The Storm Knight, the Prodigal Daughter, and the Fallen Son

Sir Eran Heskin leaned up against the entry to the Idyllia in Oribos, having received word from Bastion that the covenants were going after the Jailer at last. There was a portal in the upstairs ring, opened via a waystone, much like the way had been opened to the Maw and to Korthia. His grandson Donal, beginning the growth spurt that boys of his age often endured, was standing next to him. He was waiting.

Bolvar and his Ebon Blade had led most of the forces forward, but Eran had spent a lot of time back home in Stormwind, before coming back through to the Shadowlands. He had a duty to perform, and it was not done yet. Katerina understood that. So did Donal, which is why he wanted to see this new place for himself - even though it would likely be crawling with Mawsworn.

I can’t insulate him from it all forever, he thought. If he intends to be a knight one day, he will need to see all of the horrors that might wait ahead of him. He’s been a strong enough lad so far… Light willing, that will hold.

“Well met, Sir Eran.” That was not a voice he had intended to hear after the Fourth War. He looked up to see a well-fleshed man in his mid-30s, with tousled brown hair and a beard wrapped around his ample chin. He wore gold-rimmed spectacles, and well-cut Kul Tiran garb… with the sigil of the Order of Embers on his tabard. He carried a staff of burning flowers.

“Inquisitor Underwood, I presume. Decided not to sit out the war after all?”

Gabriel Underwood had the decency to look abashed. “After a great deal of soul searching, and rumors I’d heard of the corrupted drust resurfacing in Ardenweald, I answered Lucia’s call and decided to come through.” He smiled a little. “She’s certainly begun influencing me in a number of other ways, too…”

Eran could not help but smile back. “She can be persuasive at times. Speaking of…”

“She’s on her way,” Gabriel confirmed. “Things she had to tend to back in Ardenweald. Personal matters.” He glanced behind him, noticing where Eran was looking. “Ah, here she is now… and with a friend, too, it would seem.” His tone became distinctly neutral, which surprised Eran, as he expected venomous hostility.

Lucia Zherron rode up on an Ardenweald runestag, wearing her ceremonial robes. “Sir Eran. Gabriel.”

“Archdruid,” Eran returned, then looked at the other and bowed slightly. “Lord Vendross.”

Lord Randarel Vendross wore dark, raven-patterned armor, and carried a massive shadowghast runeaxe crafted for him by his new comrades in the Ebon Blade - whose tabard he now wore openly. A venthyr runeblade hovered behind him. He inclined his head. “A pleasure, Sir Eran.” He perked an eyebrow upon seeing Donal. “You are bringing your young kinsman along?”

Eran nodded. “The Maw was one thing, but what I’ve heard about this other place makes it sound very… different. Almost pleasant, if it wasn’t swarming with the Jailer’s minions.”

“I have heard similar from my brethren,” Randarel agreed, a hint of sadness in his expression. “Another place of beauty to despoil with war.”

“Da path of death always be both beautiful and terrible, for dem who have da eyes ta see it.” All turned at that voice. Zulimbasha the Collector was standing behind Randarel, his Laughing Skull mask in one hand, his glowing bone-staff in the other. “Dere be nothin’ pleasant about what needs ta be done, but all of us be soldiers in a common cause. A sorrowful heart still be a beatin’ heart… and we wanna keep dem beatin’ until it be da proper time, which don’t be da Jailer’s right ta decide.”

Eran had to admit he was shocked to find Gabriel nodding in agreement. Other than the night elves, the Kul Tirans had probably suffered most in the war among the Alliance, and similarly for the Zandalari in the Horde; both nations had savaged each other. The fact that a Kul Tiran witch-hunter and a Zandalari death-priest seemed to be on the same page was nothing short of astonishing.

“I think we’re all in agreement here,” Lucia said, smiling in her wolfish way (literally). “Shall we ascend?”

The group walked to the teleporter to the Ring of Transference, and looked upon the glowing waystone portal in front of them. They all glanced at one another one more time before they finally nodded… and stepped through.

Time seemed to stand still for Eran, as it always did whenever he traversed through the realms of the Shadowlands. But soon his vision cleared, and he found himself standing in a verdant cavern… looking out at probably one of the most unusual and spectacular landscapes he had ever seen. Standing at the entrance to the cavern, arms folded across her bone-armored chest, was Nyssha Swiftblade, who had gone in with the first wave. Her slightly-decayed face creased in a smile.

“Welcome to Zereth Mortis, folks.”

Standing in the central plaza of Elysian Hold in Bastion, Kelty Sparkleblast gripped one hand around the hilt of the kyrian-forged sword she wore at her hip, the other holding up the letter she had received from Oribos. It had been sent just this morning by Nyssha Swiftblade, a friend of her sister Suzl’s from the Ebon Blade. So far, there had been no luck on either her part or that of the death knights in finding her sister, who had disappeared when the Ebon Blade first crossed into the Maw in pursuit of Sylvanas, what felt like an age ago.

Nyssha’s letter revealed that the Jailer had escaped from the Maw and made his way to a place called “Zereth Mortis”, and that the Primus of Maldraxxus had opened the way for the covenants. A strange code of writing had been found there, and Nyssha thought her skills as a scribe would be ideal.

