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[Added to Timeline] A Song of Ice and Fire

#1
Tuesday, November 27th  Early morning, Gate of Summer, Silvermoon.


Un-fucking-believable.

Garrosh Hellscream fumed as he ran a whetstone across the blade of Bonesplitter, his axe.  Wrought from the bones of a clefthoof and tempered in the blood of a gronn, it was a formidable weapon.  It was no Gorehowl, but few blades could hope to compare to the weapon of his ancestors, now wielded by Grommash.

This journey had gone from bad to worse.  What had first begun as an expedition to reunite with the Kor'kron that were trapped outside the elves' shield had turned into something more... complex.  While he had still every intention of reuniting with Zaela, Malkorok, and the rest, a new objective had smashed itself into his plans with disorienting speed.

Frostmourne.

The black blade that the Legion had granted Arthak.  The same blade that claimed Dranosh and Ner'zhul both.  It was powerful... hungry, even.

And somehow he and Jorin were supposed to find it and destroy or contain it while contending with...

He glanced over at his would-be travelling companions as they prepared.  Jorin was confirming that his belongings were accounted for nearby.  Jorin, perhaps his only lifeline on this particular journey, looked exhausted already.  Though the orc was only a couple of years his senior, he already looked at least a decade older.  As his eye glanced to the patch covering the necrolyte's eye, his jaw clenched.  Perhaps knowing your own death does that to you.

He nodded at the orc as they made eye contact, and he silently hoped that the death he had seen was not here.

"Garrosh," Jorin said.  "I will bring her with me.  My magics will shield her identity from most, but the dreadlords will see through the illusion as easy as you see me now, should she be too close.  We will need to be cautious."

Garrosh grunted.  "What about her?"  He nodded with his head towards their other... travelling companion.  The pale-skinned eredar was out of place amidst the orc-scattered wreckage of the Elfgate which held them at bay. She was dressed like a painted doll, a short dress unsuited for travel and a long, silken cloak draped around her shoulders.  She stood alone, glancing from one person to the next like a clanless child at a feast for the warchief.

Jorin shook his head.  "Princess Aracyra is powerful, yes... but not powerful enough to pierce my illusions without magic.  And the chain should prevent that from being possible.  Her mother, however, is a different case."

"Very well," Garrosh said, tossing the chain to the necrolyte.

Jorin held it gently, looking over to the false krokul, kneeling on the ground not far from them.  Garona, he thought.  What a miserable life you have led.  He sighed.  "Will you help me with this?" he asked the half-blood.  "I trust you know how to keep out of their sight more than any of us."

Garona grunted.  "I have lived this long.  Allowing them to see me would be a death-wish," she shot a glance at Garrosh.  "Which I do not have... despite what some among our merry band might think."

Garrosh snorted.  Had he not heard the chittering of wings, he would have perhaps allowed himself to be drawn into the blackheart's discourse.

The four of them, plus the other orcs that had gathered, some to journey with them and others simply to witness the spectacle that was to come, cast their eyes to the sky.  A cloud of otherworldly bats had begun to descend upon the main concourse.  The byway, once a highroad for all, was now a battlefield littered with ruined weapons and wreckage.  As the cloud of demonic beasts fluttered together, they swiftly transformed together in a grotesque flash of fel magic.  Soon, four towering, winged fiends stood where once there was naught.

Jorin had described them to Garrosh for his own benefit previously.  Detheroc, the leader of the trio from the Ministry of Nathrezim, was the most distinguished.  He was nearly twice the size of the others in a corpulent fashion.  His gut was bloated and scarred, his jowls pressed against the leather and steel that made up the armor that did not even pretend to cover his form.  His small wings looked like they would be incapable of carrying his large form, but Garrosh knew better than to assume that was the case.  Balnazaar appeared to be the mightiest.  His chest was broad, his presence imposing, and his countenance stern.  But Garrosh knew better than to trust appearances alone - any one of these creatures was dangerous, and together they were rightly to be feared.  Varimathras, the last of the Ministry representatives, looked to be the most average of the lot.  His wings, his presence, nor his musculature was the largest nor the smallest.  The demon sported thick black muttonchops that covered the side of his face.  His eyes, however, seemed to take in everything at once.  There was a dangerous glint of cunning within them that Garrosh despised immediately.

And lastly, Mal'ganis.  This dreadlord was to be their companion on this journey.  While not a member of the Ministry, Mal'ganis was covered in fearsome armor from head to tow.  His face was gaunt and aggressive, his wings covered in more spikes than any of his kindred.  He stepped forward, in front of his companions.  "Have you finished your preparations?"

Garrosh nodded, glancing back at Jorin, who had retreated to a safe distance, away from the demons' sight.  "We await your command, Dreadlords."

Mal'ganis glanced briefly over at Aracyra, who had moved to join the others.  The orcs who were to come with them readied their gear as they stepped closer to the shimmering barrier.  The physical gate had not been closed since the invasion, though it had no need to be.  The magicked barrier was more effective than any gate, be it wood, stone, or steel.

Mal'ganis glanced back at the dreadlords in the Ministry, who returned the nod at them.  Detheroc flicked his wrist.  A cloud of shadow appeared above his hand, which coalesced into the form of a skull.

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Clearly demonic in nature, the gilded skull glowed with a supernatural power.  Two blackened horns protruded from the skull's forehead as it levitated from his hand.  Steadily, a stream of shadows eked up from his rotund fingers, dancing into the skull, the black mist pouring out of its glowing eyes and mouth.  With speed unnatural to such a large creature, Detheroc moved his hand forward, pointing his long claw-like nails towards the gate.  Varimathras and Balnazaar stepped to his left and right and mimicked his gesture, speaking in their demonic tongues as they did.  Their own cursed magic mingled with that of their brother.

"Prepare yourselves," Mal'ganis said, his wings flexing as he glanced back and forth between the gate and the dreadlord's ritual.

Orcish hands grip weapons as anticipation whet the air across the darkened skies.

The skull began to chitter and crackle under the shadowy pressure. Then it's mouth began to flap, filling the air with a tortured laughter.  Full of equal parts mirth and suffering, the laughter grew louder and louder and louder.  The orcs in the crowd covered their ears and shouted in pain, but their shouts were drowned out by the demonic laughter.  Some of the orcs around Garrosh - warriors hand-picked by Hellscream himself - went to cover their ears as well, some of them backpedaling away from the demons.  Garrosh grabbed the orc before him as his resolve faltered.  "Steel yourself," he said, hardly audibly, "And get ready to move."  The sound was unbearable, but they had to be ready.  Even the eredar witch was struggling, her fangs gritted together in pain as she fought to resist.

Jorin pointed at the barrier.  As Garrosh followed his companion's gesture, he saw the mystical cracks beginning to form.

Just then, Mal'ganis shot forward, his wings propelling him forward.  His long fingers burned with fel magic as he collided with the ban'dinoriel, digging deep into the magic.  He roared and struggled as his muscles strained themselves harder and harder to break through the barrier.  Fel energy arced off of the demon, the magicked lightning pulsing through his form as he pulled and pulled, trying to rend a hole through the barricade.

And it began to work. 

Garrosh's jaw dropped as the weakened barrier faltered ever so slightly, allowing Mal'ganis to literally tear into it.  But even with his lack of magical knowledge, he knew they did not have long.  Raising his hand, he gestured forward.  "MOVE!" he shouted.

The orcs under Garrosh sprinted towards the torn hole, leaping through it under the dreadlord's arms.  Garrosh, Jorin, Garona, Aracyra, and every other orc in their entourage leapt through the tear until all of them had passed.  Mal'ganis's hands, shaking from the effort of holding the portal agape, burst into a cloud of demonic bats, swiftly slipping through the crack, which slammed closed behind him, incinerating a few of the bats that made up Mal'ganis in a guillotine of arcane magic.  The dreadlord reformed into his true form shortly after, falling to his knee and coughing.  His hands were badly burned, blackened blood leaking from his fanged mouth.

"My... lord?" Jorin said, taking a step closer.

"Must... feed," Mal'ganis said, his voice raspy.  "I shall... return shortly.  Keep moving."  Mal'ganis collapsed to the ground, his body bursting into his swarm-like form on impact.  The monsters took to the sky and to the hunt, so as to restore his strength on whatever - or whoever - he could find.  Jorin had heard stories of the nathrezim's legendary thirst.  Judging from Aracyra's face, somehow even paler than usual, she did too.  But Jorin could not help but feel comforted by the fact that even the dreadlords could feel pain, feel exhaustion.  It meant they were far from invincible.

That this might actually work.

"Well," Garrosh said, his ears still ringing, "You heard the dae'mon.  Let's find Zaela and the others first, then-"

"Hellscream!  Look!"

Garrosh glanced back at the Gatekeeper where his warrior had pointed.  The barrier, which had mostly repaired itself, had begun to shimmer once again.  A single orcish hand had punched through.  It struggled and pulled itself through the barrier against all odds.  Garrosh and the other warriors readied their weapons, Jorinn his staff, and Garona her dagger.  Aracyra, standing away from the others, conjured shadow magic of her own in preparation for the unexpected flare of magic.

Despite everything he had come to know, the orcish hand was joined by a second.  In a smaller fashion than Mal'ganis, the hands tore a hole of their own through the barrier.

"That's... not possible," Jorin said, his eye wide with disbelief.

And yet, the form of a single gray-skinned orc pulled itself through the Gatekeeper.

As the blackened form of Maim Blackhand pulled himself through the Gatekeeper.

His raised body was charred, his flesh burned and blackened, his steps staggering and weak.

"Maim," Garrosh shouted to his former 'friend.'  "You look like shit."

"Kill..." he said, staggering closer and closer.  His hands, limp, reached up and gripped the blades across his back and drew them.  Every step caused his eyes to burn brighter with crimson vengeance, his mangled flesh repairing itself piece by piece.

"Maim," Garrosh said, bracing his weapon and furrowing his brow.

"KILL!  I'LL KILL YOU!"  He sprinted forward with speed that shouldn't be possible for a being so close, so beyond death.

Jorinn's eye went black as he held a hand out.  A line of red energy blasted out from it as he gestured forward.  Maim's advance was interrupted by the powerful spell, sending him back against the barrier.  Jorin held the energy there for a brief moment, rending flesh from Maim's body as he was torn asunder by the magic.  He pulled the magic back and Maim's lifeless body dropped to the ground, his flesh cooked and unmoving, his weapons clattered to the ground.

Garrosh scowled back at Garona.  "You."  A thousand furious responses cooked in his mind as he approached her, fist balled in rage.  He opened his mouth, his fist raised in the air.  Garona half flinched, half dropped into a defensive position.

"Garrosh," Jorin said, stepping between them, a hand held up to the much larger orc.  "It's finished.  Let's go."

Garrosh held Jorin's gaze for a moment.  He turned back to the rest of the warriors.  "Come!  We don't have time to waste on this."

He stormed away from the two, the rest of the orcs following suit, Aracyra following not far behind.

---

Garona stepped closer to Jorin as they held back behind the rest.  "I do not need your protection, Jorin."

