The Path Divergent

“You’ve looked a lot better, Lord Valmy. Glutted yourself on all the power and resources you stole from me… and now look what you are without them. I have to say, though, this Fel Horde battlesuit was a nice find. Never got it to work, though, did you? You were never all that attentive with reverse-engineering the orcs’ tech just because you thought it beneath you… well, maybe you’re right about that, but there are some uses to it. A good engineer does not dismiss what works simply because he didn’t build it.”

Professor Rakeri Sputterspark clasped his pincer-hands behind his back as he paced around the tower outside the Cobalt Assembly in the Azure Span. On his knees in front of him was the bound and bloodied form of Lord Eldred Valmy. The exiled Gilnean warlock was shackled using a set of magic-nullifying cuffs, typically used by the Kirin Tor or the Wardens to imprison magic wielders. He gave a light snort before backhanding the lupine sorcerer. “Pathetic wretch. You think I would owe you forever just because Marennia groveled to you to resurrect me?”

“Spare me the speeches, Sputterspark,” Eldred snarled. “Kill me and be done. For all the good it will do.”

“Yes, you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? But we are warlocks, you and I. We have both been killed once, and yet… here we are.” Rakeri chuckled. “No. I have something better in mind for you.” He looked up to the Nightborne in the high-collared robe standing at his side. “Will it work?”

“Even with what you have taken back, Professor… I do believe so, yes. It has enough magical talent of its own, not to mention what it took from the other.” The Nightborne peered at Eldred, his metal-tipped gloves running through the worgen’s exposed fur, inspecting him as if he were cattle waiting for slaughter. “I think it will do nicely. There will be certain items required, of course.”

“Twitch will carry whatever is necessary. Make whatever preparations you need, Aldos. For such a thing as this, we can either have it done quickly…”

“Or have it done right,” Lord Aldos Relsyn finished, nodding in agreement. “I think we should make contact before we begin, to inform him of the… circumstances. I have felt the essence begun to stir since you came to me.”

Rakeri was silent for a moment… then finally nodded. “Yes, I think that would be ideal. With the risks we’re taking, I think it best to cover all the ground we can.”

Relsyn knelt and began drawing a rune on the floor, before opening an embroidered pouch at his side and pulling out what looked for all the world to Rakeri like a lich’s phylactery. But he could feel the power from this artifact, and knew it was not Scourge magic… but something far more familiar to him. He set the recepticle in the center of the small runic circle and began to speak in Eredun.

What… where…

The bound Gilnean recoiled into himself. Even Rakeri had to repress a shudder, for the voice was less heard as felt in his bones. “Scion of Argus, once agent of the Legion, now… perhaps something more,” he said calmly. “Your skills are needed, and your powers a welcome addition to ours… and to the Council.”

The Council. An ethereal figure appeared in the circle, a ghost that could easily have been mistaken for draenei… but for the wicked glare in his eye and the sneer on his face. Your little Council was responsible for this mess, you wretched pygmy. What possible reason would I have to return to this cursed world? The Burning Crusade is over. Kil’jaeden and Talgath are dead, the Dark Lord bound by the Betrayer and the Pantheon… Argus is gone, and the Legion is broken. All thanks to you disgusting mortals. So why should I help you?

“Well, if you would prefer we scatter you to oblivion…” Rakeri smiled coldly. “Lord Relsyn has been kind enough to keep your essence preserved until we can bring about your return in some form.”

The ethereal figure’s eyes narrowed. And why would you do that?

“A mutual enemy. The one responsible for your current state.”

That got the spirit’s attention, as he knew it would. What do you have in mind?

“There has been a recent… expansion of users of the dark arts. Among peoples who never wielded it before. Including your erstwhile puritan brethren… even those who served Turalyon on Argus.”

Warlocks among Velen’s flock, and in the Army of the Light? The spirit laughed scornfully. You lie.

“I assure you, I do not. It is a recent development, but nonetheless it has happened.” Rakeri folded his arms across his chest. “It would be the perfect cover. Oh, you wouldn’t be welcome in the Exodar in all likelihood, but they would just suspect you were a draenei gone off the rails, rather than… something more.”

Hmm… The spirit considered this. You are not bringing me back and delivering my killer into my hands out of the goodness of your clockwork heart, Sputterspark. What is your price?

“Your experience.”

…what? That was not what he was expecting.

“His latest scheme is a take on an ancient idea. The Eightfold Path. The belief that peace is an artificial construct, and that war and chaos are the natural state of existence. You’ve probably heard of it.” The spirit nodded. “We and some others, non-warlocks in a few cases, think it’s a good idea. But it’s flawed from the beginning because of who is running it. The man is an imbecile. Constantly picking petty, unnecessary fights.”

The spirit snorted. Says the one who kidnapped the dog because he stole some of your books.

Rakeri scowled. The hell of it was, he was right. “Perhaps, but it was also done without idiotic fanfare.”

Fair enough. Go on.

“Lord Relsyn and I intend to remove him. I have a plan or two in mind, something he brought to me as a suggestion based on some of the work he’s engaged in up near Tyrhold. Something about time rifts?”

“Indeed,” Relsyn confirmed, nodding. “There was one that was particularly… amusing. I think you may find it a better punishment than death.”

You intend to let him live? Stripped of his power in some way?

“Among other things, yes. And he will, of course, be yours to use as you see fit. That part, at least, is out of the goodness of my clockwork heart, Kalimos.”

Kalimos’ eyes narrowed… and then he laughed. You are a vile creature, Sputterspark. I like you. Then he sobered. You are not expecting me to take charge of this little cult, are you? If you are intending to recruit for it, letting slip that it is being run by a “draenei” - and any idiot would be able to find out I am not - would attract that unwelcome attention.

“The thought had occurred to me,” Rakeri agreed. “It’s also the same reason I am not intending to, either. I have a reputation of sorts to maintain with the ignorant sheep I have to work with.” He nodded to Relsyn. “Our friend here will do so. Oh, the fools in Suramar know he was a loyalist of Elisande during the war, but the hunters have busied themselves elsewhere, more or less. There’s the possibility of somebody alerting House Vendross, but… our mutual ‘friend’ has a saying about timid men being destined for timid jobs.”

