‘U-Um ik’a-liss, brothers. The elfling awakens.’ A chorus of chitters drifted over my head as my eyes fluttered open. I couldn’t see a thing.
‘Greetings, creature of the Horde. I am Vizier-Understudy Count Anub-Ik’maliss, Sokhen of the Western Undertundra. It is… fil’ash ki’ki-ar… a pleasure to make your acquaintance.’ As my sight returned, I became aware of a very large pair of dripping mandibles about 10 feet from my face. I was not far below ground, as evidenced by the shafts of sunlight and rivulets of collapsing snow. The… Vizier shook his head to rid himself of the snow. He was about thrice my size.
‘My scouts brought you here not long ago. You are quite lucky to be alive… kar’um ish ka-khu… But I have not been merciful to you out of a desire to see you live.’ His teeth scraped together menacingly, the air filling with a similar chalkboard sound as the hidden nerubians surrounding us joined in. I pushed myself to my knees and illuminated my hand in fire. I was outnumbered, but I would fight if need be.
‘Oh! See how it prepares to die.’ The Vizier chuckled, a distorted chitter filtering over. ‘Uum’shala… I do not want to see you live… But I have been merciful. It is… easier to send a message through you than walk to your barbarous iron and steel myself. So.’ The Vizier stretched his quadraped forelimbs wide and moved closer. His breath was slightly sulphurous.
‘No, no… You will do just fine. Your… ak-umal… Warchief, as you call it, has offended the glorious Empire of Azjol-Nerub. He digs too deep for power. His Keep is an affront to the beauty of Northrend, and a scar on its underground. It stretches below the earth, searching for power… Searching for us. This will not stand. You shall inform those who dig that we politely order them to stop. If they do not, then they shall end up stumbling into the Kingdom itself… They shall find an army awaiting them.
I trust you will deliver the message. Ikk-a-liss, Voru, Voru! Go, brothers.’ At his command, two limbs grabbed me and thrust me out into the blinding white above. I was just becoming accustomed to the dark. What was more surprising was the realisation that two nerubians were flying, carrying me all the way to Warsong Hold with nary a blink of their many eyes. Even during my many years in the Ghostlands in the Third War, I had never seen flying nerubians, only ground-walkers.
Nerubians had suddenly become more terrifying to me than furbolg. I was still in shock when they dropped me off and I walked into Warsong Hold to the surprise of the guards (who had no doubt seen many troops carried off by nerubians, but none returned by them).
Distracted from my own mission, I pushed for information about any sort of ongoing digs. The orcs yielded nothing about it until I mentioned my encounter with the Nerubians.
‘The spider-men! What did they say, elf? They have been hindering our operations for weeks.’
‘They said that you are getting close to part of Azjol-Nerub. They will defend it with an army if you do not stop. And they know the underground better than anyone.’
‘Pah! The spider-men are weak to fire. We will no doubt annihilate their army when we blow our way into their little kingdom. The relics there will be free for the taking. For the Warchief! You are dismissed, elf.’
That went… less spectacularly than imagined.
When I eventually found the location of the caravan I was to be part of, I was indeed the only elf present, though there were a couple of goblins and Forsaken that looked as though they would also be researching. I was pleasantly surprised that no Reliquary members were present. No doubt the Royal Apothecary Society and Bilgewater were looking for power, but it was quite probable that they were after something entirely different to what I was hoping to requisition (anything that the orcs would use to make another mess).
The orcish guard were… quieter than I had anticipated, and the goblin and Forsaken members did not seem inclined to talk. As what looked like the late arrival, they no doubt distrusted me. Over dinner, the orcs did look at each other on occasion and grin. I got the impression that a good amount of relics had been found. I contacted the Convocation instead, and by the end of dinner had had a long and winding discussion with Kal’es and Sunshard about the nature of politics in Silvermoon (and the eventual outcome thereof). I also was informed that Twist had disappeared at what appeared to be exactly the same time I delivered her letters. Curious.
The next morning, we left for Bor’Gorok Outpost. I stayed close to the latter end of the caravan, helping scout for anything that could be following us. We saw nothing beyond caribou for most of the journey, until just after we passed the mammoth herds there was a commotion by the front of the caravan, causing all the carts to lurch to a halt. The orcs at the back ran over to investigate, and I climbed on top of the next cart to get a good view.
The cart at the front appeared to have crashed into… a bunch of gnomes? Various gnomes in hazmat suits were scattered around, moaning in pain or fighting the orcs. The remains of the cart were strewn about what looked like a weirdly-painted miniature siege engine.
