View Full Version : A Brave New World (of WarCraft)
01-27-2011, 12:37 PM
One of many reasons for slow updates on my other work is that I've been pursuing a side-project. There have been many speculation threads about the future of the WarCraft universe during my time lurking here, and I had some ideas of my own. Being me, they evolved into a story.
First, let me appologize for the title. Once I thought of it, it was just too good to pass up. It also rightly suggests thing are very different from the franchise we know and love. This is just the prologue, so I'll let it do the introductions.
* * * * * * *
Prologue: A Point of No Return
Outland was dying. It had been dying ever since the Breaking, but now was the final throes. The Twisting Nether was a plane of manifest chaos, and its forces had been chipping away at the tenuous residue of reality clinging to the rocks ever since they’d been sucked in. For fifty-seven years, the lost continent had been fraying at the edges, slowly dissolving as the will of its spirits faded. Now, only one bastion remained: Shattrath, the City of Light, had been spared thus far by the tireless work of the shamans. Even it had only hours left before it too succumbed to the chaos and was lost forever into the Nether.
Yet not all was lost, for the peoples of the Lost Realm had the guidance of the Naaru, holy beings of pure light. They had roamed the universe since nearly the beginning, and they had instructed the people on how to build inter-dimensional ships like theirs. Now a fleet of these vessels stood ready to accept the last refugees.
The residents of Shattrath City had spent years preparing for this day, all the way from the humblest beggar up to the mighty Sha’tar themselves. In the cramped slums of the Lower City, an orphanage watched over the unclaimed children of the city. After so many years of constant war –and especially the evacuation of Azeroth– there were many. An order of priestesses called the Sisters of Virtue protected the orphans in keeping with their interpretation of the Holy Light.
Though the Sisters endeavored ever to teach their charges in the ways of righteousness, many failed to grasp the connection between philosophy and ethics. One of them now stood awaiting his favorite victim. Vespasian Lee swept the locks of his raven hair away from his striking violet eyes. Someone else might have considered his long, unbound hair to be an annoyance; he thought the constant gesture made him look cool. His quarry approached: he instantly recognized the light, timid footsteps on the stairs. He waited until the footfalls were nearly close enough to touch before he stepped from his hiding place.
“Good morning, Seth,” he said nonchalantly as he moved to block the narrow staircase, “today is the big day.”
His victim regarded him impassively. He hated it when Seth did that. “Get out of the way, Vespy. What do you want this time?”
“Ooooh, confidence!” Vespasian mocked, “The Sisters have their precious little freak being more assertive. That’s a step in the right direction, but you could still use a lesson in respect. You see, the last time I checked, my name was ‘Vespasian,’ got it?” He moved closer in as threatening a manner as he could muster. It worked: Seth took a step back and shrank in submission. Vespasian pressed his advantage. “Why don’t we cement this lesson in your memory with a little trip down the garbage chute, shall we?”
Seth turned to run, but Vespasian had years of practice. In one swift motion, he seized Seth by the hood of his robe and used it to muffle his protests. With some effort, Vespy tossed the smaller boy down the nearby waste chute, his screams echoing as he slid into the sewer below.
More footsteps alerted Vespasian to the presence of another. He turned to see one of the Sisters, who went by the name of “Humility.” “Is something wrong, Vespy?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” he replied coolly, “there was only a large rat in the kitchen that needed to be disposed of.”
“Vespy,” she retorted, “how many times have I told you to get one of us when that happens? You could get bitten very badly!”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said dejectedly.
“Now, get back upstairs and get your things,” Humility continued, “We’re leaving in ten minutes!”
Vespasian shuffled slowly away, grinning smugly once his face was out of sight. That worked like a charm, he thought. Inwardly he suspected he could’ve sent the meddling Gnome down to the sewer as well, but that would’ve gotten him in really big trouble. He could even get thrown out entirely, given that he was just months away from “graduation” anyway.
“So, how’d it go?” a voice asked when he returned to the dormitory.
He looked up to the crimson mohawk and developing tusks of his cohort, Gandokir, on the upper bunk. “Excellent,” he replied, “I feel better already.”
* * *
The sewers beneath Shattrath City were dark and dank, lit only by the eerie green phosphorescence of discarded magical ingredients in the water. These same ingredients were the reason that everyone who ventured into the sewers unprotected was legally required to be cleansed by a priest, shaman, or druid. Once, the stone-lined tunnels had emptied into a distant sea to the south; now, they simply discharged into the Void.
Seth’s landing was cushioned by a sizable pile of rotten food beneath the garbage chute. The chicken bones crushing prevented his own from doing the same, but the stench was nearly overpowering. The boy lay motionless for several moments after the impact, recovering his senses. Finally, he stirred, climbing up and over to the service platform that ran beside the nearly empty canal. From here, he knew his way out, the fruit of much bitter experience.
Originally, the sewer tunnels had periodically been flushed by rainwater, a phenomenon that continued for many years after the Breaking out of shear habit. Recently though, the water cycle had ceased, necessitating the use of a machine to push the refuse down to the end and out into the Nether. Vespasian had always been careful to do his “freak launchings” just before a cleanout: though cruel, the bully never wanted to inflict true harm on his victims. This pile was even larger than usual, though, the result of cleanouts being abandoned before the evacuation.
Seth inched his way along the narrow catwalk, his hands pressed against the slime-covered wall for balance. He knew that if he could just make it about ten feet to his left, there would be an access ladder up to the street. The hole, though, was covered by a heavy stone disc. The boy had no hope of dislodging it, but someone strong enough would usually hear him yelling almost immediately; after all, the orphanage was on one of the main thoroughfares.
Reaching his destination, he gripped the first rung. This would be the most dangerous part: the ladder was every bit as slime-encrusted as the walls, making the climb extremely treacherous. Slowly, he pulled himself up, rung-by-rung. He was about halfway up when his foot suddenly slipped. For one horrible moment, he fell, but the grip of one hand managed to stay closed.
At long last, he stood perched beneath the stone disc. Seth could hear the sound of traffic on the street above. That was good: it meant people were nearby. But he’d never heard this level of traffic. He called out again and again, but no-one came. Slowly the horrible reality of the situation formed in his mind. Shattrath City was being evacuated, and the people were too busy leaving to hear him.
He panicked, throwing himself against the stone repeatedly. He stopped only when his efforts nearly sent him crashing to the stone floor below. At that point, he stopped yelling, stopped pushing, and started praying. The Sisters had often spoken of how the Holy Light granted strength to those in need. Seth prayed as hard as he could, bearing his soul to the vast, cosmic energy. For hours, it seemed, he did this, and though he felt his will restored, the disc steadfastly refused to budge.
Suddenly, it moved! There was someone lifting the disc from above! Seth called out to his would-be rescuer, “Help! I’m trapped down here!”
“Seth! I was afraid you got left back here!” a familiar voice replied, “We’ve got to go! They’re leaving any minute!”
“Get me out of here!” he yelled back.
“I’m trying!” said the voice, “but it’s too heavy!”
“You’ve got to get me out! Maybe if you lift and I push at the same time…” The disc moved again. Seth threw himself against it, pushing with all his might. The disc moved more, much more, but still too slowly. It crashed as it fell back into place.
“Again!” Seth shouted, “Do it!” The disc lifted again, and he pushed, pushed with all his might, every fiber of his being. He willed it to move.
Suddenly, that’s exactly what happened. The disc lifted and slid to the side. A hand extended to help him up. He emerged into the perpetual twilight of the Nether, much brighter than the darkness of the tunnel. The first thing he saw was a familiar face: Kiera, his only true friend. Seth enwrapped her in an embrace of gratitude. “By the Light! I thought I was going to die down there!” he said.
Kiera pushed him away. “Seth, we’re about to get left behind! You can thank me when we’re safe!”
Only then did he notice the empty street in which they stood. “Oh,” he said. The two of them took off running, Kiera leading the way to the boarding docks.
* * * * * * *
As always, comments are welcome!
P.S.: If Ori Dubbya is reading this, I want to assure you that the name of a certain character was entierly coincidental: there just aren't very many S-names for males.
01-27-2011, 08:46 PM
Haahaahaa DUDE Stop reading my mind. When I was reading I was all like "O_o wait a minute..." :P you realize I may have to draw a Seth and Seth portrait at some point when I get a better idea of your Seth. Now go write more :P
01-28-2011, 03:17 PM
Glad you liked it! I was thinking much the same thing when your Seth made his first appearance. I'm going to hold off on posting Chapter 1 for a while just to see if anyone else has something to say, but experience says otherwise. (Chapters 1 and 2 are already written, in case you were wondering.)
As for your picture, you'll get a much better description in Chapter 1. Let's just say there's a reason the bully called him a "freak."
02-01-2011, 07:15 PM
Maybe it's time to get on with things. I want to begin by confessing that my knowledge of military protocol comes almost entirely from watching Star Trek: TNG. On the other hand, Captain Jean-Luc Picard noted more than once, "I appreciate a degree of formality on my bridge." This doesn't really matter until the next chapter, but I wanted to get that out there before someone bites my head off.
I had separated the first post into a prologue because Chapter One was getting long. After all, the story doesn't really get started until the kids are on the ship right? And then I moved a bunch of stuff to Chapter Two, so Chapter One is now very short. Oh well. I will leave things vague in the hope someone will be prompted to ask for clarification.
* * * * * * *
Chapter One: Stowaways
Two figures crept as silently as possible through the corridor of the dimensional ship. They were small: children, in fact. One sported long, silver hair, pulled tightly back into twin pigtails behind her bluntly pointed ears. The other’s features were impossible to discern, hidden as they were beneath a hooded robe. “Which way do we go from here?” the girl asked as they reached a fork.
“I don’t know,” the hooded one replied, “You’d think this ship would be packed. Where is everybody?”
As if in answer to his question, the sound of double-marching boots came from one of the corridors, approaching fast. “Seth, get back!” the girl called. The two of them ducked out of sight around a corner so that the newcomers would have to be looking backwards to see them. As expected, the soldiers continued past, their tabards marking them as members of the Light’s Vanguard.
“At least we know they’re friendly,” the hooded one commented.
“True,” the girl replied, “but where there’s Vanguard, there’s a fight. I say we go that way.” She pointed in the direction from which the soldiers had come.
“No objections,” the hooded one said with a shrug. “There’s just something about this that doesn’t feel right.”
The two went to move out, but found their way blocked by more uniformed personnel. The way back was blocked as well. There had been no sound of their approach. These soldiers were different, however. They were clearly armed, but lightly armored for stealth. They broke ranks to allow entry to a striking Human woman with neck-length raven hair and unsettling violet eyes. She pulled a large, pink crystal from her belt and spoke into it. “Marshal, this is Blackburn. I’ve found the intruders. On deck six, section 14, just as you said.”
The crystal began to glow. “Good work, lieutenant,” said a voice emanating from the crystal. “I trust you already have them on the way to the brig?” The light within the crystal pulsed in sync with the volume of the voice as it spoke.
“I don’t think that would be appropriate in this case, ma’am,” the woman said, “The intruders are…children.”
“Children?!” the voice said, sounding baffled and infuriated at the same time, “How did children get on my flagship? All refugees were supposed to get on the evacuation ships!” There came another sound, like distant windchimes through the crystal. “Very well,” the marshal’s voice said. “Bring them up to the bridge. It seems O’uros wants to see them in person.”
* * *
The security team escorted its two charges through the seemingly endless corridors of the ship. Most of them seemed almost disappointed that the call had turned out to be something so harmless. Lieutenant Blackburn seemed to be outright fuming. When at long last the party came to a large door, Kiera thought they’d reached their destination. Instead, it opened to reveal an empty –and rather small– room. She hesitated, but the captors pushed forward. When the doors closed behind them, everyone but the children turned back to face the door. Kiera found this behavior strange. Suddenly, the entire room began to move.
