The Hour of Broken Dreams

Zulimbasha the Collector stood quietly on a rise outside Maruukai, gazing to the southwest. The greens had opened the way to the Emerald Dream in pursuit of Fyrakk and his minions, which now included the Druids of the Flame - night elves corrupted by Ragnaros during the Cataclysm, who still pursued the elusive dream of their people’s immortality… and now saw the mad Incarnate as their means of obtaining it.

He shook his head, a cold smile on his face. He looked forward to proving these fools wrong. All that lived, died. Nothing could change that.

“It begins?”

His gaze did not shift from the sight of those flying to the portal. “It does indeed. De way be open, and de battle begins again.”

“Against the Primalists… or against our other foe?”

Zulimbasha now did turn. “Eager ta be huntin’ demons again, Poquelin?”

“I won’t deny it,” Poquelin the Accursed admitted, his hands flexing around the grips of his warglaives. “But I’ll also point out that these lunatics are drawn to conflict, and this is going to be a fairly nasty one, based on what we’ve witnessed. Both here, and when this seed was formed.”

The Collector nodded, conceding the point. He had pledged to Ardenweald during the Shadowlands war, and was well aware of what that seed was. “One problem at a time, my friend. De Primalists and de fire-druids be plenty ta focus on.”

“Aye, true enough,” the Illidari agreed. “At least for now. But I’m not going to let my guard down, either.”

“Nor should ya.” Zulimbasha shook his head. “Who knows what de Alliance be thinkin’, tryin’ ta make nice with eredar. All because de ol’ Prophet says so?”

Poquelin smiled slyly. “You Zandalari had your way of dealing with prophets who brought evil into your lands, did you not? One wonders if the Alliance should not consider it. Turalyon is certainly zealous enough.”

“Dat would be how we do it here, but de Alliance… confusin’ bunch o’ people.” He shook his head. “Are ya ready for dis?”

“No, but I’m planning to go anyway,” the demon hunter joked.

Zulimbasha couldn’t help but chuckle. “Dat makes two of us.”

As far as battlefields went, Lord Aldos Relsyn mused as the portal effects faded, this one had to be one of the prettier he had seen. It reminded him of Ardenweald - fittingly, given the origin of the seed that had grown this tree. Hints of Zereth Mortis too, come to think of it. A plane of creation, where a new beginning awaited… and someone high on themselves trying to destroy it. It was the kind of thing that kept people on their toes, and he was all for it. That was the purpose of the Path, after all: to stir the pot, incite a little chaos, keep the fires of war lit.

Not that he wanted the place to burn, mind; the mere threat was enough. He was not one to embrace destruction for destruction’s sake, but he also believed that one had to destroy in order to create. The burning of Teldrassil had led to this. Admittedly, he wondered what would happen if this tree burned too, but given how insane these Primalists and fire druids were, he was almost afraid to find out.

“Lord Relsyn.” He looked up at the approaching figure, a Forsaken in a chainmail longcoat, carrying a skull-marked rifle. His voice was tightly controlled. “There’s a camp at the base of the roots. It’s where all these ‘Dream Wardens’ are based as they spread their forces out around the place. Seems to be well fortified.”

“And the fire zealots?”

“To the north a ways, mostly. They’ve already made themselves at home.”

Relsyn nodded, his metal-tipped fingers tapping against his hip. “The battle for these isles will be decided here, I think. After that, we wait for the next catastrophe… because we know there will be a next catastrophe. A vicious cycle, Jonathan - you’ve seen it before.”

Jonathan Surrette nodded curtly. “I have, my lord.” Relsyn noted the barely-repressed contempt in the man’s voice, and understood the reason. The executor had never quite forgiven his new master for the incident outside Tyrhold. Using the Tidesage’s mental powers to control him and his men… it had reminded him too strongly of what some of the old guard had told him about the Scourge, and he had said so to Relsyn’s face. The Nightborne had struggled not to sneer at the hypocrisy; Sylvanas had engaged in domination too, and the executor had not batted an eye then.

But Relsyn was not the Corruptor, and did not intend to waste the veteran Deathguard’s talents. He was not above ruling through fear, but he did not need to scream it to the skies, or waste his magics on “displays of power”. Surrette understood that he was only still alive because his new patron was much more gracious, but he was under no illusions, either…

“Then let us proceed,” the warlock said after a moment. “There is likely much to do.”

Poquelin found him standing on the platform of the Eye of Ysera, gazing out towards the great tree in the center. The demon hunter was not surprised that the old man had quickly adopted the “natural” wargear of the Dream since his arrival, not to mention the antlers that crowned his head - a mark of Cenarius’ favor to members of his Circle. Poquelin was also sure they had not been there the last time. Those antlers now tilted slightly, along with the head on which they rode. “The Wardens?” he asked without any ado.

“Scouting ahead,” Poquelin replied. He gazed up at the great tree, able to see its magic through his fel-infused sight. “I can’t help but think that this will end the same way as all the other ones, Tekolin. You night elves put all your effort into these gigantic trees, and it all ends in tears. The one in Northrend you had to tear down because of Yogg-Saron. Hyjal. Teldrassil.”

Tekolin Wintershade turned to face him in a rustle of leaves from his Dream-infused robes. One eye was a dim, sightless orb, slashed out by the claws of a crazed furbolg in Northrend’s Grizzly Hills more than a decade earlier, but the one that remained still glared fiercely. Poquelin realized how he had sounded, and bowed his head. To his surprise, the archdruid chuckled. “Believe it or not, I have thought the same thing,” he said quietly. “Yet I think it will be different this time.”

“How so?”

“Because it is not simply for us, though the souls of our dead make up the essence that sustains it. It is the sisters’ gift, not only to the kaldorei, but to Azeroth. That is why so many have come to help us protect it. Oh, no doubt there are quite a few here for glory, treasure, what have you, but there are those who are here for better intentions.” He smiled. “Like you, I think. It is not simply a search for purpose that brings you here, is it?”

Poquelin was silent as he peered back towards Amirdrassil, a thoughtful expression on the unveiled part of his face. Movement from behind made both men turn. It was the sister Wardens, Itzara and Aleira Ravensong. Tekolin could see from their expressions that the news was not good. “What have you found?”

Both sisters exchanged glances, wondering what to say, and then with a sigh, Aleira made her report. “The rumors were true, Shan’do Wintershade. She is there, in the camp of the traitors.”

Poquelin knew what they meant, but he was slightly confused. “I thought they were druids.”

“Most of them are,” Itzara confirmed. “But they have called to others who share their mad desires. They think the sacrifice of our immortality at Hyjal was a betrayal. That’s why Staghelm and his lot turned to Ragnaros in the first place.”

Tekolin clenched his fists, shaking with barely controlled rage. “Fools!” he snarled. “Blind, selfish fools!”

Poquelin looked at him worriedly, knowing it was not just his anger at the betrayal of his former brethren, but grief at who the Wardens had gone to find. Itzara had told him everything while they had been en route from Valdrakken. He put a hand on the archdruid’s shoulder, but then took a quick step back when the antlered head snapped in his direction. Tekolin glared at the demon hunter, then took a deep breath, calming himself. “Worry not, Poquelin,” he said after a moment. “I am well.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Tekolin stared for a second, then let out a short, pained laugh. “No, I suppose not.”

Itzara’s gauntleted hands flexed nervously before she spoke again. “There is more. The dead-men who served the Corruptor are here, along with their new patrons, the warlocks who engineered the attack on the Vault.”

Tekolin’s good eye glared fiercely. “What of…”

“No sign,” Aleira replied. “And I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”

“She’s right, Tekolin,” Poquelin agreed. “Caradell has always been a loose cannon, even before she fell in with these war-wacky lunatics. We need to be wary. You have enough of a challenge awaiting you ahead. Let us cover your back.” Both Wardens nodded.

“We have our duty to the fallen that give life to the Winter Queen’s gift,” Itzara added. “But we have our duty to our fallen sister as well. With your permission, Shan’do.”

Tekolin’s ice-blue eye looked to the three of them - the two sisters, and the blood elf Illidari who had become a surprising ally to them all. Each showed their determination to their task, and their desire to do right by him. Finally, he nodded. “Go. And may Elune guide your blades.”

Jonathan Surrette stood in the boughs of one of the Dream-grown trees, surprised the wood was not groaning in protest at the aura of unlife around him. It made this all the better, he mused; silence was his weapon in this case. He wore well-crafted armor bearing the sigils of lost Lordaeron, favored by the elite of the Forsaken, with a hooded facemask that hid all but the burning red eyes. He had left his rifle and taken up a longbow marked with the skull of a fallen frost-wyrm, a gift from one of the Dark Rangers he had fought alongside during the burning of Teldrassil.

We’ve torched the elf scum out of one tree, he thought, looking hungrily up at Amirdrassil. We’ll do it again. The Winter Queen and the “balance” be damned.

But that was not what he was here for. This task was important, and more suited to his talents. It had been given him not by Lord Relsyn, who allowed that Kul Tiran lunatic to screw around with his brain and those of his men. It was the one whom Relsyn had summoned.