Indeed… Kalimos was silent for a moment, considering it. Very well, Sputterspark. We will play this your way. For now. He glanced at the bound and blooded figure next to him. And this, I take it, is your offering?

Rakeri grinned. “One of.”

Lord Aldos Relsyn stood on the edge of Tyrhold, high above the reservoir where the bronze dragons had been working to contain the time rifts. He had to admit a great fascination with the Titans and their works, awakened somewhat by his formal warlock training with the professor, who had served in Northrend. Rakeri had taken him to the Storm Peaks to see the halls of Ulduar, and he had gone into the deserts of Uldum - and even into the halls of Uldaman, where the “Titan craze” had mostly begun after the vaults were opened by the dwarves years before.

Relsyn arranged the circle just as Rakeri had showed him, consulting the floating tome next to him. The professor’s strange demon servant Twitch - whom Rakeri believed to be some kind of variant of imp, but admitted he wasn’t sure - carried a pack full of “spares” on its back, including ritual materials. It had just returned from informing the professor of his plan… and it was cowering. Caught him at a bad moment, he mused. Probably in a room full of people.

“You’re ready?”

He glanced behind him. “Nearly, Professor. Only some finishing touches. What’s left of Executor Surrette’s Deathguards are bringing the prisoners.”

“Hmph. ‘What’s left of them’. Foolish waste of resources…” Rakeri shook his head.

“Indeed.” Relsyn hesitated for a moment. “I know what you have said, turning his words against him, but… are we sure about this?”

“Do you intend to be the next person killed for his stupidity? I certainly don’t. Once was enough. Our ability to return is useful, but not infallible. Do you want to test your limits for someone so short-sighted?”

“No, I suppose not,” Relsyn admitted. “But… an eredar?”

Rakeri’s eyebrows rose. “Don’t tell me you’re becoming puritanical all of a sudden, Aldos. You were willing to help Elisande sell the world to the Legion, but now one lost eredar gives you pause?”

Relsyn gritted his teeth. “I don’t need to be reminded,” he snarled.

“Then stiffen your spine, student,” Rakeri replied coldly. “You - we - have gone too far to turn back now.”

“What is going on here, I wonder?” Nightborne and mechagnome looked up at that voice. The prisoners were being brought forward, guarded by Forsaken Deathguards - renegades who refused the authority of the Desolate Council and the “usurper” Calia Menethil. Their leader, Jonathan Surrette, was a former executor accused of war crimes by both the Alliance and the Horde.

But it was not Surrette who spoke… but the orc standing next to him. Urgan of the Black Harvest, formerly of the Bleeding Hollow clan, one of the few surviving acolytes of the old Shadow Council. He folded his arms across his chest. “Surprising amount of secrecy for a simple demon summoning, Professor.”

“Not quite as simple as it sounds, Lord Corruptor,” Rakeri replied evenly.

“Indeed.” The Corruptor looked to the Nightborne. “And who is this fellow here? A new recruit?”

“That student I’d mentioned before when we met. Lord Aldos Relsyn, formerly of Suramar.”

“Ah, yes… you were one of Elisande’s, weren’t you?”

“Indeed,” Relsyn replied, inclining his head slightly. “That experience showed me I have much more left to learn. The professor has been kind enough to guide me.”

“Interesting.” The Corruptor gazed at him. “Guide you into replacing me, I take it?”

Relsyn saw that Surrette’s rifle was pointed directly at him. He was not surprised that the Corruptor had been able to figure out the plan, but was surprised that this brute was the one who told him. “So, you figured it out,” he said to the executor. More cunning than I realized, he thought. That may be of some use in the days to come… if I allow him to live.

“Jonathan knows who his friends are, Lord Relsyn. A pity you do not. Still, you have an opportunity to learn from your mistake.” Urgan laughed scornfully, then glanced at Rakeri. “And you, treacherous little rodent that you are… I should have expected something like this. Still, I suppose we can proceed with your little plan… but for my benefit. Exactly what are we summoning here? Something for the shenanigans down below?”

Rakeri shook with frustrated rage, but it was Relsyn who replied, keeping his voice calm. “Among other things, Lord Corruptor. The tide of time-shifted creatures seems almost endless. I don’t think the bronze dragonflight care what kind of help they get, only that it comes.”

“Pragmatic, those bronzes.” The Corruptor gestured to Surrette, who brought the prisoners, including Lord Valmy, forward. The others were from a number of different species, both Horde and Alliance, as well as a few from here in the isles - even a dracthyr, its signets marking its allegiance to the Sundered Flame. “Now then… how are we doing this?”

Relsyn hid his surprise and pleasure at the news. The Corruptor was taking the bait. No doubt he thought to kill the two of them - or Rakeri, at the very least, probably (rightly) considering him the mastermind. But he had a surprise of his own. “Professor?” he said politely.

Something about his student’s tone led Rakeri to realize that this was planned… and not for the Corruptor. He directed each of the sacrificial victims to the places as drawn out, and then handed a set of sacrificial blades - recovered from the blood trolls of Nazmir, another of Relsyn’s finds - to each of the men overseeing the bound and gagged prisoners, holding one for himself to finish the Gilnean. Finally, from his pouch, he placed the recepticle in the center.

Urgan felt a chill run down his spine at the sight of it… and he realized what was going on. “How… what…” His expression went from horror to fury. “Jonathan, stop them! Kill - Jonathan? JONATHAN!

But Surrette’s eyes had gone dark… as had all of his men’s. As the Corruptor prepared to react to this unwelcome turn of events, a shadowy tentacle wrapped around his body. Relsyn’s reinforcement had arrived. Rakeri swiftly placed a similar set of bindings onto his wrists that bound the powerless Lord Valmy. But it was not to the professor to whom he looked… but the figure in dark vestments standing behind Relsyn. “Septimus?”

Brother Septimus Galedeep pulled back his hood. “You lack discipline,” the dark Tidesage said, a mad grin on his face. One hand carried a dark blade, glowing with ethereal energy. The other was clenched in a fist, writhing with shadow tendrils. “Not a good example to set.”

