On Torture

The last war taught me a lot. Certainly more than I ever thought war would teach me. The importance of friends. Family. Unity among whole peoples is necessary if we are to ever develop. It’s what allowed the triumph over Garrosh and his forces.

But too many died, and unless we go forward as changed people, too many will keep dying. I have learned, at great cost, the importance of maintaining one’s calm and focus, and of the necessities of hope, humility, and mercy, even in the heat of the strongest battles.

Mercy and understanding. There have been those in the past that defied mercy, that took victory at all costs and revelled in death and pain. Some say that such people do not deserve mercy.

I disagree. Some have committed horrible crimes, and it is these crimes to which I turn next. But if we commit horrible acts on these criminals – what makes us different? How do we rise above them? How can we claim a moral high ground?

There is inspiration for these thoughts. Recently, as part of an operation wrapping up Garrosh’s crimes, the Convocation of Elrendar – the organisation to which I belong – began a search for the Arcweaver Genmal, who under Garrosh had led a project known as Grom’s Blood, which had created a brand of orcish supersoldier.

As resources had become scarce, these orcs had become increasingly volatile and unstable, with random powers and hugely shortened lifespans. A heightened agility and resistance to magic turned into vulnerability to fire, and hugely unpredictable forces.

The project had been closed after Garrosh’s defeat, but Genmal had fled before the assault on Orgrimmar had even begun, and taken refuge within a goblin corporation responsible for a slave-trade which supplied Genmal with orcish refugees in exchange for soldiers. Exposing this trade after a skirmish with Kor’kron loyalists took us from the Barrens to Booty Bay. Genmal’s creations littered Jaguero Isle and the Ruins of Zul’kunda. Hastily allying with defectors from the ethereal prince Lexxal (former supplier of the Crimson Hand) and a nationalist group of ex-Hellscream’s Reach soldiers, we uncovered Genmal’s hiding spot at the Crystalvein Mine.

While we cleared Zul’kunda of the remaining orcs and set about destroying Genmal’s work, the Reach instead set about the troublesome task of breaking into Genmal’s hiding place – an initiative that resulted in all their deaths.

Eventually, we captured Genmal. But the charges stacked high against him, easily as high as those of Sorlain.

Torture, given the immense physical pain his test subjects suffered – all unwilling after Garrosh’s power system collapsed. Murder, certainly, and coercion, and his support of Hellscream through his projects.

But what punishment do his crimes deserve? I am hesitant to call for death. To one who has done so much evil, death is a form of mercy, a form of vindication – the kind of people who commit these crimes do not care whether they live or die. Death will not make someone understand their trespass.

But we cannot just do to them as they do to us. I have learnt enough from Pandaria, from Garrosh, to know that such an option is never right. There needs to be a separation between judge and culprit, or the judge becomes just as guilty.

It’s disappointing to know that so few among my colleagues agree. That they would put Genmal through intense mental pain, intense physical pain and intense emotional pain all at once – and that they did so without hesitation in the heat of battle. In the aftermath, Genmal looks like any old orc war survivor – beaten, broken, aged.

But I have to live with the fact that, when faced with him, my colleagues crushed his creations – potentially redeemable orcs – to break his spirit. That they broke his legs with magma to stop him getting away. That they inflicted intense hallucinations of pain on him to drain him mentally.

It is unacceptable, and it is unforgivable that I did not stop them.

To move forward, we have to know that we are better than those we fight – and act like it. As horrifying as war is, I cannot excuse torture, even in the face of all the suffering Genmal inflicted on dozens of orcs who we were forced to kill out of mercy. Genmal does not understand his crimes. But making him understand through making him a victim of similar crimes? How can anyone condone that?

So I am resolved. I was resolved when I left Booty Bay to find Liferoot to make into a poultice for Genmal’s legs. I was resolved when I induced sleep to try and ease his pain. And I will be resolved in resisting every attempt to further harm him.

I will not be damned to repeat the crimes I fought so hard against, and I will not let my friends and colleagues damn themselves by partaking in these crimes – or by looking the other way. If we ever learn anything from war, it must be how to improve.

Otherwise, what did we fight for?

Shattered Heart: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Rapture

Cimmeria

Cimmeria looked out over the forest. Thanks to the efforts of the Evergrove druids, it had steadily expanded in recent years – which meant more hunting grounds for her brood. She was thankful. The brood had suffered hard times since the War in Outland had concluded, but things were beginning to pick up. It was a welcome boon, especially with Sabellian’s malaise.

A bright flash of light caught her eye from the canyon below, distracting her from a rather tasty basilisk. Opting to swallow it whole, she licked her lips and sauntered over to the edge, peering into the depths of the Bladespire territory.

An unusually large group of smaller humanoids gave her pause for thought. Figures in dusty twilight robes circled around a large procession of ogres, surrounded by tendrils of shadow magic.

They’re heading the same way as the gronn Sabellian noticed. And those are Twilight robes. Cultists. This is too coincidental to just leave uninvestigated.

“Nighteye, lead the others back to Sabellian when you are finished eating. I need to see what’s going on in the canyon.” Cimmeria barked her orders at the nearest drake, who nodded before turning back to a stag corpse. Cimmeria charged off the edge, gliding into a shaded gulch, where she landed and assumed her mortal form, a thin draenei with pupil-less eyes. She moved closer to the group, keeping to the shadows afforded by the large spires above.

Maybe Sabellian was right. I wonder if vindication might get him to stop his sleeping all day.

Although she did not let on, Cimmeria was concerned for Sabellian. They had been clutch-brother and clutch-sister, but since the freeing of Outland and the death of Gruul, Sabellian had… lacked purpose. Few required black dragons on the shattered world, and fewer wanted them.

Now, more often than not, Cimmeria had to direct and care for her brothers and sisters. Cimmeria suited leadership, but she would have preferred to have not taken over alone. On a good day, he had been the most energetic and logical of all the dragons on Outland, though his aggressive leadership style had left a lot to be desired.

This isn’t the future I had in mind either, brother. But if we don’t seize opportunity, what else is there?

The nonsensical proselytisation of the cultists was a dim murmur as Cimmeria followed, while all eyes were rapt upon the ogres. One, in particular, a two-headed mage wielding an elementium staff, held the group’s attention. The twisted and sickly metal hurt to look at, and Cimmeria glanced down, noticing a tome by the ogre’s feet. It was positively ancient, and the power it radiated made the young dragon feel sickly.

She was quickly getting a bad feeling about this situation.

Then the earth cracked.

Sabellian

Uninterested in the hunt, Sabellian remained atop the bluff, occasionally turning his head to shield his eyes against the dusty wind. His scales baked in the unending heat. A considerable number of his scales were cracked or scuffed, and his whole manner showed signs of a lack of personal attendance. There was no trace of a proud black dragon where he lay.

Once, Sabellian had aimed to free his brethren from the gronn and their overlord, Gruul. Thousands had died at their hands, and their corpses littered the mountains for years. But after the final victory, Sabellian felt empty. He had no more goals. No more aims. The only point of the black dragonflight now was to exist. Tales from Azeroth spoke of the evil of his flight, of how it served to destroy everything. That had only made him feel worse.

But one tale caught his ear. That of the noble dragons of old, who protected the earth and served the mortals. It was a distant hope. But it was hope.

The powers of the earth. The powers of Neltharion. The Earth-Warder of old. Sabellian scratched at the dirt with a claw, wondering. How does one claim such a power? Can it be claimed at all?

Sabellian had no idea. But he knew he had to try and understand the earth, to try and reclaim what the dragons had once been. The only problem was how to go about it, and so he remained where he lay, unsure of what path to take.

Several hours after they had left to hunt, with the evening sky now cool, the brood began to return, landing in small groups with their various meals. Sabellian counted them, as usual. He could name each as they flew overhead just from their scales. He had seen most of them hatch, and raised far more. He knew something was amiss from the anxious fluttering of the wingtips. Around ten minutes after the last batch flew in, he grew concerned.

Cimmeria’s not here.

Sabellian glanced around several more times, as half an hour passed without her return. The other drakes continued to eat, but glanced around warily. She had not said specifically what she was doing, and had given no indication of when she might return. Sabellian pushed himself to his feet, intending to go search for her.

Then the earth cracked.

Obessia

They took refuge in the mountains north of the Dark Portal. A majority of them had survived, but at a steep cost: They had lost two of their wisest and strongest fighters, and many more were injured.

Outland. This should be different. This should be what saves us.

