“I have no intentions of doing that,” she said airily.
“Keep it that way, then,” he snorted. Slowly, the priest sat up in the bed and suffered Alayne helping him to dress. He said nothing but rolled his eyes as she brushed his hair out and buttoned his robes, taking only a moment to glance at the scar on his chest that had a twin on her own. “I think the arrow was easier to deal with,” he muttered.
“Dar’ja loves you,” she sighed.
“And I love her,” he grimaced. “I’m just extremely angry with her. I can’t understand why she didn’t at least talk to me about this before going ahead with it. A word of warning a month ago would have saved me weeks of misery and confusion.”
“Well, I did think about telling you myself but I felt it was her place to do so,” Alayne replied as she picked up the razor and used a small spell to warm the water in the basin. Zerith plucked the razor from her hands and muttered that he could shave himself. “Ger’alin says I do a better job than he does himself,” she growled.
“I heard about that one,” he chuckled. “I think he considers you not slicing his throat a good job. No, leave it be, Sis,” he said with exasperation. “I want to keep the goatee.”
“Clean-shaven is so much nicer.”
“My wife has absolutely no complaints,” he grinned. “Speaking of her, where is she?”
“Walking,” he repeated. “Where?”
“Well,” Alayne said uneasily, “Callie thinks she remembers hearing that daily walks were good for women in Dar’ja’s condition. So…she dragged Dar’ja out of bed just after daybreak and took her for a walk.”
Zerith glanced at the light streaming in from the window. “That would have been several hours ago.”
“Callie always has been the kind of person who held that if one of something was good, then eight of the same thing was better.”
“Oh Light,” he chuckled as he wiped off the last of the shaving foam. “I expect they’re halfway to Tanaris by now.”
“Probably,” Alayne laughed. “At any rate, I want to know what you think about sending her back to Silvermoon or Nagrand.”
“Callie?” he asked, affecting an air of confusion. “Her pranks haven’t been that bad lately.”
“Not Callie, nitwit,” she teased, going along with it, “Dar’ja.”
Zerith sighed. He really did not want to think about this right now. “I suppose it would be better for her to be among our people. They’ll know better how to handle such things though I do know a fair bit myself. It comes of being a healer.”
“A healer should not tend his own wife,” Alayne said firmly, her voice taking on the lilt of an oft-repeated quote. “At least according to Ger’alin, he shouldn’t,” she muttered when Zerith quirked an eyebrow at her.
“That would normally be a wise sentiment but…”
“Zerith, let someone else worry about all of…that…when it comes time for it,” she grimaced. “And please Light of heaven don’t let that someone be me!”
“You’d make an excellent midwife,” he snorted. “We had a running bet on how long it would take you to figure out what to do with your husband since we were pretty sure there were no ancient texts on the subject.” Alayne flushed furiously. “Or were there?”
“Be quiet before I tie you down and shave that scraggly beard off for you,” she said mutinously. “I knew what to do. In theory. Just like I know what to do…you know, when it happens…”
“In theory isn’t in practice,” he said lightly. “But, taking her back to Silvermoon may be the best thing for her. Nagrand is too far away and while the naaru and draenei are among the best healers in existence, I don’t like the thought of her being so far away. Even Silvermoon seems too remote for my liking but…”
“Silvermoon it is, then,” Alayne agreed quickly. “Ger’alin is planning to send a note to Lady Liadrin asking her to order Dar’ja back there.”
“That will go over about as well as a monk in a brothel,” Zerith sighed. “But, there’s no help for it.”
“Maybe if you went with her…or not,” Alayne sighed when she saw the glare in her brother’s eyes. “No one would blame you.”
“I would blame myself. I swore years ago to do whatever it took to ensure that another generation of our people would never grow up to know the problems you and I have faced. I swore I would never give up the battle until the battle was over and won. I may not have Ger’alin’s martial training but I do have my own sense of honor. I will stay with you and with him out on the front lines until the world is at peace once more.”
[Story continued in next post]
“I hope one day I’ll be able to understand those reasons,” Zerith grunted. “And, I’m sorry if losing that bet cost you your dignity.”
“Oh, that,” she laughed. “He hasn’t set the price exactly yet. I imagine he’ll be making plans while you’re in Stonetalon. Do me a favor, would you?” she asked. “Try not to give him any ideas.”
“I’ll do my best,” Zerith promised as he walked out of the room in search of his traveling companions.
Ger’alin shaded his eyes with his hands and wished he had something to allow him to see more clearly through the distant smoke. He glared at the strange goblin-made bomb that Krom’gar had had made. Something about the entire situation rubbed the paladin the wrong way. The orc had lined up his legionnaires to present them to the visitors from Orgrimmar. He bragged that his general was hard at work routing the Alliance out of western Stonetalon and keeping some dire threat from being unleashed.
“Is there any truth to it, you think?” Zerith asked in an undertone, switching to Thalassian, “or is it so much bluff and bluster?”
“I don’t know,” Ger’alin admitted in the same tongue. “But something strikes me as being very, very wrong about Krom’gar.” Switching back to Orcish, Ger’alin nodded to the legionnaires and addressed their commander, “You are preparing an assault against the druid enclave?”
“We are,” Krom’gar replied. “The foul night elves will no longer be able to use their weapon of devastation against us once we have destroyed them and their weapon. They are hiding it in Thal’darah Grove. They claim that area is a sanctuary,” the orc snorted, “but we have learned to our sorrow just what they do in their ‘sanctuaries.’”
“Understood,” Ger’alin nodded. “My companions and I will scout this area and return with a report on it. Perhaps we could seize this weapon and use it ourselves.”
“That is not necessary,” Krom’gar said quickly. Too quickly, to Ger’alin’s mind. A glance at Zerith and Ber’lon confirmed his suspicions. “I would hate for you to risk your necks to get information we already have. We lost a young tauren to gather that information,” the orc continued, affecting an air of sorrow.
“Then we shall continue on,” Ger’alin replied calmly. “Wait for our return before you launch your attack.”
“Where will you be going and when will you return, if I may ask?” the orc grunted sourly.
“We will be traveling on to Desolace to speak with our centaur allies,” Ger’alin lied smoothly. “We could use them to stop up the passage south. To keep the night elves from fleeing that direction with other weapons.”
“Very well,” Krom’gar muttered sulkily. “We will wait for your return. Just do not tarry too long,” he added cryptically. “None of us want to see the Alliance unleash a weapon that will destroy all life in Stonetalon.”
“The night elves would never do such a thing,” Zerith growled once they were safely away from Krom’gar. The three were walking down the twisting mountain passes down towards the Charred Vale. Cliffwalker Post stabbed up into the sky to their north, looking like an ominous obsidian finger pointing at the sapphire sky. “Life is sacred to them.”
“While, in war, I wouldn’t put much passed my enemy,” Ger’alin agreed mildly. “I think you’re right. This whole attack smells of a pretext to me.”
“To me as well,” Ber’lon grunted. “It feels as foul as some of the maneuvering in the Cult of the Damned. Convince those who are weak-minded already that there is a vast conspiracy against them and then get their blood boiling. They’ll tear down their own families before they stop to think.”
“So, what do we do about it?” the priest wondered aloud. “The three of us are nowhere nearly enough to stand against Krom’gar’s forces. And, I doubt we’d have time to get the Disorder of Azeroth over here before he launches his attack.”
“We are going to Desolace,” Ger’alin replied.
“No,” Ger’alin said. “To Shadowprey Village. We’ll have to borrow some wyvern to make it back in time but from there, we can easily send word to Orgrimmar. However, before we go to Desolace, I’m going to spy out this grove myself.”
“You mean we are going to spy it out ourselves,” Zerith added firmly. Ger’alin shrugged indifferently and nodded. If the other two wanted to come along, he wasn’t going to argue with them.
[Story continued in next post]
By early evening, they were making their way back northwest. They had narrowly avoided a few patrols out of Farwatcher’s Glen and were making their way silently and stealthily through the forest growth that dominated the foothills near Stonetalon Peak. Several hours of careful trekking put them on the outskirts of the druids’ enclave.