Not expecting the motion, both she and Seth tumbled to the floor. Blackburn regarded them with distain. A familiar defiance welled up within her as Kiera pushed herself off the floor. She put up a hand to bend her right ear back into a standing position as she locked eyes on the lieutenant. “Where are we?” she demanded.
Lieutenant Blackburn seemed entirely unperturbed by her tone. “We are in the pellerator, en route to the bridge, express.”
Kiera rolled her eyes. That seemed to get more of a response. “I mean,” she said, “where are we?” She gestured around at everything.
An amused expression crossed the lieutenant’s features as understanding dawned. “You are aboard the Eternal Radiance,” she said, “flagship of the Dawn’s Armada, and if I say so myself, the finest vessel in the fleet.” “We’re almost there,” she added. The warning came none too soon, for the moving room stopped just as suddenly as it had started. Kiera was able to adjust to the acceleration, but Seth fell again.
The doors opened onto a very large room. Beings of almost every imaginable description sat before crystal consoles, watched by a handful of pacing overseers. An enormous window looked out onto the endless, chaotic swirling of the Twisting Nether. Above, a glowing crystal chandelier floated over all, suspended only by magic.
The overseers quickly converged on the newcomers, first among them a lavender-skinned Elf with tightly bound viridian hair. She wore a blindfold over her eyes, yet walked as if there were no impediment to her vision. A wide cape flowed from her shoulders, billowing as she strode with dangerous purpose.
Behind her, an elderly-looking Orc kept pace despite his age. Gray braids fell to his chest on either side of his weathered face. He was dressed in full, heavy plate armor, yet moved as if it were nothing. Further back, the hulking, blue form of a Draenei male, this one dressed in robes of pure white and cobalt blue.
The security team saluted as they drew near. “Intruders retrieved as requested, ma’am,” Lieutenant Blackburn said.
“At ease,” the Night Elf said in a commanding voice that reverberated from nothing. The security team dropped their salutes.
“You may return to your posts,” the Draenei said, “There is more than enough fighting talent here to keep these two contained.” The Orc gave a slight chuckle at this. Most of the team turned and left, but the lieutenant stayed. “Ismene,” the Draenei said, “I assume you intend to introduce us?”
“That’s correct, sir.” Blackburn turned to her charges. She indicated the Draenei. “This is Captain Nuramaas, commanding officer of this vessel.” She indicated the Orc. “This is Justicar Krom’zon, commanding officer of ground forces stationed aboard this vessel.” Finally, she turned to the Night Elf. “And this is Field Marshal Alanderas, commanding officer of all ground forces in the entire Dawn’s Armada.” With a nod from Alanderas, she turned to go, but paused as Seth spoke unexpectedly.
“And who are you?” he asked.
The lieutenant turned back. “I am Lieutenant Ismene Blackburn, head of security on board this ship, and not someone you want to see.” She left without another word.
“Now, who are you?” Alanderas demanded. The children couldn’t help but quail in fear. As usual, Kiera recovered first. Annoyingly, her ear flopped down again. She quickly bent it back, trying to look as intimidating as possible.
“I am Kiera Trueshot, um…” frantically, she searched for an impressive-sounding title. “Beloved of the Light, friend to the Sisters of Virtue,” she settled on. Her defiance didn’t move the veteran officers, but it did bring a smile to Krom’zon’s face.
“And what about you, little one,” he said.
“Let’s see his face first,” Alanderas cut in, “He’s hiding something.”
Seth spread his arms in a gesture of appeasement. “I don’t…”
“Just do it, Seth!” Kiera whispered through clenched teeth.
Slowly, hands pushed back the hood that overshadowed his face. The hands and the chin were clearly Human, but of impossibly fair complexion. Then came the hair, also white as snow, though showing its lack of washing. Finally, he opened his eyes, and was mildly surprised that the interrogators didn’t recoil from their blood-red color. Seth stood silent for a moment, blinking in the light. “My name is Seth Whitemane. I am no-one of consequence.”
Suddenly, a sound like a mighty windchime filled his head. Even more strangely, his mind formed words from it: (Do not be so certain, Seth Whitemane. Your place shall be revealed in time.)
Seth looked up at the source of the sound in confusion. “What?” A source of blinding light hovered almost directly above the officers. He now realized that the floating collection of crystals he’d at first taken as a chandelier was in fact a member of the crew: a Naaru. The energy being had silently moved to join the meeting.
“Holy O’uros, it was good of you to join us,” Nuramaas said to the floating crystals.
Alanderas was far less respectful. “You wanted to see them; here they are!” she snapped.
(Calm yourself, Marshal,) O’uros replied, (I wished to take the measure of the children’s souls, as I have done for all others aboard this vessel.)
“And, your judgment?”
(The children shall stay until our next rendezvous with the refugee fleet.)
“You do realize,” she said incredulously, “that the Dawn’s Armada is under orders to assault Vonterat in two hours? Your orders, no less.”
(I fully realize the potential outcomes of this course, Marshal, but I assure you that this experience is what they need; and some others.)
02-01-2011, 10:21 PM
I think your Seth may be just as creepy as my Seth xD. Maybe its the name?
02-02-2011, 01:30 PM
Albinos do create a visceral reaction, but hopefully a shy little boy won't haunt your nightmares. Really, all he wants is to just not be stared at for once in his life.
02-11-2011, 03:23 PM
After being away a bit, I'm going to post this last chapter written ahead of time. You might notice the Star Trek influence showing here, but I'd ideally like to have things more like Protoss. We'll just have to see how this comes out.
* * * * * * *
Chapter Two: Evasion
Lieutenant Ismene Blackburn had so far used her military discipline to hold her emotions in check, but her patientce was wearing thin. Why did it have to be me? she thought. There are twenty other officers with private quarters on this ship, and they pick me. She was looking at the two children who regarded her from seats on the bed. They were now dressed in spare uniforms, tailored for Gnomes. “Look,” she said, “I have to be on duty for the next shift. That means you will stay in this room, you will not touch my stuff, and if I find so much as a crumb out of place when I come back, I will personally see to it that you never leave a room under your own power again. Got it?”
The two exchanged fearful glances, but nodded in acknowledgment. Suddenly, a siren wailed throughout the ship. Lights dropped to emergency levels, and a magically repeated voice called out, “Red alert! All hands to battle stations!”
Ismene gave a barely perceptible eye-roll. “That’s my call. See you when I get back,” she added dangerously.
Kiera was on the floor the moment the door closed. Slowly she crept toward the door. “Kiera!” Seth hissed, “What are you doing? You heard what she said!”
The girl turned back to face him. “I did,” she said, “and I don’t believe it. Don’t tell me you aren’t dying to know what the red alert is about.”
Seth slid off the bed to join her. “Some day you’re going to get us both killed, you know that?”
Kiera brushed her ear coyly, even though it hadn’t fallen. “We’ll pull through Seth. We always do.” She marched purposefully at the door just as Ismene had done, but it remained stubbornly closed. She did this several times without success.
“She must’ve locked it somehow,” Seth surmised.
“All right,” Kiera replied, “We go to plan B.” Her gaze settled on an air vent near the top of the wall.
* * *
Captain Nuramaas sat in his command chair, the upper half of his face concealed by the communion helmet. The device granted him a telepathic link to the fleet’s other commanders, and to O’uros, who commanded all of them from his own interface station. The other bridge officers were likewise seated at their respective stations, touching the crystal clusters before them in control gestures that made sense only to them.
“Phase jump successful,” called the ensign at the helm.
“Excellent,” the captain replied, “take us into orbit, Mr. Sparkfizzle.”
“Ms. Cloudmane, status report please.”
A Tauren at another console spoke, “Demonic presence has surpassed critical mass. These people are very lucky we arrived when we did. Legion forces are clustered around one primary portal and six lesser ones scattered across the northern continent. All major population centers appear to be in ruins. Demonic forces are withdrawing to defensive perimeters around the portals.”
“They’ve seen us,” the captain noted, “We must act swiftly. Mr. Sparkfizzle, set a course for the primary portal, ballistic trajectory.”
“Aye, sir. Course laid in. Engaging…now.”
“Mr. Perkins, shields to maximum. All decks, stand by for atmospheric entry!”
* * *
The ventilation duct was cramped, far too small for an adult, but a child could fit, just barely. The two children in question had spent an eternity inching along at an agonizingly slow pace, the adventurous Kiera leading the way. Now, however, they sat at a standstill. Once the air duct reached the end of the block containing the officers’ quarters, it pitched sharply downward, far too steep for a controlled descent on its smooth walls.
“If only there was something to grab onto,” Kiera wished aloud.
“Why don’t you just slide down?” Seth asked.
“Don’t you hear that?” the girl replied, “There’s a fan down there somewhere. Do you want to get sliced like a pig?”
“Okay, maybe we should’ve gone the other way.” Seth began inching backwards, but Kiera remained stubbornly planted at the elbow. “C’mon, we’ll just have to break out through one of the rooms or something.”
“After all the effort I’ve expended to get here…” she began.
It was then that Seth noticed something: the vibration of the passage was steadily growing. His companion seemed to have noticed as well, bracing herself against the walls of the duct. “What’s going on?” she asked frantically.
“You think I know?” he shot back.
The magnitude of the vibrations rose until grip was simply no longer possible. Seth watched in horror as his only friend in life was inexorably dragged closer to the abyss. Kiera screamed. Seth surged forward, but only managed to catch her ankle as it vanished over the edge. Naturally, all this accomplished was to send him plunging as well. Both of them screamed.
* * *
Seth pushed himself up in the dark shaft. Every part of his body seemed to be trembling uncontrollably. “I don’t understand… I don’t understand… I don’t understand…” he repeated over and over.
A hand shook his shoulder. “Are you okay?” Kiera’s voice said in the darkness.
“I…think so,” he said hesitantly.
“I thought we were goners for sure!” she said, “Good thing that fan stopped just then…”
“Where are we?” the boy asked.
“I don’t know. The air feels like its coming down, but then going back up.”
“So, we’re trapped?”
“Don’t say that!” she snapped, “There’s got to be a way out. Start feeling the walls: maybe there’s an access door or something.” Seth crawled forward until he found the wall and stated running his hands over it. Kiera did the same on the other side. The metal walls of the chamber were smooth, seamless, really.
He had gone more than halfway around before he felt an interruption in the surface. “I’ve got something!” he called.
His companion was at his side faster than he'd thought possible. “You’re right. There’s something here,” she said, running her hands around it, “Feels like a door of some kind.”
“How do we open it?” Seth wondered aloud.
“Let’s start by pushing on it,” Kiera suggested.
Merely leaning against the panel produced no effect, but when the two threw their weight against it, there was a give. Repeated attempts with this method failed to move the hatch, but it flexed noticeably with each impact.
Suddenly, Kiera stood up. “Here’s what we’re going to do:” she announced, “run at the door and crash into it.”
“Won’t that hurt?” Seth objected.
“Do you want to get out of here or not?” she demanded. “C’mon!”
The two retreated to the opposite side of the chamber. “Are you sure about this?” the boy asked.
“It might be the only way,” the girl answered, “Now, GO!” The children ran across the chamber and collided one-after-the-other with the panel. It gave considerably with each impact, but still remained unmoved. “That almost worked!” Kiera exclaimed, “Again! Try to hit with me this time, okay? GO!”
There were still two distinct impacts, but they were close enough together that the hatch hadn’t finished rebounding from the first when the second hit. When the door finally gave way, it did so suddenly, with unexpected ease. Seth’s momentum sent him hurtling into the passage beyond.
For the second time that day, Seth found himself struggling to get up after a fall to the floor. This time, however, it was in blinding light rather than shrouding darkness. The albino boy found himself wishing fervently for his customary hood. “Seth! Look out!” Kiera’s voice called behind him, but the warning came too late. A heavy boot planted itself in his vision. Just as he recognized its vague familiarity, an iron grip lifted him into the air.