Jorin sighed.  "I know that," he said.  "But if I do not give it regardless, either you or he will be dead before this trip is over... and I am growing short on friends."

Garona scoffed, her tail flicking both in and out of the illusion.  "Friend.  Do not presume that your protection," she said, pulling at the magicked chain around her neck, "makes me consider you a friend, Deadeye."

Jorin simply smiled.  "I did not say that I was your friend, Garona."

Garona gawped at the mag'har who believed himself far too clever for his own good and growled.  "Let's just go," she said, moving ahead of the necrolyte in a huff.  Jorin followed silently behind.
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#2
Sunday, December 2nd.  Morning, after the War Council.

"Ouch!" Kael'thas yelped, one eye closing in a wince as Rommath ran a brush through his long, golden hair.  "That's attached, you know."

"I'm aware," Rommath replied coolly, "and it would not hurt quite so much if you took proper care of your hair.  Prestidigitation is no substitute for proper hygiene, your Majesty.  Now stop complaining and hold still."

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Kael'thas chewed on his lip as his friend went about his work, trying not to complain further, lest the crotchety pyromancer chide him further.

Kael'thas glanced up at Rommath briefly.  At present, he was wearing aught but a simple sleeveless undershirt with no collar.  Rare were the times that his old friend showed such vulnerability, even around him.  But, with the recent news of Grand Magister Salonar's death...

Rommath had never taken Belo'vir's surname, but that did not stop him from considering the former Grand Magister his father.  The tattoos which were emblazoned upon his body were the only things left of his own father.

And the vicious scars that accompanied the marks on his face were proof enough that he would have slashed and burned that, too, if such a thing were possible.

"Head forward," Rommath corrected, moving Kael's face back towards the mirror.

"Of course, mother," Kael jested.  His eyes were drawn to his own reflection in the mirror.  He looked tired.  He felt tired.  The Mayor's guest quarters were hardly as luxurious as the palace, but they were comfortable - a comfort that may not be found again for some time after they departed later that day.  But that had not helped him get any rest these last few days.

His mind wandered as Rommath did his work.  The Alliance's war council was the day previous, and his attendance had been facilitated by a rather ingenious play by Velameestra Windrunner.  He could not help but be impressed by the level of commitment she had shown towards the plight of the elvish people over the last months, doubly so because she, too, had spent a great deal of her life in Dalaran.

His brow furrowed. I... had never thanked them for everything they did for us, had I?  How ungrateful of me.  He would have to rectify that after all of this, the next time he spoke to her.  She, especially, deserved it, after the lengths he had gone to seek revenge on her for a crime she had never committed.

Not only her, of course.  Her brother, Gilveradin, and Prince Uther.  Vereesa, and Alleria's boy, Arator, as well as the Gilnean princess, the freelancer who was certainly more than a simple concubine, and the SI agent, too.

And, of course, Jaina.

He was glad to see she was hale and healthy, in spite of everything.  The last he had seen her, she had just recovered from a brutal attack by Dar'khan's demon-touched witch.  He had always admired her, but that she still held the resolve to speak before so many dissident minds after her own injuries, the fall of his nation, her son's slaying and subsequent resurrection, and now the abduction of her lord husband spoke volumes to her character that even he did not realize was there.  Though he and Arthas had... fundamental disagreements in a multitude of places, Lordaeron was still their neighbor, and Jaina a dear friend.  And he knew the aid they had offered his displaced people in their direst time.  Sylvanas, Lor'themar, and the rest of his people would not be able to survive the winters beyond the Ban'dinoriel without their aid.

What a mess these orcs have caused.  How many elvish lives had been lost?  How many people were slain by the greenskin brutes?  How many of his people still fight within the walls, and how many more suffer in chains?

A thought came unbidden to his mind.

The Aurum Blades were still within the city's walls.

His heart raced for a moment.  Why?

He knew why.  But he did not know why.

How strange,  Kael'thas thought, that my thoughts would turn to her.

"Kael," Rommath said.  "I'm finished.  You can return to Azeroth now, if you wish."

"Right," Kael'thas said, standing from the chair and running a hand through his hair.  "How do I look?"

"Presentable," Rommath responded, pulling his own cloak over his dark undershirt.  He wore a dark leather cloak and jacket, more suited for travel, rather than the ceremonial robes he would have worn for official business.  "What troubles you?" he asked in that matter-of-fact Rommath way.

"Nothing," Kael'thas lied.

"You should really stop trying to lie to me, Kael'thas.  You've never been able to."

"Yes, I suppose it is rather futile at this point.  I'm just... thinking of someone.  Wondering if they're safe."

"You saw Queen Jaina in Pathaleon's illusion," Rommath pointed out, crossing his arms.

Kael scowled at him.  "I'm well aware, Rommath.  But for your information, I was not speaking of Her Majesty."

"For once," Rommath prodded.  "Then who?"

Kael'thas wandered over towards the rack upon which his armor stood, ignoring Rommath's prodding.  Lu'minellia, the regal suit of armor passed down through the Sunstrider line since the dawn of Quel'thalas.  The half-plate was a brilliant white and gold, with pauldrons reminiscent of a phoenix's wings, and the crest of the royal family enshrined in the very center of it.  The circlet, a coronet that matched the armor in design and function, was symbolic of the royal family.  A sign of the burden he had taken up twenty years ago, one that he never expected to take up.  He took up the ancient armor and began affixing it to his body, one piece at a time.

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"Do you remember Finnall?"

Rommath scoffed.  "I scarce believe anyone present at the Magisterial Summit a few months ago could forget her.  Who would have guessed the half-blood courtesan that had bent the new King's ear after the last war would not only turn out to be Magistrix Goldensword's daughter, but would challenge her mother to a duel before hundreds of powerful magi.  You have terrible taste in women, Kael."

"Do you think she made it out?" Kael'thas asked, disregarding his friend's barbs once more.

Rommath shrugged.  "Hard to say.  I do know that members of her mercenary company are still within... but I haven't heard about her personally.  I can... see what I can do to secure that information for you."  Rommath raised his eyebrow.  "Why the sudden curiosity?  You've not spoken of her since she resigned from the palace."

"Idle thoughts," he responded with the wave of a hand.  "And what of you, old friend?  How are you holding up?"

"I'm fine," Rommath answered curtly.  "Are you almost ready?"

"Nearly," Kael'thas responded, latching one of the last pieces of armor onto his body.  He looked a proper king, a proper beacon of hope, now.  He only hoped he could follow through with it.

"Good.  I'll be outside with the others."  Rommath turned and exited the room while Kael'thas affixed the last pieces of his regalia.  As he slid the crown over his brow, he took one last look at himself in the mirror.

I wonder if father felt like this before the Troll Wars?

Banishing the thought, he followed his compatriot outside.

---

A fog roiled over Sunsail Anchorage as the elvish king joined the party that would be travelling with him  Rommath, of course, as well as Pathaeleon and several of their other best magisters.  

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Ranger-Captains Alleria Windrunner and Anya Eversong lead a small force of rangers and striders with them.  
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Captain Auric Sunchaser and Captain Caeus Darill had a force of veteran Guardians of the Eternal Spring that would be coming with them, and Thaladred Blacksun even had a couple of spellbreakers.  It was to be a small force, ultimately, but one that would be able to move quickly and efficiently towards Thas'alah.

"Is everyone ready?" Kael'thas asked.

"As ready as we can be, Your Majesty," Pathaeleon said.  "I have calculated our estimated path, and, adjusting for weather conditions and potential skirmishes with orcish threats, we should be able to check all four runestones for fluctuations in approximately nine days, twenty-three hours, and seventeen minutes.  Give or take a couple of moments here or there, to account for unexpected circumstances."

"Speaking of which," Captain Auric said, glancing over the fog-covered docks.  "I'd say this fog will complicate things."

"For the enemy, perhaps," Alleria added.  She shifted her weight from one hip to the other impatiently, brushing a strand of golden hair from her face.  "You forget this is our land, Sunchaser.  The fog will merely grant us the advantage."

"For a farstrider, perhaps," Auric rebuked, "But some of us wear armor and can't disappear in the blink of an eye."

Anya smirked.  "Then I suppose you should leave this to the experts, Auric."

The spellbreaker, Thaladred, laughed a hearty laugh, joined by some of the others in the group.  Rommath sighed loudly.  "Are we finished?  We have a grove to investigate and a relic to contain."

Kael'thas nodded in agreement.  "Rommath is right.  Ranger-Captains," he said, turning to the farstriders, "have your scouts mapped the way?"

Alleria nodded.  "Yes, your Majesty.  We should be able to intercept some of the nearby marauding orcs on the way there."

Anya pointed towards the fog, as one of their farstriders made their way closer.  "Here's one of them now.  Strider, report."

The farstrider remained silent as he waded through the fog.  His arms were limp at his sides, his gaze down towards the ground.

"Strider," Anya repeated.



The farstrider looked up, his eyes bereft of light.  His mouth was slung open, spittle pooling from the side of it.  He let out a gasping moan as he stepped closer, closer.

And then sprinted towards the king.

An arrow between his eyes took the mindless elf from his feet, dropping him to the group, cold and lifeless.  Alleria dropped her bow.  "We're under attack," she announced.  "Sound the alarms."

Kael'thas drew Felo'melorn from it's enchanted scabbard.  The blade, reminiscent of a phoenix's wing, shimmered in the foggy afternoon, the blade seemingly slicing through the fog.  "With me!  For Quel'thalas!"

---

It was not the enemy he wished to face.  Mindless husks of his subjects threw themselves at the defenders in small groups at first, but then by the dozens.

Rage welled deep within his breast as a bolt of flame licked from his fingertips and struck another of the city's defenders, lost to this... malevolence that had robbed them of their life.  They moved with nearly the elegance of life, and yet they were macabre facsimiles of what they should have been.

Whatever had done this was powerful and dark.  And close.

It did not take them long to find the source.

Kael'thas and Rommath skid to a halt before a dozen or more bodies, cast about the central courtyard of Sunsail.  Their eyes cast up to the sky as a winged shadow darkened the street below.  A malevolent creature held a young elf woman in his clawed hand.  The woman's mad pleas for help and rescue were replaced by horrific screams as her eyes and mouth went ablaze with viridian fire.  Her suffering, her pain and agony, almost seemed to coalesce into a physical form as it was drawn into the gaunt creature's distended jaw.

Then, silence.  The creature floated down, carried on powerful, spike-ridden leather wings as it landed on the pinnacle of the fountain in the center of the square.  He tossed the woman's lifeless corpse, which rolled to a stop a few feet before Kael'thas and the others.

"I've been searching for you, young king," the demon spoke, his voice impossibly smooth as it echoed throughout the courtyard.  He brought his arm up, wiping green, ichorous energy from his fanged maw.  "I am Mal'ganis."  He raised his clawed hand again in a simple gesture.  Kael'thas watched as, one by one, the bodies in the courtyard shuddered, and then stood, grasping weapons and tools as they turned towards their king and countrymen with empty, hungry stares.  "As you can see, your people are now mine. I will now turn this land, city by city, household by household, until the flame of life has been-"

A snap, a streak of fire, and then an explosion at the fountain's crest where the monster had landed interrupted the demon's monologue, forcing him to take to the air to avoid the blast.  Kael'thas glanced over at the outstretched hand of Rommath, his eyes ablaze with magic, his staff cradled behind him in his other hand.  "No one has time to listen to you ramble, Naal'alar [lit. 'dark lord']."