The shady forest enclave was silent. When the wind blew in from the east, they could hear the distant ringing of steel against steel. Risking a glance beyond the trees, Ger’alin could see that the outpost was largely deserted. Had the Alliance committed all of their forces to the fighting on the plains? Was there nothing left to guard this alleged weapon that had Krom’gar soiling his shorts?
The paladin gestured to the other two and together they left the covering of the trees and made their way through the grove. Corpses lay everywhere. Many were sprawled in their own blood. The dead bore wounds from bladed weapons. Whatever had killed them had done so with its own hands. No magical weapon had been at work in these deaths. Continuing through the grove, they came to the central structure wrapped around the ancient tree. Glancing carefully around the doorway, Ger’alin gasped when he saw the body of a young tauren laying in the middle of the room. Surrounding the tauren’s body were the bodies of several night elves. Ger’alin picked his way carefully through the room and turned over the tauren’s body. He noted that the young bull hand something clutched in his hand while he studied the wounds that had killed him. They were the same as those borne by the night elves scattered throughout the grove. Squatting down, he took a good look at the young tauren’s face and then gently uncurled his stiffened fingers. An insignia was clutched in the dead tauren’s grip. Ger’alin studied it and showed it to the other two. Pocketing it, he gestured for them to leave as quietly as they had come.
Looping back around to the south and then making their way at a swift trot through Desolace, they hurried on to Shadowprey Village. Dispatching a messenger to Orgrimmar, they boarded the backs of wyverns and flew back towards Cliffwalker Post. Ger’alin prayed that Krom’gar would have returned to his own fortress for the night. When he landed at the tauren outpost, he saw that the Light had heard his prayers in a rather strange fashion. Krom’gar was indeed gone. However, his second-in-command, General Greebo, stood near the central bonfire with a sour and sullen expression on his orcish face. Ger’alin nodded to him and then continued on into the chieftain’s hut. The tauren chieftain glanced up at him in confusion and anger.
“Has Krom’gar sent more of you to try to convince me to let him use my outpost as his headquarters?” the tauren growled. “He’s wrong about the night elves! They would never harbor a weapon like the one he describes. As soon as Orthus returns, I’ll prove it!”
“Orthus?” Ger’alin asked, a sinking feeling pulling his stomach down to his feet.
“My son,” the chieftain continued. “I sent him to Thal’darah to see if there was any truth to the twisted words Krom’gar spoke.”
“A young tauren lad? White face with brown markings and a black mane?”
“That is how I would describe him, yes,” the chieftain said, dread clear in his voice. “Have you seen him? I sent him yesterday evening but he’s not returned yet.”
[Story continued in next post]
“My son was a good boy, sin’dorei,” the chieftain protested. “Young, loving. He would have never killed any of the young druids. They were his friends! No... Not Orthus.”
“I never said your son was involved in killing those druids,” Ger’alin explained. “He was clutching this in his hand,” he continued, pulling out the insignia he’d found. The chieftain studied it. His mane bristled with anger and his furry face flushed with rage.
“This belonged to General Greebo,” Chieftain Cliffwalker spat angrily. “He murdered my son! He slaughtered those druids! The general must be called to answer for this crime. I will have justice!” he bellowed as he stood up and strode out of the hut. His wife followed him out while the three blood elves hurried after them. “Greebo!” Cliffwalker shouted. “You killed my son!”
Before the orc could react, the rest of the tauren at the outpost swarmed him and his guards. Greebo unslung his axe and began trying to hew his way free. He focused on the tauren chieftain, cutting through anyone who stood between him and his prey. Cliffwalker’s wife ran in front of her husband, hoping to stop the blood-crazed orc before he could hurt others. She fell as Greebo cleaved her with his axe, leaving a long, wicked cut down the front of her body. Enraged, Cliffwalker waded into the fray and wrenched the orc’s axe from him. With a single stroke strengthened by his rage, the tauren chieftain beheaded the general. “You killed my son,” he grunted as he knelt in the orc’s blood and wept. “My son!”
The sin’dorei slept little that night. The chieftain’s wife had taken a grave wound in the fight with Greebo. Though Zerith had done everything he could, the wound had claimed her life. Chieftain Cliffwalker received the news like one who was sleepwalking. Ger’alin had offered to try to return to Thal’darah and collect Orthus’s body for burial but the chieftain shook his head. “Now what will we do? Surely the Warchief will have us all executed for treason,” he muttered sadly.
“Perhaps Krom’gar did not know what was going on with his general,” Ber’lon ventured. “We can’t be certain that Krom’gar imagined this whole thing up on his own.”
“There is a chance of that, yes,” Ger’alin conceded. “He might be amendable to reason.”
“Perhaps if you spoke to Overlord Krom'gar. Maybe he would listen to what you had to say? You are an envoy from Orgrimmar, after all. You saw everything. I simply wish to be left alone – in peace,” Chieftain Cliffwalker sighed sadly. “To mourn my wife and my son.”
“I will go and speak with him myself,” Ber’lon agreed.
“It would be better if I went,” Ger’alin sighed. “After all, I’m the one who is Garrosh’s sworn brother. My word might carry a little more weight.”
“Perhaps,” the death knight nodded. “Chieftain, do you have pigeons we could send to Orgrimmar with this news?”
“We do,” the chieftain said dully. “Check with one of the others. They can help you with that. But, leave me,” he ordered, gesturing towards the door of his hut. “I wish to be alone for now.”
The sin’dorei bowed politely and left the hut. Zerith wore an expression of deep thought and pondering. He was so distracted by his thoughts that he nearly walked into one of the totem poles. Ger’alin borrowed a quill and some parchment, scrawled out a quick missive, and sent it on to Orgrimmar. He prayed that Garrosh would return word of a full pardon for the tauren chieftain. “Will you be remaining here?” he asked the priest as he prepared to travel back to Krom’gar’s fortress.
“Yes,” Zerith said blankly, still withdrawn into his own thoughts. “I have much to think over.”
“Don’t think yourself into a fainting spell,” Ger’alin quipped. “I doubt Ber’lon has the patience for that.”
“I won’t,” the priest muttered irritably. Ger’alin shrugged to show he was joking and then headed down the lift to the canyon floor below. The paladin wished he’d brought Lucky with him for this outing but the horse took to flying about as well as his wife did. Stamping his feet more firmly into his boots, the paladin started out at a jog that became a run. He wanted this business over with as soon as was possible.
By early afternoon, Ger’alin was trotting up the long red clay ramp to Krom’gar’s fortress. The orc’s forces were aligned outside in neat formation, prepared to march on Thal’darah grove at any moment. The overlord himself was inside the fortress making last minute adjustments to his plans. When he saw that the blood elf had returned, he dismissed his legionnaires and then gestured for Ger’alin to make his report.
“Overlord Krom’gar,” Ger’alin began firmly. “your general is dead. He…”
“What?!” Krom’gar shouted angrily. “Who killed Greebo?”
“Overlord, Greebo was responsible for the murder of…”
“Who killed him, blood elf? The next word out of your mouth had best be the name or I will gut you.”
“Chieftain Cliffwalker killed him in return for…”
“You have done well to report this crime. The perpetrators of this heinous act will be punished. There will be blood!” Krom’gar roared. Ger’alin tried to get his explanation in but Krom’gar was having none of it. “I will need a new general now that Grebo is dead. You shall take his place. We are going to Cliffwalker Post, General,” the orc swore. “Together we will end this nonsense.”
The entire journey to Cliffwalker Post was an exercise in futility. Ger’alin had done his best to explain the entire story to Krom’gar but the orc would not listen. Either he was behind the entire sick charade or he was so delusional that he should never have been placed in charge of a fruit-stand, let alone an army. Finally, despairing of being able to do anything to avert the atrocity at hand, Ger’alin fell silent. When the army wound its way to the base of Cliffwalker Post, Krom’gar turned to the blood elf and grinned. “The traitorous tauren will now stand by as we destroy his precious grove and burn his village to the ground!”
The platforms of the lift descended and Ger’alin and Krom’gar took their places. “Overlord, you don’t understand,” Ger’alin tried once more. “The night elves have done nothing! Greebo murdered the chieftain’s son!”