“Wobblecrank, if you break something in my presence one more time, I will personally…YOU!” The all-too-familiar visage of Field Marshal Alanderas pressed in against his face. “I ordered you confined to quarters!” she yelled, the inexplicable reverberation in her voice inspiring absolute terror, “And here you are! In the middle of an engagement, no less! How did you get down here?”
“We…” Seth began, but he was abruptly cut off when the wall of the corridor struck him from behind.
“HOW?” Alanderas demanded. The heavy clank of double-marching boots interrupted her merciless interrogation. The field marshal turned to face them, leaving Seth to slide down the wall and yet again land heavily on the floor. “Vuz’jin! Take this whelp back to the officers’ quarters. Meet me on the surface as soon as you can. The rest of you, to the teleporter room. Await further orders there.”
As the cacophony of the troops’ passage faded away, a three-fingered grip gently lifted the boy to his feet. A distinctive black cape billowed away at a brisk clip in the direction the soldiers had left. He was steered in the other. Guiding him was a Troll in mage robes. “It’s very dangerous for you to be here,” he said, “Let’s get you somewhere safe.
“But where’s Kiera?” the boy objected, “She was right with me.”
Both of them looked around, but there was no sign of the other child. “Let’s just get you out for now, okay?” Vuz’jin suggested.
* * * * * * *
Now, surely someone out there has questions or comments?
03-01-2011, 07:12 PM
Well, this took longer than I'd hoped (especially that last section). Actually, I briefly considered cutting this down so the Seth part was its own chapter; but by then, I was in too deep. Now there's something in here that might raise some eyebrows. From what I can tell, there's a certain topic used so much in fanfiction circles that it's become the "kiss of death," so to speak. Call me cocky, but I think I can handle it.
If anyone with artistic skills is reading this, I'm very curious what an Orc/Troll hybrid would look like. Yes, they exist. In my world anyway.
* * * * * * *
Chapter Three: Invasion
“Spitz” Wobblecrank was short, even by Gnome standards. His small size, however, had its perks, one of which was being placed in charge of airshaft maintenance aboard his ship. While the Eternal Radiance was engaged in active combat, he saw no good reason to not be doing his job. The gunners on the deck above were working hard, and were understandably complaining about a lack air circulation.
The cause hadn’t been hard to guess, given that a pair of children had just fallen out of the access panel he was now climbing through. On the other side was a cyclone trap, a place where dust and other particles were allowed to settle out of the stream before the air moved on. In fact, that was precisely why this section of the duct had an access panel: collectors of dirt need to be cleaned out every so often. This one had been cleaned just before leaving berth, but the children’s presence had left telltale markings on the floor.
Wobblecrank spent a moment or two attempting to surmise what the kids had done to make the system stop working. Bizarrely, there was no evidence of how they’d gotten in here. From what he could tell, they somehow fell from above, but that was impossible. The exit hole of the cyclone above was too small even for him to pass.
The mystery of the children’s entrance could wait, however. The most obvious problem was the lack of a humming boost fan pushing the airflow. He reached up to activate it, and the device spun up without a hitch. It had simply been turned off.
“Now that’s weird,” he said aloud, “These fans can only be turned on and off by magic.”
* * *
Kiera moved as quietly as possible in the direction the Vanguard troops had gone. The corridor eventually came to a junction, but the choice of directions was easy. Multiple passages converged on a single, enormous doorway. The door was so large, that it appeared to have been simply left open for the hassle of opening and closing it. This suited Kiera’s purposes just fine.
The room was mostly empty, but a bored-looking officer sat at a control console. An assortment of supply crates was stacked in a corner, probably salvage from Shattrath that hadn’t found a home in the other holds. What was strange about the whole arrangement was the way everything faced a slightly raised platform in the center of the room. There were eerie lights shining up through it, but it hardly seemed important enough warrant a dedicated room.
By virtue of her part-Elven ancestry, the girl detected the sound of approaching feet long before the Dwarven ensign. By the time she turned to look, Kiera was concealed in the shadows of the crates. “You were supposed to be here ten minutes ago,” she noted, “The Marshal will have your head.”
“You are out of line, ensign!” The voice was rough, but lacking depth. Kiera risked a look out from her hiding place, bending her folded ear back into its standing position. The officer was a creature that defied easy categorization. His skin was an unusual shade of aquamarine. A long, but not pointed, nose sat above a mouth adorned with enlarged canines on both jaws. A shock of dull-brown hair protruded from his scalp at an odd angle. He must be some kind of Orc/Troll hybrid, Kiera surmised.
“You will drop my platoon at the planned point, is that clear?” he continued.
“Yes, sir,” the ensign replied. She moved her hands over the crystal console in front of her. “Coordinates laid in. Ready to drop.”
“Thank you.” The Orc/Troll didn’t sound like he meant it. He turned instead to his assembled troops. “For the Light!” he bellowed.
“Let justice be done!” they replied in unison. Following their leader, the platoon charged onto the platform. As each soldier entered, he or she vanished in a flash of electric-blue light. In moments, the ensign once again sat alone. Suddenly, a shape darted out from behind the spare supplies. It looked just like a child! She had just enough time to call “Wait-” before the figure vanished in a flash of light.
_ _ _
For a brief moment, there was nothing. Blinding light assaulted Kiera’s senses from all directions. It was impossible to even tell which way was down. Then it was gone; and Kiera was in hell. The Light’s Vanguard was engaged in a fierce melee with a vast army of demons, and she had just appeared a few yards behind the front lines. Spells flew furiously in both directions. Fire called down against one army was met with ice from the other.
While all around demons and mortals skirmished, the Elf-child stood transfixed in horror. A massive, four-legged creature was charging the lines. With a swing of his double-ended glaive, the black-scaled demon cut down the first three ranks. The sheer momentum of his charge allowed him to trample the rest. Behind him, the lesser demons moved to take advantage of the breach, potentially dividing the Vanguard forces in two. Worst of all, Kiera was directly in his path.
Just when it seemed the girl was about to be crushed beneath the juggernaught’s claws, the beast halted, nearly taking a step back. “Nagomath!” a voice boomed out, “Why don’t you run back to the Nether, like you did last time?” Field Marshal Alanderas stood in the breach, personally confronting the massive demon. “Have your masters yet tired of your endless defeats?” she taunted.
The Pit Lord merely laughed, a deep, wet rasping. “Who has outwitted whom, demon hunter? I have a million more minions behind that portal, and, well, perhaps by now you’ve noticed your sudden lack of artillery support?”
Alanderas briefly glanced over her shoulder at the massive hull of the Eternal Radiance looming above them. The ship’s guns had indeed fallen silent. It was only as her gaze swept back to the demon that she noticed the child cowering just short of his feet. “You have not defeated me yet, demon!” she retorted, the unnatural quality of her voice reaching new heights with every word, “Your army may win this battle, but you shall accompany me in death!”
In a flash, the marshal was replaced by a being of shadow, its winged humanoid form fully a match for the towering demon’s height. Tendrils of darkness leapt from its hands, one to the demon’s neck, the other sweeping the child through the air. The Pit Lord charged.
* * *
Vuz’jin seemed a pleasant enough man, courteous and genteel. Seth found him fascinating, an ear finally willing to listen to his endless questions. The Troll seemed to know much about a great many things. “After the Final Battle of the Dark Portal, the names of those who stayed behind to hold off the Elementals were carved into the stones of the Outland side. We thought it would be a fitting monument, but it didn’t last long.”
“Why?” the albino boy asked, “How come everything keeps getting destroyed?”
“The Nether is-” He never finished the sentence.
“All personnel with LCM experience, report to Engineering immediately! Repeat: all personnel with LCM experience, report to Engineering immediately! This is a Level 1 emergency!” Seth recognized the voice of Captain Nuramaas, magically amplified throughout the ship.
Vuz’jin stiffened. “I’m afraid I fall into that category, Seth. I’ll have to put you under someone else’s watch.”
“What’s ‘LCM’?” the boy asked as their pace quickened.
“Light Cannon Maintenance,” the Troll replied, “Something must be wrong with the weapons banks; very wrong.” Vuz’jin suddenly turned into one of the doors that lined the corridor. “Grashkeem!” he called, “I need a favor! Could you watch this boy for me?”
Somewhere among the tables of strangely-shaped glassware, a hunched figure stirred from pouring over a book. “Yes…” said a rasping, but high-pitched voice, “I assume you will return?”
“I will,” Vuz’jin promised with a bow, “Thank you, Grashkeem!” The Troll turned and left, sprinting up the corridor at a dead run. The door slid shut with a hiss.
“So, I finally meet one of the famed stowaways,” said the one called Grashkeem. He began to walk closer, his gait distinctly uneven. Seth took an unconscious step back as the resident’s silhouette was distorted by the numerous flasks, some simmering over burners. “What strange workings of the Light must have brought him to my laboratory, of all places.”
“Who are you?” Seth blurted out.
The figure finally emerged from behind the wall of glassware: a scarlet-plumed Arakkoa. While Grashkeem was clad in the standard mage robes of the Light’s Vanguard, he still wore the ornate headdress favored by his kind. The bird-man blinked his nictitating membranes and clacked his beak as he turned his head to a strange angle. “I am Grashkeem,” he said, turning his head back into a level position, “Grand Master Alchemist to the Vanguard of Eternal Radiance.” His talon-like hands gestured to the flask-strewn table. “I produce the potions and other magical reagents required by any modern army. You must forgive the state of my workspace. I have been very busy these last few days. Now that the battle is started, I can relax a bit; though I must be ready for emergency orders.”
“What are you working on now?” Seth asked, eyeing one of the flasks that sat atop a burner.
The alchemist turned to examine the vermillion liquid within. “In time, this will become Elixir of Protection,” he said, “very useful for embattled forces under heavy assault. Alas, it requires a great deal of time to produce. The elixir looses its properties unless cooled very slowly, sixteen hours at minimum.”
“Why go to all that trouble?” the boy asked, “Wouldn’t healing potions be more useful for the effort?”
The bird-man made a sound like gargling. It was only by his posture that Seth realized he was laughing. “Right you are, my boy! This small laboratory can only produce small amounts of anything.” The alchemist made a gesture that swept in the whole room. “I produce only that which requires an expert touch. Such mundane products are made in our factory, an impressive achievement, if I may say so myself. Would you like to see it? Vuz’jin won’t be back for quite a while, I expect.”
Seth’s look was more than enough of an answer. “Come with me, then,” the bird-man croaked, “I happen to have a personal access to the facilities I oversee.” Grashkeem led the way into the back of his lab, first past racks of bins with labels like “Terocone” and “Fel Lotus,” and then an enormous nest. In the very back was a cylindrical chamber of metal. “To get there, we must descend among the supply stores. Take my hand. Things will be a bit cramped.”
Seth accepted the extended claw with some apprehension, but pressed himself against the Arakkoa’s robes. Once both of them were inside, Grashkeem activated a glowing panel with a wave of his hand. It changed from green to orange as a door rotated closed around them. If the boy was made to feel uncomfortable by the claustrophobic conditions, it was nothing compared to what happened next. The floor began to sink beneath his feet, slowly at first, but gradually picking up speed as the walls rushed upward around them.
Just as quickly, the force of gravity began to increase. The walls slowed to a stop, and another door rotated open. Grashkeem led the way into the largest room Seth Whitemane had ever seen. Massive storage hoppers towered over their heads, feeding a thicket of pipes that led to somewhere. “All of these bins hold crushed herbs for potion-making,” the master alchemist explained, speaking over the insistent hum of distant machinery. He pointed at each in turn: “That one holds ground Felweed, the basic feedstock of the trade. To that we add Peacebloom and Kingsblood to produce Healing Potions, or Mageroyal and Dreaming Glory for Mana Potions.” Grashkeem swept a hand-talon around at their surroundings. “There are many more, as you can see; but those are our biggest outputs, and hence our biggest inputs.”
