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.
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.