lord of the dead, who now stood supreme over the Loa of Zandalar. The souls he had collected for his master had not only given Bwonsamdi power, but it had given him power as well. His fearsome visage (courtesy of the skull mask given to him by the Mag’har, who had a healthy respect for the spiritual nature of life and death) had become known by casteless and highborn alike in Zuldazar, and among others in the Horde, too.

Now it was time to remind the Forsaken and their Dark Lady that death was patient, but it could not be avoided forever. Bwonsamdi had asked Talanji for Sylvanas’ head at her coronation. Now the whole Horde - and the Alliance, too - intended to deliver. Zulimbasha knew well that Bwonsamdi didn’t care who brought him souls, only that he got them.

It had been Randarel Vendross, ultimately, who had inspired him to finally act not only as a chosen devotee of Bwonsamdi, or as a citizen of the Zandalari Empire, but as a member of the Horde as men of honor like Saurfang and Baine saw it, and as the acquaintances he had made among the Darkspear saw it. The Highmountain - and some in the Nightborne - had advocated leaving the Horde and going home. But Randarel, Zulimbasha had come to know from his acquaintance with the ancient elf, was not one to leave a thing unfinished. He had personally slain his wife’s murderer in Suramar. Now he would see the butcher of Teldrassil brought to account, too. Zulimbasha could not help but admire that… and it was that fact that led him to travel with the Nightborne arcanist aboard Kitrik’s goblin transport, the Assassin’s Treasure, to the Echo Isles - homeland of the Darkspear, and the main port of call between the Horde’s heartland and Zandalar.

Dechala, a grizzled Darkspear witch doctor, was there to greet them. “Welcome, honored priest,” she said first in Zandali, bowing her head deeply to the death-priest, before adding in Orcish, “Welcome, Lord Vendross. Captain Kitrik.”

“Your welcome does us honor,” Randarel replied in perfect Zandali, though his lips did not match his voice. Dechala’s eyebrows rose. The Nightborne arcanist smiled and tapped the ring on his right hand. “Enchantment.”

“Ahhh… ya mages and ya tricks.” Dechala chuckled humorlessly. “Enjoy da scenery, m’lord, and all da peace and quiet here. It won’t last.”

“Has the fracas begun yet?” Kitrik asked, concern evident in his tone.

“Not yet, but Sylvanas’ loyalists have collapsed da canyons between Razor Hill and Orgrimmar. We be gettin’ Alliance and Horde tanks comin’ together at Razor Hill for da siege, but dey be unable ta move forward until dey clear da canyons. Da gnomes and goblins be puttin dey heads t’gether ta figure out how ta clear it without buryin’ us all in rocks.” The old priestess chuckled as she glanced at Zulimbasha. “I be seein’ my share of winters, but I still got a bit in me before I be requirin’ ya ta show me to da Other Side, mon.”

Zulimbasha laughed. “I don’t t’ink ya gonna be needin’ me ta show ya nuttin’, ya old tiger.” His tone sobered. “Ya probably seen enough ta know da way better den I do.”

“Probably I do, at dat,” Dechala agreed. “Mebbe not as much as our friend here, but…” She shook her head. “Bah. Gettin’ sulky in my old age.”

“Prerogative of the elderly,” Randarel said with a grim smile. “Past a certain point, we begin to lose more than we gain. I’m sure that’s so for you younger folk as much as it is for ancients like me.” Both Kitrik and the troll priests nodded.

Out the corner of his eye, Zulimbasha saw the sails and flag of the Iron Shrike, and a number of Kul Tiran gryphons - and a flying undead horse, the steed of Admiral Aximand - flying from the deck towards Razor Hill. “Both sides keeping da peace?”

“More or less. Lotta people on both sides wonderin’ where all da night elves be. Tyrande and her dark-eyed zealots be stayin’ in Darkshore, is da rumor. Refused ta even consider comin’ at da boy-king’s request.” Dechala sighed. “We may be dealin’ with dat one after we deal with Sylvanas.”

“Provided we still be around for it.” Zulimbasha shook his head. “Nothin’ be certain… though at least da shamans be thinkin’ it be all happenin’ here, and not in Mulgore.” He recalled discussing current events with the story-teller elf in Thunder Bluff not too long ago, and he mentioned what he’d heard about the signs pointing to the conflict not coming there. At least, not the conflict that was in the air ever since Baine’s rescue from Orgrimmar…

Kitrik noted the priest’s mood. “Torn between bein’ in the service of death and not likin’ how it’ll come about?” Zulimbasha was suddenly thankful for the mask, which hid the surprise he now showed on his face. The Assassin had a sad smile on his face. “I hear you. I kill for a living, I admit it, but in this case… it’s a damned shame, s’what it is.”

Zulimbasha sighed. “Aye. A lot of very lively spirits gonna be makin’ da trip to da Other Side soon enough. Ours included. I knew it would happen someday; one don’t be servin’ Death without knowin’ it be comin’ for him eventually, too. Still… I wish it be for a better purpose dan takin’ out da trash.”

“No arguments from me,” Randarel agreed, nodding. “Still… this is where we are. We know now what must be done. Let no one find us wanting.”

1 Like

While most of the Horde prepared for battle outside of the gates of Orgrimmar - standing alongside the Alliance - Kegren Dawntotem chose to remain closer to home. He stood on a ridge west of Thunder Bluff, part of the high mountain passes that encircled Mulgore. He had come here often when his mind was troubled, and it was most certainly troubled now. The retribution feared since Baine’s rescue from Orgrimmar was imminent. Sylvanas had greater numbers and popular support. There was only one way for this to end.

“Predictable. You have not changed, boy.”

Kegren turned, eyes wide with shock at the sound of that voice. He had never expected to hear it again. Shock then turned to anger. “How dare you show your face in our lands, traitor.”

“So this is how you greet your dear father? Threatening declarations and insults?” Takin Grimtotem laughed without humor. “How quickly you forsake me.”