“You… you followed my vision! You said --”

“Your vision is a grand one indeed, orc,” Relsyn interrupted, “but for the dream to rise, the dreamer must fall. Brother Galedeep realizes this. As do we all. As will your Forsaken friends here, once this is done. Brother, can you direct them all to act as one?”

“Aye, my lord. Give the word.”

Relsyn glanced at Rakeri, who nodded once. “Then the word is given!”

NO!!!” the Corruptor screamed. But he could do nothing. As one, the mind-controlled Forsaken stabbed their blades deep into the backs of their sacrifices, in precision with Rakeri’s own movement that slit Valmy’s throat. Their blood spilled onto the stone, and began to writhe, drawing itself in the chalked circle of the ritual runes… and then beginning to flow into the recepticle in the center.

The recepticle shattered. In front of them, blood, bone, muscle, sinew… began to form into a shape. The redness of the form did not fade as it etched together. If anything… it deepened. Relsyn watched in fascination as it happened… and felt a trembling pleasure at the idea that he had helped to bring this about.

The figure solidified before them. Deep red flesh, well-muscled. Great horns tipped with metal. A tuft of white beard between a pair of tendrils that ran to his waist. White hair, part of it tied back, the rest running to his shoulders. Fel-green eyes, burning with cunning and rage. And cloven hooves that rested upon the stone.

The Corruptor’s eyes went wide with pure terror. “Impossible…”

Nothing is impossible, little orc. You should know that by now. His lips did not move, instead frozen in a smile of pure evil. You have spent so long trying to cheat death, and trying to shape events based on your own selfish, short-sighted desires. I should have you killed where you stand, and use your soul as a battery to regain my strength. But what our friends here have in store for you… is far greater than killing you. He turned to Relsyn. I have chosen my summoner well, it would seem. As promised, I will offer my experience to you and your companions. The Eightfold Path is yours, Lord Relsyn, and I am at your service.

The fel arcanist bowed his head. “Your service honors us.”

Yes, it does. He looked amused as he turned back to the Corruptor. And as for you… you will watch as others claim the power and glory that you sought for yourself. In time, you will be forgotten. And you will be powerless to stop it. You will watch, you will suffer… and you will beg me to let you die!

1 Like

“What a hell of a mess.”

Lengua turned to the speaker, seeing his expression was as troubled as her own, though he had no eyes to speak of - covered as they were by an embroidered veil. “You know of this power, Master Poquelin?”

“All too well,” Poquelin the Accursed confirmed, nodding his horned head grimly. He was kneeling next to the body of Lord Valmy. “This was a summoning ritual. I could feel it from all the way in Iskaara. Whatever was summoned here was very powerful… and ancient. A demon lord, possibly.”

Demon hunter and evoker had formed a surprising alliance during this conflict, partly because they were both unusual “supersoldiers” for long-ago wars, and both also sported wings. Though repulsed at first by the fel magic around him - it reminded her of the warlocks she had encountered - she was reassured by his sincere curiosity and his blunt honesty. Zulimbasha had told her that he had been an arrogant prig prior to their journey to the Shadowlands; his experiences in the realm of Revendreth had mellowed him somewhat, though his tongue still remained as sharp as his blades.

“Isn’t that impossible?” she asked after a moment. “The Legion is defeated, I thought.”

The demon hunter shook his head. “Extremely unlikely, I’ll grant you… but not impossible. There are still demons out there. Even with Sargeras gone, Kil’jaeden and his commanders dead, and Argus closed off, there are still some remnants that linger. Here on Azeroth, and also in Outland.” He stood, walking carefully around the bodies and the burnt remnant of the circle.

Lengua tried to repress a shudder; the senseless bloodshed, and the purpose for this ritual, made her scales crawl. Plus something else… “There is something familiar here. Like the one I encountered in the caverns.” She had told Poquelin of the encounter with the Corruptor near Nal ks’kol, and he in turn had told her what he knew about him.

“I feel it, too,” Poquelin agreed, a glow from behind his mask indicating he was using his demonic sight. “He’s been here… but I don’t think he was the one behind this.”

“What do you mean?”

“There is an… afterglow of sorts here, some other type of power mingling with his. Shadow magic.”

“Like shadowflame?”

Poquelin quickly shook his head. “No. Not nearly that potent. But enough to notice. And I don’t think it was an augmentation of his powers. I think it was meant as containment.”

Lengua considered this. “There was a man with him when I encountered him in Zaralek. His powers were like Zulimbasha’s, but… darker. A big man, with strange sigils on his robes, carrying a ritual dagger and a lantern. He smelled of the sea.”

He tilted his head at that. “That sounds almost like a Kul Tiran Tidesage. But why would one of them be working with warlocks? That seems… unlikely.”

“But not impossible,” she countered.

Poquelin smiled, pleased at her quick response. “No. Not impossible.” His expression sobered. “I think we should tell him.”

Lengua nodded in agreement. “Him, and our friends in the Alliance as well. Captain Pellerin of the Pearl Queen might know of this Tidesage, if that is indeed what he is.” She gazed at Valmy, his violet-tinted eyes staring up at nothing. “Didn’t someone come to Sir Eran looking for him?”

“Yes.” Poquelin’s expression was grim. “His sister, I think. One of the old wolf’s Greyguards.”

Lengua knelt next to the fallen warlock and lifted him up. “Then I will bring him to her.”

“A new player… and the Corruptor not in control anymore. Troubling.”

Esheregos, or Eregesh as he was known in his visage, still moved carefully - recovering from nearly being killed by the Corruptor at Nal ks’kol - as he paced in the Azure Archives annex in Valdrakken. Lengua and Poquelin, who were seated across from him, were reporting what they had found to the dragon-mage and the two leaders of the “Deathsworn Heralds”, as they had come to be called - Zulimbasha the Collector, the skull-masked priest of Bwonsamdi, and Sir Eran Heskin, the worgen-cursed knight of Stormwind. Eran looked almost as battered as Eregesh, and also felt a bit of infirmity; it was partly why, while Zulimbasha had come alone, Eran was flanked by his grandson, Donal, and his goddaughter, the paladin Dame Catherine Hildreth.

