Here, There Really DO Be Dragons

Captain Elizabeth Pellerin stood in the crow’s nest of her ship, the Kul Tiran frigate Pearl Queen, as it sat in Stormwind Harbor. She gazed out to sea, as if she could pick out where they were going - and what kind of conditions they could expect. She had been coming up here at sunrise and sunset for the past week. Calum Granden, the ship’s Tidesage, had been keeping an eye on things, as had a number of shamans employed by the city.

“Captain.” Alexander McDonnell, the first mate, hauled himself up. “Just spoke to Calum. Whatever elemental doodah was churning up the waters off to sea seems to have cleared out. The dwarf in charge the expedition on this side has given us the word - the Rugged Dragonscale ships out tomorrow morning. We’re to follow soon after.”

Elizabeth pounded the railing of the crow’s nest in anticipation. “About bloody time. Have you informed everyone yet?”

“I sent your young steward to attend to it.” The first mate grinned. “I expected your reaction, and figured you wouldn’t want to wait.”

“Very good, Mr. McDonnell. And the crew?”

“Rotating for preparedness. Calum will oversee it tonight while he handles the ritual blessings, and I’ll take over in the morning.”

“Good. Any idea who we’re taking?”

“Sir Eran, Dame Catherine, Lorewalker Ketiron, Inquisitor Underwood, Master Deathtide, Lord Valmy, Captain Blunderwitz and his mechagnome pal, and that dragon-man, Serys. Archmage Netherfist is going with his dragon-master.”

“Figured he might.” Elizabeth looked back out towards the horizon. “What do you make of all this, Alec?”

McDonnell thought for a moment, then shrugged. “The question that keeps springing up is… who needs who here? The dragons are always quick to remind us just how much bigger and better they supposedly are, and yet this Dragonqueen sends emissaries to beg us for help? Yeah, I’ve heard all the hoopla about the Cataclysm and how they gave up their powers to kill Deathwing, but… I dunno, Beth, it smells like string-pulling to me. And then there’s these dragon-men, what the hell are they called… dracthyr, that’s it. Supposedly created by Deathwing before he fell. Can we trust 'em?”

Elizabeth nodded. “You’re not the only one who’s been asking those questions. Virtually everyone in this city has, and with good reason. The experience Stormwind has with dragons is… not a good one, to put it mildly. I remember enough from the Second War, when we were pups serving in Daelin’s armada.”

“When the Horde used the reds against us, aye. Not their fault, though, or so I hear.”

“No, but we’ve been around the bend a few times since, Alec. A common soldier on the front lines doesn’t think about who’s causing the dragons to attack. They see a dragon spitting fire at them, that’s a threat.”

“Aye, true enough, but…” He sighed and shrugged again.

Elizabeth put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ve rolled the bones, Mr. McDonnell. We’ll have to make do.”

“Aye, Captain.”

1 Like

She had spent most of her time in Zandalar since she arrived from Orgrimmar, listening to the death-priest relate to her what she had gotten herself into. Outwardly, she had not reacted or said a word. Inwardly, she admitted to being unsurprised, as if expecting the world beyond their old weyrns (borrowing a human phrase) to have gone to hell in a handbasket, like no other outcome was possible, given what the dracthyr had endured.

No one had a definitive answer as to why Neltharion - Deathwing, she reminded herself - had locked them away like he had, nor why Malygos’ children were so hell-bent on keeping them there… or destroying them. But given what Esheregos and Rianagosa had told her about what had happened to their great-father, she was not all that surprised either. She had learned about what had occurred to dragonkind during the dracthyr’s twenty millennia absence from them. When the weyrns had gone into stasis, there had been five Aspects. Three had descended into madness and been slain by mortals, and only one had received the Titans’ power to replace his fallen sire before being forced to relinquish it to end Deathwing’s rampage.

From the priest, Zulimbasha, she had learned about this “Horde” that her weyrn had chosen to work with, the conflict with the “Alliance”, and the constant upheavals it had endured in just the past decade or two alone. Where once they had a single leader, a “Warchief”, now they were ruled by a council. Most of the members of the Horde had lost their leaders in some form or another, including the Zandalari - death, banishment, death and banishment… it was highly volatile. A perfect place for someone born to be a fighter. Then again, her name, said to be based on an old Titan word for “tongue” or “language” - given to her when she was… born? Hatched? Created? She wasn’t sure - also lent itself to the idea that she was a scholar of some kind too.

And she dabbled in that a bit, too. She had certainly learned quite a lot just in the past couple of weeks.

Now she stood just outside the Great Seal in Zuldazar, the seat of the Zandalari queen who ruled from her golden throne at the top. She gazed out across the jungle and the temple-city below. To the Zandalari, she was just a strange-looking elf with horns and scales on her face - probably thinking she was an Illidari demon hunter. She chuckled lightly to herself at the idea.

“Ah, dere ya be, Lengua.” Zulimbasha the Collector approached, wearing his robes adorned with the soul-braziers at his shoulders. His orc-skull mask was held in the crook of one arm, and in his other hand he held his staff, glowing with spectral power. “T’ank ya for meetin’ me here.”

Lengua inclined her head to him. In all this time, she had never spoken to him. He had explained things, and she had never said a word, only nodding or giving curious glances - and the odd grin, which seemed to unnerve him, and which she took a guilty pleasure in. She was perfectly capable of conversing in Orcish, and had picked up hints of Zandali, but had never let any of it slip.

Until now. “Is it time?” she asked, in a youthful voice, feminine, but with hints of masculinity underlining it as well.

Zulimbasha’s eyebrows rose in surprise to hear her speak, but he recovered quickly. “To go back to ya islands?” At her nod, he replied, “Almost. A ship awaits in da Port of Zandalar ta take us to de Echo Isles. From dere, it be a short flight ta Orgrimmar. Kitrik de Assassin, a goblin trade baron and ship captain, be preparin’ his vessel for us. Ya be meetin’ some of me other allies on da trip.”


“Tomorrow at sunset. We be meetin’ Kitrik in Bilgewater Harbor, da goblin port city outside Orgrimmar.” The Collector gestured behind him. “Which brings me ta why I asked ya here, before we head down to da port.” Two Zandalari acolytes, both of whom had a similar aura to them as he did, approached with a heavy chest. At a nod from the high priest, they set the chest down. Zulimbasha knelt and opened the chest himself. Within was a suit of dark patterned Zandalari mail armor, trimmed with gold or brass, and a staff that seemed to seethe with magical power.

“De armor belonged to a friend, Valkia’jin, a witch doctor who fell fightin’ da Black Empire,” Zulimbasha explained. “Dat be da void-monsters I mentioned, and da Old God who led dem.”

“The creatures who corrupted our Greatfather.”

“Da very same. A vulpera friend of hers, Eldex, carries her hammer, but I wondered what ta do with de armor… Eldex told me ta keep it, in case a worthy wearer came. He musta seen somet’ing, one of his shamanic visions. I did not question him.” He looked up at her. “If ya be willin’…?”

Lengua was surprised. “Why me?”

“Why not?” Zulimbasha countered. “Ya be a Herald of de Other Side now, like me, Eldex, Vilaya, Kirenna, Silna… just ta name a few.” He grinned slightly. “Besides, I t’ink dis stuff matches nicely with da plate ya wear in ya dragon form.”

This was a feeling she did not expect. He had been very wary of her at first, and given what Esheregos had told her about dragons’ interaction with mortals - and what Zulimbasha had told her about the Cataclysm - she didn’t blame him. But he seemed to have embraced her as a valued ally. She had to admit, she was moved by the gesture. Outwardly, of course, she remained studiously neutral. She nodded. “Alright.”

Zulimbasha gestured again to his acolytes, who carefully removed the battered-looking scalemail she had been wearing in her visage form, and fitted the Zandalari mail onto her. It seemed to fit perfectly, her natural draconic magic fitting each piece where it needed to. Finally, the acolytes stepped back. “It suits ya well,” the Collector said when they were done. “Let’s see if me guess be right about de other part…”

Lengua shifted into her proper form, which still had its draconic chainmail, but the shoulderguards and belt of Valkia’jin’s armor showed as well, not quite the same color as the mail, but close enough. Zulimbasha was impressed. “Very nice. Now people know ya be walkin’ with us.”

“People seem to make a big deal about appearances in this wider world of yours. Especially you.”

