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The Lore of Poldaran: Chapter 7: She Who Fights MonstersFollow

#1 Jan 20 2010 at 2:27 AM Rating: Good
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...when I saw it happen, I knew she would get angry. Anyone who has ever worked with the girl knows that she has a temper. One she loses with sometimes alarming frequency. Upon losing it, she often goes into what I've come to call an "unstoppable rage" in which she will blindly throw whatever magic she deems appropriate at her foe, without thought to the consequences of her actions. More often than not, the consequences lie in her disregard for her own safety. If her spells were to fail, she would be left completely vulnerable to counterattack.

But what few know is that her anger has another side. Just as her rage can become a raging inferno, so too can it become cold as the chill of Icecrown Glacier. Her face does not become contorted in rage, but instead a tranquility falls over her, betrayed only by the deathly chill in her eyes. When this tranquil fury overtakes her, she becomes more dangerous than the most powerful of Old Gods. You see, even they have rules and a sense of self preservation that guides them and prevent them from doing anything that might harm themselves.

When she reaches this stage of anger, Poldaran loses all regard for any rules and no longer cares what happens to herself, or even the whole world. Truly, all she cares about is vengeance, and making those who harmed her suffer as much as she can. When I see this look upon her face, I know that I am about to witness some form of atrocity.

Very little scares me. But that look chills me to the bone. Before our journey into the Storm Peaks, I had only seen it once before. I pray to any gods who will listen that I never see it again.


-An Excerpt from a letter to the Archwizard Khadgar from his student, the Journeyman Wizard Yadier.


Prologue: A Twisted Vision
Poldaran sat up in a cold sweat, the night air chilling her, even through a heavy down comforter. The dream had come once again. Every time she closed her eyes, she could see it.

At first she thought it an illusion, treachery planted by the Lich King to weaken her resolve. Now, however, she was beginning to suspect that it was something else. She had been gifted with prophecy from the time she was very young, though she never thought of it as a gift. It was more of a curse.

Sure, she had used its power to avert a number of catastrophes, and to save countless lives on many occasions, but despite that, she could not bring herself to count it as a blessing. It had been of no use in saving many of her friends, and worse, had actually led to the death of one when she had tried to avert his death elsewhere. She did not like to think about that and had never told anyone about those failures.

She felt a hand stroke her back reassuringly. "The dream again?" Nihlus asked. She turned to him and nodded. "Put it from your mind and get some sleep," he said. "It's just a dream, everything will be fine."

"Okay," she responded. She kissed him and laid back down. However, despite his assurances, Poldaran could not find solace. If he was wrong, if it was some kind of prophecy, nothing would be fine ever again.

The Lich King was going to win this war, and when it was over, Poldaran would find herself kneeling before the Frozen Throne, swearing her allegiance to the Scourge.

** * **

Alexandrine parried the swing deftly. "You must strike harder, Bethany. If you wish to use a sword like that, some of the art is in the sheer force of your blows. You have to make my shoulders ache from the impact of your attack. You have to unbalance me with the resounding crash while not overextending yourself. Again!"

"I told you to call me Azmaria while we're in public," the younger girl said with a sigh. "It would be best if my identity were hidden, as Poldaran suggested." She swung again, this time throwing as much force into the blow as she could. Alexandrine dodged the stroke by rolling past her opponent and countered by striking her sister with the flat of her axe across her backside.

"You overextended yourself and couldn't adapt to the changing situation. You have to walk the fine line between power and balance. In truth, I think the problem lies in the fact that you're using too large of a sword. You don't have the physical strength to wield that one."

"I won't use a different weapon," Azmaria said firmly. After destroying the runeblade that the Lich King had given her, Poldaran had purchased this sword for her in Dalaran and had spent several days enchanting it before she had helped Azmaria carve the proper runic symbols into it. Alex might be right and the sword might be too heavy for her, but Azmaria could not bear to part with it.

"Alright," Alexandrine said, defeated. "Then we'll have to go about this the other way. Just like the weapon masters of the Knights of the Silver Hand did for me, I will craft for you a program of intense physical training to help you increase your strength and stamina to the levels you need. At times, your body will cry out in such agony that you'll wish for death, but when it's through you'll be much stronger for it. But first, no sense training on an empty stomach. Let's head back to our tent and see about some lunch."

Azmaria nodded. As the two girls walked from the training field, she began to wonder aloud. "So, why do you think Poldaran sent us out here?"

"Many reasons, I suspect," Alexandrine said. "Foremost, I think, is that you need training, and this tournament offers excellent facilities to do so. However, I also think she wants to see you make more of a name for yourself. I'd imagine that if you use your power over necromancy, you'll find few opponents in the tournament you won't be able to beat. Fame can be very useful when Poldaran needs you to do something, as people tend not to stand in your way when your reputation precedes you."

"Needs me to do something?"

"Yes. You see, Poldaran's reputation leads to a lot of people coming to her for help when problems are beyond the scope of normal means. This happens often enough that she isn't always able to help all that need it at once, so instead, she sends out one of us to help deal with larger problems, like Scourge raids, demonic invasions and the like."

"Why would they need her to deal with these things?"

"In truth, I suspect that they don't. However, for centuries, the Guardian of Tirisfal has dealt with all the big problems like those, so it was easy for people to latch onto someone to fill in for that role after Medivh's disappearance. The problem lies in the fact that she's not the Guardian. She doesn't have his power and can't deal with it all alone. So she sends us when she can't do it herself."

"But why would she agree to any of this?"

"Poldaran has a strange sense of duty," Alex replied. "You see, she's not the Guardian, but she's still a member of the Council of Tirisfal, and as such, she feels that she has to do what is necessary to protect the people of this world. The 'do what is necessary' part has begun to worry me, though. Sometimes her methods are scary. Sometimes she crosses lines I'd prefer she didn't. At times, it can even become hard to determine whether she's worse than those she fights."

Azmaria looked at her sister. " 'He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.' "

"What?"

"It's from an old philosophy book, dating back to the Strom Era, as I recall. Dad had me read it when we were discussing the internment camps. He was disgusted by the treatment we were giving the Orcs and worried that Humanity might become the greater evil if we didn't do something to correct our path soon."

Alexandrine reflected upon it for a moment. "It seems fitting, here."

"So you worry about Poldaran becoming a monster?"

"I do." She laughed suddenly. "However, I think she worries the same about me, sometimes." Amzaria's look was one of confusion. "We were talking about why we're here at the tournament earlier. I think Poldaran sent us here so that I could interact with righteous and noble members of the Horde and begin to get over my view of the Forsaken as monsters after my trip into the Undercity with King Wrynn. Perhaps she's right. Perhaps I do need to forgive what I saw. Perhaps I need not become a monster filled with hate."

"That's good to hear," Azmaria said. Her stomach growled audibly. "However, right now, I think we have more pressing concerns."

Both girls laughed as they entered their tent in search of a midday meal.

** * **

"Foolhardy, my daughter. To think that you could defeat me alone was lunacy at best. Is your wish for death so great that you've taken leave of your senses?" Kel'thuzad asked the young woman standing before him.

"You might be right, Father. Had I come against you alone, I would indeed have been a fool. But you see, I haven't come alone," Poldaran said, her lips pulling back in a sly grin.

"Our scouts saw no one enter this place with you. You are bluffing," the Arch-lich replied, though his voice was uncertain.

"I sense fear in you, Father. Perhaps you have realized the truth of the situation? Perhaps you realize that not everyone in Naxxramas is as loyal as you once thought?" Her grin was now positively wicked.

The look in her eyes sent the Arch-lich into a panic. "Minions, servants, soldiers of the cold dark, obey the call of Kel'Thuzad!" He looked around, not so much as a ghoul had come to his aid. "What is the meaning of this?!"

A voice spoke from the shadows. "I'm afraid they won't be coming, Arch-Lich."

"That voice!" Kel'thuzad nearly screamed. "Traitor!"

Noth the Plaguebringer stepped from the shadow. "Careful there. You'll hurt my feelings."

"But how?"

Poldaran answered. "It's quite simple. Noth was a friend of my master's back in Dalaran. When I learned he was here, I came to speak with him and learned a great deal. While he was drawn to power initially, he eventually began to despair at the things that he was made to do. Sensing his unrest, you used your magic to freeze his heart within his chest." A ball of flame appeared within her hand. "I simply found a way to unfreeze his heart and now it burns for revenge."

"I should have expected no less a devious scheme from you, Poldaran. I must say I approve."

"Thank you, Father. Now be so kind as to perish quickly. I still have a few loose ends to tie up here and I'd like to turn this place over to the Argent Crusade before tonight's full moon rises, as I promised you I would."

The battle was quick and dirty. The Arch-Lich of the Scourge, one of the most powerful necromancers the world had ever seen faced off against the two most powerful living necromancers in the world. In the end, the Living prevailed, though not without a cost. Noth the Plaguebringer's anger burned within him so hot that he used a spell of sacrifice to end Kel'thuzad's reign. Once and for all, it was done.

Poldaran followed that victory by defeating the remaining horrors within Naxxramas, and as she had promised after the fight between Alexandrine and Azmaria almost a month before, by the time the full moon arose, the dread citadel of Naxxramas had fallen.

** * **

Azmaria sat quietly sipping her tea in the corner of the dimly lit and smoky tent. She was surprised at how much time she had been forced to spend finding a place that would serve her. Most of the small dining tents had been merely dismissive of her and a bit rude, though one owner had chased her out with the threat of calling for the mercenaries he had hired as security.

She was quite shocked at this kind of treatment. In the weeks she had been here, no one had treated her this way before. On the other hand, Alexandrine was sleeping off a minor cold and had not come with her, so this was also the first time Azmaria had been out and about on her own. Nonetheless, even when she was with Alexandrine, she had seen the looks on the faces of people as she had passed. Distrust was always present in their eyes, and Azmaria wasn't sure why.

It came as a shock when a woman approached her. "Is this seat taken?" the woman asked, indicating another chair at the table where Azmaria was seated.

Azmaria smiled at the woman, the first person other than her sister to say much to her since she had arrived at the tourney. "Not at all," she said warmly.

The woman sat across from her and motioned to the owner. "I'd like a plate of whatever it is you have roasting back there and a cup of mead. Get my friend here another cup of whatever it is she's drinking as well." She turned to Azmaria, a smile on her face. "So, you must be Azmaria. There's a lot of talk about you amongst the folks here for the tourney." She pulled her black hair back and secured it with a pin in preparation for her coming meal, revealing more of the pale skin of her face.

"Talk about me around here? From the looks I get and the way other establishments have treated me, I take it none of the talk is good."

The owner placed a plate of meat and a cup of mead in front of the black haired woman, who thanked him warmly. He then served Azmaria another cup of tea. "Not good, perhaps, but there is very little bad said about you either."

"That seems surprising. You would think that there were rumors going around that I was some kind of plague carrier or something with the looks I get."

"I wouldn't let it get you too upset," the black haired woman said, taking a bite of her meal. "People aren't afraid of you." She took a sip of mead. "Wait, let me rephrase that. People aren't afraid of you because of anything you've done. They're afraid of someone else entirely. You just have the luck of being associated with someone they fear. It's probably for the best that they don't realize that you're related to her."

"You mean Alex? Everyone around here seems to respect and trust her completely."

