Dancing by the Pale Moons' Light (SPOILERS)

The truth is stranger than my own worst dreams
Now the darkness got a hold on me…

Standing outside the tavern in Boralus Harbor, Lord Eldred Valmy read the letter with a curious mixture of curiosity and irritation. It was a brief message, written using a mechanical writing desk: “Come to Rustbolt - I have need of your services.” It was signed simply “Someone You May Remember”.

At first, he thought it may have been the Corruptor, but he knew that the orc would not contact him through these sort of channels - and the carrier had said the message had been brought by a courier mech-flyer from the place to where he was summoned. Eldred had not seen Mechagon, the mechagnomes’ capital beneath the island, but it was said to rival Gnomeregan in its size and complexity; some even compared it to the Ulduar complex in Northrend. As an engineer, Eldred found these places of great interest.

So, he set out for Mechagon Island, flying from Boralus to Arom’s Stand in Drustvar, and there across the channel to Overspark’s encampment. He walked the remainder of the way to Rustbolt, incinerating any mechanisms that attacked him along the way with a mere flick of his wrist. His powers had returned fully in the time since Daeron and the Corruptor had resurrected him in Nazjatar, using the broken corpse of the late unlamented Tavira Nightswan. Both Dark Iron and orc were members of the Council, which - even with the battle lines drawn as they were - remained working in the background…

He began to suspect that perhaps something similar inspired this summons. But why Mechagon? The mechagnomes didn’t have any aptitude for the dark arts… did they?

As he walked into town, one of the guards approached him, a pair of blades sheathed across her back. And even with her features mechanized - and now rusted somewhat from prolonged exposure to the elements - he recognized her instantly. “You,” he growled.

“So you do remember. I trust you put his archives to good use when you took over his fortress on Draenor.”

“Velenkayn had wanted to burn them. I had kept that from happening when he decided not to stay behind walls.” Eldred narrowed his eyes behind his goggles. “What do you want?”

“Word is, you’ve recently returned from the realm of the dead yourself, in whatever means you warlocks have to cheat death. I need you to do me a favor.”

“The answer is no. As you say, I’ve just returned myself, and I have no intention of being stuck like that again - and between Genevra, Ord’taeril Ketiron, and the Watch, there would be a number of people who would want my head if I brought that lunatic back.”

The mechagnome’s tone became icy. “Have a care, Lord Valmy. That ‘lunatic’ is the only family I had left after Gnomeregan, and while I certainly did not see eye to eye with him, I also did not particularly care for seeing him die at the hands of a long-eared prat like Taeril’hane Ketiron. It’s a pity others got to him before I could. I would have liked to have crushed his skull… especially since I got these.” She flexed her metal hands.

Something she said got Eldred’s attention. “He ‘is’ the only family… his spirit endured? I had thought Ketiron had destroyed his soulstone.”

“He did,” she admitted. “But I know his soul can be recalled. I don’t know how I know, but I know. I also know that magic in general is way beyond me. This kind, in particular.”

“Why me, then? You know I have returned to working with Genevra again. And you have no more love for her than you did for Ketiron; I remember that well enough.”

She paused for a moment, thinking, before she said, “There’s a rumor that High Tinker Mekkatorque is on his way here. Possibly here already. His personal assassin, Steelspark, has been seen loitering around Rustbolt.”

Eldred frowned, looking momentarily confused. “I thought Mekkatorque was dead, killed by the Horde at Dazar’alor… although I heard rumors in Boralus that he had survived in some kind of sealed pod. It was really unclear.”

“Well, if the rumors are true, it’s likely to be an overture - by Mekkatorque, or someone working in his name, like Steelspark - to bring us into the fold. A reunification of gnomanity under a single banner. It makes sense, I suppose. After all, we represent the future for our entire race, mecha or otherwise, and let’s be honest… us working with goblins?”

“Which means you would be brought into the Alliance. What does that have to do with why you came to me?”

“Because I have this feeling that despite whatever ‘patriotic fervor’ she’s gotten into during the recent war, Genevra is back to preaching peace and forgiveness for the Horde butchers. And I’m fairly sure you don’t buy it. You’re Gilnean.” Her previously cold demeanor was now one of anger. “I’ve heard they burned Teldrassil, and plague-bombed Tirisfal when it looked like the Alliance was about to take it. And they try to point at people like Baine, or Gazlowe, or Saurfang as being ‘good Horde’… where were they when this was done? Where were they when Sylvanas invaded your land and massacred your people? It wasn’t until they, personally, were under threat that they acted. It was the same against Garrosh.”

Eldred couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

“You’ll need someone like me when the time comes, Lord Valmy. And you’ll sure as hell need someone like him. People who understand what is to be done.”

“And what is to be done?”

She smiled, giving her face a horrible look. Eldred could not help but shudder. “You know full well. You just have to accept its necessity.”

He was silent for a long moment. On the one hand, Genevra had been his strongest patron, ever since he had taken over Shadowgarde’s archives. On the other hand… he had not agreed with the armistice at Orgrimmar, nor the honor done to Saurfang by the immature boy who was, for some reason, High King of the entire Alliance. He was certain Greymane would not accept a permanent peace treaty; he knew for a fact that Tyrande wouldn’t. And… this whole idea of “friends on the other side” bothered him. The Council was one thing; there, they were warlocks, not Alliance and Horde - and they were comrades, colleagues perhaps, but certainly not allies - but people like the AAMS, the Feathers, even Genevra, associating with Horde murderers like old friends…

He finally looked back to her. “What are you proposing, Captain Sputterspark?”

Marennia Sputterspark grinned.

1 Like

I’m just a man, but I know that I’m damned
All the dead seem to know where I am
The tale that began on the night of my birth
Will be done in a turn of the earth…

Sir Galen Tavener emerged from the death gate inside the halls of Acherus, the Ebon Hold, which remained off the coast of the Broken Shore. He had received a summons from a val’kyr messenger sent to the tavern in Dawn’s Blossom in Pandaria, where the AAMS had their lounge night - one of the few places he did not feel loathed in public. In Orgrimmar and Zuldazar, it felt like everyone stared at him with hatred. As a Forsaken, and as a death knight, he was used to hate… but it still bothered him.

He was greeted upon his arrival by Ublaz Deathspear, a hulking tauren knight who had been a druid in life and, like him, had been one of the original Knights of Acherus. Behind him, he could see new knights in trainee’s garb… and to his astonishment, he saw that there were peoples who had been joining either the Alliance or the Horde since the Legion war - Highmountain, Dark Iron, Zandalari, Kul Tiran… and he thought he even saw a pandaren or two. “What’s happened?” he asked without preamble.

“Well met to you too, brother,” Ublaz replied in his rumbling voice, fist clenched to his chest in salute. “The word has been going out for some time now, ever since Orgrimmar. The Lich King has issued commands to the Horsemen, and from them to us… he’s sent us on a recruiting drive.”

Galen’s eyes went wide with horror. “Now? With the world up in arms about Sylvanas, wondering what she’s up to next?”

“Some suspect that Sylvanas is the reason for this. The genesis of our Order has always been those of us raised in Acherus, with a few… special resurrections later on.” The tauren nodded at the scythe across Galen’s back. “Like the wielder of that weapon. But events have accelerated since Sylvanas was deposed; the Lich King needs champions for what comes next. What that is, only he knows… but the recruiting drives began virtually the moment the word of Sylvanas’ flight spread.”

“Stop calling them ‘recruiting drives’, Ublaz… this is not like a draft call for the army. Call them what they are. Resurrections. Defilements. Desecrations. Things that we chose to endure, so that others did not have to. And now… we are forcing it on others? This is insanity.”

“This is necessity, Galen. We do not have time for sentimentality anymore. The Lich King has spoken.”

Galen shook his head. “I was not particularly thrilled with the idea of working for him again, even if it is someone else on the throne this time, and even if there was a greater enemy. But what Bolvar is --”

“Do not speak his name,” Ublaz snapped. “He is the Lich King. He has given the command, and we obey. You want to be a pariah like Aximand? Keep talking.”

Galen glared at him, fingers itching to reach for his weapon and cut the tauren’s horned head off in a swipe. “You never struck me as a Scourge zealot, Ublaz. What changed?”

“Nothing has changed. Look at the world, Galen - Alliance, Horde… fighting for scraps while the world dies around them. They cling to their petty divisions. Under the Lich King, there would be no division. We would all be united in the cause of fighting evil. Arthas had the right idea but the wrong way of going about it. His royal ego corrupted him long before he put the crown on his head. But this time, the heart of our Lich King still beats - his soul is still his own. This time, it will be different.”

Galen was aghast. “You preach about fighting evil while advocating we become what we fight?! You fool! What good can come if the entire population of the world is undead? Do we just shamble around, tipping our hats going ‘how’s your day’ like nothing has happened?” He shook his head. “I would not wish this fate on anyone.”

“It is not your decision, Galen. The Lich King has spoken. You are either with him, or against him.”

This, Galen suddenly realized, was why Eliphas had abandoned them during the Legion war. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” the admiral had said when he left. At the time, Galen had not thought so, even when Mograine and the Horsemen had tried to raise Tirion Fordring. But the resurrections had been on a small scale during the Legion conflict. This… this was like the Scarlet Enclave all over again. And perhaps, for a similar purpose.

He was against this. He was most certainly against this. But at the same time, Ublaz was right about the state of the world. Galen understood the continued divisions, and knew they were justified… but at the same time, he was tired of having to fight in wars between the Horde and the Alliance while there were greater enemies to fight. The last of the Old Gods was out there somewhere, having risen from Nazjatar… and then there was Sylvanas, and whatever strange new power she had at her disposal. Enough to rattle even the Lich King, apparently.

“I will not do any raising myself,” he said finally. “If this is going to happen, I will not be the one doing it.”

“No one is asking you to,” the tauren replied evenly. “You’ve been asked to help teach the new blood.” He nodded at the milling group behind him, many of them looking confused and scared. Unlike the original knights, whose wills had been bound to the Lich King, these new “recruits” had the same power and abilities… but their minds and souls were still their own.

As they watched, one of the new knights - a Zandalari - ran towards the balcony looking out across the Broken Shore and leapt from it, screaming in Zandali for Bwonsamdi to take him, because he did not want to be like this.

Galen sighed, shaking his head. “I see my work will be cut out for me.”