“You forsook us all, ‘Father’, when you helped Magatha murder Cairne and take over Mulgore.” Kegren looked his sire over with an appraising eye. Despite his age and years in the wilderness, he still looked as fit as ever, fur as black as the night, his left horn broken during the fighting to retake Thunder Bluff. He wore an open-vested robe adorned with metal chains and burning lava rocks, with a traditional tauren elder’s totem on his back; he carried a hammer at his side, burning with fire. “You would never have followed that old witch so blindly if Mother had been alive.”

“Perhaps,” the old shaman agreed with a shrug, which surprised Kegren. “Then again, she might have stayed with me. I have not spoken to her since she passed, so I do not know.” Like his beloved matriarch, Takin had served the Horde only as long as it was convenient. He had supported the coup that had led to Cairne Bloodhoof’s death, and had been among those to hold Thunder Bluff until Garrosh abandoned them to Baine. The new High Chieftain had allowed any Grimtotem who would swear loyalty to him to remain, and banished the rest. The last time Kegren had seen his father, the elder had spat on his hooves and denounced him before following Magatha into exile.

Which begged the question… “What are you doing here? You know you are not allowed here.”

“Strange as it may seem to you, my son, I have come seeking you out.”

“Oh, so I’m your son again, am I? I thought I was a lickspittle, a blind fool following blind fools, a sheep being led by pretty words into the wolf’s jaws. Any of that ring a bell?”

“Words.” Takin shrugged again, dismissing them. His amber eyes, however, burned with anger at the reminder. “We are beyond such petty concerns at this point, Kegren. There is a far larger problem that we continue to ignore while you Horde fight amongst one another.” He gestured to the south, where the looming shadow of Sargeras’ blade stood. “You think we have been ignorant to what has been going on? In exile, I feel the Earth Mother’s pain and hear her screams far more readily than I would sitting in cities of gold and lurking around temples of death.”

Kegren was astonished. He had been to Zuldazar a great deal, and he had also visited the Necropolis on several occasions at the invitation of the death-priest he had encountered in Pandaria. “You’ve been keeping track of me?”

“You would expect me to do less?”

“The only reason I can think for your wanting to follow my movements is so you can end my life. I will not go quietly, if that is your intention.”

“It is not,” Takin replied. His expression became almost… pleading. “I want you to come home.”

Kegren’s eyes narrowed. “This is my home.”

“This?” Takin shook his head. “No. Come with me, Kegren. Rejoin your people, your true people. Mulgore is doomed, and so is the Horde. I know it, and in your heart, you know it too. Whether Sylvanas prevails against those who have risen up against her, or whether she is sent to her rightly deserved oblivion, the Horde will not survive the day. This shining dream of ‘unity’ will be dispelled forever.” He gripped Kegren’s arm. “Will you continue to follow the flag of the Horde while the Earth Mother dies? The Horde, the Alliance… none of them care about the fact that this wonder mineral they use to power their weapons and machines of war is the very blood of our world.”

“We must use what we can to protect our people,” Kegren replied, albeit slightly hesitantly. “If the essence of the Earth Mother is required, then --”

“Have you not been listening?” Takin backhanded him, hard, across the face. “Stupid, greedy boy! To think I believed you would see the truth, but no. Your eyes glitter with the same greed as that fat slob Gallywix. You’ve spent too long with metals and machines, thinking it’s just another mineral for you to harvest and play with! Fah!” He spat into the grass, though not onto Kegren’s hooves. “Very well, then. Go and fight for that idiot Baine and his idealistic crusade, and probably die to become another corpse for Sylvanas to play with. It’s what you all deserve.”

As Takin moved to walk away, Kegren - shaking with outrage - demanded, “Why do you care what happens to me? You’ve languished out there in the wilderness with your murderous crone, doing Light knows what to Light knows who, and now all of a sudden you take the chance to come into a place you’re forbidden, to try and talk me into rotting in the wilderness with you. Why?”

Takin looked back at him, and much to Kegren’s surprise, he heard pain in his father’s voice. “I wonder the same thing now. Perhaps it was my hope that you would not be another ‘good little soldier’ to march to their tune. I saw so many of them die in Northrend, and perhaps a small part of me hoped you would avoid that fate.” His tone and expression went from pain to contempt. “Perhaps I am a fool to hope for anything anymore.”

By the time Kegren could think of something to say to that, Takin was gone.

In camp outside Razor Hill, Alliance and Horde alike maintained a kind of peace. And a rather uneasy one, the way she saw it. Certainly, she had no great desire to be here, breaking bread with the murderers of King Rastakhan.

Then again, she had never expected to have any association with the Horde, either, other than at the end of a blade. Or that Loa could be killed by wretched traitors like Zul and Yazma, for that matter. The prelates, the holy warriors of Zandalar - those that remained after the Zanchuli schism and the siege of Dazar’alor - still mourned their patron, the great devilsaur Rezan, and sought to uphold his memory.

Some questioned how, without Rezan, the prelates were able to still call upon their powers. To that, she would often cite a Blood Knight she met in Zuldazar just before the siege of Dazar’alor. The blood elf had said that for most paladins - no matter what they called themselves among their own people… Blood Knights, Sunwalkers, vindicators, prelates - simple faith was required. Faith in all that was right, and good, and true. For the Blood Knight, it had been faith that there would be another sunrise, and that her people would survive to see it. That, the elf believed, was what gave the Blood Knights strength, power.

It was a lesson she had taken to heart… and so she operated on faith, too. She had faith in the Loa - all of them, even the ones who had fallen. She had faith in Talanji, who had seen what kings and generals and prophets could not, and had the courage to act. She had faith in her people, and in the Empire that had stood for fifteen thousand years. The empires of the mogu, the pandaren, the night elves… all had collapsed to dust. The Alliance and the Horde would, too.

But Zandalar would endure. She was certain of it.

“Far-away thoughts, Nevasa?”