“It be part of who I serve, my friend. We who be pledged ta Bwonsamdi always dress to kill.” Lengua could not help but laugh at that. Zulimbasha then reached in and picked up the staff. A look of great sadness appeared on his face as he held it. “Dis belonged to me fa’da, Vim’bal, a priest of Rezan,” he said. “He had powah, but no sense. He followed Zul’s mad prophecies about de Cataclysm… and he died because of dem.” He looked up at her for a long moment… and then held it up to her.

Lengua had gone from surprised to absolutely astonished at this gesture. “I couldn’t.”

“I insist.”

Reluctantly, she reached out with her metal-sheathed talons and gently took the staff from him, feeling its weight in her hand. “Why me?” she asked again.

“Ya have powah, like me fa’da did… but unlike him, ya also seem ta have some sense, sense enough ta temper ya powah with wisdom, a willingness ta find ya way in a world dat be new to ya… with a little help from ya friends, ya might say. Ya probably chafed at de idea of havin’ some mon like me havin’ ta show ya around, with dracthyr bein’ big dragon warrior types who been around long before we trolls. And I admit it - dragons? I be worried about 'em, given how much chaos and destruction be caused by dey kind in recent years. But we both learned somet’ing, Lengua - dat not everybody with scales be dangerous ta know, and dat nobody be too old ta learn.” He gave a light shrug, the wispy soul remnants around his shoulders moving like morning mist as he did. “Call it… a gesture of faith.”

Lengua bowed her head, moved by the Collector’s generosity. “Thank you, Master Zulimbasha,” she said quietly. “I will try to be worthy of it.”

Zulimbasha gazed at her for a long moment. “Yes… I t’ink ya will be.”

The Pearl Queen had plowed through the Great Sea, heading north between the Eastern Kingdoms and Kul Tiras, and rounding the coast near the blighted ruins of Tirisfal. Now she was in unknown waters, at least to the ship and the crew.

Standing at the bow, Sir Eran Heskin’s gaze alternated between the sea ahead of him and the crow’s nest behind him; his grandson, Donal, was the lookout for this watch. Three years among the rough-and-tumble Kul Tiran crew had toughened him up considerably, and he was considered by Captain Pellerin and the others to be a valuable member of the crew. Just before they departed, he and the captain had given him a gift - an engraved titansteel sword that Eran had found in Ulduar more than a decade before. The crew joked and teased about his “shiny sword”, and Donal had given as good as he got: “At least one of us will be able to see what to shoot at.”

“Well, I’m glad neither you nor the captain have cause to keelhaul me,” came a voice behind him. Ord’taeril Ketiron was still wearing the cypher-engraved armor of Zereth Mortis, and his staff - the one given to him by Lorewalker Puretide - had been transformed in the Creation Catalyst. He was not the only one so adorned; Zhaoren Deathtide, the pandaren death knight who had kept his Shado-Pan gear for years, was also wearing Zereth-forged plate.

“He seems to be fitting in well enough,” Eran agreed. “But I wonder if he’s up for what lies ahead. If any of them are, for that matter.”

“Them?” Ord’taeril snorted. “What about us? Given where we’re going, I’m scared to death.”

The old warrior’s eyebrows rose. “After that whole thing with the Jailer, you’re worried about dragons?”

“The Jailer was simple,” Ord’taeril retorted. “An egotist with cosmic power trying to destroy the universe. Same with the Legion. But nothing about dragons is ever simple. Our little meet-and-greet a while back with Eregesh is proof enough of that.”

Eran had to admit he had a point. But before he could reply, Donal called out from the crow’s nest. “Land ho!”

A moment later, the door to the aft cabin banged open, and the captain stepped onto the deck. “Where away, lad?”

“Port bow, Captain! I can make out… looks to be towers of some kind.”

“Mr. Finbar, bring us to port! Word from this ‘expedition’ said something about an outpost on the northern edge. Follow the land’s edge until Mr. Heskin spots something that looks like what we want.”

“Aye, Captain!” shouted the steersman.

Ord’taeril put a hand on Eran’s shoulder as he headed below to inform the others. Calum, who had been standing on the bow ahead of them, now turned. “There is power here, Sir Eran,” the Tidesage said, in a voice one might almost call reverential. “Do you feel it?”

He did. Just like Ulduar, he thought. Just as ancient… and just as terrible.

Upon arriving in the Echo Isles, Zulimbasha had sent Lengua ahead to meet him in Bilgewater Harbor, while he met with his apprentice, Silna. A two-seater plane with an automatic pilot was outside Darkspear Hold, waiting for them; despite his misgivings about the contraption, he took his chances and climbed aboard, while Silna took her seat in front of him.

“You’ve drawn quite a crowd,” the blind Darkspear priestess said in Zandali. “They await you at the dock. The ship is ready.”

“Still no word from our goblin mage friend?” he asked, in the same tongue.

She shook her head, looking worried. “None. She disappeared during the elemental uprising, and if the dragons know, they haven’t told us. No one’s heard from them.”

“They’re probably there waiting for us. Us, and our friends from Stormwind.”

Silna tilted her head at his tone. “You don’t seem to buy the idea that they are our friends.”

“I don’t,” Zulimbasha admitted. “Half of these ‘Deathsworn’ fought in Zuldazar, when they slaughtered our people and murdered the King. It is only by Bwonsamdi’s grace that Rastakhan and our other fallen did not end up in the Maw like so many others.”

“You realize they likely think the same thing about the Horde, Master,” Silna pointed out. “They think we all stood by and let Sylvanas burn Teldrassil. Even if some condemned the action - or, like you, some weren’t even a part of it. Indeed, it was their actions that led the Zandalari to formally join the Horde anyway.” She shook her head. “No one who screams for war ever seems to know the price that is to be paid.”

“Let us hope that the Alliance is not among the foes we face out there,” Zulimbasha agreed grimly. “If these Primalists were any indication, we will have enough to deal with.”

“I’ve heard that it’s a joint expedition between the Reliquary and their Explorers’ League. Maybe the focus on knowledge will prevent such conflict?”

“We will see.” The plane arrived safely (much to Zulimbasha’s relief, though of course he did not show it) at the dock, where their ship - a zeppelin, in fact - was waiting.

“Hey there, Zuli.” Both turned and looked down at the sound of that voice as they stepped out of the plane, and found that Kitrik the Assassin - now adding “Baron of Blades” to his titles, having bought a barony from the new Trade Prince after the last war - was standing there, dressed in his flight gear, a pair of titansteel daggers at his hips. He raised his goggles onto his forehead, grinning. “Nice to see ya made it in one piece.”

“Always a good t’ing,” Zulimbasha replied with a grim smile, as he switched to Orcish to respond to the goblin. “Who all be here?”

“The elves got a lot of representation today. Lord Vendross and Countess Melanius from Suramar, Master Sunblade, that ‘Accursed’ guy, and… did you really recruit a dark ranger? Ain’t they with --”

“Not dis one, not even when da Banshee was here,” the Collector interrupted sharply. “You of all people know dat who ya boss were don’t make ya who you be. Or do ya still be workin’ for dat waggle-chinned traitor who still be lookin’ down from da mountainside?” He gestured towards the sculpture of Gallywix, visible even from there.

Kitrik raised his hands to placate the priest. “Alright, alright, point taken! Yeesh. Tear my head off, why dontcha.”

Zulimbasha sighed. “Apologies, Kitrik. I admit I still be adjustin’ to de idea of workin’ with such a creature, but… events be showin’ me ta keep my mind open. Who else be dere?”

“Coupla Highmountain tauren, shaman and a druid… couple pandaren from the Wandering Isle… our vulpera pals, Eldex and Vilaya… Farseer Urgan, who I think’s a lot scarier than the greener version… oh, and that dracthyr gal, what’s her name. Lengua, that’s it. I think a bunch of 'em are just here to see us off.”

“Like me,” Silna said with a slight grin. “Who be going with you?”

“Other than Zuli here… Vilaya, Lengua, Lord Vendross, Master Sunblade, the Accursed guy, one of the Highmountains, and the dark ranger. And me, of course - and not only because it’s my ship you’re flyin’ on.”

The Collector nodded. “Everything be prepared, mon?”

“Locked, stocked, and barreled.”