Run for the hills, pick up your feet and let’s go
We did our jobs, pick up speed, now let’s move
The trees can’t grow without the sun in their eyes
And we can’t live if we’re too afraid to die…

Zulimbasha the Collector, high priest of Bwonsamdi, sat cross-legged in the courtyard of the Necropolis in Nazmir, waiting. He had been sitting much like this since he had returned from Vol’dun the previous day. The ritual circle was drawn, the offerings ready. All that awaited was the supplicant.

He could sense the approaching wagon before he could hear its wheels clattering on the stones above. The animals pulling it sounded nervous. He didn’t blame them. Close proximity to the temple of Death did not tend to go well with most living folk. He remained seated, silent, as he listened to the sound of feet stepping from the wagon - two sets of them. One had a heavier sound as it touched the stone, its chainmail vestments rustling. The other was smaller, with softer footfalls. The larger one did not move - he presumed it stood by the wagon - but the smaller figure continued forward.

Finally, Zulimbasha spoke. “Who enters de temple of de great Bwonsamdi, Loa of de dead and supreme lord of Zandalar?”

The voice that replied was small, higher pitched than his, yet with a somber tone. “I am Vilaya, child of the desert sands, and I have come to make a deal with Death.” She was a vulpera, with dark blue-gray fur and pale blue eyes; part of her right ear was missing, lost to a sethrak slaver she had then proceeded to eviscerate.

Zulimbasha rose, his bone-staff glowing with ethereal energies. His face, hidden behind his gilded orc-skull mask, gazed down at her. “You understand de bargain, Vilaya, child of de desert sands? Be ya willin’ ta pledge blades, body, and soul ta Bwonsamdi, ta deliver da souls of all ya slay ta him, and to give your own freely ta him upon your death?”

He noted a glimmer of fear in Vilaya’s eyes. Again, not entirely unexpected. Nonetheless, she did not hesitate. “I am,” she replied calmly.

“Step into da circle, Vilaya.” As the vulpera stepped forward, Zulimbasha reached into a pouch at his belt and clenched his fist around a handful of dust. The darkened eye-sockets of his mask glowed with the same ethereal glow as his staff as he scattered the dust around the ritual circle with practiced skill. Around the priest and the supplicant, the world darkened. “Great Bwonsamdi, your faithful priest humbly seeks an audience.”

An echoing, amused voice pierced the gloom… as did a pair of glowing eyes from a skull-like face. The figure of Death loomed above them. So… ya be bringin’ a new soul for ol’ Bwonsamdi? A chuckle of malicious mirth. A rather small one, at dat.

“In a manner of speakin’, great one,” Zulimbasha replied. “I have been guided to dis vulpera by --”

Valkia’jin, yes, I be aware. Hmm, dat one be makin’ her way ta me soon enough… so, ya be offerin’ dis little t’ing as sacrifice?

Zulimbasha knew that his patron already knew his purpose; this was more for Vilaya’s benefit than his own. He hoped. “No, great one. I be offerin’ her ta your service. She be offerin’ her blades ta aid me in life, ta seek souls for de Other Side… and in death, she be makin’ dat journey herself, as I will when da time comes.”

Ahhh… ya be findin’ a helper as part of ya bargain wit’ me? She does know dat ya be bound ta collect souls for me for eternity, right? And dat if she agrees to dis bargain, she be bound too?

“She does, great one.”

The unearthly gaze lowered, gazing at Vilaya intently. Ya be sure of dat, little vulpera? Dere be no backin’ out once dis bargain be struck! If ya choose ta serve me… ya serve forever.

To her credit, Vilaya did not hesitate. “I seek to bring death to the enemies of my people, and the enemies of those who are friends of my people. If that means binding to you, then I will give you what you want. Their souls… or mine.”

Laughter echoed in the darkness. I see why ya be so drawn to dis one, priest. She be a fiery one, no mistakin’. A bony hand reached out, low enough so that the vulpera could reach. We got a deal…

Zulimbasha knelt and took Vilaya’s hand with his own before clasping them together with the outstretched claw. The chill of death wrapped itself around them, but they did not flinch. When it was done, the darkness had lifted.

Bwonsamdi was gone, returned to the Other Side, where he would await the souls they had promised him… and eventually, their own.

The glow faded from the eyes of Zulimbasha’s mask as he looked down at Vilaya. He unsheathed a pair of daggers that glowed with the same ethereal energy as his staff, and handed them to her, hilts first. “Da bargain be made,” he said. “You will be my hand, ta seek Death for all who stand before ya… and ta embrace Death, when he calls for ya.”

Vilaya gave a slight bow of her head to him. “I accept this charge gladly, Master Zulimbasha.”

“Excellent.” He looked up at the larger figure he’d heard - a Zandalari in witch doctor’s vestments - standing by the wagon. He also noticed another vulpera sitting up front, holding the reins, and recognized him as the caravan leader Vilaya had worked for. “Valkia, I understand an agreement be made between da Horde and da vulpera?”

“Da word arrived two days ago,” Valkia confirmed. “Da vulpera be allies of da Horde now.”

“Good. If ya could, please escort ya friend here back ta Vol’dun.” He inclined his head to the other vulpera. “With our thanks, friend. We be keepin’ an eye out for ya - as will our Horde friends.”

The caravan leader nodded, and gently eased his alpacas into motion, turning the wagon around to make the journey back to Vol’dun. As the sound of wheels faded, Vilaya looked up at Zulimbasha curiously. “Where do we begin?”

“First, we go to Zuldazar,” he replied. He sounded mildly amused. “Have ya ever been on a ship before?”

Another nightmare about to come true
Will manifest tomorrow
Another love that I’ve taken from you
Lost in time, on the edge of suffering
Another taste of the evil I breed
Will level you completely
Bring to life everything that you fear
Live in the dark, and the world is threatening…

Having “left like a bat out of hell”, as some might put it, the Iron Shrike was sailing to the southwest from Stormwind Harbor. Her destination: Pandaria.

Captain Mersadie Kittridge stepped down three flights of stairs from the helm and then down into the hull. Typically for a Kul Tiran battleship, the Iron Shrike had 26 guns on two decks - 18 on the upper gun deck (eight port, eight starboard, and two aft), and eight (four each port and starboard) on the lower gun deck.

The upper gun deck was probably the largest interior space on the ship, and it was in a corner of that room that Admiral Eliphas Aximand, commander of the Frostblade Flotilla, was going through weapon drills. Kittridge was surprised to notice that he had given up his typical paired blades for a much larger weapon, a battleaxe that seemed to be enchanted with the chill of the depths.

Aximand noticed her scrutiny and halted, looking over at her. “Have we arrived?”

“Not yet, Admiral. But if my memory’s right, we’re close.” She looked unusually agitated - well, she always seemed agitated to him. She had been wary of him since the whole business in Durotar, particularly disturbed by his eagerness to work with members of the Horde. While he condemned the Horde as an institution, he was willing to make individual exceptions. She was not. She had protested a number of times, but was willing to follow his lead.

But now, she looked like she was trying her damnedest not to come at him and pound him into the deck. He felt a sudden wave of annoyance rise in him as he snapped, “Whatever you have on your chest, Mersadie, get it off now. I’m tired of this walking-on-eggshells nonsense.”

“Alright then, I will. Does this mystery voyage involve them?”

He knew precisely what she meant by “them”, but said only, “Involve who?”

“Don’t you bloody dare.” The veteran sailor raised a finger warningly at him. “You may be able to play stupid with your other pals, Eliphas, but don’t think you can try that bilge with me. Is this another ‘collaboration’ with your Horde pals? Because if it is, then we’re turnin’ around and going back to Stormwind, and you can stay there for all I care. I am not gettin’ my crew killed just so you can make nice with a bunch of butchers.”

Aximand’s eyes narrowed. “This again. In case you hadn’t noticed, the war is over.”

“The hell it is!” she shouted angrily. The crew working the guns suddenly had other things to do. “You bloody mainland kingdoms have been lettin’ the Horde get off the hook for everything for the past thirty years, and I for one am sick of it! How many more people do they need to kill before we stop making nice with them just because ‘the future of the world’s at stake’?! We don’t need them to protect Azeroth. Hell, if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t need to protect Azeroth - she would be fine! We all would!”

“So all of a sudden you’ve gone from ship captain to farseer, eh? You think everything would be just fine except for that pesky Horde, oh no!” Aximand’s voice dripped sarcasm. “You Kul Tirans aren’t the only people who suffered, Mersadie. For every Crestfall and Brennadam you can remember, I can recall a Hillsbrad, a Blackwood. Yet at the same time, I’m perfectly capable of painting with a smaller brush, instead of coating the whole lot.” He snorted in derision. “Your mind is so small, Mersadie, it’s a wonder they let someone like you command a dinghy, much less a battleship.”

“You sanctimonious bastard!” Enraged, Kittridge grabbed a boarding pike from the nearby armory wall. “Corpse-loving traitor! I’ll --” The deck suddenly shook violently, throwing both of them off their feet. As they picked themselves up, they shook their heads, as if they were waking up from a nap… and glanced at their weapons… and then looked at one another in horror, wondering what the hell had just happened that they were about to attack one another.

Without another word, both walked up onto the deck. Both admiral and captain stared in wide-eyed horror as a massive tentacle rose from the depths - larger on its own than the entirety of the largest kraken that either of them had ever seen.

With one voice, both of them screamed, “HARD TO STARBOARD!!!”

Feeling safe enough to abandon the void
Ban the zero, ban the noise
Quiet sounds picked up and dissected
All faint shadows reflected…

Zhangren Puretide felt his knees weaken as he heard what the Shado-Pan sage said to him; at his side, his pupil, Ord’taeril Ketiron, gently pushed him to sit on the snowy ground before he collapsed in shock. The Lorewalker’s face was awash in a mixture of emotions - fear, anguish, and one that Ord’taeril had never thought he would see him show, ever: rage. Trying to keep his voice from shaking, he asked quietly, “Who did this?”

“We don’t know, Lorewalker. But it’s not the only case, either. Bodies of those killed in recent mantid attacks have not arrived at the villages for burial.”

Ord’taeril’s void-tinted eyes narrowed. “Forsaken loyalists?”

The Omnia sage shook her head. “We don’t know that for certain. But we don’t think so. Our understanding is that the Banshee Queen’s loyalists are disorganized, scattered. Whatever this is, it is a coordinated effort - and it is happening all over Pandaria. I think we must look to another defiler who has some use for our dead.” She bowed her head. “If… it is any consolation to you, Lorewalker Puretide, the grave of your mother was not disturbed at all. She rests still in the earth.”