The harsh red soil of Hellfire Peninsula was unlike anything Obessia had encountered in her short years. The earth did not cower or bend before her kind; if anything, she could feel its strength, constantly pushing back against the forces that could never quite tear it apart. It was as though her spirit was butting heads with the earth itself, an earth that was so strong it would not let a single speck of dust go.

It felt… liberating. The earth here was not her enemy – every day in Azeroth it had felt like she were destined to fight the earth. Within Draenor lay a new being, a foreign being – and it was a worthy opponent. She had never encountered the feelings of mingling with the earth spirits this way – though she doubted that any of her contemporaries saw the spirits in such a way. She was unsure if any of them could feel the spirits at all. It certainly didn’t seem like they cared for them.

Then the earth cracked. She could feel it gasp in pain, seeing the paper-thin rivulets opening between her feet as her vision expanded in a way she’d never known was possible. Her head felt like it was under extreme pressure.

The earth is crying out… in pain.

Shattered Heart: Chapter 1

Prologue

As the Hammer sought to strike Azeroth into pieces, Azeroth fought back. With Cho’Gall dead, Deathwing’s forces on the back foot, and the balance of the Aspects shifting to adapt to a changing world, the only thing certain was more change.

The Black Flight had been pushed back – decimated in Hyjal, shot down in Uldum, forced out of Deepholm, obliterated in the Highlands, and with their end, the Hour of Twilight was falling, dragon by dragon by dragon. The last broodmother lay dead, all their eggs destroyed. There was no hope for their survival. Few realised that then, especially with Ragnaros still ascendant, reaping the benefit of thousands of defections to his cause.

Those that realised that the end was fast approaching fled.

First they flew by day, and then by night, as the forces working against them became stronger. The forces of the world were more resilient, forged by the fires of destruction into untouchable iron. The civilians who would have cowered in their houses were now heroes who struck back by arrow, sword, dagger and spell. Flight became dangerous quickly, and cloaking became a necessity. Their millennia-long knowledge of hiding spots faded as the shaman gained the trust of the elements, turning every cave and cavern against them through the world-altering powers of Nordrassil. Even their powers of magma and fire waned as the Gods they once served abandoned them for other pawns.

Dreams of offensives and vengeance slipped away. Defense became barely possible, as suddenly every flight was a desperate struggle for survival. They relied only on fleeing. The proud Black Dragonflight was shattered, the remnants forgetting who they were, the power they once held, as the odds became insurmountable. They ran. From their allies, their enemies, their wounds, their heritage, their power, their control, their being.

There was only one place where they could hide. The one place where they had hidden before, sheltered by Deathwing, once a powerful manipulator, now a husk of chaos and destruction, more a force than a being.