The Collector looked up to the Illidari. “Ya sure it be some kinda demon lord, Poquelin?”

“I would bet on it. To those sensitive to the fel, the amount of power involved was felt quite a ways away. I was down in the Span when I sensed it.”

“The amount of sacrifice involved too,” Catherine, who had seen her share of warlock shenanigans in the Broken Isles, added with a grim set to her jaw. “Warlocks don’t shed that much blood just to summon an army of imps or something. This was meant to be something big.” Poquelin nodded in agreement.

Eregesh glanced at Donal. “And our Tidesage?”

“I informed the captain as soon as we heard,” the younger Heskin replied. The two had encountered Eran first, who had called for the meeting with Zulimbasha and Eregesh as soon as possible. Eran had then sent Donal to tell Captain Pellerin, agreeing with the demon hunter that she might have a better idea who it was. “Based on Lengua’s description, she thinks it might be Brother Galedeep, the so-called ‘Madman of Brennadam’. According to Calum, the Tidesage on the Pearl Queen, Brother Galedeep was a loyalist of House Stormsong, right up until Brother Pike and his allies came knocking.”

Eregesh was nodding as he took a seat, trying not to show just how much pain he was still in. “Lord Stormsong and his minions were trying to give up the Kul Tiran fleet to Azshara, if I remember rightly.”

“Aye. Most of them got turned into freakish Old God beasts. K’thir, I think Calum called them. We saw a few signs of that,” and he indicated his grandfather in that as well, “in Tiragarde Sound. Some hubbub about Stormsong’s nephew, I think?” Eran nodded once in confirmation.

“Warlocks, shadow magic… this ‘Path’ seems to be leaning to darkness.” Eregesh sat back. “There was also the ‘Heretic’ we encountered down there.”

Poquelin sighed. “Caradell. I wondered what happened to her; some of the others said she’d vanished after Teldrassil. Thought she was dead, actually. Falling in with that crowd?” He shook his great horned head. “She always hated Tyrande, and Malfurion too. Considered them incompetents who always screwed things up, while Illidan was the one who got results. When the Dark Portal reopened, she came over to Outland to join us. She was careful never to say anything when word could get back to Illidan, but… he knew. We all did.”

“If she was in Teldrassil, she would have reason to hate the Forsaken, and yet the Corruptor employed them,” Eregesh mused. “I would have to imagine whoever has toppled him might use them too. That might lead to conflict - or she might be a true believer.” He tapped a finger on his chin. “Some of these sacrifices, though… only one of them was specific.”

“And he was one of ours,” Donal added. “Such as it was.”

Poquelin nodded. “I agree - that one was intentional. And there’s only one person I know of who would have a grudge against Lord Valmy in particular, enough to do something like this: Professor Rakeri Sputterspark.”

That got Catherine’s attention. “Sputterspark? The Dark Angel of Mercy?” At the others’ confused stares, she explained, “Commander Orwyn and the Watch employed him to help cure a fel plague in Westfall some years ago. As a means of commuting a prison sentence, to be fair, but…”

“I remember now,” Eran said, thoughtfully scratching his chin. “He hates Stormwind almost as much as the Corruptor does, though he’s a lot better at hiding it in public. If he is involved…” He sighed. “Well… that will be your problem, Master Zulimbasha - and yours, Catherine.”

“Me?” Catherine was dumbfounded. “What about you?”

“I never realized just how right Katerina was about how much I had given… until now. Even with Lucia’s last gift, I am not as young and strong as I used to be. And that whole thing down in Zaralek…”

Donal’s eyebrows rose. “You’re retiring.”

“Aye, lad. It’s high time for it. Your grandmother was right… I’ve given so much, been in so many wars in my life, and… maybe this ‘Path’ believes peace is unattainable for this world, but I am certainly going to try and find it for myself at least.”

Eregesh nodded. “I do not feel nearly as worn as you do, but… I can still understand it. Back to Stormwind?”

The old knight shook his head. “No. I’m taking the offer extended by Lorewalker Puretide and his wife Chaiya, and staying with them at their farmstead in Kun-Lai. The Lorewalker’s brother, the Shado-Pan death knight, is going too. I think he’s had enough and wants to put his services to work back home.”

The dragon-mage had a thought occur to him, and he smiled. “Do you think the Lorewalker will mind two additional guests?”

“Two?” Eran frowned in confusion, and then it dawned on him. “Right! Your niece.”

“Yes. I think Riana and I could use some time away from the front.” The dragon-mage looked around at the others, his smile broadening as his eyes rested on Lengua. “Besides, I think we’ve guided them well enough here, hmm? I think they will be able to handle things without us for a time.”

Kalimos walked along the jagged shoreline, eyes gazing up at the structure ahead. “Where our final stand began, and in a way… where the Crusade ended,” he said in Eredun. His hand stroked the head of the twisted-looking felhound at his side. The creature gave a sound of delight. “So recent, and yet it feels so long ago.”

“For some of us, it felt longer than others.”

He turned to the slim night elf standing at his side with a thin smile. “Yes, I would imagine so. You were kept here after the Betrayer’s fall in Outland, were you not, Heretic?”

“We all were. Those of us who lived.”

“Then you know the true pain of isolation. Whether within your flesh, or without it… you know what it is like to no longer be in control. You have no desire to repeat that again, do you?”

“Not in a thousand lifetimes. Whether being trapped in this dark hole, or bound by idiotic dogmas… never again.” She tilted her head curiously as they made their ascent. “You are not what I expected.”

“Expected a few psalms to Sargeras coming from my lips?” Kalimos snorted. “My time in Lord Relsyn’s… custody led me to discover a few truths, Caradell. Much like this ‘Eightfold Path’, the Legion was a grand idea that was limited by the vision of those who led it. And yes, that did include my people. Kil’jaeden was blinded by his obsession with Velen, Archimonde was a smug backstabber, and Talgath was a glory-hungry brute. Even the Dark Titan was blinded by his own hubris. That is why we failed. We attempted to do too much, and were fooled by how easy it was to burn worlds that resisted us to cinders… until Azeroth and her people proved us wrong. Now look at what we have become. There are so few of my people left…” He had a somber look on his face.