"No, not her, Bethany. Your older sister. Well, sort of sister, since you two don't actually share any blood relation."

"How did you know that name? And why would people be afraid of Poldaran? She's a great hero."

The woman almost choked on her drink, then started laughing. "A hero? I see you've led quite the sheltered life. As for the first question, we'll just say I have excellent sources of information and leave it at that. The answer for the second question is a bit more complicated." She took another bite, obviously contemplating her words. "When people think of heroes, Poldaran of Wintermoon's name rarely comes up. She isn't seen as a hero by more than a few people in this entire world."

"Why is that?"

"Poldaran's methods have always been, well, extreme. People don't just remember what she has accomplished, they also remember how she accomplished it. They remember the number of lives lost by her decisions. They remember how many of her actions, while leading to victory, rarely followed a path of honor. They know about her use of dark, forbidden magic to do what she has to do. And more than that, they know about her true parentage, and many see her use of necromancy as proof that she's no better than her father, one of the greatest traitors of our time."

"But she's beaten back the Blue Flight! She destroyed a Scourge army! She defeated Kael'thas Sunstrider! She was with those who took down Illidan!"

"That's how one who knows her sees her. Your average citizen, however is stupid. People have heard about her threat against the Blue Flight, her promise of brutal extermination. They saw her image, her hair caked with blood as she declared victory to Dalaran after that incredibly brutal battle. They suspect that she used her connection to the Scourge to stage the attack on Wintergarde as a cover for aiding the Forsaken, who are currently mistrusted by the populace for the business at the Wrath Gate, in destroying the presence of the Scarlet Crusade in the area. They suspect that she used her friendship with Kael'thas Sunstrider to get close to and assassinate him in an underhanded sneak attack, much like the actions of Garona years ago. And a powerful artifact went missing after Illidan's defeat. They claim that her aid against him was merely a pretext for her to acquire said relic."

Azmaria was getting quite upset. "But Poldaran's not like that!" she said.

"I know, but you will have absolutely no luck convincing others of that." She took another sip of her mead. "In fact, Poldaran herself doesn't see herself as a hero. She's merely the person people call when they need a job done, regardless of the cost. And that's what most people see her as too. Most folks are simply waiting for the other shoe to drop and are afraid of what will happen when, not if, she betrays the Alliance and Horde."

Tears streamed down Azmaria's eyes at the thought of how bad Poldaran must feel all the time. "It's so sad. Why must people think like that?"

"I'm not sure, other than to say that people are idiots."

Azmaria, thanks to the ability to see the flows of magic she shared with Poldaran, saw the shimmering form of someone cloaked in an invisibility spell walk up behind the other woman. Person wasn't quite the right word. Azmaria suspected it was actually a demon. "Mistress," the invisible figure said. "The gnome is doing something stupid again."

"Thank you, Mirwena. I will be there momentarily," the black haired woman said. She smiled at Azmaria. "Well, Bethany, it has been fun talking with you and I hope we can do it again in the future." She stood and pulled a few coins from the purse on her belt, flinging them at the owner of the tent, who caught them deftly. "It seems, however, that duty calls," the woman said as she turned to leave.

"Wait!" Bethany called out. The woman looked at her, puzzled. "You never told me your name."

The black haired woman laughed. "Trust me, it's not all that important. And probably better that people didn't know you've been talking with me. You have enough problems as it is with people associating your name with Poldaran."

With a wink, the woman turned and left the tent to attend to whatever business it was that needed attending.

** * **

Within the highest tower of the Violet Citadel, Jaina Proudmoore sighed. "Well, that could have gone better."

"Agreed," Rhonin said with a nod. "Now we're left without the resources we need to deal with the threat from Ulduar and Yogg-Saron within."

Brann Bronzebeard nodded as well. "Magni has agreed to supply us with a few siege tanks despite Stormwind's reluctance to aid us."

Rhonin took some relief at that. "I'm sure we can hire some crews from the goblin expedition in the Storm Peaks to aid us if we can pay their price. They might even be able to supply us with a few other heavy weapons. But even with them, our numbers are going to be too small for this to be effective. Dalaran is still dealing with the Scourge and resistance from the Blue Flight while the Explorer's League doesn't have enough soldiers to make an effective army. We were really counting on the Horde and Alliance for soldiers. I'm not sure we can accomplish anything the way things are right now."

Archmage Modera took a sip of her tea. "We might not be able to, but there's someone who might."

Ansirem Runeweaver glared across the table at her. "If you're thinking who I think you're thinking, then it's absolutely out of the question. She can't be trusted. You of all people should know this!"

"I agree that there's some question as to where her allegiance lies. However, she did capture Naxxramas. Further, immediately upon its capture, she turned control of it over to the Argent Crusade, which was probably the most reasonable thing she could have done. In one action, she managed to hand the Crusade a weapon to use against the Scourge and alleviate some of my concern regarding her relationship with her traitor father. I can't say I trust the girl completely, but my biggest concern was addressed."

Rhonin considered this. "I agree with your position, but we must also consider the questions raised by her capture of the necropolis. She went in alone and recruited aid from within. Her report claims that she was able to turn Noth the Plaguebringer against his master and then single-handedly slew the remaining threats once Kel'thuzad was neutralized. I have to question such claims. Is Poldaran really capable of such things? Or is it more likely that she had other support? And what about the bodies of Gothik, Faerlina and Patchwerk, all of which were missing from the citadel when the Crusade arrived?"

"What do you mean?" Modera asked, definitely confused.

"Well, is it more likely that Poldaran managed to turn Noth good and then go on to single-handedly slay every foe in Naxxramas or does it seem more likely that she recruited the aid of Noth and several others to deal with the resistance within? If the latter is the case, why would those others have agreed to help her? Could it be that instead of turning them, she recruited them as an agent of the Lich King to put down a rebellious faction led by Kel'thuzad that had taken control of Naxxramas? Something about the whole ordeal just doesn't sit right with me."

Jaina Proudmoore rose from her seat at the large table and looked out the window. "Be that as it may, I'm not sure we have a choice. We need all the help we can get if we're to deal with this threat. If she goes, some of the greatest heroes of Azeroth will follow. Further, Nihlus, known as the Black Swordsman will follow, bringing dozens of skilled warriors from Silvermoon and the Scryers with him. And Poldaran is on friendly terms with the Frost Giants of the Storm Peaks, so she will likely be able to draw in their aid as well, especially since they have no love for Yogg-Saron's lieutenant, Loken. I'm afraid that if we want to have a shot at saving this world from this Old God, then we're going to have to trust her enough to send her against him. And even if she is a servant of the Lich King, at least we can be certain that he'll view Yogg-Saron as an enemy and stop her from dealing with it."

"I still don't like this!" Ansirem Runeweaver shouted. "She should be locked up in a cell, not leading an army!"

"I don't disagree with you, Ansirem. However, it seems we have no options. But that doesn't mean we can't take out a little insurance, at least."

"What do you have in mind?" Archmage Modera asked.

"We'll send Khadgar's student, Yadier. His loyalty to the Kirin Tor is unquestioned and she trusts him, so she'll allow him to come along. At the least, he can report on what's happening so we can prepare for anything she might do. And we can have the commanders we send ready to follow any order he gives if she does turn against us."

"Alright, then," Modera said. "I'll contact Poldaran and give her these new orders."

"I should be leaving," Jaina said. "I need to head up to the Argent Tournament. Both Varian and Thrall were invited by the Crusade to attend and I should be there to help deal with any fights that break out."
#2 Jan 20 2010 at 2:28 AM Rating: Good
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Azmaria wiped the sweat from her brow. Those beasts had been tougher than she had expected. "Not one, but two Jormungars, indeed," she thought aloud. She adjusted the straps on her black saronite breastplate, which she thought she felt coming loose.

Alexandrine, wearing her silver titanium full plate, jogged over to Azmaria. "So, sis, how did you enjoy the first fight?"

"It was interesting, though I still think we're all wasting our time here instead of actually dealing with the Scourge."

"You might be right, but the Crusade wants as many powerful heroes to flock here as possible before we start seriously dealing with the Scourge. Right now we have an army here, but more of one would not be a poor investment."

"I guess I can understand that logic. So, any word on our next challenge?"

"The ten of us will next be facing some kind of demon that the warlocks here will summon. I believe it's to be a doomguard or something like that."

Azmaria wondered if that meant she would get to see the woman from the other day again. She still had many unanswered questions from their last encounter. She knew that she could probably get some information from Alexandrine, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to ask her older sister about any of it. She put the matter from her mind for the time being. "That could prove fun. I can't wait to test myself against that challenge."

"We'll make a knight out of you yet," Alexandrine replied with a grin. Trumpets blasted. "Ooh! It sounds like the next challenge is about ready!"

Tirion Fordring rose and cleared his throat. "Grand Warlock Wilfred Fizzlebang will summon forth your next challenge. Stand by for his entry!"

The spectators cheered as the gates to the arena opened. A gnome marched through them and approached the center of the ring, where he began drawing a complex summoning circle upon the ground. "Thank you, Highlord! Now challengers, I will begin the ritual of summoning! When I am done, a fearsome Doomguard will appear!" He began chanting his spell and the summoning circle glowed. "Prepare for oblivion!" he shouted, the ritual complete. The ground shook as an immense portal opened. From within stepped a massive being, one clearly not a Doomguard, but instead a red skinned Eredar Lord. "Ah ha! Behold the absolute power of Wilfred Fizzlebang, master summoner! You are bound to ME, demon!"

The look on the face of the demon, whom Azmaria somehow knew was called Lord Jaraxxus, told Azmaria that the gnome was sadly mistaken. "Trifling gnome, your arrogance will be your undoing!"

Grand Warlock Wilfred Fizzlebang did not seem to grasp the situation. "But I'm in charge her-" was all he was able to say before he was cut off by his own agonized scream as the demon impaled him upon his staff.

Tirion Fordring, however, realized the situation quickly. "Quickly, heroes! Destroy the demon lord before it can open a portal to its twisted demonic realm!"

The heroes sprang into action. A druid shapeshifted into a bear and charged the demon. Alexandrine followed her and began healing any wounds not prevented by the bear's tough hide. Others began unleashing spells and attacks at the occupied demon, hoping to wound it, though it seemed to have resistance to the attacks.

"INFERNO!" the demon shouted. A small crater opened and burning magma spilled forth, as did a number of burning Infernals. Azmaria quickly struck at them to prevent the stupid creatures from focusing their ire upon the less armored members of the party. A few of the magic wielders joined her in dealing with them. With the precise strikes of the spell casters, quick work was made of them.

Lord Jaraxxus unleashed a spell upon Azmaria, and she was engulfed in flames. Alexandrine reacted quickly and was able to heal away the damage caused before it became too serious, though Azmaria also tapped into her blade's blood runes to heal herself a bit as well. She quickly thanked her sister and prepared for whatever the demon might do next.

"Come forth, sister! Your master calls!" Jaraxxus shouted. A smaller portal opened an a multi-armed demon woman appeared, wielding a number of scimitars. If Azmaria recalled her studies correctly, the demon was of the Shivarra race, though she did not recall anything about them that would help her fight it. She did not have much time to consider the matter, either, as the demon made a dash for the stands, intent on attacking the crowd.