The times made for strange allies, and a down-on-his-luck eredar lord was certainly one of the strangest he’d had in a while. He had made the request specifically of Jonathan - who was naturally wary. “Why not send your hammer?” he had asked. “That is what you and Caradell broke her out for, right?”

“Savona is a blunt instrument. I am in need of more finesse. Someone who can fight these leaping vermin at their pace. You worked with Sylvanas’ huntresses during the ‘good old days’, did you not?”

“I did.” Jonathan had realized what he was being asked to do. “You’re wanting an assassination, not a fight.”

“Indeed so. Now is not the time for a direct confrontation, Executor. But if we can get at least one of these zealots off our backs…”

Jonathan had thought about it… then smiled and nodded. “Give me my target.” And so he had.

He had seen them meeting with the archdruid, their chief patron from the Cenarion Circle. Wardens, druids, Sentinels… all of them, vermin. His teeth ground as his jaw clenched with rage. He looked forward to the day when all pretenses could be dropped, and he and his fellows could just kill them all. Maybe even go for the rest of the Alliance, too… and the Horde. Kill them all, burn their homelands, and rule over the ashes. Perhaps these Druids of the Flame had the right idea, he mused.

But for now, he would content himself with one. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and sighted it on the closest of the three fliers. It was one of the Wardens. A perfect target, too: The idiot wasn’t wearing the distinctive helmet most of her kind favored, and her dark hair ran free as she rode her hippogryph towards the groves around the World Tree.

A mistake she will not live to regret, Jonathan thought with a cruel smile, as he let fly…

Poquelin heard the arrow fly a split second before it impacted - right through Aleira Ravensong’s skull. The Warden toppled wordlessly from the saddle of her hippogryph and began to plummet to earth. Fuelled by pure impulse, the demon hunter leapt from the saddle of his own mount and unfurled his wings, catching the night elf before she could hit the ground, and gliding carefully to the ground, setting her gently onto the grass.

Itzara landed hard next to him and bolted from the saddle, kneeling next to her sister, and knew immediately Aleira was dead. The arrow had gone right through Aleira’s forehead, the barbed tip protruding through her hair in the back of her skull. She recognized the style of the arrow. “Forsaken,” she whispered venomously.

Poquelin knew precisely who was after them. Then he heard the twang of the bowstring and barrelled into the Warden’s legs. Tipping sideways, a shot for her own unhelmeted head instead caught in the spaulder on her right shoulder before she fell to the ground.

Rolling back, Poquelin drew his warglaives; Itzara had similarly reached for her own single circular blade as she darted back to her feet. His head moved searchingly, the expression on his half-veiled face being what could only be described as predatory, as he kept his ears open for the assassin. He heard another shaft coming, and the huge blade of one of his glaives knocked it aside. “Come out, banshee-slave!” he shouted. “Or is your spine as crooked as your soul?”

Both demon hunter and Warden looked up at almost the same time, hearing the slight movement. Itzara was faster; hurling her circular glaive, she sliced right through the branch their intended killer had been standing on. As it crashed to the ground, the Forsaken leapt, landing directly in front of them. In a blur, he whirled his metal-reinforced longbow, striking both elves in the face.

“Guess the game’s over,” he sneered. “We’ll burn the rest of you eventually. But for now…” Letting out a sharp whistle, he leapt back just as one of Poquelin’s glaives slashed out - and caught the reins of a massive plaguebat, which barreled past them and lifted its master away from them.

Poquelin wiped blood from his nose, turning as he saw Itzara walk slowly back to the body of her sister. She was quiet as she knelt next to Aleira, her hands shaking. He knew full well what she was feeling. He had felt it all the time, ever since Silvermoon had fallen to the Scourge. “Do not hold it in,” he said quietly. “Use it.”

Itzara did not respond. She remained silent, shaking. And then she screamed. No words - just an anguished, rage-filled scream, echoing through the woods of the Dream.

Standing a considerably safer distance away, Jonathan Surrette smiled. Beautiful music…

Zulimbasha gazed up at the World Tree, his fists clenched tightly. “Where are dey now?”

“Aleira’s being laid to rest, and Tekolin has gone ahead with the others to the Wellspring. Lengua and Eregesh are with him.”

The Collector turned, and Poquelin took a step back; he could feel the rage in the death-priest’s visage. “Dis has gone on long enough, Poquelin. Find dis Forsaken scum, and anyone who harbors dem. Kill dem all.”

“With pleasure.” Poquelin’s head tilted slightly down and to the side. “But I’ll need help on this one.”

Zulimbasha glanced down at the silent figure of the vulpera who had spent the past several years as his personal assassin. She gazed back up at him from the metal and bone-rimmed hood of her leather wargear, her eyes as icy as a winter lake. She nodded once. That was answer enough. “Go, Vilaya,” he said, “and strike with de blessing of Death.” Within a split second, the vulpera was gone, faded into the shadows.

Poquelin lingered, and the Collector gazed at him in silent question. “I’m going to have a word with one of the weapon-crafters over at the camp before I join her,” he said after a moment. “Call it an… expression of sympathy.” He inclined his horned head, and then he departed. Zulimbasha watched him go, then sighed and turned his gaze back to the World Tree, the souls of Teldrassil’s fallen lingering in its boughs.

“Copper for your thoughts, my friend.”

Zulimbasha turned to see an orc bearing the colors of the Frostwolf clan approach, an ice-enchanted axe held against an armored shoulder bearing the skull of a massive beast. One eye was covered by a dark leather patch. “Here’s one ya be havin’ for free, Kodrak,” he mused. “A demon hunter and a Warden… not so long ago, dey were at each other’s throats. Now dey seem ta be natural allies.”

Kodrak Thundersnow chuckled. “Times change, Zuli. One of the few things Garrosh got right.” He shrugged. “After all, we used to think the same thing about the Zandalari, given the mess Zul tried to pull during the Cataclysm. And a lot of people thought the same thing about us, given all that our people have done since we arrived.”

“Fair enough,” the Collector conceded. He shook his head, laughing sadly. “If ya had told me I would have walked to de Other Side while still livin’, I woulda thought ya mad.”

“Aye, no arguments there. And look where we are now, too. Not so long ago, the night elves were trying to kill us, and we them. Now we are trying to help them secure their future.”

Zulimbasha looked back up at the tree, expression pensive. “Not just theirs.”

Kodrak put a hand on his shoulder as he stood and looked with him. “Not just theirs,” he agreed.

Amallyn Wintershade stood in the Fields of Fire outside the Wellspring Temple, the fingers of one hand tapping on her hip, the other gripping her staff. Fyrakk had made his entrance into the temple, burning his way through the barrier, and was now heading towards the heart of Amirdrassil. The world would be reborn in fire, just as promised. Elune’s power, either as the goddess of the moon or as the Night Warrior, was nothing compared to the raw power of the flame, and she wondered why it had taken her so long to embrace it. Probably because Fandral had been a narrow-sighted idiot, but that was besides the point…

Three of her fellow former priestesses, who had abandoned the temple when the Primalists had risen, approached behind her; she did not deign to glance at them. That was, until she heard a hiss of flying metal, and the distinctly unhealthy sound of said metal slicing through flesh and bone… and a trio of heads falling one way, their bodies the other. The fire-priestess turned and saw the blade return to the hand that had thrown it.

It had been a tri-bladed kaldorei glaive, and it was one of two held by the figure who now stood in front of her. Her robes were like those of the druids of the Dream, but smoldering with flame, as were the eyes and horns of the wearer - whose unkempt white hair did not quite hide the burn scars on the side of her face.

Amallyn recognized her instantly. “Caradell…”

“It has been some time, sister.” Amallyn had not seen her adoptive sibling since she had left for Outland. Caradell was the last survivor of a group of orphans adopted by Amallyn’s grandfather, Tekolin, and her mother, Aryn. All of the others had died with Aryn during the Third War - cut apart by the fel-corrupted Warsong in Ashenvale. It had driven her to voyage beyond the Dark Portal… and from there, to the Black Temple to join Illidan. Her motivation was largely due to seeing Illidan achieve results, only to be foiled by his narrow-minded fool of a brother and his witch of a wife. Her hatred for Tyrande only grew, as did her belief that Elune, if she existed, was a neglectful goddess. A number of people among the kaldorei had called her “the Heretic”, and she had embraced it like a badge of honor.

Amallyn looked at the three headless adepts, then back up at Caradell. She had long since discarded the usual blindfold demon hunters wore, and her eyes flickered between pure flame and the felfire in her veins. “Have you come to kill me?”

Caradell shook her head. “No, Amallyn, I am not here to kill you. The one seeking to do that is on his way - though of course, he will not admit that is why he is here.”

The priestess’ eyebrow rose. “He comes?”

“He does,” the demon hunter replied, nodding. “He and his dragon allies.”

Amallyn looked momentarily confused. “Then why not stand with me, Caradell? You have embraced the flame yourself, it’s clear from looking at you… and it’s well known you have no love for Tyrande. Or for our grandfather.”