Kelty was weary. Although she had grown fond of the kyrian in her time here, she knew it could not last; she was a mortal, and soon she would have to leave. Plus… if she was honest, she was tired of this damn war, and was thinking about going home to Dalaran. If the Jailer prevailed, at least she wouldn’t have a front row seat to the apocalypse. She had seen enough of that. Arthas… Deathwing… Argus… N’Zoth. She began to wonder if it would ever end, and was increasingly convinced it wouldn’t. She would retire and go back to Dalaran, and attend to the training of her student, Chaiya Greenacre.

And hope she doesn’t end up in the meat grinder, too, she thought.

Almost as soon as the thought of leaving came up, she dismissed it. She had ended up going to Northrend in the first place because she was tired of sitting around at home. Even if she had a student to train, that would just be someone else living through her, so to speak…

Screw it, she thought, and teleported back to Oribos, then headed up to the waiting waystone.

As the effects of the portal faded, Kelty stepped outside the cavern where the waystone had been activated, and looked around. A huge glowing sphere dominated the landscape in front of her, and all around, the architecture seemed to be geometry mixed with the landscape itself. It reminded her of Sholazar Basin in Northrend, technology and nature in a weird kind of equilibrium.

“This is one helluva trippy place, and no mistake,” she mused aloud.

“You’re not wrong there.” She turned and looked up over her glasses at the human death knight. “Thank you for coming, Archmage.” She handed her a small scroll. “Courtesy of some of our first wave scholars.”

Kelty unrolled the scroll and peered at what was written on it… then back up at Nyssha. “What the hell am I lookin’ at?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Nyssha admitted cheerfully. “That’s why you’re here.”

Gabriel felt the portal effects fade as he returned to Oribos from Stormwind, having spent a period at the lounge in Dawn’s Blossom - a place he had never thought he would go back to again. After only a short period in Zereth Mortis, he had begun suffering a severe headache. Part of it was his glasses - he had only had them a few months and was still getting used to them - but part of it was just how damn bright the place was, worse even than the center of this place. Not to mention the shifting geometries in the sky. He’d gone back to Oribos, and decided “why not” and gone to the lounge. Upon returning to Stormwind, he mused that he’d have to speak to Lucia when he returned to the front. See if one of her potions could help with that.

Maybe learn a few things about that myself, he thought. Hell, I drink enough tea, maybe I can improve it with a little chemistry… He chuckled to himself at the thought.

Time had made him reassess a lot of things in the past months, not least of which was his relationship with their former enemies. When the Alliance chose to ally with elements of the Horde and make a joint siege of Orgrimmar to depose Sylvanas, he had gone home to Arom’s Stand, claiming his duties required him in his homeland. Lucia had accused him of cowardice. He had thought (still did, if he was honest) that if refusing to fight alongside those who up to then had been slaughtering his people made him a coward, then so be it.

Then had come the word from the Shadowlands… a letter from Lucia telling him that the corrupted drust, servants of Gorak Tul, had resurfaced in a place called Ardenweald. That had been enough for Gabriel. He had gone to Oribos via the portal in Stormwind, and Lucia had taken him the rest of the way to the Heart of the Forest. There, he had made an unlikely ally in the death-priest. Zulimbasha had not been a supporter of the war for its own sake; he had said, and a number of Zandalari agreed with him, that “we’re fighting because you’re here”. And thinking about it now outside of the haze of conflict, Gabriel had to admit they had a point. The Alliance did besiege their capital and kill their king, all because the Horde was supporting them. He was reminded of something one of the 7th Legion vets, a survivor of Lordaeron, had told him: “Our leaders do all the lying, and we do all the dying.”

It didn’t excuse the massacres in places like Brennadam, for instance, but… he certainly left with a greater appreciation for the individual, as opposed to the whole. He had maintained that as best he could at the lounge, usually hosted and staffed by the AAMS’ Horde office. Having had a good cup of tea - pandaren tea was just as good as their beer, he was told (not partaking himself, he wouldn’t know) - he decided to head back. Up to the Ring of Transference he went, and through the golden portal.

Stepping out of the cave, he winced at the brightness - worse than the connection to the Maw from Oribos, if he was any judge - and felt the headache start to form again. Then he spotted Lucia. Upon her seeing him, he beckoned her over, and asked seriously, “Do you know anyone around here who could turn down the lights?”

Her laughter did not help the headache.

Randarel stood alone on the edge of the protective shield around Haven, leaning against the haft of his shadowghast runeaxe, the Render of Fate. His expression was troubled as he gazed out at the strange geometries of Zereth Mortis.

“Copper for your thoughts, brother.” The weapon’s crafter came up behind him, one hand clapping him on the shoulderguard, the other on one of the Maldraxxi blades she wore at each hip. She noticed his expression. “What is it?”

“There’s something about this place I don’t like, Nyssha,” Randarel admitted; he spoke in his mother tongue, but the human heard him in perfect Common, the result of the jeweled ring he wore on his left hand. “I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something out there…” He chuckled mirthlessly. “Maybe I’m just paranoid. Hard not to be, after all that’s gone on.”