She turned at the sound of that voice, seeing a familiar face. “Just remindin’ myself of what I am.” She couldn’t help but grin. “We seem ta be representin’ in force. Or at least we will be when ya be in da mix.”

“Heh. At least I don’t need ta be leashed like a sabertusk before a fight, ya young rip.”

“Oi! I’m not dat much younger dan ya, Valkia. Just because ya be all gray and weathered don’t make ya smarter dan me.” Nevasa grinned as she said this, for she and Valkia’jin, as she was formally called, had been friends since they were children. Valkia’s father, Zul’kor, had been Nevasa’s mentor when she started her training in her youth, and refusing his request to follow Zul and his acolytes out to sea during the Cataclysm had been one of the most difficult decisions she had ever made… but her instincts had told her that what Zul was doing was wrong. When Valkia had returned in the company of the Horde, Nevasa was furious, more so when she learned that she had killed Zul’kor. She had supported Jakra’zet’s decision to banish Valkia to Vol’dun… until, when Zul began his coup against Rastakhan, she finally understood why she had. She had reached out to the blood elf mage Menarian Talashar to find Valkia in Vol’dun and bring her home.

In her heart, Nevasa had hoped it would be a siege of Stormwind, not Orgrimmar, that would end this war, so that Rastakhan could be avenged. She had heard all the grumblings about Sylvanas, of course, and agreed with them - like a number of other Zandalari, she considered the Forsaken to be honorless abominations, and was horrified at hearing of the atrocities committed against the night elves - but at the same time, Talanji had made the pact with Sylvanas and the Horde in good faith, and Nevasa chose to believe that it was the right choice, as many of her other decisions had been. And now here they were…

She noticed Valkia staring at her. “I’m almost of a mind ta ask if I need ta call on da pandaren ta take ya inta their monasteries for trainin’,” she said with a hint of humor in her voice. “Ya get dis look when ya be lost in thought, maybe ya be takin’ up meditation?”

“Ta be fair, dere be a lot ta meditate on,” she retorted with a humorless smile. “Lotta wonderin’ about what comes next. If dere be a ‘next’ after dis.” She thought for a second. “Ya know, I t’ink dere will be. Might not be great, but at least dere be somet’ing. Otherwise, what be da damned point of all dis?”

Valkia chuckled. “My friend, de optimist.”

“Somebody gotta be.”

The siege had begun.

The combined forces had marched through the canyons, and now waited outside the gates of Orgrimmar. But for all that the leaders on both sides were keeping order among their ranks, some chose to keep as much distance as possible.

Randarel, lord of House Vendross, was among that number. He had been seeing a number of unsavory - and familiar - faces in the Alliance ranks, and he remained as yet wary of even the living allies in the Horde… so he kept his distance in the rear, watching, waiting. As he did, he heard a barely-contained snarl from the blood elf standing next to him. She had seen what he had. “Center your humors, Master Summerlight,” he said in Thalassian, for once not needing the translation from his enchanted ring.

“It galls me to have to look at those traitors,” Kirenna Summerlight said with pure venom in her tone, her mailed fist tightening around the shaft of her titansteel spear. “The Void corrupts all it touches, worse than the fel… and yet more of our people keep marinating in that filth just to break from the Horde.”

Randarel’s eyebrows rose. “I never took you as being an enthusiast for the Horde.”

“I’m not,” she acknowledged. “Or at least I haven’t been lately. Back in the early days, when it was Thrall as Warchief, it was different. We knew what we were getting with him. It was always the Forsaken who gave me pause - not just now, but back then, too.”

“Memories of the Scourge?”

“Partly,” she admitted. “But mainly from the Wrathgate. I never believed that Putress was part of an ‘attempted coup’. Given how she’s used that sludge without mercy since, I’m certain she was behind it the whole time.”

The Nightborne arcanist knew, having heard of it from Menarian and others since leaving Suramar, that Kirenna was referring to the first deployment of the “Forsaken Blight” during the war against the Lich King in Northrend, how Grand Apothecary Putress had dropped it on both the Scourge and the combined Alliance-Horde forces alike. Varian Wrynn, the King of Stormwind at the time, had gone to the Undercity - as it was being liberated from those loyal to Putress and his master, the dreadlord Varimathras - to destroy the Horde leadership in retaliation, but was stopped by Jaina Proudmoore… and part of Randarel wished she hadn’t. If Varian had been allowed to kill Sylvanas then, it would have prevented all this now.

What was done was done, however. And now the people of Azeroth would reap what they had sown. Just as we have been doing for ten thousand years, he mused, thinking on the crimes committed by generations (and… subcultures, he supposed the best word would be) of his people.

“Stars willing, there will be no more of that,” he said at last. “Either our blood will saturate the dust, or her head will hang from the gates. The price will be…” He noticed that Kirenna was not looking at him, but towards the front. “What is it?”

“Movement at the head of the army.” The Blood Knight’s golden eyes squinted, trying to see. “I see Saurfang, and the human king. And… Sunwell’s Light, is that Thrall…?”

Randarel looked over, seeing two orcs - the aged, scarred figure of the Horde’s High Overlord, and another wearing wolfskin - and the gold-and-silver dazzle of Anduin Wrynn. The younger orc, Thrall presumably, said something to Saurfang, though he could not tell what. Saurfang stepped ahead of his companion, and shouted in a voice that could be heard all throughout both armies:

“Sylvanas Windrunner! I challenge…MAK’GORA!”

Randarel’s eyes went as wide as the moons themselves.

And with that, it was over before it really began. Saurfang lay dead in the dust, and Sylvanas was no longer Warchief of the Horde.

But she wasn’t dead, either… and the Horde would continue. Again.

Lord Eldred Valmy stood in horrified silence as he watched the honor being accorded to the fallen orc… by the boy who, for some reason, was the leader of all of the Alliance. He was torn between wanting to throw up at this hideous display, or give into the animalistic rage of his curse, and go on a screaming rampage of vengeance.