Azmaria charged after it, sword ready. "You won't escape me!" she shouted. She unleashed her stored runic power and bound it in chains of ice, allowing her to get ahead and put herself between the demon and the stands. She could hear Garrosh Hellscream roaring in rage behind her, saying something about "the treachery of the Alliance". She chose to ignore it and focused on her foe.

Azmaria took the initiative and struck first. The demon blocked her attack and retaliated with a flurry of blows of her own. Azmaria's strength training was paying off. Despite the massiveness of her sword, she was able to deftly parry the blows of multiple blades and strike back. The exchange of blows continued for a couple minutes until Azmaria's sword began to crack from the fierce fighting. Thankfully, an arrow to the back of the demon's skull ended that fight.

The death knight thanked her comrade and began running back towards the main battle. As she ran, something caught her eye and she looked over towards where Tirion Fordring looked on the battle. The Highlord was speaking with a slender figure in hooded robes that identified her as a warlock. Azmaria felt her heart skip. Could it be the woman from the other day, the one who knew far too much about her? She saw Tirion Fordring nod at the woman, who turned and walked out of the arena.

Azmaria continued the fight, dealing with Infernals and Shivarra several times more before hearing the gates of the arena creak open and seeing the other warlock step through them. Another Shivarra appeared and charged at the unprotected warlock.

Unable to get between them, Azmaria did the only thing she could think of. She threw her sword at the demon's back, scoring a direct hit and piercing it between the shoulderblades with a sickening crunch. The demon crumpled to the ground, causing the already weakened sword to snap in the process. Weaponless, Azmaria would not be much help to the others for the rest of the fight.

The warlock noticed Azmaria's predicament and motioned to her. "Without a weapon, you can't be much aid to the others. Stay with me and keep the lesser foes from me while I figure out what the gnome did wrong." Azmaria was stunned. That was indeed the voice of the woman from the other day. All she could do was nod her understanding silently. After a few moments, the woman had figured out what was wrong with the spell and began cursing. As she continued studying the circle, her ire became so great that she kicked the corpse of the gnome. "WHAT KIND OF GRAND WARLOCK SMUDGES THE NAMING RUNE AND FORGETS THE RUNE OF COMMAND?!" she screeched, kicking the corpse again. "Well, at least it'll be easy to fix," she said, regaining her composure.

The woman pulled back her hood so she could see more clearly and Azmaria nearly gasped in surprise. She hadn't been able to see it before, but this woman's face was not just familiar, but extremely so. Sure, there were differences, but if the woman had been blond instead of black haired, she would be hard to tell apart from Alexandrine, the similarities were so striking. Azmaria had to struggle to keep from staring.

After a few moments of adjusting the runes with a glowing ink, the warlock stood and looked the circle over again. "There we are," she said, satisfied. She began chanting the words of another spell, this one in the language of the demons.

Lord Jaraxxus' attention snapped upon her instantly. He knocked the bear aside like a toy and began charging at the warlock. Azmaria, unarmed, did the only thing she could think to do. She charged at the demon and jumped towards it, slamming her shoulder into its gut and knocking the wind from it.

The distraction did not last long and the demon soon threw her aside as well, but it had lasted long enough. The warlock completed the spell and the demon froze in its tracks. "I WILL DESTROY YOU!" he roared at the warlock whose face was unmarred by fear and filled simply with contempt. The two glared at eachother for what seemed like an eternity before the demon's shoulders slumped in defeat. "What do you wish of me, master?" he asked.

"Die," the woman responded without an ounce of emotion in her voice. That tone chilled Azmaria to the bone. The demon clutched at its chest and collapsed to the ground. After a few moments of writhing, its motion stopped. Applause filled the stadium, cheers for the champions of a well fought battle. Garrosh Hellscream and Varian Wrynn began arguing, as usual.

Azmaria rushed over to the warlock, who was also approached by Alexandrine. "By the Light!" the blond paladin exclaimed. "That was amazing, Sin!" She turned to Azmaria. "And I have never seen anyone shoulder tackle something that large before, Az! That was crazy awesome!"

While Azmaria blushed at the praise, the other woman showed nothing more than a hint of a smile. "Just cleaning up that idiot's mess," she said, indicating the dead gnome. "I wouldn't bother resurrecting him, by the way. After the council gets my report on his failure here, he'll prefer the relative safety of death."

"Oh, Sin! Have you met our sister yet?" Alexandrine asked, indicating the Death Knight.

"We had a drink together the other day. After seeing her fight today, there's no doubt in my mind that you two are related. You did well, Bethany."

This woman was her sister? Azmaria was floored by the news. She had heard about Alexandrine's twin, but only a few rumors here and there, so she did not think about it much. But now here she was, in the flesh. Azmaria did not know how it had happened, but in just over a month, she had gone from being an only child to being the youngest of four sisters. She had no idea what to say, so she just politely thanked Sindara for the praise.

A voice came from behind them. "Well fought, all of you," Tirion Fordring said with a smile. "Lady Alexandrine, I'm always impressed to see you fight with the true spirit of a paladin," he said to the blond girl. "And Lady Sindara, while I do not approve of the methods of warlocks, your aid was most timely. You have my gratitude." He turned to Azmaria. "This was your first battle since you were freed from the Scourge, was it not?" Azmaria simply nodded, unsure how to behave before so important a person. "You fought bravely, Death Knight. You are a credit to the Knights of the Ebon Blade as well as a credit to those who have trained you to be a knight. I can't wait to see how you'll perform in the next challenge."

The next challenge! Azmaria had forgotten about that. "My Lord, I'm sorry but I must decline the next bout," Azmaria said sorrowfully.

"Oh?" the Highlord of the Argent Crusade said.

"It's not that I don't wish to continue on, my Lord. It's just that my sword broke in the last battle and I can't fight the next one unarmed."

"I see," Tirion Fordring said, thinking. "It's not much, but perhaps the Crusade can loan you a weapon until you are able to acquire a new one. You prefer the sword, correct?"

Azmaria's heart soared. She might be able to continue the fight after all! "Yes, my lord, though Alex has been training me in use of axes as well, so I could use one of those instead if it would be easier to find."

"I'll send a squire to look into it. In the meantime, now would be a good time for your party to go have some lunch. It will take a while before we'll be able to clear out the mess in the arena anyway and there are several more challenges ahead."

"Thank you, my Lord," Azmaria said, before grabbing the hands of her older sisters like a child and dragging them from the arena.

** * **

Yadier stood on the edge of the snow covered cliff, contemplating the valley below. He could not believe that he had been dragged from his studies yet again to keep an eye on Poldaran. Why was the Kirin Tor using her if they did not feel they could trust her? And why did it mean that he had to come along?

He sighed. "I guess that's just the way things are," he said to no one in particular. They had made camp on the mountain early the previous evening. He had to admit, in such a short time, Poldaran had organized quite an army. Between the forces Dalaran and the Explorer's League had provided as well as the goblin mercenaries Poldaran had hired, they had enough of a force to at least look dangerous. And within a day, they would be combining their forces with those of Brunnhildar and the Frost Giants of Dun Niffelem. He was not entirely sure that they would be able to win, but they would put up one **** of a fight.

And he was sure Poldaran had something crazy up her sleeve. Some trump card or artifact that they could use to win despite overwhelming odds. She never went into these fights unless she was sure she had a way to win, so he had faith in that, at least. Perhaps he would be able to be back to his studies in less than a week or two.

A noise from the direction of the tents grabbed his attention. He turned in time to see Poldaran run from her tent in her heavy nightclothes and vomit violently into the snow. A few seconds after she had finished, another figure appeared from the tent. "What's wrong, beloved?" Nihlus asked the woman, putting his arm around her to comfort her.

"I finished the dream," Poldaran said, tears in her eyes.

"That bad?" Nihlus asked. She nodded and buried her face against his chest. "Come, it's freezing out here," he said, holding her tightly. "Let's go back to bed."

"I'll be in shortly," she said. "I need a few minutes to clear my head. Go ahead and go back in. I'll be along shortly and I need you to go keep the bed warm."

"Alright, beloved," he said. "Don't stay out too long."

Poldaran stared at the stars for a few minutes before noticing Yadier. She walked over to him. "So, how much of that did you hear?"

Yadier fidgeted uncomfortably. "Something about a dream was all I heard."

"I was afraid of that," she said. Yadier was intrigued, but more than that, he was worried. Poldaran had been documented as having prophetic visions before. If she was having a dream that scared her, he worried that it might be more than a dream. She must have sensed his thoughts, because she spoke again. "Don't worry, it has nothing to do with this mission. In fact, if it is a prophecy, it suggests that most, if not all, of us will survive this thing."

"That's good news, at least."

"I wish it were. In truth, it's nothing more than a small consolation." She sighed. "I've been having the same dream every night for the past several months. In it, I ascend the steps of the Frozen Throne as I hear the voices of people I care about calling me a traitor. When I reach the throne, Arthas is seated there and I kneel before the throne and pledge my allegiance to the Scourge."

"I can see why that would make you ill," Yadier said, his brow creased with worry.

"I wish that were all of it," Poldaran said. "But that's just the part I've been dreaming for the last several months. It always felt, well, unfinished. As though there was much more to the dream."

"And tonight you finally found out what that was?"

Poldaran nodded, her eyes glistening with tears. "After I pledge my loyalty, Arthas rises and begins making a speech. I am on my feet within a moment and hit him with a powerful binding spell, slamming him back into the throne. He drops Frostmourne to the ground. I take it up and use it to stab Arthas in the throat. At that point, Arthas Menethil is no more."

"But that's great!" Yadier exclaimed. "You kill the Lich King. How can that be a bad dream?"

"If it had ended there, you'd be right. But I didn't kill the Lich King. I killed Arthas Menethil. In the moment he dies, Ner'zhul escapes through the blade and our minds fuse. In that moment, everything good inside me dies and all that is left is my dark side. It takes me less than a week to show to Ner'zhul that my mind is more powerful than Arthas' ever was. He ceases to be, and all that is left is me, the new Queen of the Scourge."

"That's terrifying."

"It gets worse. In the following days, I begin the war anew. Northrend falls within a month. Kalimdor falls two months beyond that. As I begin my invasion of the Eastern Kingdoms, a plan is put forth and the greatest heroes this world has are sent against me in a plan to destroy me and end the Scourge menace."

"You mean Yox, Envi, Sharlot and Alex, right?"

"And others I consider dear friends."

"Surely they can't fail?"

"They do. I kill each and every one of them with the nigh limitless power the Scourge gives me. I bring each of them back as my lieutenants. With their aid, the Eastern Kingdoms fall within weeks. Before the year has ended, I have brought this entire world under the black grip of death."

"That is quite awful."

"It gets worse."

"How can it get worse?"

"After conquering Azeroth, I set my sights next on Outland. It falls quickly, even with the power of the Naaru, who are forced to retreat. Then I begin going from world to world, like a plague of locusts, destroying and assimilating those who dwell there until more than half the worlds within the Nether are under my control. I then set my sights on the Titans and the Legion."

"You can't tell me that they fall before you as well!"

She nodded. "I have an army so vast that they cannot hope to defeat us. Even combining their might does them no good in the end and they fall. Within a millennium, every world in the nether is covered by the pale shadow of death."

Yadier was speechless.