“It’s not just you.” Nyssha’s expression grew serious. “I’ve had this feeling like something is hunting us since we got here. And I don’t mean us as in the covenant forces.”

Randarel looked down at her - he was nearly a foot taller than she was - with a curious expression. “Someone with a grudge?”

“Probably,” Nyssha replied, with a slight shrug. “Light knows we’ve made our share of enemies back on Azeroth, dead or alive. Who knows how many of the dead ones ended up in the ranks of the Mawsworn? Aye, and willingly at that!” Her face, slightly green and sunken, crinkled with disgust. “Just because things didn’t go their way, they want to burn everything to ashes? Selfish bastards.”

“Indeed so,” Randarel agreed. “No small number of my people sided with Gul’dan for much the same reason. Ten thousand years trapped in a bubble is enough to drive anyone mad. I nearly went there myself.” He peered behind him, just for a second, but Nyssha was able to follow his gaze… to the venthyr blade floating behind him.

“What does she think?” she asked.

All Nyssha could hear was a whisper - not a sinister hissing like such a blade would imply, but something like a breeze through the trees. Randarel smiled grimly. “That I shouldn’t worry so much… what will come, will come.” He looked back, seeing their comrades speaking with the “Enlightened”, the Brokers that inhabited this place. His eyes lingered for a moment on the Heskins, particularly young Donal. “Still… I cannot help but wonder what the boy will see here. There is war, and he’s seen that… but then there is what awaits us here.”

Nyssha nodded in agreement. “What we’ve seen so far would be enough to make an adult go batty.” Her expression was sad. “And given what he went through when this damn war started…” At Randarel’s confused look, she explained, “He lost his parents when the Scourge rampaged on us. The new Cult of the Damned… his father ended up joining them. Spite for his father leaving to go fight for Stormwind all these years instead of being at home. He killed his wife… and Donal killed him.”

“By the stars,” Randarel breathed, horrified. “And yet he stays at his grandsire’s side?”

“Eran is a hero to him,” Nyssha pointed out. “All of his war stories were more exciting than sitting on a Westfall farm. Believe me, I understand that all too well.” She snorted. “I remember Taran when I was alive… he was always a bit of a jerk. Talking smack from his farmhouse while better people fought and died to protect his little piece of the dustbowl.” Then she grinned. “From people like me, mainly. I used to be in the Defias Brotherhood, back when it was Edwin VanCleef and his Stonemason pals, and their private little war with Stormwind because the nobility screwed them out of their payment for rebuilding after the First War.”

Randarel shook his head. “Nobility does not seem to change regardless of race, it would seem. I like to think I was less… self-absorbed than that. Certainly less than many of my so-called peers tended to be.”

“You’ve done fairly well for yourself, all things considered.”

Randarel’s expression was contemplative. “We’ll see.”

That feeling of being hunted, that feeling Randarel had of something being out there, troubled Nyssha immensely. She was just better than the old ex-arcanist at hiding it. Considering how long she lived under a mask… but as she explored the place further, that feeling only got stronger.

Somewhere along the way, she had got into talking with an Enlightened pilgrim named Hazir, formerly Al’hazir before forsaking the idea of the broker cartels to devote himself to the “path of the First Ones”. Whatever the hell that might be. “Hopefully someone will read what I and my fellows write on this place,” he had said with an excited-sounding voice during their first meeting. “No doubt it will be insightful.”

“You say that like anyone else will ever get the chance to see this place,” Nyssha had pointed out with a sad smile. “We’re not likely to ever come back here again, your people or ours. And if we can beat the Jailer, we’re likely headed home to Azeroth, not to come back to the Shadowlands until our time comes. Whenever that might be.” She had snorted. “I’ve been on borrowed time as it is, my soul bound to dead flesh.”

“Ah, young mortal, we are all on ‘borrowed time’ in some way or another,” Hazir had replied cheerfully. “It’s just a matter of what we do with it! Devoting one’s existence to noble goals - knowledge, defending home and people - makes the time we have all the sweeter and more worthwhile.”

Nyssha couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re an unshakable optimist, aren’t you?”

“In the times we’re in, it helps to be,” he had replied, seriously.

She encountered him again at Pilgrim’s Grace, on the edge of a desert-like area in the east of Zereth Mortis. If she didn’t know any better (mainly due to the lack of a face), she would have said that he looked worried. He certainly sounded so when he spoke. “Ah, young Maldraxxi-friend. I recall you said there was something about this place that concerned you, like someone seemed to be hunting. I think I may know why… and who.”

That got Nyssha’s attention. “Can you show me?”

Hazir bowed his floating head in a kind of nod. “Follow me.” As they walked, he explained, “The Mawsworn are a vicious lot, but there was one particularly nasty one that has been seen around here. A robed thing with burning armor. They call him the Stoker of Hate.”

That doesn’t sound ominous at all, she thought. “What makes you believe this ‘Stoker of Hate’ is what we think hunts us?”

“The Jailer does not seem particularly interested in what you mortals are doing at the moment; for the most part, nor are the Mawsworn, other than keeping you away from the Sepulcher. But this one in particular, I’ve heard him… he keeps saying things like ‘he will come’, ‘he will watch them suffer before I let him die’, things like that. Given what you expressed to me, I can only assume he means you and those who came with you.” He gripped her arm. “Wait. I see him now. Stay low.”