Maintaining an almost titanic self-control, he did neither… but his claws tore into the palm of one hand as it clenched in a fist, his blood dripping into the dirt, and the other hand tightened enough around his staff to make the felforged metal creak in protest.

This was not how it was supposed to go!

He had hoped, somehow, someway, for the Horde forces - Sylvanas’ loyalists, Saurfang’s loyalists, all the same to him - to be weakened enough by the fighting to be swept away for good. Instead, it had come down to one-on-one… which meant that the rot was not cut out completely, just the part that could be seen. And so, it would remain to fester.

Just like the rage in his soul.

“Well…” Eldred peered out the corner of his eye at Admiral Aximand, who looked… satisfied with the outcome. “At least it saves us the trouble of having to sack this place again.”

“And instead lets them build up their forces for the banshee’s inevitable replacement to use against us,” Eldred snarled in irritation.

Aximand’s eyebrows rose. “You sound sure of that.”

“Aren’t you? The Horde is disorganized and listless. We should strike now and put an end to them before we have to do this all over again!” He continued before the admiral could object. “And don’t give me that garbage about how you’re following the king’s instructions.” He gestured to the gates. “They were following Sylvanas until she told them how she really felt about them. Do you really want to spend the rest of your unnatural existence cleaning up every damn mess the Horde makes, Admiral? Gilneas, Stonetalon, Theramore, Pandaria, Teldrassil, Tirisfal…”

“You don’t need to recite the world’s disasters to me, warlock,” Aximand replied, his tone as chilling as the aura of ice around him. “I see the same things you do.”

“And you’re fine with that?” Eldred gestured towards where Anduin had been; he and his Horde friends were now inside Orgrimmar.

“If it means an end to this petty bickering, then yes, I’m fine with it.”

“Petty?! I don’t consider what she did to Gilneas ‘petty’!”

“What do you care? You’ll never go back to it even if Greymane ever takes it back. And at least most of it is still there for you to take back.” The admiral glared at him. “I was there at Tirisfal, Lord Valmy. I saw what she did to the capital, just as I saw what was left of the sludge-ridden ruins that was my home village. No one can ever live in Southshore again thanks to her. And yet I choose to be realistic. There’s still an Old God out there, in case you’d forgotten, with not even the smallest of shackles to keep it contained, and no Titans or Keepers to help imprison it. You think we can take on such a foe by ourselves?”

“We can, and in the end we will,” Eldred replied stubbornly. “They’ll probably end up surrendering to N’Zoth and turning on us at the first opportunity. She’ll have seen to that.”

Aximand simply shrugged, which enraged Eldred further. Filthy peasant thinking himself an admiral, he thought uncharitably. “Then we’ll deal with that as it happens. But I’m not going to go charging into battle screaming oaths simply for your narrow vision of justice.” He shrugged again. “Come on. It’s a long trip back to Boralus.”

The look in Eldred’s eyes was a mixture of hate and contempt, sharp enough to make the admiral step back. “No, thank you, Admiral,” he said in a neutral tone. “I will find my own way back.” Without another word, he turned his back on the death knight and stomped away.

Eldred Valmy was not the only one thinking it had not been meant to go this way, albeit for a slightly different reason…

Shedding his stolen eredar regalia for a simple hooded robe, Urgan was just one orc among the multitude gathered in the Valley of Strength in Orgrimmar, outwardly neutral, listening… and inwardly torn between concern and fury. From his vantage on Thunder Ridge, the Corruptor had summoned an Eye of Kilrogg, and watched and heard everything. And he was absolutely astonished. He knew Sylvanas had no real love for the Horde. He didn’t, either.

But for her to say it out loud? In front of both opposing armies? Saurfang may have been left a smoking corpse lying in the dust… but he had still won. Both sides knew it. Now the Horde was going to be placed into the hands of idiotic children… or worse, one idiotic child in particular: the accursed boy-king. Which was likely going to result in his becoming a target.

And yet… the Horde was now leaderless. Sylvanas had fled. Saurfang was dead. Thrall had made clear he would never accept the title of Warchief again. Which meant… who would it be? Would it be anyone at all? Some had suggested replacing the single leader with a council, in order to prevent another tyrant like Sylvanas, or Garrosh before her, from ever taking the Horde down the dark paths again.

On the one hand, Urgan understood the idea. On the other, it was not the kind of council to which he was accustomed… but one intended to give the weak equal voice among the strong. It sickened him. Especially given that this would mean abandoning the conflict with the Alliance. Possibly for good.

Then again… possibly not. He knew full well that there would be those who would follow Sylvanas to the death. And gods knew that the Gilneans and the night elves would never have peace until the Horde was wiped out entirely. From what he had learned upon his return to life shortly before leaving for Argus, Greymane had fought a sideshow war with Sylvanas in Stormheim even with the Legion threatening Azeroth; why should he be any different with the Old Gods?

All at once, anger and worry turned into contemplation. He had thought from the outset that there would be plenty of pickings for people like him when the dust settled from the bloodbath he had been certain was coming. He was wrong about the bloodbath - he was not too proud that he could not admit it - but there was a change coming; the days of one Horde, one Warchief, were over. The rule of the many was about to begin. That meant bickering. That meant instability. That meant chaos.

That meant opportunity.

As the honors were done to the sacrificial lamb of this new order, the Corruptor stole silently away, just another orc going about his business. There were still resources available to him here, even with Sylvanas’ goons patrolling the streets.

He had sent word through the usual channels for couriers to meet him in the Cleft, and they had not disappointed. He had scrolls for them, all written in code. Even if these men were snoops - and he was sure at least one of them was - they wouldn’t know what was on them. Only the initiated would be able to understand…


Sylvanas is overthrown. The idealists rule the Horde again. Watch, and wait. There will be plenty of opportunity here.

Faith in Modas il Toralar.

Among others in the ranks that day was Captain Englebert Blunderwitz, who served in Gnomeregan’s elite forces. When he saw that there would be no battle, his only response was to shrug and activate one of the numerous teleport beacons he kept on his person. He was glad it had been so anticlimactic an ending, because it meant he could get back to the business of learning from his mechanized kinfolk.