“Master Grashkeem!” a high-but-grating voice called, “Is there something- Oh, hello! You are…?” Seth turned to see a Goblin woman bounding toward them, her ears nearly scaled over with gold rings.
Grashkeem turned to her. “Foreman Mida, you’re as attentive as ever, I see. This is one of our famed stowaways-”
“Wow! After all the stories I heard! The bridge crew can never keep their mouths shut, y’know?”
“SQUAWK!” the bird-man suddenly blurted out. He drew a glowing purple crystal from his robes, the light within flashing. “Grashkeem here,” he said into it.
“Grashkeem! Things are not going according to plan! We need that elixir now!” The voice of Justicar Krom’zon was focused, but urgent.
“You’ll have it as soon as possible.” The alchemist put the still-glowing crystal back where it came from. “Duty calls, it seems. Mida, if you want to finish the tour-”
“I most certainly do, boss!” The Goblin took the boy’s hand and nearly dragged him to the next room before Grashkeem finished his sentence. “What’s your name?” she asked animatedly.
“Seth! That’s a good name! Pleased to meet you, Seth! Foreman Carly Mida at your service! I oversee the day-to-day operations down here.” She continued to say many words without expressing anything of real meaning until they passed through the doorway to the next room.
“This is the mixing room,” she said, “This is where the real action happens.” The room was filled with vats the size of swimming pools, each with a giant paddle enchanted to move in a stirring motion. “The herbs from back there get dropped in these mixing vats. We have to be careful to put in the right proportions in the right sequence. Every one of these vats has to be held at a specific ideal temperature.” Five other assistants, a Tauren, a Human, a Troll, a Draenei, and a Gnome, scurried about checking control readouts and adjusting levers.
It was something out of place that caught the boy’s attention. “What’s she doing?” Seth asked. In an out-of-the-way nook of the room, a young Draenei woman sat in a chair, staring forlornly at the floor.
“That’s not something-” Carly began, but Seth was already moving to investigate.
Mida caught up with him just he arrived at his target. The woman was sitting in front of an arcane bubble that held a shadowy figure. Exactly what it was, the boy couldn’t tell. The woman looked at Seth’s feet, then the foreman’s. “Carly, who is this? I don’t recognize-”
“Dornaa, this is Seth,” Mida said, “I’m giving him a tour to keep him out of trouble. He’s one of the stowaways.” While the foreman spoke, Dornaa never looked above her hands. But at the last word, her gaze darted to Seth’s face. For a fraction of a second, their eyes met. In that brief moment, every memory in the boy’s short life shot through his mind; another will competed with his own.
Suddenly, Dornaa closed her eyes and looked away, breathing heavily. “I’m sorry!” she stammered, “I shouldn’t have-”
Seth staggered backward, then fell on his back. A resounding crash split the room as one of the enchanted paddles clattered to the floor. It had launched itself at Dornaa.
* * * * * * *
There! That should get someone to ask questions!
05-22-2011, 12:04 PM
Behold, my long silence is now broken, and I am made whole once more! OK, not really. I feel you all deserve an explanation for my conspicuous absensce over the last few weeks. What happened? Well, it was crunch time before graduation, that's what! That's right everybody, I am now officially a BS!
Now, much has happened since my voluntary withdrawl from the community, but that doesn't mean I haven't been watching. Ori, I don't know if you'd rather I go back over your work (via PMs, of course), or if I should just start working with new posts. Please let me know. The same goes for Bolvar, Slywyn, and anybody else on here.
Anyway, the new section was long delayed for the reasons mentioned above. Unfortunately, it kinda sucks. Action sequences are hard; downright impossible when talking about large-scale armies. It lacks something. Ideas, anyone? There is also the character of Justicar Avery. See, when my character randomization process ended on "Male Worgen Mage," I was thinking, "Whoa! A worgen mage leading an army against the Burning Legion...in the future...no, I shouldn't." So, I didn't. That doesn't mean I couldn't go back and change the name. *wink*wink* It's just a cameo after all.
While I'm thinking of it here: yes, High Priestess Kyrie is a shadow priest. She's also supposed to be a Night Elf/Blood Elf hybrid. I'm saying that here because it didn't really come up in the story. So, without further ado:
* * * * * * *
Chapter Four: A Precarious Beachhead
Kiera screamed as she fell. She was tumbling through the air above a field of death. The ground refused to settle on a direction, but it kept rushing closer. Fear left no room for other thoughts in her mind. This was the end.
Powerful arms slammed into the girl, breaking her fall. A springing motion tried to lessen the impact, but the arms were covered with adamantite plating. The catch was made in haste, and Kiera quickly found herself deposited on the ground. Tears streamed from her eyes, not from emotional shock, but from the pain. It was pain at a level she’d never experienced before; pain that left her too paralyzed even to scream. Something hot poured down over her chin. It tasted metallic.
“We need a healer!” a deep, rough voice called out. Kiera’s head swam. It didn’t help that her vision was too blurred by the tears to make out any point of reference.
Mailed hands shifted her onto her back. “How the hell did-” said another voice.
“Never mind that!” the first voice interjected, “We can’t get her out of here like this!”
“Yes, sir,” the second replied. There was a flash of golden light. Another wave of pain shot through the girl, but was almost immediately replaced by a soothing sensation. The light moved slowly up from her abdomen, banishing the pain as it went. It finished with a blinding flash in her face. “You’ll have to reset that once she’s out,” the healer said.
“For now, I care only that she can run, should it come to that,” the first voice replied, “Hold the lines as long as you can.”
“Yes, sir.” Footsteps hurried away.
“Can you stand?” the first voice addressed the girl. Kiera’s vision gradually resolved. She reached up to rub away the remaining tears. The white patch became the beard of Justicar Krom’zon. Kiera transferred her hand from wiping to clasping his offered hand. The venerable Orc pulled her to her feet effortlessly. “You gave us quite a scare there,” he intoned.
“Sir, we have a new flanking attack!” a voice called from somewhere behind.
“Where?!” the justicar demanded. Krom’zon closed the distance to the command table much faster than his solid gait would suggest. Kiera stumbled after him, still not quite comprehending her surroundings. A Sin’dorei lieutenant pointed to a place on the table that was emitting red sparks. At first, Kiera thought the table was empty; but on closer inspection, it swarmed with activity. Tiny figures that seemed to be made of dust covered most of the table’s surface. They were engaged in a furious battle with other figures, who seemed to be made of fire. Suddenly, she realized she was looking at a representation of the battle around them, complete with a Pit Lord at the front center.
Krom’zon seized a communicator crystal from a golden rack that held many. “Stormtotem!” he bellowed, “Fall back into the main host. You need to protect Stoneshield’s battalion from the north.” He cut off the conversation without waiting for acknowledgement. “Nuramaas!” he said into another of the crystals, “Where are the light cannons? We’re getting slaughtered down here!”
“I assure you, we are working with all possible haste, Justicar,” the crystal replied, “The fault is affecting the entire weapons grid. It could be hours before we regain any significant function.”
“In an hour, we’ll all be dead!” the justicar retorted.
“Hold on, Krom’zon. Help is on the way. Mr. Sparkfizzle, take us out.”
“Help?! What kind of help?” The shadows shifted. All three of them looked up. The massive, crystal-studded hull of the Eternal Radiance turned, and began to lift away.
“By the Light!” the lieutenant gasped, “He isn’t leaving-” As the blocked portion of the sky was revealed, they suddenly understood. The Radiance wasn’t leaving: she was getting out of the way. Another dimensional ship was moving into the prime position above the battlefield. She was noticeably smaller, but her gun batteries were blazing. Around them, the demon lines crumpled under the unexpected assault.
Krom’zon’s response was swift. He seized another of the communicator crystals, this one separated at the very top of the rack. “Attention, all units!” he called, “Hold your positions! We don’t want to get overextended.” Kiera watched as the gap between the fire and dust grew on the map.
An arcane swirl announced a magical arrival to the command table. A black-furred Worgen, clad in mage robes, dramatically planted his staff in the ground before him. Krom’zon clapped a fist to his shoulder in a traditional Orcish salute. “You honor me, Justicar Avery. Your timing could not’ve been better.”
“The honor is mine,” the wolf-man insisted with a bow, “It’s not every day the Field Marshal’s chosen lieutenant sends a distress signal.” A sly grin revealed his sharp teeth.
“Now is not the time!” the Orc cut him off, “If you didn’t notice, there’s an active engagement at hand!”
“As you wish,” Avery said, reaching into his robe, “Aggramar's Hammer shall always fall where the battle is fiercest.” The Worgen spoke into a communicator crystal of his own. “Mr. Wainforge, deploy the panzers; sector 2.”
Flashes of light rippled across the battlefield as reinforcements teleported in. What emerged was not infantry, but something else. Wheeled engines crawled forward, gunfire erupting in a rapid cadence. The shriek of steam-whistles accompanied their advance.
Justicar Avery wasted no time. With a hand-wave he summoned a crystal-rack of his own. His clawed fingers plucked one near the top. “Captain Forgewright, redirect your fire into the rear lines. Keep those warlocks on the run.”
Krom’zon issued new orders as well. “Stoneshield, I want you to start advancing again. We will take those portal defenses of die trying. Stormtotem, cover his flank. Bloodletter’s battalion will draw their attention with a frontal assault.” Affirmatives emanated from respective communicators. “By the Light,” he breathed, “we may yet prevail.”
“What?” Avery mocked, “Is today not a good day to die?”
“Every day is a good day to die,” the Orc retorted, “but victory is always preferable.”
Avery studied the magical representation of the battle for a moment. “Speaking of which, do you think our fearless leader can handle a senior pit lord singlehandedly?”
“I hope so.”
* * *
“You took a direct hit from Dornaa?!” The priestess seemed horrified and astonished in equal measure.
“That’s correct, High Priestess,” the hulking Draenei medic confirmed. “Needless to say, I was very surprised when there didn’t seem to be any serious damage. Standing orders say you are responsible for any ‘incidents’ like this. Perhaps you can find something? You’re a far more advanced priest than I.”
“Of course,” she nodded. “Still, a child? What was she thinking? By all rights, he should be dead!”
“She was just curious.” The boy’s soft-spoken tone seemed to surprise her even more.
The woman introduced as High Priestess Kyrie knelt to his level, the numerous beaded strings that hung from hooks in her ears clacking together as she did so. “Are you sure she didn’t hurt you? Nothing feels crushed? Burning?”
“Let me see.” She gently pulled the boy’s head until his gaze directly met her own. As Seth stared into the fel-green glow of her eyes, shadowy tendrils coalesced around him. Something prodded at his mind; not the crushing suffocation of Dornaa, just a light probing at the edge of his consciousness. Suddenly, the tendrils dissipated. “Strange,” she breathed, “It’s like you were shielded somehow… Anyway, nothing really got broken, but she left quite an impression.” She stood and turned to the medic. “Get Chairman Akama on the holo. We’ll have to inform the Convocation.”
“Of course.” The medic inclined his head in acknowledgement and left.
“Convocation?” Seth said in confusion, “the Convocation of Light? What would they have to do with this?”
Kyrie gave a knowing smile. “Dornaa is held aboard this ship by permission of the Convocation. One of the conditions is that they must be informed if she acts up.”
“Held?” the boy as skeptically, “You mean she’s a prisoner? What did she do?”
The high priestess’ smile erupted into a grin. She playfully pressed a finger into his nose. “Now that is privileged information. I will say only that she gave herself some very impressive powers and now has to live with the consequences.” “Speaking of powers,” she added, “you need to get some training before you hurt yourself; or anyone else.”
“What? Powers? Me?”
Kyrie clasped his hand, her alabaster skin nearly as pale as his own. “Yes, you,” she said, “my sister Tyria is in charge of arcanists on this ship. I’m sure I can persuade her help.”
* * * * * * *
As always, comments are encouraged!
05-26-2011, 10:18 AM
Somehow, this entire thread has escaped my attention until now.