“Good. Then let’s be about it.” Zulimbasha and Silna followed Kitrik to the dock, where the group was waiting. On the deck of the zeppelin, the Assassin’s Treasure, were those who were accompanying Zulimbasha to the Dragon Isles - Vilaya, the vulpera who had become his personal assassin; Master Nor’taeron Sunblade, a veteran Blood Knight whose golden hair eclipsed his dark armor and tabard; Poquelin the Accursed, who had found a surprising sense of peace in Revendreth, and worked with Zulimbasha during the recent elemental upheaval; Lord Randarel Vendross, who looked surprisingly pleased these days (possibly because he was now a grandfather, Zulimbasha had learned - his daughter Telisa had married Andris Melanius, the younger twin son of Countess Severine, who was there at the dock, and they’d just had a son); Kirenna Summerlight, who notably kept her distance from Randarel, as it had been his hand that had killed her and left her corpse to be violated by Sylvanas’ val’kyr; Tenatsali Windspear, the Highmountain hunter who had discovered his natural attunement to the elements during the Shadowlands war; and lastly Lengua, who was in her visage form, wearing Valkia’jin’s armor and carrying Vim’bal’s staff.

The Assassin stepped onto the deck, heading to the controls. Zulimbasha followed, as Silna took her place with those who were remaining - Eldex, the caravaneer and shaman known as the “Foxwolf” for the wolf-pelt armor he wore; Urgan of the Mag’har, the former Iron Horde shaman and counterpart to the mad warlock called the Corruptor; Archdruid Arihnda Wingmender, the Skyhorn healer; Chaoyen Greenacre, the pandaren farmer who’d taken up monk training; his ex-girlfriend Lazhna Trueflight, who some thought might not be “ex” for much longer; Nevasa, the Zandalari prelate who wore armor still marked with the visage of the martyred Rezan; and Euphrati Velade, daughter of Sekhesmet of Stratholme, who had abandoned the legacy of both her father and the Dark Lady to pursue the healer’s art.

Zulimbasha looked to those behind him, and then to those in front, and began to speak. “My friends, we be departing for a new land, ta aid da dragonflights at de request of da Dragonqueen. Some of ya be choosin’ ta stay on da homefront, where ya t’ink ya be needed most. Others be comin’ ta join us in time.” He paused, marshalling his thoughts. “Dere be some in de Alliance we be workin’ with over dere, who say dey be ‘sworn unto death’ for a cause dey believe in. Now, I be askin’ ya to do da same with me. Dere been some who call me ‘Herald of de Other Side’. I ask ya all ta be Heralds with me!”

To his surprise, there were nods and sounds of approval from them all.

“I have worked with ya all in some form or another since da war in Zandalar, and am proud ta call ya friends,” Zulimbasha continued. “I only ask dat ya swear da souls of dem ya kill ta Bwonsamdi, and dat ya uphold honor in all t’ings. Protect da innocent, and uphold da balance of life and death. Bring healin’ to those who yet live, and bring mercy ta any who be hearin’ da call of da Shadowlands.” His tone now had a hint of menace as he raised his staff, glowing with soul energy. “And for dem who seek to bar our way… Bwonsamdi be a Loa of death! Remind dem what dat means!”

“For Bwonsamdi!” Silna shouted. “For da Horde! For Azeroth!”

The group cried out as one: “For Bwonsamdi! For the Horde! For Azeroth!”

“Raise the anchors!” Kitrik shouted. “Engines to maximum power! Anybody who’s not with us, clear the way! We’re off to the Dragon Isles!”

And whatever awaits, Zulimbasha thought, as the Assassin’s Treasure lifted up into the air.

Urgan of the Black Harvest felt the familiar disorientation of portal travel fade as he stepped through the gate to the city of Valdrakken, and found himself standing in a massive chamber that looked to him like it could fit the entirety of Dalaran’s Violet Citadel inside it with room to spare. Impressive, he thought. Stepping into the courtyard and looking around, he could see the aqueducts connecting to the city, recognizing the architecture as similar to what he had seen in the Storm Peaks in Northrend more than a decade ago. While more interested in their power than their history, he had to admit the Titans had style.

He had not gone with the lemming rush in the prior days, instead biding his time in Orgrimmar, waiting for the furor to die down. Not all that surprisingly, the portal room near the main gates had a new entry soon enough, and he had availed himself of it once he deemed the time right. He would explore this place at his leisure, not dictated by the whims of this expedition or their dragon masters.

It amazes me how readily people look to “greater powers” to direct them, he thought. We did that on Draenor another life ago, with the elements… and again with the Legion. And we paid for it when our “benefactors” turned on us. What makes Alexstrasza any different than Kil’jaeden? Her “nature”? She is called the Dragonqueen, she is a creature that expects obedience. And so many rush to her call. Obey her whim. He snorted. Pathetic. These dragons are addicted to the sweetness of absolute power, and now that they don’t have it anymore… they seek to use us to get it back.

“You could not resist for long, could you?”

Urgan smiled as he turned to face the speaker. “Still hiding among the mortals in your own city, I see. Not comfortable in your own skin? Given the blood that stains your talons, I shouldn’t wonder.”

“I will not have my pain be mocked, Corruptor. Least of all by you.”

The Corruptor chuckled. “You are not the first to get a thrill from murdering your kin, Esheregos. I see it all the time.” He gave a mocking bow of his head. “Now, if you will excuse me, I must begin my explorations.”

Esheregos, in his mortal visage as Eregesh, kept his voice remarkably level, though his eyes glimmered with barely-contained rage. “I will warn you this once: Stay away from her.”

Urgan feigned ignorance. “Who?”

A flash lit up Eregesh’s eyes. “Do not play games with me.”

“I can do as I please,” Urgan replied calmly. “And so will Kelty, if she so chooses. I am simply showing her the respect you chose not to. Unlike you, I do not choose to hide who I am, or refuse to trust her with vital tasks. She is quite capable, for one trained by the Kirin Tor…”

Eregesh’s fists clenched. “Keep pushing me, warlock, and I will end you.”

The Corruptor laughed. “You are not the first to say so. Saavedro. Ketiron. Sekhesmet. Velenkayn. And you know where they are now, Esheregos? They’re all dead. And yet here I am. And your new friends - Heskin, Zulimbasha, and the rest - will join them, when and if I will it. And as ever, I will remain. You will not be the first of your kind I have killed, dragon - and if you ever threaten me again, you will not be the last. Once I am finished with you, I will hunt down your precious niece… and before she dies, I will let her see how you gorged yourself on Iskanigos’ corpse after you killed him.” The dragon-mage looked horrified at both the threat and the warlock’s knowledge of that event. “Oh, don’t look so surprised, Esheregos. I have eyes everywhere I choose to. It’s how I knew you snubbed your precious apprentice. And as it happened, I was in the Storm Peaks, studying the Titan archives there, when you did the deed. I saw everything. How will poor little Rianagosa react when she finds out that not only did you orphan her, you feasted on her father’s corpse before ripping his horns off as a trophy?”

Eregesh’s anger turned to anguish. “I… had exhausted myself in the chase,” he stammered. “I told her --”

“What she needed to hear,” the warlock finished along with him. “A lie of omission is still a lie, Esheregos. And it’s made worse for the lied-to when the omission is intentional.” He smiled evilly. “I know the wolf-knight and the death-priest don’t trust you anyway, but they’re willing to give you all the rope you need to hang yourself. One word, and I give them a good reason to. They need not even know it was me who told them, either. Especially that idiot Heskin. He’s just waiting for an excuse.”

Eregesh’s expression was one of pure hate. “What do you want?”

“A simple bargain, dragon-mage: Stay out of my way, and your little minions won’t ever find out what kind of double-dealing, cannibal hypocrite you are. I won’t even tell Kelty, if you’re worried about that. Though I don’t think she needs any excuses to hate you. She’s told me plenty.”

The warlock had him over a barrel, and he knew it. He nodded curtly. “Very well.”

“See? You can make a good decision if you try. Now, if you will pardon me, I understand there is a tailor in this city…” The Corruptor examined his robes. “Perhaps I could learn a few pointers.” He inclined his head, and began on his way.

As he walked past, Eregesh asked quietly, “Why her?”

Urgan’s cruel smile had never wavered. “Why not?”

Kitrik the Assassin landed the Assassin’s Treasure in the southern part of the isles, near - of all things - a tuskarr village, and a good-sized one at that. He looked up to the towering figure next to him. “Hey, Taeron… this place look kinda familiar to you?”

“Like I’ve gone back more than a decade,” Nor’taeron Sunblade replied, nodding. He pointed to the east. “That looks a lot like the Nexus. And out here… the Grizzly Hills. The same feeling of power. The same feeling of evil, contained and hidden from the world.”