Which was where the beacon he had used took him: Rustbolt, on the island of Mechagon. Most non-engineers - and non-gnomes - saw merely mountains of rusting scrap and dangerous machines. Englebert, however, saw wonder. He saw a people very much like his own - forced to deal with a horrible betrayal, and finding a way to move forward from it. King Mechagon was dead, his plans in ruins, leaving Prince Erazmin and his people to clean up the mess. Many had started going back to Mechagon City, a place that Englebert had seen only briefly, and then only in combat. He hoped to one day get a proper look at the place.

As he moved around the camp, that familiar face again caught his eye. She had changed considerably since the first time he had spotted her; her new eyes glowed blue-white rather than green, and now both arms and both legs had been replaced with armored cybernetics. She still carried two swords on her back. He hesitated only for a moment, and then approached her. “Hello, Marennia.”

The one he had addressed stopped cold, and then turned slowly to look at him. He could see the tic in her reinforced chin as her jaw tightened. “Englebert,” she said without preamble. “Never one to leave anything alone.”

“Perils of my job,” Englebert replied, compassion and concern evident in his tone. “I had thought you dead, to be honest. Have you been here all this time? Ever since…”

“Ever since that elf scum murdered my brother?” She now turned to look at him, and Englebert took a cautious step back at the sharp bitterness in her tone. “When I left Draenor, all I could feel was hate and anger. Rakeri was all I had left, for all that he was mad and corrupted by the fel. Ketiron took him away from me, took away any chance of reconciliation. And your pal Genevra let him.” She chuckled, not at all a pleasant sound. “You may be the fancy-pants tracker, ‘Captain’, but I can follow a lead, too. I know you’ve shacked up with that ‘Conclave’ bunch.”

“I do some work for them, yes.” Englebert was clearly bothered by the contempt in her tone. “How did you get here?”

“Sheer luck, if you must know… and something I can only describe as an epiphany. I found this place while you were off galavanting in the Broken Isles… and I decided to embrace what they offered. This was before King Mechagon let slip what he was really planning. And when we found out… at first, I thought maybe he was right, and besides, the world would be better off without the majority of the people living on it anyway.” She shrugged, an odd sight given her mechanical arms. “But at the same time, I like being this way - mechanized by choice, rather than by force. My mind and my soul are still mine, not a plaything for a madman. So I bolted with Erazmin and his people. And now…”

“And now you’re free.”

“More or less.” She snorted. “That will probably change, though. No doubt it will be just like with the Highmountain and their horned kin, the brown orcs with the green ones, the Dark Irons and the Bronzebeards… and Makers know who else we’ve been letting onto our island.”

Englebert looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“I see the look in your eye, Englebert; you hope we’ll be brought into the Alliance as fellow gnomes, where we can be used to fight your wars just like the good little automatons we are.” Marennia laughed humorlessly. “And we probably will be. For all that Gazlowe and his bunch did their part, we’re still gnomes, and would not be caught dead on the same side with goblins. The Prince will probably put out feelers for some kind of negotiations, and I’ll be right back where I started.” Another snort. “At least you can report to your superiors that you fulfilled your mission, Englebert. They sent you to find me. Well, here I am.”

“If Prince Erazmin does reach out to us, we would be glad to have you.” Englebert reached out to put a hand on her cog-jointed shoulder. “And I mean that about you personally, too. You are still one of us, Marennia, even if you don’t think so.”

Marennia grasped his wrist with her other hand, and Englebert began to wonder if she would end up breaking it. But instead, she contemptuously shoved his hand away, knocking him off balance and onto his rear end. The other mechagnomes in the camp looked over in silent curiosity. “Let me make this clear, Englebert,” she hissed. “I had hoped never to see anyone like you again.” Her smile was that of a roving blade anticipating the kill, and Englebert could not help but feel a shiver in his spine. “But at least I know I will still be here when you’re nothing more than dust.” Without another word, she turned and walked away from him.

One of the other mechagnomes held out a hand - rather, a pincer - but Englebert gingerly held onto it to rise to his feet. “She was an outsider who came here from Gnomeregan, like you,” he said. “Did you know her?”

I thought I did, he thought. Aloud, he said only, “Yes.”

“I thought so. Was she always so… hostile?”

Englebert glanced over at where Marennia continued to walk away. “Not like this,” was all he could say.

Marennia Sputterspark seethed with rage as she heard the gossip going on behind her. She had seen him and his doddering fool of a father running around here among the forces come to fight against King Mechagon. Now that the old boltbag was dead, she had hoped they would all be sent packing.

And yet, she somehow knew that it would not be the case. Just as she had said to Englebert, it was likely that Prince Erazmin would align Mechagon with Gnomeregan, like Highmountain and Mulgore, or the Dark Irons and Ironforge. Well, at least it wouldn’t be the Horde, she thought. Still, she had unpleasant memories of being in the Alliance, too. She was not too keen on enduring that again, especially if it meant being constantly harassed by the gnomish military or the Stormwind City Watch… or worse, Genevra and her band of pond scum.

But if it came to that, she had something special in mind for them. She just needed the right catalyst…

Zulimbasha had to admit that few things were capable of surprising him. What had transpired in Orgrimmar certainly qualified. He could feel the disappointment radiating from the assembled armies around him, people hoping there would be a great battle, something on the scale they felt appropriate for removing such a creature as the Banshee Queen. Instead…

This was another reason he felt that Bwonsamdi had been the Loa he had chosen to serve - the eternal patience of death. One could debate the how and when up to a point, but they could not debate the if. Sylvanas’ flight, and that of those who followed her and were smart enough to hide (or escape), meant it was open season on her kind… and Zulimbasha was more than willing to start hunting. His pact with Bwonsamdi demanded it - the lord of the dead required souls, and as one of his high priests, Zulimbasha was required to deliver.

