Warpdraught Woods

The waves lapped at the flagship, gently swaying the vessel. Jaina stretched in the cool light of the morning sun; the movement of the Windspear reminded her of the gentleness of her childhood, the world infinitely clearer and better even in the depths of the Second War. She’d been thinking of the past a lot lately.

Lei Shen was dead, and Vereesa remained on the Isle of Thunder, in charge of the Kirin Tor’s defences there. Dalaran remained, a threat to the Horde if they strayed too far. But she was confident Lor’themar would keep his word. The Regent-Lord was occupied with Garrosh. Dealing with Aethas could wait.

Varian had sent her aid once he had heard of the aims of her mission – but the look Jaina had seen in his eyes explained everything he didn’t say. He still didn’t truly trust her, worried for the fate of his marines under her command. It was not something she held against him. She had been full of rage; she still was. So many dead, and Varian did not want to fight at the moment where it was most important…

The salty air was slowly fading. They were getting closer to their goal – Theramore. The city that had once been Jaina’s home, heralded as the city of peace and destroyed in the most aggressive action on Azeroth since the Third War. Her heart burned to think of it, all the dead due to Garrosh. Soon, hopefully, he would face punishment.

But Jaina’s attitude had begun to change since the note from Vol’jin had reached Alliance Command. The troll leader had begun his own insurrection, and Garrosh was waging a war of extermination against the Darkspears.

‘You would go and defend trolls, my lady?’

‘I hold no love for any of the Horde, Vereesa. But Vol’jin was with Rexxar and Thrall when they liberated my city from my father. War or no war, he has the best interests of the Horde at heart – and Garrosh does not. If this chaos gives us time to prepare to attack Orgrimmar, then I shall help it continue. It will keep Garrosh on the back foot – and ensure that he has nowhere to run.’

The distraction was an opportune moment. Jaina had been considering a return to Kalimdor to bring the fight to Garrosh, but the Council had not been willing to let her leave if she went alone, given what had happened to Rhonin. Dustwallow was distant enough to assuage their concerns – although it still warranted a cadre of battlemagi accompanying her. Jaina did not feel that they were necessary – any force that could kill five battlemagi in combat was certainly going to fare just as well against Jaina, and she did not want them to serve as a distraction. She could definitely fight her own battles, but she understood that such security came with the position – neither of Jaina’s predecessors had had a clean death.

By now, the small flotilla Jaina was leading was no more than two leagues from the shore, which was slowly appearing on the horizon. Their initial plan had been to sail north from the Thousand Needles to avoid detection by Garrosh. Harsh winds had driven them slightly off-course, and not far from the Needles they had received intelligence suggesting that Garrosh was trying to exert command over the Speedbarge. Instead, they’d made the decision to sail into Tidefury Cove and set up camp in the southeast region of the marsh, hidden from Horde view but close enough to the ocean to escape if need be. Furthermore, it was close enough to Theramore to aid their research.

Jaina’s main selling point for the expedition was a chance to research the effects of the mana bomb – as Dalaran had banned its use or reproduction after the events of Theramore and the Focusing Iris was locked away, the research would at least grant better understanding without having to make any of the abominable things.

And, in part, it was a goodbye – the world Jaina was living in had changed, but she had yet to close off that little part of her that was left in Theramore, the part destroyed when the bomb hit.

~~~

A hurried rapping on the door to her quarters disturbed Jaina from contemplation later that evening. Putting her book aside, Jaina quickly rose and opened the door. Before her stood Captain Freewind, leader of the Windspear. Though she did not know him personally, Jaina had heard tales of the man – the Windspear was one of the few ships to have weathered the campaign on Pandaria intact.

‘Is something the matter, Captain?’

‘I’m afraid so, milady. Something terrible has happened in the hold.’

The Captain led Jaina to the lowest deck, where two of the battlemagi – both students of Modera – were knelt before three deckhands, each slumped against the wall. Their expressions were frozen in various states of shock, but each was entirely unresponsive, as though petrified. Jaina could feel the large magical emanations in the air. She recognised the condition immediately.

‘Mana overload.’ She muttered, joining the battlemagi in inspecting the deckhands. ‘When did you find them?’

‘This was not long ago. Lila, the one on the left, went to go get rations from the hold and screamed rather loudly. We found the others several feet away from her. I think it’s best you see for yourself.’

Jaina rose to her feet and nodded at the battlemagi. ‘Keep their mana low and take them upstairs to get some rest. I’ll check up on them myself once I’m finished here.’

The Captain stood back from the door slightly and unlocked it. It swung straight open, as though some ghost inside had opened it. But the hold was devoid of life.

What it was bursting with, however, was magic. The room was practically glowing – arcane residue littered every crate and barrel in sight, in such amounts that it was almost dripping down the walls. It was all the two could do not to inhale the gust of powder thrown up by the opening of the door.

‘Arcane powder, like the sort we use in rituals. But this is all active – it has to be activated by magic – and how did it get here? I know for certain that we didn’t bring this much, nor would we need it.’

Captain Freewind surveyed the room, wincing at the overwhelming magic, and turned back to Jaina. ‘Not a single extra crate has been opened since this morning, milady. Whatever this powder is, it wasn’t on this ship earlier.’

Jaina could understand with clarity every event after the powder had been activated. Although Lila had entered third, the others hadn’t screamed when the powder had activated, or when they had come across it. Such an extreme exposure to magic could cause pretty much instant overload – meaning the deckhands would have had no chance to raise the alarm. Unfortunately, that also meant they’d possible been exposed for a lot longer than Lila had.

‘When was the last time your other deckhands were seen? If the earliest time we have is this morning, they could have been bathing in this all day.’

‘They were both at dinner. Neither should have been here more than an hour.’

Jaina let out a sigh of relief. ‘Then they should both recover, as long as they’re kept in a stable condition. With luck, Lila should awaken tonight, and we may be able to find out more information.’

‘That’s good. However, what are we to do now? If such a short exposure caused that – well, I dread to think-‘

‘It should be no problem. After it’s been active for a while without use, arcane powder begins to decay. Keep the portholes open and the door closed, and it should be clear enough tomorrow for us to clean it manually. If you require any supplies from here, I and my battlemagi have a high enough resistance to go in ourselves.’

Assured, Captain Freewind returned to his post. Jaina proceeded through the room, opening the portholes and conjuring several brooms, which made quick work of the powder, neatly arranging it at the sides of the room. She did hold hope for the recovery of the deckhands, but she kept to herself the knowledge of what would happen if they could not be saved. Humans reacted differently to mana overload than elves did – but if the deckhands had been exposed to too much or for too long, their minds would have been entirely overloaded to the point that they’d never wake up. Even if they survived, they could quite easily become Wretched – a condition that had never been cured, and continued to plague the Sewers of Dalaran.

The question on Jaina’s mind, though, was the question of how this powder had gotten into the Hold at all. The portholes had been closed, and no one would have been able to set it off without overloading themselves. And there was more powder in the Hold than Jaina had authorised the ships to take with them – even if accidentally activated, it should have stayed relatively close to or inside the crates.

A flash of light in the corner caught her eye. But when Jaina looked, there was nothing there.