“Some good news, at least.” Zhangren sighed as he rose with Ord’taeril’s aid, suddenly feeling nearly as old as his father had been when… he dismissed that thought, and bowed his head to the sage. “Thank you.”

The Omnia sage returned the gesture, and made her way back into the monastery. As they walked some distance away from the entrance, the Lorewalker looked pensive. “I wonder if the Ebon Blade has anything to do with this. You and I both know they are capable of raising slain warriors to augment their ranks.”

“It’s possible,” Ord’taeril replied, remembering something. “What that sage said… there are rumors this is going around in Kul Tiras, too, the bodies of war dead being stolen from graves or not reaching the burial grounds. If it is the Ebon Blade, the scale seems to indicate they’re up to something big.”

“And they seem to be bold enough to risk the wrath of the Shado-Pan by desecrating their dead,” Zhangren agreed. The anger was back again, which made Ord’taeril glance at him uneasily. He stopped and took a deep breath before he put a hand on the void elf’s arm. “I’m sorry. It’s just…” He sighed. “My own brother. I had thought losing him was bad enough, but this… to see his rest disturbed for some nefarious purpose?”

Ord’taeril made to answer when he screamed in agony, his hands clutching the sides of his head as he sank into the snow. The Lorewalker knelt next to him, holding him up, applying his Mistwalker healing technique. “Ord’taeril, what is it?”

“The… dark…!” The void elf pointed a shaking hand to the southeast, in the direction of the Gate of the August Celestials. Zhangren looked over in that direction… and his eyes went wide in horror.

“Ancients preserve us,” he whispered.

Lines join in faint discord
And the stormwatch brews
A concert of kings
As the white sea snaps
At the heels of a soft prayer

“The rumors are true, then, Inquisitor?”

“I’m afraid so, sir. Someone is desecrating our dead, and we hadn’t a damned clue who or what was doing it.” Inquisitor Gabriel Underwood sipped from his teacup with a sigh. They were meeting at the tavern in Arom’s Stand, in the mountains of Drustvar - home to the Order of Embers. “However, something I saw in Boralus not too long ago confirmed what you’re saying. Or rather… someone.”

“There are Kul Tiran death knights?”

Gabriel nodded. “We’d thought it was banshee work, too, given her track record. But from what I heard about how she fled, I think as you do - they’re not organized enough.” He had “missed out” - by choice - on the final showdown outside Orgrimmar, refusing to accept an armistice with the Horde, or to help any of its members for any reason. His refusal stood to this day. “It’s possible that they’re Kul Tiran marines killed by the Scourge during the Third War - we did have a number of troops in Lordaeron at the time - but I doubt it. The fresh grave robberies here, and what you’ve told me about Pandaria… it fits. They’re raising new ones. What I can’t for the life of me figure out is why.” His jaw tightened. “Not that it particularly matters. This sacrilege needs to stop. Now.”

“I agree,” Ord’taeril said quietly. “On that topic, have you heard any word from the Iron Shrike? Admiral Aximand and Captain Kittridge were supposed to meet us several days ago, but they never showed; all we found was a dinghy with the flag of the admiral’s flotilla. I had thought they might have run into trouble and gone back to Stormwind, but those few I know there have not seen them. Neither have the guards in Stormwind Harbor.”

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. “You think Aximand is involved?” He had always been wary of the admiral because of his undeath, and because he cultivated friendships with servants of the Horde - once again, people who sat and did nothing until they were directly under threat.

Ord’taeril shook his head. “Not personally, no. He’s known to have broken ties to the Ebon Blade during the Legion war because they went back to the Scourge. But as one raised in death himself, he might know something… or someone.”

“I can put in a word with friends in Boralus, see if they can check with old Cyrus…” The portly inquisitor’s eyebrow rose. “When the chips are down, he’ll go to his dead pals, you reckon?”

Ord’taeril repressed a smile, as he had used the “chips are down” phrase himself to describe it to Genevra in Stormwind two days ago. “Nothing is impossible, but personally, I am inclined to think so. The Ebon Blade has dispensed with the moral questions before.” His tone was bitter at that last.

Gabriel noticed it… and then he remembered. “Your father.”

Ord’taeril nodded. “I could do nothing at the time… I was only a small child then, before getting lost in the Nether with Gehn and the Army for a hundred years. Which, given how time moves in the Nether, was only a few months here on Azeroth. When we fled, it was just before he was killed. And when we returned…” He sighed. “I dislike the idea of violating someone’s body in death. I dislike it even less when they’re not given a choice.”

“A bit of personal experience on that count too, hm?” Gabriel could not help but insert a bit of wariness in his tone.

Ord’taeril didn’t miss it, either. “I know you think dark magic is dark magic, but the darkness within me only goes so deep.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” The inquisitor shook his head. “In all honesty… the Alliance is a far cry from Daelin’s time, when our leaders were adults instead of sentimental children. Now, including the Gilnean worgen, and even you void elves, that’s one thing. But… undead plague-mongers and demon-worshippers? Allowed to roam in the open? Here in Kul Tiras, the only places we have for such creatures are hanging from the gallows and burning at the stake.”

Which says more about Kul Tiras than it does the people you’re describing, you blinkered fool, Ord’taeril thought, but wisely chose not to say aloud. For all that he had his reasons to be wary of both groups, he was not inclined to extremism. Aloud, he said only, “I’ll take your word for it.”

I crossed the green mountain
I slept by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I dreamt a monstrous dream
Something came up
Out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free…

Marennia Sputterspark gazed at the land going by as the living vessel made its way along the frozen southern coast. Unwilling to be anywhere near Stormwind for too long, she had boarded the icebreaker Kraken and set out for Northrend, following the path taken years ago by her elder brother, the late Professor Rakeri Sputterspark.

She had prepared for the trip ever since arriving from Mechagon, beginning with having her personal deposit box in the Vault of Ironforge moved to the bank in the Dwarven District. The vault had contained a pair of wondrous blades that had come from the halls of Ulduar, offered to her by Rakeri years ago as a “peace offering”. Given what had come between them, Marennia had refused to use them at first, but had also not wanted to melt them down, either; they were relics of the Makers, and she had no right to do so. But now, after years spent blaming everyone for his death - Ketiron and his guards, Genevra and her Conclave, Orwyn and the Watch - she swore she would take up the weapons he had given her, and use them against the enemies of her people… including those that her people did not consider enemies. At least, not yet.

In the back of her mind, she continued to plot her vengeance - starting with Genevra and her Conclave. Having re-examined and dismissed her prior… devotion, for lack of a better word, Marennia wondered if Genevra simply spouted these platitudes about the Light at her sermons, or if she was delusional enough to actually believe in them. Marennia knew that Englebert had already spoiled part of the surprise, by revealing that he had seen her in Rustbolt during the campaign against King Mechagon - so while Genevra might have been surprised to see her at the sermon, the human was not surprised to actually see her. After all, Marennia had only been missing, not confirmed dead.

Rakeri, however, was confirmed dead, his soulstone destroyed. That meant that he could not possibly return…

Or so they thought.

Marennia had told the warlock that she knew that Rakeri’s soul still lingered, but she had told him that she didn’t know how she knew. It was a lie. She knew full well. After his experiences with Saavedro, having been “repaired” by his clumsy human hands and put to work as a menial clockwork servant (the paladin’s excuse had been that he hadn’t known, given that he had found the broken mechagnome in the Storm Peaks, nowhere near Fizzcrank Station), she knew that not even death could force Rakeri to do anything he did not wish to do.

One might say that his malevolent influence had finally corrupted her. Even Marennia herself was not entirely sure. But as much as she believed him mad, as she feared that in the end he would be a lost cause, nothing changed the fact that Rakeri had been her brother, the only family she had left. They had survived two irradiations of Gnomeregan and all the wars that the Alliance sent gnomes to die in… only for Rakeri to be killed by an uppity elf. Yes, Rakeri had killed Ketiron’s wife, but she was just an elf. There were lots of elves. Marennia only had one brother.

And soon… she would have one again.

While Valmy handled the magical details, Marennia looked to the practical ones. He would need a host, and she believed the Steelarm pillagers that rooted around the scraps outside Rustbolt would provide an ideal one. No one would miss them, after all. She knew that it would also have to take place somewhere far from Stormwind to avoid suspicion.

Immediately, as the turtle-boat pulled into Moa’ki Harbor, the idea came to her. Just across the river to the east was the Grizzly Hills. Rakeri had used Grizzlemaw, the broken stump of the World Tree Vordrassil, as an altar to resurrect Sekhesmet… using Saavedro as a blood sacrifice. The lingering presence of Yogg-Saron in the ancient wood had begun to consume Sekhesmet - and it had thoroughly taken hold in Saavedro, who had redubbed himself “Shankolin” when his spirit, now blackened with hate and vengeance, emerged from being trapped in Sekhesmet’s subconscious, becoming a monster worthy of the Banshee Queen and her Horde.

Perhaps humans were suseptible to such things, but gnomes were made of sterner stuff…

Farewell to old Kul Tiras, the seabound coast
Let your mountains dark and dreary be
For when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed,
Will you ever heave a sigh or a wish for me?

Mersadie Kittridge awoke, feeling like she’d drank the ship’s entire rum store… and then the last thing she remembered came up to her mind, and she made to rise. As she did, her head swam, and she felt about ready to throw up. As her stomach heaved, she dimly realized there was a man here holding the bucket, and she was grateful for it - at least she didn’t puke all over the deck.

“Easy there, Captain. You took a nasty hit.” It was her first mate, Ian Blanky, dependable as ever. He held out a canteen of water for her.

She swished a little and spit it into the bucket to get the acidic taste out of her mouth, and was surprised when she found the water was fresh. “Are we wrecked?” she croaked.

“No, ma’am. We’re just run aground on a small island - place is called Zouchin Province, on the north coast of Kun-Lai in Pandaria. The natives of the nearby village are helpin’ us try and get her afloat again without breaking anything. This ship’s hull is… well, beggin’ the captain’s pardon, it’s a lot thicker than your skull, ma’am.”

Kittridge chuckled. “Your pardon is granted, Mr. Blanky.” Her expression sobered. “The admiral?”