But given what was coming - not just with Sylvanas, but with this Old God released from beneath Nazjatar as well - he realized he would not be able to do so alone. He would need agents… preferably reliable ones. The Corruptor was too sadistic, too opportunistic, and just too damned corrupted to consider, although Zulimbasha had made sure that the souls of his kills would go to Bwonsamdi rather than to himself… and in the end, the priest swore, his own would follow suit. No soulstone for you, wretch, he thought venomously.

A conversation with Valkia on the way back to Zuldazar had given him an idea. Even nowadays, most in Zandalar, particularly in the capital, looked upon him and his fellow servants of Bwonsamdi with fear and loathing; the whole incident with the “White Widow” during Talanji’s coronation had been proof enough of that.

But Valkia had been quick to remind him that trolls were not the only people in Zandalar… and to that end, the former exile had taken him aside when they returned from Durotar, and suggested he voyage into the desert with her. Intrigued, he had taken flight and followed her first across the border into Nazmir, and then again through the passes into Vol’dun. It had not taken him long to realize what Valkia had meant, and their landing at the little hideaway against the eastern mountains had confirmed it.

“Da vulpera?” Zulimbasha could not keep a slight hint of skepticism out of his tone.

“Come now, death-priest,” Valkia chided him, grinning. “Of all people, surely ya remember dat death comes in many forms and sizes.” Then suddenly, her expression became serious. “Most of dem be peaceful-like, dat be true. But don’t ya be mistakin’ ‘peaceful’ for ‘pacifist’. Ya shoulda been out here whenever da Alliance came knockin’. Dey be vicious people in a fight. I learned ta respect dem durin’ da time I spent out here. Dere be one in particular, Nisha - absolutely ruthless in battle. And dere be others like her.”

“And ya have somebody in mind for me?” Ultimately, curiosity would win over skepticism.

Valkia nodded as she led him into the encampment. One of the vulpera caravan drivers stopping in looked up, and recognized her. “Ah, Valkia’jin! Good to see you. You’ve not been here for a while - we began to wonder if you were one of those killed by the sethrak… or the Alliance.” He looked her over. “You’re a lot better geared than you used to be. Did they let you back into your home?”

“Dey did indeed,” Valkia replied. “But ya help in my exile will not be forgotten, my friend.” She peered around the camp. “Where be ya shadow-blade?”

“Funny you should mention her… I’ve not seen her in a while either. She’s a lot like Nisha - not exactly one for resting until she’s had a sethrak under her blade. There are still enough slavers and such running around out there.”

“A lot fewer now.” They all turned at the sound of that voice. She was certainly shadowy enough, her worn leather outfit just as dark as her fur - where both weren’t stained with sethrak blood, at any rate. But it was the eyes that got Zulimbasha’s attention - ones that not only saw death, but sought it out, too.

He stared at her for a long moment, and then looked back at Valkia, who smiled knowingly. “Told ya I had a good idea,” she teased. Then she sobered again as she looked back to her vulpera acquaintances. “Ya once told me ya wanted ta test ya blades beyond da sands,” she said. “Ya still up for it?”

The bloodied vulpera looked up at her, and then at Zulimbasha, noting the skull mask and the soul energy. “Are you Death who lives in the swamp?”

He was surprised that a vulpera would know of Bwonsamdi. “No,” he said after a moment, before removing the mask to let her see his face. “But I do serve him.”

“Valkia’jin told me Death would come calling for me. Are you here to take me to him?”

Another glance at Valkia, who still had that damned grin of hers. “Not exactly,” he replied. “But… since ya seem ta know what it is I do, Valkia’jin believes ya can help me in bringin’ da dead home to da Other Side.”

The vulpera assassin’s head tilted. “I just kill sethrak, and anyone else who threatens my people,” she said, a hint of confusion laced with scorn in her tone. “How can I bring the dead to the Other Side? I’m no priest.”

Now it was Zulimbasha’s turn to grin. This one had spirit. “Just like ya been doin’ to da sethrak, and to anyone else who threatens ya people,” he said. “At de end of a blade.”

Tel’anor was quiet, as it often was these days, with the war over. Randarel walked amidst the silent dead, the only sound he could hear being the cold wind coming down from Highmountain and the rustling of leaves on the stone of the mausolea that dotted the mountainside.

He stopped first to pay homage to Menarian Talashar, his friend from Silvermoon, whom he had given a place among the ancient dead to honor his service to Suramar. And then he crossed the road to where his beloved wife lay. He always marveled at how the sculptor he had commissioned could bring such life to the cold stone, as the effigy that made up the lid of her sarcophagus showed her warm and friendly features, as if it were Elerina herself there and not an image of what she had been. The sculptor had included the scarf wrapped around her neck, done by Valya Tiren and the House Guard to hide the stitches that had reattached her head to her body.

Randarel always had that horrible flashback whenever he noticed that detail, watching that bloodthirsty wretch Relsyn take Elerina’s head from her shoulders in front of him, spending his exile withering away while his flesh and ragged robes were still covered in her blood…

“Why do you not know peace?”

He looked around, eyes wide in shock. He recognized the voice.

“Don’t worry, my love. You’re not going mad… and it’s not an Old God in your head, either.”

Randarel blinked as the effigy suddenly… vanished. He turned as he saw movement next to him… and there she was, as she had been before all hell had broken loose. Her dark hair spilled down to her shoulders, and her features were pale, delicate. The image of utter perfection, as far as he was concerned. “Elerina…?” He lifted a hand to her face, finger tracing the arcane lines etched into her cheeks. “It’s really you,” he breathed. “But… how?”

Elerina’s smile was sad, wistful. “I reached out to a friend of yours.” She glanced behind her.

Anger touched Randarel’s features as he saw another figure… and instantly recognized it as Zulimbasha, resplendent in all of his accoutrements of death. “What trickery is this?”

“Dis be entirely da doin’ of Lady Elerina,” Zulimbasha replied. “I simply gave her a little push in da right direction, nothin’ more.”