The air filled with arrows and spells as the others joined his attack.  Mal'ganis smirked as his wings took him higher, out of the reach of their attacks.  One arrow sailed towards his face, which he snagged out of the at the last minute.  "You cannot stop the inevitable, young king.  How many more of your people will die before we meet again, I wonder?"

Kael'thas finished his own incantation and a half-dozen streaks of blazing energy danced through the air in a scorching spiral.  As they impacted the demon, he burst into dozens of shrieking demonic bats.  Several of them were incinerated by the blast, but the others dispersed, scattering in all directions in a cacophony of skittering, screeching laughter.

Alleria grit her teeth, arrows landing their mark upon several of the foul monsters as they tried to flee.  "Alleria!" Anya shouted out, her bow pointed at the advancing thralls that were closing on them fast.  Alleria doubled back, avoiding a wide swing from a fallen elf as she slid beneath it, sinking an arrow into its neck as she evaded the attack, Anya following through with an arrow of her own.  Anya dropped her bow and slipped two short swords from her hip and danced into the oncoming thralls, carving another one down.  Auric and the other Guardians of the Eternal Spring interceded before more could advance upon the farstriders.

The woman who they had watched the life drawn from lurched at Kael'thas, who raised Felo'melorn in response.  The woman's hands gripped at the blade with ferocity, blood steaming from the wounds as it touched the ancient blade.

Kael'thas's eyes glowed with anger and power as he let out a cry of anger and frustration, pushing the blade through her hands and her neck beyond them.  The lightless unlife faded from her limbs as she slumped to the ground.

Within moments, the dreadlord's thralls were slain.  But this was not a victory to celebrate.  

"How many?" Kael'thas said, turning to Pathaeleon.

The magister closed his eyes, steeling his nerves as magic ran across his fingertips, carving subtle glyphs into the air with small motions.  "Forty-three, your majesty.  Thirty-seven of them were noncombatants.  Another six were slain by his thralls, but not turned, and another fourteen wounded, three of which were civilians."

"Better that these people died by our hands than serve as his slaves in death," Anya said.  "I'll see to arrangements to have them interred, their families informed.  I'll catch up with you all in a day or two."

"What was that thing?" Auric said, sheathing his blade and scanning the horizon.  "Some sort of... vampyr?"

"Vampyrs are myth and legend," Rommath said, moving to Kael'thas's side.  "Whatever that was... was very real."

Kael'thas's brow furrowed, his eyes willing the fog, thinned by the pyromancy that had filled in moments ago, to burn away completely, that he might find where 'Mal'ganis' had fled to.

"Whatever he is," Kael'thas said, "I will not allow him to prey on my people.  We're going after him."

"Your Majesty," Alleria interjected, "What of the Mother Tree?  What of this... Frostmourne?"

"It can wait," Kael'thas snapped.  "Come.  We're finding that monster and sending him back to whatever black-hearted corner of the Twisting Nether he slithered from."  He pointed Felo'melorn to the clouded sky, its light gleaming through the fog.  "For Quel'thalas!"

"For Quel'thalas!" the gathered soliders, magi, and striders echoed in response, "For King Kael'thas!"

Rommath folded his arms, the tattoos upon them still rippling with subtle arcane magicks.  His brow furrowed as he tuned out from the patriotic display for a moment.

Frostmourne... Mal'ganis... 'Tis no passing coincidence you revealed yourself now, is it, demon?

His emerald eyes flickered with a thousand theories as he glanced over to his friend and king, and the weight he carried upon his conscience.  And with every day, the crown grows heavier and heavier still.
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#3
Wyndsday, December 5th.  Midday, fifty miles south of Thuron's Livery, Eversong Woods.

"And you're sure they are this way, witch?"

Garrosh plodded behind the dae'mon as she lead the way, her shadow-less form at the point of the spearhead that consisted of his warriors.  They had not lost many thus far - two to a smallteeth holdout in a ruined city to the north, and another one to Maim during his third ambush.

That was an annoyance that was almost worth relinquishing the difficult prize he drug behind him.  Were the half-breed not so useful, he would have removed her head himself.  But the knowledge, and the skills, she held within were regrettably enough to keep her head attached to her shoulders.

Abruptly, the pale-skinned demon stopped.  She visibly inhaled and spun to meet Garrosh.  Though she was roughly the same height as the orcish warlord, and her ibex-like horns brought her silhouette some degree higher than his, Garrosh was still more than twice her width.  Her face was contorted equal parts defiant anger and fear.  She planted her hooves firmly on the ground, her hands on her hips.

"Yes, I am certain, Hellscream.  I can assure you I have seen it through my shadow, and my shadow does not err.  Furthermore, I would remind you that I have a name, and I demand that you use it henceforth!"

Garrosh did not stop until he was inches, rather than feet, from the sorceress.  He exhaled forcefully enough to cause her eyelids to flicker and her bangs to flutter.  "As you wish, Lady Aracyra.  My sincerest apologies."

Aracyra held his gaze for a moment before swirling back around to continue towards their destination.

---

The rest of the warband had halted for their leader's confrontation with the demoness that guided them.  Jorin could not help but chuckle as he proverbially watched what he imagined was a simple enchantment spell wash over Garrosh.

He had made it an effort to keep a close eye on the eredar.  He knew she was a gifted enchantress and shadowmancer, and had made it a priority to be aware of any attempt at manipulating Garrosh or any of the others on this journey.  Thus far, any enchantments she may have utilized have been somewhat innocuous, this one included.  He had not bothered informing his old friend - after all, Hellscream could use some manners.

---

"Hellscream!  Up ahead!"

Garrosh peered through the forested path, where he saw what seemed to be an old elvish lodge tucked away within the trees.  The signs of battle were evident.  Charred stone and wood, levelled trees, grim trophies of elvish archers posted as a warning upon wooden palisades that now reinforced the damaged structure.  Garrosh smirked as he saw the banners - Dragonmaw, Warsong, Blackrock, Ironmarch, and more.

"Finally," he said to himself as he gestured for his warriors to pick up the pace.

As he and the others walked past the orcish perimeter surrounding the once-magnificent elvish structure, he was greeted with a chorus of nods, lok-tars and fists upon chests from an army of green, gray, and brown.

He nodded as he scanned the area.  He recognized many.  Some were Kor'kron, others potential candidates, and others unknowns.  But he did not see the warrior he sought.

"You," he said, grabbing a passing grunt by the shoulder.  "Zaela.  Where is she?"

Before the bewildered orc could respond, he heard a voice from above.

"Where do you usually find me, Hellscream?"

[Image: EJ8Fx72XkAE2aUR.jpg]

Garrosh looked up, to where he saw the Dragonmaw champion leering down with a smirk from the repaired balcony and watch point above.  Garrosh could feel tension and weight melt from him as he heard the deadpan delivery from his most trusted accomplice.  

"On top of things," he answered with a laugh.  His brow furrowed ever slightly as he saw the eyepatch now affixed over her right eye..  "Throm-ka, Zaela.  Ever a joy it is to see you... though it seems you may have a harder time doing the same now,"

"A gift from the ranger who commanded this lodge," she said.  "I paid him back twice over.  Don't worry about it, Hellscream.  My dam sought to spit me out with two," she said, pointing to her still functional golden-amber eye.

"It's not so bad once you get used to it," Jorin said, sidling up behind Garrosh.

"I'll take your words for it," Hellscream responded.

"Suit yourself.  But when I tore the arrow from the socket and ate what was left in front of the smalltooth, he dropped his guard long enough for me to carve him apart and claim this position."  She smiled a toothy grin.  "Sometimes, tactics require you to think on your feet, Hellscream."

Garrosh wordlessly looked to Jorin, who returned his look with bemusement.  "You know how to pick 'em, don't you Garrosh?" he said under his breath.  Garrosh sneered at the necrolyte before turning back towards Zaela.

"Quite the crew you've gathered, Garrosh," she said.

"Quite.  A lot has happened."

With a jerk of her head towards the barracks, she pushed herself away from the edge and went to await Hellscream within.

Garrosh turned towards the others.  "Rest and prepare.  We will be leaving, tomorrow at the earliest.  Make sure you're ready for anything.  If that dreadlord returns, tell me.  I have words for him."  He turned towards Deadeye and handed him the chain that the disguised Garona was attached to.  "Don't take your eye off of her."

"Of course, Hellscream."

---

"Mor'ghor?  That son-of-a-gronn pile of talbuk shit," Zaela spat, literally and figuratively.  "It's bad enough that that he took over after Zuluhed died... but you're saying he fell under the sway of some elvish witch?"

Garrosh nodded.  "They fled back to Draenor with much of the clan.  I was told that Nekros leads what's left."

Zaela growled.  "If they touched my rylak, I will make them pay."  She sighed.  "At least Nekros is not a fool.  A coward, aye, but not a fool."

"Agreed," Garrosh said.  "And cowards are easy to manipulate.  This plays to our advantage in the long term, Zaela."

"As you say.  I have missed a lot out here, it seems.  First this business with Sinestra, and now Maim as well.  And the Council... what moves have they made?"

"A few," Garrosh said.  "They've begun... experiments.  Implanting orc warlocks into the flesh of slain elf wizards to create immortal warriors, to name one.  And Jorin is pretty sure they have more Red Mist."

"You're kidding."

"I wish I was.  And I have a feeling Arthak might be involved in some way.  Gul'dan means to test him, I think.  To see if he is a worthy candidate."

"Young Saurfang," Zaela mused.  "Does he realize what is happening?  About the Shadow Council?"

Garrosh nodded.  "And more.  He knows about us.  About the Kor'kron.  He may even know about her," he said, glancing down at the illusory draenei in the court below.

Zaela furrowed her brow.  "How?"

He glanced over at Jorin.

"I'm... not sure yet.  But I have my suspicions."

"I see," Zaela responded.  "Have you thought about bringing him in?"

Garrosh nodded.  "I've decided that I will, in time.  Right now, his ignorance is a blunt instrument I plan on wielding for as long as I can.  He is a strong ally, and a great distraction.  Tharbek is handling things with the Warsong clan back in the city, and his mate is helping with his counter-Resistance initiative.  When the time is right, I'll extend a more... formal invitation to the future of the Horde."

Zaela nodded, scanning the group below.  "You've brought a demon with you," she said, matter of factly.  "The White Tyrant's daughter, if I'm not mistaken."

"And another, unfortunately.  The dreadlord insisted we bring her as well.  They desire the runeblade I mentioned.  The one Arthak used to slay Elder Ner'zhul.  The one that... took Dranosh from us all."

Zaela merely closed her eye and place a hand on her chest.