~~~

Later that night, Jaina’s sleep was disturbed by another knock at her door, this time from her Chief Battlemage, Aneera. The fair-skinned elf was tall for her kind, and sometimes single-minded in her loyalty, which was at times both a blessing and a curse.

‘Yes, Aneera?’ Jaina rubbed her eyes as the light from the lanterns in the hallway streamed in.

‘My apologies for the late disturbance, my lady. We’ve reached Tidefury Cove – but an unexpected problem has arisen. We thought it best that you be informed.’

‘Very well. What is the problem?’

‘I… apologise, my lady, but it is not one that can be explained unless you see it for yourself.’

Jaina did her best not to be grumpy, and followed Aneera up to the top deck.

‘How are the deckhands doing?’

‘Lila has recovered, as expected. Unfortunately, she knew nothing of the situation – her scream was merely good fortune for us. The other two have yet to improve, but we are not concerned yet. The others are monitoring them regularly.’

When they reached the top, Jaina expected to see the White Lady in the northern sky, bathing everything in pale moonlight – but the Bright Star of Kalimdor was not there.

A glittering purple web stretched across the sky, glowing magenta where the light of the sun struck it. Everything was bathed in very dim, lilac light, which the web seemed to be emitting – similar to the glow of the arcane powder from earlier. Jaina gasped in shock.

‘I… I’ve never seen such a thing. I had expected some residue from the Mana Bomb – but not this.’ It wasn’t passing. Though the occasional wind blew past, the web rippled and ruffled but remained intact. Any movement was minor.

‘What should we do, my lady?’ Aneera’s face did not betray her own feelings, but Jaina had no doubt that no member of the Kirin Tor would know what to do with this.

‘I… For now, we must wait and see. It has been several months, so if this… thing were going to move, it would have done so already, but we do not know what other effects the Bomb has had. This is already far more than I anticipated. There’s a chance we can get rid of it, but it might cause more damage if we try now when we cannot see anything. Make sure someone is observing it at all times, and I will make a decision tomorrow after I inspect the Isle. There’s a chance we may have to cut this expedition short and head straight for Ratchet if it is too dangerous to stay near the Isle.’

Aneera wordlessly nodded, and moved away to ensure that the Archmage’s orders were carried out. Jaina remained for a few minutes, leaning against the deck as she had earlier. Even though they were only in Tidefury Cove, there was no salty air to smell anymore – everything had been replaced by a thin veneer of magic that seemed to dull the senses. Or perhaps it was because she was tired. When she’d left Theramore, such a strange after-effect hadn’t been present.

I wonder what else has changed.

~~~

Jaina couldn’t sleep. It had been at least three hours, and the ship was barely moving, doing its best to avoid the numerous islands in the Cove. Her mind kept relaying the events of the day over and over. Could I have saved the deckhands if I’d anticipated this amount of magical fallout? Could I have done more to prepare for this trip? Should I have come here at all?

In part, Jaina’s worries were due to her prior knowledge of the Wretched. Although she had never come face-to-face with one herself, she knew almost everything there was to know about them. Usually restricted to elves, they were a result of the Third War. Prior to the destruction of the Sunwell, the Quel’dorei had maintained a kingdom built entirely on magic for at least seven-thousand years – and some arcane historians had theorised that the addiction of the entire race to magic stemmed all the way back to the Well of Eternity, which provided an explanation for the mass deaths among the Quel’dorei pilgrims that left Kalimdor to found Quel’thalas. Although some Quel’dorei had exposed the nation’s addiction, it was far easier to maintain the status quo than to wean an entire nation off magic – a power source irrevocably responsible for the entire upkeep of Quel’thalas.

Mana overload was almost impossible for Quel’dorei and Sin’dorei due to the influence of the Sunwell, which gave them a greater magical tolerance. However, the removal of the Sunwell’s power sapped that tolerance entirely, resulting in a situation where elves could overdose. As their situation became more dire and they became more withdrawn, many elves immediately and totally drained any magical item they could get their hands on to ensure they wouldn’t die of withdrawal – the Wretched were the result of those who were too weak and took too much magic at once.

Humans were a separate matter entirely, as Stormwind and Dalaran-trained magi often had a background with little exposure to magic. Their overload could often be cured, and was often much less serious. Jaina had rarely seen mana overload caused by anything except student dares. What she’d seen earlier that day already went much deeper than anything prior, but tales of humans entering into a similar state to Wretched was the stuff of early magical folklore.

Sadly, this was not a fact that eased Jaina’s worries. Suddenly she’d stumbled onto not one, but two interlinked areas of magic with no Dalaranese research to explain either of them even a bit. They were swimming in uncharted territory. Magic’s already turned on its head recently with the Nexus War – there could quite possibly be no way to explain this.

In times of doubt, Jaina was quite apt to turn to the words of her late mentor Antonidas. The man had known Dalaran better than anyone else she knew, and he was more than likely its oldest citizen when the city was destroyed. If anyone could make sense of what was going on, he could, but in lieu of that, Jaina merely settled for his advice:

‘Tomorrow is always a better day than today, because it always has more time for you to plan. As long as you make sure there’ll be a tomorrow, everything will right itself.’

I hope you’re right, Antonidas. This has been abrupt, but I’m hardly pushing daisies yet. Plans never work out, and I will always have tomorrow to make things right.

Slightly reassured, Jaina resolved to ignore her doubts for the moment. They were all still alive, and tomorrow was another day. There was plenty of reason to have faith in her success.

~~~

There was no evidence that the port city had ever existed. It was… shocking.

Most of Theramore’s outlying structures had survived the initial blast of the Bomb. But there was no longer anything.

The bright limestone walls were gone. So too were the docks and the sunken ships, the forge, the inns, even the outlying farms. It was as though they had never been built.

Even the crater had been reduced. The whole isle seemed to have gotten smaller.

One of Jaina’s magi called her over to a section of the dark coast. Far across the bay, the Lighthouse still stood – sort of. The limestone had turned a sickly gray, and the building seemed to have shrunk. The top section, including the lamp, was missing entirely, though Jaina could not see any trace of it in the bay. She felt something sharp against her face, and turned slightly before she realised. It was the wind. Theramore had had coastal breezes, certainly on some days wind enough for the boats to sail themselves – but this was different. It was altogether cold, and Theramore had always been warm. It was much more violent than any wind she knew, and as it passed her she saw that the wind had its own colouration – a slight grey, as though it was carrying sand along with it.

As the wind reached the Lighthouse, Jaina’s party of magi and rangers gasped. As soon as the wind hit the outer walls, the Lighthouse seemed to wobble. The discoloured walls began to collapse, but not in the way anyone expected.

The walls turned into dust, blown away as quickly as the sands. Within ten seconds the building had halved in height, and within a minute the entire thing was gone.

‘That certainly explains the lack of buildings. The wind is disintegrating them. Another effect of the bomb. Everyone make sure your wards are intact-‘

‘My lady!’ The call of a mage interrupted Jaina, and the reverie of the others, who realised the waves had begun to lap at their feet, and they were all standing on suddenly separate coastal islands.