[Story continued in next post]
“You are about to cross a terrible threshold, Krom'gar. May the Earth Mother have mercy on your soul,” Chieftain Cliffwalker said coldly.
The tauren and the blood elves watched in horror as the rocket-propelled bomb sailed on to the great tree. Once there, it exploded in a massive ball of fire. The shockwave rushed over them, knocking them to the ground though they were miles from the site of impact. Quick on its heels was the flashing firewave. A huge cloud mushroomed out of the crater where the tree had once stood. “Look upon the world, Cliffwalker, and see the might of the Horde!” Krom’gar exulted as he stood back on his feet.
Ger’alin tottered to his own feet and began to head towards the orc. He no longer cared if it would benefit them anything or not. All he knew was he had to kill the foolish tyrant responsible for such an atrocity. Whether Garrosh cared or not, Ger’alin intended to kill Krom’gar as a warning to anyone else who might think that all ends were justified in war.
A sudden swirling portal appeared in the midst of the camp. Ger’alin halted his steps, amazed to see Alayne and several other magi channeling to hold it open. Garrosh Hellscream stepped through. His eyes widened at the sight of the massive crater where once a mighty tree had stood. He gazed out over the tauren and glared down at his commander. “What have you done, Krom'gar?” he growled.
Krom’gar knelt down, quivering with fear, “Warchief! I... I was carrying out your command!”
“My command?” Garrosh growled in angered confusion. “Was my command to murder innocents, Krom'gar?”
“Warchief... Sir... I...”
“Am I a murderer, Krom'gar?” Garrosh bellowed angrily. His question echoed off the dying rock surrounding them and came back as a pale echo of the warchief’s voice.
“No, Warchief!” Krom’gar said, sweating in terror.
“Then I ask you again: What have you done?!” Garrosh demanded, shaking with rage and fury. “I sent you into Stonetalon Mountains with an army. Your orders were to secure this land for the Horde. Instead, you laid waste to the land. Murdered innocents. Children even...” Garrosh shuddered. “I spent a very long time in Northrend, Krom'gar. I learned much about the Horde in that time,” he continued slowly, visibly taking his anger in hand. “While there, a wise old war hero told me something that I would carry with me forever... ‘Honor,’ Krom'gar, ‘No matter how dire the battle... never forsake it.’” Krom’gar was little more than a quivering and quaking mass of misery at Garrosh’s feet. “Overlord Krom'gar, you have disgraced the Horde. You have brought shame to us as a people. By my right as Warchief,” Garrosh growled as he bent down and grabbed Krom’gar around the throat. Lifting the other orc up so that his feel flailed helplessly in the air, Garrosh carried him out to the edge of the outpost. “I hereby relieve you of your duty. YOU. ARE. DISMISSED!” he bellowed as he flung the overlord out into the air. Krom’gar wailed as he fell to his death on the blood-red clay of the canyon below. “What shall I do with his army?” Garrosh grunted to Ger’alin. “They may all be traitors. They may all be as foul and dishonorable as that murderer I just killed.”
“Have mercy, Warchief,” the tauren chieftain pleaded. “Some of them helped us to gather evidence to try to sway Krom’gar. Ger’alin and the others found the last pieces we needed to put the picture together but many within Krom’gar’s ranks did their best to thwart his mad plans. Have mercy.”
“Mercy... Your wife and child were murdered. Your kin wiped out. Your home burned to the ground. Mercy... Chieftain, on this day I learn from you,” Garrosh muttered in awe. The Warchief took the lift down to the canyon where the rest of Krom’gar’s forces waited in tense silence. Addressing them, he said, “Krom'gar's army is no more. Your rank no longer has meaning. If you wish to truly help the Horde, your considerable power could be used in Desolace or in the Southern Barrens. The choice is yours to make,” he announced. “Let honor guide you. Do not forget that Hellscream's eyes are always upon you,” he finished with a feral grin.
[Story continued in next post]
“It’s part of being Warchief,” Ger’alin replied. “Betrayal, distrust, rebellion…all these things are things a leader of any worth will have to deal with. Thrall dealt with them. Now you must deal with them as well. And, instead of using your physical strength and your anger, you have to temper your judgment with mercy and wisdom. Krom’gar,” he continued, “was a great warrior. But the Horde needs more than just warriors, Garrosh. The Horde needs a leader and, for better or for worse, that leader is you.”
“You speak as if you still despise me,” Garrosh grunted.
“You showed nothing but impatience and impetuousness in Northrend,” Ger’alin sighed. “But today…today you have shown me that perhaps I have been impatient and impetuous myself. It’s an honor to serve, Warchief,” he said, saluting.
“For the Horde,” Garrosh grinned. “Come back to Orgrimmar. Your wife will give me fits if I don’t bring you with me.”
Zerith sat in his room in the inn, his arms folded over his chest, thinking. The trip to Stonetalon had given him much to ruminate over. He’d only been gone two days and yet, in some ways, it felt as if a lifetime had passed.
“So much death…” he muttered to himself. “All of the fighters on that ridge…they’ll never go home again. And the women and children Krom’gar and his army slaughtered…,” he shuddered. “All the lives that won’t be lived.”
He rubbed his chest, feeling the slightly-raised skin that marked the scar he’d received at Stromgarde. By rights, he should have died. Only hasty battle-field medicine and the patient ministrations of his sister and the Apothecaries had saved his life. By rights, Alayne shouldn’t be alive either. She should have died from the arrow she took in the necropolis. But, the Light had smiled upon them both.
“This world is being broken in more ways than one,” he sighed, rubbing his hands over his face. He’d overheard enough reports of the devastation wrought by the Shattering. He’d seen the panic-stricken faces of those who had barely survived one of Deathwing’s visitations. He, himself, had been one of those rare survivors. “Nothing seems to last anymore.”
Child of a long-lived race though he was, Zerith felt the same fear of death as any other mortal. And, with all the chaos around him, it seemed that his death might come much sooner than expected. All the bright, strong certainties he’d relied on over the past few years had been shaken. He’d been there when the Sunstrider dynasty came to its bitter end – a dynasty that had ruled his race for centuries. He’d seen the general of the Burning Legion be shoved back into the infinite space between realities. He’d seen the Lich King fall. He’d been part of the destruction of an old god – a being whose existence was marked by aeons instead of millennia. And yet, he’d also seen the Sunwell reborn. He’d seen the Frozen Throne filled by a just jailor. He’d seen his people rally and rebuild.
“I think I finally understand,” he grunted to himself. “I know why she did it. Damned if I like it but I can’t fault her logic on this one. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is certain. Had I succumbed to misery like my parents, there’d be no trace of my blood left on this world. Had Alayne perished in the necropolis, her family’s lineage would have ended. Hers and Ger’alin’s, by all counts, since he’d probably have promptly drunk himself to death,” he snorted. “I still wish she hadn’t tricked me into it. I suppose I’ll just have to accustom myself to the fact that I’m going to be a father.”
He repeated the thought several times, pleased to note that he did not feel the least bit light-headed. True, his legs were wobbly but he was happy to discover that the fear no longer overwhelmed him. He was still plenty terrified – he wondered if that would ever go away entirely – but he could look to the future a bit less bleakly and see himself teaching his son all the things his father taught him. Or, he could see himself getting very angry the first time his daughter came home with a broken heart. He could see himself tending skinned knees, telling bed-time stories, riding through the high grasses of Nagrand and pointing out all kinds of things. “Maybe it won’t be so bad,” he said, frowning thoughtfully. He imagined Ger’alin and Alayne helping him and laughed at the image of his son or daughter getting jam all over Alayne’s spell books or trying to drag Ger’alin’s shield across the room because it would make an excellent sled. “It actually would,” he laughed, holding that image a while longer. “Of course, Ger’alin would pummel me into powder if I let that happen.”
[Story continued in next post]
Just as he reached for the door handle, the door flew open and Dar’ja stepped through. She blanched when she looked at her husband – she had not heard that they were back yet. “I was just going to lay down for a bit,” she muttered. “I’m so tired lately.”
“That’s part of being pregnant,” he grinned. “I’m afraid you’re not going to be getting over that any time too quickly.”