“Because, my dear sister, I’ve already witnessed one World Tree burn, firsthand. I will not be privy to the burning of another.” Caradell looked up towards the boughs of Amirdrassil before turning back to her sister… and then, to the fire-priestess’ surprise, she smiled. Despite the heat around them, Amallyn felt a chill go down her spine - mainly because Caradell smiling was incredibly rare, and not at all pleasant. “You see… my patrons have already predicted your downfall. All Azeroth stands against you. What is Fyrakk or the Firelands to that? One Firelord has already fallen to this world’s ‘heroes’. So have your new masters. History repeats itself.”

“Not this time,” Amallyn replied, though the doubt was evident in her voice.

Caradell laughed. She had not missed that hesitation. “You don’t even believe it yourself anymore. Why not simply stand by, and bare your throat to Tekolin’s claws? That’s what will happen, you know. You might have been able to kill the old man if you faced him alone… but with the evoker and the dragon-mage who guides them all, your days are numbered.”

Amallyn was just baffled. “Then why not kill me yourself?”

“Because while I know your death is coming, I do not desire it. Certainly not to bring it about by my own hand.”

“Caradell…” Amallyn gripped her arm. “Stay with me. I need you at my side as we fight to bring about our -”

Caradell grasped Amallyn’s wrist, removing the offending hand from her arm… and with a contemptuous sneer, she shoved the fire-priestess to the ground. “Still trying to preach your lies. Your war is over, Amallyn. You will realize that in the end before you die.” Her gaze of fire and fel stared down at her for a long moment. “Be grateful it will not be at my hand.” Then, with a flourish, she leapt backwards away from her, and onto the back of a massive, fiery beast that Amallyn was sure had not been there a moment ago. It smelled demonic.

With a beat of fiery wings, the creature lifted off, leaving Amallyn alone.

On a ridge overlooking the entrance to the Wellspring, Caradell landed, her fiery demon-beast lowering to allow her to dismount. She looked back down towards the temple, seeing three figures approaching the entrance. Amallyn was gone, retreating inside.

“A curious decision, child.” That quiet, contemplative voice - even in the harshness of Eredun - always brought her up short. So did the one it belonged to. After all, it seemed not so very long ago that she would have killed him where he stood. How times changed. “You seem much more… restrained than you were before. Certainly more so than others of our order.”

“There is a time and a place, Lord Kalimos,” Caradell replied evenly. “She meant a great deal to me, once. I wanted to see what she had become for myself… before the end.” She turned to look at him. “Do you truly believe the Primalists will fall?”

“Almost certainly. Unity has been a potent weapon against annihilation many times in this world’s recent history; why should it not be the same here?” Kalimos stroked his tendriled beard thoughtfully. “There is also the fact that this is not like the other World Trees… it is touched by the power of both life and death, and is guarded not only by the night elves and the dragons, but all who work alongside them.” The eredar warlock smiled. “Even you, Caradell, in your own way.”

“Tell that to your Forsaken errand-boy.”

Kalimos chuckled. “Jonathan has his place in our designs, as do you and I. Worry not. If it comes to it, I will give him and his remaining men over to Brother Galedeep, who detests their kind almost as much as you do.” He grinned wickedly. “He knows how to get inside their heads.”

Caradell repressed a shudder at the thought.

Poquelin had called upon another ally in the search for the Forsaken murderers, despite Vilaya’s protests - because this ally happened to be Gilnean. He had managed to reassure her that this particular Gilnean did not engage in “fox hunting”.

To his surprise, his ally had come with an ally of her own - a centaur hunter from Clan Shikaar, who had as much reason to loathe the walking dead as the rest of them did. They had bonded during their hunts in the Ohn’ahran Plains early in the campaign, particularly because they had both lost brothers - he had lost his to the Nokhud, and hers had been sacrificed to resurrect Kalimos. As the centaur were old allies of the green dragonflight, he had come here with her to help defend Amirdrassil from the Primalists - if only because he was curious to see what lay beyond the portal in the Ancient Bough.

The centaur knelt next to his comrade. “Multiple scents, all similar. He’s not alone, Lady Eirena.”

“No surprise there, Shiban. I think he realizes we’re after him.” Lady Eirena, last survivor of House Valmy of Gilneas, rested one clawed hand carefully on the back of her hunting bakar, Leatho, as she stood - giving the beast an affectionate pat as she did - before she turned to Poquelin. “How many men do you wager he has altogether?”

“Hard to say. But if I had to make a guess… maybe a dozen. A score at most. A lot of Forsaken are eager to embrace this ‘new beginning’ without Sylvanas, so I don’t think it would be very many.”

“Enough to cause trouble, though.”

“With zealots, there’s always trouble,” Poquelin agreed. “And he may have more than just Forsaken. His patrons might offer other… defenses.”

Knowing that their prey’s patrons were warlocks, Eirena nodded. “Demons.”

“Very possibly. And other fanatics, to be sure.”

“And their own draconic beasts,” Shiban added, a hint of amusement in his eyes. “All of you outsiders seem to have one these days. The Dragon Aspects are generous with their favors.” The bantering ceased when Leatho suddenly went stock still, nose slightly raised.

Eirena was instantly alert. She could smell it, too. She glanced at Poquelin and Vilaya next to her, and gave a slight nod. The vulpera was gone into the shadows a second later. She shouldered her rifle - the twin barrels engraved with dragon runes by the weaponsmiths in Valdrakken - and began looking around, eyes and ears waiting for a sign. It did not take long.

Two Forsaken in dark, skull-marked plate armor, one carrying a sword, the other a halberd. Deathguard, she signed to Shiban. She was surprised when she learned that the Shikaar leader, Sansok Khan, was deaf, and often relied on sign language and an interpreter to communicate her orders. Shiban had taught the Shikaar sign to Eirena during their hunts. It helped when silence was absolutely necessary. So did the spear she carried on her back, a gift from him after their first hunt.

Shiban saw the Forsaken too, gazing at them as his hands were moving. Do we wait? Out the corner of his eye, he saw Eirena nod once. Shiban raised his bow, nocking an arrow. His eyes glanced back to her. The one still upright, she signed. He nodded.

Like a blur, Vilaya struck, having jumped from a tree branch. The daggers she carried - gifts from Zulimbasha - were huge even for the taller races, with what looked to be intact spinal columns running from hilt to tip on one side. A quick slash of both blades, and one Deathguard’s head rolled to the grass. The other turned, just as Shiban’s arrow went right through the back of her head, pinning her to a nearby tree.

Leatho suddenly sprang at something behind Eirena - a Forsaken assassin. He had smelled the rotting flesh before he saw it, and was trying to get at the undead murderer’s leg.

The Forsaken cursed and turned to run, Leatho’s jaws snapping at his ankle. Sensing an opportunity, Eirena sighted her rifle… then pulled the trigger. The double-barrel shot blasted through the assassin’s kneecap. Even a walking corpse will react strongly to having a leg blown off; he cried out in pain, his weapons falling from his hands as he tumbled to the ground. The bakar prepared to leap and go for the throat.

“Hold, Leatho!” Eirena commanded sharply. The bakar whimpered at the lost opportunity. “There, you got his leg. Toy with it a little.” That made him a bit happier, and he ambled off back towards Shiban and Poquelin, the latter looking rather bemused. Eirena put one mail-armored footpaw onto the Forsaken’s chest, holding the gun to his head. “Now then, my rotting friend… start talking, and I’ll send you on your way.” She grinned. “Screw with me, and I’ll let Leatho tear off your limbs, and save your head for last so you witness every bit of it… before I smash it like a Hallow’s End pumpkin.”

The Forsaken recognized the Gilnean accent and knew she wasn’t joking. He was under no illusions that she intended to kill him anyway, but a quick end would be preferable than to become a plaything for this psycho she-wolf and her pet mutt. Even a dead man had his pride.

“What do you want to know?” he asked finally.

Jonathan Surrette was in his own kind of trouble. Relsyn had found out about the mission Kalimos had sent him on. Though he approved of the idea… the execution left something to be desired.

“Give me a good reason why I should not tear off your head and feed it to your own pets, Jonathan,” Relsyn said, his tone cold enough to freeze lava on the spot; he held the Forsaken executor by the throat, standing on a cliff edge. Kalimos stood behind him, arms folded across his chest, a slight smile on his face.

“It was Lord Kalimos who --”

“I told you to kill, not provoke,” Kalimos replied calmly. “You couldn’t help it, could you?”

“Your bloodlust will be a problem for our long-term goals, ‘Executor’,” the Nightborne warlock snarled. “If you cannot keep your brutish instincts in check, then I have no further use for you.”

“I have a suggestion, one I broached to Caradell not too long ago,” Kalimos said in Eredun. “Give him to the Tidesage. He and his men fear that man enough, after the ritual at Tyrhold. He is able to keep tabs on his two enforcers without too much trouble.” Brother Galedeep had dominated the minds of two former Ironhulls who had survived the Shrine of the Storm, and used them as his muscle.

Relsyn pondered this. “Perhaps,” he agreed in the same demonic tongue. “But we are nothing if not forgiving, yes? A chance to redeem himself in our eyes. His instincts will come in useful in the war to come.” The eredar’s smile widened, and he nodded. Relsyn returned to Shalassian, and allowed the enchantment in his ring to translate it for the Forsaken executor, whom he contemptuously dropped onto the grass - safe for now. “Take your men and leave the isles,” he commanded. “Return to Lordaeron and await my command. You will have a chance to make up for this error of judgment. Fail, and I will let Septimus turn you and your men into his playthings.”