“Helping the crews dig us out. They make them death knights tough.” Blanky looked at her grimly. “What the hell got into you two, Sadie? I know you don’t agree with his friends, but I have never heard the two of you come to blows, ever. And you were damn well about to before that damn tentacle nearly sent us all to Neptulon’s locker.”

Kittridge sighed. That part she remembered, too. “It’s hard to explain, Ian… but I think that tentacle had something to do with it. The Old God released from Nazjatar. I think that’s part of the reason he brought us here, too… perhaps he’s heard something about it surfacing out here, for whatever reason.” She looked up as one of the crew came running in. “What is it?”

“Cap’n, there’s some pandaren feller outside wantin’ to parley. Says he’s a… Lorewalker?”

With Blanky’s aid - and with some relief that her head didn’t hurt nearly so much now - Kittridge made her way out of her cabin and onto the deck. There, she spotted the Lorewalker, a stern-looking fellow holding a staff that looked to have a dragon upon its head. “You are the captain?”

“Aye, that I am. Mersadie Kittridge, captain of the Iron Shrike.”

“Ah, good, so I have the right ship. My name is Zhangren Puretide. I require a word with you, Captain - and with Admiral Aximand, if he is about.” He paused for a moment. “I believe the proper question would be, ‘Permission to come aboard’?”

“The proper question indeed, sir, and permission is granted. Mr. Blanky, ask the admiral to join us, if you would.”

“Aye, Captain.” Blanky peered over the starboard railing and spoke somewhat indistinctly. A moment later, Aximand climbed the deck, bare from the waist up, his sickly-colored skin covered in a patchwork of scars. Kittridge couldn’t help but stare; she had never seen him outside of his armor before.

As Zhangren leapt aboard nimbly - surprisingly so for one of such girth - he inclined his head respectfully to the captain, and then glanced at Aximand. Kittridge couldn’t be sure, but it looked to her like there was a flash of anger in the Lorewalker’s eyes as he took in the sight of the death knight. “I have been expecting you, Admiral,” he said in a surprisingly cold tone. “You have some explaining to do.”

I have seen what the darkness does
Say goodbye to who I was
I have never been away so long
Don’t look back, them days are gone…

Urgan of the Black Harvest, better known to his foes as the Corruptor, stared in utter shock as he took in the sights of the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. He could hear his old enemy’s voice clearly, as if he were still there to speak.

N’Zoth will ascend, the Black Empire will be reborn… and Sylvanas is the harbinger of the end. The end of the Horde… the Alliance… THE END OF AZEROTH.

He had dismissed it at the time as the pathetic human’s utter insanity. Saavedro’s spirit had been broken - by Sekhesmet’s dark magic, by Rakeri murdering him to bring the priest back, to being trapped in his own flesh while Sekhesmet had walked within it, to all that he had done for Sylvanas and her dreams for the future… a dream that did not involve the Horde. He had truly become “Shankolin”, truly Forsaken… but now, seeing this for himself, the Corruptor began to wonder if he had been right after all.

It was not nearly to the size and scale that Saavedro had claimed he had seen, but… everywhere he looked, Urgan saw obelisks, dark runes, tentacles, growths… everything he saw spoke of malice, of entropy. What he saw suddenly made him glad he had delivered Saavedro to that backstabbing Zandalari priest. If he had lived long enough for this, his powers would likely have increased a thousandfold. That thought was too terrifying for even the Corruptor to contemplate.

Urgan was under no illusions. The Modas was but a shell of its former self; its numbers and resources were small, and the motivations of those that remained even smaller. It still had a reputation of hate and fear in the ranks of the Horde, but reputation could only take you so far. Something had to be done.

And though he would never admit it to another living soul, Urgan had no idea what to do… or even how to do it. And that idea was equally terrifying.

He had never been in a position like this. He’d had students, even followers, before, but nothing like this. He had been in the Shadow Council of old, yes… but as a minor acolyte, not even part of any of its higher circles. His powers had only grown to mastery since the establishment of Durotar, and most of that had been done in secret. And then the damned paladins had killed him in Northrend, and he had spent years trapped in that soulstone, setting him back further. His experience had been welcomed by the Council of the Black Harvest, yes, but here again he was but one of many, not a member of its leadership cadre.

Of course, he could tell no one of this. Admit to weakness? That would be as good as putting a blade through his heart himself. He could not allow himself to be seen as weak… but what to do?

A rumble of thunder was all that answered him.

Dead I am the dog, hound of hell you cry
Devil on your back, I can never die…

Eldred dismounted from his steed, accompanied by his acolyte, the Dark Iron pyromancer Daeron Soulscorcher, who had aided in his own resurrection. A moment later, Marennia arrived, hurling her bound captive to the floor. He began to beg. “Please, I’ve got good stuff, I can pay you! You don’t need to --”

“Shut up!” she hissed, backhanding him across the face with her metal hand. “Filthy garbage peddler.”

Eldred couldn’t help but think of the old saying about pots and kettles, but kept his counsel. Aloud, however, he did say, “Let’s not damage the host any further than we need to, Captain.” He knew far more than Marennia let on about how she knew her brother’s soul lingered. It also explained why she had turned nearly as homicidally insane as he had been. If he had to guess, she probably at least suspected the truth, if she didn’t know for certain. But with gnomes, who could tell.

Marennia’s original plan, much as it had been Rakeri’s to resurrect Sekhesmet, was to use Grizzlemaw as the altar. He had argued against that vehemently, particularly given what he had seen and heard from the Vale and Uldum; even a dead Old God’s influence had been enough to completely corrupt Sekhesmet, and he was not about to repeat that. Especially not now. She didn’t seem to have the same fear he did, believing that no gnome would be as “corruptible” as a mere human. But he was adamant: He would not do it there, and if she had a problem with that, she could find another warlock. She took the hint.

His suggested place appealed to her, though - both as something of an ironic statement, given what he was about to become… and the fact that it had been here, years ago, that he had begun his previous journey into mechanization. And so, they were assembled in the Temple of Invention, high in the Storm Peaks.

Eldred had set aside his Gilnean finery for a high-collared robe, fur-lined to protect from the bitter chill. A ritual dagger hung at his belt next to his toolkit, and his grimoire hung at his belt. Noticing that the entire top of the captured mechagnome’s head was metal-plated, he frowned. He would just have to draw the rune in blood rather than carve it directly into the flesh of the forehead…

Which brought him to a particularly unpleasant part of this task, far earlier than he had hoped for. “Daeron.”


Eldred pulled the knife from his belt. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. In a flash, he rammed the blade through Daeron’s heart, killing the loyal acolyte instantly. As the fire dimmed in the Dark Iron’s eyes, Eldred pulled the very life essence from his body before wrenching the blade free from his chest. Ignoring the sound of the body collapsing to the floor, he used the bloody tip to draw the rune onto the trembling mechagnome’s metal forehead.

Then he turned to Marennia. “Now for you.”

“If you think you’re gonna sacrifice me, pal, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“I’m not,” Eldred replied, though his tone implied that he wanted to. “But you said that you knew Rakeri’s spirit had not been lost, that you knew where it was. Because you were carrying it around in your head the whole time. He latched onto you when Ketiron killed him. That’s how you know.”

Marennia’s entire attitude changed from hostility to surprise. “How did you know? I only just figured it out myself…”

“I’m an expert in this sort of thing, my dear. It’s what I do. Now hold still.” He knelt next to her and carefully carved a different rune with the tip of his blade into the flesh of her forehead. To her credit, she did not flinch. The mechanization process, he’d learned from those who lived in Mechagon, was quite painful, so this was probably nothing in comparison. But what would come next… “Now, lay down, next to our host.”

The other mechagnome was gibbering with terror as Marennia calmly took her place next to him. Resting his hand over her face, Eldred began to speak in Eredun, then placed his hand carefully (so as not to smear the blood) on the other mechagnome’s forehead. The life essence he had taken from Daeron would sustain both Marennia and the host body without drawing from his own strength. This was the regrettable part of the transfer… the host body had to live, and the whole thing would be pointless if he killed Marennia, only to be killed by Rakeri once it was all said and done. If he was going to do this, he needed a sacrifice.

In the back of his mind, he kept thinking about how Genevra would react when she found out about this, but as the words of dark power came from his mouth, two stronger thoughts came to the forefront: This is necessary. We need people who recognize the Horde for what it is, and who are ruthless enough to do what is necessary. The other thought was rather biting, as his voice began to rise… and the stone around him began to tremble.

It’s too late for second thoughts.

The captive Steelarm screamed as his soul was pulled out of his body. So did Marennia, as her “passenger” was pulled out of her body. The next thing Eldred knew, he was flying across the temple, only his claws grabbing hard onto the edge keeping him from plummeting to his death in the valley below.

Pulling himself back onto the flat floor, Eldred walked over to the ritual circle. Did it work? Marennia was motionless - he couldn’t tell if she was awake or not, as her eyes were cybernetic - but alive.

The other mechagnome stirred, shaking his head to clear it… and then looked at his hands. “What the…?” He glanced at Marennia, who was slowly coming back to consciousness as well. When she looked up at him, he made a slight tsk-ing sound. “Pincers, dear sister?” he asked sarcastically.

Marennia’s mouth hung open. “Rakeri…?”

“You were expecting someone else?” Rising to his feet, Professor Rakeri Sputterspark - looking no worse for wear, given the ordeal it took to get here - looked up at the approaching warlock. “Ahh… Lord Valmy. You have my appreciation.” His tone took on a hint of malice. “And you also have a couple of things that belong to me.” With two swift movements of his pincer-like hands, he snipped the chain holding the grimoire to Eldred’s belt, taking it up with one hand. “Claiming mastery using power that’s not yours?” He picked up Eldred’s discarded staff - a potent coil-like device, charged with felfire. “Taking credit for other people’s schematics?” With a flash, he smacked the worgen in the knees with the staff, causing him to collapse to the ground. “All that power you use… you took from me. And I would like it back now.”

“You… ungrateful little… all this effort and risk, and you repay me by killing me?!”

Rakeri laughed. “I’m not going to kill you, you stupid mutt. That would put a wrench into the works, and I’m not about to let you do that. After all, I have plans to make… and it’s best when no one knows enough to try and stop you. The only people who know about me now are you two. Renni, well, I suppose I should have expected it, she always did like those long odds.” He grinned evilly. “You, on the other hand, would have to admit to murder, conducting dark magic, and bringing back an enemy of Stormwind. I’d imagine you’d find the Stockades quite comfortable, if they didn’t take your head. And Genevra, oh dear me, Genevra… what ever will she think?”