Outland. Rumours persisted of dragons hidden away there, removed from time and concerns with mortals. As they passed over the Morass, only one problem spot persisted. The most militarised area in the Eastern Kingdoms, and for good reason. The Dark Portal.

~~~

Chapter 1: Escape

Serinar

“The Dark Portal! It’s there!”

Hush, young one. Stick to our telepathy. The mortals here are vigilant and will be alerted if they hear you.

Serinar was slightly impatient, but he could understand the fleeting joy of the young drake. Obessia was the youngest of their dwindling number. Their motley brood had experienced nothing but death and retreat since its formation following Obsidia’s death, and Obessia knew no true parenthood, having been stolen away before the clutch was obliterated by the Reds.

He shared internally in her blissful hysteria, angling down to signal the rest of the dragons to descend. The growing figure of the Dark Portal, illuminated by dim felfire and the occasional lightning storm, was an indication the brood had longed for weeks to see. It represented the hope that their lives wouldn’t be spent running away like rats – or end in soon, unavoidable death.

They had departed the Obsidian Dragonshrine with more than ten thousand in their number, but were now down to merely thirty. One would find fewer dragons in a brood lair. The falling numbers had been disconcerting even when they believed in the Hour of Twilight. When reality came, and the Hammer expected them all to die for a prophecy none believed would come to pass, they had abandoned the field. Now, the starkness of their situation was terrifying. An ironic fate for the bastard dragons who have wrought fear for ten thousand years.

Serinar was angled head-on with the Dark Portal, intending to head right through, when he noticed he could make out the shifting shadows on the Portal itself. The guards, crates and tents were illuminated by more than the occasional lightning bolt. And the illumination in the area was getting brighter.

The sun was coming up.

Serinar turned sharply in panic, heading instead for the abandoned depths of the Twisted Scar. Breaking the brood’s glide-only rule of the last twenty miles, he began to flap in a desperate attempt to pick up speed.

“We’re about to be seen!”

And you shall die, slaves to your worst imaginings.

The voice came from nowhere, echoing all around each of them, bouncing in their ears and roiling in their skulls. The prophetic ramblings of their scorned masters only served to push them on, but as they dove sharply over the portal and into the canyons below, they heard the bleary yells of orcs and humans, woken by their movements. A volley of arrows flew at them, felling a drake who had fallen behind.

“NO!”

Sabellian

Sabellian lay prone on the ground, as he did every day. With each circuit of the stars (the only way to tell time in Outland) he hoped and willed for some response. Some guidance as to what to do with his meagre flock. But there was nothing. No signal from the earth, the sky, from the voices in his head that had died away years ago.

Cimmeria, his junior by three years, nudged him with her claw. She was unamused. “You’re boring me with this, Sabellian. We need to go and hunt.”

Sabellian huffed at her, tendrils of annoyed smoke rising from his nostrils. “This is more important. These powers are ours by right. The lore of the mortals said so. We should use them.”

“We had those powers, Sabellian. Had. They were stripped from our kind before you or I were eggs in Sintharia’s brood. The longer you spend on this wild goose chase, the longer we go in these cursed mountains without food.”

“Anything we need, we hunt from the forests. Anything we cannot get, we steal from ogres. Are you happy with that existence? Because if we follow your suggestions, it’s all we’re ever going to be. “

Sabellian’s gaze shifted from Cimmeria, looking out over the Blade’s Edge Mountains from the top of their plateau. No one had reached it except migrating birds. A pack of dark spots on the scorched earth caught his attention. “The Gronn are on the move.”

Cimmeria cocked her snout derisively. “We are wild animals, Sabellian. We were born this way in a world that does not care, and we shall die so. And why should we care? This plateau is inaccessible for any others. We are safe here.”

Sabellian narrowed his eyes at her disinterest. “The Gronn never migrate. They always have enough food, and there’s less food in the north.”

“Perhaps they’ve come to join the Hammer. More food for us.”

Sabellian pushed himself into a sitting position, exposing his dusty and scarred forelegs. He shook his head. “No, the orcs and draenei hunted the Hammer out of Outland months ago.”

Cimmeria scratched the ground, sharpening her claws. “They’re probably just following migration patterns-”

Sabellian snapped at her, baring teeth. “The Gronn don’t migrate, Cimmeria.”

“Oh? What are you, a library?!” Turning her back on him, Cimmeria stalked off, flicking her tail in anger. “You may be old by our standards, Sabellian, but you haven’t been here long enough to see a gronn’s lifecycle!”

Sabellian grunted, returning to his position on the ground, gazing at the earth. He remained, starting at it, long after the sun had set and the others had gone to sleep. He barely felt the hunger.

Serinar

The midmorning sun glared down at Serinar and his tattered brood, licking their wounds in the salt canyons of the Tainted Scar.

One of the drakes closest to him grunted in pain. “What are we to do now?”

Serinar stared at the ground, leeting out a resigned sigh.

“We have no choice but to wait until nightfall. We can cloak ourselves and go through the portal.” The assembled dragons began searching for food and shade.

Obessia, however, walked over to Serinar, sitting beside him. It was a few minutes before either said anything, him staring at the ground and her gently picking at several loose scales. She focused her violet eyes upon his own until he met her gaze.

“Is there nothing we can do to heal the injured?” She inquired.

Serinar glanced at her, sighing again. He had had this conversation a thousand times over with broodlings in the Shrine, forced to drain the hope out of each one’s eyes individually. He shook his head at the young drake.

“We have no healing powers, Obessia. We are defenseless against war, because we are war. Our nature is to strike back, to hit first, to ensure that the enemy cannot get up and hit us back. And now we cannot do even that.”

The drake glanced down at the floor, narrowing her violet eyes before looking back up. Obessia’s appearance made him nearly jump. The hope he’d seen drift out of the drakes he’d sent to his death was still there, even as death lingered perhaps only hours away. A steely determination had wrapped itself around the glint of hope in her eyes.

“It is your fate, perhaps. But we are not consigned fates at hatching. We create them, Serinar, and I am not just a machine built to destroy. I breathe. I live.”

Serinar looked up into the sky, the bright sun blinding his vision. “It is too late for most of us to think about fates other than death now. Perhaps, if we make-”

A wild draconic roar sounded from the north, so unnaturally loud and omnipresent that it made the drakes screech and scatter in terror. It was the roar of an angry dragon, hungering for vengeance. Then another sounded, closer and louder. And another. And another.

Obessia’s mouth opened wide, but no words came out, her eyes flashing wildly in confusion. The dragons around had been shocked into silence by the number of the roars, which continued to grow.

Serinar was panicking as well. Years upon years of training and brainwashing to prepare the Black Dragonflight to destroy the world had never accounted for this situation. Never had any assumed that they could lose until it was too late. And now it seemed too late. “THE REDS ARE HERE!”

Sabellian

Sabellian clenched and unclenched his claws, staring over the horizon. He had tried for months to pull himself together, ever since the flock had come together in an attempt at self-preservation. Here, the dragons were wild beasts without powers, and they desperately needed each other to survive. Outland had become more aware. With the looming presence of Illidan and the Legion defeated, there was more confidence among the mortals. They were more easily able to defend themselves.

The black dragons were weak here, weaker than they had ever been, certainly weaker than the whelphood tales of black dragons that sowed terror on an alien world. A world that none of them would ever be able to visit, because the survivors spoke of the fury and the power that the mortals brought through the portal. The fear that gave way to anger in seconds when they sighted black dragons. The steel and magic that scales were powerless against.

Nesting in a mountain range with countless siblings impaled on spikes was not good for morale, but none of them dared leave him, dared challenge his word. For all his uselessness, Sabellian was the eldest among them – the only survivor to have hatched while Deathwing still dwelt on Draenor, the only survivor who was dragon rather than drake.

His survival gave him no hope. Sabellian felt like he was without purpose, without hope, without the power to affect his own destiny. Death would come soon enough. Cimmeria was strong enough to lead the others. She knew how to hunt and avoid detection. She could teach the others how to survive.

For now, the only thing keeping Sabellian going were the tales he had heard that the Black Dragonflight had once been protectors, masters of the earth. He had tried to protect people, tried to work for the earth, but there was nothing. But it was all he had – the glimmer of a hope of a possibility that he could recapture that destiny.

Serinar

“What do we do?”

“Where can we hide?”

“Do we fight?” “Do we run?”

“How many are there?” “How close are they?” How strong are they?”

The hysteric screeching of Serinar’s group rose above the approaching roars until Serinar regained his own voice..

“QUIET!”

The dragons stopped, each face a portrait of terror. Serinar looked around.

“There is nowhere that we can hide. There is nowhere left to run. If we stay here, we are all doomed. If we fight, we are all doomed. The only hope is the portal. But I cannot say whether any will make it through.”

The dragons went quiet, each immortal beast suddenly forced to consider a mortality that was minutes from ending. The silence was heavy.

The eldest dragons present, two wyrms named Nihalion and Pyrionis, stepped forward. Until its destruction by the Old Gods, they had guarded the Obsidian Dragonshrine.

Nihalion was the first to speak. His brow furrowed. “If some must die so that others may live, then I volunteer.”

Pyrionis nodded in agreement, his charcoal eyes wide with adrenaline. “We will distract the reds and the mortals. You will be able to sweep round and get through the portal before they notice.”

Serinar looked from one to the other, opening and closing his mouth in shock several times. “I will be sentencing more of my kind to death.” His desperation was read easily by the surrounding dragons.

“There is nothing left for us with you, Serinar. We are the remnants of a lost race. You may start anew. But we are old. ” Pyrionis intoned, his head bowed. “Let us go out in a blaze of glory. One last fight to show the mortals not to follow us.”

Serinar said nothing, almost catatonic. Obessia spoke up.

“Serinar, we do not have time to think or debate this. The reds are coming for us, and they will not wait for us to be ready. We go now, or we die.”

Serinar stared at the ground reluctantly for a few more seconds. Another volley of roars sounded, nearly overhead by now. He looked up and nodded grimly.

“Thank you, Pyrionis, Nihalion. We will remember you. Your sacrifice is not in vain.”

The two dragons nodded and roared as they rose into the air, barely drowning out the noise of the approaching red dragons. The remaining brood took flight and separated from the two wyrms.

As one, the brood flew out over the mountain range, the brood underneath the two wyrms. While the rest dove towards the portal, the two elder dragons circled upwards with a speed beyond their years, meeting the red attackers.

“You have each other. Do not give that up for any power. Goodbye, Serinar!” Nihalion yelled, on-course towards the red flight.

As the flock angled towards the Dark Portal, they saw the amassed Horde and Alliance troops awaiting them.

“Evasive manoeuvres!” Serinar called, twisting sharply. Magefire and arrows filled the air around them, and the roar of dragons and dragonfire echoed as the mortals scattered, their camps ablaze. Serinar shot head-on into the portal, ignoring the missiles flying at him.

This is our last hope. We can’t fail now.

Bloodied Heart: Epilogue

It’s over. We’re free.

Everything, in the end, came together. Everyone did become one.

We found Sorlain on the beach, the last of his power ebbing away alongside his fake arm, and quickly threw him in a cage.

Despite all our losses, a camaraderie blossomed between the differing forces as we brought together the survivors to be tried or freed from their condition. Sorlain would go on trial, as would Rith’len (who played the victim). Vyrael too, whereas Enala would be given a plea bargain.

With Denri Fiae likewise imprisoned for his last-moment change in allegiance, we set back off for Durotar, where Khairan’s trial would be held on neutral ground. The prosecution were to be the Silver Covenant, while Edanna and the slightly-recovered Thelnarion provided our defense.

The trial began rather predictably, yet grew more interesting – first by the arrival of Relcha Kim’belore from her self-imposed exile, then the return of Arlandria, which brought rather a lot of emotion to Khairan’s face.

The third arrival was that of Sorlain Amaran, called by the prosecution to explain exactly what had happened after it was established that the other Quel’dorei-summoned witnesses were hopeless. His wry contributions served to only incense both sides.

Following the prosecution, Edanna first called Coren Ledaal to explain the meteorite which formed the bulk of Khairan’s problems – having been responsible for the deaths he was on trial for. After that kerfuffle, we were further interrupted by the dramatic arrival of one Lady Belore’Shalarath, none other than Khairan’s mother, who promptly tore the Kirin Tor’s statements to pieces before settling down.

In the final coup of her closing statement, Edanna revealed the substantial changes to the Dalaran Penal Code, which would have facilitated a trial comprised of one-third Kirin Tor, one-third Silver Covenant and one-third Sunreaver jury along with a Kirin Tor judge, essentially damning Khairan had it not been for the intervention of the friends we had made among the Alliance in recent months. The judge offered Khairan his own punishment: shackles which would restrict his magic, along with a control device which Edanna would control.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the accused is not the same man who committed the crimes the prosecution accuses him off. The gross misconduct at play does not speak for their desire to do justice but for petty vengeance. And I urge you, if you were to learn one thing from the accused, is that you can pick yourselves back up. You can be the people who helped us slay the Lich King and accepted the Sunreavers regardless of their race or you can continue down the path you’ve taken right now and end up like your second witness. But I am not here to judge you, I am here to judge Khairan Sunshard and the most fitting sentence of all would be to allow him to carry on. To seek repentance on his own terms. Still, measures need to be taken. We… We initially created these bindings with the intent to hold powerful demons more likelu to assume humanoid shape. While they may not be quite appropriate they’ll at once be a reminder of your actions, an incentive to move forward and a method of preventing anything like what happened at Dalaran from recurring.”

With Khairan’s trial concluded, we moved on to that of Chernow Jarath, whom we’d apprehended months ago. Rather surprisingly, I was invited to speak, as was Maerithryn Shari’fal, Thelnarion’s grandfather.

A surprise. But I can give it my best shot and let him know that I will have my eye on him, even if he walks free.

“The forces of Chernow Jarath’s house have been pursuing genocide against the Amani for centuries. The cloak on show is a prized trophy, but by Chernow’s own admission, one of many. It is comprised of a handful of the most attractive troll corpses. It alone indicates the campaign that would have been similarly pursued against the Darkspear with as much hatred had Jarath been allowed to succeed at Razor Hill.

This elf’s daughter was taught to create these trophies for the sole purpose of mocking the dead, aggravating the spirits and the loa they served. That much is obvious from when we served under him, seeing how his forces showed no hint of mercy in decimating and burning whole villages, making a sport of killing the old, young and infirm as they tried to run or surrender. This goes beyond petty hatreds between troll and elf. This is a pure evil that shows how Jarath would not hesitate to slit each troll throat here if he could, and how he is a threat to all trolls.

In their captivity, neither he nor his forces showed the slightest hint of regret, remorse or doubt that they were on the right side. I contest that the elf should be found guilty of all his crimes against the Horde not just for the fact that he committed them, but because his power and influence over many elves makes him a considerable threat to the honourable peace between our peoples that we have worked to restore. He must be made to learn the extent and impact of his crimes on the world, and to regret and repent the shame he has cast upon troll and elf peoples.”

Despite our efforts, Chernow walked free. I was filled with fleeting rage, and as soon as it was there, it as gone.

Tomorrow is another day. Chernow is weak, and we are untouchable. He will not soon risk our ire, and he will find less support in future for his campaigns.

Our business in Durotar complete, there was nothing to stop us from returning home, for the Convocation of Elrendar had technically ceased to exist.