As they crouched down behind a sphere embedded in the soil, they could hear speaking. It was an armored warrior-type Mawsworn, addressing the burning robed figure floating above him. “…not seen the creature you have described yet, but others have come as you foresaw. There is one in particular, with a withered face that wears the armor of the Primus’ lackeys.” That got Nyssha’s attention; the Mawsworn minion was talking about her!

“He will be here.” That voice made her eyes widen. In his hand, Nyssha saw what looked for all the world to her like a pitchfork, reforged in Mawforged metal… and a chill went down her spine. She knew exactly who the Stoker was.

Or rather, had been…

“And when he comes, I will tear his friends apart before his eyes. Continue to observe.” The Stoker laughed. “He cannot help but meddle. It is his ‘duty’. Just like it has always been.” Then he was gone.

Once they were certain they were safe, Nyssha let out a shaky sigh. “Oh hell. Eran is not going to like this.”

Hazir looked at her, head tilted curiously. “You know who it is?”

“Yeah,” she replied grimly. “I know who it is.”

“Taran…” The name was like a whisper from Eran’s mouth, before he looked up at Nyssha. He was standing next to the translocator beacon that allowed them to travel to the other points of Zereth Mortis, speaking with the two death knights, the two druids, and the death-priest; the goblin mage Nyssha had called here was at work doing transcription. After a long moment, he asked, “Are you sure?”

Understanding why he would ask, Nyssha nodded. “Sure as I’m talking to you now.”

“Dis be bad juju, Sir Eran,” Zulimbasha said grimly. “I know ya don’t like de idea, but per’aps it be better if ya take ya grandson and return ta Oribos.”

“Zulimbasha is right, Sir Eran,” Randarel agreed. “This changes things considerably.”

“It does indeed,” Gabriel concurred. “He’s gunning for you, and us along with you. To us, even knowing what we know, he’s just another Mawsworn. Another dead Mawsworn, if you’ll pardon me being blunt. But to you…”

Lucia was silent. Eran noticed, and looked at her. “Well?”

“My heart tells me to put my lot in with the others,” she admitted. “But my mind tells me you’ve already made yours up. Both of you. And… call it a vision, intuition, whatever, but I think this was meant to be. As is what comes next, good or ill.”

Eran looked at Donal, who just looked back at him. He didn’t have to say a word. “Aye,” he said finally. “I have had that feeling as well.” He chuckled grimly, as he looked around once more. “And to be honest, I can think of worse places to die.”

Nyssha nodded, smiling. “Northrend.”

Lucia smiled as well. “Argus.”

“Nazmir,” Gabriel and Randarel both said.

“De Maw,” Zulimbasha put in, repressing a shudder.

Eran chuckled. “Like I said…” Then his expression sobered. “Where did you say you saw him, Nyssha?”

“To the east,” the death knight replied. “Where the green turns over to sand. The nearest camp is called Pilgrim’s Grace.”

“Then that’s where we start.” All eyes turned to Donal, whose voice had begun to break, but nonetheless sounded determined. “He wants a family reunion… we’ll give him one.”

No one said a word. No one had to.

Kelty was jotting down notes in her magic-servo inscription harness - a doodad made for her by her friend Kitrik - while studying the cipher data recovered by Firim and his lot (evidently these “Enlightened” weren’t very… they reminded her of the old guard in the Kirin Tor, immense power not meant to be used and what not). It had taken some doing, but all of the people running amok around these parts had managed to make some sense of all this gobbledygook, which had opened the door for her considerably. Most of it was still illegible, but there was the odd word here and there that stood out.

This stuff would probably even give the Titans a run for their money, she thought, thinking of all the research that had been done in all those “Uld” places back on Azeroth. But she wondered if there would ever be a use for this back there. Once the Jailer was done (provided he didn’t manage to win in the end - although given how many cosmos-shaking enemies they’d fought who had fallen, she doubted it), they were all going home, so far as she knew. Off to the next major kerfluffle, no doubt…

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Nyssha in conversation with her little band, including Lord Vendross and the Zandalari death priest. The human knight (judging from his 7th Legion armor, she assumed he was one) looked like someone walked over his grave, but then was smiling and joking with his comrades. Then they began to head to the translocator. “Hey, Nys!” The death knight fell back a bit but did not halt. Kelty’s eyebrows rose as she walked over, careful not to dislodge the note-taking apparatus. “Off in a hurry?”

“Something like that.” The death knight looked deadly serious, something that got the goblin archmage’s attention. “There’s a Mawsworn in the eastern sands… someone we used to know.”

Without hesitation, Kelty disengaged the note-taker, which folded up into a more compact, storable form, into one of her satchels. “Where to?”

“Oh, that’s not real–”

“If you finish that sentence, death knight, I will 'morph you where you stand,” Kelty warned, tone icy. “You didn’t drag me out here to sit on my friggin’ hands.”

Nyssha stared at her for a moment, then finally nodded, choosing not to argue. “Follow me.”