“Is that why you accepted the gnome’s offer? To advise, not to rule?”

“In part, yes. I will confess that part of the reason is self-preservation. I have just been returned, and while my powers continue to grow again, I am not invulnerable - and I do not have Argus to bring me back this time. I have no desire to become the target for Turalyon’s fanatics.”

“The ritual is bound to get notice, and you’ll be hunted anyway,” she pointed out.

“True,” he conceded. “But that is a possibility, not a certainty. They do not know what came back. And those who might are few enough themselves. Like… you, for instance. I’m sure there are those listless ex-Illidari who still hope to add someone like me to their kills.” He smiled coldly. “Come to think of it, I am surprised you have not attempted to kill me yourself. You certainly had the ability, before I became strong enough to undertake this little journey.”

“Appearances are deceiving,” the demon hunter replied evenly. “And I tested my limits enough with the damned dragons.”

“Limits…” He stroked his tendrils thoughtfully. “When I returned to defend Argus from the Legionfall invaders, I learned my limits. The Corruptor, fool though he is, taught me a valuable lesson. A favor I hope to return for him, with the assistance of my new… colleagues.” He chuckled. “Never did I think I would work with those who I had once sought to destroy, and who had once helped to slay me.”

“Necessity breeds desperation, the professor often likes to say,” Caradell said, a pensive expression on her scarred face. “Wisdom comes from the strangest places… if we are willing to hear it.”

“Indeed.” Kalimos nodded approvingly. “There is hope for you yet, young kaldorei. Ah, here we are.” He looked up at the rune-locked door before him.

“Why did you want to come back here, anyway? And why did you ask for me?”

“I seek someone… important to me, who I’ve learned has been here since our defeat. One who saw the error of her ways and turned away from the false one, and pledged her hammer to me. I could use her services now, and I’m sure Lord Relsyn will not mind, either. As for why you… your knowledge of this place will be invaluable to my search.” He sounded completely sincere, which naturally made Caradell wary. A sincere eredar was about as trustworthy as a smiling goblin. But she had already come this far, and kept silent as he turned his attention back to the door. “Now, what was the phrase Felsong used to let Gul’dan in here… ah, yes. ‘Let my will be known’. How appropriate.” He raised his staff. “Anu’dorini talah.

The runes around the lock began to glow, and the lock began to turn…

“I don’t like you anymore than you like me, Illidari, but I think both of our sides worked well enough together against the Legion. And Archdruid Wintershade speaks for you, so I’m inclined to listen.” Aleira Ravensong’s metal-tipped gauntlets flexed on the hilts of the pair of blades at her waist as she said this. The anxiety would have amused Poquelin if he was in a mood for amusement.

Right now, he wasn’t.

“Bold wretch, to waltz right in here,” he said. “But other than the fact he’s a demon… why did you call for me? You Wardens could handle demons well enough when you put your minds to it. The war proved that.”

“One of your brethren was involved. The Heretic. He was after someone in particular, and I think she guided him.”

He sighed and nodded, it all starting to make sense to him. Tekolin Wintershade, who had taken up the druidic path during the War of the Ancients ten millennia earlier, had adopted the orphaned Caradell before she had lost her faith and gone to Outland in search of Illidan. She had just been initiated in time for Mardum, and ended up here with the others when the Betrayer fell. The fact that Tekolin had taken Poquelin into his confidence about the whole matter surprised the demon hunter, as was his own desire to do right by the old shapeshifter. Perhaps all that time in Revendreth had changed him after all…

“Show me,” he said quietly.

Aleira led Poquelin into the vault, and he had to confess he was surprised. It was surprisingly clean, almost surgical, the move that was made. Only three bodies. Only one cell. “They didn’t waste time.”

“No, they didn’t,” the Warden agreed. “By the time the alarm was raised, they were gone. The vault is warded against teleportation spells, but we suspect they may have used some technological means to escape.”

“This eredar was recently summoned by, among others, a warlock who is also an accomplished engineer. He has spent years melding fel magic with technology. It would not surprise me if he gave them an out.” Poquelin knelt, examining the traces of magic left behind. “Who was the prisoner?”

“A draenei vindicator who fell in with the Legion,” Aleira explained. “Her name was Savona.”

Poquelin frowned, trying to recall why that name sounded familiar. Perhaps something in the memories of Nemiya Shadowsun, his sister-in-arms who had sacrificed her essence to resurrect him for the Shadowlands war. He wasn’t sure… but he knew someone who might be. “Perhaps the draenei can aid us in this, if she was one of them,” he mused. “And I may have someone in mind.” He looked up to the Warden. “Once you see to your fallen, meet me in Dalaran.”

Aleira’s eyes narrowed slightly, as if expecting mockery, but was surprised to realize he was being sincere. She nodded.

The beacon to the Vindicaar was still there, but it now connected to the vessel in orbit of Azeroth itself. It was there in Khadgar’s landing that the demon hunter and the Warden waited. In a flash of light, a figure emerged, wearing richly-embroidered robes, and carrying a shining staff. His long hair spilled down his shoulders, and a quartet of tendrils splayed across his chest, flanking a neatly-trimmed beard.

He saw the figure waiting for him, and gave a slight, wary nod. “Accursed.”

“Exalted,” Poquelin returned, bowing his great horned head. “I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on something for us.” His lips curved into a smile as he realized what he said. “Pun only slightly intended.”

Po’gaenus the Exalted stared for a long moment… and then returned the smile. “You’ve taken lessons to heart from the Shadowlands, it would seem.”

“A few,” Poquelin admitted. His expression sobered. “There’s been a break-in at the Vault of the Wardens. A demon lord returned by a ritual back in the Dragon Isles, aided by a renegade from my order. They liberated a fallen vindicator named Savona, who’s been there since the war.”

“Savona.” The ancient priest looked grim. “Yes, I know of her. A former peacekeeper of Shattrath. Some among our people, in our long voyage, began to question the Prophet’s wisdom, given that the Legion burned every place we tried to find sanctuary. Some wondered why they did not just embrace the ‘gift’ Sargeras offered. Like Othaar, who became Socrethar, back on Draenor. Both Draenors, come to think of it.”

