I have murdered one of my own.
The thought hit Nozdormu the Timeless One the instant he saw the desiccated bronze dragon. Zirion had shriveled into a husk half his original size. Lesions covered his body from head to tail. Instead of blood, golden sand cascaded out of the wounds in unending streams upon which shimmered ghostly images of his life that had not yet come to pass. His future was bleeding out of him.
Nozdormu strode across one of the isolated peaks of Mount Hyjal to stand by Zirion's side, every moment of history rippling over the Timeless One's sun-colored scales. As he loomed over the dying dragon, a wave of helplessness flooded through him. An impenetrable veil had descended on the timeways, one that not even he, the Aspect of the bronze dragonflight and the Guardian of Time, could pierce. The past and future—things he had once seen with clarity—had become muddled.
"Where are the othersss?" Nozdormu craned his great neck toward Tick, who stood nearby. The loyal dragon had transported Zirion on her back from the bronze flight's lair in the Caverns of Time with all due speed, a feat possible only because of her passenger's withered state.
Tick's breaths were still labored from the ordeal. "He returned alone."
"How can that be?" Nozdormu growled in frustration. "Twelve I dispatched into the past. Twelve!"
He had tasked his agents with investigating the unsettling condition of the timeways, but now he couldn't shake the feeling that he had merely consigned them to their deaths. Upon returning to the present, the dragons were supposed to have met the Timeless One atop Hyjal precisely at midday. It was well past noon when Tick, whom he had not sent into the timeways, had arrived, bearing Zirion.
"What did you sssee, Zirion?" Nozdormu asked as he began weaving spells to reverse the sands of time escaping from the other dragon.
"I fear he has lost the strength to speak," Tick put in.
The Timeless One barely heard her. The impossible was happening: his magic was having no effect. His actions had been predicted and countered by equally powerful spellwork. There was only one being in existence who possessed the foresight and skill to best the bronze Aspect in the realm of time...
"When he first returned from the timeways," Tick continued hesitantly, "he recounted what he saw. No matter where he and the others attempted to journey in history, they always emerged at the same point in the future... the Hour of Twilight."
Nozdormu lowered his head and clenched his eyes shut. It was as he had feared. The strands of time had been gathered and pulled toward the apocalypse. In that gray and lifeless future, even the Timeless One would meet his end. That, at least, was what he believed. Ages ago, when the titan Aman'Thul had imbued him with his mastery over time, Nozdormu had also gained knowledge of his own demise.
"Who was responsible for hisss wounds?" The Timeless One knew the answer, but he hoped more than anything that he was wrong... that what he had seen was an anomaly.
"It was the infinite dragonflight and its... leader." Tick averted her eyes from Nozdormu.
I have murdered one of my own. The damning words echoed in the Aspect's head.
He had once thought the infinite flight was merely a symptom of an errant timeline. Yet, as inconceivable as it seemed, he had learned that he and his bronze dragons would in the future abandon their sacred charge—protecting the integrity of time—and work to subvert it.
Nozdormu mulled over the events of the past weeks, struggling to control his anger. He had been trapped in the timeways until recently, when the mortal Thrall had reminded him of the First Lesson: that living in the moment was far more important than dwelling on the past or future. The bronze Aspect had emerged from his captivity with a newfound understanding of time... only to find himself now confronted by his darkest fears.
"Forgive me," Nozdormu whispered to Zirion, not knowing whether his beloved servant could still see or hear. The wounded bronze cocked his head in recognition. He gazed from side to side until his dull and cloudy eyes locked on Nozdormu.
"Forgive me," the Timeless One repeated. Zirion's mouth stretched wide, and his body quivered. It almost looked as if he were laughing, but Nozdormu quickly realized that the other dragon was sobbing.
As the last of Zirion's future bled out of him, he used whatever remained of his strength to push himself away from Nozdormu, his eyes filled with terror.
Mount Hyjal thrummed with the sounds of celebration.
After a series of delays, the Dragon Aspects Alexstrasza, Ysera, Nozdormu, and Kalecgos had combined their magics with those of the shaman of the Earthen Ring and the druids of the Cenarion Circle to mend the ancient World Tree Nordrassil. More recently, word had arrived that Ragnaros—the elemental lord of fire, whose minions had sought to burn Nordrassil to ashes—had fallen at mortal hands.
Yet from where Ysera the Awakened stood in the Cenarion refuge at the base of the World Tree, the jubilation was a distant whisper. The Aspect of the green dragonflight heard only a tale of tragedy.