Gabriel stepped uncertainly across the sand, hand gripping around the emberblossom staff that Lucia had given him during the war, eyes glancing worriedly around the scene. Lucia was standing next to him, carrying her father’s Elunite sickle. “It’s too quiet,” he said. “For a place crawling with Mawsworn, I expected to… well, see Mawsworn.”

“Yeah, let’s invite them to the party,” came the sarcastic voice of Kelty Sparkleblast from behind him. “Real great idea, biggie.”

“Quiet.” Eran had stepped forward. “He’s here. He’s watching us.”

Gabriel couldn’t see anything, but all the hairs were standing on the back of his neck. He knew Eran was right; he felt it in his bones. “If he’s trying to spook us, it’s working,” he admitted. “This makes me antsier than a whole horde of his kind. It feels like a killer hiding behind every grain of sand.”

“How apt.” That voice made them all look up, and there he was. His robes burned with dark fire, and he held a huge three-tined pitchfork, forged of shadowghast. “Hello, Father.”

Gabriel glanced at Lucia, and both druids then looked at Eran as he stepped forward. “You are no son of mine,” the knight said in a pained whisper.

“No,” agreed the Stoker of Hate. “I was never your son. I was just another part of your ‘duty’, carrying on the family line and expecting to regale future generations with stories of glory and honor.” He gazed down at his father. “You remember what I told you back at the farm in Westfall? Zovaal promised me your blood, and I promised him your soul. You and the brat may have killed my flesh, but my soul… remains, as you can see, reshaped to the Maw’s purpose. Oh, it was painful… the Jailer knows far more of pain than you can ever realize… but that pain gave me purpose.”

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed, and he asked the question all of them had on their minds. “You knew he would come… but why wait until now? The covenants are preparing to march on the Sepulcher. If it goes the way of Argus or Ny’alotha, the Jailer is finished. Why continue to shackle yourself to a lost cause?”

“The irony in your question, witch hunter,” the Stoker mocked him. “You fight against darkness - witches, drust… us. No light burns forever. Eventually it will gutter and die.” He began to laugh. “Just like you!”

Moving like lightning, the Stoker stabbed out with the pitchfork in his hand, the middle tine going right through Eran’s chest, lifting the knight off the ground. Blood poured from the wound and from the old man’s mouth before he tossed the body aside, contempt evident in the gesture. Gabriel shifted into his drust-inspired moonkin form, and Lucia was wreathed with stars, as both druids stepped in. Swinging his weapon like a quarterstaff, the Stoker slashed Lucia across the chest with the tines, and stuck Gabriel in the head with the shaft. Both druids were knocked back across the sand.

The last thing Gabriel saw before losing consciousness were the death knights, Nyssha and Randarel, approaching with blades in hand…

The healer’s instinct took hold in Zulimbasha as he knelt next to Gabriel, the closest to him. The Kul Tiran had taken a crack on the head, and would probably be out for a time, but he would live. He held a hand over the hooded bird-like head of his assumed form and murmured in Zandali, his hand glowing with Light that suffused through the fallen inquisitor. He looked up at Kelty, who was standing next to him. “Protect him 'til he wakes,” he said. The goblin nodded, hands flexing, charging with arcane energy.

Lucia’s injury was more horrific. The gashes from the Stoker’s pitchfork had laid her chest almost completely open. She was looking over at Eran, who lay in the sand not far away. Donal was kneeling next to him, holding his armored hand. The piercing of his chest looked like it had missed his heart, but that wound was also mortal, from what he could see.

Zulimbasha felt anger as he saw the expression on the boy’s face. As if he ain’t suffered enough…

As he began to look up where the death knights were approaching the Mawsworn monster, he heard a gasp, and the sands shifted. Lucia was trying to crawl towards Eran. “Loa above, what de hell be ya doin’?” he asked.

“Must… save him,” Lucia said.

“Nah, save ya strength, wolf-child.”

Lucia laughed, spitting blood into the sand. “Nothing… for me. You know that.” She looked up at Donal, staring at his dying grandfather. “You… can’t help him. But… we can.”

The Collector’s head tilted in curiosity. “How?”

“Your power… and my blood… so he can live.”

Zulimbasha’s eyes went wide. He had studied alchemy as part of his work and had learned a few things about the worgen curse during the war, and knew exactly what she was suggesting. “Are ya mad?” He suddenly ducked as Nyssha was sent flying backwards in the air; the former assassin turned her impact into a tumble and rolled into a kneeling position, before springing back into the fray, blades in hand. “We don’t be on Azeroth anymore, ya know! Without da blessin’s an’ such from ya Emerald Dream, ya might be makin’ him feral. He could kill da Mawsworn and us at da same time with dat kinda strength!”

Faith, Zulimbasha, he heard in his head. He is strong. So are you. My child’s time is done. She saw this, the moment she set foot inside the Heart of the Forest. But the knight has service yet to render…

Zulimbasha reluctantly nodded, as if the speaker was truly there (and perhaps he was), as he gently brought Lucia over to the fallen knight. Eran was gasping. Taking a vial from his belt, the death-priest began to collect the lifeblood flowing from Lucia’s chest. “I will see ya join him in da Weald,” he said. “On my word as a priest of Bwonsamdi.” He looked at Donal, who was staring at him with wide eyes. “Lift his head, mon,” he said gently.