~~~

The sun grows bright overhead. The shore of Eversong has been visible for several hours, but now it is truly visible.

Each tree twists and stretches in the mid-morning sun, the vibrant leaves shimmering with colour. The air is sweet, like dew mixed with sugar, and a cool wind blows across the boat, the sails gently swaying.

Whatever comes tomorrow, I know that we all have today – and we have all learnt to be grateful for it.

Uprising: Finale

We are one.

The sky was clear the first morning we camped in Crystalsong. The Crusade had left the Tournament grounds until they could move back in in force, when things were safe again. The whole forest remained oddly calm for the two-day conference, with the accounts of the Tournament’s destruction easing tensions between the various groups:

Firsandal Sehsel, in charge of the accumulated Sunreaver and Silvermoon forces, aiming to free the nobles (his uncle Verian included) from Sorlain’s captivity.
Eleane, the Kaldorei in charge of Stars’ Rest, who was seeking to reclaim her own captured rangers.
Fritz, the gnome commanding the Fizzcrank Airstrip, with no real aim, but a valid regional power.
Agmar and Bor’gorok, in charge of the orcish settlements that bore their names.
The triumvirate in command of Warsong Hold, which we later discovered had been reduced to just one, a Taunka named Tavir, after a Crimson Hand ambush en-route.
Josias, the commander of Valiance Keep, and by extent, all the Alliance forces in Northrend.
Feytan Snowpall, the elderly leader of the Kirin Tor forces in the region.
Evy’lin, the shadow knight whom we had grown to hate for her consistent interference under Elient Darkstrike. We were all quite aware that her aim was the cause of all our problems: the Korune gem which she had forged into a headpiece for Sorlain, and which provided most of his powers.
And of course, a council of our own leaders – Edanna Kal’es, Anrithen Eirvaness, and Sathreyn Duskwalker, who had held the Convocation together during the turbulent months of the last year.

A plan was settled upon rather quickly. Utilising Sehsel’s homing missiles, we would fire at and destroy the last few bloodcrystals that the Hand had split between their forces. Half the army would proceed west towards Sholazar (the last known location of the airship) and the remainder towards the Grizzly Hills, where two sections of the Crimson Hand fleet had been spotted.

Before our departure to the Grizzly Hills via Zul’drak, I, Khairan and Edanna set off for the closest of the giant trees within Crystalsong. Spanning hundreds of feet into the air with a majesty that rivalled that of Nordrassil, each was a stunning imitation of the world tree, preserved in a crystalline formation that undulated with a thousand glittering shades of arcane purple during the height of the day. Once a holding of the Green Dragonflight, the trees had been permanently altered into their mana-enriched state in an immense battle between the Black and Blue Dragonflights during the War of the Ancients. With the Black Flight slaughtering what remained of the Blues, legend holds that a spell cast by one of Malygos’ lieutenants ignited all of the essences of the fallen drakes, causing a permanent alteration to the landscape.

The trees incidentally formed a perfect staging ground for one of the plans we had for the ship. In anticipation of the wards that were necessary to keep a gunship of that size in the air, we had formulated a plan to use the draining and volatile nature of mana wyrms to rupture the wards. With a ship of the Cloudbreaker’s size, the wards would be huge – and consequently, we were going to need many many worms. The nearly limitless mana of the Crystalsong trees was the perfect place for controlled breeding of thousands of wyrms for the task.

With our forces having convened and with the tactics shared, we set off south. In the wilds of Grizzly Hills we faced several ambushes by the dwindling ranger forces of the Hand, culminating in a battle with the remaining Hand ships in the east at Venture Bay.

The artillery of ethereal golem and turrets fell incredibly easily, and the Hand force we fought was by this point half-composed of local fishermen that they had captured and controlled. Casualties, however, became certified when Evy’lin again got involved, exerting her own ‘influence’ over the forces of Gorgonna and Firsandal, causing them to charge head-first into a hidden Crimson Hand group. My own magics failed against the Eclipse Magi, forcing me into a comatose state, and with no one to avert the collision, considerable death was inflicted upon all (Verian included) before an arcane bomb detonated at their location.

Despite the ensuing surrender of Boughstrider, one of Sorlain’s commanders, and all the rangers under her command, a near-diplomatic crisis occurred, with both Conquest Hold and House Sehsel’s forces crippled.

Our aims technically accomplished in the east, we sailed to Valiance Keep, the main staging ground of the large army we had accumulated.

~~~

The Crimson Hand drifted off the coast of the Tundra, waiting for battle as we did. Having stationed the wyrms in Coldarra, Edanna had already called them. Bolstered by Valiance’s own naval forces, as well as the remaining Argent ships and a last-minute boost from Silvermoon under House Fiae, our forces could have almost looked like a match for the massive goblin gunboat shielded by a row of hybrid elven-orcish ships, all bearing the Crimson Hand sigil.

This is it. This is our culmination. The time we win, and the time we show that Azeroth is not to be wronged by those who desire power.

I took my place where we stood atop the Farshire Lighthouse, addressing the gathered forces as a conveniently-amplified bout of troll drumming blasted out of the radio.

“I stand before you, if not as an equal, at least as an elf. There are those among you who detest my people. You have fair reason to. But that is not why we are here. For now, let your hatreds drift away.

We are here, all of us, to defend something dear to us. Our freedom, our loved ones, our nations. Whether dead or alive, we are fighting for those at home. Sorlain seeks, like Garrosh did, to create a world of domination, with himself at the pinnacle of a million brainless soldiers, each identical in serving his whim.

That is not going to happen. The fact that Sorlain has pushed us – willing or otherwise – into this coalition shows that it will never happen. It shows that the people of Azeroth will rise up to protect their freedom, their choice to ally and act as they will. It shows that you are all willing to put this freedom – freedom for everyone – above petty hatreds.

So forget why you dislike me. Think about the world you want to inhabit. The world you may want your friends and children to inhabit. It is a world better off without hatred and war, one in which we can make each other stronger without losing any part of ourselves. Sorlain does not understand this world, but we will bring his ship down and make him.

For Azeroth!”

On cue, brilliant fireworks burst overhead into the emblems of the gathered forces. The star of the Crusade, the Stormwind lion, the glaive of Darnassus and the eye of the Kirin Tor joined together with the wolf of Orgrimmar and the phoenix of Silvermoon. A massive roar echoed my own cry, as the forces took ship or flight. The first cannonballs roared out across the ocean, disrupting the calm. Above us, the clouds shifted and rippled, revealing themselves to in fact be our thousands upon thousands of wyrms, which quickly surrounded the now-visible gunship in a flashing blue cloud.

“That was inspiring, Keliera.”

“Thank you.” I paused. “In case any of us do not make it, I would like to state that I could not be more proud of the people I am going into battle with, and I would not do it with anyone else. Good luck to you all, and stay calm. There will be Korune on that ship.”

“I agree.” Khairan spoke first, and a happy bout of chatter about what we would do after this war over broke out as we ascended into the sky, cloaked by Edanna’s spells. Our ascent was joined by several illusions. Goblin rockets, gnome gyrocopters, orcish wyverns and Alliance gryphons were suddenly surrounding us in great numbers, adding to the magical confusion and the chaos afflicting the crews on top of the ship.

Sathreyn and Elient split off, aiming at the opening to the underbelly of the ship while the rest of us attempted to gain entry from above.

Fire shot through the sky as the aim of the turrets was completely distracted. The magi swept through the clouds of wyrms, each sapping the others’ strength. Taleberaite was shot down and I collided into him as the others landed, beginning to eliminate the remainder of the crew.

While we lay on the floor, Khairan and Edanna decimated the few turrets stationed atop the deck, tearing them to pieces and disrupting their firing, which caused the crew to scatter. Things began to calm down as we healed the wounded, the wyrms’ numbers decimated, with the remainder now proving pests only for the wards, while the other flying forces began to take over the cannons.

As we proceeded into the lift bound for the heart of the ship, Khairan leapt into the air. Flame wrapped around him and his entire skin began to glow. Everything became significantly brighter as he lifted up into the air before cannonballing into the deck, which melted and snapped before his power. As the lift headed down, we heard the distinct shriek of Ashel’ziar.