‘The tides aren’t meant to be coming in yet-‘ As Jaina spoke, she saw the waves beneath her turn black, as they pulled the scorched sands from beneath her and out into the ocean.

‘I… impossible. The isle is disintegrating! Everyone, gather on the north shore!’

A few minutes later, Jaina and her companions watched from the former northern border as the last fragments of Theramore were washed into oblivion. Even the crater left by the Bomb was obscured, the only evidence a faint glow from the ruptured leylines.

‘If we’d been a day later, even a few hours… There’d have been nothing to see. Unless… Unless it was our arrival that disturbed this place.’ Jaina sat in the sand. The anger within her was replaced with sorrow. Theramore was gone. As much as she’d hoped to rebuild it, this put paid to those plans. It wasn’t coming back. At least not here. And it seemed wrong to give another place the same name.

Before they moved on, Jaina moved a large rock from the border of the forest, and quickly cast a spell, inscribing upon it:

In memory of Theramore, which once stood here, and those who died in its last battle, protecting it and the peace and hope it stood for. May we again found a city whose walls are as inviting, and may peace again reign.

~~~

It was still only early morning, though it was noticeably dimmer. The web overhead stretched to the horizon, due to the group’s proximity to the epicentre of the blast.

‘I don’t want to stay away from the ships for too much longer. It appears we won’t get a chance to study the Isle, though this matches the effects on the people caught in the blast itself. We’ll head for what’s left of Sentry Point and see if it reacted similarly, then head back along the bay until we reach the ships. We should be back before mid-afternoon; Sentry Point is only two miles from our location.’

The group began the trek to the obliterated tower, but the effects of the bomb on the surrounding area were already noticeable. Jaina could feel the mana in the area fluctuating tremendously from tree to tree, although the area betrayed no other effects until they came closer to the tower. The wilds of Witch Hill had been haunted by some forms of ancient necromancy since Jaina had founded Theramore – but the plantlife itself began to appear haunted. Twisted and mangled far beyond the regular shape of the mangroves, many of the trees and ferns closer to Sentry Point became ruinous and half-dead caricatures of their once green and grand selves.

Jaina leant close to one and brushed the surface of its trunk with her fingers. Whole chunks of bark came away freely, haemorrhaging sap and ooze. Her fingers were left covered in a slimy black substance not native to the trees, and as she stepped back in surprise the tree took the opportunity to quickly collapse into pieces – followed by several of the ones close to it. Though there was no chain reaction, everyone became acutely aware of the possibility for such a thing.

‘Everyone… Keep very, very still. I don’t know how far this instability goes on for. Try not to make loud noises.’ Everyone obeyed, and Jaina slowly turned on her heel, trying to identify which route out was safest. The main road is presumably the safest route, but I had planned to reach Sentry Point. If we follow the line of collapsed trees I should be able to get a look at it, and we’ll end up on the beach faster than if we take the road.

I hope it’s worth the risk.

Jaina’s decision was interrupted by the voice of Aneera.

‘My lady.’

Jaina turned slowly towards her. Blocking the road and the eastern forest were what Jaina could only assume to have been bog-beasts – docile elementals, utilised by the druids as an indicator of what state the land was in.

The creatures were mutated beyond recognition. Each had more limbs than usual and maddened eyes dotted their heads, swivelling violently. The plantlife composing them was rotten, similar to the trees around them, and they moved faster than their tar-like state suggested.

‘They’re angry. They think we are responsible for this. Everyone, get behind me, and move slowly towards the beach. Aneera, with me.’ Jaina moved to the front of the group, her hands flaring with energy as she prepared a spell.

‘My lady, are you sure about this? If we make too much noise-‘

‘I wish only to buy us time. Something tells me they will not move beyond their territory.’

A familiar incantation flashed into Jaina’s head, and she allowed herself a brief smirk. Boosted by Aneera, she unleashed a torrent of ice. Flowing like a tidal wave, the ice swept over the triad of bog-beasts and encased them whole.

‘Quickly, before they break free. Dustwallow may be many things now, but it remains just as hot.’

Jaina went last, keeping careful eye on the beasts from afar. The group weaved their way deftly through the rotten trees, and soon came upon the ruined Sentry Point tower.

It, like everything else, was in a sorry state. And, like everything else, it was wholly different from anything Jaina had expected.

Approximately half of the tower appeared to no longer exist, blasted into the ground by the Horde. The remnants wavered, covered in thick black rot like the rest of the forest.

I can understand the organic forest rotting, but first Theramore disintegrating and now this… How can bricks rot?

Where the missing part of the tower should have been, a large crater stretched deep into the earth. ‘Elemental magic. Between the Mana Bomb and the Shattering, this place is not safe. Head for the beach-‘

In the distance Jaina heard the snap of ice just as the bonds holding her spell also snapped. ‘The beasts are free. Quickly, before they find us.’

Jaina was so focused on the ice, however, that she did not realise the rest of the group was paralysed until she walked into them. On all sides, more bog-beasts had emerged from the trees, each as angry and misshapen as the last.

Jaina had faced worse odds. She recalled more spells, her fingertips bathed in flame. ‘As soon as I say, head for the beach as fast as you can. We’re close enough that this shouldn’t do too much damage.’

At that moment, time seemed to slow down. At once, Jaina was aware of the original bog-beasts breaking through the cover behind them. They broke out into a chorus of roars, so loud that the ground seemed to shake. At the same time, a flash of light caught Jaina’s eye and her head swivelled, but she suddenly felt very weakened. Several of the group stumbled. The beasts encroached, pounding on the ground. The trees began to collapse, and Jaina felt her mouth go dry as the tower joined in, creating a wave of debris that hurtled towards them.

~~~

Beneath her, Jaina felt a rock digging into her flesh as her senses returned. Above it was a freshly-snapped rib, and she winced. Fortunately, her head had been lucky.

She gingerly got to her feet. The purple sky swam before her… Was it late afternoon, or early morning? Everything seemed white. Her vision began to clear, and a horizon came into view. The ground was white?

At once, the memories of what had just been happening flooded into her head, and adrenaline surged around her body. The bog-beasts! She had to escape-

Across from where she stood was a large pile of rotten matter. To its side a large crevasse had opened up.

‘What in the name of the Light…’ Jaina turned slowly, aware of her injured side. The ruins of Sentry Point, the south coast, the tall borders with the Barrens… She was in the middle of Dustwallow.

Shouldn’t there be an inlet here?

Her nostrils became aware of the smell of rot again, followed by blood and… rotten fish?

Jaina looked to the floor. It had indeed been white. Before her stretched a saltbed and hundreds of fish skeletons.

The ground rose up. But this isn’t new. The Horde used elementals in their campaign.

I knew it was too good to be true when the Shattering didn’t affect Dustwallow.

Jaina scanned the area quickly. Around her were most of the group and various bits of rot that they had taken with them. The collapse of the tower must have flung them into the ocean – except the ocean was no longer there.