Donal, who had heard his own stories about the worgen, was wary… but Lucia had been a friend of his grandda. “Will this save him?” he asked in a quiet voice.

The Collector elected to be honest. “I dunno, l’il knight,” he admitted. “Time be tellin’. In da meantime… we must have faith.”

Donal finally nodded, and helped lift his grandfather’s head. Zulimbasha poured the vial of blood into Eran’s mouth, then put his hands on the gaping hole in his chest and began to murmur a prayer of healing in his native tongue. With her last breaths, he could hear Lucia trying to speak. In his head, he heard:

Just as Goldrinn’s spirit once blessed the druids, let Eran be blessed with the wisdom of his race and the ferocity of the wolf god…

Well, this is a hell of a mess, Nyssha thought.

The Stoker of Hate - formerly Taran Heskin - had to be the most powerful Mawsworn she had ever encountered; between the flames he unleashed and the ungodly reach of that damn pitchfork, he was certainly no pushover. A far cry from the bitter farmer living in Westfall while the world went to pot.

Randarel hooked the shaft of the pitchfork with his runeaxe, trying to turn it. But the Stoker twisted the weapon in his hands, flipping Randarel flat onto his face, his axe falling into the sand. Nyssha charged just as the three wickedly-serrated tines were able to stab right into the Nightborne’s back. Crossing her blades, she caught the tines, but was forced to her knees from the blow.

“You surprise me, little red rogue,” the Stoker said. “I would have thought you had no love for such a man. He would have been trying to kill you in those days.”

“Times change,” Nyssha replied through gritted teeth. “And people change with them.”

Laughter was the Mawsworn’s response. “How true.” With a flick of his wrist, he disarmed the death knight, then struck her across the face with the shaft of his pitchfork. Colored lights exploded in Nyssha’s vision as she crumpled to the sand. Just as she had done for him, however, Randarel stepped in, batting the blood-stained tines aside with his runeaxe - then, with an underhanded swing, slicing through the wrist of the hand carrying it.

The Stoker shrieked in pained outrage as the pitchfork, his hand still gripping it, spun around and landed in the sand. “Wretched mortal filth!” he snarled. “Now you will BURN!”

An arcane blast struck him in the chest before he could raise his other hand to unleash his Maw-forged flames. Kelty had seen Gabriel back off to Haven, courtesy of the pilgrim Hazir, who had witnessed the fight. Nyssha shook herself back into semi-coherence as she picked up her blades and circled around one side, while Randarel went around the other. Together, they began to batter away at the metal-robed form - the death knights with their frost powers, and the archmage with the arcane. Short a hand, the Stoker tried to lash out with flame, but between Randarel’s natural grace, Nyssha’s old reflexes, and Kelty’s ability to blink to safety, he missed his mark. He began snarling with pent-up rage.

“Not so sure of yourself now without your toy, are you?” the goblin said with a smirk, as she raised her kyrian spellblade. “Time to teach you some manners, you big bully.”

“RRRRAGGH! ENOUGH!!!” the Stoker screamed as a shockwave of fire vitrified the sand over which he floated and knocked the three of them off their feet. He reached out with his remaining hand and picked up the pitchfork, removing the severed hand from the shaft, then plunging the shaft through the open wrist into his body. The shaft and the tines began to burn with Maw-fire. Then, with his actual hand, he shackled the three burnt combatants with chains… then, with contempt, he shook the chains and the unfortunates shackled by them, slamming them into the ground. “When I am finished with you, you will beg for oblivion,” he sneered, as he raised his pitchfork-hand.

Then a bloodchilling howl pierced the air, making the Stoker (and his semi-conscious prisoners) look up - just as a blur of blue and white charged into the Mawsworn abomination…

If Mawsworn ever had facial features, this particular Mawsworn’s eyes would be wider than gryphon eggs at the sight approaching him.

Gone was the face worn with battle and worry. Now it was a fearsome sight, a lupine head of snow white, making the ice-blue eyes seem even colder than before. The hole in his breastplate was still there, but the hole in his chest was gone, showing more of the white fur. The cursed blood and the priest’s ministrations had done their work, and he was filled with bestial strength.

“No!” the Stoker shrieked, the tone of his voice having gone from gloating rage to sheer terror. “You… you’re dead! YOU’RE DEAD! I KILLED YOU!!!

The boy watched, his eyes wide in fearful awe, as the beast that had once been a dying knight grappled with the monster who had once been a simple farmer from Westfall. The clawed hands began tearing at the robes, then ripped the pitchforked arm right out of the socket, then the other arm. Finally, he grasped around the open chest of the beast, with a howl of pure rage, as he tore the Mawsworn’s body open.


As the clawed hands ripped the Mawsworn apart, the soul that had once been Taran Heskin screamed in anguished defeat. No longer sustained by the Jailer’s power, no longer able to contain the anima of the hateful spirit within, the Stoker of Hate exploded. The shockwave hurled his destroyer through the air, rolling in a clatter of armor, pieces of it scattering across the sand as he finally came to a stop.

Silence reigned over the Endless Sands for a moment, before they began to swirl again.