~~~

The air flickered as the wards surrounding the bottom entrance of the gunship faltered, parting briefly to let in the decelerating forces of Elient Darkstrike, her protégé Evy’lin and their accomplices, who numbered seven. All landing safely within the underbelly of the ship, they immediately drew the ire of two golems guarding the door into the rest of the ship.

Both sides opened fire upon each other as the golems charged, the sniper rifles of the group proving highly ineffective as the golems advanced. The group scattered, one of the members being crushed underfoot. His corpse snapped and rolled lifelessly back out into the open air. As the corpse dropped it was replaced by the airborne troupe of Sathreyn Duskwalker and his own forces, a motley yet well-trained crew of various races. The golems spun, their attention distracted from the elves they had on the run.

One of the golems hissed out a serious of indecipherable commands, the other charging for Sathreyn and immediately knocking him to his knees as the others dove for cover. Pinning him to the floor with its weight, the other golem advanced, pointing primed lasers towards his chest-

-and was immediately decapitated by the swing of Evy’lin’s sword, slicing through the mechanical limbs with ease and deflecting the blow of the lasers and throwing them across the room. The remaining golem, suddenly pinning nothing but air, attempted to regain its balance but the ensuing barrage from both sides pushed it out of the ship.

Recovering their positions, the two groups merged into one, each with the same intent: the recovery of the Korune gem from Sorlain. Proceeding through several rooms which comprised the outer edge of the large hold dedicated to the storage of the ship’s energy, they encountered little resistance from the weakened Crimson Hand forces. Reaching a centre point where the Hand were desperately trying to free two Cho’thaki. Sweeping them aside, Evy’lin effortlessly melded the locks back onto the cages, as Sathreyn’s own troops drenched them in oil before setting the orcish supersoldiers ablaze just as the main cannon fired, knocking them all to their knees.

Taking the lift up to the next deck, they found little in their way until encountering a large and trapped door. A fire mage within Elient’s ranks began melting the door into slag as sha tendrils whipped around the room, taking out more of the combined forces. Evy’lin stalked through the door, dissolving the tendrils into nothing, as they approached the elevator up to Sorlain’s command.

~~~

Taking the lift down to the other side of the hold, Edanna Kal’es, the Convocation’s remaining Archon, and Taleberaite Windblade, its military commander, proceeded likewise, to be met by the primary storage room of the remaining Cho’thaki forces. Miraculously left unattended due to the destruction being wrought on the other side of the ship by the covert forces, Edanna took the time to prime each cage to explode before teleporting herself and Taleberaite across the room and leaving the Cho’thaki to their fates.

Making their way through the wing, Taleberaite created a divine shield as they boarded the elevator up to the next wing – at which point they were fired upon by the surviving rangers of the Hand. As Taleberaite charged into the centre of the rangers, Edanna began to teleport around the room, wearing them down from afar. One by one, each ranger collapsed, exhausted or wounded, including Thialen herself, the former ally that had been captured and mind-controlled by Sorlain. As they completed their capture, the gun went off, throwing them to the floor.

With their passage complete, and the rangers secured as prisoners, both Edanna and Taleberaite proceeded towards the elevator that would take them up to the top of the ship, where Sorlain awaited.

~~~

From his hole atop the wing, Khairan oversaw both the engines in the back rooms of the ship, immense creations of ethereal technology that burned pure arcane dust to satisfy the wards and keep the ship afloat. As mana wyrms streamed in through his hole and began to cause havoc, he ducked down, avoiding the transport golems and workers as they abandoned their duties to try and fend off the wyrms. Priming his laser, he took aim at each cannon in turn, slicing them clean open and setting them ablaze.

As he pulled himself back through the whole, the engines swelled then ruptured, the whole ship shaking as the gun went off. The room filled with arcane flames in seconds, which quickly raced towards the fuel storage room. The ship shuddered as the power began to die and the ship slowly began to descend towards its ultimate end. Khairan surveyed the carnage once more before turning his attention to the throne room above, burning his way through the floor.

~~~

I proceeded alone into the final storage rooms of the hold. The sounds of battle and flame raged already, but this room was untouched.

Within, an eerie quiet pervaded, silencing the battle outside. There was no light.

‘Behold,’ A voice whispered out from the darkness.

The might of the Horde and Silvermoon is crippled. You are nothing in the world. What reason is there to continue?

The voice was unlike any I had ever heard. A deep, gong-like pitch matched by the force I could feel behind the words. I summoned all of the lessons to my mind I had learnt over the past year. I would not fall now.

‘The might of the Horde and of Silvermoon is gone, and good riddance. Power is not the equal of strength. It is what you do with your power that determines whether or not you are strong, and of that I say that the Sin’dorei have learnt. We are certain in our own position and strength.’

Your past is filled with ruin and anguish. Why go on when your loved ones are all gone?

‘We have all lost a great deal in this war, but we stand to lose even more. Now is the time to take action, to make sure that all of Azeroth needs not suffer a war like this again, to make sure that no one will need to go through what we did. Above all, to ensure that we must have hope for our future.’

Something snapped, but I could not tell from where. The shadows receded. I could see myself again.

You lie. Your feelings toward Garrosh are not that simple. You detest the Alliance for what it has done to your people.

‘No. You lie. I have never had time to hate the Alliance, for I have only had time for survival. Garrosh can be taught the error of his ways. I cannot hate, for that is what led to this war and all its atrocities. I will stay calm, focused on the bigger picture. The differences between the Alliance and the Horde can be mended if we all go forward together with peace and fellowship in our hearts.’

Another snap. The shadows drifted away, revealing Korune boxes crumpled on the floor, reduced to scraps.

The future is unknown. Terrible evil lurks ahead. Give in to your fear. Run away. The voice boomed from the far end of the room, still obscured in shadow.

‘And leave the fight to someone else? Not likely. The Sin’dorei have survived the Plague and the Scourge, and fought back the Lords of the Burning Legion alongside the rest of Azeroth. There is no need for fear. We have won time and time again. So long as we are the courageous ones, the Light standing before the dark. The beacon driving the fighters on.’

Another snap. ‘And what of your pride?’ The shadows receded, swirling into the huge figure as it stepped towards me. A mogu. ‘You are so confident in your victory, so assured of your success. Even now your world already grows fat and complacent.‘ It unleashed a barrage at me and I conjured my own, deflecting it into the wall.

‘Pride led to the fall of my race twice before. Never again. I live now knowing that I work for a better world, and that my being replaced is a sign of this world’s success. We shall never rest while there is hardship in this world. We must work constantly to ensure fairness. Anger, hatred, violence, despair, doubt and fear still rule in the world, but so long as we are humble and we serve a cause greater than ourselves we are duty-bound to scour those emotions from the world by helping the people within it before we help ourselves.’

The mogu unleashed a beam of pure sha at me, and emotions wracked my mind.

Silvermoon burns. So long as there is hope and courage in the world, we shall rise from the ashes of destruction. A better world will be built afterwards, a stronger world.

Theramore falls. I do not need to avenge or to fall to grief. I need to make this world a better place in the name of the fallen, a world fit for everyone to live in.

Lareen and Sorlain turn on us. Death and oppression are not the answers. Azeroth has changed. Peace can be achieved, and it is the answer.

The Convocation triumphs over Sorlain. This is our goal today, but it is not our true goal. We serve the world now. We all make it a better place. We never stop working or rest on our achievements. We take joy and certitude from them and use them as inspiration for even better achievements.

The mogu hissed as I redirected the beam back to him through force of will. ‘What of your people? Do you take pride in uniting the peoples of Pandaria against you? Anger at their betrayal? Despair at its inevitability? Hatred of the fact that they are better, or violence against their superior fighters? Do you fear them? Do you doubt yourself? Your people live in the past. It is time to rejoin the present!’

The mogu began to scream as the beam wracked it with its own failures, the Korune boxes lifting into the air and vaporising as the sha energy in the room dissipated. The whole place was beginning to shake. Suddenly my senses returned. I could hear battle again, smell smoke. The mogu fell to floor, defeated.

You cannot stop us, Sorlain. We have overcome these challenges. You have nothing left.