Elerina reached a hand to his face, turning it to face her. “Don’t blame Zulimbasha, my love. He recognizes my pain… and yours.”

“Pain?” Randarel felt a twinge in his chest as she said that - not for himself, but for her. “You suffer in death?”

“I do… but not because of any dark magic or spirit violation.” She smiled sadly at him, as she rested a hand on the diamond pendant he always wore. “I know no peace in death, Randarel, because you know no peace in life. Your mind is constantly fixed on how long you must continue to live without me, as if you are counting the days until you join me in death. I cannot bear to watch you suffer anymore.”

“Would you not, if our places were reversed? If you had watched me die, instead of…” Tears began to fall down his face as his voice broke. “I… I don’t want to lose you again.”

She embraced him, holding her head against his chest. “We both knew one day we would have to live without the other. It was as much the hand of fate as Relsyn’s blade that decided it would be you who would have to live without me.” She reached up and cupped his face in her hands. “I am not telling you to forget me, Randarel. I am telling you to live. Live for Azeroth, for Suramar, for our children. But more importantly… live for me.”

“Ya speak wisdom, Lady Elerina,” Zulimbasha added. “I see what it is dat drew him to ya.” He bowed his head to her, before looking to her husband. “Death be patient, Randarel,” he said sternly, using his name for the first time. “Ya do no good for yaself or for ya lady if you seek it out yaself. It be da nature of Bwonsamdi - he be comin’ for all in his own good time, but he will not be forced. Don’t be temptin’ fate by tryin’ ta force its hand.” His expression became more sympathetic. “I don’t pretend ta know ya pain. I do know dat everybody be dyin’… but not everybody be truly livin’. Life be as much a part of da cycle as death. Ya can’t have one without de other.” Zulimbasha smiled grimly. “And life still be havin’ work for people like us.”

Elerina smiled and nodded at the death-priest’s words. “I will wait for you as long as I need to, Randarel. But do not rush; do not forsake your life for me. Otherwise, it would all have been for nothing.”

Randarel felt such anguish in his soul as he had not felt since he had listened to Elisande pronounce sentence, and watched as Relsyn had carried Elerina’s sentence out. But at the same time… he realized she was right. It had been her memory that had sustained him when he had become Nightfallen, and it had been her memory that he had clung to, swearing that her name would be the last word he would speak before his mind was lost forever to the withering. Far more than his desire to free Suramar or defeat the Legion… it had been her memory that had spurred him on to survive, to go forward.

“I will not let it all be for nothing,” he whispered.

Elerina smiled at him –

– and then he woke up.

1 Like

Sir Galen Tavener stood on the shore of Bladefist Bay east of Orgrimmar, gazing out to sea, his mind where it had been since he had witnessed the mak’gora - wondering about the future.

He had what he hoped was a glimpse of a possible future at the gathering in Uldum the previous evening, the “Armistice Ball” celebrating the joining of forces to defeat Archimonde at Mount Hyjal all those years ago. He had not been there, of course - he had been with the other Forsaken back in Lordaeron, still adjusting to being free of the Scourge - but he had served in nearly every conflict ever since. He had killed quite a few Alliance like those present - warriors, assassins, sorcerers and the like. And most likely, they had killed plenty of people like him. The fact that the Alliance attendees had not shied away from him but in fact had spoken to him as an equal, even in spite of everything - in spite of what he was, both as a person and the kind of power he wielded - he took as an encouraging sign. If he could still weep, he mused, he probably would have.

But there was still a lot of work to be done. The Forsaken were leaderless for the first time. And, once again, so was the Horde. Rumors had been spreading before Saurfang’s body was cold, before the shock of Sylvanas’ departure had fully faded, of who the next Warchief would be. A number of people advocated Thrall’s return, but he had made it clear he would refuse. Some looked to Baine, others to Lor’themar. He had even heard the idea that the Horde should be led by the Zandalari, given that their empire had existed long before that of the elves, their ruler was a monarch, and they had probably suffered more than any other people in the Horde in the recent war. More even than the Forsaken, who were left as refugees in Orgrimmar. But the Forsaken’s suffering, so far as he was concerned, was more or less self-inflicted… brought on by their blind faith in the Banshee Queen.

Galen had had his doubts for years, ever since Arthas had been defeated. He had seen how Sylvanas had changed after his death, how she had brought the val’kyr to raise more corpses to serve. How she had unleashed the plague against Southshore and Gilneas, despite Garrosh’s ban on its use. It had been Teldrassil, the wholesale slaughter of unarmed civilians, that had made him truly question his Dark Lady’s motives. He had been sickened by the slaughter; killing someone who had a blade in their hand or a spell on their lips, seeking to fight you, that was one thing. What had happened at Teldrassil had not been war, but murder… something that the Scourge, or the Legion, would have done. But despite this, deep down, he had believed that she had always had the Forsaken’s best interests at heart. She had never cared about the Horde, even as its Warchief; he had known that well enough. But her own people…

The mak’gora had finally made him realize how wrong he was. She had not only abandoned the Horde that day; she had abandoned the Forsaken, too, because they did not see the world as she did, but instead tried to exist in it. Now they would have to exist in it without her, to redefine just what it meant to be Forsaken. To survive in this future, Galen believed, the Forsaken would have to choose their own destiny, not have it chosen for them - not by Sylvanas, the Lich King, the Horde, the Alliance, or anyone else… they would have to decide their future. The change would probably the most terrifying thing any of them had ever known.

But it would also be the most necessary.

Nestled in the western mountains of Kun-Lai, at the northern edge of Pandaria, is the monastery of the Shado-Pan. Just outside it is a lonely little graveyard, and it is here that Zhangren Puretide, Lorewalker of Pandaria, found himself.