“Who would put in the effort to break her out, though?” Aleira wondered. “She wasn’t a particularly important enemy.”

“Not to us, no,” the Exalted agreed. “But to her rescuer… this lord, recently returned, you say?”

Poquelin nodded. “A ritual just outside of Tyrhold. Summoning runes, blood sacrifice, the works.”

“He would have been here during the early part of the campaign, before returning at Talgath’s call in the final war on Argus,” Po’gaenus recalled. “He was killed by the orc known as the Corruptor. I had thought that was the end of it. Savona had been here while Khadgar, Illidan and their allies sought to block the Tomb of Sargeras. She held off the hunters long enough for him to escape.”

That was why the name sounded familiar. It was indeed one of Nemiya’s memories; Savona had been the enforcer of the demon lord here in the Broken Isles during the campaign. She had held Nemiya at bay long enough for him to escape to Argus, and then she had escaped from Nemiya’s blades. “Why didn’t the Wardens kill her?”

Po’gaenus bowed his head slightly. “I asked them not to.”

That was not what Poquelin had expected. “But why?”

“I had hoped that sparing her might… bring her salvation,” the Exalted admitted. “In a way… I wonder the same about him, too. You may have heard that there have been many of late who have taken up the path of the warlock… including my own people. Even those who have taken the trials of the Lightforged.”

“Insanity!” Aleira blurted out.

Poquelin turned to her, then back to Po’gaenus. “I have heard this, yes, and I’m forced to agree with my zealous companion here. Your people fled Argus to avoid that fate, Po’gaenus… and now they are embracing it anyway? Why not simply just call yourselves eredar again and be done with it?”

“What is done, is done.” Po’gaenus’ golden eyes stared at him. “Would you have us wage war against our own people, Illidari?”

“Isn’t that what you’ve been doing for thousands of years?” Poquelin countered. On seeing the look on the draenei priest’s face, he immediately regretted it. “I --”

Po’gaenus raised a hand. “No… you’re right, it is what we have been doing for thousands of years. If we have not been fleeing, we have been fighting. And I, for one, grow weary of it. I am fairly sure Velen has grown so as well, though of course, the Prophet does not, and does not have to, make his thoughts known to me. I am but one wanderer in a race of wanderers.”

Poquelin’s head tilted. Something in Po’gaenus’ voice got his attention - and when your eyes didn’t work like others’ did, your other senses picked up considerably. “You know who he is, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.” The Exalted looked out from the landing to the city spires of Suramar beyond, silent for a long time. “We were students together, on Argus, long ago,” he said finally. “We were of different paths - he studied magic, I embraced faith - but we had very similar outlooks. Our curiosity, for a start. Wondering about what lay in the Beyond. We both became wanderers in our way, embracing the journey. Those journeys were very different… but managed to end up at the same place.” He chuckled sadly. “There’s a beautiful and terrible symmetry to that.”

Poquelin nodded, his expression one of surprising sympathy. “Who is he?”

He sat quietly in the courtyard, as was his wont whenever he wished to be alone with his thoughts. The word had been traveling for days, ever since the Triumvirate had encountered this powerful newcomer who promised them the cosmos, power beyond their wildest dreams.

The eredar were a proud people, but also drawn to those with power. Kil’jaeden, Velen, and Archimonde were their leaders because they were the strongest and wisest among them. He did not think, even if he lived as long as Velen did, that he would know as much as he. The power of this stranger, this “Sargeras”, appealed to them, as did what he offered. It most especially appealed to him, because he often sat as he did now, gazing up at the night sky, and wondered if there were other worlds like this in the Beyond. Sargeras was proof that there was… and he wanted to give those worlds to the eredar.

All he wanted was their obedience.

“I thought I might find you here.” He looked up at the sound of that voice. It belonged to a friend, dressed in the robes of the Augari. “You’re just like Velen in your own way,” the other teased. “Always meditating before you come to any decisions.”

“Not everything need be a snap decision, Kalimos,” he replied, smiling for a brief moment before his expression sobered. “I would not be myself if I did not question.”

“We have always questioned, you and I,” Kalimos agreed. “Always looking up to the stars and dreaming of what lay beyond. Now we can find out, Po’gaenus! Sargeras has promised us the stars, and all the knowledge we can ever want.”

“And all he wants is our obedience,” Po’gaenus pointed out. “When someone tells you, ‘I will give you everything you could ever want, if you would but bow to me’ - is that not a sign to be wary?”

"You pick now to be squeamish?" Kalimos’ eyebrows rose. “This is all we’ve been waiting for, Po’gaenus. Something we’ve wanted since we started on our paths.”

Po’gaenus’ eyes narrowed slightly at the accusation, for accusation it was. Kalimos had gone through Archimonde’s trials in the Conservatory, but it was to Kil’jaeden that he gravitated - and both Kil’jaeden and Archimonde had publicly declared they would join with Sargeras, and believed Velen would be with them. Po’gaenus was not so sure. Velen’s greatest strength was his heart, more so even than his mind… he had a compassionate soul that the others lacked. Archimonde, in particular, was known to be ruthless in the application of his philosophies to those who underwent the Augari trials.

Though he did not have the same strength of Sight that Velen did, what little Po’gaenus could see of what the eredar were embracing was… clouded. That was enough to make him hesitate. He could see now that Kalimos would not… and that they would be on opposing sides. He hoped it was simply a disagreement, and not something more.

“Perhaps,” is all he said to his old friend.

He sat quietly in the woods outside Azure Watch, as was his wont whenever he wished to be alone with his thoughts. The news Poquelin had brought to him in Dalaran concerned him greatly. Savona was a fanatic; she had been even before she had embraced the darkness. But her master was another matter. He was a thinker… or at least he had been.

All those eons later, he had no regrets about what had occurred on Argus. Well… no, that was not entirely true. He regretted that their world would have to die for them to remain true to themselves. But when Velen called, he had not hesitated. He had not embraced the “gift” Sargeras had offered, which rightly proved to be a curse. He had fled with the Prophet and the others - the draenei, as they came to be called - and began their long voyage through the Beyond.