"The dreadlord Mal'ganis has not shown his face since we left the city a week ago.  I imagine he will arrive when it suits him... after we have done his dirty work for him."

"And what is your plan then?"

Garrosh sighed.  "I'm not sure yet.  I'm counting on Jorin to come up with something.  This... is more his purview."  Garrosh paused for a moment.  "What of your own experiences?  You mentioned that you have been fighting what elvish forces you could find."

She nodded once again.  "But there have not been many.  Our scouts have tracked them to a port town to the south west of here.  They are gathering there for something, likely a counter assault or an evacuation."

"Or both," Garrosh offered.  "What of the orcs you've gathered?  Can they be trusted?"

"Most of them," she said, "and the others are too stupid to worry about.  Shokia and Gar'mak are veterans of Ironmarch.  The former's herbalism skills have proven invaluable to keep the warriors fed.  Gar'mak left the burning blade after becoming a Blademaster, so he's one of the only ones that hasn't taken the Fel that still knows their craft.  General Nazgrim is out here as well."

"Good," Garrosh said.  "I was hoping to speak with him.  His reputation precedes him."

"For good reason," Zaela said.  "Without him, half the orcs we've gathered would still be out there, and half of them probably dead.  He's leading the rest of our forces out here at a village the smallteeth called Fairbreeze, some fifty miles from the elves' holdout on the coast.  A blackrock orc named Morketh Bladehowl has made sure fortifications have held and our people have been well armed and armored."  She crossed her arms.  "I've spoken with them enough to see that they harbor their own desires.  Their own doubts of the Horde's direction.  You should speak with them."

"And I will.  They will not be the last either.  As the war unfolds, and the pieces fall, more will come to our cause."

But I cannot help but wonder how Arthak will play into this.  When he shakes the board next... whose pieces will fall off?

"Ahh, good," Zaela said, gesturing to a group of orcs coming in from the trees.  "My scouts are back."

Garrosh squinted at the lead scout.  He was an unfamiliar orc with short, dark hair that was cut short and flat over his head.  He carried a rare elvish bolt-thrower at his side, likely plundered from their assaults, and dark leathers that covered most of his body.  He glanced up with a single eye - his other eye also covered with an eyepatch.

"Who's that?"

"Another Ironmarch orc.  A veteran scout captain from the front lines."  Zaela furrowed her brow as the one-eyed orc looked up at her with a nod.  "His name's Dorithax.  No one seems to know much about him.  Not even Nazgrim recognized him, but his story checked out, and he's been instrumental in detecting elvish ambushes."

"Hmm," Garrosh thought audibly as he sized up the unfamiliar orc.

"Champion," Dorithax said.  "You were right.  The villages and mansions to the northeast are abandoned.  No elves.  Little plunder.  There were some other natives we encountered.  Trolls, they're called.  Tall brutes, hard to put down.  Forest ambushers.  They avoided us for the most part.  Not worth our time right now."

"I've heard of these 'trolls,'" Garrosh said.  "Ancient enemies of the elves.  I believe the Warchief wishes to... 'invite' them to join the Horde."

"Great.  Another complication.  Let's hope they can be allies for us, too, then," Zaela said.  "We're finished in this area for now, lead scout.  Get ready to move out.  We're joining up with Nazgrim before heading south."

"And... the elvish barrier?  The Gatekeeper?  We just gonna... walk through it?" Dorithax asked.

"We're going to wait politely for them to let us in."

"I see," he said.  He turned and passed her orders on to the others around.

She turned to Garrosh.  "I'm... glad you found us, Garrosh."

"A true warlord would never abandon his people, Zaela."

"Nor would a true warchief," she added with a smirk.  She offered him a salute before swaggering past him to join the others.

"No," Garrosh said to himself, leaning out over the warbands below.  He smiled.  "No, he wouldn't."
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#4
Tuesday, December 11th.  Evening, along the northern bank of the Elrendar River, Eversong Woods.

Garrosh and the warband trudged along the coast of the Elrendar river.  He looked upwards to the cascade that had begun to pour from the sky and cursed the fact that this acursed ban'dinoriel didn't block out the rain as well.  To his right, the coursing river flowed fiercer than before, emboldened by the squall.  Though faint, he could see the magics of the elvish shield flickering partway across, Thalassian buildings dotting the horizon through the green and amber trees.  They were too far to see if the village was still inhabited.

"That's Suncrown," the newcomer, Dorithax, said, catching up with Garrosh at the warband's head.  "One of the major settlements of the southern wood."

Garrosh sneered at the orc.  "You're well informed, stranger."

Dorithax nodded.  "It's my job to be so, Hellscream."

"And just how do you seem to come upon such information?"

Dorithax simply huffed and gestured behind them.  "There was a sign.  Back on the road."

Garrosh's brow raised.  "You can understand that haughty mewling they call a language?"

"Sinu enal.  Well enough."

Zaela smirked.  "Did I not tell you he was full of surprises?  A good find, that one."

Garrosh grunted.  "Indeed."  He glanced back at Aracyra.  The eredar sorceress looked miserable plodding through the muddy grass.  One hand was held above her head, magic spread out in each direction in a vain attempt at an umbrella to shield herself from the rain.  She stopped every few minutes to lift one hoof up and direct her other hand down to her hooves.  Muttering to herself in her demonic tongue, she magically scraped the mud and muck that marred her otherwise porcelain-like skin.  "You," the Warsong warlord called back to her, "The barrier.  Have you noticed anything about it?  Has it weakened, or are there any fluctuations?"

Aracyra scowled at him.  She plopped her hoof back down and turned her nose away from the orc with a huff.

Garrosh groaned.  "Lady Aracyra,"  he agonized, "would you please tell me if you've discovered anything about the barrier?"

Aracyra smiled, her fangs glittering in the gloomy rain.  Zaela, Dorithax, Jorin, and many of the other orcs in earshot laughed.  Even Garona couldn't hold back a smirk.  "Now that wasn't so hard, was it, Garrosh?" Aracyra said sweetly, batting her eyelashes.

"I can't tell if listening to Garrosh say the word please is comforting, or concerning," Jorin piped in.

"It's always there," Zaela added with chuckle, "You just have to listen for the sound of his eyes rolling."

"That's enough," Garrosh spat.  The laughing died down quickly enough, and Garrosh looked back to Aracyra.  If you like begging so much, he thought, then I'm begging you to give me a reason to seperate that pristine neck from your shoulders before this journey is complete, witch.

"To answer your question, Warlord, I haven't." Aracyra began,  "The barrier's strength has held.  The stones we passed were linked to its strength somehow, but... well, quite frankly, we lack the knowledge to do anything with them.  What's worse, they are almost certainly warded against intrusion."

"Why don't we double back and destroy them?" Zaela asked.

Jorin shook his head.  "I considered that, but the stones are protected against most forms of destruction we could wield at present.  I also can't be sure how much good it would do to destroy them.  They are more like conduits, rather than power sources.  I fear all we would accomplish with their destruction is..."

Jorin froze.

"Is what, Jorin?" Garrosh asked.  The necrolyte did not respond.  Garosh turned and stepped towards him, wrapping Garona's chain around his arm and grabbing his friend's shoulders.  "Jorin!"

"...Is attract their attention.  We're not alone."

As if on cue, two fleshy thunks drew the orcs' attention.  Two of the grunts in their company coughed and gurgled, reaching bulky hands up to their throats, each of which were now home to an arrow.  Their weapons surrendered only moments before their knees gave out and they crumpled into the mud with a slurping splash.

Garrosh released his friend and drew his blade from the murk, raising it into the air with a battle cry.  Not moments later, elves poured from the trees from all sides, blades, bows, and magic blazing across the riverbank.

As Garrosh charged into the fray, it became quickly evident that this elvish warband was not an ordinary one.

At the head of their charge was an elf clad in armor that almost seemed to glow in the gloomy, rain-soaked sunlight.  And though the light that reached them was dim at best, the light that glinted of his fiery blade made him seem like he was charging forth in the radiance of a midday sun.  The rain that fell across it sizzled, evaporating immediately.

This... must be their warchief.  Their leader... Kael'thas Sunstrider!

Garrosh flew across the battlefield, raising Bonesplitter high in the air as he collided with the king of the elves.

Kael'thas parried the orc's attack, using his own superior strength against him.  He turned the axe aside and danced around the orc, his blade creating an arcing blaze of fire as he did.  Garrosh's axe raised in time to block the blade, but the flames licked around either side, scorching his flesh.  But he did not balk.  Rather, Garrosh's eyes dilated as he dove into the fight.  The two of them danced, Garrosh leading with sweeping, unrelenting strikes that gouged the mud in sprays of murk and struck against ancient steel as blows were turned away by blade and armor.  Garrosh rushed forward, planting his foot across the puny elf's chest, causing him to go sailing from his feet.  With a roar, he lept towards the elf, his axe raised above his head.  As it fell, primed to split the elf's crown and skull in twain, Kael'thas's hand draw a simple rune in the air.  The blade collided with an invisible force, shattering it and sending Garrosh flying backwards.  Garona, who had been drug helplessly behind Garrosh during their fight, went spilling after him, choking as the chain drug her backwards into the murk.

As he stood, he saw the golden-haired king draw an intricate symbol in the air.  It flared, and magic washed over him.  His eyes emitted bright blue magic like steam, and arcane energy scintillated across his armor and skin.  His hair began to float as if beneath water.  Kael'thas slid one foot backwards and held his shimmering blade straight towards the orc, its blade resting across his armored forearm.

"Stalae, malanore'nah, [Stand, invader,]" Kael'thas said, his voice booming yet cool.  "Stalae rea endala finel. [Stand and breathe your last.]"

Garrosh did not need to know the words to understand their meaning.  He stood, grabbing his blade once again, and faced his foe.

His arm was pulled back.  He shot a baleful glance at the half-breed, covered in mud and murk.  "Let me go!" she shouted.  "You'll kill us both if you keep dragging me with you!"

Loathe as he was to admit it, she was right.  "Try anything and I will gut you myself, wretch," he spat at her before letting the chain slide off of his arm.
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#5
Kael'thas did not know the name of the monster that had challenged him, but clearly, the brown-skinned warrior knew who the king was by the ferocity with which he fought.  He stared down the edge of Felo'melorn at the beast as the flickering magics of his arcane transformation coursed through his armor, his eyes ablaze with blue fire.  He launched himself forward, an audible hum of mystic power accompanying his every move.  His movements were quicker, stronger, more unpredictable than before.  His fiery blade lashed out at the orc, carving an arc of arcane fire with every movement.  Blue sparks showered from every contact made between his ancient blade and the orc's bone-wrought axe.  The barbarian's face swiftly transformed from one of eager glee to perplexed surprise as he found his movements outmatched.

Kael'thas feinted the warrior with a low sweep before leaping into the air, raking the blade across the beast's supple chest and shoulder before sweeping a second strike across his back, an aftershock of arcane energy sending him staggering forward - another set of scars to match the monster's collection.