“And we know there’s Titan stuff all over this place, so there’s that too. And them djaradin guys up north seemed an awful lot like vrykul to me.” The Assassin snorted. “Just need a big friggin’ saronite castle and a troll empire, and we’re all set.”

“Mayhap it’s not made of saronite, but that city to the northeast stands out just like Icecrown did. And within easy reach of further Titan structures. Doubt we’ll see any trolls, though, except those who came with us - and whoever joined these ‘Primalists’…” The Blood Knight shaded his eyes as he looked out. “I can see a light of sorts coming from that direction too. Maybe this beacon that our dragon friend mentioned?”

“Probably. Damn thing’s probably bright enough.” Kitrik glanced up at him. He had dropped most of the crew at the landing point at the Waking Shores, while Nor’taeron - who he had worked with in Northrend, when they both served House Ketiron - had gone with him. “What’s your take on this whole thing, Taeron? We all lived through the friggin’ Nexus War and the Cataclysm… once again we’re neck-deep in dragon drama. How do you think it will turn out?”

“If all our previous ‘dragon drama’, as you put it, is anything to go by… not well. Deathwing’s return triggered the Cataclysm… who’s to say empowering the Aspects again will not have a similar effect?”

“The Aspects can die just like anyone else,” Kitrik pointed out. “The Kirin Tor got a bunch of mooks to kill Malygos in Northrend. Deathwing, yeah, he needed a bit of extra oomph because of his Old God pals. And then there was… man, thinking about Val’sharah still sucks, all these years later. And I’m not just talkin’ about the ghosts or the flesh-eating plants.”

“I hear you,” Nor’taeron agreed grimly. “And a number of my colleagues from the old Silver Hand days share that sentiment. Though one - a Dark Iron, surprising enough - had more of an aversion to the plants than the Nightmare.”

Kitrik shuddered. “You don’t think we’ll find anything like that here, do you? The Nightmare, I mean.”

“I don’t know. And that’s what bothers me about this place. As I said… there is evil here, but I can’t put a finger on it. It’s not like the Old Gods… or maybe it is, and we’re just not meant to think it is. Light only knows at this point.” The Blood Knight smiled. “But if Northrend taught us anything, my friend, it’s that there’s only one way to find out.”

Kitrik grinned and nodded. “At the tip of our blades.”

Sir Eran Heskin stood atop one of the towers of the Seat of the Aspects in Valdrakken, having been deposited there by the proto-drake he had taken up riding when he arrived. His gaze was on a massive Titan structure to the east.

“I thought I might find you up here.”

Eran turned at the sound of wings, followed by a burst of magic as the dragon took the more personable visage of Eregesh. He inclined his head in greeting to the dragon-mage. “I see we’re both wearing our masks today.” He was in his human form, much like Greymane usually did when not in battle. Then he turned back and gestured to the structure. “Is that the beacon you mentioned?”

Eregesh nodded. “Uldorus was the name the Titans gave it, according to the records we found in Uldaman during the recent upheaval. But our ancestors and elders, including the Aspects, called it Tyrhold.”

“As in Keeper Tyr, he of the Hand, Tirisfal, so on?”

“The same. Tyr was dragonkind’s greatest champion in ancient times. You’ve seen the bones of Galakrond, in Northrend? He and the Aspects were involved in bringing that monster down. The Keepers were all for raising Tyr’s proto-drake friends into the Aspects… all save for one.”

Eran had heard this tale in Skyhold, with a bit of elaboration from his experiences in the Shadowlands. “Odyn. He took a chunk of Ulduar and brought into the sky to create his own realm, a hall of heroes based on what he had seen in the Shadowlands after he gave his eye to the Jailer.”

“Ah, yes, you worked with the Valarjar during the war against the Legion, did you not?”

Eran smiled. “And in Ulduar during the war against the Lich King, and in Uldum during the Cataclysm, and in Uldir during the Fourth War.”

“So this must be ‘old stuff’ to you.”

“Old is one word for it. But it’s also very interesting. I never was much for book-learning and scholarship as a child, but something about Titan lore always fascinated me when I first saw the structures in Northrend, and the ties to the vrykul there.”

Eregesh raised an eyebrow, a hint of amusement glimmering in his eye. “That wouldn’t have anything to do with discovering that the vrykul were the ancient ancestors of humankind, would it?”

“Maybe a little,” Eran admitted with a grin. “The dwarves certainly puffed up a lot when they discovered their Titan-forged origins in Uldaman all those years back. And you’re one to talk about pride, Mr. Friends-With-Tyr.”

The dragon-mage chuckled. “I’m hardly old enough to have ever known him, or even been here in the ‘old days’… but point taken.” He gazed out at Tyrhold thoughtfully. “It does seem very familiar, and I don’t mean just out of our collective memory, our instinctive draw to our ancient homeland. Most of what we’ve seen in these islands reminds me very much of what we’ve seen before.”

“Northrend,” Eran agreed, nodding. “Everyone I know who’s been there, both sides, has said that. Baron Kitrik in particular pointed out all the similarities. The Azure Span is like a mixture of the Grizzly Hills and Coldarra. The Waking Shores is like the Howling Fjord, and the djaradin are like the vrykul. And this, of course,” and he gestured out towards Tyrhold, “would be Ulduar.” He pondered for a moment. “There was another structure on the other side of the mountain, I saw it flying in.”

“The Vault of the Incarnates,” Eregesh replied grimly. “Lord Kalecgos called in Khadgar and the Kirin Tor when we found out Raszageth had found it. If you think she’s bad, the other three - or so I’ve heard - are much worse.”

“I’ve not heard much, but what I have says these ‘Incarnates’ are the dragon equivalent of the elemental lords we fought in the Cataclysm. This ‘Storm-Eater’ would be the counterpart of Al’Akir, for instance.”

“More or less. And like the elemental lords, they are adamantly opposed to the works of the Titans. They see us, raised up by Tyr and the other Keepers, as aberrations, and the Titans’ magic - the arcane, the Well of Eternity, the waters running from the halls beneath Tyrhold to the life pools west of us - as corruption. We were meant to be wild and free, not ‘shackled’ to the Titans’ will.”

Eran looked curiously at him. “Have you never thought about what serving them has cost you, though? Your flight in particular suffered greatly even before your Aspect fell. Deathwing nearly wiped your kin out back in the War of the Ancients.”

Eregesh’s smile was sad. “You’re wondering if I question whether all this pain and suffering has been worth it?” At Eran’s nod, he answered, “How do you answer that question for yourself? Look at what you’ve lost. Your wife. Your son. Your daughter-in-law. Two kings, nearly a third, and quite a number of your great heroes, and your friends. You’ve even lost your home at least once. Yet after all that, you still carry on to fight for Stormwind, for the Alliance, and for Azeroth. Why?”

Eran was taken aback by this, and stared out at the Beacon for a long moment, before he replied in a quiet voice, “Duty. I have lived my life by it for nearly fifty years. I swore an oath, and I take my promises seriously.”

“The mistake people tend to make when it comes to dragons is that they think us to have great power and expect those like yourself to obey us because we’re older, more powerful. But we do not control our powers. My flight does not control magic, no more than the Life-Binder’s flight controls life, or the Timeless One’s controls time. We are guardians, not overlords. We blues protect magic, just as the reds protect life, the greens protect nature, the bronzes protect time, and the blacks protect the earth and its deep places. That is our duty, one that our Aspects chose to accept… even if some would be turned from that path by madness.”

Eran had a thoughtful look as he faced the dragon-mage. “You and I, we’re not so different, are we?”

“No, I suppose not. We are each one simple part of a world greater than ourselves… and with a young kinsman to guide into their own paths.” Eregesh looked grim as he gazed out towards Tyrhold again, thinking on his encounter with the Corruptor. “With the hope that they have a better time of it than we did.”

Eran entered the Azure Archives, his expression one of curiosity as he walked into the room. He recognized two figures immediately: The dragon-mage Eregesh, and the death-priest Zulimbasha. Both turned and inclined their heads to him as he entered. “Thank you for coming, Sir Eran. It has been quite the struggle, these past few months.”

“Aye. And now it’s expanding?”

“So it would seem. There is a portion of the Isles that we have not covered quite yet: What we know as the Forbidden Reach. It was there that the dracthyr were awakened… and where much can be discovered. About them, about whatever the fallen Earth-Warder was up to there, and who knows what else. The expedition has already sent out feelers to the place.”

Eran raised an eyebrow, but Zulimbasha was the one who asked the question he was thinking on. “Is dat wise? Dere still be a lot goin’ on here on de ‘mainland’ without goin’ off lookin’ in da past.”