Recounting their losses, Jaina realised that they were missing two rangers and one magus.

What happened? I was preparing a mass teleport – and then I was drained. She could feel the magic slowly returning to her, but she was not as powerful as usual.

Eventually, the survivors gathered and began to cross the bay. The fact that there was a clear path back to the ships made things a lot easier. Even so, Jaina made sure everyone hurried. ‘I’d rather we get back sooner than later. There are more mysteries here than I would care to spend time with.’

The air was quiet, and the web overhead meant that darkness was falling much faster than it usually would. The highway that had once stretched from Theramore to the Barrens was nowhere to be seen – no doubt gleefully annihilated by the Horde on their way back. Tidefury Cove came into view, significantly lower than the dried bay they were walking across.

‘The ships!’ Jaina gasped.

The same powder which had infested the hold earlier was draped all over the flagship. In places it glowed brightly, and in others it was pure black. As Jaina hurried towards the bay, she saw that in places the ship was rotting, and that the entirety of the hold was missing. The assorted crew camped on the beach, surrounded by the supplies they’d salvaged. The other two boats were anchored slightly further out, but Jaina could see that they were similarly affected. One by one they leapt from the dried inlet into the ocean and climbed onto the beach, and from there they quickly reached camp.

Jaina went to find Captain Freewind.

‘Captain! What happened?’

Captain Freewind moved from behind the bonfire. He looked haggard, and Jaina could see lines on his face that had not been there that morning.

‘Not long after you left, the wind changed.’ Jaina nodded. She had felt it too. ‘Suddenly there was powder falling from the sky, touching everything. We couldn’t move it. Not long after, the ship began to fall apart.’ He moved in closer. People have started falling ill.’

‘Ill? In what way?’ Jaina asked, praying to the Light that it wasn’t what she knew it would be.

‘The same way as the deckhands from last night.’

‘What? But I don’t understand how-‘

‘You seem to know more about this than we do, Lady Proudmoore, but I’ve seen sailors take cannonballs to the stomach and last longer than they did.’

‘The deckhands are gone?’

He nodded. ‘Fell apart in front of my own eyes. Nothing we could do.’

Jaina let out a sigh. ‘More dead. We lost three, but I can’t be sure whether it was the bog beasts or the giant hole that opened up in the ground. But I have seen enough today to know that the Marsh is too damaged for any sort of fortifications. I am weak now, but I will take us back tomorrow morning.’

The man nodded. Jaina could see in his posture that he had already given up.

~~~

Jaina sat on the beach, alone. Everyone else was asleep.

What now? This expedition is over. It’s far too dangerous to be out here, and these strange occurrences…

There is more mana in the air here than usual, but I can’t understand why it is causing overload in everyone so quickly. It seems to be incurable.

We need to leave, and soon. But something drained me when we were attacked, and I have no idea what. I’m not strong enough to teleport us all out.

‘I was right, you know.’

The voice took her by a surprise, an all-too familiar gravelly tone. Slightly harsh, yet slightly warm. But now it was only harsh. Her father was sitting to her left.

‘Father? Am I dreaming?’

The ghost of Daelin Proudmoore regarded her coldly. ‘I told you, Jaina. I told you as many times as I could, but you insisted. Too much like your mother. Once Horde, always Horde.’

‘I… I did all I could to save them. Horde and Alliance. It is not my fault they cannot be saved from themselves.’ Jaina’s tone hardened as she ignored the surrealism.

‘And this is how they repay you. You have been naive, my daughter. This was bound to happen. At least you have chosen the right side now.’

‘The right side? This has not been black-and-white since I was a baby, father! As much as you would have had me believe otherwise, orcs have love, life and children, just as we do. I could see that even in the internment camps.’

‘Then why give up on it? You realised that living in bed with orcs was a lost cause when they massacred your people.’

‘I have to fight against Garrosh. He does not understand what his people have gone through, and he is putting them through it again. I have not come so far to let him throw away peace?’

‘Look at yourself. You already have!’

Jaina stopped, her mouth open.

‘I… Perhaps, in anger, I have pushed further than necessary. Garrosh has done terrible things. But I would not see such things done to anyone.’

‘Yet your soldiers still die for the cause. Why let them, if you do not wish to fight the orcs?’

‘Because there is a difference between reluctance and cowardice, just as there is a difference between strength and power. I do not wish to decimate or destroy; I wish to save, and I want nothing more than to rebuild all we have lost when this war is done. The Horde is not standing in the way of that – Garrosh is. But as long as there are people in the world, Alliance or Horde, people like me who wish for a better tomorrow, then there is hope for all of us.

Perhaps one day, father, you will see the world like I do. It is a place of good and evil, yes, but we would not be here if evil was winning. And so long as good prevails, there is always hope.’

Jaina turned, hoping for a response, but her father had already disappeared.

~~~

The next morning began positively. Everyone had survived the night, even though everything was bathed again in the same powder. No one bothered to combat it anymore, instead chatting amicably over breakfast. Jaina could feel her own positivity returning.

Antonidas always said he felt better after a good breakfast. I suppose there’s some truth in that.

Everyone took supplies, leaving anything useless on the beach. They began the trek northwest, aiming for the border with the Barrens. Ordinarily, they would have headed for Mudsprocket, but it had been evacuated shortly before the Horde had destroyed it as well. Jaina led the way through the undergrowth, stopping every so often to make sure nothing was nearby.

The heat increased throughout the day, hotter than the hottest summers Jaina knew of. Much like everything else, she put it down to the effects of the Bomb. It was taking its toll on the crew. Everyone was slightly affected by the increased mana in the air, but throughtout the journey they lost two more to the overload – and Jaina truly saw what Captain Freewind had meant.

‘Archmage!’ The cry came from behind her, and she turned to see her magi cradling two collapsed marines. They were hot to the touch, pale and feverish. She could see powder draped across their faces, and they were emitting magic intensely. In unison, both opened their mouths at once, letting go of their last breaths as their eyes rolled back. Jaina’s mouth dropped open as they seemed to shatter into pieces before her, their limbs collapsing into powder and crystallized blood scattering onto the ground.

Jaina was speechless and felt her eyes becoming wet. To die of such a thing… I don’t understand how this is possible. There was literally nothing of the marines to prove that they had ever existed. Like Theramore they were gone completely, clothing and all. Jaina saw something flash behind her, but her vision blurred as tears dripped down her cheeks.

Moving on, they had to avoid the Wyrmbog completely, as it was ruptured and volcanic, the presence of Black Dragons having weakened the earth there. Further north the smell of sulphur was not noticeable, but the heat appeared to worsen. Even in the heat of summer, Dustwallow had never been this warm. All around them, the undergrowth was slowly becoming more and more withered. It was as though something was slowly sucking the moisture from the entire region.

Something was.

Stumbling into the blackened ruins of a copse of Marshlight trees, Jaina saw one of the largest fire elementals she had seen in the last ten years. Part elemental, part behemoth, and consumed by bitter rage, it stamped aimlessly on the ground and tore at the blackened remains of wildlife. It was almost twenty feet tall.