~~~

Down below, in the freezing waters of Northrend, battle raged on. Turbulence conjured by the Coalition shamans made things complex for both sides while they traded fire. Two Crimson Hand ships had sunk already. The others were scattered as the Coalition began ramming the goblin freighter while its troops leapt aboard. Despite their initial successes, Crimson Hand refugees streamed from all decks. The Hand commander, Rith’len, proved a decimating force, leaping from ship to ship. First she decapitated Tavir, the remaining commander of Warsong Hold. From there she leapt to Lirial Swiftmoon, Thialen’s second-in-command, who had called wild eagles to heckle the Crimson Hand – resulting in most of their sails being ripped to shreds. With Lirial unceremoniously strangled and thrown into the water, Rith’len turned her attention elsewhere.

Sorlain’s frequent commands boomed across the bay from Hand communicators, becoming increasingly frantic as Eleane directed the shamans to capsize two more Hand ships, leaving them outnumbered. Sharks swarmed the bay, called upon by the druids, making quick work of the Hand soldiers. In a bloody rage, Rith’len leapt straight to her, dragging Eleane by the hair and dropping her into the bay as she returned to her own ships – which she directed to fire, halving the Coalition ships immediately.

At this point, the sky lit up as Fritz’s gnomes upon the top deck of the ship gained control of the main guns. The water was suddenly ablaze, and the air stopped as the main gun swivelled to aim below. With the remaining Fiae ships being herded towards a rocky ending by the Crimson Hand, the gun fired, missing the Fiae by inches and pulverising all the Crimson Hand hybrid ships, leaving behind only the Morning Blade (Chernow Jarath’s vessel) and the goblin freighter from which a furious Rith’len was still firing.

Barely a second later, both of the hulking engines of the Cloudbreaker burst in bright plumes of fire, and the air rippled once more as the gunship’s wards began to fall one by one. The gunship shunted forward and the gnome gyrocopters began to quickly evacuate as the whole ship spun slowly in mid-air, beginning to steadily drift downwards towards the ocean.

At this point the remaining Fiae ships began to sail inexplicably towards Rith’len as their commander Denri Fiae switched sides. “Eh… Your majesty? My king? We… You proved your point, alright? We’re in position. Just give the order and we’ll fire on ol’ Sandal’s ship, okay? Please.”

Understandably horrified and confused, chaos erupted on the two Fiae ships as they drifted within the water, Rith’len pausing on her communicator while a mutiny broke out. Taking command, Firsandal Sehsel directed the remaining ships towards the Morning Blaze, quickly capturing it and surrounding Rith’len’s vessel.

~~~

Sorlain’s grand throne room was a miracle of engineering that managed to overlook the whole ship. Along the walls, countless captured nobles and other forces were chained to the walls, their free will totally removed. From his throne, Sorlain greeted the trio of Evy’lin, Elient and Sathreyn as they led the charge into the hall.

“So many of your forces are dead by my hands. You’ve chosen the wrong side.”

“You’re a hard man to pin down, dear. It’s over.” Evy’lin called out as Sorlain rose up to his full height, surrounded by the cloud of sha energy sustaining him. “Hand over the gem or draw your weapon.”

“You truly are hopeless. I don’t need the gem. I never needed the gem. Take it.” Sorlain removed the gem from his throne and tossed it towards the trio, where it shattered at their feet, totally drained of energy.

“He drained it all. Kill him.” Elient muttered, as the trio braced for battle, the brainwashed nobility and the golems already advancing. Their reinforcements quickly rushed in after.

“You think it’s going to be that easy? You’re all-

“fools, and you’re the biggest of the lot!” Edanna whooped as she and Taleberaite joined the fray. I followed shortly after to see her unleashing Jadefire which nibbled at Sorlain’s sha aura.

I began combat with a golem as Khairan burst through the floor and set fire to several nobles, before tossing fire at two golems approaching him.

Sorlain’s diatribe was continuously interrupted by Edanna as the two duelled with their words, at the same time as Evy’lin duelled Sorlain toe-to-toe and Elient and Sathreyn held the line. Across the room, Taleberaite began to blur, slicing through warrior after warrior. Meanwhile, I ducked around, blasting the sha tentacles I could see erupting from the floor. Khairan easily mopped up the corrupted nobility.

“If you can’t handle weak blasts like this, you’ll be really boned once the dice turn my way!” Edanna continued her mocking of Sorlain, and it looked to be having an effect. The sha cloud shrank before Sorlain slammed his sword into the floor, blasting us against the wall with a consecration of the entire room. By this point, most of his forces were dead.

The brief silence was marked by an incessant high-pitched noise much like a boiling kettle. The ship was beginning to feel the strain of its descent. We didn’t have long.

“How DARE you judge me?!” Sorlain glared at Edanna, who yawned, taking aim with her jadefire staff and firing.

The room shook as the disembodied head of Yu’lon erupted from the end of the staff, hurtling towards Sorlain with an immense roar as she bit down on him-

And Sorlain transformed her into a whirling cloud of sha which he sent throughout the room, ricocheting off the walls. The entire gunship was shaking and practically coming apart. Everything began to blur as Sorlain and Evy’lin charged through the room in their duel, the rest of us firing after them.

The sha were having too much of an effect, the metal of the ship twisting and warping (probably not helped by Elient’s saronite). The noise of its descend was becoming louder than the battle, and everything ceased to watch as the back of the room was wrenched off by the strain of the fall, fluttering into the sky like paper, while the sudden force of the wind threatened to drag us all out.

The flying agents began to shoot in and out, carrying us out one by one. The whole ship was coming apart by now, the metal making up the room wrenching and twisting off, flying into the air. Sorlain laughed as the wind swept him out entirely, the last of the sha dissipating as he was thrust out over the ocean. The throne room span and wrenched completely off, only Elient pausing to commemorate her dead before too leaping off onto the back of a wyvern.

From the air, we saw Sorlain as he dropped into the ocean with a muted splash, joined shortly after by the remnants of his throne room. Above, the main body of the ship broke up into three, the massive arcane fuel source igniting in a fierce explosion that tore the ship up further, the pieces falling across the Tundra and the bay.

It was over.

Uprising: Tournament

From the ashes of destruction, the Phoenix rises, twice as hot and twice as colourful as the aged bird it leaves behind.

“Got the message from Zul’drak a couple of hours back. Good of you to warn us.”

We were meeting with the High Crusader in charge of the Tournament Grounds, a man known as Adelard. We had managed to enter the depopulated grounds without encountering opposition, and quickly learnt that a small cadre of Crimson Hand ‘envoy’s’ were stationed in the former Ebon Blade tents.

“Speaking of the Blade, do they still control the Shadow Vault? If we could contact them-”

“I’m afraid not. The Blade disbanded after the Lich King’s defeat. The ones that remain are wandering the earth.” Adelard sighed.

“The Hand have communicators and bloodgems.” Khairan intoned over the communicators.

As the others discussed tactics with the Crusaders, I checked the exterior edge of the camp. Given how Sorlain’s military commander, Rith’len, had become involved with the Argents already, it was likely that Sorlain would attack soon once they allied with us. There were possible fronts from the west, where an old necromancer camp was located; the south, which opened up into the entirety of Icecrown; and the north, given that we knew that the Hand had boats. The east was less likely, given the mountains in the way, but as the Peaks were where the Hand were supposed to be, it couldn’t be ruled out.

Things were looking great. Still, the odds would likely swing our way if Sorlain attacked. Argent aid, in addition to the bipartisan army we had forged in western Northrend, would definitely outnumber the Hand.

~~~

“Ah, Kal’es. I’d advise you that it’s in your best interests to surrender or I shall be forced to attack.”

A hologram of Sorlain, Sha-tentacles and all, greeted our entry into the command tent in the morning. Sathreyn sat down on the floor, tinkering with a device identical to the projector Sorlain was using. An amusingly accurate doppelgänger sprang up.

“Cut the crap, Sorlain. If you cared for these people, you wouldn’t attack. And he’s threatened your forces now, so I take it that that means you’re on our side.” Edanna nodded towards the High Crusader, who looked relieved to not have to suffer through Sorlain’s ramblings alone.

“Regretfully… I must declare war… on the Argent Tournament.” The doppelgänger helpfully croaked. Sorlain glared at it, one of the tentacles on his crown vanishing.