Given that the gnomes had somehow taken the brunt of the impact, they were quickly dispatched, although the first cart couldn’t be salvaged. We took what remained of that cart’s supplies (and, somehow, also took the miniature siege engine) and continued to Bor’Gorok, where we arrived just as the sun was going down.
After eating, we were set to investigating the relics. I had suspected that the relics were of Blue Dragonflight origin, given the secrecy, the location and the glee of the orcs, and had brushed up on my knowledge (thanks to books taken via the cloaked teleportation link to the Main Library in the Spire). I was not mistaken.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) quite a large portion of the relics I looked at were duds. Bits of furniture, deactivated pylons… All of it could, of course, be salvaged and re-used (and several items would fetch a profit) but nothing was useful as a weapon specifically. With the light too low to do further investigation, we decided to wait until tomorrow.
At breakfast we were pleasantly greeted by a third shipment of relics. I did not get a look at where they came from – indeed, it seemed as though they had come out of thin air. I wasn’t about to question things. Another short conversation the night before had yielded the consensus that the orcs would either eventually encounter Alliance resistance to their delving into Coldarra, or would come across something that would blow them all up. I did not want anything important to go to the orcs. But I felt just as unnerved about letting any end up in the hands of the Convocation. Giving them to Sorlain was pure and simply giving them to Garrosh. And the Sin’dorei had form, if the rumours about the Mana Bomb were true.
So… That left the Alliance. And while they were slightly more capable, it was treasonous and idiotic. Which meant what? Throw any important weapons into the sea and hope the orcs wouldn’t find them again? I could try and store them separately, hide them in a pocket dimension perhaps. Or send them with the other duds to be used elsewhere. But that could result in someone getting hurt.
Why did no situation these days have an easy solution?
It was nearing lunchtime, and we had just started work on the third shipment. No one had found anything major yet (or, if they had, they weren’t telling). I pulled another relic out of the bag, and the snow seemed to glimmer around it. Something was different about this one.
It was vaguely cone-shaped, formed of four ribbed ridges that curved inwards and met at the point at the end, which appeared to have been blunted during the journey. Though inactive, runes could be seen carved only millimetres into the curious metal. It was clearly old, but it retained smoothness and shine – if something so resolutely grey could shine. On the top was a miniature disk, which looked as though it could be removed, but I had no idea what incantations would be needed – or what would happen afterwards.
I wasn’t certain, but I’d only seen such designs once before…
It was a surge needle. It was smaller than the ones used during the Nexus War, but it was not a large stretch to imagine that such things existed for personal use, especially given their capacity for mana storage. This was most definitely a find I didn’t want to fall into anyone’s hands. I looked around the area, wondering if I could shroud it without being noticed. As I did so, I realised that all the other researchers were stood still, having downed tools. Was it time for a meal already?
The researchers moved away from their benches and began to leave the outpost, heading in a line further up towards the edge of the cliff. What the fel? I looked towards the guards, and their shock mirrored mine. Then I realised that it wasn’t shock. Their eyes glazed over and they fell into the snow, unconscious. Mind magic.
Shoving the inactive needle inside my cloak, I hurried up the hill towards the researchers, keeping what I hoped would be a safe distance. Building up my courage, I sent my own magic against whatever was controlling the researchers. No good. My magic was by all comparisons still novice, but this was… something else entirely. The entire spell was locked tight. I’d never seen a spell come with its own wards, and it seemed as though the wards had their own wards! Yet despite the complexity, looking at the way the runes wrapped themselves around the researchers I was reminded of how breath-taking magic could be. The whole thing displayed mastery of magic I had never seen in Silvermoon, and yet it was so flawlessly executed that it seemed as naturally done as breathing.
How was I not affected?
As the researchers reached the edge of the cliff, I crouched down, looking around for any suggestion of another thing controlling them. Given the skill involved with the spell, it could quite easily be long-range, but-
A portal. Directly on the edge of the cliff, facing Coldarra itself. Was this where the relics were coming from? Who had opened the portal? It mirrored the mind control, a seamless spell that turned magic into art. Portal-making ripped a hole into the Nether itself, and yet I could identify no damage coming from the portal just ahead. It was like it was part of the landscape itself.
This couldn’t be orcish work. But they had to have been using it. Their own hubris. But we hadn’t known about this, and now… The researchers were going in.
No doubt this was meant as a lesson to the orcs, perhaps the work of a blue dragon (the spellwork certainly suggested so). But there’d been no sightings of any dragons for months. It was as if they’d vanished. I couldn’t think of anyone able to do such spellwork. The last of the researchers was approaching the portal. If I went back to the orcs now, they’d think me responsible and we’d never see those researchers again.
Light save me… I ran for the portal, hanging on to the surge needle as my cloak whipped back, and jumped in as it began to close.