A Molten Giant.

‘Get back!’ Jaina teleported several yards to the right as the crew scattered back into the dead undergrowth. Dead undergrowth.

‘Get down!’ Jaina’s warning cry was quickly followed by the elemental’s screech at her intrusion. It launched volleys of lava over where she had just been stood, setting the forest ablaze. She could only hope that the crew had the opportunity to get away.

The fire spread faster than she had anticipated, and within seconds she and the giant were surrounded on all sides by a ring of fire. Jaina quickly conjured a fire ward, the heat becoming more intense. She had watched Nordrassil burn and felt far cooler. The sandy ground beneath her feet was slowly scorching, and smoke was obscuring the sky. It was as though they were in the Firelands itself.

Jaina gave away her position with a frostbolt that hit the giant straight in the head, and it reared in pain. Given time to conjure a water elemental, the sorceress made note of the giant’s features. Deep lesions cut straight through its molten rock skin on its chest like a harness, and met again on its face, right through the eyes. It was blind, but such permanent cuts.. Not the work of simple binding, but a rough one. A binding definitely intended to cause pain. Jaina had had little dealings with the creatures of the Elemental Plane, but Dalaran had many visitors, and what she was seeing was the work of no regular shaman. Her mind recalled the battles across the Barrens, where the Horde had put to use molten giants bound by Blackrock shaman to destroy all the Alliance holdings. She had not known at the time that the Horde was employing such barbarism.

The giant roared as it was pelted with several more frostbolts, a primal scream that communicated what seemed like ages of pain. Jaina’s resolve hardened. Although fire elementals were the most hostile of elementals, there was no saving this thing. It was already more beast than intelligent being. Already restricted by its sight, it lumbered around helplessly, and Jaina quickly froze it solid, putting it out of its misery. Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and she could not see the smoke for the fire leaping across the sky. She had no idea how far this could spread, but if there was another giant, there was little that could be done to stop the wildfire.

Fortunately, the surrounding area was so dry that it burnt out quickly. By the time the giant’s weight had shattered the ice and it had slammed on the ground dead, a few trees had fallen and gone out, and the resulting minor earthquake replicated that in large swathes.

As the fire died down, some of the crew emerged, sooty and in some cases burnt, from the undergrowth. After an hour of waiting, they were down by five more. Several scouting parties had come back without finding anyone. They didn’t have any more time to wait, however.

‘We need to move out. Something tells me there are more giants around. We’ll have to head back across the dried bay and move north into the Barrens from there.

As the group began once more, Jaina felt anger rise within her on behalf of the elemental. Elementals are known for warring amongst themselves, but these things committed no crimes against the Horde or the Alliance. They did not deserve this. Still, I must stay calm if I am to lead everyone to safety. Garrosh was Warchief when these things were enslaved, and he shall be made to answer for it. All I can do is inform the Earthen Ring when we get out of this mess. Getting angry unnecessarily will only impair my judgment.

~~~

Jaina could feel her own magic distorting and becoming sapped. She estimated that they had until the end of tomorrow at most to get out of the Marsh. She could only hope that the archipelago that led into the Barrens was intact, or they’d struggle to get past the Grimtotem territory. Though she doubted any tauren were left there either.

The web pulsated as they crossed the dried bay, a thin sheen of it coating the ground and obscuring the forest ahead. But Jaina could sense something even from the other side. There was more magic here. This was where most of the powder had ended up.

‘We need to move, and fast. I can feel more powerful fall-out up ahead.’

Jaina was not expecting what she came across.

The northern side of the Marsh was even more unrecognisable than the south. Gone were the dark earthy browns, the mossy greens, the swampy in-between colours.

This place… it’s like Crystalsong but in so many ways different. The trees here are… both living and dead. Permanent decay. I can feel it around me. No life, only magic. Whereas in Crystalsong there was some curious form of symbiotic life exchange between the magic and the environment, I’ve never seen magic like this.

As the crew pushed forward into the marsh, the effect of the magical after-effects of the Bomb became obvious. Not a single thing around them could be said to be alive, but everything was permanent. The powder did not cascade from the web above – instead it floated, rippling as everyone moved through it. It coated every surface, leaving each plant brighter, more vibrant and more hollow than the last. The water was eerily still beyond anything Jaina had ever seen, the powder like a film on tea, but as hard and cold as ice. The colours weaved of their own accord, magenta trunks moving into pitch-black waters, with the canopy a glittering electric blue and green – except it did not glitter. There was no sunlight.

‘I know it is tiring, but we must continue. At this pace, we will be out of the Marsh before nightfall.’ Jaina did her best to hide the knowledge that if they didn’t get out soon, there wouldn’t be anything to prove they’d ever existed. She could feel the lethargy and it was significantly worse than it had been last night.

This powder isn’t overloading us. It’s literally converting us into mana. That’s why we haven’t seen any other living beings in the Marsh. In Crystalsong there’s a beneficial exchange between the ecosystem and the latent mana. Here, the mana is doing nothing but taking the life from everything, merely keeping the plants at a bare minimum to extract more later on.

Northwatch is our only possible hope now. The beach can’t be far. I can see a sky under the web now.

‘We’re getting close, everyone. Not long now.’

Jaina could feel the surge as they stepped out from the ruined swamps and onto the beach. Alcaz Archipelago stretched out before them, and above it she could see a few stars glimmering in the murky twilight.

‘The mage is here!’ The rough orcish cry caught Jaina’s attention, and she turned her head to see a legion of Kor’kron approaching her. The leader, a large Dragonmaw, stepped in front of them.

‘Good. The scouts were right. You all know of your orders.’ They began taking out weapons.

How did they know we were here? Jaina’s answer lay a few miles ahead of her. Above the hills of Alcaz rose a large construction, a half-built hold of dark iron and red steel. The orcs built a base. They saw us coming.

‘KILL THEM!’ Projectiles shot past, and Jaina stifled a shriek as her remaining three battlemagi were killed instantly, shattering into dust.

‘How dare you!’ Aneera roared, and though weakened, launched several fireballs at the offending orcs. The orcs scattered and the humans did similarly, as the place became a battleground. Jaina was paralysed as the leader charged right for her. She was weaker than she had been in years, they were outnumbered, and she felt more scared than at Stratholme, at Hyjal or at Theramore.

I’m going to die. The words snapped harshly in her head as it dawned upon her. Time began to slow again, and the mage began to feel slightly sick as fear coursed through her.

I’m not the first person to die. Arthas, my father, Antonidas… They were not afraid of death.

I am not afraid of death. I am not afraid.

I am not afraid.

‘If I will die tonight, orc, then I shall take you with me!’ Jaina called out the words before she even realised what she was saying. Time began to speed up again, and she called upon what vestiges of magic she had to cast the only spell she was sure she could still do.

A fwoosh preceded the bright illumination as fire slammed straight into the orc’s skull just before his axe met Jaina’s own. He yelled, thrust back, and his axe clattered to the floor. Though burnt, he got back to his feet and picked up the axe.

‘I will enjoy killing you, human.’

‘I will not. I want for us to live in peace.’ Drained of magic, Jaina pulled out her stave, the power of Lei Shen coursing through it. The orc charged, and so did she. Blow for blow, the Stave of Antonidas met the Dragonmaw axe, as the dance between the two carried on, oblivious to the ensuing battle.

As her fear fell away, Jaina pushed on, harder and faster, emblazoned by courage. The orc stumbled as fatigue and his heavy armour dragged him down, and Jaina thrust the stave upon the axe. It shattered into fragments, and lightning coursed through the orc’s plate armour. He fell to the ground.

As the dust settled, Jaina could see that they were victorious. The orcs lay across the sand, their blood intermingling with that of the humans. Her party had been further reduced.

‘We have done it.’ Jaina said a brief prayer for the fallen.

‘My lady, the corpses.’ Aneera indicated a human marine with her wand. Sure enough, at her feet lay a human marine, killed in battle.

‘They’re not disintegrating.’ Jaina looked on in shock as the corpse stayed there. She looked up. She could still see the web to the west, but directly above her was the moonlit sky, the White Lady blazing bright in the North. ‘We’re… safe. We will head into the Barrens proper, and then we can rest. But first…’

Jaina could feel her magic returning, and ignored a glint of light from behind her as she lit up her hands in flame, feeling the spells return to her one by one. She aimed her hands at the unfinished orc base, and let loose a large meteorite. It sailed through the air, gliding and leaving a bright trail which illuminated their path across the islands before impaling itself into the orc base and ruining it. Fire sprang across the wooden scaffolding, while the metal bent and warped, slowly melting.

‘Garrosh shall never have a base in Dustwallow. Never.’