Eldred shamefully had to admit, the little wretch had a point. “So what are your intentions, Professor?”

“Like I said, killing you would just cause unnecessary trouble. If there is to be trouble, it will be quite necessary. As to my intentions… well, for a start, my batteries need a recharge, and you’ve got plenty of juice. Don’t worry, though. From the slight void tint in your eyes, I’d say you absorbed… some interesting abilities. And besides…” Rakeri laughed again. “Green isn’t your color.”

((Arrrrrg… not again!))

1 Like

Step in front of a runaway train
Just to feel alive again
Pushing forward through the night
Aching chest and blurry sight…

Kitrik the Assassin stood in the eerily abandoned halls of House Ketiron’s estate on Sunfury Square in Silvermoon, the house at last cleared out and cleaned up, ready for the next noble occupants to take charge. Feeling both grief and anger at this latest closing of yet another chapter, his hands tightened on the hilts of the pair of daggers he had taken to carrying lately. He’d given up his swords and “nautical pursuits” and returned to the old ways that had led to his fearsome title - stealth, poison, and smaller blades. It was the way he had operated in Northrend when he’d worked for House Whitehair, on Kezan when he had gone home just before the Cataclysm, and during the Pandaria and Draenor campaigns, when he’d gone to work for Ketiron.

The daggers were from the Cataclysm period - taken from the scales of a black dragon he had helped kill in the Badlands, its corrupted blood acting as a natural poison. He had used them for a time in Pandaria and on Draenor, too, with no (apparent) ill effects. After he’d decided on privateering during the Legion war, he’d taken to carrying more “piratey” blades and wearing nautical suits, sailing around on his goblin cruiser, the Assassin’s Treasure. But after that whole brouhaha with Sylvanas and Saurfang, he had given up all this play-acting and decided to go back to what he was.

He was a killer. And there were scumsuckers out there who needed killing.

Silently taking in the place, knowing he would never stand in these walls again, he turned to his younger twin brother, Kellik, who still favored elven-style armor and weapons. “Thanks for calling me, bro.”

“Thanks for coming. Wasn’t sure you’d bother with me, given what happened.” Kellik had stayed in Orgrimmar with Sylvanas and Gallywix during the siege, though more out of self-preservation than loyalty - after all, even with Alliance backup, no one knew for sure if Saurfang would win. The end result left him labeled “Gallywix’s goon”, a “banshee-lover”.

Kitrik shook his head vehemently. “It coulda gone the other way around, and you’d be an only child. At least Baine and his crew are civilized people.” He looked around again with a sigh. “Nothing we seem to build that’s meant to last ever does, you ever notice?”

Kellik’s eyebrows rose. “Whadaya mean?”

“All that work we did in Northrend. All the work you did with the House Guard. My whole ‘Grand Army of Kezan’ bit. The garrison on Draenor. Where is it all, Kel? All we did for these people… and look what happened. Taeril’hane and Areinnye are dead, Ord’taeril is stuck with the Alliance thanks to Sekhesmet and his void goop, and here we are leaving their house for some future rich snob with no appreciation for the history of the people who lived here.”

“Ah. I see what you mean, Kit… I think we’re gettin’ too old for this crap.” Kellik shook his head, his topknot swaying as he did. “So what now?”

“For now, I’m still workin’ for Da Doctas School. Light knows they get their share of troubles. Always somebody gunning for Sid, or trying to hit the campus in Stonetalon. Plus there’s all this weird stuff coming out of the Vale, and Uldum.” Kitrik’s blue-violet eyes were alight with rage. “And there are real monsters who stayed behind the walls in Orgrimmar, who managed to get out when that psycho Sylvanas fled. We’ll be seein’ them again - and I’ll have a proper greeting for 'em.”

The glare in his brother’s eyes matched his own. “As will I.”

With one last glance around, the two brothers left the house for good.

He roved up and down through history, spectre with tales to tell
In the darkness when the campfire’s dead, to each his private hell
If you look behind your shoulder as you feel his eyes to feast
You can witness now the everchanging nature of the beast…

Zulimbasha was careful to avoid crossing into the Vale, taking a route up along the coast and across Kun-Lai. He was assured at the diligent work being done by his new “assistant”, Vilaya; she was exploring the wilds of Kalimdor when last he heard from her, and her regular comment was surprise at just how green the world was. He admitted to being amused; she may have heard about what lay beyond the boundaries of Vol’dun, but she had never been beyond the boundaries of Vol’dun. It was a learning experience - much like he had undergone, when Zandalar formally allied with the Horde.

His mind was troubled as he made the voyage from Dawn’s Blossom. The sudden, entirely out-of-character explosion of rage from Ayo had set the tone for the whole evening. With Zeakee, he could never tell, given that the man spent most of his days in the shape of, and acting like, a cat. But Ayo, the priest of pleasure… enraged? He suspected he had an idea why, chalking it up to the malign influence taking hold in the Vale, but he could not be sure. He hoped to pay a call on Ayo one of these days, and perhaps find out - provided Ayo (or more likely Zeakee) didn’t go for his throat.

And then there was the reason he was here, which he had mentioned to Yumao and Kezrin…

Landing outside the gates of the Shado-Pan monastery, Zulimbasha’s spectral pterrodax faded, the energies returning to the “soul braziers” he wore on his shoulderguards. The Shado-Pan glared at him with hostility, but that was to be expected. The Shado-Pan did not exactly have a kind opinion of the Zandalari, and he couldn’t exactly blame them. But it was the one coming up to him that he was here to see. “Lorewalker Puretide.”

Zhangren inclined his head. “Welcome, High Priest Zulimbasha. Thank you for coming.”

“Glad ta help, mon. And just Zulimbasha is fine. I leave da titles for da temple.” He walked with the Lorewalker over to the monastery cemetery. “How many graves?”

“The Shado-Pan counted at least a dozen. They were reluctant when I suggested calling you, but I figured an expert in ‘death magic’ was ideal, and you’re the only one I know of. You also mentioned you’ve studied the effects of the Scourge - which, if my suspicion is right…”

Zulimbasha nodded. “I picked up a few t’ings in me travels, ya.” One of the first places he had visited, when Zandalar allied with the Horde, was Silvermoon - and from there he had ventured into the Ghostlands, as well as over the border into the Eastern Plaguelands. He had also been to Northrend on a number of occasions. “Have ya seen any of dese folks actually walkin’ around? Ya mentioned ya bruddah.”

Zhangren shook his head. “I have not, no. But my old student, Ord’taeril Ketiron, has been making the rounds. He said he’s met with a Drustvar witch-hunter who’s reported the presence of Kul Tiran death knights. And there are rumors of bodies disappearing as far away as Highmountain.”

“And Zandalar,” the death-priest added grimly. “Da dead be da realm of Bwonsamdi, but most especially in Zandalar… and dese scum dare ta take our dead and deny him his due? Me blood boils at da thought.” He shook his head. “Yumao mentioned dat her village be havin’ sky burials, like da tauren, which means such bodies be easy ta snatch. Da fact that dey don’t care if it be easy or not means dey be up ta somet’ing.” He paused, tapping a finger on the weathered bone of his mask. “Miss Kanzelry thought it be da banshee’s work, but da way ya put it…”

“Sylvanas has proven to be quite powerful, and she still has her share of devotees, I have no doubt. But something on this scale? Only the Lich King has those kind of resources, and this kind of organization. Most of Sylvanas’ loyalists are hiding, either within Orgrimmar or in the wilds beyond. These defilers are everywhere.” Zhangren’s jaw clenched. “Admiral Aximand claims to know nothing, he was just here to help us fight against the invaders in the Vale. But even if he does not claim to follow the Ebon Blade because of its allegiances to the Lich King, I suspect the admiral knows more than he’s telling me.” He sighed. “Perhaps I’m biased.”

“I wouldn’t blame ya a bit for dat, mon. I mean, dey dug up ya bruddah, for loa’s sake. Why wouldn’t ya be suspicious?” As they reached the cemetery, Zulimbasha knelt next to the open grave of Zhangren’s brother, Blackguard Zhaoren. He noted the gravestone next to it had the same family sigil as Zhaoren’s; he did not understand much of the pandaren language, but he knew enough. Unlike Zhaoren’s, the grave was undisturbed. “Ya ma’da?”

Zhangren nodded. “Killed by the yaungol years ago, during the Alliance-Horde war here. My father would have been here too, and likely also defiled… thankfully he rests among the elder spirits in the Wood of Staves on the Wandering Isle. A death knight would most certainly be noticed there.”

Zulimbasha kept one hand on his ethereal bone-staff as he touched the tip of it to the snow-covered ground, his other hand hovering over the open grave. As he reached out to sense the magic at work, the eye sockets of his orc-skull mask took on an ethereal glow…

Zulimbasha saw two figures in dark hooded armor walk towards the grave, standing just behind where he was kneeling. “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.”

The first one took on an imperious tone. “We cannot concern ourselves with the moral trifles of the living. Too much is at stake.”

The second persisted. “But --” And that was all he got out of his mouth before the first snapped at him, irritation lacing his death-altered voice.

“The Lich King has spoken, brother. His will be done.”

Zulimbasha slumped forward with a gasp, staff falling from his hand and into the snow. Zhangren was immediately at his side, his face showing concern. “What is it, Zulimbasha? Are you alright?”

Zulimbasha was not entirely sure how he felt now. Sickened, certainly. He removed his mask, so that the Lorewalker could see his face. “You were right,” he said grimly.

When I awoke I felt the call to go
Those places that I never thought I’d go
I spent the time to see which way to walk
But now that road just crumbles as I talk…

Sir Galen Tavener watched as his student battled the other trainees in the fighting pit at the heart of Acherus. All of his opponents had been washouts, those who had failed in the eyes of their prior instructors, and were kept as target practice for other trainees. Like in the olden days, when Arthas had raised the original knights of Acherus, they would generously be allowed a second chance to prove themselves in the eyes of their superiors, and ultimately in the eyes of the Lich King.

From the bodies sprawled on the floor, Galen could already see that this particular batch of failures would not have that opportunity.