“Raszageth is dead, Zulimbasha. We have a respite, even despite the uncertainty with the other three Incarnates - Iridikron particularly - on the loose. And we suspect they may be headed for the Reach themselves. Why, we have no idea. Possibly to find other dracthyr.”

“You mean the ones we’ve seen are not the only ones?” Eran was surprised.

Eregesh nodded. “We can’t be certain of exact numbers, but we’re sure there are others still hidden. More than what we’ve seen, and we’ve seen quite a few. We know at least two of the awakened weyrns stayed in the Dragon Isles after the Obsidian Warders and the Dark Talons left the Reach. The Healing Wings, well, their name tells what they do. They will be a great boon to us. The other… well, you know about them.”

“The Sundered Flame.” Eran had encountered them in the Azure Span. “They seem to have no love for anyone - us, or the Primalists.”

“They are a vengeful lot. They took the revelation about Deathwing especially hard. I got the impression that Scalecommander Sarkareth looked up to him. All of the dracthyr likely feel the same way, but they choose not to act on it. Some of them act with considerable…”

“Honor,” Zulimbasha said emphatically. Eran nodded in agreement.

“What’s coming will be a considerable challenge to us all, Sir Eran. Which is why I asked to meet with the two of you particularly. There are some discussions about a joining of forces, groups from both sides fighting formally under a single banner. The two of you are the first people I thought of. You both have considerable followings, and have worked together in the past. A single force, under one banner.”

Eran’s eyebrows rose. “How would that work?”

“Ya be da warrior, ya be da boss in da field, plannin’ da fightin’. I be attendin’ to de more… spiritual aspects.” The Collector smiled at his expression. “Despite what ya be t’inkin’ of me an’ ol’ Bwonsamdi, we don’t look at death as bein’ dat much different, you and I. Dere should be respect involved, ya know?”

Eran looked dubious. “I can already tell you there are no small number of people working for me who won’t go for it. And I’m sure you’ve got your share with long memories. The vulpera particularly. They hate us almost as much as they hate the sethrak.”

“De vulpera be fair,” Zulimbasha replied sharply. “I don’t take any warmongas along with me, and I be fairly sure ya don’t either. T’ink on it, Heskin! Dis Alliance and Horde back-and-forth been goin’ on for decades. Ain’t ya as tired of it as we are? Besides, we both worked togetha before. Da Shadowlands. Da elemental invasion. Now dis.”

“You have me there,” the old knight conceded. He turned to Eregesh. “Your suggestion?”

“A feeler of sorts. I’m fairly sure you’re going yourself; the Pearl Queen is still in the Shores, your hunters are working with the Maruuk, and a number of your support team is staying here in Valdrakken.”

Eran now looked back at the priest. “And I take it you’ll be the one going with me?”

“Nope,” Zulimbasha replied with a slight grin. “I still be workin’ with da Artisans on a few brews. Plus I figure ya be wantin’ somebody who knows da lay of da land slightly better than you do… though a lot of it will be new to her as well.”

“You mean…”

“Someone who’s made a long stride in a short time,” Eregesh confirmed with a smile. “Two someones, actually.” He glanced behind him to two chattering figures - one a pale elf with bright blue hair and eyes, the other also vaguely elvish in appearance, with scales on her face, horns on her head, and burning red eyes behind a pair of what Eran had once heard referred to “brainy specs”. She wore a suit of Zandalari chainmail. They both stopped when they realized they were being watched, and approached as he beckoned.

“My niece you’ve met, of course, but not sure if you remember Lengua…?”

“Hard to forget, after seeing her tear apart those elementals in Un’Goro.” Knight and evoker looked one another up and down, sizing up the other. “Are you up for this?”

Lengua’s lips curved upward in a smirk. “Are you?”

Eran’s eyes narrowed for a moment… and then he chuckled. “We will see, won’t we?” He looked to the other. “And I take it you will be our chauffeur, young miss?”

“Well, unless you’d prefer to walk,” she quipped.

“Riana…” Eregesh had a warning in his tone.

To the dragon-mage’s confusion, Eran and Zulimbasha both started laughing.

Lengua held a flame up in one hand like a torch; the other hand rested on the hilt of an engraved Zandalari sword she wore at her hip, given to her by Kitrik (a relic from the Pandaria war, he explained). Her taloned fingers tapped nervously, in an almost metronomic pattern. Standing next to her, Eran could judge her expression well enough. For all that her draconic features made her face hard to read, he had seen the signs often enough in himself and others to recognize them: anxiety, apprehension, and memory. “Was it here?” he asked quietly.

The tapping suddenly stopped, and she looked at him like she had forgotten he was there. She saw that like her, he could feel the power of this place. Perhaps not as strongly as she did, but enough. She took a deep breath, and nodded. “Imagine it,” she whispered. “Memories of a world you barely remember, and awakening to a world you barely recognize.”

Contrary to what she had said at the gathering in Valdrakken, before the opening of the Reach, Lengua felt very strongly about her people’s past. She had said that the past was done, and the future was uncertain, and so she chose to look to the present. But that was not entirely true. She just chose not to give the satisfaction of seeing her doubt to some of those in that room. Arrogant wyrms, some of them.

The first person she had encountered after that meeting was Zulimbasha. He was one of the few people she felt comfortable opening up to. “Most people be thinkin’ along da same lines you do,” he had said when she related her doubts to him. “Some mean it when dey say dey don’t care. Other folks put on brave faces, like you. Dis still troubles ya?”

“I thought the feeling would fade,” she had admitted.

“Not everyt’ing be so easy to wrap up and toss aside, my friend. If da time be comin’ ta return to where ya began, do it da same way as when ya left it.” At her confused look, the Collector had smiled. “One step at a time, Lengua. Just one step at a time.”

“Lengua?” She looked up, returning to reality. Eran’s icy blue eyes gazed at her, a hint of concern in his lupine features. “Still with us?”

“Lost in thought.” Her head suddenly snapped up. She could hear the footsteps and see the lights coming from deeper inside the creche.

The old knight did too, and gestured to the evoker to douse the light. She clenched her fist, extinguishing the flame, as they ducked around the corner, out of sight of the doorway. Three dracthyr were coming up the passage. Lengua could see their signets; two she did not recognize, but she saw one marking the bearer as part of the old Ebon Scales, Sarkareth’s weyrn. She gave one shake of her head: They were not friends.

Eran understood. He could hear they had halted… and could tell their attention was in their direction. He glanced at Lengua, who nodded. Titansteel spear in hand, he thrust the moment he had a target, piercing the skull of the first dracthyr he saw - the Sundered Flame zealot, as it happened - with such force that it pinned the evoker to the rock wall.

“Fool,” one of the survivors hissed in draconic, as the other grappled with the worgen knight, armored claws and razor talons slashing. “You would side with mortals against your own kind?”

“To preserve our world, yes,” she snapped in the same tongue.

“Pathetic. No wonder Sarkareth thinks you weak… who but a weakling would forsake our legacy to this mortal filth?”

Lengua’s eyes burned with rage. “Some legacies are best forsaken.” She remembered all she had been told about Neltharion - Deathwing, the “softscales” called him - by her new allies, draconic or otherwise. Indeed, she had spoken to Eran the evening before they left Valdrakken, getting the sense of the man she was to accompany here. The knight had explained what had happened when Deathwing attacked Stormwind, and how he had fought against the Destroyer’s minions in places like Vashj’ir and Uldum; Kitrik had related similar tales during the voyage from Bilgewater Harbor.

The legacy of Neltharion was nothing but death and destruction, and she wanted no part of it. For all that Sarkareth and his lot claimed feelings of betrayal from their maker’s fall, and pledged to never serve dragonkind again, she couldn’t help but wonder if their former comrades were following too closely in the image of the monster (and that was what he was) who had created them.

One look at the crazed, hate-filled eyes of her opponent was all the confirmation of that she needed, as their deadly dance carried on. Lengua could sense that this one was not as strong in the powers they wielded, but hid their fears of weakness behind blind hate and bravado. It sounded eerily familiar to her… like how she had been, when she had awakened this very creche. Angry, confused, and wanting to fight the world. How she had nearly attacked Esheregos and Rianagosa when they had come with the Timeless One and the two black dragons, because she thought them agents of Malygos meant to murder them. She had learned the truth quickly. This one, however…

Barely out of stasis, she realized. Do any of them even realize what is going on?