~~~

Before them stood Northwatch, the last human base in Kalimdor. It was the middle of the night, but they had made it. Above them the newly-rebuilt walls stood strong. There was no evidence of any effects from the Mana Bomb. The complex was larger than it had been originally, as the Alliance was using it now as a springboard to attack Orgrimmar. It stretched all the way down to Bladefist Bay, where a harbour had been quickly built.

‘Halt! Who goes there?’ A guard stepped out of the darkness, meeting them at the main gate.

‘Lady Jaina Proudmoore. We have come from Dustwallow to meet with King Varian. Our expedition was more troubled than we expected.’

‘The King is not here yet. I will report your arrival to General Gaines. Wait here until I return.’ The guard stalked into the base. Jaina was a little off-put by the curt conversation. I suppose security has to be high this close to Orgrimmar. That guard mentioned General Gaines – I can’t say I’ve ever heard Varian speak of him. Odd. Northwatch used to be part of my domain, I should have at least heard of him…

The guard from earlier returned with an escort of five more people. Foremost among them was who Jaina assumed to be the General in question.

‘So it is true. The high and mighty Jaina Proudmoore comes to beg for aid.’ Jaina was vaguely aware of the man smirking at her. ‘Put them in the dungeon until the morning. I will deal with them then.’

‘Excuse me?’ Jaina was highly confused.

‘You heard me quite clearly. That is how we deal with traitors to the true Alliance.’

‘This is not part of protocol! We are loyal to the Alliance-‘

‘DO NOT TALK BACK TO ME!’ The general roared at Captain Freewind, the one who had spoken up.

I thought this feeling that I was dreaming would stop once we got out of Dustwallow. I’m too weak to resist whatever is happening here. Jaina let herself be led to the dungeons of the Hold, which were larger than they used to be.

The guards threw them in and left. Jaina winced again, remembering her broken rib. The dulled senses were sadly leaving along with the mana overload.

‘What now?’ Aneera’s voice came out of the darkened room. She was rather irritated. ‘This is outright insubordination. You are the leader of the Kirin Tor!’

‘I know, Aneera. But I think I know why. Northwatch was once upon a time composed of mainly those who had deserted Theramore because they felt I was too lenient towards the Horde. Something tells me that there are grudges against me. We will be able to rectify whatever has happened here, but not until tomorrow. I suggest we get some rest.’