The Forsaken had the good sense to look afraid of that possibility. “I understand, Lord Relsyn.”

“Good. Begone.” The Forsaken glared daggers at both warlocks, his pride injured by the whole display, but he had the sense to do as commanded. Once he was gone, Relsyn sighed. “I wish you had come to me first on that.”

“Apologies, Lord Relsyn. I believed your attention was focused more on… maintaining appearances with the guardians of this place.”

Relsyn turned, eyes narrowed. “What game are you playing here, Kalimos?”

Kalimos smiled. “When I start playing games with you, Aldos, you will be the first to know.” His smile faded. “I am grateful to you and the professor for bringing me back. I am content to leave the running of things to you. But do not ever presume that you can dominate me. I mastered the magical arts long before you were even born… and I am not so weak as I was before.”

Relsyn’s jaw clenched. “Is that a threat?”

“No, Aldos. That is a fact.”

The dragon-mage and the evoker lingered back as Tekolin walked ahead of them. Their eyes carefully watched for signs of ambush, but all the Primalists and Druids of the Flame they encountered were already dead. The Aspects and their forces were moving towards the Heart of Amirdrassil, to stop Fyrakk before he corrupted the World Tree - and Azeroth itself - in shadowflame. The archdruid was not concerned now that the Aspects were here; he knew, just as the eredar lord did, that they and the heroes they had rallied would prevail over the Incarnate, because the threat of annihilation always brought the best people together to stop it.

But for him, this was personal.

Inside the halls of the Firelord, he found her, kneeling in the center of the great hall. “I am here, little one,” he said quietly in Darnassian.

She did not answer him immediately. She remained kneeling, not even looking up at his approach. “The Heretic was right,” she whispered. “It is over. And now my death has come.”

Knowing who she meant, Tekolin’s jaw clenched, but his eyes showed the immense concern he had for his now-only living descendant. “It does not have to be death, Amallyn.”

Amallyn laughed bitterly as she stood and faced her grandfather. “You honestly believe I will be accepted back among our people again? I am a traitor to Elune, a traitor to the kaldorei, and a traitor to Azeroth. I have made my choice, and now must live - and die - with it.” She laughed again, madness tinging her eyes, her face, and her every word. “We were on the cusp of victory. You only had to accept it. But no, you and your druid friends, and Tyrande and all the rest… you just had to meddle, to deny the gift you were given, because it was ‘wrong’. Now our victory has been taken from us. Fyrakk will die, his plan will fail, and we will suffer for it again. Just as we always have. This was our chance to reclaim eternal life - eternity itself! - without the damned Titans and their minions… and you had to be so noble.” She raised a flame shield around herself. “Show me your nobility, Grandfather.”

Lengua worriedly stepped forward, but Eregesh held her by the shoulder and shook his head once. “He must do this alone,” he said quietly in Draconic.

Tekolin glanced behind him, seeing what was going on. Though he could not understand the dragons’ tongue, he saw what Eregesh was doing, and nodded his antlered head slightly in acknowledgement. Then he turned back to Amallyn. “So be it, Granddaughter,” he said, his voice level, but the pain still evident. “I will do what I must.” With a feline roar, he shifted into his combat form, which appeared like the dreamsabers that inhabited the woods around Amirdrassil.

Though Tekolin was much older and more experienced, the “gifts” Amallyn wielded were incredibly potent. Her hands were alight with flame, and she grasped the archdruid’s front paws by the wrists, letting out a shriek that scorched the floor beneath her feet and knocked him head over tail. But Tekolin proved the old saying about cats landing on their feet, and as he did so, he immediately pounced, knocking Amallyn off her feet. Snarling, she struggled to hold him off while trying to draw the ritual knife she wore at her belt. With a shriek of hate, she slashed out with the blade, cutting into the paw pinning her to the ground. Tekolin howled in pain, and she kicked up with both feet to hurl him off of her.

“This changes nothing, Grandfather,” she hissed. “Even if Fyrakk falls, we will not give up our cause. We will live forever again, as we were meant to!” But she found herself talking to air (ignoring the two dragonkin standing nearby). Tekolin was gone. “So, that’s how it will be, then? You prove yourself a coward as well as a fool! Small wonder, given how you slept away the centuries while we served. While Grandmother fought and died to the qiraji, while Mother fought and died to the Horde… you slept through it all. Perhaps you would feel better going to the sleep where you would not wake!”

As the last word left her lips, Tekolin leapt from the shadows. Amallyn turned… but too late. The archdruid’s claws slashed across her face and chest, one slashing through her throat. The flame-priestess’ eyes went wide with shock and horror as her lifeblood sprayed across the floor… and across the once-again elven form of her grandfather. “I… I…” Choking on her own blood, she collapsed to the floor.

“You could not see, little one…” His Dream-infused robes drenched in his granddaughter’s blood, the archdruid knelt, bowing his antlered head. “What good is eternal life in a world of ashes?”

Standing in one of the towers in the peaks of the Azure Span, looking to the north, two figures saw the great shimmering of Dream energy… and the mighty tree that now stood on the island off the coast of the Ohn’ahran Plains. Both wore Maldraxxi armor. One was a Forsaken warrior, his great height somewhat reduced by the hunch in his spine; a pair of axes - one matching his armor, the other crafted of darker metal and etched with runes - were strapped across his back. His long white hair and ragged scarlet cloak ruffled in the icy wind, but he did not feel the cold. “So, it is done at last,” he said. “Amirdrassil blooms. Their new beginning, and perhaps our own as well.”

The Darkfallen elf standing next to him tilted her head. Her Maldraxxi armor was somewhat less heavy than his, and she leaned on a sethrak double-scythed spear. Lounging behind her was a three-headed helhound she found in Maldraxxus during her time there. “Are you so sure of that? The night elves have long memories, and do not forgive - or forget.”

“It’s a gamble we will have to take, Kirenna. No one is beyond redemption, even poor fools like us.” His icy-blue eyes met her burning red ones. “I think these people have suffered enough, don’t you?”

Kirenna Summerlight had the good sense to bow her head at that. “I think we all have, my Baron.”

“We have indeed.”

“Baron Devaneaux?” Both turned at the sound of that voice. It was a courier wearing the tabard of their group - Lordaeron’s double-headed eagle in blood red against midnight black, with white skulls and bones on the trim. Tellingly, the man was a night elf. “A summons from Dame Catherine, my lord. She is calling the Heralds to Valdrakken immediately.”

“Thank you.” Baron Kieran Devaneaux looked out towards where Amirdrassil now reached to the sky, then back to the courier. “Tell me something, sir… you know who and what I am. Do you hate me?” The courier seemed wrong-footed by the question. “You don’t have to answer, but if you do, be honest. I have probably heard worse.”

The night elf was silent for a moment. “When we heard that we were joining forces with a group from the Horde that included Forsaken, I was against it, yes,” he said finally. “Teldrassil still burns in our memories.” He met Kieran’s gaze. “But you, and High Priest Zulimbasha, and your allies - you proved you’re different. You have honor. You helped fight for us, for this.” He gestured to Amirdrassil. “Dame Catherine vouches for you, and so does Shan’do Wintershade. That speaks enough for me.”

Kieran nodded. “Teldrassil burns in our memories, too,” he replied. “It was an event that should not have happened. But while we must not forget the past, we must look to the future, too, as you have.” He glanced at Kirenna. “We have all suffered enough.” He sighed… then smiled and looked back to the courier. “Thank you, my friend. I’ll not keep you. We’ll be along shortly.”

“My lord.” The courier bowed, and Kieran inclined his head deeply in respect, before the night elf returned to his hippogryph. When he was gone, he turned to Kirenna. “I think that answers that. Small steps, Kirenna. One day at a time.”

“Provided we can keep these damn zealots like Surrette from throwing wrenches in the works.”

“Aye, providing that. But consider what other steps have been taken. A demon hunter and a Warden, fighting side-by-side. Humans and orcs. Gilneans and vulpera. Gnomes and goblins. Zandalari and pandaren… up to a point.”

“Us working with them.”

“Us working with them,” Kieran agreed. “Yet all ‘evil’ people are not beyond change, Kirenna. Look at how many have risen above their dark pasts. The orcs. The death knights. The demon hunters. The Nightborne. The Dark Irons. The eredar, for Light’s sake. And, of course, people like us. We did not ask for what we became, but we cannot shirk our responsibility for what we, as a people, did. We can only prove that not all of us are blood-maddened lunatics bound to the whim of a crazed banshee. Sylvanas is confined to the Maw for her penance, and yet there are those who still worship her as the Dark Lady, who will never accept Calia in any form - whether she was a Menethil or not.”

Kirenna observed him quietly for a moment. He had always had a very regal bearing in her view, despite the evident rot of his undeath - he appeared to her more like a battle-king than a simple warrior. Small wonder that both Dame Catherine and Zulimbasha placed him in command of the hosts of Forsaken, death knights, and other undead who served among the Deathsworn Heralds. “Do you accept Calia?” she asked him.