The wrathful beast turned back towards him, rage contorting his grotesque face as he uttered a battle cry in his guttural language.  He wasted no time reversing the king's momentum, falling upon him with a series of demonic strikes, each one throwing every ounce of the orc's ample strength into the blow.  While each strike left ample opportunity for Kael'thas to retaliate and whittle away at the warrior's strength, it was all he could do to prevent the greataxe's blade from severing his head.  The orc whirled around, bringing his blade sideways against Kael'thas.  While he had been counting on glancing blows and evasiveness to protect him thus far, the orc's aggression had caught him flat footed.  He brought his blade to bear, buckling against the strength of his blow.  He winced as the axe blade tested his strengths, cleaving into the ornamental wings on his shoulder, rending the beautiful, ancient piece into a twisted mess.  The elvish king stepped back, reaching up and tearing the useless pauldron from his armor and casting it aside before charging in once again.  He renewed his attacks, refusing to let the orc's attacks wear on his strength or his focus.

Deftly did he weave in and out of the orc's wild swings.  His strikes were intermixed with violent haymakers, each one of his arms thicker than Kael's skull.  As one careened towards the king's face, his momentum struck a field of force once again, but this time, the air around the two of them pulsed outwards, casting nearby orcish combatants from their feet.

This is it!  Kael'thas dove into the warlord's guard, this time dipping low and slicing at his leg.  The orc buckled as black blood leaked from the wound, his knee dropping to the ground for just enough of a moment for Kael'thas to get the high ground.

"For Quel'thalas!"

The elf thrust Felo'melorn towards the fiend's black heart - if he had one to pierce, of course.  The orc, worn by a thousand strikes, interceded, grabbing the sword by the blade.  Smoke and the smell of burning flesh filled Kael's senses as slowly, his full might began to overpower the orc.  Inch by inch did he push closer to his chest before the point of it began to burn his skin.

A scraping of metal across metal, and warm, wet steel tore him from his power struggle, and he away from the orc.  His hands instinctively rose to his neck, around which a thick, slick chain was now wrapped, choking the air and the life from him.  Felo'melorn slipped from his hand and into the mud as he felt his transformation magics torn away and replace by a wave of exhaustion as he gasped for air.

The chain.  As he struggled for his life, the image of the chained draenei slave this warrior had released.  How could I be so careless!?

Kael'thas dropped to his knees as the air was crushed from his throat and drained from his lungs.  It was all he could do to glimpse up at the towering Warlord, who glared down upon him like a headsman upon the hill.  His rain-slicked hair half-covered his eyes, obscuring his executioner from vision as his axe rose into the air to do its grim work.

---


The three orcs that had made the foolish mistake of barrelling into the woods to carve out the strider regiment that was peppering them with arrows found themselves with brand new holes through their corpulent chests.  They would not have discovered Anya or Alleria before their ends, but they had more important things to focus on.

Like covering for their over-zealous Majesty.

"That imbecile!" Rommath shouted at no one in particular.  "Charging into battle ahead of his men like that.  Does he fancy himself a human monarch now?"

The tree shifted nearby, revealing the hidden form of Anya Eversong, fingers playing across her bowstring and quiver like a harp.  "You truly want the answer to that, Rommath?"  The raven-haired ranger captain smirked before sending another arrow flying into its target, the water spraying from the loosed string like a hound coming in from a bath.

Rommath scoffed.  "Cover me.  And watch for that vampyric demon.  He will not stay his hand from this bloodshed."

"Already on it."

Visibility was terrible enough with the trees and cloud cover, but the heavy rain made it a hassle to find anyone in this skirmish.  As Rommath emerged from the trees, his eyes flared to life with flickering magics as he conjured a ball of flame in his open hand, his staff held close to his back as to not catch on the foliage.

At least the rain will make collateral damage nearly impossible, he said, his eyes glancing down to the growing wildfire in his palm.

His pace quickened to a sprint, his boots splashing through the wet mud and grass as he tore through the battlefield after his friend and king.  He glanced around the battlefield, assessing any threats that required his involvement.

The blonde-haired captains fought back-to-back, a couple of elves face down in the mud nearby, Auric brandishing a long and short blade, while Caeus covered him with a sword and shield.  They were surrounded by nearly a dozen orcs, including a fearsome one-eyed orc woman who's axe clattered against Captain Darill's shield with enough force to make Rommath's ears ring.  He raised his hand to direct his wrath and turn the tides, the tattoos on his arm flickering with fire, but the darkness of the dreary day rose to meet him.  Before he could even pull his arm back, the pain of dozens of teeth digging into his outstretched arm halted him from retreating.  His shadow transformed into a ferocious hound with burning red eyes before him.

A single word of power saw him pulled from the beasts clutches and sent backwards to a safe distance as he turned his attention to the shadowbeast that assailed him.  It charged towards him, bereft of the growling howls that a mortal beast would wield as its blackened visage came for him.  He began to cast another spell to deal with it, but saw it's attention tear itself away from him, halting in place and glancing to it's right.  

Rommath followed its gaze to see the source of its distraction.  Near the trees on the far side of the clearing, Blacksun's bellowing laugh lead the swing of his great blade as he pursued his target - the alabaster-skinned demoness who was trying very much to prevent the spellbreaker's weapon from cleaving her in half.  "Get away from me!" she shouted in common as she fled the man's reach, her red eyes glancing back at him.

"Nice try, witch," Thaladred said in hot pursuit, "but your charms won't work on me!"

"Then how about THIS?" She came upon a tree and continued running, her hooves connecting with the tree's bark and taking her up it, her thin form now parallel to the ground.  Her eyes went pitch black and the shadows spread from around her cloak and dress and down her hands.  Blacksun held a gauntleted hand out towards the demon and clenched a fist.  A spark of blue and the sound of glass breaking heralded an end of her spell before it even conjured.  The shadows vanished and the demon shuddered.  "I hate you!" she shouted as the black hound that was pursuing Rommath sunk into the ground only to appear once again behind Thaladred and leap on him.

A distraction is a distraction, I suppose, Rommath thought.  He flicked his hand back towards the the Guardians of the Eternal Spring, sending an arcing orb of crimson towards the fray as his eyes still scanning the rest of the battlefield for Kael'thas.  As he sprinted further into the battle, the explosion blasted the orcs from their feet, washing around the two captains, leaving them completely unharmed.  They raised their weapons and let out a battle cry of their own as they rallied the nearby warriors to follow through on the advantage the Grand Magister had given them.

Finally, through the soaked battle, he spied Kael'thas, locked in battle with a half-naked brute.  Already was he under the effects of arcane transformation - a spell that deprives one of their ability to use other spells in exchange for increased battle prowess.  How like him to want to meet these orcs on their playing field and best them at their own game.  

"Imbecile," he repeated to no one once more before he ran towards the clearing.

A figure blocked his path, seemingly appearing from nowhere.  Another orc, smaller than the others, in dark robes.  A warlock, perhaps.  His skin was dark brown, not green, which seemed to be rare among their kind.  His right eye was covered in a dark leather patch, and he carried with him a staff taller than he was, adorned with bones and grim baubles.  Instinctively, Rommath raised his hands, alight with magic once again, preparing to strike.

The warlock raised a hand and traced a small rune of black magic in the air.  Rommath's magic flared... until he realized the spell he was casting.

A Sending?  Here?

The orc's mouth moved, speaking quietly in his guttural tongue.  And yet, the meaning of the words rang out in Rommath's head, clear as day.

"I have no desire to fight a foe I cannot defeat, wizard, and I desire not to meet my end this day.  Go.  Mal'ganis comes."

The flames that danced around Rommath's hands dimmed for a moment as his eyes glared at the orc, gauging his purpose.

"What are you after, orc?" he responded via the magics of the orc's spell.

That was when his attention was drawn back to Kael'thas, who had been ambushed and garroted by a second assailant.  As his opponent moved in for the kill, Rommath ran past the mysterious orc.

"It matters not.  Bar my path again and there will be nothing left to mourn, if you monsters even can."

The warlock watched him as he sprinted past to intercede on his friend's behalf before melting into the rainy thicket again.
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#6

Garrosh's gaze flickered up to the glamoured draenei he knew to be his half-breed prisoner.  He was pleased she had not tried to flee in the chaos.  While part of him was disappointed that she had interfered, he could not die here, not even at the hands of such a worthy foe.

And he was far too dangerous to let live.

"You fought well, Chieftain," Garrosh said as he lumbered towards the garroted elf.  He knew his words fell on uncomprehending hears, but that did not matter.  He hefted Bonesplitter over his shoulder and opened his hand to the rain, allowing the cool water to fall on his burned hand.  "But it's over."

He grabbed the axe and lifted it above his head.  His eyes flared with violence as he prepared to bring the blade down upon Kael'thas.

Suddenly, the muddy ground around the three of them began to bubble and steam.  Garrosh had only enough time for his brow to furrow subtly before the swamp erupted into a pillar of scalding flame.  The warrior let out a cry of pain as he was consumed in the blaze, staggering backwards with his arm over his eyes.  As the pillar faded, the ground, now blasted dry, still burned.  Garona had released the king, and retreated to a safe distance while Kael'thas was completely unharmed - the fires had danced a perfect circle around him.  A new figure now crouched near him, presumably the source of the incantation.  A black-clad elf with malicious green eyes and a staff that still smoked from the incantations he had conjured.  

Garrosh ignored the pain from his still-steaming flesh and threw himself at the two elves.  One of the king's hands retrieved his blade and another grabbed his new companion.  He spoke a few words as Garrosh's blade closed the distance between the two.  His charge was interrupted by a shockwave that sent he and Garona reeling backwards, extinguishing the blaze.  The elves were gone.

Garrosh looked around feverishly.  The other elves were retreating as well.

"There," Garona said, gesturing behind him.  A flash of gold through the trees, heading towards the small lake nearby.  Garrosh joined the rest of his warriors in pursuit as they hounded the escaping elves.  Storming through the trees, he came to the clearing at the water's edge.  Another elf magic-user had conjured a shimmering gate before the water's edge.  As the elves leapt through it and out on to the water's edge, they did not sink below the surface.  The elves were fleeing across the lake itself.

Other orcs were in close pursuit on the beached, clashing with elves that they caught.  Those who came too close to the elves's spell found their faces turned into quivers by the cowled elf snipers crouching on the water a distance from the shore.  As the king and the last of the elves fled across the water's surface, one of the magi conjured another spell. The vanguard collided with the wall of invisible force, and the projectiles on both sides found themselves halted.

Dorithax emerged from the trees, the prospective Kor'kron recruit Shokia not far behind.  "Cease fire," Shokia shouted to the other marksmen.  "Don't waste your arrows.

A few orcs had made it past the wall before it was conjured and ran into the water in an attempt to swim after the elves.  While some were dispatched by the water-treading elves, some simply vanished beneath the waves, as if the water itself had drug them down into its depths.

Garrosh's run slowed to a walk, which brought him to the wall.  His opponent, the elvish king, stopped across the water and turned back to their horde pursuers.  The two locked eyes for a moment.  The warlord simply smiled and rolled his shoulder and cracked his neck.

Before the king could respond, both of their attention was pulled back to the sky, where a swarm of bats had poured from the trees behind them to fly up and over their cascading wall.