She was meeting with her fellow Aspects to discuss their next course of action against Deathwing, the maddened leader of the black dragonflight, who was responsible for shattering the world during the Cataclysm. Although Azeroth's defenders had recently triumphed in Hyjal and other regions, the tortured Aspect was even now scheming for ways to usher in the Hour of Twilight. So long as he drew breath, he would not stop until he had fulfilled his dark plans.
Instead of debating strategies, however, Nozdormu had recounted the death of Zirion and the infinite dragonflight's newest assault on the timeways. Wrinkles stretched across the Timeless One's otherwise smooth high elven face. He had, like his brethren, assumed his mortal form, a deed the Aspects performed whenever they were near the short-lived races that dwelled around Nordrassil.
"He wasss killed by my magic... by me," Nozdormu muttered. Ysera looked on, uneasy. Despite the Timeless One's horrific predicament, she couldn't help but notice how everything around her appeared distant. She floated between the waking world and the realm of dreams, anchored to neither.
"I must return to the meeting place." The bronze Aspect anxiously wrung his hands and fidgeted in impatience. "My other agents may yet arrive, but I do not know with certainty. I can only hope."
As Nozdormu turned to leave, Ysera frantically searched for words of comfort to offer him. He had clearly resigned himself to his fate. Aman'Thul had tasked him with upholding the purity of time no matter what harrowing events had taken or would eventually take place. On some level, the Timeless One's charge seemed wrong to Ysera, but she was not one to question his duties.
What do you say to a being who would do anything to protect the dragons of his flight, but now holds himself accountable for one of their deaths? she pondered. Her mind was a storm of fragmented thoughts. It was as if she were standing in a vast library ripped apart by a hurricane. Pages brimming with ideas and images whirled across her vision, but they were all parts of separate books.
Before the Awakened could grasp hold of anything meaningful, Nozdormu had left. An eerie silence followed. The night elves who normally inhabited the druidic haven were gracious enough to vacate it during the Aspects' meetings, but the absence of bustling life gave the place a cold and hollow feel.
"Whether or not the infinite flight is working in concert with Deathwing matters little," Alexstrasza the Life-Binder, Dragonqueen of her kind and Aspect of the red flight, finally said. "The reason we have all agreed to stay in Hyjal is to strategize about how best to deal with him. The timeways conundrum is just further evidence that we must act quickly. Kalecgos, has your flight continued its research?"
"We have." The Aspect of the blue flight cleared his throat and straightened his back. Kalec's amiable demeanor had become strangely formal of late. He was the youngest Aspect, recently chosen to lead his flight after its former leader, Malygos, had died. Ysera surmised that Kalec was trying to prove his worth to his fellow Aspects, when in truth they already saw him as their equal.
Kalec swept his hand through the air, and a series of luminescent runes winked into existence, each detailing experiments his flight had conducted. The blues had scoured the ancient vaults of knowledge stored in their lair, the Nexus, for insight into Deathwing's weaknesses. Kalec's dragons were the stewards of magic, and if there was an answer hidden in the arcana, they would find it.
"We recovered portions of Deathwing's blood from the elemental realm of Deepholm, where he hid for many years. The samples were small, but they were large enough for our tests."
"And what of the results thus far?" Alexstrasza's voice was thick with anticipation. It was the most hopeful Ysera had seen her sister throughout these fruitless meetings.
"When we infuse the blood with arcane magic—an amount that would tear apart any other being—it only enrages the samples. The blood splits and boils, but ultimately it reforms."
"Not even arcane magic has an effect." The Life-Binder hunched her shoulders.
"But this is just the beginning of our tests," Kalec quickly added. "I believe we must have a tool at our side when we face Deathwing. Numbers, no matter how great, are of little help. We require a weapon... like none that has come before it. My flight will not rest until it solves this predicament."
"Thank you." Alexstrasza turned to Ysera. "Have you received any visions of note?"
"Not... as of yet," she replied, slightly ashamed. During these meetings, the Awakened often felt like nothing more than a fly on the wall. The titan Eonar had granted her dominion over nature and the lush primal forest realm known as the Emerald Dream. For millennia, she had lived there as Ysera the Dreamer. Just before the Cataclysm, she had been roused from the Dream. Ysera the Awakened, she was now called. Her eyes, so long closed, had opened, but she found herself wondering what she was supposed to see.
"Keep us apprised if anything comes to mind." The Life-Binder smiled, but Ysera sensed her anxiety. "We will reconvene again on the morrow."