I just printed off the whole thing and read it over coffee. It is very good. We need more updates.
Also, you should consider any character I write to be "public domain." I'm not going to object to their use elsewhere as long as they don't end up dead or vastly out of character.
07-18-2011, 01:19 PM
Well, this took a while to get out, but I think it's worth it. That first section is half the chapter, and probably the best part. I'm especially proud of the ambiguity at the beginning. However, things sort of fell apart in the later segments. It's very hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
In other news, I may be less active from now on, because I now have a job!
* * * * * * *
Chapter Five: Over the Crest
The behemoths clashed in their epic duel, oblivious to the ants crushed under each footfall. True, each of the ants fought for one of them, but it mattered not, so long as the opportunity remained to settle their ancient score. It was a vendetta of gargantuan proportions, the frustration of lifetimes ruined in pursuit now released. Shadowy claws scraped against black scales, struggling to find purchase as the other hand misdirected the double-ended glaive with a grip on its shaft. Still, a powerful swat forced the shadow-creature to retreat as the ebon juggernaut advanced again. Blasts of fel-green fire flew from her hands, detonating with impacts that each could have leveled a small town. The beast shrugged them off like beestings. Shadow-tendrils that could have drained the life of thousands in an instant passed through him with no effect.
The brute swung his weapon with the force to shatter a fortress, but the shadow-creature leapt nimbly aside, her dodge sending the blade into the earth. Sheer momentum left it deeply embedded in the ground. While the brute paused to wrench the weapon free, his opponent flipped over his side, conjuring blades of shadow in each hand. He roared in pain as the twin blades bit into his back, but another blow from his fist sent his overzealous attacker sprawling. The ebon juggernaut charged again, raising his glaive with the intent to plant one end in his tormentor’s chest.
At the last possible moment, a lash of shadow gripped the opposite end, again sending the stupendous blow into empty dirt. Another fire-blast launched into the monster’s face. He tried to evade, but it still exploded against the right half of his face. While her opponent howled in agony, the shadow creature took advantage of his momentary blindness to regain her footing. One of the shadow-blades was expertly thrown, slashing at a key tendon in the beast’s front leg. Once again, the armored scales bounced the attack away, leaving only a superficial scratch.
The behemoth laughed, a deep, gravelly sound. “Is this the best you can do, ‘demon hunter?’” he mocked. “You can hardly put a scratch in me! Soon, you will tire. Soon, you will die!”
“Are you certain of that, pit lord?” the shadow creature returned, “Are you sure you don’t feel in any way tired yourself?”
“I most certainly do not!” he replied, taking a threatening step closer to his enemy. “In fact, I—what?” the pit lord suddenly looked down in confusion. The leg that had been merely nicked by the shadow-blade just moments earlier hung limply, refusing to respond to his commands.
The shadow creature took a step back, but looked up defiantly. “Your skin may be famously impervious to spells, Nagomath, but what about your insides? Amazing what a simple dose of seeping shadows can do, isn’t it?”
The pit lord faltered, struggling to stand as his other front leg began to give way. “This is outrageous!” he scolded, “Resorting to poisons to do your work for you; to slaughter your foes after they are rendered helpless?”
Now it was Alanderas’ turn to laugh, its unnatural reverberation making it just as terrible as the pit lord’s. “You lecture me about honorable victory, demon? Perhaps you should talk to the dreadlords who softened up Brondim for you; or the countless innocents you slew on Wodom just for the fun of it? A bastard like you doesn’t deserve such a clean death!”
Nagomath finally collapsed, his remaining limbs flailing wildly. “I have half a mind to leave you for the common soldiers to kill,” the demon hunter continued, “but I can’t risk you getting rescued before the battle is over, now can I?” Her shadowy cheeks lifted, as though by a most unpleasant smile.
“You…can’t…end…me.” The pit lord struggled to overcome his rapidly slurring speech, finally dissolving into incomprehensible babble.
Alanderas advanced on him with deliberate slowness. “Oh, yes I can.” She reshaped her shadow blade to a shorter, dagger-like size. “In fact, I can erase any legacy you might’ve had by making your demise ignominious.” She knelt, and pried apart his slack jaws. “Have fun in the Void,” she spat, thrusting with her weapon. The dagger shot through the beast’s mouth, and up into his brain. Somehow, his body managed to give one last spasm before the fel light went out of his eyes.
The field marshal stood, seeming to only now notice the strife around her. The fortunes of the Light’s Vanguard had improved dramatically. A steady barrage of holy energy from the light cannons prevented the dreaded Eredar warlocks from incinerating the advancing mortals. With the support of the armored battle-wagons, the Vanguard infantry was making short work of their demonic counterparts. The loss of their champion seemed to have been a devastating blow to their morale.
Yet the demons were not without countermeasures. Black silhouettes of nothing pulled back from the lines, converging on the harried warlocks. These were Voidwalkers, beings of living void. Absorbing energy was their prime drive, usually the life-force of their victims. In this case, however, the beings used their vacuous nature to redirect the incoming fire into themselves. As demons, there was a limit to what they could absorb before being destroyed, but it bought the warlocks time; and time was all they needed.
One by one, the advancing units found themselves showered with hellfire. Ordinary troops would have scattered in terror, but the Light’s Vanguard was battle-hardened enough to stand their ground. Instead, the mages accompanying each battalion created an arcane shield to block the bombardment. The unfortunate drawback to this tactic was that the Vanguard forces were unable to move, lest they stray into the inferno outside the protective domes.
Field Marshal Alanderas smiled at her troops’ quick reaction. Her merciless training drills had paid off yet again. Still, she knew it was a race against time to see whose protection would fall first: would the Voidwalkers get saturated, or would the mages’ stamina fail?
Alanderas was not the type to take chances. Blasting a shockwave of fel-green flame before her, the field marshal cleared a path to the nearest group of warlocks. While the lesser demons fled from the pain, the Wrathguard enforcers protecting the warlocks didn’t budge. The elite warriors of the Burning Legion did not attack the advancing menace, but moved to block her path.
The elder demon hunter couldn’t help but laugh. The Wrathguard, while far more cunning than the Felguards that made up the Legion’s rank and file, had only succeeded in making her job easier. “Let’s see how you handle a taste of your own medicine,” she whispered to herself. A rain of fire identical to that unleashed by the Eredar sorcerers obliterated the unsuspecting bodyguards in seconds. Most likely they had assumed the surrounding Voidwalkers would absorb her attacks as well, but the void-creatures were too busy with the constant bombardment from the light cannons. The last one started to charge her, but got a fireball to the face for his trouble.
The warlocks, however, were far from oblivious to the approaching threat; they had ample time to change targets. It was a fight she was unlikely to win, given that she now faced twenty ancient Eredar, but the intended effect had already been achieved. Plus, the demon hunter still had one more trick up her shadowy sleeve.
It was a spell of her own devising; and one she’d never before attempted in battle. A fel-green bolt lanced from her outstretched palm. It struck the closest warlock squarely in the chest. A halo of negative energy briefly flared around him as his own magic burned him from within. This spell had been a demon hunter staple for millennia; but the bolt didn’t stop there. Some of the burned mana was instead converted into casting another copy of the spell, sending another bolt to the next warlock. In under a second, eight of the Eredar had lost their concentration to the pain.
All of them were momentarily distracted by a bright flash. Quickly, the sorcerers realized what was happening: the Voidwalkers were winking out of existence, the limit of their absorption reached at last. A withering hail of holy energy rained down on the would-be combatants. Alanderas grinned in satisfaction, even as the golden bursts enwrapped her in agony.
* * *
Justicar Krom’zon couldn’t help but stare at the magical representation on his command table. The field marshal had actually done it. “Nagomath the impenetrable, ended at last.” He said the words under his breath, as though hesitant to believe them. By his side, Justicar Avery looked just as astonished. The lieutenant in charge of the magical strategy-aids was outright dumbfounded.
“He’s…gone?” the girl beside them whimpered.
The Orc looked directly at her. “Yes.” The barest hint of a smile crossed her features before she again wilted under the intensity of his gaze. Reprimanding himself for pushing too hard, the justicar turned back to the battle. There was unusual movement throughout the demon host. Some of the demons were falling back to the rear, even as their brethren pushed forward. “What are they doing?” he muttered, “Why only some?”
The Worgen leaned closer, using his sharpened senses. “Interesting,” he noted, “it’s voidwalkers, all voidwalkers; nothing else. What could they be…” He got his answer when the void-creatures reached their destination: they opened themselves, and swallowed the incoming fire from the light cannons. “Oh,” he breathed.
With this protection, the warlocks were able to concentrate on their spells. Soon, flaming projectiles rained out of nothing onto the advancing Light’s Vanguard. Krom’zon’s response was swift. “All units stand your ground!” he bellowed into the master communicator crystal. “Put up the shields. Mages, use your elixir. Those shields must hold as long as possible!”
Krom’zon ground his teeth in frustration. Some units didn’t get their shields up in time. One of them vanished in a burst of scalding steam when a supporting panzer was hit. Still, there were relatively few losses before arcane bubbles blossomed across the battlefield. This negated the fel bombardment, but left the troops immobile. With their enemies pinned down, the Legion footsoldiers returned to the offensive. Wave after wave they came, but the demon hordes continued to break against the Vanguard’s ordered regiments.
With their formations holding, the justicars turned their attention to the root of the problem. The Voidwalkers were able to negate the holy artillery, but at the price of their existence. Slowly, their voids of negative energy would be overwhelmed by the relentless tide of positive energy raining down on them.
“Perhaps we should redirect our fire to support the field units,” Avery suggested, “That’s a heavy assault they’re under.”
“No,” the Orc countered, “this is a race to see whose shields will fail first. If we let up at all on those warlocks, it could spell our doom.”
The Worgen’s brow furrowed as he scanned the battle intently. “If the marshal was victorious, shouldn’t she- oh,” he quickly finished. On the tabletop, a towering, winged creature was wading even deeper into the enemy lines. Alanderas seemed intent on dealing with the warlocks, even if the light cannons couldn’t. “I suppose after taking out a Pit Lord of his magnitude, a few Eredar shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Not if she was weakened in the battle,” Krom’zon countered, “In any case, there’s little we can do to help; she’s on her own.” He took one of the communicator crystals from lower down the rack. “Stoneshield, how much longer can your mages last?”
The enchantment flared to life. “It’s holding, sir,” a gruff voice replied, “but we can’t keep this up much longer!”
“Hold fast, warrior! The Light shines brightest in the darkest times!” The Orc was about to inquire about his other units, but Avery called his attention away.
“Krom’zon! Look!” he exclaimed, pointing excitedly at the table. The hellish rain had ceased over the center lines, but that wasn’t where the Worgen’s claw was aimed. At the rear of the enemy position, Alanderas had engaged the Eredar sorcerers responsible.
Krom’zon laughed at the unexpected reprieve. “We’ll have to leave them where they are, though,” he noted, “We can’t afford the center getting ahead of the flanks.”
The morale-boost was short-lived, however. One of the protective bubbles suddenly winked out, its regiment consumed by the demonic inferno. Then, another; and another. Just when it seemed the Light’s Vanguard would be purged from the battlefield, the hail of unholy flame halted across the entire field.
Now, it was Avery’s turn to laugh. “They’re out of Voidwalkers!” he crowed.
The Orc’s hearty slap to the back nearly knocked the wolf-man off his paws. “Forward! On to victory!”
* * *
Grand Magna Tyria paced in agitation on the gun deck, her distinctive topknot bobbing with every step. While her lavender tresses were confined by jewel-encrusted bands, she wore the same robe as all other mages in service to the Light’s Vanguard, albeit with the most ornate rank insignia in the fleet. She halted over one of the technicians desperately trying to restore function to the light cannons of this battery. “Is this one the same, Vuz’jin?” she asked impatiently.
The Troll stood from his examination of the circuitry. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied, “It looks like the there’s nothing wrong with the cannons themselves. It must be in the feeder lines.”