"I'm hoping that it's not a prophecy, but is instead the Lich King attempted to drive me mad. Or if it is a prophecy, I hope that I can find a way to overcome it and prevent this atrocity from occurring. But part of me fears that neither is the case."

"I really don't know what to say," Yadier said. "I can't find words that are really appropriate here."

"I know. It's a difficult thing to contemplate. I'm sorry for burdening you with this knowledge. It feels good to tell someone other than Nihlus about this." She sighed again. "Look, don't worry about it. I'll find a way to deal with this."

"Alright, Pold. I'm counting on you."

She nodded. "One other thing," she said.

"What's that?"

"I would highly appreciate it if this conversation didn't make its way into the report you're sending to the Kirin Tor. I have enough trouble with them trusting me as it is. I don't want to have to deal with more mistrust when the dream may be unfounded."

Yadier was taken aback by the matter-of-fact way she had said it. "Alright, Pold, I'll keep this off the report," he said. He decided to change the subject. "So, you have a plan for when we face Yogg-Saron?"

Poldaran nodded. "Several, in fact. Most of them are so far beyond dangerous as to be better described as stupid. I have a couple I really like, though they all require the situation to turn certain ways and I'm not sure I'll be able to maneuver them in that direction. Especially since one of them is completely based on information about C'thun and I have no idea if Yogg will react the same way C'thun did to the adventurers who attacked him."

"Is there anything I can do to help?"

She nodded again. "In fact, my favorite plan requires a little outside help and I think you would be perfect for it." Her eyes glowed for a moment and a small object appeared in her hand. "You'll know when the time is right to activate this," she said, handing it to him.

Yadier turned the object over in his hands, examining it. "Did you just conjure this?"

"Yes. It would be inconvenient to carry around everything I need, so I just conjure things when the situation arises."

"How is that even possible? This is a complex piece of magical machinery. How can you just conjure it?"

"In truth, it's not as hard as you might believe. Most people get caught up on the complexity of classical conjuration and fail to realize that it can be done in much simpler ways. Prince Kael'thas taught me how to do it, and he's considered a master in that art. I believe you got to see some of his handiwork up close."

"You mean those living weapons he utilized in Tempest Keep? How did he manage to conjure such powerful things?"

"In truth, they weren't imbued with consciousness when conjured them. He created those powerful weapons and later enchanted them to act. "

Yadier thought for a moment. "Nonetheless, that would have required a great deal of power to conjure."

"Indeed, and that's the secret. Conjuration magic isn't limited by the complexity of what you conjure. It's limited only by the amount of power one can put into a conjuration." She paused, as though thinking, a hint of a smile on her face. "I've actually been working on creating a weapon of my own."

Yadier raised his eyebrows in a show of curiosity. "What kind of weapon?"

"A sword. Well, not just a sword, but a complete set of both a sword and a scabbard to restrain its power. Unfortunately, I can't draw in the power needed to create them."

"And you can't make a weaker version and power it up gradually?"

"No, it unfortunately doesn't work that way. Moreover, I cannot half create this blade like that. This blade must come into existence fully finished or it will never reach its full potential."

"Just what kind of blade is it? And why must it be so powerful?"

"Because it is. It's probably the most powerful blade ever written about in the history of the world, though it is entirely fictional. It's my dream to make it a reality. If I can do so, I think it could be used by a mighty paladin to protect this world from both the Scourge and the Legion. Alas, I just don't have the power to call it forth."

Yadier was unsure as to what to say to all that, so he changed the subject. "So, I'll know when to activate this thing?" he asked.

"Sort of. If all goes perfectly according to plan, it'll glow green when the time is right. However, it isn't necessarily true that things go according to plan, so just activate it when I look to be in dire trouble. " She smiled weakly. "I guess it's time for me to try to get some more sleep. Here's hoping I don't dream."

"Good night, Poldaran."

"Good night," she responded.

Little did Yadier know what the day had in store for them.
** * **
#3 Jan 20 2010 at 2:28 AM Rating: Good
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Azmaria was exhausted. Today's tourney exhibition had certainly been a trial. First the beasts, then the demon, followed by a group of Horde champions. She was glad that they had decided to postpone the match with the Val'kyr til the next day. All she wanted to do was go get some rest.

As she crossed the tourney grounds, she noticed that she was being followed by a small group of men, all of whom appeared to be members of the Horde. Finally, as she passed the blacksmith, she decided to confront them. She turned and greeted them. "Can I help you gentlemen?"

A tall Orc laughed. "That directness is just what I'd expect from today's hero!" he said.

Now Azmaria was genuinely confused. "Hero? What?" It was all she could manage to say.

"The way you threw yourself in front of Garrosh Hellscream when that demon charged at him," an elven man said. "It showed honor and bravery, that you would put yourself between a powerful foe and someone hated by your people."

"Yes," the Orc said. "Come, let us buy you a drink."

Azmaria blushed. "I'm sorry, but I must warn you that bringing me with you into any establishment will bring you no welcome."

"I be thinking that be changed after today, mon," the third companion, a troll, said. "You probably be welcomed by any eatery run by a member of the Horde now."

Azmaria was struck speechless by that. Could something so simple have changed so much about her reputation? She smiled. "Alright then, I accept your offer. I must, however, say that I am forbidden from drinking alcohol by my training, so I'll have to have something else."

"No alcohol? What kind of warrior do they wish to make you into?"

"Perhaps one who thinks with a clear head, Urok?" the elf said with a smile. "That's quite alright, miss. When one is building strength, what food and drink they put into their mouths can be just as important as their dedication to their training."

"If that's the case, then why have I never heard it, Viridel?"

"Probably because your army's instructors were too drunk to mention it. I'm sure that they told you to eat plenty of meat, at least, which can be important as well, since meat is important for building strong muscles."

The orc, Urok, laughed. "They did always make a big deal over whether they were feeding us enough meat. Alright, elf, you win this one. I'm sure that they serve some nice strong coffee as well. It'll go good with a nice slab of roast meat."

The thought of coffee made Azmaria gag. "Perhaps I'll just have some milk," she said, to no one in particular.

"Milk?" the orc said, confused. "Surely you can't tell me that's good to be drinking for training, elf."

"Actually," Viridiel, the elf, said, "milk contains nutrients that make your muscles and bones stronger when consumed regularly as part of a daily diet. I approve of the choice."

"But it just seems so childish," Urok complained. "There's nothing warrior-like about a nice clean glass of milk."

"I never said the glass had to be clean," Azmaria said.

Viridiel starting laughing uncontrollably. Urok's brow creased in confusion. "I don't get it. What's so funny here?"

"Milk...in a dirty glass...." Viridiel said, trying mostly unsuccessfully to talk while laughing.

Urok still didn't get it.

** * **

The attack came shortly after dawn. The army was mostly just waking up and sitting down to breakfast when that first bolt of lightning struck a sentry. The Iron Dwarves were quick to continue their attack. Within moments, the mountain pass became a lightning storm.

Poldaran began shouting orders within a few moments. "Yadier, round up about a dozen mages. Get some magic barriers erected! I'll gather as many as I can and begin a retaliatory volley to buy our soldiers time to get into their armor. Let's move!"

The first volley of fireballs hit the enemy force about the same time Yoxutre had gathered up a group of mounted soldiers for their first charge. The charge managed to break one of the groups of dwarves, who retreated immediately, allowing the soldiers to destroy the large lightning cannon they were protecting, leaving only one remaining.

A retaliation by one of the enemy's Iron Giants forced the soldiers to retreat. It was felled by another fireball volley, but not before it had slain nearly half the retreating men.

The second cannon began firing full time, having fully warmed up. "Pold!" Yadier yelled. "We have to take out that second cannon! We can't hold these shields up forever!"

Poldaran nodded. "Concentrate all fire on the enemy cannon!" she commanded. The fireballs all dissipated before striking. "They've erected a barrier of their own," she said, angry. "Nihlus, Yox, prepare another sortie. They're gonna be disorganized in a moment. We're gonna take full advantage of that."

"What are you gonna do, beloved?" Nihlus asked the girl.

"What I do best," she said, kissing him quickly. "I'm gonna make something blow up." She drew out a small device and activated it, summoning out two of the floating discs she had taken from the Malygos fight from a pocket dimension she used for storage. "Envi, let's go, you're with me."

The dwarf nodded. "I suspect you'll tell me what's gonna happen on the way, lass?"

Poldaran smiled. "Of course. Now let's get going."

As they rose into the sky, Poldaran explained her plan. Envinyata liked it enough to begin grinning. Volleys of fireballs distracted the enemy to their approach, not that they would have been seen anyway, since Poldaran had veiled them within a cloak of invisibility. Upon reaching their destination, Envinyata called out. "I'm going in!" she said.

"Remember, don't be a hero. Hit it and get out once they realize that you're there, even if it's not enough to destroy it."

"Aye!" the dwarf responded, her body now engulfed in shadowy energy. She sailed down quickly and unleashed a devastating blast of psychic energy on the cannon's internal mind, the one that was responsible for aiming and firing mechanisms. She then hit it with a more controlled wave of energy, systematically frying every circuit she could. The enemy noticed her quickly and she had to escape back into the sky, where Poldaran once again hid her from their view. "So, lass, were we successful?"

Poldaran closed her eyes and reached out with her mind, examining the cannon. It was not an easy task when they were on the other side of a magical barrier, but she managed. "It's not completely destroyed," Poldaran said. Her eyes began to gleam wickedly, which Envinyata could only see because they were both enveloped in the same invisibility field. "It's way better than I planned. You managed to fry its Friend versus Foe recognition protocol and its targeting system. I think I can do something fun with that."

Poldaran probed deeper and was finally noticed by the cannon's awareness. "Hello?" it asked. "Who is there?"

"I'm sorry to startle you," Poldaran responded. "The enemy has hit you and destroyed your ability to communicate with us, as well as your targeting system. They're capitalizing on this by sending a force against us to destroy you. I've connected myself to your mind via a cable and am going to help you aim so we can catch them off guard. I need you to do as I say and strike quickly if we're going to hit them." The cannon agreed. "Good. Now I'm sending you an image of the battlefield as well as your own orientation. Move yourself to optimally fire upon the position where the enemies are. Do you see them?"

"I do," it said.

"Good. Now quickly, move and fire in one motion so they don't try to shield themselves!" The cannon did what it had been told and moved quickly. However, its aim was not where Poldaran had told it, so now it was aiming straight up, which caused the attack it shot out to arc back down upon itself and the Iron Dwarves protecting it. The shockwave from the resulting explosion within the cannon nearly knocked Poldaran and Envinyata from the air. Poldaran erupted in a fit of laughter.

"Lass, that's scary," Envinyata said as they began flying back to their own forces. Poldaran just shrugged.

As they landed, Poldaran watched as the sortie led by Nihlus and Yoxutre was hitting the scattered enemy force. It was quickly turning into a rout. Poldaran smiled as she thought about that. It was a good sign for their campaign out here. The enemy seemed pretty unprepared to deal with them.

At least, that's what she thought, for that brief moment. It took only a matter of moments for things to go wrong.

Seemingly out of nowhere, hundreds of Iron Vrykul streamed from the hidden entrances to caves that dotted the mountainside. Within moments, the soldiers that had begun the assault were surrounded. Poldaran pushed forward with her consciousness to hear what was going on up ahead.