With a fluid motion, his student slashed his sword through the legs of the three acolytes in front of him. They all collapsed, their bodies toppling to the floor as their legs were separated from beneath them. Without breaking stride, he spun on one heel and decapitated one more behind him, who fell, twitching, at his feet. Unlike most of this lot, who seemed to be nearly ghoul-like in their jerky, uncertain movements, it appeared his student had not lost any of his natural grace or ease of movement, even given his size.

Then again… his student was a pandaren, probably the most natural-born fighters Galen had ever seen. And he had seen quite a few.

In this case, he had seen enough, and clapped his hands three times. “Enough,” he said, gesturing to the skeletal servants. “Take these worthless vermin and feed them to the ghouls. Acolyte, out of the circle. You are done for today.” He sounded mildly amused, even if his truncated face could not show it… but there was an undercurrent of something else in his tone, too. “Let’s leave some practice dummies for the other trainees.”

The regimen continued for days, weeks. Finally, Galen took his charge aside after another successful bout in the fighting pit. “It appears you have taken quite readily to this… unexpected change, Zhaoren,” he said without preamble. “I believe you are prepared for what lies ahead.”

“Thank you, Master Tavener,” Zhaoren replied with a nod of his head. He had an expression that Galen could only describe as curiosity. “Might I ask you something? It may be a bit… personal.”

Galen was curious now, too. “What’s on your mind?”

“I notice that… whenever you look at me, as you do now, there is something there. You compliment my ability, and yet, there is something about you that wishes we were not having this conversation. It’s difficult for me to tell, given that…” He put a hand on his own chin, to indicate what he meant - Galen’s lack of a lower jaw, and much of his face as a result. “But I can’t help but see… disappointment.”

Galen was taken aback. Had he been so transparent about his feelings, even without a face to express them? And yet… the lad had spoken honestly, and so deserved an honest answer. “It’s not you,” he said after a moment. “It’s what you have become. Until a few weeks ago, Zhaoren, you were dead, resting outside your monastery in Kun-Lai. Our master, it seems, had something else in mind.”

“And you are disappointed by this?”

“I am, Zhaoren. Very much so. I am disappointed that this curse that I and my brethren bear, the curse forced upon us, has now been forced upon you. If it had been up to me, you would remain dead, buried with your mother and your fallen Shado-Pan brothers and sisters. But… it seems it is not up to me. The Lich King has commanded that you be among the new generation of the Ebon Blade, forced to bear the curse of undeath, just as it was forced upon my comrades and I, the first generation, by his predecessor. We are condemned as monsters - wretched, unnatural things. But we are also given a purpose - to do what the living cannot, in defense of the world which we all share.”

Zhaoren considered this. “I confess, Master… I don’t quite see the problem.”


The pandaren shook his head. “It is true that we are unnatural beings, with unnatural powers. I know that I will be shunned by my still-living people. But if we are called upon to serve in the defense of our world, to do what the living cannot, then who are we to refuse? What curse can be too great to turn us from our duty?”

The veteran knight could not quite believe what he was hearing. “You… accept this curse?”

“I can do nothing about it, so I must. What option do I have? To leap from the balcony to scatter my corpse on the rocks below, like that Zandalari?” Zhaoren shook his head vehemently. “No. I have been called, and I must answer.”

Galen was astonished. He had spent years struggling with doubt brought on by his doubly-wretched circumstances - first being a warrior of Lordaeron raised in death as Scourge (and later Forsaken), and then killed and raised again as a death knight. The recent events with Sylvanas had further deepened that self-loathing. Yet this freshly-raised knight seemed to be at perfect harmony with the idea. Was it because he was a pandaren?

Or was it something else?

“Kneel,” Galen commanded. Zhaoren looked momentarily confused, but he obeyed. Taking up the scythe he wore on his back, Galen rested the flat of the head on Zhaoren’s shoulder, the blade pointing upwards. “In darkness, we find strength,” he intoned. “In blood, we take power. In the chill, we stand firm. In agony, we endure. In death… we serve.” The blade moved to Zhaoren’s other shoulder for a moment, and then lowered. “Arise, Zhaoren Deathtide, Knight of the Ebon Blade.”

As Zhaoren rose, Galen gestured to the servants in the dark. “Adorn him,” he commanded. The armorers had brought forth dark plate armor that appeared to be of a design that would not be out of place in Pandaria. Zhaoren noticed this, and Galen nodded. “Some of our knights who fought in the Vale, and later in the siege of Orgrimmar, wore armor like this.” The dark trainee robe that the pandaren wore was carefully removed, showing the ghastly scars from the wound on his chest, sealed shut by unholy magic. It had been a felguard wielding a massive sword that had created the wound. Then the armorers began to place the armor on him. Each piece fit him perfectly.

Once they were done with everything but the heavy belt, Galen picked up a small bundle, and carefully unfolded it, to reveal the tabard of the Ebon Blade. He aided Zhaoren in putting it on, before the armorers moved in to buckle the belt around his still-ample waist. Then the Forsaken knight knelt to pick up another object… and Zhaoren’s eyes went wide as he recognized the distinctive hat and crimson headscarf, which Galen then held out to him. “It was easy enough to reproduce,” Galen explained, a hint of amusement in his tone. “I thought perhaps… a small token of what once was.” Zhaoren carefully tied the scarf around his scarred face, and placed the hat upon his head. The glowing eyes from beneath the headgear gave him a fearsome appearance, far more so than the usual Shado-Pan.

Finally, Galen took his scythe in both hands… and, to Zhaoren’s shock, held it out to him. “Having seen you in these days and weeks, I think this will be better served in your hands than in mine,” he said.

“Then… what will you carry?”

“When I was a knight in life, I used to carry heavy weapons. Greatswords, battleaxes, that sort of thing. As a death knight, I continued to do so, until this weapon passed into my hands. Ketiron… Jadaris… Grimblade… to me. And now, I grant it to you. May it serve you well. And as for me, well… I will not go empty-handed.” One of the armorers held out a runed greataxe, its head swirling with cold. “I found this, broken and lost, washed upon the shore in Kun-Lai, and brought it to our forges,” he explained as he took the weapon, hefting its weight. “It belonged to a great knight who would have stood with us during the Legion war, had he been there to fight in it… and it had been crafted for him by one who abandoned us.” The amusement was back in his tone. “At least the admiral has made some contribution to our future.”

Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face
Stars fill my dream
I’m a traveler of both time and space
To be where I have been
Sit with elders of the gentle race
This world has seldom seen
They talk of days for which they sit and wait
All will be revealed…

Rakeri shook off the effects of the teleportation, another feeling he had not felt in a long time. Contrary to what he had said, he had not been here yet… and now he saw the place for himself.

Looking around, he felt that Mechagon made Gnomeregan look like a provincial village. Why would they want to take back an irradiated hole, when they had this?

From behind him, he heard footsteps, and turned to see Marennia. “Are you insane?!” she screamed at him. “We just brought you back, and you’re already starting crap with Stoneheardt? I told you this was not a good idea!”

“Calm down, would you,” Rakeri said nonchalantly, almost bored-sounding. “Genevra is powerless. Who can she complain to? Orwyn? He can’t reach us here.”

Marennia’s jaw clenched in disapproval. “You play a dangerous game.”

“Timid men are destined for nothing more than timid jobs, Renni.” Rakeri grinned. “I have a plan to cover our bases, however. Obviously we can’t be as overt in acting on our… disapproval as we would like, so we’ll wrong-foot them instead. If they don’t know what to think - moot point, I know, but still - they can’t react.”

“And what would that be?”

“Putting our upgrades to work, of course. You and I used to make weapons when we were just plain gnomes. We can do that again, Renni… and make nice with the Alliance at the same time. The humans in particular, they like toys and gadgets as much as any savage child-race. Give 'em a cool new gun, or a couple of chainswords, and turn them loose. We’re craftsfolk, and thanks to our upgrades, we have all the tools at our disposal. And we can do it from right here in Mechagon. That way, the Watch can’t harass us. Hell, maybe we can even sell to them, too.”

Marennia’s expression went from disapproval to shock. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not? I’ve worked with Orwyn’s lot before. Made me want to puke, of course, but at least they recognized there was something I could do for them that they couldn’t. They understood I accepted their request to help purely out of my own self-interest, but at the same time, it helps when somebody can actually help the common people with their problems.”

“Stringing along the rabble in Westfall is one thing. This is a lot different, Rakeri. Orwyn’s not stupid - you fooled him once, he won’t fall for it again.”

“As I said, Renni… timid people, timid jobs. You ended up back in the Alliance when Mekkatorque took the throne, and you and Lord Valmy had the idea to bring me back because you know the Alliance needs me. So how can we prove that if I have to hide like a damned hermit? Besides, there’s more than just Stormwind in the Alliance… a lot of particularly pissed-off people, at that. The Gilneans, the night elves, the Kul Tirans… they could certainly use some new armaments.” Rakeri chuckled. “Besides, it’s more fun this way. Make ourselves look good at their expense.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully with his pincer-like hand. “There a printer somewhere in town?”

Marennia’s head tilts. “Why?”

“If we’re going to offer a service, it’s a good idea to advertise it, wouldn’t you say?”

Who am I, darling to you?
Who am I?
To tell you stories of mine
Who am I?
Who am I, darling for you?
Who am I?
To be your burden in time, lonely
Who am I, to you?

Randarel, lord of House Vendross, stood alone at the mausoleum of his wife in the tomb-city of Tel’anor, in the mountains overlooking Suramar. He often came here to be near her, particularly when his mind was troubled… and it was especially troubled now, with what Zulimbasha had revealed to him. The Zandalari priest had just left, heading back home to prepare for the voyage to Pandaria - for the long-awaited wedding of Lo-shing Flamemug and Yumao Pearblossom, a bit of light in a sea of chaos. Randarel’s daughter, Telisa, had already left for Zandalar to meet the priest there; the arcanist himself had to prepare as well. In a pocket inside his robes was his gift to the couple.

But his mind was still on the revelation made to him, back at his estate in Suramar…

Randarel had struggled to form words, as he digested the information that Zulimbasha gave him. Finally, when he was reasonably certain his brain and his tongue could work again, he asked, “Are you sure?”

Expecting the question, Zulimbasha nodded. “Sure as I be talkin’ to ya now. Da Lorewalker asked me ta check, and it matches all da signs. Just like da remnants of Scourge magic in Lordaeron and Northrend. And it be happenin’ not just in Pandaria, Kul Tiras, or Zandalar. It be happenin’ here, and in Highmountain as well.”