Mal'ganis.

The elves were sitting ducks as they shouted to one another.  Though he did not understand their tongue, he heard that they, too, knew the dreadlord's name.  Arrows and spells took to the sky and slew a handful of the bats, but could not stop the demon from appearing in the air above them.  His hands immediately flared with shadow magic.  One elf fighter crumpled in his armor, his very essence peeled from his mortal shell, while another small force of four elves found their bodies grow sluggish as they collapsed onto the water's surface.  A moment later, the magic that kept them afloat fell, and the unconscious elves were swallowed by the currents.  Their allies frantically ran to their aid, trying to pull their companions from the hungry rain-fed water.  Pounding on the surface of the water like glass, they watched their companions slip beneath the waves, just out of reach, before they, too, were pulled into the pack before they were left behind at the dreadlord's mercy.

Kael'thas raised his blade in the air, which grew hot with fire once again.  He slashed the flaming sword into the sky, scarring the air with a burning mark that grew larger and larger until it erupted.  A massive form took to the sky, like a bird of prey made of pure fire.  Garrosh had seen this creature circling the Sunwell's fortress months ago, where he had assumed it was some sort of magical protector of the same font.

"That thing is under the King's command?" Garrosh said.

"So it seems," Jorin said, stepping behind his old friend.  "He must be quite powerful.  And you fought him.  Alone, I might add."

"And almost won," Garrosh bit back.

"Almost."

The firebird soared directly towards the nathrezim, water evaporating into steam immediately upon touching the gargantuan creature.  The dreadlord's devilish smirk faltered slightly as he braced himself for impact.  The blazing bird was larger than he was, and its flaming claws raked into him as he ducked forward.  The dreadlord danced with him for a moment, trading swipes of his own claws into the side of the great beast, raking strikes of shadow appearing across his body for the briefest glimpse before vanishing.

The dreadlord attempted to slip past the monster on several occasions, but found himself unable to ignore the assault of the fiery creature.  In time, he had no choice but to retreat.  He flew backwards through the air, disengaging with the firebird.  While the creature pursued for some time, eventually it halted, eyeing Mal'ganis warily before flying back to his master.  The elves grew smaller and smaller across the rainy lake until they disappeared altogether, into the thick woods on the small island in its center.

The dreadlord flew back to the orcish host, landing on the beach amidst them.  His wings folded behind him.  Jorin glanced back at Garona, who kept a safe distance from the demon.

"You took your time," Garrosh said, folding his arms across his broad, burned chest.  "They wouldn't have escaped if you would have been here."  His eyes looked up at the dreadlord with defiance and annoyance both.

Aracyra clamored up next to him and bowed.  "W-what Warlord Hellscream means, my lord, is that we are glad that you have returned to us," she said, an obvious attempt to save face for Garrosh's blatant disrespect.

"The orc said precisely what he meant, girl.  There is no need to speak for him."  Mal'ganis's eyes flickered from Aracyra back to Garrosh.  He grinned, holding his clawed hand out in front of himself.  "Everything has gone according to plan, Warlord.  They are precisely where we wish them to be.  They, too, are trapped by the ban'dinoriel.  And now we know their faces.  And they know that we know their faces.  They will grow desperate and overeager, and that will lead to mistakes and, ultimately, their downfall."

Garrosh's fist clenched.  "We could have crushed them now and have been done with it," he argued.

Mal'ganis scoffed.  "You have neither appreciation nor understanding for the hunt, dear Garrosh.  The wolf cannot hunt as a spider, and should not pretend to, lest he find himself bit.  We will need the elves alive if we are to recover the blade.  They will lead us to it, turn the key... and realize far too late they have fallen into our web."

Our web... or yours?  Garrosh thought.

Garrosh turned back to the rest of the orcs, who ambled about watching him speak to the dreadlord.  "What are you doing standing here?  Take stock of the fallen, take the weapons.  We camp here, for now, and when the barrier drops... I suppose we have ourselves a little race."

The smallest smirk on the demon's face was all that betrayed his thoughts as he turned his back to the mortals, and the Tyrant's daughter, and gazed out towards the elves, who had long since vanished from sight.
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#7

As Kael'thas sprinted across the lake, the shouts and glances from his comrades drew his attention back towards the shore.  A swarm a a thousand demonic bats filled the air and coalesced into the form of the dread demon, Mal'ganis.

Immediately, magic flared as the demon tore into the ranks of Kael's men.

He had to act quickly.

He had to save his people.

He brandished Felo'melorn into the air and spoke the incantations to summon Al'ar to him.  The fabric of reality tore itself just enough for Al'ar to answer his summons.  The phoenix let out a cry and charged towards Mal'ganis.

The demon's claw tore through the majestic elemental's form, ripping it apart into a shower of crimson feathers.  Mal'ganis laughed, raising his claws into the air, sickly energy radiating off of them.  Spells and arrows bounced off of an invisible shield that protected him.

"Your people rely on you so very much," the demon said, "but you are not strong enough to protect them.  You never will be."

The sky darkened.  The rain that fell on Kael's face was hot.  It burned like acid.  Kael glanced back to everyone.  It was burning them, eating holes through their armor and robes and rending flesh apart.  

The water, too, had turned black.  He saw skeletal arms reaching up from its depths - the hundreds killed beneath the waves.  The hundreds he left behind.  They reached up through the water and gripped the legs of his comrades.

They fought.  Blades shattered as they struck the arms.  Spells bounced off, arrows disintegrated.  Kael'thas watched as Pathaeleon and the other magisters were pulled under.  Sunchaser and the Guardians were next, then the spellbreakers under Blacksun.

"Kael," Rommath shouted, his leg already submerged, blood soaking the black waters as the arm pulled him under.  He stretched out an arm to him, helpless.  "Help me.  Please."

Kael'thas ran to him, but no matter how fast he ran, the lake seemed to grow longer and longer.  He watched as his best friend slipped beneath the waves.

He was alone.

He turned, brandishing his blade once more against the monster that had slain his friends.  Mal'ganis smiled, his arms crossed nonchalantly.

"We're going to finish this right now, Mal'ganis.  You and me."  

Mal'ganis shook his head with a laugh.  "Brave words," he said.  "Unfortunately for you, it won't end here. Your journey has just begun, young king."

Kael'thas rushed towards Mal'ganis, but the skeletal arms began to pull him under as well.  Struggle as he may, he couldn't escape.  Not even magic freed him from its clutches.

"We shall meet again, in the frozen grove," the demon said, drifting further and further away from Kael'thas.  "It is there, in the home of death itself, that we shall settle the score between us. It is there were your true destiny will unfold."

Inch by inch, Kael'thas was drug under the surface.  "I'll hunt you to the ends of the earth if I have to!" he shouted, reaching his hand out towards the dreadlord as he sunk below the black waves. "Do you hear me? To the ends of the earth!"

---

"To the ends of the earth!"

Kael'thas started awake, covered in sweat.  He panted heavily, looking about.  He was not drowning, nor was he even still in battle.  He was in his tent, on the Isle of Tribulations.  They had escaped the orcs and their demon master, and had camped in the grove surrounding Runestone Tordralis.  His breathing slowed, but his heart, his head, were still imbalanced.

The flap of the tent opened.  It was Rommath.  "I heard you shout.  Is everything alright?"

"Yeah," Kael'thas said.  "Just another nightmare.  It's fine, I... I'm sorry I woke you."

Rommath shook his head.  "I'm a light sleeper.  You know that.  Tell me.  Was Mal'ganis in this one, too?"

Kael'thas nodded.  "Yes.  It was of the battle, but... well... a lot worse."

Rommath grunted, folding his arms akimbo before him.  "Then it's officially become too much to be considered a coincidence.  I've suspected that the demon might be able to attack you in your dreams, and this has all but confirmed it.  We will have to see about procuring the necessary precautions.  Namely, a roommate with access to the tiny hut spell.  Myself, for example."  He glanced around the spacious tent.  It was far more extravagant than any tent had a right to be, insofar as having a cot more comfortable than most peasant beds within it.  "This tent is plenty large enough, I wager."

Kael'thas chuckled.  "You know, most people would consider such a tone with their king to be quite disrespectful.  Even treasonous."

Rommath scoffed.  "And you know I've never cared what 'most people,' have to say."  Rommath stepped into the tent and knelt down, drawing intricate circles a few inches above the air.  The soft red glyph danced above the dirt as he began the ritual spell.  "And neither should you.  Especially not that demon.  He is trying to manipulate you.  Likely all of us, even the orcs, for whatever agenda he seeks.  We cannot play into his hands."

"I know," Kael'thas said.  "And I won't."

Rommath nodded.  "I know.  Anasterian didn't name you 'Fail'thas,' after all."

Kael rolled his eyes and flopped back onto the bed.  "I'm going to have nightmares about that now, thanks.  Stick to puns in Thalassian, would you?"

"Please," Rommath rebuked, "That one was good and you know it.  Now go to sleep before I make another."

"Fine," Kael said, turning back over in his cot.  He smiled.  "And Rommath?  Thanks.  I don't know where I'd be without you here."

Rommath simply closed his eyes and focused on his spell.  But, beneath his collar, there was a faint smile.  A secret no one else had to know.

---

The next morning.

"Your majesty," a voice called to him through the tent.  "His name is Magister Sylastor.  He's on the other side of the Second Gate.  He says he has urgent information for you and the Grand Magister."

Rommath stirred in his bedroll near Kael's cot.  "Sylastor's the magister in charge of An'telas." he thought.  "What is he doing here?"

"I'm not sure," Kael'thas thought.  "Perhaps he has information regarding the Gatekeeper... or the runestones."  He turned back to the flap of the tent.  "We will be out shortly."

---

The rest of the leadership that had come with them had assembled near the flickering barrier, not far from the runestone itself.  There were a a half-dozen elves present.  The fiery-haired magister, Sylastor, was speaking with Pathaeleon through the barrier.  A few paces behind him, a spellbreaker stood at ease, his helmet cast to the side.  The young elf wore a grim face, his eyes watching the surrounding forests.
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"Magister," Rommath called out as they joined the group.  "What news have you?"

"Grand Magister Pyrewing!" Sylastor said with a deep bow.  "What a gift that you, too, have survived and made it so far with his majesty.  My condolences, by the way.  I know that you and Lord Salonar were quite close.  I only recently learned-"

"Cut the formalities, Magister.  I have no desire to speak of the lives that have been lost thus far.  I am more interested in learning how to prevent us from losing more."

The young mage swallowed hard.  "Ah, yes, of course.  Ahem.  Allow me to introduce Captain Dawnseeker.  She can explain more."  He gestured over to the woman in the lead of the four other figures, Guardians of the Eternal Spring from the look of it.  She stepped forward and offered a salute to the two young leaders.

"Your Majesty.  Your Excellence," she said, her black hair falling only slightly in front of her stern face.  She had more than a couple of scars on her comely, yet hard, face, and her deep green eyes burned with dedication.
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"Dawnseeker..." Kael'thas said.  "Lana'thel, am I correct?"