“You seem…oddly…,” she began uncertain how to continue. Zerith had been nothing short of extremely upset for what seemed like weeks now.
“Conscious?” he laughed. “I’ve thought it over. And, I might as well look forward to the birth of our child instead of dreading the sleepless nights. After all, you never know what tomorrow will bring.”
Dar’ja’s legs went out from under her in shock. Luckily, she was standing near a chair and Zerith was able to shove it under her before she landed heavily on the floor. As it was, she winced in pain and began rubbing her backside. “What changed your mind?” she asked suspiciously. “I thought you were on the verge of leaving me.”
“Leave you?” he gasped, aghast. Had his reaction truly been so terrible? “Dar’ja, I don’t think you could do anything short of killing me that would get me to leave you. I might get angry with you. I might get upset with you. But leave you? Never.”
Dar’ja nodded as tears began to fill her eyes. Zerith squatted down and took her hands in his own, wondering what he could do to make her feel better. He brushed the tears from her cheeks which only seemed to make her weep all the more. The priest was beginning to feel completely overwhelmed – in all the years they had been together, he’d never seen her emotions change so quickly. “I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting lately,” he apologized. “I was just…”
“I’m not upset,” she sobbed. “I’m happy. I don’t know why I’m crying. I want to laugh but…”
“Oh,” he grinned. “That’s another part of being pregnant. Mood swings. I hear they’re quite annoying.”
“That’s it exactly!” she laughed as she cried. “I’ve been going uphill and downhill like a gnomish rocket car the past few days. Even Alayne said I was getting on her nerves.”
“Well, then,” he said, relieved, “why don’t you just…oh, that must be the tray I ordered,” he said when a knock came from the door. Opening it, it waved the kitchen maids in and pointed to the table. They set down the food and left, closing the door behind them. Zerith locked it for good measure and then sat down in the chair opposite Dar’ja’s. “What?” he asked when he saw her staring down at her tray in horror.
“That’s enough food for five people, Zerith,” she whispered. “I don’t think I could eat all of that unless I were having triplets.”
“Maybe I did overdo it a bit,” he said, grinning ruefully. “Eat what you can and then let’s get some sleep. You look like you could use it.”
“What I could use more is an explanation of your sudden turn-around,” she muttered quietly. “But, I suppose that can wait until after supper,” she added as she began to eat.
Ger’alin and Zerith sat at the desk in Zerith’s room going over the requests and reports that had come in. Sparxi was seated on a stool nearby, compiling lists of supplies they would need depending on where they decided to go next. Ger’alin prayed that he would be able to talk Alayne out of heading for the newly uncovered desert of Uldum. Apparently, one of Brann’s devotees had started up a Horde chapter of the Explorers’ League. The Reliquary, led by Belloc Brightblade, was looking for hired swords to guard them as they established their own dig-sites throughout the world. The pay looked good but Ger’alin had had his fill of artifacts.
[Story continued in next post]
“There’s nothing there, though,” Ger’alin argued. “It’s a submerged landmass. There are no buildings, no resources, nothing but water and seaweed. Why anyone wants it is beyond me.”
“There are resources, of a sort,” the priest replied, pulling up a list of what little was known about Vashj’ir. “Aside from that, apparently it’s a good point to overlook Nazjatar. The naga are always eager to move against us surface-dwellers. Besides, the Earthen Ring is concerned about some fouling energies they sense coming from that region. We should at least go and investigate it and make certain that another of Deathwing’s brood isn’t waiting to unleash a nasty surprise right in the middle of the sea dividing Lordaeron from Azeroth.”
“If we’re going there,” Sparxi chimed in, “we’re going to need a lot of diving gear.”
“The Earthen Ring will provide enchantments that allow for breathing underwater,” Zerith replied. “It’s part of the request they sent.”
“Then it looks like we’ll be headed to Vashj’ir,” Ger’alin sighed.
“Look on the bright side,” the priest chuckled softly, “the last time Alayne spent a good bit of time in the water, you got to spend the night in bed with her.”
Ger’alin’s expression brightened considerably. “Vashj’ir sounds like a fine place indeed, then.”
“I wish I were going with you,” Dar’ja sighed sadly as she stood on the docks. The druids and the shaman of the Earthen Ring had suggested she not risk the travel beneath the depths as the shock to her system could be dangerous in her condition.
“I’m sure that by the time we’re done, I’ll wish I had decided to go to Uldum,” Zerith said lightly. “Jez’ral and Mir’el will be here tomorrow to take you back to Silvermoon.”
“I’m not certain that I like this idea,” she said gingerly.
“They’ll know how best to keep you both well,” Zerith replied. “And, if they don’t, you’ll be in Silvermoon around women who will. It will make me feel much better,” he added firmly, “to know that if anything happens, you’re where you can be taken care of instead of being far beneath the surface of the water with me.”
“And what if something happens to you?” she asked quietly.
“Do you think any of our friends will let anything happen to me? I’ve barely taken a scratch in years now. But, if anything untoward were to happen, you know that Ger’alin and Alayne would see me back to you if they had to travel to the hereafter and bring me back themselves.”
“Don’t joke about such things!” she shuddered.
“All will be well. I’ll return to you both as soon as I can,” he promised, planting a kiss on her cheek before he hurried up the ramp onto the boat. The captain was calling for the sailors to unfurl the sails – the tide was turning. Zerith watched until the dock dipped below the horizon and then turned his attention back to the others. He saw Tau’re and Tam’ara staring at him in amusement while Ber’lon shook his head and Alayne studied her nails. Ger’alin was standing at the prow, the wind whipping his hair around. The rest of the Disorder of Azeroth was scattered above and below deck. “What?” he demanded of his sister with a touch of asperity.
“Nothing,” she said quickly.
“Don’t mind her,” Ber’lon grinned nastily. “She just hates losing a bet.”
Alayne rolled her eyes at that but did not reply. Instead, she turned her gaze up to her brother. “Are you truly all right with this?”
“With what?” he asked calmly. “Being apart from them? I really don’t have a choice on that. Being a father? I’ve gotten used to the idea. Besides, I anticipate we’ll have plenty of help on hand.”
“You won’t like the rates I charge for that, priest!” Ger’alin bellowed, still staring out at the sea.
“He has ears like a cat,” Alayne muttered. “But only when it’s inconvenient. I’ll be happy to help out with my little niece or nephew,” she grinned. “I just have one condition.”
“I’ll change the diapers,” Zerith grunted.
“Well, if you insist,” she laughed. “Actually, my condition was that you lock me in the basement and chain Ger’alin to a tree outside the house when my change comes.”
“Locking you in the basement I can do,” Zerith nodded. “I can actually wrestle you into submission what with being a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier. Chaining your husband to a tree, on the other hand…”
“I can help you with that,” Tau’re offered.
“Just let me know when you’re planning to do it,” Ber’lon chuckled. “I’ll sell tickets. Oh, stop glaring at me. Kiharu would pay platinum to watch that wrestling match.”
“If you’re quite done planning my brother-in-law’s demise,” Ger’alin said calmly, making the others jump in fright. They had not heard him walk down from the prow of the ship. “We should be discussing the layout of Vashj’ir.”
“What is there to discuss?” Ber’lon wondered. “It’s a big island that is sunk down beneath the waves. It probably has some caves, crevasses, and a sizeable population of fish. Prominent plant-life will include several varieties of seaweed and coral.”
“Coral is a rock,” Alayne added helpfully. “Sort of,” she muttered, hunching her shoulders when the men glared down at her.
“The Earthen Ring should be setting up a neutral base on the shores of the Wetlands. We should stick close to it – no looking up old friends,” Ger’alin said, glancing at Alayne and Zerith. “And someone try to keep Callie reigned in. Sit on her if you have to,” he said to Ber’lon. “We do not need to risk a fight here. We’re already risking one by being so close to Stromgarde – the site of our first major victory.”
“We’ll be under a flag of truce according to the Earthen Ring,” Zerith sighed. “As long as we don’t stir up trouble, there shouldn’t be any.”