"Yox!" Nihlus shouted. "The elves and I will cover our retreat. Tear us a hole through these bastards so we can fall back to the main force!" Yoxutre nodded and began gathering his soldiers to make it happen.

Poldaran's mind snapped back into her body. "We have to help them. Yad, take half the casters and begin hitting the enemies on the far side of our trapped men in a wide dispersal. Keep them too busy dodging attacks to be able to harm our friends." Yadier nodded. "I'll take the rest, as well as the remaining ground forces, and see if we can help hammer open an escape route for them. Sharlot, save your energy and prepare receive the wounded. I have a feeling some of our friends will be in dire need of aid once we get them back here." Sharlot nodded.

"You heard the lady," Yadier called out. "I want all fire mages to come with me. The longer range of fire will allow us to do some heavy damage. The rest of you go with Poldaran and get our people out of there!"

Poldaran placed her only piece of metal armor, a magical tiara called Netherwind, upon her head. The glowing from it would help her allies find her on the field of battle. "Time's up. Let's do this!" she shouted as she mounted Deathcharger. "For Dalaran!" came the battle cry as she and her rescue party charged forward.

The attack was quick but brutal. Vrykul exploded from the force of dozens of magic spells. The skies rained both fire and ice upon them. Mages dove headlong into packs of dozens of Vrykul, unleashing explosions of arcane energy upon arrival. Warriors cut down the enemy like blades of grass. Envinyata and a group of dwarven priests unleashed blasts of psychic energy so powerful that Vrykul heads simply exploded.

The elves protecting the retreat were not faring as well. They were outnumbered more than fifty to one. Even worse, many of the enemies were Iron Giants. While those odds were not a problem for Nihlus, the other elves did not have anywhere near the skill he did. Each of them would have probably fared well against twenty to one odds, but this was out of their league. The random fireballs from behind them were helping, but not enough to truly even the odds.

Nihlus quickly found himself with only a few remaining allies against hundreds of enemies. "Grab the wounded and make your escape," he told the few still standing. "I'll buy you enough time to reach Yoxutre's forces and then I'll Shadowstep out of here." He was met with stunned expressions. "GO!"

The elven blademaster known far and wide as the Sunfury or, more commonly, the Black Rider, held his own against the forces of Ulduar for some time. But unfortunately, even he could not handle this many enemies at once. It was only a matter of a couple minutes before a heavy fist ended his fight, breaking one of his arms at the shoulder.

Nihlus spun around to face his attacker, only to be picked up by the working arm by a giant golden hand. With a squeeze, the giant hand cracked his wrist, causing him to drop his other sword. He was lifted until he found himself face to face with Loken, Prime Designate of the Titans and chief lieutenant of Yogg-Saron.

"A valiant effort, but all in vain," Loken said. Nihlus could only respond by coughing up blood, causing Loken to laugh. "Drop your weapons! I know this elf means something to you, human. Do not think I will hesitate to kill him if you fail to surrender."

Poldaran gasped when she looked and saw what was happening. "Nihlus!" she called out.

"Don't do it, Pold," he said, barely able to speak. She heard him nonetheless. "He'll just kill you all too. Don't give in."

Poldaran saw his muscles tense from across the battlefield. She knew what he was about to do before he even did it. "Nihlus! NO!" she called out, but it was too late. Nihlus lifted himself by the arm Loken was holding and kicked the Prime Designate in the face, causing Loken to drop him. He rolled across his bad shoulder, causing himself immense pain but quickly bringing him to his feet, sword back in his left hand, despite his fractured wrist. He slashed at the immense being before him.

Unfortunately, due to his injuries, his strike was not true and only grazed Loken, who retaliated with a strike across the Blood Elf's face, cracking his skull and sending him flying. Nihlus, now unconscious, landed with a sickening crunch. "A pity," Loken said. "Kill them all," he commanded as he turned and began walking through the now advancing army.

"NO!" Poldaran screamed again. Without even thinking, she conjured blades like the ones Nihlus wielded, with the exception that these crackled with arcane energy. She blinked past a wave of foes and unleashed her fury upon another. Pieces of enemies began flying in every direction as she cut a swath through her foes to reach her fallen love. Desperate to reach him, she expended more magical power than she ever had before.

Yadier watched the scene in stunned silence. This was not possible. They all knew that some of their friends might die on this expedition, but no one had expected this. Not him. Without him, Yadier knew that Poldaran would be lost. At best she would be unable to continue fighting, and at worst she would become a danger to everyone around her.

Poldaran reached Nihlus' limp form and dropped to her knees beside him. "I need help!" she called out desperately. "Someone please, help him! He needs a healer!" Unfortunately, she was all alone. Everyone else was on the other side of an advancing army. While the enemy was too afraid to attack her after her desperate attempt to reach him, her friends just could not make it to her in time.

Nihlus groaned. "Poldaran, my love," he said, then coughed up blood. "Promise me that you'll live on. Don't dwell on my death. And don't try to travel through time to fix it. You'll only make things worse if you do."

"Don't talk like that, beloved. You're gonna be fine," she said desperately. "Someone will get to us and heal you. Just hang on a bit longer."

"I'm afraid it's too late for that," he said. "I've inflicted enough death upon others to be able to recognize when it's coming for me." His eyes began to shut. "Farewell, my love," he said as his body went limp once again and life fled from him.

The battlefield had become eerily quiet. All that anyone could hear at that point was a single wail of anguish.

** * **

The clash of steel filled the air with a glorious ringing. The blond haired woman looked up from her canvas at the young girl and her elven instructor. "Good job, 'Isa," she said with a smile.

The elven man smiled as well. "Indeed. That was an excellent parry, Nagisa. You're learning quickly. You managed to parry or dodge every attack I've attempted. Now, I'm gonna set up the target, so string your bow."

The girl, no more than ten, pouted. "Aww, no more sword training today?"

"We've been sparring for well over an hour, child. I'm not as young as I used to be and this is wearing me out, so unless your mom wants to spar with you, I'm afraid we're done for today."

After using a deft brush stroke to add some green to the leaves on the trees of her painting, the seated woman laughed. "I'm sorry, but with my skill, I'd be more likely to pick up the wrong end of the sword than I would be to make a good sparring partner. Sorry, 'Isa." Her brow creased as she added a happy little bush to the lower corner of the painting. "However, if you really have extra energy to burn, you can help me clean the living room when we get home. I think it's high time we rearranged the furniture."

"That's okay, mom," Nagisa responded quickly. "I think that today's sparring has been enough of a workout, especially when added to the archery practice."

The elven man tousled Nagisa's shoulder length red hair. "Smart girl," he said with a laugh. "The target's all set up. Grab your arrows and let's see some warm up shots."

Nagisa did as she was told and approached the firing line. As she prepared to draw her bow, she noticed a stray strand of hair in her vision, so she pulled it back, behind her slightly pointed ear. She drew her bow and took a shot, but it went wide, missing the target completely.

"That was a little off, 'Isa," Nagisa's mom said. She looked over at her daughter. "But that's alright. Try again."

Nagisa nodded and drew another arrow, but suddenly there were two targets. That wasn't right. Neither was the sudden headache she found herself experiencing. "Mom," she said, dropping the bow. "I don't feel very good." With that, she collapsed.

The blond woman dropped her brush and rushed to her daughter's side. "'Isa! What's wrong?!" She looked at the elven man for assistance. "Mariel!" she called out.

He blinked twice. "Actually, Lisa, I don't feel very good either. I think I'm gonna have a bit of a lie down," he said. With that, he too collapsed.

** * **

Poldaran was crying.

"Magus," Yadier said, indicating the mage in charge of the nearest group of casters. "Have everyone focus their fire on Loken's position."

"Lord Archmage, that's folly! If we stop hitting the advancing army, they'll overwhelm our ground forces."

"I gave you an order," he said. The magus nodded and hurried to give the command. "Nihlus was my friend and I will not allow Loken to escape from this battlefield," he said to Sharlot and Envinyata, who had watched the exchange. But that wasn't Yadier's real reason.

Poldaran rarely called upon Necromancy unless she absolutely had to, but in her current state, when she finally got past the initial shock, she would use everything available to her to destroy Loken if he wasn't already destroyed, not caring whether her own side was harmed by those actions. Yadier's greatest fear was that she would unleash a disease cloud and end up killing everyone on both sides. Their only hope was to kill Loken before she could recover.

Unfortunately, he was too late. While the first volley of attacks was launched, they missed their mark and did not get a second chance. "Pold's up!" Sharlot said, warning Yadier to the impending danger.

Yadier quickly conjured a spyglass and looked across the field and the girl. He expected to see her face filled with rage, her eyes filled with hatred, her lips snarling in anger. Instead, he saw only a look of icy calm. Immediately Yadier dropped his spyglass. "Sound a full retreat," he said to a nearby soldier. "Have everyone fall back to maximum shield distance and have all mages erect as powerful a barrier as they can. Move, man!"

"What's wrong?" Envinyata asked.

"Last time I saw that look on Poldaran's face, she went on to slaughter hundreds of innocent villagers just because she had heard rumors that they were friendly with the Cult of the Damned. There's no telling what she'll do right now, so we have to assume it won't be good." He scooped up his spyglass. He had to see what she was going to do.

Now that she had risen, the Iron Dwarves that had surrounded Poldaran had finally worked up the courage to attack her. Poldaran's gaze was locked on Loken, across the battlefield, while she fended off their attack, almost negligently striking them with blasts of arcane energy, sending them flying through the air.

Poldaran spoke, her voice somehow carrying across the entire battlefield as little more than a whisper. "Oh pitiful gnats, buzzing insects of iron. You impede my progress, keep me from my goal. Oh flittering annoyances, care to give death a try?" With that, she drew something from a pouch on her belt.

Yadier immediately recognized the artifact. "But what could she mean to do with the Skull of Gul'dan? It only has enough power left to open a few off world portals. Does she have an army waiting on another world?"

He didn't have to wait very long for his answer. She pointed the skull at the nearby mountainside. A giant portal appeared, and on the other side was nothing but blackness. With a motion she pushed the portal forward, consuming a large boulder with it before the portal faded. Actually, boulder was the wrong word. It was more like a giant piece of the mountain.

For almost a minute, nothing happened. But shortly after that, everyone could hear a massive rumbling from in the sky. Upon looking, they saw a giant red light streaking through the blue. "A meteor!" Yadier shouted. "Get those shields up now!"

When the multi-ton rock reached a few hundred feet overhead, Poldaran spoke again. "Burst," she said with little emotion in her voice, unleashing some stored arcane energy. With a thunderous roar, the meteor exploded, sending rocks the size of melons flying everywhere. Their impacts utterly annihilated the enemy forces, leaving less than a dozen alive and shattering one of Loken's kneecaps in the process.

The shields were able to ward off the majority of the rocks, but a few made it through and several dozen soldiers were injured. Sharlot quickly grabbed a team and began healing the wounded.

Poldaran looked at Loken as he struggled upon the ground, in pain from his injury. "Now it is your turn," she said simply, teleporting to his side. Loken tried to crawl away. "Now don't try to run," she said, pinning his other leg to the ground with a large spear of ice. "I just want to tell you a story. I just want to share a bit of my wisdom with you." She motioned with her hand and a massive stone altar arose from the ground under Loken.