The woman nodded.  "You are, your Majesty."

"You are Commander Thalorien's wife."

Lana'thel's jaw tensed.  "I have... not heard word of his fate."

"I'm sorry," was all that Kael'thas could muster.

There was silence.  Auric and Caeus place hands on their chest in a moment of silence.  Alleria, who stood a fair distance from the rest, played with the emerald necklace around her neck, fidgeting with the band on her ring finger.

"It was by the hand of an orc," Alleria said.  "Clad in black iron, displaying the banner of a broken blade.  He carries Quel'delar as a trophy.  You deserve to know."

Lana'thel's eyes met Alleria's.  "Thank you," she said.  "I did not want to know. But I had to know."  She looked back to the other members of the Guardians with Kael'thas.  "Have... we heard word of General Skyfire's fate?"

"Slain as well," Auric said.

"So... who leads the Guadians now?" Lana'thel asked.  "Has anyone taken command yet?"

"Not officially," Captain Daril said, looking to Auric.  "We have all just been leading our people as best as we can."

"But Captain Dawnseeker," Auric added, "You may be the most experience leader left alive.  While it's hardly an official proclamation, I would put forth your name as a viable candidate to inherit General Borel's position."

"Me?" she said, a brow raising in shock.

"I second the notion," one of the three guardians behind her added.  He was a stern, tall, dangerous man with heavy bags under his eyes.  "Captain Lana'thel's leadership would be our best chance at survival."
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"I agree with Keleseth," the youngest of the three said, flashing a smile and a thumbs up.  "Captain Dawnseeker's the best commander anyone could ask for!"  He ran a hand through his short hair.  "I'd follow her anywhere.  What about you, Taldaram?"
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He glanced back to the third member of their squadron, an exceptionally tall and broad elf with wild black hair that fell well past his shoulders.  He nodded, his eyes closed.  "Sure," he said.  "No sense in arguing.  Not in a war."
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"Then it's settled, general," Kael'thas said.

A series of nods of assurance from the crowd was all the pomp or circumstance that Lana'thel needed.  She smiled.  "Thank you, everyone.  I... I shall not let you down.  I shall not dishonor my... my husband's sacrifice, nor that of Borel's."  She took a deep breath, swallowing her emotions and breaking them before they could allow her tears or weakness to show through.  "Now, as promised, I should speak of what we saw to the south.  While scouting the southernmost Elfgate, we witnessed something... aberrant emanating from the Grove of Thas'alah.  The land around it was... dying.  It looked as if the land had flash-frozen in a storm of ferocity unheard of even outside the eternal spring of Quel'thalas.  And it's spreading."

"Spreading?" Rommath asked.

Lana'thel nodded.  "We tracked it's progress over the course of a few days.  It spreads deeper and deeper from the Mother Tree's grove with every passing hour, killing more of the forest as it goes."

"The locals have begun calling it 'Deatholme,'" Sylastor added.  "A growing island of frigid doom among a sea of eternal spring.  A bit melodramatic, if you ask me."

"We will need to destroy the source of this 'Deatholme,'" Lana'thel said, "Or we will be pinned in between a sea of invaders and a supernatural wasteland with no escape."

"Frostmourne," Rommath said.  Everyone turned to look at him.  "Frostmourne is the key.  The weapon Remnii spoke of."

"A weapon?" Sylastor asked.  "What sort of weapon?  And who, exactly, is this 'Remnii' person?  That's not a Thalassian name I've ever heard of."

"A blade," Rommath said.  "One that is supposedly tied to death and destruction.  And stop wasting time with stupid questions.  It is information I trust and believe and that is all you have to know about it."  His glare turned from Sylastor and regarded the group.  "I believe the vampyric demon we encountered - Mal'ganis - seeks this blade.  But I don't think he can get it alone.  He has been toying with us.  Leading us on and sending his orcish minions at us to wear us down, make us desperate.  We are walking in to a trap."

"Well, what do you suggest, Pyrewing?" Alleria asked.  "It's a trap, but one that will destroy our home if we allow it.  We cannot simply ignore it."

"Of course not," Rommath said.  "We will simply have to outplay the demon.  He believes we are playing into his hands.  We just have to make sure to bite the hand hard enough."

Thaladred Darksun shrugged.  He had clearly not finished dressing himself, and wore only the bottom layers of his spellbreaker armor, his torso bare and broad.  "That's good and all, but you're forgetting one thing: we can't go anywhere with that damn shield in the way."  To make a point, he tossed a rock towards the invisible forcefield, which bounced off harmlessly.

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"That's... mostly true, yes," Sylastor said, scratching his chin.  "Your Majesty... you have the Key of Three Moons with you yet still, yes?"

Kael'thas nodded.

"Then you should be able to pass.  Especially here, near the runestones which anchor the ban'dinoriel in place."

"Absolutely not," Rommath said.  "You're not going alone without the rest of us.  Besides, such a feat would be incredibly taxing on the barrier.  At best, you could cut days, even weeks from its longevity."

Sylastor sighed.  "Grand Magister, while you raise fair points, you cannot forget that the barrier is merely delaying the inevitable.  What is a few days or weeks if it can allow you to speed to Deatholme and destroy this 'Frostmourne' before the demon reaches it?  A fair trade, if I do say so myself.  And, the Key of Three Moons should allow at least one other person to pass besides the king.  Two, perhaps, but that would be risky to both they and the barrier."

"I'll go," Kael'thas said, stepping forward.

"You can't be serious," Rommath said. "But the barrier-"

"The barrier will fall in time anyways, Rommath.  If I can get through the Gatekeeper early, we can warn the rest of our people.  Get them to safety so they can evacuate with our people at Sunsail."

"Then I'm coming with you," Rommath said.

"Good," Kael'thas responded with a smile.  "Saves me the trouble of asking you to come."

"I still think this is a terrible idea," Rommath added, "But I won't let you do this alone."

"Don't worry," Captain Auric Sunchaser said.  "We shall hold the line in your absence."

"And make sure that demon and his pet orcs have a hell of a time following you," Alleria added.

"The Resistance will need help when the First Gate drops.  We'll be there to get them out of there," Anya said.  "Go save the rest of our people."

"Everyone," Kael'thas said, glancing to his friends, his subjects, his comrades in arms.  "Thank you.  Our people will rise from the ashes of this darkness and be stronger for it.  I swear to you all that we will never fall.  Remember the Sunwell, and remember what you all fight for."

One of the king's men came to them, his tent and supplies packed.  Rommath took it and went to his friend.  "Are you ready?" Kael'thas asked.

"No, but let's get this over with."

Kael'thas withdrew the Key of Three Moons from his cloak.  The intricately-carved device was still pieced together into a single work of artifice, the three parts forming a triangular key with an ornate moon in the center of it.  He and Rommath linked hands, the key between them, as they stepped forward towards the gate.  The energy flickered as their forms passed through it, a most peculiar tingling sensation as they walked through the cascade of ancient magicks.

Within moments, they were through the Second Gate.  "Welcome, your majesty," Lana'thel said, saluting her king.  "Let's rejoin our main force.  They're camped at the lake's edge."

"A sound plan," Magister Sylastor said.  "Though, your Majesty... perhaps galavanting around the countryside is not the most wisest course of action?  Deathlome is spreading by the day, after all.  Would it not be more advantageous to save our home and leave evacuation to the rest of our forces?"

"And would it not be more advantageous for you not to second-guess the king's plans," Rommath said.  "We've already jeopardized the ban'dinoriel with your plan.  We will not jeopardize our people as well."

Sylastor swallowed hard.  "O-of course, Grand Magister.  A thousand pardons for overstepping my bounds.  Our forces are this way, if you would."
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#8
Monday, December 31th.  Morning, southern Eversong Woods, outside the Grove of the Mother Tree, now called Deatholme



There was something eerily peaceful in the air that brisk morning.  The Eversong Woods had never been so cold in all of Kael'thas's years spent there.  Even as they broke camp on the outskirts of Deatholme, the air reminded him of the stillest, coldest winters during his time in Dalaran.  The sky was filled with clouds, strangling the morning sun into a bleak gray.

The elvish king stopped, his gauntlet half-affixed, the final pieces of his regalia, as his eyes scanned the forest before him.

If it could be called a forest yet still.

Not a hundred feet away, the line between life and death, summer and winter, stood.  Beyond that line, the lush, green grass and verdant trees were beyond dead.  Not content to be shriveled and decayed, the grass itself stood tall and hauntingly beautiful, as if the blades themselves were wrought of ice. The trees were coated in a sheet of deathly rime, as if a strong blow would shatter it like glass, not ice.

And within this grove held Frostmourne.  A wicked blade that would bring an eternal winter to all the forest if not dealt with.

"Your Majesty," a calm voice snapped him from his trance.  It was Lana'thel.  She was already suited up, her armor a slight upgrade from what she had worn weeks prior.  While they lacked the resources to commission new set befitting her newly-appointed position because of the invasion, what they were able to cobble together from Suncrown, Tranquilien, and Windrunner Village would certainly make do.  Her raven hair complemented the dark gray steel of the armor.  While it had only a number of adornments indicating her station as a senior officer of the Guardians of the Eternal Spring, it lent to her imposing and authoritative presence all the same.  To combat the unnatural chill in the air, she wore a deep green furred cloak around the armor as well.  "Your forces are prepared to move out when you are."

"Excellent," Kael'thas said, securing the gauntlet.  "And Mal'ganis?  Any word?"

Lana'thel's mouth tightened.  "After the Second and Third Elfgates fell, the orcs began to ride out into Eversong in force.  Sunchaser and Darill have already had to fall back to Sunsail and evacuate with the rest.  As for the demon and his servants... our scouts have been trailing him as they made their way here."

"Dammit," Kael'thas said.

"It's a good thing we evacuated the southern villages to Windrunner Village.  Goldenmist and Tranquilien have fallen, and I wager Suncrown has as well.  We... don't have much time before we are grossly outnumbered, your Majesty."

"How long?"

"They'll be here within the day.  The rest of the orcs?  Five days, a week tops."  

There was a moment of silence between the two.

"Your Majesty... if I may speak plainly?" Lana'thel broke the frozen silence.

"Please," he said, desperate to hear what the veteran had to say.

"I'm not sure exactly what our plan is here... but I fear it is doomed to fail."

"How do you mean, exactly?"  Kael'thas turned to Lana'thel, genuinely curious.

Lana'thel crossed her arms and furrowed her brow.  "This mission.  Frostmourne," she explained.  "How exactly are we planning on dealing with it?"

"We'll find a way," Kael'thas said, looking back at the forest.

"Forgive my insubordination, my King, but... that does not exactly instill confidence."

"There are places that can contain powerful artifacts," he rebuked.  "The Violet Hold in Dalaran.  Demiplanes can be constructed, prisons.  Or, we will find a way to destroy it."

"If it is as powerful as Velameestra insists," Lana'thel said, "do you really think it can be destroyed?"

"Everything can be destroyed, General."