His son, Erdanel - who kept an eye on the estate whenever his father left, preferring to stay in Suramar for his studies - spoke up then. “Are you absolutely certain it’s not the work of the Forsaken, Master Zulimbasha? The banshee had considerable resources.”

“She be powerful, Lord Erdanel, no doubt about dat. But she can’t be everywhere. Dis… plague,” and he all but spat the word, “be spread all over Azeroth, and Lorewalker Puretide and I both agree dat dis be in da works for a while. Possibly even before Orgrimmar.”

Erdanel was clearly having trouble wrapping his brain around why someone would do such a thing. Randarel didn’t blame him; he couldn’t, either. “For what purpose?” the younger arcanist finally asked. “A new war against the living?”

Zulimbasha shook his head. “Dat be da natural suspicion, but I don’t t’ink so. Neither does Lorewalker Puretide. If it were, he t’inks, it’d be more than just death knights… and besides, dis Lich King apparently be ‘nicer’ compared to da last ones.” His tone made clear what he thought of that, and both Nightborne shared his skepticism. “Dat bein’ said, da only people who know for certain what dey be up to, and why, be da ones dat be doin’ it, and dey won’t be likely ta spill da beans. Not even under magical compulsion. I tried.”

Randarel’s fist slammed on his desk, startling both of the others. “Damn them!” he hissed venomously, his eyes glaring so forcefully, they could probably drill through solid elementium. He had no love for the undead, but most of them had had the circumstances forced upon them. Now they were doing the forcing, and on his people, among others. This could not be tolerated. “Erdanel, send a petition to the Nighthold. If they can spare it, ask them to step up the patrols in Tel’anor. With my recommendation that if any suspicious persons are found nearby, kill them at once. No prisoners… and no mercy.”

Erdanel nodded, the glare in his eyes matching his father’s. “I will see to it.”

After his son had left, Randarel sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Do you ever find,” he asked Zulimbasha, “that just when you’re about to enjoy a happy occasion, something like this comes along?”

Zulimbasha smiled humorlessly. “All da damned time.” He grasped Randarel’s arm. “Dere be time for work, my friend. For now, I need ta return ta Zandalar ta prepare for da weddin’. I be meetin’ ya dere.”

Randarel put a hand on the face of his wife’s effigy. Ever since that night she had spoken to him in his dreams, he had tried to live his life, not as somebody in a hurry to join her in death, but to properly live his life. To not let it all be in vain, as he had promised to her. Times like this made the pain in his soul rise.

And yet, he was glad that she was not violated. He did not know how he would react if his beloved were raised as a corpse, with the powers that raised her at her disposal. But then the question came to his mind.

“What would you do, if our roles were reversed?” he asked aloud, as if she could answer him. “If you had lived, I had died, and this Scourge filth had desecrated my corpse… what would you do?”

He was silent, head bowed, as if waiting for an answer. But none was coming. He nodded to himself. “Perhaps it is best that we cannot find out.”

Some things change, some remain
Some will pass us unnoticed by
What to focus on, to improve upon
In the face of our ancient drives
Feels so clear, feels so obvious
To each one on their own
But we are here, together
Reaping what time and what we have sown…

Ernulph Ratchetrouter hummed as he examined the results of his handiwork. “The plating resting okay?”

“Seems to be.”

“Very good, very good.” He retracted his toolkit back into his hands. “Welp, your torso armor seems to be in order, Miss Sputterspark. Bet you were looking forward to getting this back.”

“Yes, thank you.” Marennia shrugged her shoulders, glad to feel the armor’s weight again. When she had begun to receive her “upgrades”, she had been inducted into the city guard due to her prior experience in Gnomeregan’s military, and received appropriate armor accordingly. It had become badly damaged and rusted when she joined the rebellion, as had her machine limbs; the limbs had been easier to fix, but the rest of the armor plating had taken more work, more than even she could handle - mainly because, even after all this time, she was still getting used to all the built-in gadgets and gizmos.

Whenever she could, she had returned to Mechagon to watch Ernulph work, so that she could better put it to work in her own crafting. At the same time, it was also to pointedly avoid having to go anywhere near Stormwind. Unlike Rakeri, whose ego had not been checked by his death, Marennia had no desire to give them an excuse to harass her. While her criminal record in Stormwind was nowhere near the volume of Rakeri’s - her only crime was disturbing the peace, more oft than not - she had gone out of her way to avoid Orwyn and his officers, or to keep a low profile if she went anywhere they tended to hang out, such as the tavern in Booty Bay. She had spoken to Genevra only once since Mechagon had joined the Alliance, and as far as she was concerned, that was enough.

Yet now, now that Rakeri had returned and was no longer using her as a vessel, she began to wonder: What had motivated that encounter? Was it her own rage at a person she blamed for Rakeri’s death… or was it Rakeri himself in her subconscious, goading her?

Furthermore, now that he had returned… what now? Ketiron was dead. So was Saavedro, and Sekhesmet, and Velenkayn, and all the others who had stood in his way… did he intend to declare war on the Watch now? And if so… why the sales pitch? He had sent three of their first projects - improvements on Mechagonian weapons that they had worked on together - to Orwyn as a peace offering.

“Miss Sputterspark?” Ernulph sounded confused, but she did not hear him.

Now that she thought on it (or perhaps, she mused worriedly, now that she could think about it), Rakeri’s plan to remake himself from self-absorbed schemer who plotted with Forsaken priests and orc warlocks (an irony given the hard line he had taken against them since his return) to “patriotic industrialist” was bound to cause trouble. Orwyn was not stupid; he would suspect that Rakeri would be up to something. And now that he was no longer hiding in her subconscious, she realized that she suspected it, too. There was more to this plan to sell weapons to the Alliance than simply a desire to defend against future Horde aggression, or the ongoing conflict with the Black Empire. He was taking advantage of the political tension in the Alliance.

What did Rakeri hope for? Perhaps to whip up the anti-armistice forces, like the night elves, into a revolt… and have them “properly armed”?

For the first time since she had taken the steps to resurrect her brother, Marennia asked herself a question she would not have weeks ago.

What the hell was I thinking?

“Miss Sputterspark.” When no answer came, a hand grasped her shoulder and gave her a slight shake. “Marennia!”

Marennia started, looking over at Ernulph, who had a worried expression on what part of his face had not been replaced with metal. She shook her head, as if to clear it. “Apologies… lost in thought.”

“That’s a first. Ever since the day you arrived, I have never seen you space out like that.”

She sighed. “It’s hard to explain, Ernie… I’ve spent years with the rage after he was killed. But now that he’s back, I’m not sure if it was my anger at losing my brother… or his, for being defeated.”

Ernulph twirled one end of his moustache. “Given what he has said, it could be both.” Rakeri had made it a point, when a band of curious folk had come to see this “dead” gnome brought back to life, of telling them about himself and Marennia, starting from their childhoods in Gnomeregan, up to his death on Draenor.

“Maybe,” Marennia replied, though she was not sure she believed it. Rakeri had convinced the people here that, now that he had been “upgraded”, he planned to begin a new life, different from what he had been before. Marennia was certain that was a lie. But she also knew it was the only lie he had told them. He had told them everything, all that he had done, good and ill… and they still embraced him. They had accepted him as a new member of their society, a new citizen of Mechagon.

Just like they had with her.

And thinking on it now, Marennia wasn’t sure she had deserved it any more than he did.

If put to the test
Would you step back from the line of fire?
Hold everything back
All emotion set aside it…

Zulimbasha had been on his way to the lounge when he saw it, stepping onto the back of an undead drake, flying away into the night… as if there were nothing out of the ordinary. He didn’t see the town militia acting against it, nor even the occupants inside. Yumao and Lo-shing had actually been… talking to it.

Did they not remember what he had told them? Or were they suddenly gripped by the apathy of over-exposure to these abominations?

If dey don’t have da determination ta act… den I will.

He followed the creature at a discreet distance, but keeping it in sight at all times. The undead drake flew northwest, up into the mountains. It was heading for Kun-Lai. For the home of the man whose skin it wore.

As they crossed the plains, the priest looked down, surprised to see what looked to be an army of mogu headed for the Gate of the August Celestials. When he looked back up… his quarry was gone. As the first hint of alarm echoed in his mind, a roar close by made his heart leap into his throat. The wretched thing had somehow gotten behind him.

The creature raised its hand… and to Zulimbasha’s shock and fury, it was holding a scythe with an angry red blade. The weapon that had been carried by that lying Forsaken… but before he could fully process this, the soul energy of which his spectral pterrodax was formed began to lose cohesion, as it was being pulled into the blade.

As his mount dissipated from beneath him, Zulimbasha quickly called upon his powers to slow his descent, coming down on an outcrop of rock in the middle of the plains. As he levitated a few inches from the ground, he turned again… and it was behind him once more. It reached out with an armored hand and grasped his throat, slamming him up against the boulder he was next to.

“Zandalari scum,” it said, in a voice that sounded to Zulimbasha like a wave crashing against a rocky shore. It raised its head, so he could see its eyes, almost like burning ice, glaring at him from under its Shado-Pan headgear. “My mentor tells me you’re allies with his people. But you are nothing but unwanted invaders in my land.”

“Speak for yaself, corpse,” Zulimbasha hissed venomously. “Ya shoulda stayed dead.”

“Perhaps,” his opponent conceded. “But that is not for you to decide.”

“Death be da domain of my Loa, Bwonsamdi. Ya be an abomination, a heresy against da natural balance of life. We live, we die. Our souls go to da Other Side. Our bodies feed da earth. Ya violate nature just by standin’ dere.”

The grip around Zulimbasha’s throat tightened. As he reached up to try and remove the one hand strangling him, it reached with the other to remove his skull mask… and crumbled it in his fist like a cookie. “You think your way is the only way, because your ‘god’ tells you so,” it snarled. “I have seen the truth of your ‘Other Side’, you pathetic primitive. Perhaps I should show you…”

“Let him go, Zhaoren!” Zulimbasha gasped as he felt the grip loosen at the sound of the speaker’s voice, and was relieved when he looked to see Zhangren Puretide. The Lorewalker’s expression was stern, but his eyes showed the pain he felt at what he saw. “If you are truly who you appear to be, you would not murder a man in cold blood. Not even a Zandalari.”