“I suppose that would be the easiest way to disable every gun on the ship,” she muttered to herself. “Start tracing the lines!” she called, “If there’s a blockage, we’re going to find it!”
08-10-2011, 01:14 PM
Dark angel, this is some really good stuff. Just as good as anything Blizz would ask for! I highly recommend you keep writing! I made a new thread called The Cauldron Lord on this forum. You should check it out.
08-12-2011, 11:24 PM
So is the gap between present day Warcraft and this story going to be filled in any or is it not important to your story? I am interested in finding out what's up with Dornaa's powers. I get the impression that she did something really bad.
08-13-2011, 10:21 AM
That's what I think too. I'm interested to find out why Outland fell apart and why Azeroth was overrun by elementals. Did the game really lose so many subscribers that there was no one to defend it? :D
08-13-2011, 07:16 PM
So is the gap between present day Warcraft and this story going to be filled in any or is it not important to your story? I am interested in finding out what's up with Dornaa's powers. I get the impression that she did something really bad.
It hasn't been touched on because it's not really relavent. About fifty years have passed since the "present," so almost everyone we know is dead. The whole idea was to show the Army of the Light finally getting its act together and kicking some demon tail.
Dornaa has been a very bad girl, but she's not a psychopath. Her powers will play a roll eventually.
That's what I think too. I'm interested to find out why Outland fell apart and why Azeroth was overrun by elementals. Did the game really lose so many subscribers that there was no one to defend it? :D
Not quite. I just sort of figured that after trying so many times, the Old Gods HAD to get loose at some point. It's a statistical inevitability. They promptly reasserted their full power over the Elementals and roflstomped the world. Those who escaped fled to Outland.
Outland is defined as a big chunk of rock drifting through the Twisting Nether. The RPG (yes, I know) describes the Nether as a realm of manifest chaos. Objects are said to randomly disintegrate when no-one is concentrating on them. In my view of things, Draenor may have been burnt to a crisp by demonic magic, but it still had elemental spirits pervading every inch of it. Once in the Nether, life proceeded almost as normal. There was gravity, a water cycle, and a 24-hour day. All of this happened because there were spirits that kept those functions going. Sadly, the creeping force of primal chaos wore the spirits down over the decades, and the whole place went the way of Netherstorm.
08-13-2011, 10:58 PM
The spirits getting worn down wouldn't have anything with Azeroth being roflstomped, would it? To my knowledge, there are a lot of spirits in Outland and they don't tire easily. Just seems odd that they could go go go for over 50 years and then poop out.
08-17-2011, 01:15 PM
I am pleased to announce the relase of another chapter for my adoring fans; both of them! As the battle draws to a close, the intrigue aboard the Eternal Radiance only deepens.
A certain section (I'll leave you to find it) is intended as a reference to that scene in Return of the Jedi in which Darth Vader warns an Imperial officer about the impending arrival of Emperor Palpatine. "HE is coming; and HE is most displeased." EDIT: Funny how time does things to your memories: that never happened! Oh, and Ori, after seeing your peculiar syntax to many times, I think it's rubbing off on me.
* * * * * * *
Chapter Six: The Final Hurdle
“Lieutenant Blackburn, we have…a disturbance.” The communicator crystal flickered to life.
Ismene quickly picked it up. “What kind of disturbance?”
“A crewman in the engine core just started attacking people for no apparent reason, it seems.” The dispatcher’s tone was strangely disinterested considering the magnitude of the emergency.
“I’m on it,” Blackburn returned. The crystal fell swiftly back to its holster. She looked up to find her security crew already getting ready, having overheard the conversation. “Wintermoon, Atkins,” she said confidently, “stay here in case anything more comes up. Jim’brah, Stonefist, Jefferys, you’re with me.” Those named nodded in acknowledgement.
The head of security marched into the corridor with her chosen team close behind. Although, she didn’t have to go far: the security station was directly across from a pellerator station. This facilitated rapid deployment throughout the ship in the event of enemy boarding action. Once in motion, Ismene pulled out the crystal again. “This is Blackburn,” she said matter-of-factly, “I am en route. Can you give me any more details?”
The dispatcher spoke again. “The subject is one Ensign Bloodsteel. She is restrained, but remains combative. Chief Engineer Lapforge notes that he wishes to return to his usual duties as soon as possible.” The last sentence was laced with wry amusement.
“Acknowledged,” Blackburn replied, “Was any reason given for this outburst?”
“Negative. It was sudden and unprovoked, as reported.”
Lost in the conversation, Ismene nearly lost her footing as the pellerator slowed suddenly to a stop. “Very well,” she said, leading the way out into the corridor, “Blackburn out.”
The main doors to the engine core were much larger than most, due to the higher traffic experienced by such an important place. As with the rest of the ship, they slid smoothly open at the security team’s approach. The chamber on the other side was the largest open space aboard the Eternal Radiance. Over all, it was spherical with circular platforms around the walls at regular intervals. At the center, the warp piston reciprocated, pumping arcane power to the energy-hungry shields and weapon batteries. Below, the vector coil projected the colossal levitation field needed to keep the ship aloft, while the cryo-core at the top provided essential cooling for the mammoth components.
The main entrance led to the platform encircling the chamber’s equator, which served as the primary work station for the engineering staff. A mustachioed Gnome quickly intercepted the security team. “Get this crazy woman out of my command!” he demanded, “We have a lot of very important work in the middle of a battle! We have to keep the dynamo running at peak efficiency and balance the power demands among the terminals, not to mention-”
“Mr. Lapforge,” the security chief interrupted, “the perp?”
The handlebars of his mustache visibly drooped as the chief engineer calmed. “Yes, this way,” he said, leading the security team to an isolated corner. A pair of hulking men – a Tauren and a Draenei – held firmly to the upper arms of a furiously struggling Orc woman.
She was dressed as one of the engineering crew, but something was seriously wrong. “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all!” she screamed, launching herself aggressively at the approaching security chief. The restraining crewmen held her back, but struggled to do so.
“How long has she been like this?” Ismene asked.
“For about five minutes now,” the engineer replied, “I sent her to check the weapons feeds on one of the upper platforms, and when she came back-”
“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you all!” the woman screamed again.
Lapforge looked up at Blackburn. “She keeps saying that over and over; it’s all she’s said since she came back.”
The security chief drew a pistol from its holster. “We’ll get to the bottom of this,” she said, “one way or another.”
“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill-” The next outburst was cut short when the weapon’s blue beam impacted. Ensign Bloodsteel suddenly went limp in the arms of her captors.
The Gnome quivered with excitement at the device’s appearance. “Ah, the somniator!” he exclaimed, “A very useful invention, if I say so. One shot and the target falls instantly to sleep! Instant immobilization with no-”
“Mr. Lapforge, we all have jobs to do,” Blackburn reminded him. She turned to her backup officers. “All right, let’s get her to the brig before she wakes up.”
* * *
High Priestess Kyrie stood in the pellerator, hurtling toward where she knew her sister would be. Her reason stood beside her: a very unusual boy. His appearance was out of the ordinary, to say the least. His snow-white skin and blood-red eyes drew unbelieving stares from everyone they passed. Still, this was not the reason she was taking the time for this special treatment. Rather, it was something she sensed inside him; just what it was she couldn’t put into words.
Seth was very quiet, and meekly obeyed whatever orders he was given. He was probably the best-behaved child she’d ever met, but that was precisely what unnerved her about him. By all accounts, he had already demonstrated an aptitude for magic disproportionate for his age. The real problem was that unless he learned to control his gift, he would be a danger to himself and everyone around him. Her sister might be busy with the emergency gripping the Eternal Radiance in the battle, but if anyone could quickly get the boy under control, it would be her.
She was jolted from her reverie when the communicator crystal on her belt flickered with a voice. “High Priestess, your presence is requested at the brig.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she replied nonchalantly.
“It was described as an emergency, ma’am.”
Kyrie seemed to think for a moment. “Acknowledged,” she said finally, “On my way.” She pressed a button on the control panel that halted the mobile room with such violence that her charge was hurled against the wall. “Are you alright?” she asked, helping him up.
“I think so,” Seth replied, rubbing his arm. His impossibly fair complexion did nothing to hide a rapidly-forming bruise.
“I have to take care of something now,” she said, “Stay with me, and we’ll get back to this as soon as I’m done, okay?”
“Okay.” The boy once again deferred with an unnerving lack of protest.
Kyrie pressed another button on the panel, and the car returned to motion – in the opposite direction. “Ever have one of those days when nothing goes as you plan?” she asked playfully. Seth merely shook his head. “Really?” the high priestess said, a smile gracing her lips, “No? You’re very lucky, then. I have two of those every day! Maybe there’s something wrong with me.”
The boy shot her a quizzical look. “I think there ought to be a law against bad days, don’t you?” she continued, “While we’re at it, let’s get rid of gravity too. That would make life more fun!” Her charge stifled a chuckle. Suddenly, Kyrie leapt into the air, using her powers to make her return to the floor with supernatural grace. “Wheeee!”
At last, Seth laughed, the first genuine mirth he’d had since leaving the orphanage. “You’re crazy,” he said.
“Nonsense,” she said, “I’m perfectly normal. Everyone else, on the other hand…” The albino Human laughed again, but the moment was cut short as the pellerator halted. The pair shrank in embarrassment as the doors opened.
The room beyond was severely spartan. Bare metal walls surrounded a table as security officers stood in guard positions. A number of doorways led off into empty rooms from the central chamber. One of the security officers was a familiar face. “What are you doing here?” said a stunned Lieutenant Ismene Blackburn, “I specifically said to stay inside; I even locked the door! How did-”
“Ismene,” the high priestess cut in, “we have far more important matters to discuss, I suspect.”
The security chief changed her attention with a mortified look and saluted crisply. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Now, judging by the fact that you called me here personally, there must be something very important you wanted to tell me.”
Blackburn turned to the table. It held a sleeping Orc who looked like she’d been through a brutal fight. Her body was dotted with bruises and scrapes, while a severe contusion cut across her forehead. One of her tusks was missing. Her head was shaven into a spiky mohawk, while a complex, intertwining tattoo swept from her face down her neck. What was presumably the other end of it adorned the back of her hand. “The subject is Ensign Harka Bloodsteel. An hour ago, she began attacking everyone around her for no apparent reason. We locked her up, but as soon as she woke up, she just started throwing herself against the walls. We’ve had to keep her sedated ever since.”
“That’s very strange,” Kyrie agreed, “Her mind has obviously been tampered with.”
“I thought a case like this needed an expert hand,” Ismene added.
“I concur, lieutenant,” the high priestess declared with a nod. She moved closer to the sleeping Orc, gazing intently at her face. As before, shadowy tendrils coalesced around her, linking her head to that of her target. Kyrie’s jaw visibly slackened as she continued her examination, developing into a look of utter horror. Finally, the magic dissipated, leaving the high priestess taking deep breaths to calm herself. “This is…wow,” she stammered, “I’ve never seen damage this extensive in my life. Her memories, her habits, everything that makes her her is just…gone. There’s nothing left but the primal rage of her people.”
“I’m more interested in who did this,” the security chief cut in.
Kyrie turned to her. “I don’t think you understand just how much power it would take to do something like this. I couldn’t do this. There’s only two people on this ship who could do that, and one of them is indisposed.”
“You think Dornaa did this?” Ismene asked, “Wouldn’t someone notice if she just waltzed into the engine core?”
“That’s what concerns me, lieutenant. If SHE has found a way out of that cell, everyone on this ship is in danger; everyone on this world is in danger.”
“Dornaa would never do a thing like that.” The boy’s interruption startled the two officers. “In fact, she’d be trying to fix this, if she was here.”
Blackburn looked at him in confusion. “How do you know that?” she asked suspiciously.