“Enough. If you’re not going to see sense-

“You’re looking a bit ill, Sorlain. I guess you know that we found the primed mana bombs and the trainees you had primed to explode. Thanks.” She nodded at Sathreyn. I had no idea what was going on, but it seemed to put Sorlain off further. He took a breath to say something, but was interrupted once more by Adelard’s hammer tearing the emitter to pieces with a satisfying crunch.

“Couldn’t sit through any more of that.” Adelard grinned at Edanna. “I guess this is it then.”

“So, who’s ready for last-minute training?” I perked up, leading the charge outside. “I have ice traps readied along the western ridge, I believe you have scouts along the north, although I have yet to cover the south.”

The Crusade leadership, ourselves and some random android sent from Elient, who regretfully could not attend (my posterior she couldn’t attend, we were all aware that she’d already buggered off to try and kill Sorlain on her own with her saronite magic) spread out, just as word came in that Scourge were approaching from the south.

A legion of zombies as well as several repurposed Scourge siege engines greeted us, and I quickly scaled the tower and joined in the cannon-led bombardment. From the ground, the Argent troops held the line, slicing through oddly-weak scourge. Between us, I and Edanna covered them with snow, hindering them further. The meat wagons struck the tower once, and I fell back while one of the cannons collapsed.

“There are reinforcements approaching!” The sound of combat from the northwest drifted over as a second legion, bearing three more meat wagons and two cho’thaki cages, came to aid them. Levitating one of the meat wagons, I tossed it at them, scattering them and mowing down several more zombies. The meat wagons fired again as battle began anew, collapsing the roof of the tower. I levitated half of it, tossing at a cho’thaki cage to halt the zombies from opening it. Lirial reinforced this with her druidic powers, wrapping constricting icethorns around one of the cages, causing a cho’thaki to screech in pain.

I lifted up the rest of the roof, as well as a broken cannon, as another shot hit the tower. I tossed them at a cho’thaki cage, and the cho’thaki were quickly silenced by the battering. Evacuating the tower, we headed into the rest of the camp, where forces were still attacking the north and west.

In the western flank, I busied myself with gargoyles that were dealing significant damage to the hippogryph riders, as sha and undead attacked the Argent line. Sathreyn took point, creating a shield to protect the recruits from the Sha, while Edanna began a reinvigorating song.

The gargoyles moved at once. Their flight, their casting, right down to the blinking of their eyes. All the action happened at once and then it was like they froze, flickering in and out like a torch. Sorlain’s puppet-masters were doing poorly, and the same thing was happening with the undead on the ground. I began to conjure several scores of weak lights, coloured orange to resemble fireballs, and launched them at the gargoyles, using telekinesis to speed them up and make it appear like each gargoyle was being attacked on all sides. Sure enough, it worked, and they frazzled, the movement too much for their controller to cope with. Several crashed into each other and the reinforced Hippogryph riders, along with the android, took them all down-

bududududududududududu

-as a shower of arrows cut through the wings of the hippogryphs, sending half of them down to the floor.

“We’re under attack! Rangers, from the east!” I called out over the communicators, as the android charged off in the direction of the arrows, closely followed by Sathreyn’s troops. The undead had all been taken down, and the Crusaders maintained the line against the Sha, who were falling back with no negative emotion to cling onto. Edanna moved towards the cliffs to reinforce the Argent ships.

Bududu Bududuu Whuzzz

The mysterious noise got louder. The clouds above our heads were moving faster than normal.

No. He couldn’t.

Another shower of arrows came towards us from the south, and I called upon the arcane, creating a force barrier which reflected the arrows with ease.

“Something’s coming.”

Edanna rounded back in from the north as I attempted to detect where the rangers would teleport to next. Counter-spelling their teleport just in time, I pulled back their cloaking to reveal a cadre of Crimson Hand rangers. Caught by surprise, they attempted to flee, and Edanna quickly polymorphed them into turtles. Lightning flashed across the sky, and Sathreyn dashed into the valley to try and collect the turtles (who had all begun rolling towards their deaths).

WHUZZZZ WHUZZZZ WHUZZZZ

The clouds dispersed entirely, revealing in the twilight sky the shadow of an immense aircraft, bigger than any zeppelin we’d ever seen. Two immense engines at the back followed an immense tubular hull, but everything else was obscured. The air seemed to still.

“GET DOW-

A massive boom ruptured the sky and our eardrums, as I saw out of the corner of my eye the central pavilion shrink into the ground under the weight of the impact before everything became smoke.

WHUZZZZ WHUZZZ WHUZZZ

A number of smaller cannon balls punctured the smoke, careering wildly and hitting anything in their path.

Noise broke through again after a few seconds, and I threw my hand back towards the icy canyon, calling upon the wind as I drank a mana potion. The wind broke through, pushing the hot smoke into the sky and blotting out the zeppelin. The android leapt after, propelled by Edanna’s own magic. I dashed through the grounds, extinguishing fires and extracting survivors from debris.