A howl of enraged pain, followed by a screech and a hideous cracking of bones, told Lengua that Eran had dispatched his opponent. She turned for just a second to look at him. His tabard was slashed to ribbons, and blood leaked from a number of rents in his armor. He was breathing heavily. Then his head snapped up. “Look out!” he shouted.

Instinct took over. The sword at Lengua’s hip was in her hand in a flash as she turned back, and the blunt-tipped but razor-sharp blade ripped through the scale midriff of the charging dracthyr, whose yellow eyes widened in shock.

Pain tightened around Lengua’s heart. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, as the other slid from her blade and onto the floor. She bowed her head. “I’m sorry.”

Eran picked up his sword from where it had been knocked from his hand by the other, and then wrenched his spear free from the skull of the Sundered Flame evoker, who collapsed like a limp fish. He saw the expression on Lengua’s face, and elected to keep silent.

Returning the blade to her hip, Lengua raised her hand again, summoning the flame. She turned to him, and gently touched that flame - a living flame, part of the blood of the red dragonflight that was combined into the dracthyr - to his injuries. Though not trained in healing, not like Eran’s ally Serys, she knew enough. He nodded his thanks to her as he straightened up, walking around the fallen. His head gazed around, alert to see if anyone had heard the sounds of battle.

Taking a deep breath, Lengua stepped around the three dead dracthyr, though not before taking another glance at the one she had been forced to kill. Her expression was haunted. This had not been a real enemy, not like the Flame. Just a newly-woken, fresh and stupid. Just like she had been, not so long ago… and how quickly she had been forced to learn. As she and Eran proceeded inside, the guilt remained in the back of her mind.

I’m sorry…

Eregesh Silvergale stood on one of the high towers of the Seat of the Aspects in Valdrakken, gaze fixed on the burning holes in the earth leading deep below the Dragon Isles.

Zulimbasha had come to him in the archives some days before, worry burning in his eyes even before he had taken that mask off. “She’s gone. And she left everyt’ing I gave her behind.”

Eregesh had known who he meant. “Did she leave anything else?”

The Collector had nodded, holding out a small parchment, with draconic runes written on it. She had become a scribe working in the isles, and in the Reach, writing down what historical documents she could find. He had to admit to a hint of amusement; what once she had dismissed as being irrelevant, now she considered a necessity. Perhaps now that was why she was gone. And Eregesh had had a suspicion he knew where.

The letter had confirmed it… and she was not the only one gone, either. It had been addressed specifically to him, hence why it was written in draconic.

Esheregos -

I have left to venture into the cavern, following the path of the black dragons and of the scalecommander. Riana has come with me, of her own accord. Please do not be angry with her.

I am grateful to Master Zulimbasha for what he has given, but I have had a feeling come to me that I should approach this not as a Herald of the Other Side, but as a dracthyr. It may come at a cost to me, as it did for some of our brethren in the Reach. But I MUST do this.

Forgive me.


A flapping of wings behind him got his attention, and he turned to see Eran Heskin dismounting from his proto-drake. “She’s given us the slip?” he asked without preamble. Zulimbasha had told him.

“Both of them have,” Eregesh agreed, nodding. “Into the great cavern.”

Eran’s brow furrowed in concern. “We cannot let them go down there alone, Eregesh. If the method of entry is any indication, this could be worse than the Reach.”

The dragon-mage sighed. “We have to trust her, Sir Eran. This is part of Lengua’s journey, and she has chosen to take it alone. But… I am glad to hear you have taken her as one of your own. Zulimbasha thinks very highly of you as well. You respect the balance of things, just as he does.”

Eran gave a light shrug to hide his embarassment. “It’s not an easy road to follow.”

“No,” Eregesh agreed, “it’s not.” He gazed back towards the cavern. “You’re going in, aren’t you?”

The old knight nodded. “Like you said, she’s one of us now. What’s the purpose of being allies if you can’t help carry burdens? And besides… I have never chosen to leave anyone behind, and I am not about to start now.”

“Then may Tyr’s blessing go with you, my friend.”

Flying through the caverns, he landed in Loamm, where the niffen guided him on the trail of “the angry one”, as they called her. Outside a Titan vault recessed into the wall, he found her. He moved quietly, but not so much so that he would be seen as trying to sneak up on her. “Lengua?” he called gently.

She looked up at him. He couldn’t see any expression in her normal visage, but the eyes told him everything. So did her voice. “Sir Eran.”

The fact that she was alone worried Eran, and he voiced that concern. “Where is Rianagosa?”

Lengua pointed upward, and calmly took a step back. When Eran looked up, he quickly leapt back as well as a corpse smashed into the ground. This one was a Primalist. A Zandalari, judging by what was left of it. But carved into what remained of its forehead was an eight-pointed star. The sign was familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

“They’re lurking in with the Flame,” she said, as she shifted into her visage. She was wearing a dark coat of leather, reinforced with metal, gems set into the breastplate. “They seem to specifically be coming after us.”

Eran decided not to stand on ceremony either, and took his human form. “Any idea why?”

Lengua shook her head once, curtly. “What I have seen down here… what Sarkareth and the Flame have done. It’s madness. Ebyssian has told us what Neltharion - Deathwing - became. So has Esheregos, and Kalecgos, and Alexstrasza, and all the others… and they don’t listen!” Pain laced her voice, and in her visage form, it was also very clear on her face. “Why?” she whispered. “In the Titans’ name, why? His name is death. His legacy is death. What I have seen of it here, there is no doubt. And he is dead! We all know this! And yet they say Sarkareth hears him calling… how?” She grabbed his shoulders, rage and pain evident in her face. Though her visage form was shorter than he was, even in his human face, he knew better than to underestimate her strength. “You know more about this than I do, knight! Tell me why, damn you! TELL ME!

He grasped her wrists, gently removing her hands, and taking them in his own. “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly, sounding like a father trying to teach his child a hard truth - recalling what Esheregos had said, about how the dracthyr were like children in many ways. “I know a lot, but… I don’t know how to answer you.”

“There is no point anyway.”

Both of them turned at the sound of that voice. A night elf stood there, clad in leather armor that showed her slender figure - and the fiery tattoos carved into her flesh. Parto of her face was hideously burned, and her eyes alternated between pure fire and the fel flame that burned in her veins. Horns of elemental fire protruded from her brow. She held her arms crossed over her chest. In each hand was an arakkoa warblade, the blades alive with flame. The eight-pointed star, similar to that carved into the forehead of the dead Primalist, could be seen on the jewel on her forehead.

“No point?” Eran asked, his voice dangerously quiet. His form shifted, as he hefted his titansteel sword and spear.

“No point,” she replied, a sadistic smile on her face. “Because you will both be dead.”

“You seem very sure of that.” Eran’s eyes narrowed. “Wait… I know you. The night elves call you the Heretic. You have called for Tyrande’s death and the abandonment of Elune.” The night elf nodded. “You have no chance here, demon hunter. Walk away.”

The Heretic’s smile widened. Then, without warning, she leapt, her feet kicking off Eran’s breastplate and knocking him to the ground. Unfurling her wings, she collided with Rianagosa, who had descended to intervene. The Heretic slashed her blades across Rianagosa’s chest, causing the drake to roar with enraged pain as they descended to the broken rocks below.

“Riana!” Lengua rushed to her friend’s side, Eran right along with her. His breath caught in his chest, horrified at the injury inflicted to the young drake… and his rage began to build as he watched the demon hunter raise her blades for the killing strike. He hurled his spear just as the blades began their downward slash. The movement fouled his aim, but did enough, impaling her through the shoulder and into the stalagmite behind her.

The Heretic snarled with pain, fel-tainted blood flowing from the wound. “Anach kyree,” she spat in Eredun.

It was a curse Eran was familiar with, having heard it often enough when fighting the Legion. “You’re the one pinned like a moth to a board. Seems you’re the miserable insect here.” he sneered, as he lifted his sword under her chin. “Now you can die like a miserable insect too, you fool.”

“She would only be a fool if she were doing this alone.” The barrel of a rifle touched the back of Eran’s head. “Drop the sword, or I empty your skull all over these rocks.” The knight glanced to one side, seeing that Lengua had two very large, and very rotten, beasts cornering her… along with about a dozen Forsaken Deathguards surrounding her, all of them armed. All of them wore the eight-pointed star on their tabards.

Eran let the sword fall to the ground and turned around to face his captor - a Forsaken with brown hair that ran nearly to his waist, and red eyes burning within a pale, sunken face. He recognized him at once, and snarled a particularly vile Dwarvish curse he’d learned during the Second War, referring to the parentage of his foe.