Jaina conjured a small ball of light which illuminated the room slightly. The dungeon was not many cells, but instead a single open room with very little else in it. This doesn’t seem to have been used at all. Something tells me they never bothered to use it for Horde prisoners.

~~~

The next morning they were awoken by the door slamming open. Light streamed in as guards quickly dragged them to their feet.

‘You heard your orders. Take all of them except the traitor.’

I’m a traitor now? This is becoming farcical.

The group was led out and the door slammed shut and locked. Jaina was left alone.

Very well then.

For the next half-hour, Jaina spent her time gently testing out her magic through simple spells. Much of her power had returned over the night, as evidenced by her own conjuring of a book, some candles and a sumptuous breakfast.

Peaceful reading is always too good to be true.

She could hear various noises from above as soldiers in the courtyard went about their day.

Presumably they’re feeding the others. But what then? Will this Gaines swear them to his cause? I imagine the marines would do it to save their own skin, but Captain Freewind and Aneera… Aneera especially will resist so long as I am down here. I hope they’ll be alright.

For the next hour, Jaina occupied herself with reading and building up her power. No one bothered to come for her, and she soon felt as she had done not long after arriving in Dustwallow.

I wonder how long they’ll leave me. There is nothing stopping them from doing so until Varian arrives – but if that happens there’ll have been no coordination with Vol’jin, and no diplomacy. Our attacks on Orgrimmar could be ruined.

At around ten in the morning Jaina could hear the clattering of a large procession moving across the courtyard. A voice rang out.

‘Orc. You have been found guilty of trespassing on Alliance territory. What do you have to say for yourself?’

From slightly further away came the response of an orc. Female, and speaking in broken Common.

‘Please, we just come to avoid Hellscream-‘

‘Were you spying on us for your masters? What do you know?’

‘I-I just live in Crossroads, I flee Kor’kron, you must help-‘

‘ANSWER THE QUESTION!’ Gaines yelled at the woman. Following that, there was the noise of a whip and a scream from the orc.

‘I know nothing! I not part of army, I just make clothes!’ The orc’s sobbing was followed by another crack of the whip.

What is going on? This is barbaric. The Alliance does not use torture to get information.

For the moment, Jaina kept her composure despite the urge to get angry. She did not need to make things worse.

‘Take the whelp.’

‘Please! He my son! You mustn’t!’ Another crack of the whip preceded the screams of the woman in Orcish.

Things are already far worse than my intervention will make them.

An odd clarity had come over Jaina, and she calmly stepped towards the door. She rapped on it three times.

‘Hello? Is anyone there?’ No response. ‘If anyone is there, it is in your best interests to open this door right now.’ Jaina waited for ten seconds. No response. The door remained closed. ‘In that case, it is in your best interests to move away from the door while I blast it open.’

Jaina’s sudden resolution had filled her with power, and she felt just as strong as usual. Her hands lit up brightly with magic, and at her command the entire door became covered in a sheet of ice. Conjuring a lance of pure ice, she stepped back and swung hard at the sheet. The door came apart, the ice blasting into the hallway with a noise of breaking glass.

Jaina stepped through. On the floor lay a soldier, unconscious and cut but alive. ‘I did warn you. I am aware of my own power.’ Stepping past him, she murmured a cloaking spell and quickly turned invisible. With any luck, so many people will be outside that I won’t be noticed.

She quickly moved upstairs and out of the keep, tracing her steps from the prior night. As expected, most of the population was milling about in the courtyard. There were a large number of civilians, and Jaina tried to assess their expressions.

If this has been happening since the Blockade of Kalimdor, I would predict that not everyone is happy about it. I can’t wait for Varian to get here. Too many may have died already.

The expressions varied from face to face, but Jaina noticed that the civilians seemed more dissatisfied with the ordeal than the soldiers, some of whom were jeering at the woman and her child.

How can they just stand there and let this happen? Have the orcs truly treated them so bad? It was not a question Jaina had the time to find the answer to. She surveyed the area, looking for her crew.

Towards the back and slightly to the right Jaina could see them. They were roughly arranged on their knees, bound and gagged. Jaina noted an anti-magic collar on Aneera, who was red in the face with anger. In front of them were several trolls and a young orc Jaina assumed to be the son of the woman. He was kicking and screaming at two guards who were struggling to pull him to the front. Jaina smiled briefly at his resistance.

Several bite marks later, the child was flung onto the floor in front of his mother, eliciting more jeers from the soldiers. Jaina saw outright glares at the soldiers from the civilians, and several of the soldiers at the back of the crowd shifted back hesitantly.

I might have numbers on my side here. But I can’t expect the civilians to fight. I’ll have to hope the soldiers will step down. Jaina quickly moved around the soldiers until she was close to Gaines and the underling who was asking questions.

The Orc was gripping her child tightly and muttering prayers in Orcish. Jaina had heard them before. The woman was praying for the spirits to save her son, or at least give him a quick death.

‘So be it. If you will not tell us anything, then the Alliance finds you guilty of espionage. Execute the child, and make her watch-‘

‘No.’ Jaina dispelled her invisibility and stepped between the orcs and the humans. Her appearance caused a surge of gasps to rise up from the crowd.

Gaines glared at her like one would a fly. ‘No? The all-mighty Proudmoore thinks she can deny an order from an Alliance General? Ha!’

Jaina stayed where she was. ‘Yes, ‘She’ can, as leader of a sovereign nation of the Alliance. What I have seen here does not just go against Alliance military law, it goes against human nature. Torturing a fleeing orc in front of her child, when she is clearly fleeing from the reign of Hellscream? Have you no shame? How many have you done this to?’

‘Every one of them deserved it. The Horde are animals who should be put down.’

‘The world is not black and white, ‘General’. It is filled with people, good and bad, who deserve protection from evil. You are not protecting them, you are replicating exactly the horrors of Garrosh and of the First Horde.’

‘You think they deserve any sort of protection? Stormwind was destroyed in the First War, a d the orcs and their ilk have done nothing but ruin the world since! Did any of the orcs think about protecting the children of Stormwind, of Theramore? No, because they are monsters.’

‘I think they deserve just as much protection as we do. Hatred is but anger that you refuse to let go of. You cannot use one bad action to defend another, especially when we are meant to be the defenders of justice and peace.

The story of the Horde and Alliance is a cycle of one retaliatory action against another, each inspiring another from its bitter aftermath. I will not let Theramore be used as an excuse for murder, I will not let the First War be used as an excuse for torture, and I will not let you continue to demonstrate that you are no better than the orcs you call monsters.

A good man told me that the cycle ends when you walk away. I urge you, General, do not make this any worse than it already is. Walk away.’

Gaines stared at her for a moment, and laughed. ‘You think you stand a chance here, surrounded by my soldiers? They said you’d gone mad after the bomb, and they were right.’

Jaina shrugged. ‘I have faced worse odds. And your soldiers may be strong, but who cooks for them, who cleans for them? Who is forced to watch as they butcher everything that the Alliance stands for, all because of your grudge? Not all your forces are subservient to hate.’

Gaines turned away from her and looked across the courtyard. ‘Is this true?’ He barked at the gathered forces. ‘Would any of you betray the Alliance and stand with this orc-lover? Would you destroy everything we have worked for, or would you stand with me as we crush Orgrimmar?’

A few moments passed with nothing happening. Gaines turned back to her, a victorious grin on his face. Jaina ignored him, moving to the orc woman and cradling her and her child.

‘General Gaines fights to crush the Horde. I fight to save it from itself. In the future, when I tell my children about this war I intend to say that I ended it by helping many different races to value peace above old hatreds, rather than by destroying races because of my hatred.’ She scanned the crowd. ‘When you tell the story of this war to your children, will you be a keeper of peace or the murderer of thousands? Because only you can decide, now, when you choose the fate of these orcs.’

Her words had an effect. The crowd of soldiers had gone silent in contemplation. The tide swung in her favour, and the civilians began to make their own noises, cheering for Jaina and yelling for the orcs to be spared. Gaines turned red as it became clear he was defeated.

He roared, and Jaina caught a flash of light out of the corner of her eye, rolling to her side and pulling the orcs with her. There goes my rib again. The General’s sword slashed fruitlessly through the air where Jaina had just been knelt. He was seized by several of his own soldiers, and a wave of cheers burst forth from the crowd.

‘And so the fate of the Alliance has been chosen. General, you are accused of wrongfully and illegally imprisoning a Captain of the Alliance not under your jurisdiction, the Chief Battlemage of the Kirin Tor, and the Leader of the Council of Six, all without proper reason, conduct or authority. You are also accused of wilfully disobeying orders from Alliance Military Command and encouraging in your own troops a similar disobedience. Finally, you are accused of illegal use of torture on prisoners, deliberate mistrials and disregard for proper protocol and procedure, unnecessary cruelty, unwarranted executions and an intention to cause harm to innocents. You will be comfortably held in the dungeons until the King arrives. As your superior, he will decide on punishment.’

~~~

Jaina sat in the calm shade beneath one of Ratchet’s palm trees. It had been several days since the stand-off at Northwatch, but things were running smoothly. Gaines had refused to see Jaina since, despite her wish for him to return to his position if he would accept the terms.

I had no wish to usurp him, but this matter is no longer mine to interfere with.

Reports suggested that the Alliance fleet would arrive within the next week, and with Northwatch in order under the temporary command of Aneera and Captain Freewind, Jaina had decided to set off to establish relations with Vol’jin in preparation for the siege on Orgrimmar. Her first stop along a hastily-constructed road was Ratchet.

As it turned out, her luck was in. She arrived during a meeting between the twin barons of Steamwheedle, Gazlowe and Revilgaz, who were quite content to meet with her after their own business was complete.

‘So, Lady Proudmoore, to what do we owe the pleasure of your company?’

‘I wish I brought better tidings, gentlemen, but I have come here to help lead the Alliance attack on Orgrimmar – although I would appreciate that that information stay within this room until King Varian arrives next week.’

The goblins’ eyes lit up at the prospect of trade deals with the King of Stormwind. Jaina was nothing if not a shrewd diplomat.