“I hope that holds true,” Ger’alin sighed. “The druids were not entirely…appeased…with our explanation of Krom’gar’s actions. They wanted a formal apology which Garrosh is unable to give. I know, I know,” he muttered, waving off the objections, “I made the arguments you’re thinking of myself. However, Garrosh’s hold on the Horde – outside of the orcs – is tenuous at best. If he shows any weakness, he could be toppled. With Thrall away, there would be no one to fill the gap.”
[Story continued in next post]
“Sylvanas wouldn’t be held in check by either of those two and there’s still a good bit of tension between the elves and the trolls,” Ger’alin pointed out. “It’s fading, to be sure, but it’s still there. Do you think you could picture Lord Theron bending his stiff neck to Vol’jin? After all the trouble the Amani gave our people? I don’t like it but it’s politics. Garrosh is learning the hard way that brute force isn’t enough and that diplomacy is not always a weakness. Still, we have troubles enough as it is. I just hope that nothing untoward happens to us in Vashj’ir.”
“Remind me never to open my big mouth again,” Ger’alin gasped as he pulled himself out of the water and into one of the few air pockets in the sunken ship.
“Duly noted,” Alayne muttered as she tried to wring out her robes.
No sooner had they come within range of the sunken continent than they had been set upon by a strange monster from the deeps. The creature seemed to take the ships – both Alliance and Horde – for a threat. The nearby Alliance ships had been so focused on fighting it off that no aid had been rendered. Alayne rolled her eyes at the bitter truth that the Horde had been so busy battling as well that, were the roles reversed, the same thing would have happened. The Horde ships had tried to fight the beast off but, in the end, the battle had gone to the creature. Only a few wrecked ships were evidence of the fight. Ger’alin thanked the Light for Callie and Sparxi’s quick thinking. As their ship splintered and foundered in the water, the rogue and the shaman had broken into the supplies and grabbed up any elixirs they could that would allow the Disorder of Azeroth and the Horde sailors to breathe underwater for a short time. Once order had been restored – several miles beneath the surface of the sea – Alayne and a few other magi had worked out a spell that would allow them to breathe underwater without the need for potions. A light shielding wrapped tightly around everyone’s head and neck allowed for breathing, filtering out the bad air into the water and drawing in fresh air from the water. Ger’alin had no idea how it worked but was grateful it did. Unfortunately, the shield could not keep them from a good soaking.
“Diving helms would have been better,” Sparxi muttered sourly. “A whole suit and you’ll be as warm as if you were in your mother’s kitchen.”
“Provided, of course, that the suit didn’t blow up,” Alayne whispered where the goblin couldn’t hear her. “And provided you could afford the outrageous prices.”
“What did you find?” Zerith asked.
“A few caves,” Ger’alin grunted. “But the place is swarming with naga. I came back to get the rest of you down there. They made off with several of our friends. I managed to follow them to some kind of coral city they’ve built.”
“Of course,” Alayne replied, diving into the water. Zerith and the others followed after her while Ger’alin pulled his armor back on and cursed its weight. Swimming, even with the aid of magic, in chain mail was difficult at best. He hated trying to fight underwater as well. His reaction times were slower – even with the Light aiding him. Still, there was little to do but make the most of it. Perhaps being submerged for so long would make it easier for him to out-fight the naga. He tried to convince himself of that as he struggled to keep pace with the others.
After an hour of torturous swimming, they managed to make it into the seaweed forest near the nagas’ coral city. The serpentine creatures had imprisoned their Horde and Alliance captives in air bubbles. A few dozen naga stood guard over them while others swam on about their business. Taking in the situation, Ger’alin groaned. They would not only be fighting naga on the snakes’ home territory – they would be easily swarmed from all directions.
Cursing the creature who had brought down their ships and made this capture possible, he tried to figure out a plan. Alayne laid a hand on his arm and shook her head.
“We’ll stay far back,” she said, indicating the magic users. “We may not even leave the forest cover until the fight is started. You and Tau’re and the other melee fighters should go on and draw their attention. They’ll swarm you but we can keep them from getting around you if we’re far enough back to see the paths they’re taking.”
[Story continued in next post]
The Alliance captives were a mixture of abashed and grateful towards their rescuers. Tucked safely within a cave nearby, the Disorder of Azeroth, the Horde, and the Alliance were catching their breath, warming up near the blazing bonfires, and waiting for word from the Earthen Ring. Ger’alin tried not to give those who had not rendered aid too much trouble. He tried to remind himself that diplomacy was not a weakness. Still, it was hard to do so knowing that it had only been sheerest luck that he and the others were not dead.
“What is it about new and unclaimed territory that seems to make everyone lose their minds?” he groaned to Zerith as the pair huddled near a fire. Alayne was still out in the water looking to see if there were other caves that were larger.
“If I knew the answer to that,” the priest replied wearily, “I would tell you. However, all I know is that this is madness.”
“It is. I’m beginning to regret ever giving my word to the Earthen Ring that we’d help them. And where is Alayne? She’s been gone for hours now. It can’t take that long to explore the rift nearby for caves.”
“Where there are naga, there are probably ancient kaldorei ruins,” Zerith whispered cryptically. “Alayne and ancient ruins are a combination for distraction.”
Ger’alin groaned. “I am not going out there to find her.”
“Find who?” Alayne asked as she crept up behind her husband. Ger’alin jumped and turned around. Zerith hid his smile with a hand and said nothing. It wasn’t too often he could get one over on the paladin. “I found some more caves, by the way,” Alayne added.
“And some ruins, I’ll bet,” Zerith quipped.
“There are plenty of them around,” Alayne agreed. “However, they’re all covered with naga and seaweed. I swam up to the surface as well. We’re much further out than I’d thought. I couldn’t see the shore or get a good idea of which way is which.”
“My compass isn’t working so far beneath the water,” Ger’alin muttered. “One of us will have to go up there and check the sun’s positioning. One of us who doesn’t have fair skin,” he added. “You and Zerith can get sunburned in the midst of a blizzard. We should also try to put some sort of beacon up there so ships can find us. I don’t fancy the idea of being stuck at sea for the rest of my life. Are any of these caves large enough to hold all of us?”
“One of them is large enough to hold all who came with us,” Alayne gestured, indicating the Horde and the Disorder of Azeroth. “There are another couple that are close by each other that should be enough to hold the Alliance.”
“Then let’s get everyone rounded up and get them moved,” Ger’alin nodded. He clapped loudly, getting everyone’s attention. The people in the cave circled around him and he gestured for Alayne to explain what she had found and where. Once she had given out the general information about the caves, the groups began moving to gather their supplies and move them to their new location. Outside, those who had not been able to fit in the cramped space swam with their comrades to the new quarters. After several hours, both Alliance and Horde were safely tucked in their new temporary homes. A few sailors had managed to salvage one of their sextets and were preparing to go up and get a rough idea of the directions. Ger’alin was uneasy about the idea but could not forbid them from going. Instead, he settled down near one of the bonfires and wished his clothes would dry more quickly. Though they may be leagues below the surface where the temperature of the water never changed, it was still chill and dank in the air pockets of the underwater caverns. Alayne, more exhausted than she cared to admit, hunkered down next to him. Zerith sat with them and handed over a large bowl of hot mash.
[Story continued in next post]
Ger’alin paced restlessly in the cave. Three days since they had taken up residence and he was ready to tear his hair out at the thought of staying beneath the waves much longer. However, the Earthen Ring had arrived and begun investigating what they called ‘strange anomalies in the currents of the depths.’ Rendered into Common, that meant that there was something they wanted them to do. “Couldn’t they at least set up a portal to the surface?” he muttered sourly. “I’ll fight or investigate or do whatever it is they ask of us in exchange for a few hours of sunshine, dry land, and solid food.”
Zerith sympathized with the paladin. He prayed that word had not reached Dar’ja yet or, if it had, word that he was safe and well had reached her quickly after. He hated the thought of her being frightened and worried for him when there was nothing he could do about it. Already he regretted joining in this expedition. Still, there had really been no choice, he reminded himself. “At least the Alliance are playing nice,” he said quietly.
“It’s half their fault we’re stuck down here,” the paladin grunted. “They’d best be being as nice as they can be. I’m of half a mind to throttle them all.”