The Forsaken chuckled. “Nice to see you too, Heskin.” One of his men removed the spear from the Heretic’s shoulder and handed it to him. He gave the weapon an experimental whirl, spinning like a dancer, his chainmail coat chiming as he moved, before he smashed the haft across Eran’s face. “A fine weapon, well balanced. From Ulduar, is it? It will make a nice trophy for my lord’s collection. His bodyguard will make good use of it.”

Eran spat blood into the dirt. “Not as much as I will when I use it to pop your head like a ripened melon.”

“Bold words from a toothless old wolf.” To add emphasis to the first part of the insult, the Forsaken again struck him in the face with the spear haft, breaking several teeth. “Preening knight bastard. Think because some king touches your shoulder with a sword, that makes you better than us grunts, eh?”

“No, Jonathan… but the four decades or so of combat experience does. Skill is all well and good, but there is something to be said for experience.”

The portion of Eran’s blood not running down his battered face chilled at that voice. Not him, he thought. Anyone but him.

Urgan stepped from the back of his black-scaled mount, a wyvern-like beast. “I see we have both come to the same place, Jonathan. Well done.”

“Heskin made it easy,” Jonathan Surrette replied smugly.

The Corruptor nodded, then glanced at the demon hunter. “Everything alright here, Caradell?”

“Well enough, Lord Corruptor,” the night elf hissed through clenched teeth, though the mad grin was back. “Just a scratch.”

“I’d hate to see what you call a real wound, then.” Urgan looked amused as the Heretic picked up her blades, then peered down at the wounded drake. “Alas, young blue… you’ve grown so much since that fateful day in the Storm Peaks when your father was killed. Murdered by his own brother, no less. Such a tragedy.”

The drake glared at him. “You know nothing, warlock,” she snarled.

“I know everything, Rianagosa. I was there. I saw your uncle do it.” The Corruptor grinned wickedly. “I don’t suppose now is a good time to mention the fact he also feasted on your father’s corpse before it was even cold, but time never seems to favor us all that much.” He shrugged. “If it’s any consolation to you, child, you won’t have to carry that knowledge for very long.” He began to raise his arm to order the kill.


He turned to the speaker, slowly lowering his arm with a smile. “Ah. So glad of you to join us. Lengua, isn’t it? I am Urgan. I assume you’ve heard of me. And you probably have a… rather dim view of me. Not that the Collector or Esheregos would have lied, at least not about me, but… they only understand what they choose to see.”

“I see your minions harming my friends, orc.”

“Friends? Is that what they say they are?” The Corruptor chuckled. “A battle-addled fool who had to be strongarmed into accepting your people, and a brainwashed child fed lies by the beast who orphaned her. Not to mention the beast in question, and whatever he has told you… or a death-obsessed zealot, surrounded by people he threatens with eternal torment in the guise of ‘maintaining the balance’.”

“Bold words from a murderer and a traitor to his own people.”

Urgan shrugged. “I have never tried to hide who and what I am. I serve myself first and foremost, though my selfish desires are tempered by long experience, both good and ill.” He gestured around them. “There are those who either shun power because they fear it, or they submit without hesitation to those who wield it. And then there are those who are gifted, and seek those who truly appreciate them. Do your ‘friends’ appreciate your power, Lengua? Do they? It’s obvious the old wolf doesn’t trust you. He came looking for you because he’s afraid of what you might do, or what you might find. Of who you might become.”

“I’ve seen what Sarkareth and his lot want to become. I want no part of that.”

“Nor should you! I was encased in a soulstone during the Cataclysm, but what I have seen and heard of its aftermath is evidence enough. Deathwing was a menace, and deserved his fate. Indeed, when the cavern was opened… I could feel the power of the shadowflame that corrupted him from all the way up in Valdrakken. It is an oppressive aura, and a tempting one as well. You hear its siren song, don’t you? I know I do. It is a tempting prospect, that power. And yet we resist. Your will is strong, stronger than your so-called ‘friends’ give you credit for.”

“Lengua --” Eran’s attempt to protest earned him another strike across the face from his own spear.

The Corruptor glanced at the knight. “For shame, Jonathan!” he said mockingly. “Everyone is entitled to voice their opinions here. But I think I know Sir Eran’s complaint. You think I’m trying to lead her away from you, don’t you?” He paused for a moment, then gave another nonchalant shrug before turning back to Lengua. “I confess he’s right about that. You see, Lengua, I have a greater appreciation for what you are capable of than they do - perhaps even than you do. You have power, but you are too timid in its use. You play it safe to avoid trouble with your ‘friends’. You fear it because of what you are, because of who created you. And they fear it too.”

Lengua looked uncertainly at Rianagosa, then at Eran, then back at Urgan. “What do you mean?”

“Esheregos, and Sir Eran here, and Zulimbasha… they want to keep tabs on you. I do not leash people to me. Yes, these men you see here do serve me, and when I need them, they come at my call. But they serve willingly, and are free to do as they wish until I ask for their service. They have embraced the Eightfold Path in their own way, recognizing its fundamental truth.”

“Which is?”

“Conflict, my dear wanderer. It is the natural state of being for both the living and the dead alike. We may have momentary lulls - a couple months here, a few years there - but always, always, the cycle begins anew. The Path accepts this. Idealists like Sir Eran here try to act like there will be peace forever if they defeat this one last enemy. And look how often this has not been the case, particularly for the better part of the last twenty years. Archimonde. The Lich King. Deathwing. The Old Gods. Sargeras. The Jailer. The Incarnates. And of course, one another.” He smiled grimly. “I do not expect you to trust me, Lengua. But I ask you to trust your own senses. You’re a soldier who is seeking a cause. They try to offer you some false reassurance of a place in their peaceful world. I offer you the chance to be what you were made to be, without restraint… without guilt. I see you’ve embraced other gifts as well, and I won’t ask you to give those up. But I won’t ask you to hide your real talents behind them, either.”

“You want me to fight for you? Why?”

“Why not?” the Corruptor countered. “As I said, conflict is inevitable. It’s natural. Better to ride the torrent than try to stop it.”

Lengua pondered this for a moment… and then she started laughing. The Corruptor looked momentarily wrong-footed at her reaction, not sure if it was hysteria or mockery. When it was done, her form shifted, her talons flexing. “You’re an idiot,” she hissed. Behind her, Eran couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief. “You think I don’t see through this sham? You and your kind kill because it’s fun. I am a soldier, not a butcher.”

The Corruptor sighed as well, but it was one of disappointment. “A pity. You had such promise.” He waved a hand. “Kill them all.”


Everyone there felt rather than heard that voice. The Corruptor turned to see Esheregos coming at him at full speed, horns forward like a charging ram. He threw himself flat, narrowly missing being disemboweled by the dragon’s talons. With a swipe of his tail, Esheregos slammed Jonathan into a nearby rockface before shifting into his visage of Eregesh, lashing out at the Deathguards with an arcane containment spell. Caradell, wisely, vaulted backwards. Rianagosa had been a whelp, not very strong. She could feel the magic in the older dragon, and decided to leave him to the warlock.

Eran, also wanting to keep out of what he suspected was to be a duel, retrieved his weapons and spoke quietly to Lengua. “Heal her up and get her out of here. I’ll cover you if need be.” The evoker nodded, and knelt next to her fallen friend. Eregesh, seeing this, gave a silent nod of thanks to the old knight, who bowed his head in return.

Urgan rose and dusted himself off. Then he started laughing. “You couldn’t resist, could you, Esheregos?”

“Nor could you,” the dragon-mage replied evenly. “By the way, if you’re concerned about being eaten afterwards, no dragon would willingly stomach your foulness.”

“You gorge yourself on your own brother’s flesh, and yet I’m unpalatable? I should be offended.”

Eregesh seethed inwardly at the reminder, but remained outwardly nonchalant. “You’ll live. For a while, anyway… until I bring your broken body to Zulimbasha. Bwonsamdi will be expecting you.”

The Corruptor snorted. “Bwonsamdi will be waiting until the stars burn out.”

Eregesh smiled coldly. “We’ll see about that.”

Mage and warlock bowed formally to one another.

While she was no healer, Lengua knew enough to mend the horrific wounds in Rianagosa’s chest, at least enough to stabilize her and hopefully get her to safety. But as her hands worked, her eyes went up to the scene in front of her. Esheregos was far older and more experienced, but she could sense the raw power in the warlock as he dueled with the dragon-mage. She felt it the moment she first saw him. Furthermore, she was sure he had killed both mages and dragons before, and the blue was most vulnerable as Eregesh - because mortals could die so easily, even if their lifespans went on for millennia.