Seth blinked. “I don’t know,” he said simply, “I just do. I know how she would react, what she would feel, what she’d do…”
Kyrie smiled as realization dawned. “She must’ve impressed her thought patterns into your mind; or programmed you to lie.” Her look of connection quickly turned to one of concern.
The security chief looked between them. “Wait, how would he…”
The high priestess waved her off. “Long story. I think I know a good way to find out, though,” she added. She turned to the boy and knelt to his eye level. “Seth,” she said gravely, “What does Dornaa the Betrayer fear above all else?”
Seth closed his eyes, then spoke: “The monster she has become.”
* * *
Grand Magna Tyria moved with dangerous purpose. The corridor she traversed was narrow and nondescript, more an access tunnel than a thoroughfare. Her hastily-assembled investigation into the catastrophic failure of the ships weapons systems had covered everything she could think of; all had been ruled out as the cause. There was only one potential culprit left, and its very possibility filled her with dread.
Tyria pressed her palm against a blank section of wall. Few knew the place she touched, and even fewer could evoke any response. Out of nothing, a door appeared in the previously uninterrupted wall. She again touched it, this time tracing a complex, swirling pattern with her fingertips. The door hissed open. Beyond was a cramped room, bathed in golden light.
Steeling herself, the grand magna entered. As soon as she was clear, the entrance swept shut behind her, clicking with a disturbing finality as it locked in place. Before her was another door, but she did not approach it. “Halt!” a voice called, seeming to emanate from everywhere, “Turn back or suffer the consequences.” Fireballs flared into being on either side of her, threatening to incinerate her.
Closing her eyes, Tyria spoke. “I am Tyria, beloved of the Light.” A golden sigil erupted above her head, a mark impossible to imitate by non-divine means.
As abruptly as they had come, the fireballs died. “Proceed,” the voice said flatly. Tyria still did not move. There was one more test, she knew, and it was the harshest of all. A blinding wall of holy energy burst forth from the doorway. The grand magna opened her innermost self and let it wash through her. Any being that bore the taint of evil—or even tried to resist it—would’ve been burnt to a crisp. Only after she survived this did the inner door open.
The room Tyria entered was shrouded in darkness, which itself was a very bad sign. This was the core of the weapons system. It was here that the Naaru called N’eras lent its holy power to the ship. Magical conduits carried this energy to the weapons batteries, enabling the dimensional ship to unleash a withering barrage of golden light on the Burning Legion at a moment’s notice. It was a function so important that the room’s location was kept secret from all but the most trusted officers. The lack of light in this place meant the holy energy being was incapacitated: the full firepower of the Eternal Radiance rendered impotent at a stroke.
The room was not completely black, however. In the center, at the Naaru’s station, a shell of arcane energy pulsed. N’eras was not gone, but merely imprisoned, sealed away from the enchanted crystals that collected its energy. Tyria was the highest-ranking mage in the Dawn’s Armada, and she knew that a spell powerful enough to confine a Naaru could not exist in a vacuum. Such a shell had to be maintained, channeled by its caster for the full duration.
A quick scan around the chamber revealed the source: a trio of dark boxes emitting arcane beams to power the spell. Cautiously, she approached the nearest. She knew the Gnomes had spent decades developing mechanisms that stored spells for later use, but this was lightyears ahead of anything she’d ever seen. Unfortunately, freeing N’eras would mean destroying the mysterious contraptions. A cluster of arcane missiles flew from the hands of the grand magna.
* * *
A hand clasped Justicar Krom’zon’s adamantite pauldron. “Sir…” The Blood Elf lieutenant seemed unsure what to say. Finally, he settled for pointing to the portal that was their objective. The veteran Orc gazed intently as its swirling surface before he saw it. Something was approaching the other side, soon to set foot on the world of Vonterat. For the first time the Sin’dorei could recall, the senior general actually showed fear. The shadow of the approaching figure filled the entire portal.
Captain Nuramaas paced nervously on his bridge. An hour ago, he had been commanding officer of the finest vessel in the Dawn’s Armada. Now, he was reduced to shielding the supreme commander of the invasion force from the carnage below. A tickling in his mind was accompanied by the sound of windchimes. (Your frustration is understandable, captain,) the admiral counseled, (but you must not blame yourself when events are out of your hands. What will happen will happen.)
Nuramaas looked up. O’uros was still engaged in directing all seven battles raging across Vonterat, yet was apparently still sparing attention for his immediate surroundings. “You are right, holy one,” the captain conceded, “An officer must remain calm if he is to make good decisions.”
“Sir, we may have a problem,” the detector officer interrupted.
“Yes, Ensign Cloudmane?” Nuramaas pivoted in her direction.
“There’s something new coming through the portal; something BIG.” Something about the way she spoke the last word filled him with dread.
The ground battle was not his domain, but the bridge was equipped with a command table for direction the light cannons to strategic targets. With the Radiance’s weapons off line, he’d been ignoring it; until now. The captain moved briskly to the display. There was indeed something coming through. It was moving slowly, but it was truly gargantuan. A massive leg had planted itself on the tainted ground of the demon position. Moments later, a towering colossus lumbered onto the battlefield. Each step crushed several tens of demons under its enormous feet, but the Burning Legion seemed to care little for the survival of its minions. The iron-plated, roughly humanoid form reached up to the hovering altitude of the dimensional ships. It raised its mammoth claws and advanced in their direction, vents on its back belching plumes of fel-green steam. There was only one thing it could be: a fel reaver.
Nuramaas did some quick mental calculations. The survival of the Light’s Vanguard below depended on preventing the Legion’s warlocks from blanketing the battlefield in fire. The arrival of the fel reaver, however, complicated matters considerably. Left unchecked, it would be able tear the dimensional ships out of the sky; but any redirection of fire in self-defense by the Aggramar's Hammer would spell doom for the troops below. It was an impossible choice. Briefly, he gave serious consideration to simply ramming the advancing juggernaut, but that would expose the ship’s underbelly to direct attack from the Legion’s army. It would risk irreparable damage to the all-important levitation projection crystals that held the Radiance aloft.
It was in that moment that another interruption changed everything. “Sir!” the weapons officer called out, “We have power!”
It took a moment to register the full implications of the revelation. “What?”
“All batteries are back on line,” the lieutenant reported, “We have full capability restored.”
Visibly regaining confidence, the captain locked eyes with the Goblin. “Mrs. Bogwrench, reduce that abomination to scrap,” he ordered.
“With pleasure, sir.”
On the command table’s representation, bursts of holy energy erupted around the fel reaver. At first, it accomplished little, but more refined targeting was soon putting serious dents in the colossus’ fel iron shell. Suddenly, a breach opened between its shoulders, followed by a spectacular blast of fel energy from the massive construct’s dorsal power core. Deprived of its driving force, the fel reaver froze in mid stride, and promptly pitched face-down into the dirt. A secondary explosion liquefied even more demons than had been crushed by the behemoth’s demise. Nuramaas smiled to himself. The Light had provided, just as it always did.
09-02-2011, 10:50 AM
Perhaps you've noticed my deafening silence of late. This is a combination of two factors. One, I am once again searching for a job, a frustrating and time-consuming process. Two, I've found that nothing focuses my mind on writing like have something important I'm supposed to be doing. Between those two, very little time is left for editing. To make matters worse, the activity on this forum has reached a level unseen in all my years of lurking. Therefore, I feel I have little choice but to change the way I do things around here. From now on, those seeking advice will have to ask for it. Just make a note in your post, and I'll look it over. (Ori, you're still an automatic in, so don't panic.) Hopefully, this will reduce the load. However, there is the posibility that the explosion of posts is because of me, so maybe it won't...
UPDATE: It looks like we just had a coincidence of all posting at the same time. Maybe I can get through this after all. Admittedly I'm giving priority to my "favorites," but it looks like everyone will get covered eventually.
One of the funny things about writing is that you often find yourself imitating whatever you just read. Being that much of what I read these days is on here, I started tossing in some thought dialogue, as some of our newer posters have been doing. I used to do this much more frequently, but now I find it feels akward and unnatural. Perhaps my style is reaching a 'mature,' more static phase. What does the audience think?
* * * * * * *
Chapter Seven: The Wreckage of Victory
The rolling hills of Vonterat bore the unmistakable scars of battle. The twisted hulks of war machines dotted the field, reduced to scrap by the carnage for which they were made. Most were panzers, the charred emblem of the Light’s Vanguard still visible on their sides, but the scene was dominated by the colossal ruin of a downed Fel Reaver, still smoldering from its demise. Strewn about, the broken bodies of demons and mortals had attracted a horde of strange, flying creatures to feed on the carrion; although, they seemed to much prefer the latter.
Justicar Krom’zon oversaw the grim task of collecting the dead. Teams of the surviving troops carried their fallen comrades out of the field and stacked them on pyres, ready be set alight when deemed full. A memorial service would be held later: sanitation must always take precedence over closure in war. A shadow fell over him, and the justicar immediately turned with a salute. “Marshal,” he said, “I trust you are well?”
“Never better.” The voice sounded as though coming from a great depth, even though Alanderas’ mouth was clearly visible. “What is your report?”
The Orc took a deep breath before beginning. “This portal appears to be the only one they put up much fight for, but we did lose the Perseverance at one of the satellites.”
“She was old anyway. What of our casualties?”
“Ten thousand have not reported, ma’am. Another seven are wounded, and that’s this portal alone. Our most conservative estimates put another twelve thousand spread across the other portals.”
The grand marshal cursed. “Another ‘victory’ like this, and they’ll be the ones chasing us. Did we at least manage to get some intelligence out of this?”
“Our mages are examining the rift, but it will take some time to locate the other end.” In response to the marshal’s darkening expression, he added, “However, there were a few of the enemy who surrendered. We have them in custody.”
Alanderas cracked a smile that terrified all who saw it. “Excellent. Send for Dornaa. We’ll see what interrogation reveals.”
* * *
“This is going to hurt.” The medic placed her hands on Kiera’s nose. ‘Going to hurt’ was a bit of an understatement. The pain that ripped through her face made very clear why a second medic held her head in place. The deliberate re-injury was quickly followed by a soothing heal, but not before it filled the girl’s nose with blood. The Gnomish medic gave her a reassuring hug. “You’re okay now, right?”
Once she recovered from the shock, Kiera returned the hug with a smile. “Thanks,” she said sheepishly, “I wouldn’t want to look like that forever.” The image she’d seen in the mirror flashed through her mind, along with the instinctual revulsion at seeing her own face so horrifically twisted. The medical staff said it was standard procedure to heal a broken nose in place, then set it later. Right, she thought
The pair of medics left, the Gnome waving goodbye as she did so. Left once again alone in the medical tent, Kiera looked around. Most of the patients had injuries far more grievous than hers, but the medics somehow found time for her none the less. Curtains separated adjacent cots, but the girl remembered all too clearly the images she’d seen on the way in. The application of magic quickly stopped bleeding, but that made the field hospital no less disturbing for a child. There were a lot of missing limbs. Some patients, having lost too much blood despite the heals, moaned feebly as their time neared.
The medics worked on a strict triage system. Technically, the girl’s case belonged in the ‘survivable’ ward, but she’d been brought here, where the staff focused its efforts. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that she’d arrived along with orders from Justicar Krom’zon. Whatever the case, Kiera saw little reason to remain where she was. Besides, putting some physical distance between herself and the cruel reality of war might help her to gain some mental distance as well.
Bending her floppy ear back into place, Kiera slipped out of the curtains. As usual, her preferred tactic of acting like she knew exactly where she was going worked brilliantly. Not even the guards at the entrance spared her a second glance. Once outside, however, there was much more uncertainty of what to do next. The obvious course was to return to the ship and find Seth, but all logistics had to be done by teleportation in the absence of a dock. I suppose I’ll just have to see what’s here, she thought, Maybe there’s a staging area or something I could tag along with.