“Staying angry over that will do nothing to get us out of here. Let’s go over to where the Earthen Ring have set up their base and meet with them to see what they need us to do. And, I’m sure that they’ll work on setting up a way to let us get back to the surface.”
Ger’alin muttered beneath his breath but followed the priest. The pair waded into the water, quaffed down an elixir that would let them breathe the water as naturally as air and would help them move through the currents as easily as they walked down a street on the surface. The only thing it didn’t do was keep them from getting soaked. However, after a few days of briny clothes, they were beginning to get used to the feel of salt sc!*@#@* their skin. “The first thing I’m going to do when I get back to the surface,” Ger’alin swore, “is have all of my clothes laundered and take a long bath.”
“That sounds like a fine idea to me,” Zerith agreed. “Though the Light knows I’m sick of water.”
Ger’alin made a sound that was half-grunt, half-strangled laugh and the pair continued the rest of their journey in relative silence. Pulling themselves through the swifter currents that ran down the great rifts, they reached the cave where the Earthen Ring had established their beachhead so far away from the actual beach. Without exchanging a greeting, the two men walked over to the bonfire and began warming themselves. The shamans’ magic did much to alleviate the pressure and discomfort from being so far in the deeps but it did nothing to remove the chill dampness. The shaman of the Earthen Ring, Broken, tauren, and orc walked over to the fire, their faces grave.
“The Twilight Hammer cult has penetrated the depths,” one of them, a Broken draenei they knew as Erunak Stonespeaker said bluntly. “We have no idea how long they have been here or how far into their plans they are. They have taken control of a demi-god, L’ghorek, and may be working with the naga to control Neptulon as well.”
Ger’alin’s legs went out from under him and Zerith stared at the shaman in stupefaction. Both men wished desperately that Alayne were with them. She would be the only one who could hear those names and not flinch. Ger’alin cursed softly as he stood up and brushed wet sand from his backside.
“What do we need to do?” he asked just as bluntly. “Do you need us to infiltrate the cult here as we did in Hyjal?”
[Story continued in next post]
“Neptulon is another elemental lord like Ragnaros, correct?” Zerith asked. “Will we need to fight him as well?”
“It may not come to that,” Erunak shook his head. “I will attempt to enter his temple and persuade him that we are his humble servants. He flatters himself that he is the master of water and, in a way, he is. Water has ever been his domain since the beginnings of this world. However, he delights in thwarting the other elemental rulers as much as he does in sinking ships or destroying coastal villages. He is a capricious ruler over the oceans of Azeroth.”
“Great,” Ger’alin muttered.
“How do we get to L’ghorek?” Zerith asked, ignoring the paladin’s irritation.
“An entrance into his body is just on the far side of the ridge. You’ll find a great shimmering dome – that is his head. Tentacles hang down from it and near those, you’ll find passageways in and out of his body.”
“I see,” Zerith sighed. “We’ll gather up as many as we…”
“Take only a small number inside the ancient,” one of the shaman cautioned. “Too many will alert the cultists and they may take drastic steps. Not to mention that too many unleashing too much power inside a weakened demi-god could have dire consequences.”
“Then we’ll take only our best,” Ger’alin cut in. “Come on, Zerith. We have more swimming ahead of us.”
“By the way,” Erunak added as the men headed back into the water, “we will have a portal to the surface soon. And, we have sent word to your wife that you are safe and sound,” he continued, glancing at Zerith. “Garrosh will be sending more ships and the people of the Wetlands have kindly set aside quarters for all of their guests until such time as we are done in Vashj’ir.”
“Thank you,” Zerith said, bowing politely.
“We are all tired of the salt water,” Erunak chuckled. “Even when we don’t have to swim in it all the time.”
Once back at their own cave, Zerith and Ger’alin rounded up Alayne, Tau’re, Callie, and Faim’hain and set out for L’ghorek. Alayne was intrigued at the thought of entering the body of a massive demi-god. As they swam near enough to see the creature more clearly, Zerith stopped dead in the water. L’ghorek brought the word “enormous” to life. The priest could not tell where the creature’s body left off and the rocky protrusions he rested upon began. Tentacles that looked like spiny seaweed floated down from a head large enough to house several armies. At a glance, the priest understood immediately why the Earthen Ring was so worried about the Twilight’s Hammer taking control of such creatures. If L’ghorek had brothers, then the situation in Vashj’ir could grow dire indeed.
Slipping carefully through the currents that sped against the rock and hardshell, the group managed to find one of the entryways that Erunak had mentioned. Swimming inside, they were soon out of the water and taking a moment to enjoy the first breaths of warm air they’d felt since the battle that broke apart their ship. That the air was warmed by the power of a living being made no difference to them. Finally, Zerith motioned for Alayne and Callie to come with him while the others hung back. The floor was covered in a spongy substance that made the priest think of the linings of the mouth and nose. He shuddered at the thought and forced it from his mind. As silent as a whisper, the three made their way the rest of the way up the tunnel and into the main chamber. Alayne tugged on her brother’s sleeve to catch his attention. He stopped and bent down so she could whisper in his ear.
“There’s dark magic coming from further away in the chamber,” she explained. “It has the feel of the Twilight’s Hammer. I can sense something else…something like a battle between two powerful forces…from nearer by.”
“Which way should we go first?”
“Let Callie and I slip around to see if we can find this duel,” she suggested. “I don’t think there are many people there and chances are we can overpower them easily enough. For now, stay back and don’t let Ger’alin come after us. His armor clanks loudly and the jingle would be audible all the way across the room.”
Zerith nodded in agreement and took up position at the place where the tunnel joined the chamber. The two women began creeping silently, carefully, around the outer edge of the room. Alayne kept an eye and her attention on the center of the chamber where she sense the currents of dark magic. Callie watched ahead. As they followed the edge around in a gentle arc, they nearly stumbled into a doorway before they saw it. Pulling back quickly and glancing around the archway inside, they saw a pair of cultists channeling dark lightnings into the ceiling. Alayne stared at the target of the magic in confusion. When it began quivering and pulsing wildly, she shuddered, calling to mind the way that the brains of her enemies had looked as she cleaved them with her runeblade.
“Light have mercy on us all,” she said in a bare whisper. “That’s what that is. It’s not the ceiling. It’s L’ghorek’s brain!”
Callie shuddered as well when she realized what Alayne was talking about. She risked a venture into the room and noted that the path formed a sharp curve. Light spilled out the other side, marking a second entrance. With silent signals, the rogue motioned that she would enter from the second door while Alayne remained at the first. If Callie could reach the cultists without them noticing, she could quickly kill one while Alayne blasted apart the other with magic. Suiting actions to the plan, the rogue snuck around through the other entrance and slit the throat of the closest cultist before either was aware of a threat. Alayne followed Callie’s attack with a pure blast of arcane energy that ripped through her target’s body, leaving it a quivering mass of flesh on the floor.
Alayne crept into the room and sent her own beams of gentle energy towards the creature’s brain in an attempt to speak with it. L’ghorek did not seem to recognize her at all. She felt no tendrils of thought or emotion from it. Bending down, she saw that the cultists were wearing strange masks over their heads. Taking one from a corpse, she dragged it over her head, trying not to panic when it covered her mouth and nose. She was able to breathe as easily as if there were nothing there. Even the darkness seemed to lift after a few seconds.
“WISE OF... YOU TO... USE... THE FACELESS’ BRAIN. I SEE... YOU NOW,” a powerful, ancient voice filled Alayne’s mind. “I WILL DIE. THERE IS NO... STOPPING... THE INEVITABLE. BUT... YOU WILL HELP... ME DEAL WITH... THESE PARASITES FIRST,” the demi-god gasped angrily.
“L’ghorek?” Alayne asked.
[Story continued in next post]
“What would you have me do?” she continued.