The Corruptor seemed to be caught up in a dance with his foe, his mastery of the fel almost as absolute as Eregesh’s mastery of the arcane. And the fel had insidious effects on those who wielded it… but even more so on those who faced the wielder. Plus she could see that the dragon-mage was tired. He must have flown all the way here from Valdrakken, she thought. He must have known.

Dragons, Titan-touched or no, had an irritating tendency to underestimate those who were not like them. Malygos had done it. Deathwing had done it. Raszageth had done it. All of them had paid for it. So too would the other Incarnates, in all likelihood - and so would the Aspects. They were prideful, arrogant. A dubious “gift” Deathwing had also installed in the dracthyr, come to think of it; Sarkareth was evidence enough of that. The only one who seemed to not be completely blinded by it was Emberthal… or so it seemed to Lengua, at any rate.

The Corruptor raised his staff, a hideous melding of wood, metal and bone, blazing with sickly green flame and enchanted with runes. Gouts of felfire smashed against Eregesh’s arcane shield, before it finally collapsed. Before he could raise another, the warlock’s free hand let loose a burst of fel, knocking the dragon-mage off his feet and into the dust. A meteor of void energy came from nowhere as the spell impacted, and the elemental monster tried to stomp the prone figure of the dragon-mage.

ENOUGH! Esheregos roared as he shifted forms, his tail smashing the blasphemy to rubble. But the Corruptor simply smiled as he raised his staff again, felfire raining from above. Then another meteor, this one also of felfire, followed suit, crashing on top of Esheregos before he could take wing. The infernal had him now.

Rianagosa gasped as she felt the healing take hold. Standing, Lengua clenched her talons, hate and rage heating her blood. She had done all she could for Riana. Now she would do the same for Riana’s uncle. “Sir Eran,” she said with a calm she most certainly did not feel, “stay with her.”

The tone of her voice made the knight turn, and the look in her eye kept him from protesting. He nodded, the steel in his voice matching hers. “Give him hell, friend.”

Friend. What a beautiful word. It was all to keep from weeping. But now was not the time for that.

With a beat of her wings, Lengua leapt. Urgan’s head turned sharply at the movement, his eyes widening as the evoker’s talons slashed across his face, shattered the tusk protruding from over his upper lip, and narrowly missed taking out the eye.

The Corruptor shrieked with pained fury as he staggered, blood pouring from his mouth. “Wretched puppet!” he snarled. “You will die SCREAMING! I promise you that!”

“Bold words, scum,” Lengua retorted. “You wanted my power, Corruptor? Then HAVE IT!” She leapt up, breathing fire down across the dusty ground, setting the feathers of the warlock’s robes ablaze. As she landed, the Corruptor turned, preparing a spell. But the dracthyr were made with the power of all of the dragonflights in them - and one such perk came from the bronzes. One moment she was in his sights… the next, she was back where she had started her run. Behind him.

As he made to turn, Lengua leapt forward again, her talons wrapping around the shaft of the Corruptor’s staff. Touching the dark-tainted wood revolted her… everything about the fel revolted her. How it corrupted everything it touched. How it was fueled by destruction, and how it fed on agony. Her talons and scales began to glow with arcane energy, the legacy of the dragonflight that had imprisoned the dracthyr… the power wielded by the two blue dragons who had befriended her. Embraced her.

The shaft began to glow… then crack. Urgan’s eyes widened in horror. “No! NOOOOO!!!”

The staff exploded in their hands, throwing them both back. Lengua didn’t have enough time to brace herself…

…but someone caught her anyway. She felt… fingers. No. Talons. She began to struggle.

“Be at ease, child of the Reach.” The voice was rich, authoritative, but friendly regardless. Lengua looked up and saw the scales of the voice’s owner were red. He served the Dragonqueen. She relaxed. “I have you. I have all of you. And I will take you out of here.” He gently set her down, before approaching the fallen blue dragon. The infernal had dissipated, but it had done its work. Esheregos was badly injured. The red dragon gently laid a claw across his face… then sighed in relief. “He lives.” He then turned to the others, and shifted into his visage - a red-haired elf with green eyes. Not unlike the blood elves, but… different too, in his own way.

“Who are you?” Lengua asked.

He smiled as he began to channel a teleportation spell around the two dragons. “Call me Zaran,” he said. “Hold on. This might get rough.”

The teleport beacon’s effects faded, and he shook his head to clear it. “Never liked that. Mage portals, engineer gizmos… does no one just walk?”

“Well, if you’d wanted to, I could have saved myself the trouble,” groused the mechagnome standing next to him. “And I do not specialize in ‘gizmos’. I leave that to the amateurs. This is art.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say… hm, do you summon those? I hear their eyes are squishy…” The mechagnome would have rolled his eyes if he had any. The other figure with them just looked bemused. Almost out of his depth.

He walked across the broken ground, seeing signs of the fight. The arcane magic that had contained most of the Deathguards had ended up hurling them about when Esheregos lost control of the spell - having infernals rained on your head would do that to you. Jonathan Surrette shook his head as he rose painfully to his feet. He gave the Forsaken executor barely a glance, and an amused one at that, before he saw the crumpled figure nearby, surrounded by broken shards of metal and wood. A runed skull, once burning with felfire, lay nearby, its magic now burned out.

Caradell was at the fallen warlock’s side, and looked up at him. “Can you help him?”

He knelt, muttering in a dark tongue under his breath, a shadowy mist swirling from his fingertips over the prone figure. After a moment, he gave a nod. “The Corruptor is still with us.”

Urgan groaned as he was rolled over. A slash across the lower right portion of his face had shattered the tusk, and he could sense the arcane magic. Potent, too. He had only felt it once before, and it came from the figure behind him. The Corruptor’s eyes opened, blinking to focus. “S-Septimus…?”

“In the flesh. Perhaps you were expecting the blue-boy Arbiter.” Brother Septimus Galedeep grinned. “Or the Zandalari death-god, maybe. Can you stand?”

Urgan rolled himself over onto his hands and knees, agony searing through him as he tried to straighten himself. The evoker’s attack and the impact from the release of power from his staff had taken its toll. He was covered in blood and his flesh was burned in several places. “Wretched creature,” he snarled. “We will not get much use from that one.”

“Quite alright. We found someone else.” The mad Tidesage’s voice became somewhat singsong. “Someone with less starch in their wings, without some dragons to pull their strings.”

Urgan looked up and saw the other figure - a dracthyr, missing a horn. “Your work?”

Galedeep shook his head, expression serious again. “Tangled with the blues when they woke up. He’s one of the Flame. Or at least he was until he decided he didn’t want to get burned anymore.” He all but giggled at his own joke. “Apparently, their big boss is dead, and a lot of 'em don’t know what to do with themselves anymore.”

That got the Corruptor’s attention. Sarkareth dead? He hadn’t known that. He wondered if Esheregos and his lot had. “And the mage?”

“Not a peep. Not like we can ask the Primalists if they know where she is. Even by spearing through their brains. I tried.”

Urgan thought he heard Jonathan snicker, but kept his thoughts to himself. The Tidesage’s use of shadow magic was about as subtle as an axe-swing at times. “No matter.” He rose to his feet, wincing as his back refused to straighten. He must have taken more of an impact than he thought. “Let us return to the surface, and we’ll prepare for the future. We have stumbled, but the Path awaits.”

Though he was widely considered by everyone - including the people around him now - to be insane, Galedeep’s mind was sharper than people gave him credit for. And seeing what had happened to the warlock, how this confrontation had ended, he was starting to doubt. He believed in the Path. He just wasn’t sure about the one leading him on it. Yes, he was an orc, and Kul Tirans never trusted orcs anyway. But what the Corruptor had said about the Path made sense to him. Peace was a lie. Chaos was the natural state of being.

Watching this so-called “master” warlock being laid low by an overgrown lizard, however, made Galedeep doubt that the Corruptor knew where he was going. If he was as powerful and experienced as he claimed, this should have been no trouble. Yet all he had to show for his efforts was a confused whelp (that he’d had nothing to do with capturing in the first place), a hunch in his back, a scar across his face, and a whole lot of ego.

Our ways will part, he thought, and he will be left behind.

But sometimes it was best to let people think you were crazy. The voices told him so.