In a way, they had both gotten what they wanted. The journey that had resulted turned out to be very different, of course…

It has been a long time, old friend.

He stood, and faced the speaker - a crimson-skinned figure in dark vestments, carrying a matching staff. His eyes glowed with the same fel energies as his regalia. “It has,” he agreed. “Have you come seeking forgiveness?”

“I have done nothing to be forgiven for, Po’gaenus.”

“Nor have I.”

“Have you not? You call yourselves ‘exiled ones’, but you were the ones who fled from Argus. We did not banish you… you banished yourselves.”

“Do not insult me by trying to justify selling our world and people into madness and slavery, Kalimos. Not here. Not now.”

Kalimos gave a light shrug. “You saw slavery. I saw opportunity.”

“And look what that has brought you.”

“Yes.” That single word of agreement surprised Po’gaenus. “We always questioned, you and I,” Kalimos said quietly. “Always looking up to the stars and dreaming of what lay beyond. And we found out, didn’t we?”

Po’gaenus inclined his head. “We did get what we wanted in the end, didn’t we?”

“We did,” Kalimos agreed. “And in the end, we followed our different journeys to a similar destination. Here to this forsaken world, living as immortals among the brief, changed by our journeys and by the powers we embraced, until at last… you and I, here and now.” His head tilted. “Are we so different, in the end?”

Po’gaenus stared at him. It was true, they had been changed by their journeys. Like Kalimos, he had once been blue of skin and pale of eye, but his eyes now glowed gold, and his flesh was nearly white, adorned with glowing tattoos and Light-imbued metal.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “In many ways.” He turned from his former friend. “Have you come to kill me?”

The warlock stared for a moment, then shook his head. “No. Merely to advise you to consider your friends carefully… and your actions more so.” His expression was earnest. “For the sake of our dreams, of the brotherhood we once shared… do not obstruct me.”

“I will do what I must. For the Light.”

Kalimos nodded, unsurprised. “So be it.”

It had been building up for years, but not like this. Not like this.

The brutes had been attacking them on a regular basis, but now the Deceiver himself had been seen at the head of their armies. She gripped the handle of her hammer, fully intending to send all of these abominations back to the hell that spawned them. They had made a mistake, trying to coexist with the orcs. They were savages, and should have been done away with as such.

Velen had tried to befriend them; the story of the two youths rescued in Telmor years back had become well-known, the first real encounter to learn about the orcs and their culture. At the time, it had seemed like a good idea. But now those youths were likely wielding weapons and death-magics to slaughter the draenei.

Velen had been wrong about the orcs, she thought… what else was he wrong about?

Sickened by what she had seen on Azeroth, she had returned to Shattrath, taking up her duties again in the Peacekeepers. But her heart wasn’t in it anymore.

Just like here on Draenor, now blasted to hell and known to most as “Outland”, the so-called Prophet was trying to foster amity with a bunch of brutes. The humans were no better than the orcs. Orcs were little more than animals, and that had not changed even with this so-called “enlightened” Warchief. Point them at an enemy, and they would scream “For the Horde!” and run off like a bunch of frothing lunatics. The Alliance was not much better.

What differentiated humans from orcs, however, was that orcs were just killers, who drank blood even when they weren’t thirsty. Humans, on the other hand, were willing to slaughter entire peoples simply for the sake of an idea. They took the concept of the Light and bastardized it to their own purposes, which essentially amounted to “the world needs us to rule it, or else it will fall to chaos”. And Velen had bowed to it. He had pledged his allegiance to first the barbarian king, and then to his fool son.

How could people like this possibly stand up to the Legion?

Her people called themselves “exiled ones”, and they took a perverse pride in it. And over the eons, no matter where they settled, the Legion burned their worlds to cinders or broke them apart like brittle stone. They had survived against the Legion for millennia by running and hiding. What good did it do, except get their people killed? What was the point of leaving Argus, if this was what they were reduced to?

It was then that she made her decision.

She didn’t want to be an “exiled one” anymore. She wanted to know what it was like to be among her people, her real people. And now, she would have the opportunity to find out, because the word had come from Azeroth.

The Legion was on its way…

Her hand had tightened on the grip of her hammer as she saw the hunters swoop in like so many carrion birds. “Lord Kalimos, they are here,” she said.

Kalimos cursed. “Talgath calls me back to Argus, and he sounds urgent. I need more time to prepare the ship to return.”

“I will hold them off.”

“Alone?” He shook his head. “No. I need you at my side when we face these fools and strand them there. We will deal with this together.”

“You cannot risk yourself here, Master, not when Argus is threatened. I will do what I must.” She looked up, seeing the leader of the band, a red-haired blood elf in the regalia and tattoos of an Illidari demon hunter. “Go! Bring death to the invaders!”

Kalimos reluctantly bowed his head and activated his beacon, teleporting back to his Legion ship above, which moved away from the now-sealed Tomb of Sargeras. They would not be coming through that way; the only way now was the same way the Vindicaar had taken: Through the rift opened by the keystone.

The battle had been brief. The Illidari was faster than she anticipated, and she found herself facedown in the ashen earth. Expecting a killing blow, she was surprised to hear a voice… with an ancient Eredun accent. “No, Nemiya. Leave her. Her story does not end here.” She looked up to see a pale draenei in gold-trimmed vestments. “Warden Ravensong, I entrust this one to you…”

She awakened with a shiver as she felt the cold air blowing in from outside. The first thing she realized was that she could feel her limbs again. Her eyes - dark as the twilight - squinted, adjusting to the light coming in from the door.

A figure stood in the doorway, wreathed in that light. Then the figure turned, showing a crimson-skinned figure with deep white hair and burning fel eyes. Her dark eyes went wide. “Master?”

Kalimos smiled warmly. “Hello, Savona.”

She stood on shaky legs, bracing herself against the cold stone wall. “Where are we?”

“The Azure Span, a region of the Dragon Isles, north of Quel’Thalas. It was here that I got my first real look at Azeroth, too - at least, since the events on Argus.” Kalimos knelt next to her.

“Azeroth…” She looked up at him. “How long has it been, Master?”