"What are you going to do?" Loken shouted in terror.

"I told you. I just want to share a bit of wisdom with you." Her face showed no emotion at any point. "Now, where to begin? Ah, yes. My sister is a warlock," she said, binding him to the altar with chains of ice. "Warlocks have an interesting set of spells available to them. One of which is the ability to drain the life from others in order to heal their own wounds. They've refined it to the point where that magic is no more addictive than even the simplest of arcane spells.

"But there's a side to that spell most mortal warlocks don't know about. They don't understand its origins, as it had already been refined before they learned it from the demon warlocks they encountered. One of the previous holders of my own unique gift, the Wisdom of the Tirisfallen, researched this particular spell out of morbid curiosity and found out that the original form was a bit more sinister. It caused excruciating agony to the victim. It's been said that the pain was greater than anything anyone in the history of the Nether has ever experienced. The demons didn't mind that part. That wasn't why they modified it. No, they just needed something that could be cast more quickly." A giant translucent shield surrounded them. "You see, the original ritual required a long cast time. It also universally killed its victim. I've always wondered what that would be like to witness, and I'm sure now you're wondering just what that would feel like. Let's find out together, shall we?" Poldaran said, as she cut her hand with a small dagger and began drawing runes upon Loken's body with the flowing blood. Loken immediately began to writhe and scream in agony.

It took three hours for him to die. When the shield faded, Poldaran's hair was now white as snow, drained of color by the demonic magic that had coursed through her body during the ritual. She looked once more at the body of her fallen beloved, and with tears in her eyes, she vanished.

** * **
#4 Jan 20 2010 at 2:30 AM Rating: Good
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The Lich King had made a mistake. That was the conclusion Alexandrine had come to as she had watch Azmaria's skills continue to grow. The girl was using the necromantic skills taught to her by the Ebon Blade with the same deftness Poldaran displayed, though she lacked Poldaran's knowledge and disregard of safety. Further, she had become quite adept with the new blade she had purchased, which was even heavier than the last.

There was no doubt in Alexandrine's mind that, if it were to become necessary, Azmaria could cleave a dragon in two with a single strike.

Yet the Lich King, on Kel'thuzad's suggestion, had merely used her in an attempt to hurt Alexandrine. Had he instead taken the time to train the girl, she would have been likely been the force the Scourge needed to destroy the world. At the least, she would have been a match for any number of the great heroes the living had on their side.

Alexandrine was grateful for Azmaria's new sparring partners. Those Horde champions were a lifesaver, giving her time to rest when she was worn out. Azmaria could fight for hours now with little rest, even wielding that massive blade. Azmaria was not undead, not exactly, as she had never stopped living, but she also wasn't exactly alive either. It was a precarious fusion that gave her the ability to fight tirelessly for hours. Alexandrine just could not fight that long. Neither could the orc, the troll or the elf, but between all of them, they had managed to keep up with Azmaria.

And further, Azmaria was learning quite a bit from them. They were all seasoned warriors. The elf especially had much to teach her. His name was Viridiel Suntreader and he had been one of Illidan's Demon Hunters-in-training, as well as an accomplished blade master in his own right. He had been given the Gift of Sargeras during his training under Illidan, the ability to see magic at the cost of his natural sight. Azmaria, like Poldaran, had been born with that ability in addition to their natural sight. Unlike Poldaran, Azmaria had not grown up around magic, so she was often overwhelmed by the two different visions at once. Viridiel had helped her master her ability to switch between the two.

Further, while his skill was no match for Nihlus, Viridiel was able to teach Azmaria a number of advanced swordplay techniques. Combined with Azmaria's growing strength and speed, this had the effect of making her a more deadly opponent every day.

Alexandrine sighed. It was almost her turn to spar with Azmaria again. She was still tired from the last match. "Well," she said to no one in particular. "I guess I should start stretching to warm up." She was getting too old for this, which was a thought she found odd since she was still technically a teenager. Nonetheless, they had been practicing since dawn. This was too much. Not to mention the fact that these matches were ending with her on her backside far more often than she would like.

The voice she heard was faint. "Alex..." it said.

Her brow creased as she tried to recognize the voice. "Yadier?" she asked.

The voice was a bit louder in her mind. "Yes, it's me. Alex, I need your help."

"Az and I will be suited up and ready to go within five minutes," she said.

"No, that's not the kind of help I need. I need information."

"What kind of information? And why not just ask Poldaran? She's likely to have any info I do."

"It's information about Poldaran that I need. And I can't ask her because she's not here."

"What?" Alexandrine asked, becoming concerned. "What happened?"

"Nihlus is dead," Yadier said. Alexandrine gasped. "Yes. Poldaran didn't take it well. She did some things to the guy who killed him that are better left unspoken. Then she disappeared. Where would she go if she were really upset?"

Alexandrine thought about it for a moment, and then it hit her. "The tree!"

"Tree?"

"Yes, there's a tree on the grounds of the Wintermoon estate. Growing up, any time you wanted to find Poldaran, that's where she was. Dad used to joke that Pold had to be part dryad. She'd study in its branches. She'd fall asleep in it on some days. She used to say that it was the most comfortable place in the world to be, but she could never say why. I'd bet that as upset as she is, she went there."

"Where exactly is it?"

"To the south of where the main house used to stand, maybe a hundred feet from the walls of the estate proper. It's a massive oak tree. You can't miss it."

"Thanks, Alex. I'll see if I can find her there."

Upon arriving at the estate, Yadier not only did not find Poldaran, but when he found the tree, it appeared to have been destroyed years before by a strike from a massive claw.

** * **

The child was vexed. For some reason, her favorite little red ball was not being cooperative today. She would throw it just as hard as her small arms would let her, but it would just fly a foot into the air and up behind her head, before landing on the ground and bouncing into her back. Try as she might, she just could not get it to go forward.

This was a serious problem. What if Mommy or Daddy wanted to play catch? There was no way she could participate in these circumstances. Further, she was getting very frustrated. After yet another backwards throw, she could not take it anymore, so she kicked it just as hard as her little four year old legs would allow.

Perhaps she was on to something. The girl took quite a bit of satisfaction in the fact that the ball rolled more than halfway across the large yard. It would have gone further if that dumb tree had not gotten in the way. The girl stuck her tongue out at the tree for spiting her.

She had to try that kick again. Maybe from the tree it would go all the way to the house. She hurried over to the ball, tripping only once, but since no one was paying attention to her, there was no reason to cry. No attention to be gained when Mommy was focused on some knitting on the patio with the girl's younger sisters sleeping in cradles next to her.

When she reached the tree, she thought she heard a sound. It was a peculiar sound, similar to what she heard when she cried, but a bit different. First of all, it was not coming from her. And second, it did not sound quite like when she cried. She looked around, trying to find the source of the sound, figuring it was the sound of some animal. Instead, up in the branches of the tree was a glowing woman! And it looked like she was crying!

The girl had never seen anyone other than herself cry, and had always assumed that adults did not know how. Someone had obviously taught the woman, so the child decided not to interrupt. It was impolite to interrupt adults when they were doing something important, and crying was always important, or at least it was always important when the child cried. So instead she sat down and just stared, waiting for the woman to notice her.

It took quite a while, but eventually the woman noticed her sitting there. "Baka," she said. "I forgot you'd be able to see me."

"Why would I not be able to see you?" the girl asked.

"It's hard to explain. Let's just say I used some magic to hide myself so no one can see me."

"Then why can I see you?"

"The spell doesn't work on everyone," the woman said as she hopped down from the tree. "There are a few people who can see through it. You happen to be one of them."

This sounded very complicated. And more importantly, how could this woman know that she would be able to see her? The child was suspicious. "Who are you?"

"An old friend of yours," the woman said. "I've known your mother and father for years."

Well, if she knew Mommy and Daddy, she had to be okay. Besides, she had the prettiest white hair. The child had never seen anyone with hair that color before unless they were really old, and this woman looked to be about the same age as Mommy. And of course, the girl was still curious why the woman was glowing.

Seeming to read her thoughts, the woman spoke. "You see me glowing because of the spell. Those people who can see me with the spell on will see a glow."

The girl nodded, satisfied with that explanation. Now she really had only one question remaining. "Why were you crying?"

The woman sat down at the base of the tree, leaning up against it. "Someone I love died."

The girl had experienced death before, when a fish she used to keep in a bowl died. She had been pretty sad once she realized that it meant that she would never get to see her fish again. But it had never occurred to her that people could die too. The realization unsettled her and she suddenly found herself needing a hug. Since the woman looked like she needed one too, the girl walked over to the seated woman and threw her tiny arms around her neck. The woman began crying again, so the girl hugged her tighter while feeling the woman's arms wrap around her in a returned embrace.

She was unsure how long the embrace lasted, but eventually the woman stopped crying and released the child. "Thank you," the woman whispered, unable to find the ability to speak any louder.

The child sat down on the woman's lap, staring at the clouds in the sky wordlessly as the woman absentmindedly played with the girl's bright red hair and singing softly in a language the girl did not recognize. For some reason, the child felt more at peace in that moment than she had anywhere besides her own mother's arms. She was so at peace that she soon fell asleep.

She awoke in her own bed, her mom sitting beside her bed, holding one of the twins. "So, Pold, enjoy your nap?"

The child nodded. She could not remember the circumstances of why she had fallen asleep by the tree, only that she had suddenly decided to sit down next to it to watch the clouds go by, but for some reason, she felt very happy.

** * **

An explosion shook the ground near where the Kirin Tor forces had made their base camp inside the first gates of Ulduar. "Are you sure we shouldn't have brought Alex and Azmaria out here?" Yoxutre asked his brother, shouting to be heard over the sounds of battle.

"I'm sure!" Yadier shouted back. "I think Poldaran wanted them where they are for a reason. Besides, you're the expert on tanks here, why would we need Alex?"

"She tends to carry more explosives than I do," Yoxutre replied. He turned his attention elsewhere and started shouting into the radio. "Fire those demolishers on the enemy giants! Let the guys on the cycles take out the smaller enemies! And where the **** are my siege tanks?!"

"We seem to have gotten ourselves in a bit of trouble," came the response. "Seems the enemy has some kind of spider-legged tanks that fire deadly beams of liquid fire. Two of them have us pinned down behind the Frost control tower."

"Spider legged?" Yoxutre consulted a map. "I need the two closest motorcycles to use their grappling hooks to turn one of the tanks so it hits the other."

"On it!" Envinyata called out over the radio. "I've got Fenn here with me, so we'll get it taken care of."

"Good. Now, let's see what we can do about the Iron Giants near the Flame tower."

"I'm riding on a giant's head!" came the call over the radio. "Whee!"

"Neldara?"

"This is Thanoris. Sorry about that, Neldara got my radio for a moment there. The Sons of Hodir are making their assault on the Flame tower now. We'll assist as we can and I'll set the charges as soon as they clear a path for me."

"Good work. Keep me informed. Xelsia, what's the word on the Tower of Storms?"

A pillar of light fired down from the sky and struck one of the towers with a thunderous force that shook the entire continent. "Tower of Storms neutralized," Xelsia said calmly.

"Warn me next time you plan to do something like that. We already have enough problems without being startled half to death by someone using a tower's own weapons on itself."