“THE CULTISTS…THEIR CANDIDATES FOR ASCENSION…STOP THEM…”
“I will,” she promised. Pulling the mask off her head and combing her fingers through her hair, the sin’dorei pondered her next steps. They would need to comb the chambers of L’ghorek’s body thoroughly and root out any cultists they came across. She hoped they would be able to capture a few of the leaders to find out what the Twilight’s Hammer was doing in the depths of Vashj’ir. Nodding to herself, she motioned for Callie to go and fetch the others. This chamber would be safe enough for them to use. While the rogue went to round up the others, Alayne covered the cultists’ corpses with their own cloaks and considered how she might stop further Ascensions or deal with Ascended beings. In theory, the Ascended were not too different from their elemental brethren. They had the same weakness to their counter-element. However, in practice, adding a mind capable of independent thought and bringing its own powers to its new existence made them very different creatures indeed.
“Damned doomsday cults,” she muttered to herself. “They twist and pervert everything. All because they fear to die. Or they fear being alone. Or mocked. Or powerless.”
“Who’s powerless?” Zerith asked quietly as he and the others crept into the room. “Callie told us what you found.”
“We will have to push the Twilight’s Hammer out of here if we want to have any hope of keeping them in check,” she replied quickly. “According to L’ghorek,” she gestured to the front of the room, “they are raising Ascended over there,” she muttered, gesturing to the outer chamber. “We’ll probably want to draw them back to the narrow corridors where their numbers won’t make a difference.”
“That’s a good idea,” Ger’alin agreed. “I risked a quick count. There’s easily four dozen that I could see and there’s some structure they’ve built that could house dozens more.”
“If they’re performing the rites of Ascension, they won’t have too many inside. Only a few masters, elementals, and the candidates,” Alayne explained. She’d learned a bit about their rituals from the texts she’d stolen. “First of all, having those who are ‘unworthy’ nearby will taint the ritual. Actually, what would happen is if one of the run-of-the-mill cultists managed to gain Ascension, they’d be too volatile. It’s just another twisted control mechanic,” she spat. “We can pull the cultists to a hallway but the problem I see is that there may be others hiding out in chambers like this one.”
“What do you suggest, then?” Zerith asked.
“That we send Callie to skirt this wall and scout out the rest of the chamber. If she finds side passages containing cultists, she lets us know so we can try to get to them first. And, we will not do any fighting in here,” she added. “L’ghorek is weak enough. If we unleashed too much power in here, he might be injured more severely. I have a feeling that we don’t want to be trapped in here when he dies.”
The others shivered at the thought. If the ancient died with them still inside his body, they could be trapped there until their own deaths. Callie crept out back into the main chamber. The others settled down on the floor to rest while they waited. Alayne and Zerith napped lightly while Ger’alin listened out for any cultists who might approach the chamber. Fam’iv honed his daggers and kept an eye out as well. After almost an hour, the rogue returned.
“I found a few chambers with cultists in them. I was able to make quick work of them,” she reported. “There is one chamber that winds back around and up. I didn’t explore it fully but I could hear several voices there. Also, directly opposite us on the far side of this chamber is some kind of…processing station. I saw people channeling into these strange devices. Some of them would go in and then would come out looking as if they had been coated with Shadow magic of some sort.”
“How many were over there?” Alayne asked quickly.
“Probably another twenty or so.”
“That’s a pre-Ascension ritual,” Alayne explained excitedly. “If we can disrupt it and kill them, then we won’t have to worry about anything other than those who have already completed the ritual.”
[Story continued in next post]
Alayne was glad when the fighting was over. She’d managed to convince the guards at the devices that she was a messenger sent from the masters with orders for them to stop the rituals and report to the leader in the chamber above. They’d been irritated at the forced delay but dared not disobey. Alayne had led them into the room with her friends hiding off in the shadows and then following behind the group. Once the cultists were in the chamber, cut off from the others, they had attacked. Stopping up the entrance – which was also the room’s only exit – they had managed to rain fire, frost, and lightnings down on the cultists as well as their leader in Vashj’ir.
The sin’dorei woman picked through the bodies, searching their pockets for idols or other emblems that might be of use later on. She also confiscated all of their papers – whether they were lists or letters or books – in hopes of finding out more about what the Twilight’s Hammer planned for the rest of the world. She vowed that they would not be caught so unawares again.
Once they were finished, Ger’alin and Zerith piled the bodies off to the side. Once they had finished with the rest of the cult, they would come back and see that the corpses were set to the torch. Taking a few moments to catch their breath after the fight, they pondered over what to do next.
“I still say that bringing them back to this hallway is our best option,” Callie muttered.
“I’m inclined to agree,” Ger’alin added. He did not like the changes that Alayne had suggested.
“Ordinarily I’d side with you,” Zerith sighed, “but Alayne’s plan is a good one. If we can disillusion enough of them, get them to switch to our side, then we can probably get more information and will have people who can help us with future infiltrations.”
“There’s little danger to it,” Alayne sighed as she rose and knuckled her back. “If the worst comes, I’ll be here with you all around me. We can still cut them down. Most are little more than farmers. The Twilight’s Hammer does not draw its numbers from the most powerful or the most educated. No doomsday cult does. Even the Burning Legion has only a few truly powerful mortal members. Those who are actually useful are generally warped and changed into demons of some station. Like the felbloods,” she shuddered. Ger’alin patted her on the shoulder and shook his head. He still did not like this plan but he had no real arguments against it. Alayne glanced at him once more for reassurance and he nodded. She then collected the robes that she’d stripped from a human woman who was about her size and quickly changed into them. Ger’alin and Zerith both wished there had been a cultist of their size so they could accompany her. However, both men were far taller than human men and broader through the shoulders.
Alayne walked back around the central chamber and came down as if she had been among the cultists preparing for Ascension. She walked up the iron stairs into the building and then went down into one of the basements, her head high and shoulders straight as if she had every right to be there. No one questioned her as she sought out those in charge of the final steps of the Ascension. No one questioned her when she asked to speak with those men and women alone. No one questioned her when she walked out of the chamber, cursing the blood that stained her robes. Such betrayals were common within the Twilight’s Hammer.
Ascending the stairs to the rise that overlooked the congregation, Alayne raised her hands. The cultists turned their attention on her, prepared for a speech that would inspire them to rise to Ascension themselves. Instead, Alayne called upon the twisted magic that had once been all she had wielded and flung it at the three Ascended beings in their midst. Banishing them from the material plane, she gazed down calmly upon the confused cultists.
[Story continued in next post]
A few of the cultists appeared to be nearly convinced by her words. Others were angered and began to rush towards her. Snaring them in chains of ice, she waited patiently. She was not above using a demonstration of her own power to sway them if needed. She wished that their leaders had been amendable to reason. She hated having had to kill all of them. However, the higher one rose in a doomsday cult, the more likely it was that one was insane and thus impervious to persuasion by logic.
“Listen to her,” Ger’alin’s voice rang out from the far back of the chamber. Alayne nearly yelped in fright. He was supposed to have remained waiting in the upper chamber. “She speaks the truth. Already both the Alliance and the Horde have gathered armies beneath the surface. All of your other strongholds have been destroyed. Your cult has been driven out of Mount Hyjal and Ragnaros himself has been forced back to his home plane to lick his wounds. Deathwing will not be able to stand against us, let alone that poor dupe of his, Cho’gall.”
Alayne sighed as some of the cultists began to swarm up towards her. Madness shone in their angry eyes. She had hoped it would not come to this.
In the end, only a few of the cultists had remained unconvinced. After they had killed the Ascended, most had fallen meekly in place. Ger’alin tried not to grit his teeth. If they were stronger-willed, they would not have fallen for the Twilight’s Hammer’s blather to begin with. He supposed that meek and mild was the best he could hope for from them. They had rejoined their peoples silently, sent back to their families by the Earthen Ring. Ger’alin tried not to complain loudly that the cultists they had been fighting were allowed to return to the surface while those of them who had been stuck in the depths unwillingly had to forego such a privilege.
Slumping down sullenly in the sand, he grunted to try to catch Alayne’s attention. She was going over the notes she’d made from the information gathered from the cultists. “I don’t like this at all,” she muttered to herself. “It’s going to be very, very dangerous.”
“Still uncertain about Neptulon?” he asked.
“I’m uncertain about all of them,” she replied. “Neptulon…what little is known about him says that he’s very unpredictable. He’s also extremely powerful – especially when he’s in his element of water. He can cleanse or befoul waters with just a thought. And, the Titans imprisoned him within the depths for a reason. He used to serve the old gods before they were locked away. I’m not certain what he’ll think of us mortals.”