The Order of the Broken Temple had more or less dispersed after Argus, with its members going back to the Alliance or the Horde to fight for their people. Or at least, so they said. Zhangren had found the entire conflict abhorrent; Teldrassil had set the tempo for the entire war. All the conflict had ultimately done was ruin the lands of four proud civilizations - not just the Kul Tirans and the Zandalari, but the night elves and the Forsaken as well - and further deepen the divisions between the Alliance and the Horde, even as they had stood together at the gates of Orgrimmar to end Sylvanas’ reign. As a historian, it was his duty to make sense of it all, so the story could be passed down to future generations. But he was not sure he could. He had worked as a healer during the conflict, and once it was done, he had gone home to Binan, his home village on the southern edge of Kun-Lai, and had remained there since. Then word had come down from the Golden Lotus that the work to heal the Vale was complete, and he was preparing to set out to offer his aid there.

But first, he had come to visit his family, in the mountains of the land he called home.

Leaning on his dragon-headed staff as he knelt in the snow, the Lorewalker left a wreath on a small burial plot, marked with two stones - one for his mother, Zia, killed by the yaungol during the attack on Binan years before, and the other for his brother, Zhaoren, who had fallen to the Legion during the attack on the Peak of Serenity. Zhangren and his father, Zhenren, had intended to be interred here as well - but fate had had other plans for the elder Puretide. He had been mortally wounded on Argus by the psychotic Alieth Taldir, a former Stormwind mage-turned-Forsaken warlock who had attempted to wield the power of the Corruptor - and her demise had brought about the orc warlock’s return. The old Shado-Pan had severed the braid of hair running down his back and given it to Lazhna Trueflight, the turtleborn huntress, to bring here to bury with his wife and eldest son - for he had gone to the Wandering Isle, where the monks of the Peak had fled to regroup after their monastery fell to the Legion. He had gone to rest in the Wood of Staves along with Liu Lang and other pandaren elders over the ages.

Now only Zhangren remained, to tell their stories. And once his story ended, it would be left to his brother Lorewalkers to tell it to others, for his line would end with him. And he did not mind that; he was among those who preferred to be “married to his work”. When not tending the wounded, he had spent much of his time among the tortollans, a people whose entire culture seemed to be centered around the profession that he had chosen: the preservation of knowledge through scrolls and stories. He had visited their encampments in Kul Tiras and Zandalar - though his voyages in the latter lands had been limited somewhat by the sudden hostile turn by the Horde, who had accused him of being an Alliance spy and sent a trio of Deathstalkers to murder him… a trio of Deathstalkers he had sent back to Orgrimmar in about twenty travel kegs. He was not a fighter by inclination, but he was not a pushover, either.

After several moments, he stood, leaning on his staff, and bowed deeply before the little burial plot, before calling upon his companion, Zhenzia, a child of the White Tiger he had named for his parents. Hauling himself into the saddle, he looked around for a moment longer, and then flew off, heading to the southeast, back to the entrance of the Vale. The snow began to fall not long afterward, and the wind began to pick up.

And two figures approached in the gale, in dark armor and hoods that obscured their features… all save for the glowing blue eyes within the darkness. “Yes,” one of them said. “This will be a strong one. His flesh will no doubt require mending after all this time, but… our lord’s power will be sufficient enough for that.”

The other sounded uncertain. “Are we sure we want to do this, brother? The Shado-Pan will not be pleased at this desecration.”

“We cannot concern ourselves with the moral trifles of the living. Too much is at stake.”

“But --”

“The Lich King has spoken, brother,” the first one said in irritation. “His will be done.”

Seated in a clearing near Azure Watch, Po’gaenus the Exalted meditated…

In his mind’s eye, he saw himself obscured by darkness, unable to see even his hand in front of his face. Then the light rose with a flash. Shielding his eyes, he waited until the blinding light dimmed… and once it did, he could see a verdant plain under a pale blue sky, the spires of a shining city rising above it…

The scene shifted, and he now stood in a star-lit wood, which reminded him of Shadowmoon Valley back on Draenor - before it had been corrupted by Gul’dan and his Shadow Council. Even as devoted to the Light as he was, he could feel the ancient power of nature here, etched into the trees - and into the inhabitants…

Again, the scene shifted, and now he found himself in a land of blight, dominated by fortresses of steel and bone, inhabited by creatures of death. He felt revulsion rise in his soul as he felt the dark power here - not evil in and of itself, but often put to evil ends by evil beings… and utterly anathema to the children of Light…

Once again, he was elsewhere, standing amidst a land of tall spires, inhabited by powerful beings bathed in their own pride. Before him stood a grand castle, topped by a great winged monstrosity…

And once more - in a deep, dark pit the color of blood, a great tower suspended within it… or perhaps hanging from it? He could not tell - it was dark, hard to make out any shapes. He was not standing on any solid ground that he could see. Then, all of a sudden, all around him, the fabric of reality itself began to crack, splinters flying in slow-motion around him, before the entire world shattered like glass…

Po’gaenus’ eyes opened wide as the vision cleared. These flashes had plagued him for days, showing him… something. It had begun simply with a cloth veil fraying from the center outward in a flash of light. He had come back to Azuremyst Isle, far from the hustle and bustle of the eastern cities, to try and clear his mind of distractions. The horrors of war still echoed out there across the Great Sea. Admittedly, he had not thought it would be any clearer here, so close to Teldrassil - and still recovering from the attack by Rakeesh and his forces during the Legion war. But something about this island lent itself to calm…

Yet what he had seen did not give him any greater clarity. If anything, he was even more puzzled. What did it all mean? Could it refer to what had occurred in Nazjatar, the release of the Old God beneath the depths? Was it connected to what had happened at Orgrimmar?

Or was it something else entirely?

Patience, he scolded himself. You’re acting like a novice anchorite back home. He stretched out his legs before standing, wincing as his knees popped. You are not as young as you used to be, he mused, a smile on his pale face.

Taking a deep breath, Po’gaenus began to walk back towards the settlement, and from there would turn west to walk back to the Exodar. And yet, despite the serenity he showed on the outside, inwardly his mind remained troubled by the strange visions…