Kieran was mildly surprised at the question, considering it for a moment before he answered. “I think I would like to, yes. Again, it comes down to individual guilt as opposed to guilt by association. Calia is not Arthas. I think she has demonstrated that well enough.”

Kirenna was quiet for a moment, and then nodded in agreement. “I think so, too. I’m tired of fighting pointless wars, Kieran. Both before and after becoming what I am now.”

“That makes two of us, my friend.” His gaze turned towards where the high tower of the Seat of the Aspects loomed over the mountains. “Well. We should be making our way to Valdrakken then, should we not?”

“Yes, my Baron. As you said, it is a new beginning. Time to see what it has in store for us.”

Itzara Ravensong watched quietly from the shadows, fists clenched tightly at her sides. Eight figures stood not far from the cliff edge in the Ohn’ahran Plains, facing out towards Amirdrassil. She recognized most of them instantly. Kalimos, of course, with his wretched enforcer Savona at his right hand, and the Heretic, Caradell, at his left; both wore armor wreathed in elemental flame. Next to Savona was Lord Relsyn, apparently the man in charge of this cult, though the looks he kept giving the eredar made her wonder about that. Next to Caradell was Brother Galedeep, the mad Tidesage. The other three she was not sure of, but she could feel their energies - a dracthyr whose scales were speckled with an unhealthy shade of green, a Mag’har orc in the robes of the Shadowmoon clan, and a gnome with golden hands, wearing Titan robes. He was the one speaking now.

“Surrette screwed up,” he said bluntly. “And so did you. This was supposed to be an assassination, not an all-out war.”

“Yet,” Savona hissed.

Kalimos put a hand on her arm to quiet her. “I may have… erred somewhat in choosing Jonathan for this task, yes, but rest assured it will not happen again.”

“I should hope not,” Relsyn spoke up, “because I would hate for you to find out just what lies beyond oblivion’s veil, Kalimos.”

The eredar lord smiled coldly. “You are more than welcome to try, Aldos.”

“If you’re all done posturing,” Caradell snapped irritably, “let’s return to the point: What is to be done?”

“This conflict is over,” Relsyn replied. “For now, we pull back and wait.” Most of the heads of those present were nodding in agreement.

“Wait?!” Savona was aghast at the thought. “Why do we not act now?! The time is ripe for chaos!”

“Yes, let’s charge right into a World Tree defended not only by the night elves, but every dragonflight and assorted ally on Azeroth,” the gnome sneered. “I think all those years in the Vault of the Wardens has compressed your brain, Savona.”

“That’s hardly necessary, Professor,” Kalimos interjected, a hint of amusement in his tone. “Your being dead hasn’t exactly done wonders for you.”

The professor grinned. “Pots and kettles, Lord Kalimos.”

“Point taken.”

The dracthyr, who had been silent up to that point, now spoke up, somewhat hesitantly. “Savona may have a point, sir,” he said to Relsyn. “But it need not be us who acts. There are still Primalists out there. And you mentioned one in particular.”

Relsyn and Kalimos exchanged surprised glances at that. “The dragon-mage’s apprentice,” the Nightborne breathed. “Our Talon may be onto something.”

Caradell’s head tilted slightly. “What’s your plan, Zaidu?”

Zaidu glanced over at the Tidesage. “Maybe… a little persuasion? No one will suspect us if it’s a Primalist attack.”

Galedeep stroked his mustache thoughtfully. “It might work,” he conceded. He looked up suddenly… right in Itzara’s direction. “If they didn’t already know about it. Sneaky, sneaky little elf.”

All of the other heads followed his gaze. Caradell, with her spectral sight, saw her immediately. “Come to join your sister in hell, Ravensong?” she called out mockingly.

Itzara leapt from her perch, glaive in hand. “In the name of Elune and by the authority of the Watchers, I condemn you to death, Heretic. You and all of your friends here.”

Savona reached for her hammer immediately. Caradell took up her own blades, a feral grin on her face. “Maiev’s lackeys are not short on courage, to be sure… but you certainly lack sense. You think to take us all alone?”

“Not alone, sister.” Two figures stood behind Itzara (much to her surprise as well as theirs): Lady Eirena, rifle raised and bakar companion snarling, and… the one who had spoken.

Caradell’s burning gaze narrowed. “You would stand beside a Warden against me, Poquelin?”

“We have a good arrangement… and a mutual enemy.” Poquelin grinned. “Time to die, traitor.”

“Kill them!” Relsyn screamed, as the professor activated a beacon on his person. In a flash, the five shadow-casters were gone - leaving Zaidu, Caradell, and Savona.

“The Heretic is mine,” Itzara snarled, as she charged in…

Poquelin didn’t get more than five paces before a hail of arrows came out of nowhere.

“Itzara, get back!” he shouted - just as one struck him right in the middle of his chest. He looked up and saw the archer. To his complete lack of surprise, it was Jonathan Surrette. What was surprising was what he was wearing - a coat of dark mail, not the typical Deathguard regalia… but crafted of shadowghast, the metal used by the Mawsworn. The bow in his hand was made of the same material, as was the arrow protruding from the Accursed’s chest.

Poquelin collapsed to his knees, as he saw other Forsaken - some in the Deathguard armor the Darkshore fighters wore, others bearing the sigils of Lordaeron - approaching, several of them carrying guns or crossbows, a number of others with blades. They were surrounded. Eirena’s bakar, Leatho, growled in anticipation, but the Gilnean huntress put a gentle hand on his head, holding him back, but glaring daggers at the renegades.

The executor smiled. I am going to kill you, the smile said, slowly and painfully.

Itzara knelt next to the fallen demon hunter, speaking his name, but Poquelin could not hear her.

Poquelin looked down at his chest. The arrow was gone, but the hole was still there. And yet, it did not hurt… and he was upright. He was also no longer in the Dragon Isles. In fact, he was in a place that he had not seen in four years - and never thought to see again… at least, not for a while. “I’m dead, aren’t I?”

“Not yet, Teren. But very close.”

He turned at the sound of that voice. Only one person in recent days still called him by his birth name. “Drastiya.” He looked around. “If I’m not dead, what the hell am I doing in Revendreth?”

Inquisitor Drastiya folded her arms across her chest with a smile. “A sampling of what awaits you. You will be making your way here when the time comes. I’m sure of it. And, I think, so are you.”

“But… now? I can’t die now.”

“Oh? Still clinging to that arrogance, Teren?”

“I’ve already died once, Drastiya,” Poquelin snapped. “Though the Nether ensured I could come back that time, I know damn well I am not immortal. But… not now. That banshee-loving bastard and his men have my friends surrounded.”

The venthyr judge’s eyebrow rose. “Friends? You have friends now? And… their lives mean something to you?” She searched his face… and then nodded knowingly. “Ah, I see. You’re worried you will die without a fight, without trying to save them from the Maw-tainted wretch.” She noted his surprise. “Yes, Teren, I know who he is. He served here, too, during the conflict. But it seems he remains enamored of what his Dark Lady became, even though she herself is ashamed of it.” She shook her head. “He will be coming here too, I think, when his time finally comes. But… tell me, what has changed?”

“Everything,” Poquelin admitted. “The Warden in particular has every reason to hate me and my kind. She was once one of my jailers - just as, I think, you might be when I finally… settle down here.” The inquisitor chuckled at that. “But she and her people have suffered just as mine have. I understand what she has lost. And I want to help her.”

Drastiya stared at him. “By the First Ones,” she breathed, almost awe-struck, “you are sincere. Perhaps I was wrong about you.” The smile was back. “Our paths provide us with many lessons, and we ignore them at our peril. I see now, perhaps, you’re finally learning what you need, demon hunter…”

“I would like to think so, yes.” Poquelin inclined his head. “What now?”

“Now? Well, that’s up to you…”


The demon hunter stirred, hearing the Warden speak his name. The Forsaken closed in. “For what it’s worth,” he whispered to Itzara, “I’m sorry…”

ENOUGH! Both sides reeled at that voice, amplified by magic, as massive wings nearly knocked them all off their feet. Two blue dragons, followed by two dracthyr, landed in the center of the combat. The larger of the two dragons was the one who had spoken, as he shifted into his visage form. With a burst of power, he knocked the Forsaken back; with a gesture, he locked them all in arcane stasis. All save the “officers”.

Surrette stared in wide-eyed surprise. Caradell, Savona, and Zaidu each exchanged looks with one another, then glared back at Surrette, and then looked back at the dragon.

“Enough,” he said, firmly but calmly. He turned to one of the dracthyr, with pale scales and violet eyes. “Serys, can you see to the demon hunter’s injuries?”

“Of course, Lord Esheregos,” Serys replied, kneeling next to Poquelin.

Esheregos, or Eregesh as he was better known, nodded before glaring at the four in front of him. “Be fortunate I chose to simply step in rather than blast you on the spot. I think Lengua in particular might have enjoyed that. But there has been enough killing.”

“You’re going to let them go?” Itzara was outraged, and was about to rise, before Poquelin grasped her wrist.

“No,” he said gently. “You will be needed… in your new home.”