Nyssha picked herself up off the ground, looking as Donal approached the stunned form of… was it still his grandfather? Was the old man still in there somewhere? Picking up her blades from the glassified ground beneath her, which was being buried over by the churning sand, the death knight followed the boy, ready to defend him if the priest’s prediction had been true. He was still breathing, she could see. “Eran?” she asked warily.

The figure began to stir. Donal approached close to the head of the fallen warrior, and knelt down into the sand. “Grandda?”

The head jerked up abruptly, causing the boy to stagger and fall on his backside. One of Nyssha’s blades raised in response. But the fearsome glare was tempered, seeing the fear in his face. “Donal…?” His voice was much deeper, almost rumbling now. He looked up. “Nyssha?”

Nyssha felt relief in her bones. “Eran, are you alright?”

Eran brought himself to his knees, then saw his hands… raising the clawed fingers to his face, feeling his new features. “I… what… how?” But it soon dawned on him. “Lucia.” He staggered to his feet, over to where she lay nearby.

Lucia Zherron lay absolutely still in the sand, hands folded over the druidic scythe laid across her chest, and a hint of a smile on her face. Zulimbasha knelt next to her, skull-mask held in his lap, head bowed.

Eran was dumbstruck, looking down at the dead archdruid, then at his hands again. “Why?”

Zulimbasha nodded at Donal. “For da boy. He needs ya, mon. Now more than ever.”

He’s right. A spirit that looked for all the world like a wolfhawk appeared, landing next to the party. She could not let him suffer as she had after the Cataclysm. Not when he had already lost so much. The soulshape shifted into a spectral worgen figure.

One Eran recognized. “Eidan!”

Eidan Zherron smiled and nodded. It’s good to see you again, Eran. His expression sobered. I never thought that I would see her here so soon, living or dead… but now, at least she will have a place to go. The new Arbiter will see to that. I think he will send her to Ardenweald with me. Perhaps our friend on the Other Side might help with that… He glanced at Zulimbasha with a slight grin.

“I be sure ta try,” the death-priest promised. “I said I would, and I intend ta.”

It’s ironic that we would have been enemies in life, Collector. Yet here we are. Eidan chuckled, then looked back up at the bewildered knight. This was meant to be from the start, Eran. Lucia knew that she would not return when she came over here. She also knew that she would have to stand with you when this time came, and that the priest of the Death Loa would need to be here as well. His powers healed your flesh. Her blood - my blood - restored your spirit.

“Why me, though? I’ve fought for decades for the crown, for the Alliance… hell, for Azeroth. Death in battle has always been a possibility for me. Surely the future is meant for the young?”

Ah, but what sort of future would it be without someone to guide them to it? Lucia had the Cenarion Circle guide her along her path. Ketiron’s boy has Lorewalker Puretide. Donal only has you, Eran. Who is it he idolizes? Who is it he tries to be more like? Not his father - and may the fates be thankful for that, or his fate would be that of the hate-filled wretch broken in the sand. Taran may have helped bring him into this world, but you helped his mother raise him.

Eran was silent, then looked again at his clawed hands. “What about…?”

The fact you’re talking at all, and in a calm and coherent way, is a good sign that you control the curse, not the other way around. As for your new look… if it worries you so much, we can shift forms, you know. Eidan chuckled. As to how you’ll explain that to your wife, well… that’s up to you.

That thought frightened Eran more than the change. He couldn’t help but start laughing.

There you are. Eidan nodded his head, then turned to Zulimbasha, who had lifted Lucia’s still form into his arms. Come. Let’s see if my prediction was right… In a burst of fae energy, the priest, his burden, and the spirit were gone.

Eran stood for a moment, his mind still adjusting to the idea that he was standing on paws, not feet. But then, as if by willpower, his fur and bulk faded away, leaving him much like his old self again. Nyssha sheathed her blades at her hips. “Fate is a strange thing,” she said in the silence that followed. “So… what now?”

Eran looked at his broken and battered armor, and the pieces of it scattered around the sand. The broken armor of the Mawsworn that had held his son’s hateful soul also lay scattered around. His mind boggled at the idea that he had done that. Then, for some reason even he was not sure of, he smiled. “I think I have work to do. This isn’t going to fix itself.”

Nyssha stood outside, looking up at the colossal tree of Tirna Achiad - the Heart of the Forest - as Gabriel, bandage around his head, followed Zulimbasha inside with the body of the fallen druid, guided by some of the fae. She had given up her Maldraxxi armor in favor of her old Ebon Blade battle armor and runeblades; her work here, so far as she was concerned, was done, and she was going back to Azeroth. To do what, she didn’t know…

Then she heard a voice behind her. “Nyssha?”

She turned and saw a female orc of about her height, wearing the heavy spiked plate armor of the Honorbound. A double-pointed spear rested on her back. The slight paleness of her skin and the glowing blue eyes marked her as a death knight. “Laneth! Good to see you.” She noted the grim expression on her fellow death knight’s face. “They’re dead, aren’t they?”

Laneth Sorrowspear, an “old guard” like Nyssha, nodded grimly. “Most of them. This ‘Stoker of Hate’ seems to have been busy since this war started. I followed up on that tip you got from that pilgrim Hazir in Zereth Mortis, of some being taken in cages back to the Maw; we suspected some of our missing might have ended up with this freak. We found Suzl Grimblade, along with Lord Vendross’ two children and a blood elf mage who used to work for him in life. Her brother’s a paladin, he was looking for her.”