“We’ll have to risk it. I’d rather clear the naga out of this entire area first but clearing them out of the temple and possibly getting Neptulon on our side might be a good idea.”
“If he’d deign to get involved in mortal affairs,” she grimaced. “For all we know, the naga have been placating him for centuries. They could be his favored worshippers.”
“Then why would they and the Twilight’s Hammer seek to imprison him in his own temple?” Ger’alin said, pointing out the flaw in her reasoning. “If they were on such good terms with him, then getting him to go along with their schemes would not require imprisoning him and setting his own creatures against him.”
“Perhaps,” Alayne conceded. “Still, breaking into his temple is going to be difficult.”
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Alayne rolled her eyes at the obvious sarcasm. “He’s going to see what he can do to help us. Apparently the waters are rather…active and dirty. If he can calm the elementals near the temple, we may be able to slip in un-noticed. They’re hoping to draw the naga out of the temple by disrupting the barricade they’ve got surrounding it.”
“I know what they’re hoping,” he teased. “I’m just trying to get you to smile. You haven’t done that in a few days. Are you still worried about the Twilight’s Hammer?”
“I imagine I’ll always be worried about them,” she sighed gustily, looking up from her notes. “They’re mad. And, I can’t decide if it’s just the average cultist that is insane or if the whole cult is insane. I’m going over their plans and their tomes and teachings and…it’s twisted. The mind that put this together is…I just can’t seem to understand it. And if I can’t understand them, I can’t predict what they might do or explain why they might do it. At least the cults for the Burning Legion and the Scourge were rational, after a manner of speaking. They wanted power and immortality. The Twilight’s Hammer wants power, immortality, and the complete annihilation of all other living creatures. They’re not even interested in enslaving us, for Light’s sake!” she spat, exasperated. Ger’alin reached up and brushed the lock of hair out of her eye. “If only they made the slightest bit of sense…”
“But they don’t,” he said consolingly. “And they never will.”
Alayne nodded sullenly in agreement and went back to her studies. Ger’alin let her be and began thinking about what little they knew of Neptulon’s temple. It was called the Throne of the Tides and few mortals had ever been allowed inside of it. They had a few sketchy maps of the temple. Ger’alin drew them out on the wet sand and began trying to guess how the naga might have fortified it and where their patrols might run. The entire structure was hidden beneath the ocean floor so there was little hope of being able to watch them from outside. From time to time, Alayne would glance up from her notes and make a remark about Ger’alin’s sketches. After a while, Zerith wandered over to drag the pair away for supper.
The next day went much the same. Alayne studied. Ger’alin planned. Zerith prayed. They were waiting and hoping that Erunak would be successful in gaining entry and that he might be able to determine what was transpiring within the Throne of the Tides. Focusing on that helped them keep their minds off the fact that they all desired a few hours of sunlight and fresh air more than anything in the world. When the next day passed with no word from Erunak, they were frustrated but not concerned. When two more days passed without word, their frustration turned to alarm.
“Where is she?” Ger’alin wondered angrily. Zerith shrugged his shoulders. Alayne had traveled to the Alliance cavern to speak with some of the remaining former cultists. She’d managed to get a rough idea of what the Twilight’s Hammer planned but was infuriated by the lack of uncovering their overall goal. She stubbornly refused to believe that the destruction of the physical world and the death of all the inhabitants therein was really their endgame. She felt in her heart that it was a smokescreen to hide their true intent. “She should have been back by now!”
“I am back,” Alayne muttered as she pulled herself out of the water. “It took longer than I thought. A few of them remembered overhearing something about the Bastion of Twilight in…” she trailed off.
“Did any of them know more about the Throne of the Tides?” Ger’alin asked calmly.
“No,” she admitted. “They left the Throne of the Tides largely to their naga allies. The few who would know about what is going on there have either gone back to the cult or are dead.”
“So, there’s nothing left but for us to go there ourselves and settle the matter. If Neptulon sides with the naga, we’ll learn soon enough. If he does not, then perhaps we’ll earn his favor by freeing him.”
“We should wait for Erunak…”
“He’s not going to return,” Ger’alin replied bluntly. “He should have been back two days ago. The naga may have him imprisoned as well. That’s another reason we should go instead of waiting and hoping.”
“Then let’s go,” she sighed. “Let’s get it over with.”
Zerith was vaguely uneasy about the decision to enter the Throne of the Tides. Like Alayne, he wanted to wait for Erunak to return. However, like Ger’alin, he understood that the shaman may be imprisoned himself. Still, the priest had little liking for the hasty plans Ger’alin had sketched out but without more information, he knew he could do little better himself.
Swimming through the dark night waters, they reached the gaping maw that would take them into Neptulon’s domain. A few shaman were stationed nearby, keeping an eye out for naga patrols or for their missing brother. The Disorder of Azeroth, tethered lightly together by ropes so they would not lose each other in the dark, swam into the abyss. Alayne muffled a shout when she felt the swirling vortex grab hold of her. Ger’alin, swimming near her, grabbed her and held on to her while the pair of them were pulled down into the sunken hole. The underwater whirlpool beat and tore at them savagely but with the blessings granted them by the Earthen Ring, they were able to ride out the violent currents until the tempest deposited them at the entrance of the Throne.
Ger’alin was the first to regain a sense of himself. Standing up in the brightly lit cavern, he stared at the entrance to the Throne of the Tides with unabashed awe. Graceful columns flanked an iridescent doorway. Spiraling up the blue-pearl columns were a mix of coral and sea flowers. Warm fires burned brightly from the torches, providing the first hints of cheerful light the paladin had seen since his ship sank. The air was warm and tasted slightly of salt. He helped his wife to her feet and the pair moved out of the way as Zerith, Sparxi, Tau’re, and Ruan’ok fell into the cavern. Once all of them were on their feet again, Ger’alin crept quietly over to the columns, climbed the stairs, and peeked inside. Seeing nothing but a long marble-paved hallway bordered by more columns, he relaxed. Motioning for the others to join him, he pushed through the doorway – a barrier made of some kind of transparent film that reminded the paladin of a jelly-fish – and entered the Throne.
“No naga in sight,” Zerith whispered as he entered behind Ger’alin. “Maybe this won’t be as difficult as we feared.”
No sooner had the priest spoken than the entire structure began to shake violently. Ger’alin stumbled and fell. The others, their legs still shaky under them, collapsed as well. Loose rock and dust fell from the ceiling, pinging against the cool, smooth floor and coating it with a light layer of debris. Swimming down from the levels of water that wrapped around the temple, naga poured into the hallway from portal-like windows cut out of the tops of the high walls. Once free of the water, the naga were likewise shaken by the temple’s trembling.
Ger’alin was again the first to regain his footing. Without waiting for the others, he rushed the naga, hoping to fall upon them while they were still disoriented from the shaking. He managed to kill the first two and was rushing down the corridor towards the last pair when bolts of fire flew past him. Alayne and Sparxi were up and running as swiftly as they could while casting their spells. Arrows joined the magical attack as Ruan’ok unloaded his quiver. The last naga were dead before Ger’alin even reached them.
Waiting for the others, they walked up the rest of the corridor together and climbed the stairs. A sand-covered room greeted them. Seashells and aquatic plants decorated the corners of the room, flanking the four entrances at each of the cardinal directions. Alayne saw movement out of the corner of her eye and turned her head. She reeled backwards several steps in shock, backing into her brother. Zerith grabbed hold of her before she could fall and turned to see what had startled her so badly. He blanched at what he saw and grabbed Ger’alin’s shoulder, wresting the paladin around.
Wriggling down the corridors perpendicular to the entryway were fat tentacles. Dusky purple, they moved as if they could sense the presence of others and were blindly fumbling their way towards the newcomers. Ger’alin and Tau’re grabbed the priest, mage, and shaman and hustled them into the doorway that was clear while Ruan’ok followed, keeping his eyes on the tentacles and his bow ready. Once they were in the next room, an eerie, shrill wail of frustration filled the temple.
“That’s not a naga,” Ger’alin said breathily.
[Story continued in next post]