The central pavilion of the Tournament had been mostly flattened, only a few walls remaining standing. Every tent had been knocked over by the force of the cannon and was either ablaze or smouldering. Most of the paladins had been knocked over or unconscious, but only those close to the buildings had been wounded.

~~~~

The zeppelin moved away slowly afterwards, and the android impacted upon the ground forcefully, murmuring ‘mission accomplished’ as its life drained away.

Being built mostly of wood, the grounds looked reparable, and the tents were easily repaired and re-erected before the smoke had even passed. Around twenty or so paladins had not made it, taken by surprise and the force of the cannon blasts.

It was clear that Sorlain had more in his arsenal than he had anticipated. But it did not matter anymore. We had come through the storm intact. Later that night, as the airship disappeared from view around the Storm Peaks, I launched fireworks from the old necromancer camp, filling the sky with bright colour and a silent defiance towards Sorlain. Morale remained high. Edanna estimated that it would take at least a day to re-load the cannon, and that with the smoke cloud, Sorlain likely believed the Tournament wiped off the face of the map.

We have survived everything you have cared to throw at us, and we are more loyal, dedicated and competent than any among your army, Sorlain. We are Silvermoon. We are the phoenix that rises from the ashes of destruction, twice as hot and twice as colourful as the aged bird it leaves in the past.

You believe us defeated, but we bring a force of reckoning to make you answer for your crimes, as Vyrael and Garl have. You will be the one taken by surprise when we bring them to your doorstep. The Crusade, the Sunreavers, the Silver Covenant, the Alliance and the Horde, the forces that defeated the Lich King. They will not kowtow to you, they will not submit, they will never surrender.

Pride is your vice. Greed and vanity and lust and power. But we are untouchable. We work for a better world, a world of tomorrow. We do not seek to maintain our superiority, but to teach and to strengthen others and in doing so, to improve ourselves. We have learned humility, for we have lost everything and been forced to rebuild. And we shall never take for granted what we have retaken from you.

Uprising: Icecrown

Leaving the various factions to negotiate peace (and with their aid against Sorlain secured) we progressed northeast, to try and establish relations with the Argent Crusade. Having heard nothing from Shari’fal (who had left to originally establish relations) and Aleck (who had gone after Shari’fal when his disappearance became apparent) we set out for Zul’drak to discover that under their commander, Rith’len, the Crimson Hand had already cosied up to the Crusade by saving them on several occasions – and unwilling to aid us without the agreement of his higher-ups, the local commander, Adelard, sent us off to Icecrown.

This, it became apparent, was why Elient had been happily trailing along with us. Her theory that saronite was the mystical anti-sha weapon we had been searching for all along was… believed by no one, of course, but she was also the only person in contact with the Crusade, and she secured us entry into the Argent Vanguard, as well as negotiations.

The mission was theoretically simple, but I get the feeling that she skipped on the potential danger (and I should have seen it coming). After aiding in the defence of the Vanguard against a Nerubian warlord who was massing forces in Scourgeholme, we would take a siege engine and a collection of troops to Malykriss, where we would secure saronite, while scouting the Scourge numbers along the way.

In contrast to what was to come, Scourgeholme was a breeze. The Nerubian warlord held only a handful of followers, and between us and the Argent defenders, they fell easily.

The siege engine that the Crusade provided was positively ancient. It was more like a castle on wheels, with a ridiculously oversized cannon attached to the front. Still, it held a good twenty people, and we proceeded towards the gate.

After that, it became a nearly endless battle. Undead after undead flung themselves at us, scaling the walls despite our acceleration and the force barrier Edanna focused on creating. We were showered with gore and ice as we crushed undead underneath us and shot far more. It felt like there were hundreds. Out of the fog emerged not one, but two bone giants, approaching from Mord’rethar. Each thirty feet tall and with a club half their size, they slowly advanced, while we were unable to slow down. Anrithen gave the command, and the cannon fired, halting the machine entirely and tearing the giants to pieces.

We continued into the Valley of Lost Hope, to be met by yet more undead. From below, two scores of abominations charged, while gargoyles swarmed in from above. A battle quickly began, projectiles peppering the air. I directed my magic around the edges of the gargoyle group, forcing them together into an attackable group, while the cannon fired a second time, threatening the siege engine with disintegration. The abominations quickly became an equally threatening crater.

With no cannon left to use, and any method of decelerating rapidly becoming impossible, we began to bail. Ahead of us, the castle careened into the crater, and the impact sent a huge explosion flaring across Aldur’thar. The night lit up.

In the aftermath, the siege engine was a pile of rubble illuminated by considerable flames. Arguments broke out, as it became immediately apparent that we were highly visible, without transport, and in the middle of a canyon filled with undead. With little option, we decided to proceed further on into the third valley, using Khairan as a forward scout.

With no massive engine, we were considerably less noticeable, and managed the trek all the way to the Citadel Courtyard without interruption.

“There is a gargantuan flesh construct here! It has activated.” Khairan’s warning shot across the comms. This was really all we needed.

“Hide or flee, but try to take a roundabout route.” By the time Edanna gave the order, we were at the gate to Malykriss. Far ahead, across the saronite forges, the massive silhouette of a flesh giant became apparent. The courtyard illuminated with dark red light as it began to awaken.

Its arm swung suddenly towards Khairan, himself barely visible, and his dragonhawk barely dodged being wrenched out of the sky. The massive construct pulsated with energy, as it began to scan the area for other living targets.

“I have an option for us. Huddle together. The plan is to disguise our living auras with the aura of undeath.” As Khairan returned from around the mountainside, Edanna tasked us with finding tainted rock to use in the spell.

“Would that work with the paladins?” Anrithen enquired. The paladins themselves seemed more than a little unnerved at such an immense being.

“Well, if it all goes wrong, Khairan can give me a lift up on the dragonhawk and I’ll tape grenades to the giant’s head.”

Eventually, a plan was settled upon. We would disguise ourselves as undead using Edanna’s spell, and make our way up to the cliffs where Elient waited along with our escape route. From there, we would attack the giant’s head from behind, taking it out before it could retaliate.

The paladins required convincing, but we moved into the courtyard slowly. Sudden moves would not end well. We halted as the red rays of the flesh giant shone over us. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten…

The red rays stopped. The giant’s mouth opened, and a deep scraping noise came out as it spoke.

“Iden-tify … Yourselves.”

This was tragically too much for the Argent scouts, and they scattered to the edges of the courtyard, the disguises dropping off as they fired beams of light at the giant. They rebounded harmlessly and the red eyes re-activated.

“Hostiles… de-tected.”

Its head swivelled as it monitored our locations, and it immediately strode towards the nearest Crusader.

“Sathreyn, those grenades, now! Everyone else to the back of the courtyard!” Edanna hurried us on while the giant was distracted. Its massive arm swept towards the crusader, pulverising the rock face he was climbing and sending him flying towards the other side of the courtyard. Two of his brethren ran towards his crumpled body, while a third attempted to consecrate the giant. More irritated than hurt, it turned and stomped its foot. The crusaders fell like dominoes. The giant began to advance.

Khairan zipped past on his dragonhawk along with Sathreyn, distracting it momentarily with three quick turns that made it attempt to turn around. Its arm clipped one of the wings, and Khairan was forced to land while Sathreyn took the opportunity to jump onto the giant’s head. As the giant searched for a new target Sathreyn placed grenades along any seams he could find in the giant’s head. The giant focused again on the rallied crusaders, who were attempting to move their injured comrade up to higher ground.

The giant’s jaw seemed to disconnect entirely, and a massive cloud of dark gas was ejected from within. Caught unawares, the crusaders erected a barrier of holy energy at the last second, but the cloud did not disperse.

“They’re trapped!” I scrambled down from the forge, and conjured winds, pushing the gas into the centre of the courtyard. The giant turned to face me, its soulless eye sockets bearing down upon me. I beckoned the crusaders over as fire erupted from the head of the giant, doing precious little to the metal embedded in its skull, but melting reams of skin off. The fire trickled down to its chest and it roared at the pain. It reached into one of the lower forges.

“Oh no. Move. Move!” I urged the Crusaders forward as the giant took a huge chunk of blistering saronite from the forge, and lobbed it at our location. Scalding molten rock accompanied our arrival at the second tier of the forge, liquid saronite showering around us. Khairan glanced at the saronite rain, halting it in mid-air and re-directing it at the giant.

Sadly, this was less effective than anticipated, given how the giant was armoured in saronite. As it moved into the centre of the courtyard the light from the fires made it fully visible. It had to be thirty, maybe forty feet in height. Built from the corpse of at least one storm giant, its skin looked like discoloured steel, with large patches stitched together. Artificial saronite armour plates were embedded into the skin, and the head had some sort of cage. The jaw was attached to the rest of the head by wiring, and itself looked to be wholly mechanical. Pipes ran around the neck and down the immense arms. Its eyes were hollow, instead with an ominous red light emitting from them. While skin had been torn off the head, the rest of the giant was incredibly well put-together.

“Keliera, Khairan, with me!” Edanna moved to the side of the plateau, firing her own brand of missiles at the giant’s feet. I and Khairan followed suit, while the conscious Crusaders began to fire more beams of light at its head. The combination of felfire and alchemical fire proved exceptionally effective, with the giant’s feet beginning to disintegrate.

“If we can make it lose its balance, we should be able to bring some of the architecture down upon it.” Edanna and Khairan continued their onslaught, but I halted.

“I can detect something coming. Magical signals.” They were approaching from the mountain opposite, where a saronite walkway breached the cliffs.

The Argent scouts continued to be ineffectual, succeeding in rousing the giant’s anger. It stomped and we scattered back, before advancing. The red glow from its eyes became brighter. It became hot. Almost – burning.

“The eyes! Move out of its line of sight!” We ran, scrambling up the path towards the third level as shadowflame streamed from the giant’s eyes, ripping the forge to pieces behind us. Sathreyn and Lirial gave us covering fire, causing the giant’s feet to give way. It reared back, grabbing onto one of the forges to hold itself up.

“SOLDIERS OF THE LICH KING, ANNIHILATE THESE INTERLOPERS!” A massive voice boomed out from above. Our successful arrival at the third platform was met by a barrage of shadow magic from the walkway, and we glanced up to see at least ten cultists attacking. The Crusaders took over, firing bolts of light and dealing equal damage.

“We need to take out the cranes. They’re our only hope of felling this thing.” Edanna glanced at the row of large cranes before us. We unleashed our various weapons against the already vulnerable ridge, and one by one the cranes began to topple. One slammed into the giant’s remaining foot and it screeched an unholy curse, lumbering forward as another two cranes fell, tearing through its head and arms. It collapsed forward, taking half the mountain with it as it did so. We were suddenly on a rather teetering precipice. The cultists’ assault continued. They seemed to be gaining fervour as the giant’s unspent necrotic energy dissipated into the air. The final crane fell onto its side, a full crate of saronite spilling out before us.

“I trust this will satisfy Elient?” I questioned.

“Oh, it will be plenty. Thank you for your aid. I suppose it’s right that we give you something in return.” A voice replied, one distinctly not that of Elient.

Evy’lin. Of course. I thought I’d noticed her signal among the fighting at Scourgeholme. It made sense. Stepping forth from the shadows, she leapt, scaling the mountain with ease and putting her whole body into a slam with her sword that tore through the chains connecting the walkway to the mountain like it was butter. Leaping back to join us, gravity met the cultists with several sickening crunches. The walkway swung into the remaining forges, scattering more fire before swinging back into the mountain and finally falling into the ruined courtyard.

We all stood silent for a moment, staring at Evy’lin as she and Elient quickly gathered saronite. Then the entire mountainside rumbled.

“It’s coming down. Darkstrike, where is the exit?”

Pausing to slip some more saronite inside her pocket, Darkstrike nodded towards an obscured walkway that led to the other side of the mountain. “It takes us back out into the Broken Front. Climbing down it will be easy.” Elient led the way, followed by the crusaders and their wounded, then us and finally Evy’lin, who lingered as long as possible collecting saronite until the ridge we had been stood on began to fall into the pit of molten saronite and corpse.

As we crossed the Broken Front, the sickening screech of metal signified the final collapse of the gates and walls on the edge of Malykriss as the whole mountain juddered, sliding down slightly into the valley.