“Poquelin is right, Warden Ravensong,” Eregesh agreed. “We must look to the future now.” He turned back. “Take this message to your master, Savona. In the name of the Aspects, I hereby banish you, and your cultist friends, from the Dragon Isles. If I so much as hear of any further hostility towards my allies again, make no mistake… what I will do to you will make you beg for a cushy cell in the Vault of the Wardens again. Am I understood?”

“What makes you think you can enforce it, scalescum?” Surrette sneered.

“Silence, you fool!” Caradell snapped. “You’ve done enough damage.” She glanced at Poquelin, lying on the ground, the dracthyr healer tending him, a pensive look on her face. Then she looked back at Eregesh. “Do we have your word that we will have safe passage away from here?”

“You do.”

Savona exchanged a glance with Caradell, then nodded curtly. “Very well, dragon-mage. We will do as you ask.”

“See that you do.” The three combatants in the center inclined their heads, and made their exit. Eregesh then turned to Surrette. “As for you… you can go groveling back to your master, murderer. But you still must pay for your crime…” With a contemptuous flick of his wrist, the Deathguards - all in arcane traps - were hurled over the cliff edge to be dashed on the rocks below. “They are barely worth a fraction of the one life you’ve taken, but for now, it will do.” He glanced down at Itzara, then back up. “I have no doubt the Warden will come for you in time. But for now… run away back to your master, coward.”

The executor seethed with rage, but nonetheless, he nodded. “I will go for now.” Then he smiled evilly. “But do not let your guard down, dragon. The hunt will begin again, and you may find yourself reduced from predator… to prey. That is a promise.” Then he turned to follow his erstwhile comrades.

Itzara, angered but not willing to gainsay a dragon - certainly not in their own homeland - watched the four fly off, back towards Valdrakken. She looked back at Poquelin, who had raised his head. “They’re gone.”

Poquelin rested his head back on the grass in relief, and finally let himself pass out as Serys got to work…

Eregesh stood on one of the towers below the Seat of the Aspects, looking towards Amirdrassil as the sun rose. He remembered Ardenweald quite vividly - it was hard not to - and seeing a piece of it on Azeroth slightly boggled his mind. It was certainly not how he was expecting this to go. But then again, he didn’t know how it was going to go anyway, when the Beacon of Tyrhold beckoned the flights back…

“Quite the view.” He turned to see Lengua standing next to him. He hadn’t even heard her fly in. She was wearing a robe embroidered with draconic runes and hourglasses in her spaulders, similar to the regalia worn by Nozdormu. Her red eyes peered through a pair of thick-rimmed glasses.

“How is he?”

“Stable. Serys said that if it had gone a little to the left, he would be dead.” Lengua raised an eyebrow. “Poquelin mentioned that he had what he called an ‘out-of-body experience’. He saw some place called Revendreth. Apparently he had been there before.”

“One of the realms of the Shadowlands,” Eregesh replied. “Probably thinking that’s where he will go when he dies.” He nodded towards Amirdrassil. “Ardenweald was another - that’s where the seed that grew the World Tree came from. You might have seen Lady Moonberry around the central encampment in the Dream; she is one of the night fae that reside there.”

“Thinking you will go there when your time comes, like Ysera?”

“I’d like to think so.” He noted the look on her face. “Something on your mind?”

Lengua hesitated, then looked him square in the eye. “You said you wanted to stop the killing, and yet you killed an entire detachment of Forsaken Deathguard?”

“I did no such thing.”

The evoker’s head tilted. “You threw them off a cliff.”

“Into a waiting portal to the crater where Dalaran used to be, back in Lordaeron,” Eregesh replied, grinning. “It’s a long drop, but they were contained in arcane stasis traps. They’ll bounce. Trust me.”

Lengua stared at him for a brief moment… and then started laughing. “You’re evil.”

“I have my moments.” The dragon-mage’s expression sobered. “I do wonder, though, if I will regret my decision.”

“I confess I thought the same thing. These people are insane, Esheregos. Their desire for conflict will come back to haunt us.”

“Indeed,” he agreed grimly. “But… not now, I think.” He gazed at her thoughtfully. “And what is next for you, my good evoker?”

Lengua smiled. “There’s word that the Algeth’ar Academy has set up a place for archivists from the expedition. A chance to continue my research, I think.” She had taken to history and inscription during the campaign. “But first, Dame Catherine has called a meeting. She’s waiting for some of the others to return first.”

“Did she say why?”

“No, but I suspect it will have to do with the new World Tree. The night elves have already begun building a city beneath it. Bel’ameth, they call it.” Her jaw tightened. “The others will want to know about what they are up to.” She noticed the dragon-mage’s expression. “Do you know where she is?”

Eregesh shook his head. “I wish I did. There is still the hope of pushing her back from the brink. I heard that some of Vyranoth’s former acolytes were turned away from Fyrakk when they realized what kind of a world he wanted. Perhaps…” He sighed, and looked back towards Amirdrassil. “Perhaps.”

“He will live, Lengua?”

“Yes, Dame Catherine. It was very close, but not close enough. He will remain at rest for a time until Serys is satisfied, but… he will live.”

Dame Catherine Hildreth nodded, her hand tightening on the hilt of her sword. She had traded her Stormwind mail for heavy armored robes, adorned with dragon sigils. Her hair was cut shorter, showing the scratched out, milky-white right eye typically hidden by her hair. Behind her head was a kyrian halo, a relic from her time in the Shadowlands. “Damn these stinking cultists. Always someone crawling out of the woodwork. And with a number of them either involved in, or approving of, the burning of Teldrassil… and wanting to do it again. The Aspects will not let that happen on their watch, to be sure, but…”

“These Forsaken renegades are a worry,” Eldex, the vulpera shaman known as the Foxwolf, spoke up. He looked towards the dark-armored figure across from him. “Baron Devaneaux, most of these people are renegades from your land. Have you petitioned your Desolate Council to do something about them?”

“Easier said than done. We lost a lot of people - good and bad - to the damned war. Plus we have a resurgence of the Scarlet Crusade to deal with.”

“Again?” Catherine shook her head. “Between the Forsaken, the Scourge, and all the losses they took in Northrend, I thought they were finished.”

“Aside from the undead ones crawling in the Plaguelands,” added Nor’taeron Sunblade. The Blood Knight was resplendent in white and gold armor, bearing the mark of the Tyr’s Guard. Between that and the fire burning from his spear, Catherine thought, it made it hard to look at him.

Kieran nodded in agreement. “We thought the same thing. They’re like roaches - just like all these fanatics who push for war. Kill a few, but more will turn up.” He exchanged a glance with Eirena. “I’ve also received word that the Council is honoring its intention to withdraw from Gilneas… but the Scarlets have begun moving there too. Kirenna and I have been ordered to return to Tirisfal and prepare to head there ourselves.”

The eyebrow rose over Catherine’s dead eye. “To what purpose?”

“Gilneas for the Gilneans, Catherine. That was Calia’s pledge, and we intend to honor it.”

“King Greymane may not agree with that,” Eirena warned. “Damn few of my people would. I won’t lie… I’m not keen on it either. The Forsaken were the ones who ran us out of Gilneas in the first place.”

“I know that, Lady Eirena. So does the Council. But we must show that we are not all like Sylvanas… or like Surrette and his band, for that matter.”

Catherine turned to the Gilnean huntress. “Have you received any instruction from the Greyguard?”

Eirena nodded. “Just as we returned after the… incident in the plains. Captain Pellerin and the Pearl Queen are waiting for me in Stormwind.”

The paladin glanced at Zulimbasha, who had been standing silently next to her. “Thoughts?”

“I t’ink dis ‘Path’ will honor da dragon-mage’s command ta leave. For now, anyway. But he will be watchin’. So must we.” The Collector glanced at Lengua with a smile. “Maybe when ya don’t be havin’ ya nose stuck in a book?”

Catherine chuckled at that. “You’re joining that archaeological group in the Span, I take it, Lengua?”

“I’m heading to the academy to get my instructions after this,” the evoker confirmed. “It will be nice to be able to work without Primalists breathing down our necks. But… I worry that these warmongers will not be so easily swayed. The Corruptor very nearly killed Esheregos, and he is not the only wielder of dark magic in that group.”

“Has he been seen since you faced him in Zaralek?” Nor’taeron asked.

Lengua shook her head. “Not that I’m aware. I’m told this Kalimos that was brought back in Tyrhold was a foe of his. Perhaps the eredar killed him? Poquelin detected signs that he had been contained somehow when we investigated the ritual site.”

“Until his head is lying on the floor, trust nothing,” muttered Vilaya, standing at Zulimbasha’s side.

Catherine nodded. “Agreed. He might not be running things now, but I will not discount him until we are certain.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “What of Archdruid Wintershade?”

“He remains in Bel’ameth,” Lengua replied. “Warden Ravensong is there as well. Both are… shaken. Their losses…”

The paladin understood all too well. “Say no more, my friend.” She sighed. “An ending, and a beginning. Kieran, Eirena… are you prepared to work together towards that common goal?” Huntress and warlord looked to one another, then back to Catherine, both nodding once. That was good enough for her. “Then let it be so. To Gilneas for you. Lengua, good luck on your researches.” Her good eye glanced at them all. “Light go with you.”

They bowed, and made their way out. Catherine turned to Zulimbasha. “And what now for you?”