‘Well, assamatter of fact, that is some quite good tidings.’ Jaina looked inquisitively at Gazlowe. ‘Garrosh owes us big war debts for the rebuilding of his city and all the weapons he’s bought off us.’

Revilgaz nodded. ‘Between a lack of money and this war, Ratchet’s gone bone-dry. We was discussin’ trade sanctions until you turned up, m’lady – Gadgetzan’s talkin’ about shutting Ratchet down altogether unless something big happens.’

Jaina smiled. ‘Then I assume that my timing is impeccable. I cannot make guarantees about numbers yet, but I am fairly certain that when the King arrives, we can discuss coffers. I assume that this will not impact on your relationship with Orgrimmar?’

The goblins laughed for quite a while at her joke, and Jaina found herself joining in for a few minutes before they all stopped, teary-eyed. Gazlowe answered.

‘Lady Proudmoore, our relationship with Orgrimmar’s been dead since Garrosh blockaded our ports and destroyed Mudsprocket. We just haven’t been in a position to cut it off yet.’

~~~

After an hour of preliminary negotiations, Jaina was on her way up the Southfury River on a small steamboat offered as a goodwill gesture by the Barons. She and the freed prisoners were headed for Razor Hill, the current seat of the Darkspear Rebellion.

Before it was ready, she had accepted a flyover (on wyverns, not zeppelins) to show her what the land was like and how much control the Kor’kron had.

‘Theyre takin’ the Barrens for everything they’re worth, and for good reason. The Night Elves are retaking the forest, and Bilgewater’s turned a blind eye while it calls its people out of Orgrimmar and safeguards the Port. Stonetalon and Mulgore are inaccessible, and with the loss of centralised control there isn’t anyone in the Southern Barrens anymore. This is pretty much the only supplies Orgrimmar’s got left.’

Below them, Kor’kron holds dotted the ruined Barrens. The Great Plains were unrecognisable from Jaina’s first trip through – the earth was utterly dry and in several areas one could see elemental disturbances. The trees were all but gone, and goblin-made oil platforms pumped smog into the air.

‘We intend to break Garrosh’s power before starving them into submission becomes necessary. There are lots of prisoners in Orgrimmar, and chances are they’ll be eaten before Garrosh lets the orcs go hungry.’

As they had drawn closer to the ground Jaina had become of the numbers of combatants trying to have control over the various holds. This late in the war and there are still so many. This death can’t keep going on.

She quickly saw enough, and returned, but on the journey into Durotar it kept coming back to her. The events of the last week had changed her thinking about the war.

This isn’t necessary. All this fighting goes all the way back to the Northrend campaign, and for what? We’re never going to drive Sylvanas out of the Undercity, or exterminate the orcs. This is nothing more than violence done in the names of the dead.

The dead wouldn’t want this, that much I know. We have to end this quickly.

Going forward, our only option is peace. And to obtain that, I have to put so much more effort in than before.

She walked in to Razor Hill alongside three trolls, an orcish woman and her child.

‘Ya brave ta come here, human.’ From above, a troll woman looked at her, green dreadlocks swaying in the wind.

‘These people will attest that I freed them. I do not wish to fight you. I have come on behalf of the Alliance, so that we may coordinate our attacks on Orgrimmar.’

The troll was reluctant, but Jaina’s story was true, and she was led to Vol’jin.

‘Aha… So we meet again, Jaina. It’s been a while.’

‘It has, Vol’jin.’

‘I presume ya come here to talk?’

‘After the war there will be peace. The least we can do is start by swallowing our pride and acknowledging that we need to work together for that peace to work.’

‘Ya may be a human, but ya’ve never been stupid. Ya are a good leader, and Varian too. Come, let us talk.’

~~~

Two Weeks Later

Varian arrived just two days after my successful negotiations with Vol’jin. It turned out that the troll chief had Baine and Chen Stormstout on his side, and the night progressed into a drinking battle between old friends. Chen won, of course.

‘Haha! The old Stormstout Belly wins out! When this war ends, I will invite you all to my family’s brewery on Pandaria.’

‘Let’s get through da war first, yeah?’

‘Do not worry, Vol’jin. “Sleep every night with the peace of a mind unburdened.” Everything shall be fine in the end.’

‘Chen, did you just quote Antonidas?’

‘Or did I teach Antonidas the quote? That is the question, dearest Jaina.’

It turns out that those words came from Shaohao, an Emperor dead for ten-thousand years and then some. It is curious that so much of what my mentor said applies to the demons Pandaria revealed – but some mysteries are destined to stay mysteries.

With business concluded, the Shado-pan took over from us in the Isle of Thunder, and Vereesa was free to come to the Barrens. It took almost an entire two weeks, but I managed to convince her to come back to Theramore.

It turned out that although the Focusing Iris imbued it with more power than would usually be possible, the Mana Bomb dropped on Theramore did exactly as it was supposed to, after-effects and everything. They were just a little more extreme than usual. It was simple enough to convert some gnomish irradiation suits to fit the situation – and with luck, we’ll be able to use them to begin to disperse the magical fall-out.

That was not why we came here, however. Comparing the experiences I’ve had here with the reports of the bombs used in Outland, I had a hunch about the self-sustaining nature of the web. A hunch that was right.

As we neared the monument on the beach which faced what was once Theramore, a wisp was visible next to it, coloured purple and hovering at face height.

Vereesa gasped.

When viewed from an angle that caught the light behind it (as the setting sun did then) you could see so much more.

An initial flash of light reveals the translucent silhouette of a man. Tall, well-built, with long hair and eyes that glowed brightly like orbs of light.

My hunch was correct, because those killed in the first mana bombs persisted as echoes, maintained by the mana. And at every important moment in my travel through Dustwallow, a flash of light had caught my eye and I had thought that I had seen a face from my past. I cannot truly explain, but between the effects of the Focusing Iris and the weakened ley lines of the Nexus War, more than an echo of Rhonin stood on that beach, waiting for Vereesa.

It would not last forever – far from it, as our intrusion two weeks earlier meant that the web was already weakening – but it was a goodbye worthy of his sacrifice.

As Vereesa ran towards him to say everything she had never said, I turned away, instead looking out over the ocean. As the sun hit the water, I could see them all. Hundreds of wisps, side-by-side in the evening light. Kinndy, Tervosh, Pained, my father… They were smiling, and I was smiling back. It was the last time I would see them again. But it was goodbye. And it was peaceful. That, I think, is more than we could have hoped for.

On the morning after the end of the world, when Archimonde still lay draped dead across Hyjal and the forests of Kalimdor had burnt out, we celebrated. Orc and human, elf and tauren, dwarf and troll. We danced and we ate, we sang and we cheered, we talked and we joked. We had defeated the Legion, and as the druids and shaman danced, prayed and sang we could see nature returning to Hyjal. A new world was upon us, and the hope that with it we would find peace and cooperation. While the fight for such a world has been longer than I imagined, that hope persists, not just in me, but in every person who lived to see that day. And that is why I fight – so that I might yet live to see a day like that dawn once again.

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