Within a few minutes, another explosion rocked Ulduar as Thanoris' explosives brought down the Flame tower. Brann Bronzebeard's voice came over the radio. "That was the last tower. Good work, everyone, you've broken Ulduar's defenses." There was a crackle of static on the radio. "Wait a second. What is that? Siege engines, be careful! Something's headed your way!"

Yoxutre exchanged a look with Yadier. "Let's grab a cycle and get down there. Could be trouble."

A voice roared over the speakers throughout Ulduar. "Hostile entities detected. Threat assessment protocol active. Primary target engaged. Time minus thirty seconds to re-evaluation."

"By the Light!" Brann Bronzebeard shouted over the radio. "This thing's massive! Quickly, evasive action! Evasive action!"

Yoxutre and Yadier arrived moments later. Brann had been correct. The tank they were facing was easily triple the size of their own siege tanks. Luckily, it seemed to have trouble keeping up with the smaller tanks, and its ranged weapons seemed to be designed only to handle smaller foes while the now destroyed towers rained destruction upon the enemy's larger units. Unfortunately, they still had to contend with its massive size and thick armor. Yoxutre was unsure whether even the weapons on the demolishers would be enough.

"Do you have any idea how hard it is to use these radios when you don't have any hands to push the talk button?" Sharlot's voice said from over the radio. She sounded irritated. "Anyway, I was flying around getting a look at this tank and I saw what appeared to be a weak spot. I may have an idea for taking this thing out, but I'm gonna need you guys to keep it busy. I don't want to lose any tail feathers to those flame cannons."

Yoxutre nodded to the radio, causing Yadier to chuckle. "Alright, you heard the lady. Fire everything you have on the tank. Try to **** it off. This is not the time to conserve ammunition."

The units on the ground responded by unleashing volley after volley of powerful strikes on the tank. It seemed to be confused as it kept deciding to chase different enemies. Sharlot, once again in Storm Crow form, took advantage of the confusion and flew in low, landing on the top of the tank, where she struck a seam with a blast of Elune's wrath, widening the crack. She returned to her natural form and dropped a handful of Un'goro soil into the hole as well as a small glowing acorn.

The tank realized the threat and began firing at Sharlot, who did the only thing she could and ducked behind on of the tank's armored plates. "I need some assistance here!" she called out on the radio.

"On it," Envinyata called out.

"What the **** are you doing, Envi?" came Yoxutre's voice over the radio. "Have you gone mad?"

"Just fire. I'll be fine!" Envinyata's voice said. Moments later, the dwarf came sailing through the air, launched from the end of a demolisher's catapult arm. She landed on top of the cannon, just behind one of the cannons firing at Sharlot. A quick slash of her dagger and the fuel line was cut, causing the cannon to be unable to fire. Raequann, copying Envinyata's maneuver, landing with a much harder thud. He drew his runeblade and cleaved the second cannon in half. "Show off," Envinyata said under her breath.

"I'd recommend getting off of this thing," Sharlot said. "The reaction should begin any moment." The tank began to shudder violently. "And there it is." Raequann dove off the tank and stabbed his sword into a nearby wall to slow his fall. Sharlot changed form again and flew herself and Envinyata to safety.

The metal plates on the tank began to buckle outward with a hideous creaking and groaning. One after another, the bolts holding them in place began to shoot off. One of them struck Neldara in the arm, so she ran up and kicked the tank in anger before running away again. Soon, the plates themselves began to fall off and within no time at all, the tank was a ruined pile of rubble, with a massive Ancient Protector standing in its place. Cheers erupted throughout the courtyard.

The massive treant stretched for a moment before planting its roots in the hard ground and settling in for a nap.

Archmage Rhydian, commander of Dalaran's forces in Ulduar, spoke over the radio. "Our friends fought well, Brann, but we're not done yet."

Brann Bronzebeard responded. "Perhaps so, but it's only a matter of time until we break back into Ulduar. Any luck finding a way to teleport inside?"

"None at all. I suspect it has something to do with that giant mechanical construct that our scouts spotted in front of the gate."

"What about the plated proto-drake and the fire giant that were spotted nearby? Think your mages can handle those?"

"The Kirin Tor can't possibly spare any additional resources to take on anything that size. We may not have to though. We can sneak past them. As long as we can take down that construct in front of the gate, we should be able to get inside."

Brann's response was filled with annoyance. "Sneak?! What do you think we are, marmots?"

"We're hunting an old god, Brann."

"Fine. If our allies are going to be the ones getting their hands dirty, we'll leave it to them to decide how to proceed. So, Yadier, what'll it be?"

Yadier sighed. He hated being in charge now that Poldaran was gone. This was doing nothing to further his studies. Just where the **** had that girl run off to? "We'll skip the giant and hte dragon for now. Yogg-Saron must be destroyed as soon as possible. The more we delay, the closer he gets to escaping his prison."

** * **

Shattrath City was as Shattrath always was. Filthy and filled with refugees. Poldaran had always wondered why the refugees had never banded together to try to clean up and repair the city to make it a better place to live, but she never could figure out an answer. But that was not why she had come here today. She had something much more important to attend to.

She was wearing a tattered brown cloak in order to cover her head and hide her identity. She was only here to see one person, and she really did not want to deal with anyone else right now.

It took her several hours before she finally managed to locate the person she sought, which was odd, considering how high profile the woman was. Thankfully, however, she was able to find the woman in her private quarters on the Scryer's Tier. She knocked politely at the door and waited.

A a red haired elven woman wearing a crimson tunic emblazoned with the emblem of the Shattered Sun Offensive answered the door. She took one look at Poldaran's ragged clothing and sighed. "I'm sorry, but I don't have any spare food or money to give today. You should try visiting the aid tents in the Lower City."

"I'm not here for charity, Liadrin," Poldaran said.

"Poldaran?" Liadrin asked, her eyes wide. "Come on in, then," she said. She led Poldaran to her sitting room. "So, what brings you here? And in such shabby attire?"

"I came to bring you something," Poldaran said, producing a bundle.

Liadrin already suspected what it might be, but the shock still hit her pretty hard when she opened it and she had to fight back a tear when she saw the twin swords within. She sat for a moment in silence before finally gathering the strength to speak. "How...how did my brother die?"

"Valiantly, protecting many others by doing so. He chose to cover a retreat by himself while his allies escaped."

"Sounds like Nihlus. How are you holding up?"

"I've run out of tears," Poldaran said. "I just feel numb right now, to be honest, though occasionally I still feel quite a bit of rage."

"It's to be expected. So, how did his killer die?"

"In worse pain than probably anyone on Azeroth has ever felt."

The Blood Knight Matriarch nodded approvingly. "You would have made a fine Blood Knight, had things been a bit different," she said.

"I wish that were the case, Liadrin. However, I was so angry that I used extremely forbidden magic to kill that enemy. I would imagine that there will be those who seek to slay me for even knowing that spell when they find out what I've done."

Liadrin thought about it for a moment. "Ah, I see. Perhaps you should go see A'dal," she said. "I'd bet he would have some good advice for you. Or at the least, he'll be able to comfort you."

"Sorry, Liadrin, but I'm really not in the mood to speak with the giant snowflakes right now. That's why I'm dressed like this."'

"That wasn't very nice. They've been worried about you. Xi'ri especially."

Poldaran sighed. "Yeah, you're right. I'm just not in a good mood right now. Maybe I'll come visit them after I finish my current mission." She stood up. "Incidentally, there's a gnome that's been following me everywhere for the last several stops I've made on my way here. She'll probably find her way here."

"I can have her detained, if you'd like."

"No, just tell her that I am too busy to talk with her right now and that I'll meet with her at the Wyrmrest Temple in a few days to find out what it is the Bronze Flight needs of me this time."

"So it's Chronormu?"

"Yeah."

"Alright, I'll give her your message."

"Thanks. Anyway, I should get going. Take care."

"You as well. Hang in there. Things look dark now, but the Light never abandons its champions."

"Yeah, well, the Light abandoned me a long time ago," Poldaran said, and then she was gone.

** * **
#5 Jan 20 2010 at 2:31 AM Rating: Good
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Things were not going as expected. Indeed, nothing was going as it should have. Yadier had expected to have to deal with an epic fight against a powerful enemy. He had expected to be exhausted. He had expected to have to use every bit of magical talent he had to bring down the beast while everyone else used their talents to do the same.

Instead, the fight was over before it had begun. At least, the physical fight was, anyway.

They had rushed into the room after felling the Old God's general, prepared to fight the abomination before them. Instead, they found a woman. Sara had been her name, and she claimed to have been chained by their enemy. They moved closer and had fallen into her trap.

Her mind was immensely powerful. She pushed upon their minds, trying to drive them into insanity, trying to rob them of their ability to control themselves. Meanwhile, foes came to face them, massive Faceless Ones. It was all they could do to fend off the Faceless Ones while retaining their sanity. Attempting to get closer to her was out of the question.

A few of the Explorer's League and Dalaran forces succumbed to their insanity and began attacking their former comrades. They had been put down as quickly as possible to prevent them from harming those whose minds still remained their own. Nonetheless, it was not looking good. Between injury and insanity, one by one they fell until only those heroes hand-picked by Poldaran for this mission remained. And they were all having trouble fighting the corrupting influence of Yogg-Saron's mind.

Had Poldaran known about this? Did she have a plan to deal with the power of the Old God's mind? Or would she have fallen as well? Yadier didn't have any answers.

"You have done well to resist this far, heroes," Sara said. "The strength of your minds is great. None should have resisted this far. Nonetheless, you will fall. There is no hope for salvation." Her body began to writhe and pulsate. "I am the lucid dream." Her skin began to tear. "The monster in your nightmares." Creeping tentacles began to protrude from her wounds. "The fiend of a thousand faces." Her head was torn apart as a monstrous visage burst forth from it, a maw filled with razor sharp teeth. "Cower before my true form." Her body exploded as the massive beast appeared in its full, terrifying glory. "BOW DOWN BEFORE THE GOD OF DEATH!"

The Old God's mind ground down upon them with even greater force. Yadier could feel the darkness of insanity closing in around him. He looked around and saw that the others were struggling as well.

But in that darkness shone a single light. A melodious laughter filled the room. "Who dares laugh at the God of Death?!" Yogg-Saron shouted. Yadier looked around for the source of the laughter, knowing that he knew that laugh. It only took a moment to find it, as the person laughing was ostentatious enough to have surrounded herself with burning purple flames.

She stood upon the top of a large boulder that had fallen from the ceiling. Her white hair and black robes played with the moonlight, making her form look eerily pale. "Poldaran," he said, in recognition.

"The lucid dream? What an utterly meaningless bit of drivel," she said, laughing more. "The fiend with a thousand faces? I count no more than nine hundred and thirty." She laughed again. "The monster in my nightmares?" All mirth disappeared from her face and her eyes grew deathly cold. "Apparently you've never seen my nightmares. You're a fuzzy unicorn when compared to the terrors that fill my nights."

"You do not comprehend the situation, human," Yogg-Saron said softly. "I am more terrifying than any other being on this world."

Poldaran's laugh was humorless. "That might have been true when the Titans imprisoned you, you giant festering abscess. Millennia ago, you may have been the most terrifying monster that existed on this world. Things have changed."

"You speak of the Lich King? That pathetic wretch is nothing compared to me."