“Back to da Necropolis, at least for now. Soji can run da messages, just like she been doin’.”

“Hell of a fighter too, from what I hear.” Catherine glanced down at Vilaya. “Keep up the hunt, if you’re able. Any more of these war-wacky idiots pops up, gut them like fish.” The vulpera assassin nodded, and soon was gone. Zulimbasha bowed his head, and left as well.

Catherine mounted up and took to the sky, swiftly to the west, to where Amirdrassil dominated the horizon…

In their tower in the Azure Span, Kalimos stood, arms across his chest, amused at the shouting match going on. He knew precisely how this was going to end, and was fully prepared for it.

“Do you realize what you have done?!” Relsyn was beside himself with fury. “Your bloodlust has just deprived us of access to an area of resources! You honestly do not believe the dragons will not enforce Esheregos’ command? You, sir, are an imbecile! A raving lunatic!”

“If we’re going to kill them anyway, why keep up the pretenses?” Jonathan retorted. “We can still --”

We can do nothing, Jonathan,” Kalimos interrupted, that smirk still present. “Between you and the Corruptor, you’ve made us too well-known here. And possibly elsewhere as well. However, if I can put a word in here… I may be able to rectify this mistake.”

“How?” Rakeri Sputterspark wanted to know. “Our remaining Deathguard forces are destroyed thanks to this idiot, and once we leave, we cannot return. We are cut off from a potentially vital resource, in what Titan relics have not been recovered yet.”

We are, Professor,” Kalimos conceded. “But if we are… more careful in our future dealings, we may be able to find others who are not as… tainted by association. Not as overt in their dealings.” His fel-green eyes narrowed as he looked to his erstwhile tool. “As for this problem, I have a solution. I accept responsibility here, and it is only fitting that I take steps to rectify it.”

Relsyn’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Go on.”

“I have received word from a… surprising new ally among the Forsaken that our Deathguard is not, in fact, wiped out. The hurling from the cliff was a ruse by our dragon friend. He did say he was wanting to stop the killing, and he did not kill them. They were found at the bottom of the crater in the Alterac Mountains, in the former location of Dalaran. Bounced around a bit, but intact.”

Rakeri was nodding. “Old mage trick. They used to pull it all the time, ever since the old spell was found in Dalaran’s archives. Most plummet to their deaths, while some - engineers, paladins, and of course mages - find ways to soften the landing. How did they?”

“They were in arcane stasis bubbles. They provided cushioning for their fall.”

The professor chuckled. “So they bounced like beach balls.” He folded his pincer-handed arms across his chest. “And your solution?”

Kalimos glanced behind him at Savona. “Bring her forward.”

The fallen vindicator nodded and beckoned forward what appeared to be an average-sized human female, wearing shadowghast chainmail similar to that of the executor, except she was carrying a crossbow. While Jonathan was bareheaded, this one wore a wicked-looking helmet. Without warning, she raised the crossbow and fired a bolt directly into Jonathan’s chest, pinning him against the wall he was up against, the shock of the impact causing him to drop his bow.

“What the hell?” Rakeri was staring in shock… and so was Relsyn.

Kalimos grinned. “A little secret I decided to keep handy. This one is much more… restrained than her brother, let’s just say.”

Relsyn was dumbfounded. “Brother?”

Jonathan’s eyes widened. “No…”

The huntress removed her helm… revealing pale skin, wild brown hair, and burning red eyes much like those of the pinned hunter. Like him, her body was largely intact - save for the scars of stitching all around her face. “Hello, little brother,” she greeted him, with a small smile cold enough to have frozen the Firelands. “I did warn you, back during the war… there is such a thing as taking too much joy in your work.”

Kalimos spread his arms theatrically. “Lord Aldos Relsyn, may I introduce Dark Ranger Mariel… Mariel Surrette. Elder twin sister of our soon-to-be late executor.”

Relsyn was staring at her, then at Jonathan, then at Kalimos. “He had a sister?”

“A little something I found in his rotting brain.” That was Brother Galedeep, looking highly entertained. “He was the main focus, as the commander, when I took over his men during the ritual to resurrect Lord Kalimos. He always kept her in the back of his mind.” He grinned. “How sweet.”

“You smug, salt-sucking madman!” Jonathan raged. “I’ll kill you for this!”

“I think not, Jonathan,” Kalimos replied, all amusement gone from his voice. “You’ve had your fun. But there is a time and a place for it… and you have failed to realize that.” He waved a hand imperiously. “We have no further use for you.”

Mariel did not even look at her brother as she knelt and picked up his bow, hefting the cruel-looking weapon in her hand, pulling an arrow from the quiver Jonathan wore on his back. She sighted it out towards the landscape, testing it. “Fine weapon, well balanced.” She smiled. “It will see good use.”

“I am sure of it. And what shall we do with your brother, my dear?”

Mariel shrugged. “I wrote him off long ago. Do what you like.”

Kalimos inclined his head. “As you wish.” He turned to the Tidesage, a wicked grin on his lips. “He’s all yours, Brother Galedeep.”

Jonathan Surrette screamed in terror.

He knelt quietly before the moonwell at the new Terrace of the Moon in Bel’ameth, his antlered head bowed in quiet reflection… and mourning. A tear fell from his remaining eye, to fall to the grass before him. Amallyn… if only you could have seen. This is what our future should be.


His head rose, and turned slightly to the sound of his name. “My lady,” he said quietly. He rose to his feet and straightened his snow-white robe.

Catherine inclined her head to him. “Probably a stupid question, but… are you well?”

Tekolin smiled. “As well as can be expected.” His expression sobered. “I heard about the confrontation in the plains from the Warden. He lives?”

“He lives. Serys is tending to him now. He’ll be fine - probably sore and highly annoyed, but fine.” The paladin’s expression was sympathetic. “Lengua told me what happened in the Wellspring. I’m so sorry.”

The archdruid looked around at the life around him. “It feels like I lost her long ago, after her mother was killed by the red orcs in Ashenvale. She always embraced the… darker side of things. Like the eyes of the Night Warrior, when Tyrande gave into her rage. And the flame, when that proved to not be enough. Like Caradell in some ways, come to think of it… burning everything away until hate was all she was.” He sighed. “Goddess willing, she is at peace now.”

“Like my old mentor. First he embraced war, then he embraced darkness… then he embraced madness.” She looked around. “It’s funny. I keep looking to make sure I’m still on Azeroth, instead of…”

“In one of Ardenweald’s groves,” Tekolin finished. “I have the same thought at times. And others as well.” One thought kept coming back, that conversation he had had with Poquelin: I can’t help but think that this will end the same way as all the other ones, Tekolin. He shook his head. “Forgive the ramblings of a tired old man, Catherine. I…”

Catherine raised a hand. “No need to explain, Tekolin. You’ve all been through so much. Too much, one might say. But perhaps now, there will be an opportunity to move forward.” She explained what she had heard from Kieran and Eirena about the coming campaign to restore the displaced Gilneans to their homeland.

Tekolin bowed his head. “We would have made a place for them here, as we had in Darnassus. But it pleases me that even the Forsaken recognize the need to rebuild what war, and the Cataclysm, and so much else has taken from us.” His jaw tightened. “Most of them, anyway.”

“Indeed. And the few naysayers are being sought out. This ‘Path’ has been banished, and some of them might quail… but these warlocks running things now aren’t stupid. All of Azeroth stood to ensure this growth, and they’re not about to make war on the entire world.” Her hand tightened on her swordhilt. “Yet.”

“Yet,” the archdruid agreed grimly. “For now, we rest, we wait, we watch.”

As the Pearl Queen made her way north up the coast, Captain Elizabeth Pellerin sat quietly in her cabin across from Lady Eirena, sharing glasses of Gilnean brandy. “To House Valmy, and the restoration of Gilneas,” she toasted.

“To House Pellerin, and the prosperity of Kul Tiras,” Eirena replied, returning the favor. As they drank, they pondered the road that lay ahead.

Elizabeth’s eyes were sharp as she peered at her guest over the rim of her glass. “Do you trust them?”

“As a whole? No. But the Baron is decent enough. Besides, this is his kind of battlefield.”

“I remember the rumors… didn’t he used to be a Scarlet himself?”

Eirena nodded. “Wore their tabard and armor while cutting through them in Lordaeron and in Northrend, is what I hear. Has a thing for Maldraxxi gear these days, though - that with that red cloak, it stands out.”

The captain looked amused. “And your gear does not?” She indicated Eirena’s heavy chainmail coat.

“Pots and kettles, Captain,” Eirena replied, grinning.

Elizabeth laughed, partly because it was true: a Kul Tiran captain tended to be “flashy”, and she certainly fit that mold - right down to the jeweled basket-hilted saber she wore at one hip, and the venthyr rapier she wore at the other. At that, there was a knock at the door. “Yes?”

The door opened. “Lookout’s spotted Keel Harbor, Captain. We’ll be pulling in shortly.”

“Thank you, Mr. Heskin. Any sign of our… allies?”

“Big fella in spangly armor. Zereth stuff, so I think it’s probably Khorag.”

“Ah, our resident decaying draenei. At least he’s on the right side.” Elizabeth chuckled. “Good lad, Donal. Back to your station.”