Zulimbasha watched the abomination’s eyes narrow… before he was tossed unceremoniously to the ground, coughing. “You have poor taste in friends, brother,” it said.

“I could say the same for you. We learned to tolerate the death knights because the Lich King did not give them a choice. Now he is doing the same to you, disrupting the eternal sleep… and you are embracing the madness that has created you.” Zhangren’s face now showed the same anguish as his eyes. “I beg you, brother, give this up now. Your place is --”

“In the cold ground of the monastery, while the world is in chaos?” Zhaoren laughed bitterly. “I think not. Bwonsamdi is not the only one with power over death, Zhangren. The Lich King has returned me, and others like me, for a reason. Who am I to question it?”

“His reason be ta violate da living, just as he did last time,” Zulimbasha snarled. “I don’t care if it be supposedly another human wearin’ da crown. He be no different from Arthas now.”

“You know nothing, savage,” Zhaoren replied coldly, hefting the runescythe. “Speak to me again, and I will send you to your precious Bwonsamdi.”

Zulimbasha glared at him. “Quite right. We be past words now. If ya don’t be willin’ ta accept ya proper fate willingly…” The soul energy began to swirl around him. “…den I be sendin’ ya to da Other Side myself.”

Echoes in rain
Drifting in waves
Long journey home
Never too late
Black as a crow
Night comes again
Everything flows
Here comes another new day…

Zhaoren knew in his soul that something like this would happen. When he learned that Zhangren had found his open grave, and that he had turned to a Zandalari death-priest, he knew a confrontation was inevitable. That did not mean he had to like the idea of fighting his own brother. He hoped it would not come to that.

This Zandalari scum, though… no matter what Galen had said about them being allies with the Horde, just as the two of them were, Zhaoren would never trust them. And this pathetic thing thought he had power because of who he worshipped… he was now inclined to do to this wretch what he had threatened to do to him, and send him to his “Other Side”. And perhaps there, he would see that what awaited him, what the Lich King had saved his knights from.

As the pompous priest preached at him, Zhaoren shut him up with an armored backhand across the face, and was pleased to see his eyes roll back into his head as he collapsed to the ground. For all his supposed power, the priest was still a mortal thing… and now he would die like one. Who knew? Perhaps the Ebon Blade would find a use for him. He raised the scythe in his other hand for the deathblow –

– only for the weapon to clang against Zhangren’s dragonstaff. He gazed evenly at the Lorewalker from under his headgear. “As I said, Zhangren… you have poor taste in friends. You value the life of a Zandalari over your own brother?”

Zhangren’s stare showed his sentimental pain, though his voice was hard as he replied, “My brother is dead. I don’t know who you are.”

“No, you don’t,” Zhaoren agreed. “And you didn’t before, either. You thought the Shado-Pan to be beneath you because we were trained to be fighters. To you, we were just a bunch of hat-wearing thugs whose only purpose was to beat things up. That’s the real reason why you chose to be a Lorewalker.”

“That is not true!” Zhangren was torn between anger and horror at what Zhaoren was saying. “I was a scholar at heart, not a fighter. I did not look down on the Shado-Pan… I simply felt my path did not go in that direction.”

“No? You were content to sit around with Cho and his scrolls and all his damned stories, while we sacrificed our lives just so you could sit fat and idle behind the lines.” He laughed bitterly. “You never knew who I was at all. You thought I only followed Father because I was the elder brother, and it was expected of me. But I chose to embrace the way of the Shado-Pan, Zhangren. Just as I choose to embrace the way of the Ebon Blade.”

“You died, Zhaoren!” Zhangren shouted, his voice breaking. “You were dead! And they dug you up and… defiled you! You didn’t choose that! They did!”

“Perhaps,” Zhaoren conceded with a shrug. “But what am I expected to do? Just go back into my hole and lie down while you bury me again, with only some rotting flowers and sugary words to remember me by?” He shook his head. “No, Zhangren. I will not let you dismiss me that easily.”

“So this is why you allow the Lich King to make you into a monster? Because of some… twisted resentment?”

“To truly understand the nature of death, brother, you have to die. I have died. I have seen what awaits on this ‘Other Side’ that this fool preaches about, and there is only darkness. No. Less even than that… there is literally nothing. That is what they want for us all. That is what the Lich King has brought us back to prevent.”


“You know who they are. What they are.” Zhaoren laughed again. “As you said, you’re a scholar, not a fighter. Go research it. It’s what you’re good at.” He opened a death gate back to Acherus, now seeing his attempt to come back to his homeland had been a mistake. He looked down at the unconscious Zandalari. “I will let this one live to think about his actions… for now. But if he tries something like this again, then I will show him what awaits in death.”

Zhangren was surprised his voice did not shake. “And if I come after you?”

Zhaoren stared evenly at him. “I hope you do not.” Zhangren was surprised to hear the sincerity in his voice at that. Then the threat was back in his tone. “But if you do… then I will do to you what I will do to him.” He bowed his head curtly. “Jade Serpent guide you… away from me.” And then he was gone.

1 Like

What if I want to make you understand that the path you chose leads to downfall
But you only understand the language of the sword
What if I want to tell you to leave me and my beloved ones in peace
But you only understand the language of the sword…

Galen had said he was returning to the Vale to help deal with the problems there. And he would. But there was one thing he needed to do first… and he waited until the tavern cleared out.

He had thought there was a bit of tension when he had walked in, and he soon found out why: The Zandalari death-priest, the one who had been hunting for Zhaoren and all the other “new recruits” (that term still made Galen cringe), had made his way here all the way from Kun-Lai. “Poor thing collapsed right here in the door, made some delirious comment about an undead pandaren,” the innkeeper had said. “Sounded completely mad to me.”

Galen, however, knew exactly what had happened, mainly because Zhaoren had told him. But he was confused as to why the man had come all the way here, rather than leave his healing to the Lorewalker, whom Zhaoren had also said was there… but then again, the priest had probably made a point to crawl away while the brothers quarreled, just in case Zhangren couldn’t intercede for him again. Galen already knew that Zhaoren hated Zandalari - the old prejudices of the mainland pandaren still strong, even in death - and that nothing would change that. But still…

Once he was sure the coast was clear, Galen kept his drake hovering just above the tavern before quietly slipping onto the open roof, where a stairwell led down into the tavern’s second floor. There the Zandalari priest rested, not entirely peacefully; his body was bandaged, and his face was bruised, and he made pained noises as he twitched in his sleep. Zhaoren had said he had only smacked him around a little… the further injuries must have been from his trip through the mountains.

A half-eaten plate of Mon’Dazi sat on a nearby table, along with a teapot and an empty teacup. Suddenly, the priest began to stir, sensing someone in the room, and looked up… and his eyes went wide as he saw who it was.

Before he could cry for help, Galen reached out, strangling the shout in the Zandalari’s throat. “Good evening, Master Zulimbasha. I need a word with you, to try and get something through to you.” He stared at him for a moment. “Up for a chat?”

Zulimbasha’s eyes glared at him with pure hate. Nonetheless, he nodded.

Galen unclenched his fist, and the Zandalari collapsed, gasping, into the bed. “That’s better. It’s so difficult to have a civilized chat with anybody when they can’t see past their own noses.” His eyebrows rose. “And yours looks slightly out of place, even though someone tried to correct it. That’s going to heal funny.”

“Spare me, death knight,” Zulimbasha spat. “Whadaya want?”

“Zhaoren gave you a warning. I’m here to suggest that you follow it. You meddle in matters you haven’t the slightest idea about.”

“I know full well what ya Scourge be doin’. Ya be --”

Galen chuckled. “You cling to your superstition and your ignorance and claim that gives you a right to dictate to us. Keep preaching at me, and I will show you what awaits in death.”

“I know what be awaitin’ me in death, Tavener,” the Zandalari replied evenly. “Do you?”

“You know nothing,” Galen replied irritably. “And if you did, you would not try to stop us.”

Zulimbasha laughed. “Funny how ya be sayin’ I be da one clingin’ ta superstition and ignorance. Ya be no different from Sylvanas.”

“We are nothing like her. It’s because of her that we do what must be done.”

“What must be done? You think desecratin’ da dead ‘must be done’?” Zulimbasha was outraged. “How many of my people have ya been stealin’ from da grave? How many souls has da Lich King denied ta Bwonsamdi, to whom dey belong?”

“Look!” Galen was now giving up on any pretense of being calm. “I don’t like it any more than you do, alright? I thought we were the last to be made to suffer the curse, but the Lich King has decreed otherwise. It is for the good of Azeroth that he does this, and commands us to prepare these new knights for what is to come. What else can I do?”

“Isn’t it obvious what else ya can do?” Zulimbasha looked at him as if he were stupid. “Dere be only one t’ing ya need ta do, Tavener: Die. And properly, dis time.” He shook his head. “For da good of Azeroth. Sylvanas probably said da same t’ing when she burned Teldrassil and blighted Tirisfal.”

We are not like her!” Galen shouted angrily. That caused a stir from downstairs.

Zulimbasha stared at him, disgust evident in his expression and his tone. “Ya don’t believe what ya say any more than I do. Why are ya here, Tavener? Ya tryin’ ta intimidate me? Ya think ya be bargin’ in here expectin’ me ta back off?” His jaw clenched. “Never. Know dat once I be on my feet again, I will hunt ya down. You, and Zhaoren, and all ya little death knight friends - from da icy peaks of Northrend, to da depths of da Twistin’ Nether. Forsaken, Scourge… da Other Side awaits ya all. Even da Lich King be made ta bow before Bwonsamdi.”

Galen’s fists clenched. “Then there’s no reason why I should not just kill you where you sit,” he said quietly.

“Dere be no reason at all,” Zulimbasha agreed. “By all means, kill me, like ya would a child in da cradle. Prove me right… monster.”

That stung him far more than he had expected it would. He had been called that, and worse, for years. But something about here and now made it far more painful. By the Nether, he thought, what am I doing?

“Everything alright up here?” The pandaren innkeeper looked at Zulimbasha… and her eyes narrowed slightly as she saw Galen. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Galen willed himself to be calm, not wanting to prove the priest right. He had said during the war with the Alliance that his foes all had blades in their hands and spells on their lips; he would not kill an unarmed and wounded man in his bed, no matter how much of an ignorant fool he was. “Nothing,” he said finally, as he started heading up the stairs to the roof. “I was just leaving.”

Zulimbasha smiled contemptuously at him.