Poldaran's laughter once again filled the room. "Dear gods no," she said between fits of laughter. "The Lich King too is nothing. A pathetic nuisance compared to other monsters that roam this world." She cocked her head thoughtfully. "Perhaps though, I should give you some credit. You were partially responsible for the creation of that which truly terrifies. Perhaps I was too hard on you. I apologize."

Yadier could sense Yogg-Saron's confusion. "Enough of these games!" it shouted as it brought the full force of its mind down upon Poldaran, trying to drive her into the depths of insanity.

Yadier could not believe his eyes. He could feel the overwhelming force of Yogg-Saron's mind as it pressed down upon Poldaran. Yet she stood, unflinching, staring at the great monster with a bored expression upon her face. "Are you quite done?" Poldaran asked. "I could do this all day if you want, but it's mildly irritating." How was this possible? Had she found a way to protect herself from its mind? Had Yadier underestimated her? Was her mind more powerful still than that of the Old God? Or perhaps was Yogg-Saron's attempt to push Poldaran's mind into insanity futile for a more terrifying reason? Was Poldaran's mind immune simply because it was already completely insane?

"How is it possible?" the Old God roared as he ended his assault upon Poldaran.

Poldaran laughed yet again. "As I said, perhaps I owe you credit for all of this. You see, long ago, the Titans imprisoned you and your brethren and ordered this world as they are wont to do. They populated this world with beings they viewed to be perfect, or at least as near perfection as possible. And they were strong beings, forged of earth and metal. However, they were rigid...unchanging." Poldaran's lips drew back in a sinister grin. "That's where you came in. You saw beings of strength that you would have a difficult time corrupting, so you infected them with the Curse of Flesh, hoping to weaken them, to make them more susceptible to your power. When you stole the strength of the Titan's creations, you also removed our greatest weakness. Your curse gave us the one thing we lacked. And now, thanks to you, we have the ability to grow. The ability to change. The ability to evolve."

Yadier could feel uncertainty coursing through the Old God. "Your races are too weak to be anything more than commodities, to be traded amongst the greater beings or destroyed at our whim!"

Poldaran laughed yet again. "Millennia ago, that might have been true. But you've committed the same sin that the Titans have. You have remained unchanged through the eons. Yet where you remained unmoving, we've accelerated into the future. We have surpassed you. You asked me what kind of monster fills my nightmares that I laugh at you. That answer is simple. There is only one monster that fills my dreams." Poldaran's eyes began to glow an unearthly blue, like those of the Quel'dorei. "Me," she said, unleashing the force of her madness, of more than a year of prophetic dreams, of a lifetime of anguish and torment, upon the unprepared Old God.

Yadier felt Yogg-Saron's grip on his mind loosen and he no longer had to fight to maintain sanity as the Old God fought to defend itself from Poldaran. "Minions, to my aid!" Yogg-Saron called out. "Destroy the human!"

Poldaran ended the onslaught of her mental attack. "Oh, is it time for us to unleash our minions? This fight is progressing far more quickly than I had expected."

"You have no minions that can stand against me. I can break the minds of these mortals the moment you command them to defend you."

"Perhaps that is correct, but these are just heroes sent to face you, not my minions. I did not come unprepared, after all." With that Poldaran dropped to one knee, placed her hand upon the boulder she stood on and began chanting, softly at first but growing ever louder as glowing runes began to cover the room around them. The words echoed, and Yadier was unable to make out any of them until the echoes suddenly cut out as Poldaran shouted the final word of the incantation. "Valkyrja!"

The glowing runes disappeared and a dozen glowing figures appeared around Poldaran. Yadier could not believe his eyes. Poldaran had called forth powerful Val'kyr, the handmaidens of the Lich King. What did this mean? How could she have called them without joining the forces of the Scourge? The Val'kyr kneeled. "Command us, Mistress," one of them said, her voice ethereal.

"Destroy the Faceless Ones," Poldaran commanded.

"It shall be as you have said," the Val'kyr said. It was nearly a hundred massive Faceless Ones against a dozen Val'kyr maidens. The Faceless Ones did not stand a chance, and were quickly routed. The Val'kyr once again knelt before Poldaran. "What is your will, Mistress?"

"I have no further need of you for the time being," Poldaran said calmly. "Please depart here and await my call."

"It shall be as you have said." And with a shimmer, the Val'kyr were gone.

"A most unexpected play, hero," Yogg-Saron said. "But it will avail you not. I will -" but he was cut off once again by Poldaran's laughter. "Still you mock me?"

"Sorry, but calling me a hero is incredibly funny." Poldaran sighed. "I'm no hero. You see, not every monster has to be slain by a hero. Not every time must the darkness be fought back by the power of love and determination. Not every battle needs to be worthy of being recorded in story and song. Sometimes, you just need something dead. When that happens, I'm called. I'm no hero. A hero would have been able to save Nihlus. I just happen to be the villain whose personal preferences match those of the world's inhabitants. We can destroy each other, and no one will notice. It's kind of liberating really."

"You are a strange one, for certain," Yogg-Saron said, trying to assess what she meant. "But you still think yourself my equal. That is laughable."

Poldaran shrugged. "Whatever," she said, unleashing the magical energy she had been gathering.

The entirety of Ulduar began to shudder and quake as a massive beam of magical energy tore through the ceiling and struck the form of Yogg-Saron. As the dust settled, the Old God spoke. "An interesting tactic, using one of the Titans' Surge Needles to strike at me. But ultimately futile. My skin is warded against magic and you'll never break through!" Despite the Old God's boasting, Yadier could feel the last traces of its grip upon his mind fading as it drew back to protect itself.

Poldaran shrugged again. "Wasn't aiming at you. You just happened to be in the way." She unleashed another blast from the sky above.

"Not aiming at me? Then why use such a weapon?"

"Ulduar is situated upon the largest nexus of ley energy in all of Azeroth," Poldaran said. "I figure if I can hit it with the Surge Needle, I can uncouple the ley lines. The resulting explosion should destroy you."

Yadier thought about the site of the explosion caused by the Surge Needle in the Dragonblight. If this one were uncoupled, it would be disastrous. "Poldaran, you can't be serious! You'll vaporize the entire continent of Northrend at best. More likely, you'll shatter this world just like Ner'zhul destroyed Draenor!"

Poldaran shrugged again. "I had other plans. Most of them involved Nihlus. He went and got himself killed, so I had to fall back to this plan. But so help me, I will destroy Yogg-Saron no matter the cost. He is ultimately at fault for Nihlus' death, and he will pay."

"You're bluffing," the Old God said. "No one would do something so foolish as to destroy a continent just to kill one enemy."

"You're free to believe whatever you want," Poldaran said with another shrug. "However, in the end, it really doesn't matter what you believe." She unleashed another blast. The ground around Yogg-Saron was visibly scarred. A few more attacks would break through it to the Ley Nexus below.

"We have to stop her!" Sharlot called out. "There has to be another way!" Poldaran unleashed another blast. The group of heroes began preparing to bring down Poldaran, but were cut short when a dozen Val'kyr appeared again, surrounding them.

"You will not interfere," one of them said.

Yadier watched everything with a strange fascination. He could sense something strange as Poldaran unleashed another blast. An odd coloration came over Yogg-Saron.

For the first time in its existence, the Old God felt fear. It panicked and did the only thing it could think to do. A massive black void opened up below Poldaran and she was sucked in. "You have been devoured by me!" it said triumphantly. "Within my body, you will be unable to fire your weapon!"

Somehow, everyone in the room could hear Poldaran's voice. "You're right. I cannot gather but the smallest bits of magical energy from within your shielded hide. I concede that you have foiled my plan. As a reward, let me tell you a bit about some research I did years ago. You might find it fascinating." She cleared her throat. "Years ago, your brother, C'thun, was defeated by a group of soldiers. I decided to do what research I could in order to prepare myself for a possible encounter with any other Old Gods we might encounter."

"I fail to see how this is interesting."

"Wait for it. Trust me, it's worth the wait. Now, you see, most of the research was pretty mundane. Tactics from the soldiers that killed him, that sort of thing. But when I was reading about the first war between him and the Night Elves, I discovered something that piqued my interest. You see, the Qiraji pushed the Night Elf forces back all the way to Un'goro Crater, but for some reason, when they reached the crater, they stopped. The Silithids could enter, but the Qiraji, those most touched by his mind, could not. It caused them great pain. I couldn't allow such an interesting thing to go unstudied, so I journeyed to the crater. Care to guess what I found?"

"Not particularly," Yogg-Saron said, bored now that his victory was secured.

"Nature," Poldaran said. "The power of nature itself radiates through that entire crater, like an echoing song. It has managed to permeate everything. It's in the rocks. It's in the trees. It's in the water. It's in the animals. It's in the soil. And most interestingly, it's even found at the center of the crater, in the red hot magma that oozes up from miles below the surface."

Yadier heard the sound of a portal opening and Yogg-Saron began to scream in pain. If Yadier had to hazard a guess, he believed that somewhere in the depths of Un'goro crater's vast lava lakes was a portal with the liquid filter removed - in clear violation of the Kirin Tor's laws about portal usage - opened by the activation of a portal beacon by Poldaran through use of the tiny bit of magic energy she could gather within the great beast which was now spewing forth white hot magma into its sensitive insides.

Yadier noticed something on his belt beginning to glow and pulled it towards his face. "The beacon she gave me!" he said. He quickly activated it, causing Poldaran to appear before him.

"Good timing," she said. "I was about to be up to my ankles in lava."

"So the Surge Needle was just a trick to get him to devour you?"

"Not really."

"Wait, you mean you would have destroyed the continent...on second thought, I think I'm happier not thinking about that."

Poldaran looked that the writhing Old God, annoyed by its screaming. "Oh pitiful shadow lost in darkness, Bringing torment and pain to others. Oh poor damned soul, wallowing in your sin...

"Perhaps... it is time to die." Another, more narrow blast erupted from the Surge Needle, striking the weakened Old God and tearing through its skin. The rupture caused the beast to explode, spraying molten magma around it, but thankfully missing anyone in the room.

When everything was quiet again, Poldaran was gone.

** * **
Epilogue:
The ice crackled under the woman's soft leather boots as she began to ascend the frozen stairs. Disembodied voices could be heard around her, the voices of her friends.

"What reason have we to trust you? You've betrayed us all!" White hair blew in the breeze as she rose above the surrounding landscape.

"There's far too much evidence against you. We have to take you in! Surrender!" Black robes rustled as she continued her climb.

"You've sold us out. Just when did you turn? How long have you been betraying us?" Sadness filled her eyes and a single tear fell to the ground below.

"To think, my own sister, a monster! How did I miss the signs? How could I have not seen what was happening before me?"

The woman rested her staff upon the ground as she took to one knee before the figure seated upon the Frozen Throne. "Master," Poldaran of Wintermoon's voice said. "I have come to pledge my unending Allegiance to the Scourge. Death to the Living."

Modera woke from the dream with a start, sitting up in bed. "That felt so real. Could it have been a vision of something that has happened? Perhaps of something yet to come?" She shook her head, beads of sweat flying from her hair. "No, I do not have the gift of prophecy. Perhaps it is something else entirely."

But she had to wonder. If she had no gift and saw it, was she the only one?
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