Lana'thel sighed.  "I hope you're right, your Majesty."  She straightened up, returning to her military demeanor.  "Anyroad, we should be moving.  I'll join our team at the forest's entrance while you wrap things up with Sylastor.  Do you really think he will be able to hold the line?"

Kael'thas sighed.  "I... don't know," he said, "But he will have to.  He has several dozen of our best men... and Al'ar to back him up.  I only hope he can buy us enough time to find Frostmourne."

"Me too," Lana'thel said.  "Me too."  With that, she saluted the king before heading off towards Deatholme and leaving the king to his thoughts.  After a few moments, he turned and looked to the men - farstriders, magisters, guardians, and even a few mercenaries loyal to the crown.  

All of them will be dead before nightfall.

The dark thought crept into his mind like black tar.  He banished the thought... but not its impact.

He went to speak to them.  To give them words of encouragement, that they might live, fight, and die proud, true elves.

"Your Majesty," one of the rangers said with a salute.  "Magister Sylastor went to check in on the team one last time before you head out."

"Good," he said.  "I'll join him in short order.  But first... I just wanted to-"

The ranger held his hand out towards the king.  The simple act disarmed Kael'thas completely as his eyes darted from hand to ranger and back.  Other soldiers, warriors, priests, and magi gathered at his flank, their attentions drawn by the display.

"I served your father for centuries, Kael'thas," the ranger said.  "And now I serve you.  But no matter what, I've always served Quel'thalas,  I live for her, and I'll die for her if I must.  Don't worry about us."

Kael'thas's mouth flapped open, words escaping him.  He locked eyes with the ranger and took his hand.  "Thank you.  No matter what happens... No matter the terrors they throw at you, you are high elves to the end.  Remember the Sunwell, and remember that the Phoenix King fights by your side."

"Glory to the Quel'dorei," the ranger said.

"Glory to the Quel'dorei," Kael'thas repeated.  As he released the man's hand, he looked to the other elves gathered behind him.  Moving past the veteran ranger, he found the next soldier and clasped his hand.  Another, and then another.  

The king shook each and every one of their hands before heading into the forest of ice and death.

---

He met Magister Sylastor just outside the forest.

"Ahh, your Majesty!  Just the person I was looking for," he began.  "I know you are in a bit of a rush to get in there and save Quel'thalas, but I think there are a few things I would like to ask you before we get moving.  If you'll come back with me to the camp for just a brief moment, there's a few things - a few strategies, concerns - I wanted to bring up to you.  If we are going to defeat this Mal'ganis customer, I think we may need-"

Where are you going, Kael?  It's not like you to delay even further.  What's wrong?  Rommath's voice chimed in his head, most curiously.

He held up a finger to Sylastor, who prattled on for a few more moments before realizing his king was not listening.

"What do you mean?" he asked.  "I'm on my way, give me just one moment.  Patience is a virtue, my friend."  He turned back to Sylastor.  "Magister, you were in charge of the protection of one of the Moonkeys, yes?  I am certain whatever problems or concerns you have are well within your capabilities to solve.  And rely on the men under your command.  There are some expert tacticians among them, I assure you."

"B-but, your Majesty, surely you can spare a few measly moments to-"

"Do you wish to go back and explain to the Grand Magister why I am even further delayed?"

Sylastor swallowed hard.  "Your point is... taken, your Majesty.  In that case... I wish you the utmost fortune, my King.  May the eternal sun guide you swiftly towards your destination... and hopefully keep this damned chill from your flesh."

"Yeah," Kael'thas said, his brow furrowed in confusion. "You too.  Good luck."

The magister bowed and took his leave, leaving Kael'thas with his thoughts once more.  What was Rommath talking about?

Only one way to find out.

His greaves crossed the deathly threshold, crunching frozen grass beneath it.  His every step sounded like a shattered window as he stepped further into darkness.
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#9


Seven of them had entered Deatholme: Rommath, the spellbreaker Koltira, General Dawnseeker and her lieutenants, Keleseth, Valanar, and Taldaram, and of course Kael'thas himself.  A larger group would have been unwieldy as they navigated the bleak forest frozen in time.  The thick grove seemed to almost spin, choked in a thick malaise that made it hard to see farther than a hundred or so feet out in any direction before frigid mist or trees blocked view.  Frostmourne's blight had crept out for miles in every direction, a spreading tundra of death that infected everything it touched.

It was quiet.  Not a single bird, insect, or beast made a sound as they passed through the defiled land, only the crunching of broken grass, the rhythmic sheafing of metal and robes as the party moved, and their ever-loud heartbeats that seemed thrice as loud in the silence.

It was frigid.  A dry, impossible chill filled the snowless wasteland.  It felt like the only moisture left unfrozen was their hot breaths visible with every exhale.

Lana'thel and her team were in front, their weapons at the ready.  Kael'thas and Rommath walked behind them, with Koltira holding up the rear.  Every eye was wary of their surroundings.

"Anything yet, Rommath?"

The Grand Magister shook his head.  "No.  If that snake is pursuing us, he has not shown his face again yet."

Dar'khan Drathir.  The man responsible for bringing his nation to its knees.  It was the only answer.  He was the only one cunning enough to pull off such a stunt.

It was clear that their number had been infiltrated at some juncture.  The blackguard's clone must have been hidden somewhere beyond the city's limits, but the exact scope of his hand was unclear, nor how long he had been skulking in their shadows.  Over the last weeks, any number of conversations could have been manipulated with his imitations, and so adept at cover his trail was he that it was difficult to even ascertain the truth.

What was clear is that he was invested in the outcome of this mission.  And that he was close.

Lana'thel had confirmed that she had not seen the king until he arrived at the forest, and yet he was certain he had spoken to her outside his tent.  Rommath's sending was a follow up to Kael'thas returning to the camp briefly to check on the men before entering Deatholme, and yet Kael'thas had rallied their people before meeting with them.

Like a vulture, he circled them, plotting and scheming like the treacherous worm that he was.  It was only a matter of time until he showed his hand.

But this time, he would not be fooled.

Even so, Kael'thas could not help but cast a wary look at those he surrounded himself with.  He was certain they were who they said they were... but every breath seemed to fill his lungs with fear and paranoia.  A side effect of this cursed place, no doubt.

"Your Majesty," Lana'thel interrupted, gesturing with her blade ahead.  "You should see this."

Kael'thas stepped forward, moving around Lana'thel.  There were a dozen figures in the clearing ahead, arranged in a perfect circle.  Elvish grove tenders - priests and priestesses of the Holy Light and caretakers of this once-sacred place.  Their rime-covered bodies and robes long since surrendered to the frost.  Their lifeless corpses were covered in a blanket of black feathers as hundreds of crows picked at their hardened flesh.

Valanar covered his mouth with his hand, a tear quickly freezing against his cheek as it escaped his eye.  "What... what is this?"

"Bad," Taldaram said, the towering elf pointing at the murder.  One of the crows hopped off of the priestess closest to them, her cheek once soft and beaming now cracked and red from scavengers' beaks.



Its eye had a hollow, unearthly blue glow around the rim of it.  Its wings were tipped with frost and decay.  It let out a solemn caw, and upon its call, hundreds of blood and ice covered beaks ceased and hundreds of hungry eyes turned towards the elves.

As blades were raised, the monster's caw was returned by the murder, who took to the sky in a whirlwind of black death.

In a matter of seconds, the grove became a mosh of beak, talon, and feather as the flock tried desperately to transform the seven elves into carrion.  Kael'thas couldn't see more than a foot in front of him as the storm of birds rent at his armor and flesh.  He could scarcely hear the shouts of his companions as he spun with the risen birds, carving clean through them as felo'melorn blazed a trail of heat through the icy air.  Spells and steel rung true through the clearing as Kael'thas shielded his eyes and face from the rage of the dead.

The swarm of abominations dragged seconds into agonizing minutes with every rake of their fell talons, but as their numbers thinned, the murder vanished as abruptly as it had appeared, what few crows that remained taking flight into the sky and disappearing into the frozen canopy.

Kael'thas glanced around.  He was alone, standing in the circle of fallen grove tenders, their frozen faces stripped of flesh praying to him for salvation.

Panic seeped into his heart.  "Rommath?" he shouted into Deatholme.  It was as if the trees themselves devoured the sound before it could be carried on the wind to his friend.  "Anyone?"

"Your Majesty!" a voice called out.  It was Lana'thel, her armor dented and scratched, her forehead and cheek still bleeding from the murder.  "You're alive."

Kael'thas's heart swelled, and then froze.

Drathir.

He raised his sword to her, his voice contorted in rage.  She froze.  She sheathed her blade, holding her hand palm first in surrender.  ""Shanna melor'ne adala fal, Kael.  It's me."

His heart slowed its pounding pace.  He blinked, looking her up and down.  She was telling the truth.

"My appologies, General," he said, his eyes downturned as he sheathed felo'melorn.

"It's fine, your Majesty," she said.  "We should try to find the others.  This place isn't safe alone."

"You're right.  Normally, I would say we should stay put until the others find us... but I don't believe this damnable place would allow it."

The king and the general turned towards the center of the grove, where Thas'alah, and hopefully Frostmourne, waiting for them.  As Kael'thas passed through the fallen priests, he stopped for a moment, looking down to the one he had seen first.

I will avenge you.  All of you.  I swear it to you.
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#10
Monday, December 31th.  Afternoon, southern Eversong Woods, outside the Grove of the Mother Tree, now called Deatholme



The elves were skilled combatants, but they excelled at hit-and-run tactics.  They were brittle when they stood still, however, as the battlefield was evidence of.  At least half of their number were crushed or captured, the rest fled to the wilderness around.  The bleeding waste outside of the frozen grove of Deatholme was theirs.

Zaela wandered up to Garrosh, surveying the bodies around them.  "These elves continue to be disappointing warriors when defending a position," she said, an axe on her shoulder.  "They fight better when they are running away."

Garrosh turned to her with a humorless look.  "These warriors knew their death was imminent.  They were not here to win, only to slow us down."  His glance turned back to the rime-covered trees.  High in the air above the icy canopy, they could see a single tree that towered over the others, a king among the dead wood.

"Their warchief," Zaela started, coming to a stop next to Garrosh.  "He lies within already, then.  Does he seek the blade as well?"

Garrosh nodded.  "I believe so.  Their warriors have been harrying us every step of the way.  Trying to slow us, weaken us.  I don't know why or how, but they must have found out about this blade as well.  That... complicates things."

Zaela's eye followed the two large figures that danced above the treeline.  Mal'ganis was occupying the titanic firebird they had encountered before.  He almost seemed to be toying with the creature, drawing its attention away from the warband as he scanned the trees below.  "And here I thought this was complicated enough."

Garrosh sighed.  "Split up our forces into small teams.  Ours will punch through to the center of this waste.  Half of the others secure the perimiter and make sure no elves break through to help the ones already inside.  The others?  Burn this place to the ground.  They're still trees, and trees can be cut, burned.  I want this place levelled before we leave."

"Understood, Hellscream," Zaela said, a fist across her chest.

She turned away and went back to the grunts and hunters as they mopped up the battlefield to dispense the Champion's orders.
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