Nyssha looked over at the entrance, where Randarel was in discussion with the Heskins; Eran was practically glowing, the white fur of his worgen form combined with the white kyrian robe he wore. Donal, she noted, looked surprisingly easy in the presence of the death knight - given how he often thought death knights wanted to kill and resurrect the old man. “Does he know?”

“Not yet. His daughter, Telisa, survived; her pandaren training and experience with travel gave her a little extra energy to survive. I sent her back to Oribos. But Suzl, Lord Erdanel, and the blood elf mage, Nadiya Sunblade, were dead by the time we got there… and there were a lot of souls in those cages too. Familiar ones, including some of our brethren killed before we got here - Baron Devaneaux, Admiral Aximand, Lord Ketiron…”

“Ketiron? I heard a rumor he ended up in Revendreth.”

“Remember, they knocked out the Arbiter right before Teldrassil, so all the dead from then on got the straight shot into the Maw - and he was killed in Tirisfal after the burning, so…”

“So was Eidan Zherron, and he made his way here anyway,” Nyssha pointed out.

“Then he must have had a friend looking out for him. I don’t know.” Laneth shook her head. “They call that Zandalari priest ‘the Collector’, but the Stoker seems to have been collecting, too. There were a couple of Forsaken priests too… that scumsucker Sekhesmet, and this other one, called himself ‘Father Shankolin’.”

Nyssha felt a chill down her spine that had nothing to do with her use of frost magics. She knew who “Shankolin” had been. So did Laneth. “I would never have wished that on him, but… he became nearly as vile as Sekhesmet. Perhaps it’s for the best.”

Laneth repressed a shudder. “Some of that filth definitely deserves to be there, but… I hate having to go down there, Nyssha.”

“No argument from me,” Nyssha agreed. “What did you do with them?”

“The souls went into a soulcatcher, they’re going to Oribos; I’ve heard there’s a new Arbiter, let them deal with it. The old Baron wasn’t actually a soul - he was a Maldraxxi. Some kind of necromancer from the look of him. Got caught during an assault, I think he said.”

“Not surprising. Artimus had a knack for raising the ghouls.” Nyssha frowned, thinking. “He had a son, didn’t he, what was his name… Kevan? No… Kieran, that was it.”

“Yeah. He’s Forsaken now.”

“No kidding?”

Laneth grinned. “Hard to forget a rotting corpse slaughtering his way around Northrend wearing Scarlet Crusade armor. I think he enjoyed the irony.”

Nyssha chuckled. “Wonder if he ever saw Tyr’s Hand after the Cataclysm.”

As the two death knights chatted, two spirits - a wolfhawk and a lunarwing owl - flew out from the Heart of the Forest…

This is an unexpected development.

Unbeknownst to the fighters who had come to see their friend off to her eternal future, they were being observed. A small eye, like those used by Legion inquisitors, was perched nearby, watching and listening. It had been there during the fight at Zereth Mortis, too. It had seen and heard everything.

Standing outside the camp around the Heart of the Forest, Urgan had heard enough. He recalled the eye, shaking his head. It had not gone the way he had hoped. Having studied the Mawsworn extensively in his time in the Shadowlands, he had discovered the identity of the Stoker of Hate fairly early on. It had been written in the Domination runes that covered his armor. Not that he had needed to be dominated; Taran’s hatred for his father had made him a servant of the Jailer in life, and the promise of his father’s blood had been enough to seal the bargain.

Despite the Modas il Toralar having faded into history and his many apprentices, servants, and spies having been killed (either by his own hand or those of his enemies) over the years, the Corruptor was not without his resources - or his allies. It was why even death had not been able to stop him, for the right people had managed to obtain his soulstone and bring him back to fight on Argus. And despite a desire to avoid the kind of annihilation the Jailer promised, he was not above finding allies among the Mawsworn - and so he had with the Stoker. He knew Taran’s desire for not only his father’s death, but the annihilation of everything the old man had served, was one of the chief motivators for his decision to pledge allegiance to Zovaal… and Urgan saw in him a solution to his problems. Some in this particular bunch had been a thorn in his side for years - particularly Nyssha, who had once been Saavedro’s enforcer, and Zulimbasha, who had tried to dominate him during the war in Zandalar. Plus, removing an old veteran like Heskin would have been a blow to the younger ones who looked up to their grizzled heroes, like his misty-eyed grandson…

Now he was even more grizzled than he had been before, and with a beast’s strength. That worried the Corruptor somewhat; he had an appreciation for what the worgen were capable of. He had seen how the feral ones had run amok in Silverpine and the Grizzly Hills, years back; add the battle experience and intellect of a trained warrior, and it was a recipe for trouble.

Straightening his Maldraxxi robes - he had changed his allegiance just before the way opened to Zereth Mortis - the Corruptor mounted a waiting flyer to take him back to Oribos. With the war for the Shadowlands more or less over, he too was going back to Azeroth. Something told him that a greater fate was waiting there.

And his foes would come back to embrace it as well…