Kalimos’ expression became grim. “Seven years.”

Savona stared at him. “Seven years…” She suddenly felt her knees give way, and she sagged against the wall. “We lost?”

“Yes, Savona, we lost. Kil’jaeden and Talgath are dead, and Sargeras contained by the reborn Pantheon. The Burning Crusade is over. The Legion… well, who knows how much of it is left.”

Savona closed her eyes, processing this information. “Then… why did you come back for me?” She looked up. “How did you come back for me, if you had gone back to Argus?”

The smile returned. “There is a tale to that last question. As to the first, however… when I discovered what had become of you, I knew that was no fate for one of your skill - and loyalty. And in this new world we must accustom ourselves to, I have need of both, now more than ever. The Legion is done, Savona - but perhaps, just perhaps, the eredar still remain.”

“What do you mean?”

“Word has reached me from… allies I have made, including the two warlocks who brought about my return into physical form.” Savona’s eyes widened at the implications of that. “Yes, child… I was killed during the final battle on Argus. It is only chance that allowed me to return - and the surprising ingenuity of those who wield the fel on this damnable world. And our arts have begun to reach others who had thus far resisted it… including some of your former brethren.”

“Warlocks?” The fallen vindicator’s mouth hung open. “Draenei warlocks?”

“Indeed. Even those branded with the naaru’s blessed metal. Lightforged warlocks.” At her disbelieving look, Kalimos chuckled. “Believe me, I understand your feelings well; my reaction was similar, but I have witnessed it with my own eyes. And my allies have also found out something else. Argus remains.”


“Our puritan brethren seem to be able to maintain a connection, and have made contact with Hatuun and his mongrels. Argus remains… as do some of our people.” His jaw clenched. “Crimson of flesh and emerald of eye, just as I am… begging Velen’s forgiveness, as if we were the cowards who fled into the Beyond.”

Savona was stunned. “Eredar submitting to the traitor Prophet? Insanity! Not only for their cowardice… but how will that be seen by this Alliance that he has bound the draenei to? They will never permit it!”

“You think so? Consider, Savona - if Velen vouches for eredar to be brought back into the fold, he will not be challenged. He helped lead the invasion of Argus, and is a hero to these Light-blinded idiots. With his dubious blessings, we can walk among the mortals. Though you are right about one thing: we will not be able to do so with impunity.” An evil grin creased Kalimos’ face. “At least, not yet…”

“A surprisingly pleasant circumstance.” Kalimos stood on a bluff overlooking the city of Valdrakken as he met with his summoners. Savona stood at his side, her armor of a similar design and material as her master’s robes. Her warhammer had been desecrated using a chunk of fel-infused argunite he had given her. “The puritans don’t like it, but they are not about to gainsay the word of Velen. Not even the Lightforged, who are as hypocritical as ever. They condemn us for the worlds we burned during the Crusade, and yet their standing orders include burning worlds where we congregate.” He chuckled. “Perhaps we were not so different after all, in the end. Simply a matter of motivation. For us, it was power. For them, it’s their belief in the Light. Plus, the artist’s respect for this ‘Baron’ who ruled there was a… surprising leash.”

“Revilgaz? That was what kept her from attacking you?” Rakeri looked dubious. “The glowgoats never seem to respect any authority outside of Turalyon, who’s chomping at the bit for another war, whether he says so or not.”

“Guided by her old regimentation though she is, she has also adopted the ways of this world, and has a respect for its authority figures, such as they are. The Baron sees our emergence as a business opportunity. And she is apparently loath to upset that arrangement.” Kalimos’ amusement faded. “And then there are the traitors who hid among the cowards…”

“I will kill her,” Savona promised.

“No. As I said, we must project a desire for acceptance, belonging. We must play by the rules of this world… at least for now. We do not have numbers, and we do not have the soul of Argus to return us anymore.”

“You have your powers.”

“Our powers are… a gamble, at best,” Relsyn pointed out, eyes narrowed. “Warlocks can still die, girl. We have means to avoid it being final, but they are not absolute.”

“He is right, Savona,” Kalimos said gently, as he felt his enforcer tense angrily at the Nightborne’s condescension. “We must live on this world now, and make our own way in it. But what we will do is give the appearance of conformity, without completely forsaking our own beliefs.”

“They’ll know it’s fake,” Rakeri warned.

“Probably. But the vindicator spoke for more than just herself, in a way. They will not start anything with us, if we do not start anything with them.”

Relsyn nodded in agreement. “There is the matter of the demon hunter, though. Executor Surrette has informed me that he and two Wardens are here. Looking for both of you, specifically.”

“The Wardens are probably the Ravensong sisters, Aleira and Itzara,” Savona said, her hands clenching into fists. “Aleira was there when I was…” She snarled and lowered her gaze, unable to finish the sentence.

“Captured,” Kalimos said bluntly. He gently raised her head to look up at him. “If I can come to terms with being killed by an egotistical orc, then you can come to terms with being captured and imprisoned by fanatical elves. We are a defeated people, Savona. Shame is something we must learn to live with.”

Savona held his gaze for a moment, pride warring with resignation in her expression. “I understand, Master.”

Kalimos smiled. “I know you do, child.”

Relsyn clasped his hands behind his back, musing for a moment, before he spoke. “We cannot risk our buildup, but at the same time, they will not relent. The Illidari are obsessive seekers of purpose with their master gone, and having eredar here will fuel that purpose. And the Wardens, of course, do not look kindly on having prisoners escape from their custody.” He glanced at Kalimos. “Your companion also seeks something… retribution. Perhaps we can give her what she wishes.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“We have a new servant who is also a seeker of purpose. These creatures have great power, but often struggle for direction. Many have found it… some, like this one, have not.”

“Ahh…” Kalimos glanced at Rakeri. “The dracthyr from the Sundered Flame that you and Brother Galedeep found.”

The mechagnome nodded. “He’s receptive to our ideas, but he’s untested. I think he’s what they call a ‘Talon’, a newbie. He has power, but not too many ideas of what to do with it.”

Kalimos smiled, coming to the same conclusion as the two warlocks. He turned to Savona. “Then perhaps we can give him those ideas.”