“Aye, Captain.” Donal Heskin saluted and returned to the deck.

As Elizabeth stood, she noticed the pensive expression on the Gilnean huntress’ face. “Steel your nerves and steady your wits, my friend,” she said gently.

Eirena looked up with her mismatched eyes, as if just now realizing the captain was there. Then her jaw clenched, and she nodded. “I’ve been ready for this for a long time.”

“I know you have.” She donned her tricorn hat and graciously gestured for Eirena to head onto deck first, and she followed right behind. Alexander McDonnell, the first mate, was at the helm, and guided the ship smoothly up to the dock. Standing there waiting was a strongly-built draenei, but his skin color and the patches of decay in his cheeks indicated his undeath far more than his glowing eyes did. His armor was indeed of the style of Zereth Mortis, done up in silver, gold, black, and red. His warhammer was of a matching style, held up against one shoulder.

“Captain Pellerin,” he greeted her with a bow of his head. “Lady Eirena… welcome home.”

“I hope so, Khorag. It’s been a long time in coming.”

“It has indeed.” Khorag turned to Elizabeth. “Baron Devaneaux and Dark Ranger Kirenna await us near Aderic’s Repose. The Crusade is here in force.”

“Doing what?”

“Consecrating the graves of the dead, from the sounds of it. According to the Baron, the Scarlets see the worgen to be as much an abomination as the undead. And the dead in question are those who were killed by the Forsaken during the Cataclysm. Including…”

“Including Prince Liam,” Eirena seethed. “Greymane will definitely not like this.”

Elizabeth’s hands tightened on the hilts of her blades. “Show us.”

“Welcome back to de land of de livin’, Poquelin.”

The demon hunter groaned as he awoke, with a tremendous headache and an incredible stiffness in his limbs. “Zulimbasha…?” He let out a shaky breath. “Where the hell am I?”

“You’re in Valdrakken, demon hunter,” came a quiet voice from the figure next to him - a dracthyr with pale scales and piercing violet eyes. “And you are very fortunate. If that arrow had been just a little more to the left, you would be dead.”

Poquelin began to sift through the fog in his brain, recalling what had happened. Serys had stabilized him, and Lengua had offered some aid as well. He had briefly regained consciousness to see her looking back at him, and muttered something about Revendreth… but by the time he was lifted off, he had passed out again, and had been out since. Until now.

“Be thankful ya don’t be needin’ my professional services, my friend,” the Collector added, an amused look on his face. “I was on me way back to da Necropolis when Soji caught me headed for da boat from de Echo Isles, bringin’ news from Serys about ya recovery.” He looked over to the evoker with a smile. “Ya done good, mon. If I could be havin’ da room for a moment?”

Serys inclined his hooded head. “Of course.”

After the evoker had left, Poquelin shifted his “gaze”, not wanting to risk puking his guts up by sitting up. He felt incredibly unsteady. “What have I missed?”

“Lady Eirena and a coupla others are on da way ta Gilneas. It seems da Forsaken’s new leadership is honorin’ de agreement ta withdraw their troops, and now Greymane and his people are goin’ home. Seems da night elves ain’t de only ones gettin’ a fresh start. In fact, some of de Forsaken are even helpin’ da Gilneans move back in - clearin’ out a bunch of lunatics called de Scarlet Crusade.”

“Like roaches, those people. I’ve heard of them. And speaking of lunatics, what about our ‘friends’?”

The Collector snorted. “Eregesh banished dis ‘Eightfold Path’ from da Dragon Isles on pain of death. Whether dat message goes through or not remains ta be seen. Dese people are insane.”

“Most cultists are,” Poquelin agreed, chuckling. Then his expression sobered. “The Warden?”

“In da night elves’ new city, Bel’ameth. Now dat da war’s over, she’s left with her thoughts. Just like all of us.”

The pained look on Poquelin’s face then had nothing to do with his injury. “And Tekolin?”

“Also in Bel’ameth. He hasn’t left since he arrived. Dame Catherine went ta see him.” Zulimbasha shook his head. “Poor man. His granddaughta was one of de flame zealots. Lengua told me of da duel between dem.”

The demon hunter sighed. “Even in the face of annihilation, we still fight our own…” He turned his head back to the death-priest. “I need a favor, Zulimbasha.”

“Name it.”

“I’m probably going to be here for a while, so… I need you to check in with the weaponsmiths out there. I had them go to work on some weapons for the Warden while Amirdrassil was in the Dream. See if they’re done, and if so, see that they get to her.”

“Certainly, mon.”

“And… maybe something for their fallen. A service, a prayer, whatever you might offer. I know, they’re not going to the Other Side… with any luck, their spirits are part of the tree now. A connection to Ardenweald - kind of like the Other Side, if I remember…” He laid his head back. “And it will also remind them that not all of us who look like we do are their enemies.”

Zulimbasha was silent for a moment. He made no qualms about his work collecting souls to deliver to Bwonsamdi. Indeed, his regalia had changed considerably, adorned with bones in addition to the aura of residual soul essence that often clung to him. But in his heart, he sympathized with those who grieved their fallen, and saw Amirdrassil as a new beginning just as much as the night elves did… and so, finally, he nodded. “Very well, Poquelin. I will do so.”

“Thank you…” Poquelin grew quiet. Zulimbasha looked concerned for a moment, resting a hand on his chest, and felt it rise with his breathing. The demon hunter was asleep. He breathed a sigh of relief before he stepped away, leaving his comrade to rest.

“As I said, what happens now is up to you.” As his mind retreated into the realm of dreams, he heard the familiar voice, and in his mind’s eye he saw Drastiya gazing at him. But there was no hint of the typical condescension in her voice or look - she spoke to him… almost like to an equal. “Your sins are carved in stone, Teren. So it is for us all. But no one is beyond redemption - and you’ve taken your first steps. The other steps…”

“In time, perhaps, we will take them together,” Poquelin replied. He smiled. “But not yet.”

The venthyr inquisitor returned the smile. “Not yet,” she agreed.

Kieran Devaneaux’s bony hands tightened on the reins of his Maldraxxi tauralus as he waited, wondering - not for the first time - how either he or his father had ever gotten involved with these people. Then he thought about it. It was one of those things that had seemed like a good idea at the time, considering that Gilneas was walled off, Lordaeron had largely fallen to the Scourge, and Stormwind was so far away. Banding together seemed like the right idea, and the hope that the Light would guide their hands… then he had been killed and resurrected, and questioned everything about what he had been, and what he, and they, had stood for. It was partly why he had chosen to stand with the Honorbound against Sylvanas after the war, as she had shown the same signs of blind zealotry.

The Forsaken had - mostly - learned from their mistakes. The Scarlets, it seemed, had not; now, these lunatics seemed to be even more fanatical than ever, nevermind that they had been roundly defeated on numerous occasions, and their strings had been pulled by dreadlords for the better part of the last two decades. He wondered, given what everyone had discovered about the nathrezim in the Shadowlands, if this was another such ploy.

Wretched parasites, he thought.

“Indeed, my Baron,” Kirenna Summerlight - waiting next to him, riding a stitched warhound - agreed, and Kieran realized he had spoken that thought aloud. Damned bad habit. “Don’t you wish you could sleep through all this nonsense?”

Kieran snorted. “There are times I wish I could sleep at all.”

“No arguments there. But I suppose this curse has its benefits, along with its… well, curse.” The undead Farstrider shrugged. “Making do with what we have, and what not.”

“Lord Baron.” He turned to see Khorag approach, tapping his fist against his Zereth chestplate in a martial salute. “Captain Pellerin and Lady Eirena have gone ahead. The lady is quite… agitated.”

Kieran knew why, and from his expression, so did Khorag. “As well she should be.” He smiled. “You took some joy in taking these fools down when you were shackled by the Scourge, did you not?”

“One of the few joys I could take, aye.” Khorag grinned, the expression that had made quite a number of Crusaders - and Forsaken, during the recent war - quake in their boots. “Shall we take some joy for ourselves this time?”

“A splendid idea, Khorag. See if we can put some of those lessons from the Theater to good use.” All three of them had met in Maldraxxus; Khorag had worked both for the necrolords and the kyrian, but had fully embraced the aesthetic of Zereth Mortis, styling himself the “Fist of the First Ones”. Anyone who had seen him swing a hammer, and the even wider grin than he sported now while he did so, knew not to mock him. Given the crimes of his people, Kieran had made it a point to stay on the draenei death knight’s good side - and it had paid off when they pledged to the Heralds. “Kirenna, how many of your brethren are with you?”

“Just two. Most of the rest are wary, or choosing to stay closer to home.”

“And you, Khorag?”

“Just me and Deathspear. Surprised to see him, thought he’d been killed on Draenor.”

Kieran nodded. He himself only had two soldiers with him - former Deathguards who had deserted from the Eightfold Path. They had told him that Executor Surrette had disappeared, and some “new gal” now took his place, a wild-haired woman with a stitched face, wearing Mawsworn chainmail and carrying the executor’s shadowghast-crafted bow. He thought that sounded vaguely familiar, but couldn’t place why.

But that was a matter for another time. “Let us proceed,” he said.