While she did eventually find a staging area, it was overwhelmed by crates of supplies coming down; nothing was going up. It was something at the opposite end of the camp that truly held her attention. Away from the frantic activity of the field hospital, four people sat cross-legged on the ground. The four sat in a circle, heads bowed as if in prayer. In front of each, a small, heavily-carved post protruded from the ground. Colored auras swirled around each: red, green, blue, and silver.
“You were right, master Dogor,” the Night Elf said, seated behind the silver post, “The demons’ chaos has thrown the spirits far out of balance.”
“That is what they do, Nishala,” the male Orc replied, seated behind the green, “Such senseless depravity angers the spirits like nothing else.”
“But master,” said the Tauren seated at the red, “nature is cruel in its efficiency. The spirits are not angered by hunting carnivores.”
Dogor smiled, but did not open his eyes. “Right you are, Mintan. That is the difference between killing to live and living to kill. The demons take far more than they need, and use none of it. That is what makes them unnatural; that is what angers the spirits.”
The Orc female at the blue post gasped suddenly, but still remained in a meditative posture. “Master, the spirits are furious! Why are they so angry all of the sudden?”
Dogor took a deep breath. “Yes…I see. She is here. They have brought Dornaa to the surface. Concentrate, my students: we must keep them as calm as possible.
“By the Light!” Nishala exclaimed, “They want so badly to…to…”
“Stay with me,” the elder shaman said evenly, “We must persuade them not to harm her…for now.”
Kiera turned back the way she had come. If something so anathema to nature had been brought from the ship, it would be in the staging area.
* * *
Seth stayed close beside High Priestess Kyrie. The two of them were waiting for a rendezvous with the high priestess’ sister, Grand Magna Tyria. Teleporter Room 4 had been chosen as the location, a place she was coming anyway. “How much longer?” he asked, “Couldn’t I go look at the teleporter?”
“Shut your mouth, whelp!” the teleporter technician bellowed, “I’ve had enough of your whining!” He was an Orc, but of the rarer, brown variety. Kyrie said nothing, but fixed him with a sharp glare. All of her work to overcome the boy’s natural introversion had been undone in seconds, as the albino Human fell silent once more
Seth turned upon hearing the doors slide open. To his surprise, the widening space revealed Ismene Blackburn, whom they’d just left minutes earlier. She was accompanied by five more of the security staff, along with a tall Night Elf woman. Her lavender hair was bound into a topknot by jewel-encrusted bands of gold. Kyrie smiled at her, the high priestess’ many earrings jingling with the turn of her head.
“Seth,” she said, “I want you to meet my sister, Tyria.”
“Wait…” the boy said slowly, “you’re sisters?” He looked back and forth between the lilac- and alabaster-skinned Elves.
“Oh, all right,” she said, rolling her eyes, “half-sisters.”
Tyria’s smile of greeting erupted into a grin. “You have a very quick mind,” she said, bending to his level. “Catching discrepancies like that will serve you well.”
The introductions were interrupted by the clank of a chain. Seth turned. The security personnel, he now saw, were not escorting the grand magna. They had arranged themselves around a blindfolded Draenei woman led by a chain to her bound wrists. Despite the concealment of her face, her familiar horn-shape led him to one, inescapable conclusion. “Dornaa?”
She turned in his direction. “Seth? What are you doing here?”
“How do you know…”
“What your name is?” she finished. She looked down at her hooves. “I’m sorry, Seth. I can’t help it. When I look at someone… I’m sorry; so sorry.” Seth felt a wave of depression wash over him, as though the blindfolded woman’s anguish carried over to him.
“Well, I’ll leave him with you,” Kyrie said, taking a step back. Seth moved to stand beside Tyria. He was once again being handed off from one chaperone to another.
“Of course,” the grand magna said with a nod, “The marshal does not like to be kept waiting. We’ll have to discuss this in more detail at a later time, Ky.” She turned to the technician. “Activate the field; nine going down.”
The Orc pushed a few buttons on the control panel. “Field active, ma’am,” he replied blandly.
The group moved forward. Seth tugged on the magna’s robe. “What happ-” Suddenly, his vision was the color of lightning. For a split second, there was nothing: no up, no down, no left or right. Then, there was solid ground under his feet. Not the deck-plating of the Eternal Radiance, nor the stone streets of Shattrath; this was soft, actual dirt, topped with real grass. “Where are we?” he asked.
Tyria smiled down at him. “Seth Whitemane,” she said, “welcome to the world of Vonterat.” The new arrivals stood on a gently rolling plain, rust-colored grassland extending in all directions. A blue sun dominated the yellow-orange sky, temporarily unchallenged by clouds. The group had appeared among a cluster of supply crates, some taller even than the adults. They immediately began walking toward a small village of pale tents.
No sooner had the party emerged from the cluster of supplies, Dornaa collapsed suddenly to the ground, bursting into tears. “No!” she whimpered, pleading with forces invisible, “I’m not a monster! I don’t want to be!” The Troll security officer holding her lead-chain jerked her sharply back to her hooves. The prisoner and her escorts were moving once more, but Dornaa continued sobbing quietly, the blindfold quickly becoming soaked.
“Dornaa,” Seth asked hesitantly, “What’s going on?”
The long pause made him think she wasn’t going to reply, but Dornaa answered once she’d regained control of her breath. “The spirits,” she said, still struggling to hold her voice steady, “I used to work with them. I’ve always heard them so clearly, and now…now they don’t like me; not after what I did. Wherever I go, they scream their hate.”
“It’s no less than you deserve,” Tyria said icily.
Without warning, the whole escort halted and saluted, even the grand magna. A massive figure was rapidly approaching, black cape billowing behind her. At her sides, the venerable Orc, Justicar Krom’zon, and a black-furred Worgen in mage robes strained to keep up. “At ease,” Field Marshal Alanderas said curtly, “The interrogations will be in Tent 7. This way.” She didn’t wait for acknowledgement.
The prisoner-and-escort did their best to match the marshal’s grueling pace. “Alanderas, please,” Dornaa pleaded, “Don’t make me do this; not again.”
The demon hunter didn’t even turn around. “I have little sympathy for murderers, wretch; and absolutely none for mass-murderers. You’re lucky your powers are so useful, or I’d put out your eyes myself!”
“You don’t understand,” the prisoner pressed, “There are terrible things in their minds; horrible, disgusting things!”
“You’re every bit as depraved as they are. Now get to it.” She pointed into one of the tents.
There were two wooden chairs inside, arranged facing each other. Dornaa was pressed into one of them, and her blindfold finally removed. Farther back was a row of six stasis chambers much like the one Dornaa had guarded on the Radiance. “Bring out the first one,” Alanderas commanded. A Dwarf of the security team pressed a code of buttons on the nearest chamber. There was a hiss of equalizing pressure as its front retracted, then swung open. Within, a creature was restrained by enchanted shackles. She blinked as she emerged from her induced slumber, but quickly found herself too immobilized to remove her disheveled hair from her face. The creature’s body bore a superficial resemblance to a Draenei, but was much smaller. The most noticeable difference was her burgundy skin, but it was the horns that projected upward — rather than back — that betrayed her identity: a succubus.
The Dwarf very nearly carried the succubus to the chair facing Dornaa, and roughly pressed her into it. He tucked the demon’s hair behind her horns to expose her eyes. Dornaa’s gaze caught her completely off guard. In the blink of an eye, the females’ eyes were locked, staring with burning intensity. “Her name is Kryt’na,” Dornaa said, “assigned to the 7th Division of the 521st Legion.” The interrogator’s every utterance was mirrored perfectly by the voice of her victim, such that the two voices were layered so closely as to be one. “She was an intelligence officer, albeit of low rank. This battle was commanded by Nagomath the Impenetrable at the front, and Geronas the Incinerator at the rear.
“I don’t care about that,” Alanderas said flatly, “Where did they come from? What’s on the other side of this portal?”
Dornaa shifted, her movement matched muscle-for-muscle by the succubus. “All of the Legion forces on Vonterat came from Man’argarde, a fortress permanently embedded in the Nether. It is heavily defended, with portals that allow reinforcement to and from eleven Legion-held worlds. One of them is…Xoroth.”
“At last!” The field marshal could barely contain her glee at a potential path to one of the Burning Legion’s homeworlds.
“I’m more interested in local matters,” Tyria cut in, “How did the demons get here?”
Dornaa inclined her head, the motion once again matched perfectly by her victim. “The usual way: locals were tempted with promises of power. They summoned the first wave, who summoned the second, and so on.”
“Who are these locals?”
“They call themselves the Feloi. Kryt’na doesn’t know any more than that. Their most powerful nation lasted less than an hour once the full might of the Legion descended.”
“Where are they now?”
“As I said, she doesn’t know. The Feloi appear to have gone into hiding after the fall.”
“All right, where was this most powerful nation? We could start our search there.”
“The last of the portals was opened in the ruins of the capital city. It was the one about twenty leagues to the northwest.”
“Enough,” Alanderas declared, “Let’s see if any of the others can tell us more.”
Dornaa looked away. Kryt’na collapsed to the ground, her whole body enveloped in a fugue of violent convulsions. Tyria Turned and exited the tent, taking Seth with her. “Let’s go: I got what I wanted out of this. And no, you never get used to that, no matter how many times you see it,” she added in response to the boy’s questioning look. “It’s just not natural.”
No sooner had the pair emerged from the interrogation tent, than something collided with Seth, tackling him to the ground. “Gotcha!” teased a familiar voice. The very familiar figure stood up first, bending her floppy ear back into place.
Seth blinked up at her. “Kiera? What are you doing here?”
“Watching the show, silly!” She extended a hand to help him up.
“You must be the other of the stowaways,” Tyria said, “the one we’ve been scouring the ship for ever since the battle ended.”
Seth attempted to dust himself off. “If you’ve been watching all this time…”
His longtime companion snorted. “You think I’d be dumb enough to show up with her around?” She glanced back into the tent, particularly at the sable-caped figure within.
The grand magna sighed. “Well, if the only way to keep you two safe is to have someone watching you at all times, that’s what I’m going to do. You both have an extraordinary knack for ending up in places you shouldn’t be.”
* * * * * * *
So, I now ask you, the fans, for advice. Dornaa's interrogation was supposed to be creepy, disturbing even. Was it? What could've been done differently to make it moreso?
And if anyone has questions about this brave new world, ask! There's already been one, why not have more?
12-17-2011, 08:56 AM
In case anyone's wondering why I've been a bit slow, a friend hired me to proofread her 300-page doctoral thesis. That has to come before anything on here, so please be patient. Besides, I've been pulling this together for your reading pleasure!
For all those demanding a way to make Gnomes more awesome, I happen to have created a new character who just might do the job. I'll see your taxidermied Orc, and raise you a butch Gnome with semi-automatic sawed-off shotgun!
We also have a bit more slipping out about Dornaa. She has commmited a horrible attrocity for which she can never hope to atone. She is left to be tormented for a lifetime, not even allowed the peace of death. Then again, she's only recieving the same cruelty she demonstrated to others when she- Oh wait, I'm not going to say that yet. :evil:
The last segment could arguably have been moved to the beginning of the next chapter, but I left it where it was. Yes, the name "Pohatu" is taken from Bionicle. Blizz named someone "Tahu," so blame them for giving me the idea
Oh, and there's a little tribute to SoL's FanFic heritige tucked in at the end. ;)
* * * * * * *
Chapter Eight: Denial of Service
The sound was strange, simultaneously mechanical and ethereal. It was the swish of blades whistling through the air combined with the staccato thump of wind brutally halted by their passage. What Seth at first thought to be the call of some annoying insect soon grew to deafening volume, accompanied by a stiff gale that arose unexpectedly from the relatively still day. His first reaction was fear, attempting to put as much of the tent’s furniture between himself and the entrance.
He halted, however, when a familiar face pressed in through the flap. She pressed her floppy ear back into place. “Seth! C’mon! You’ve got to see this!” Kiera said excitedly. She was gone before the boy could even formulate a reply. Steeling himself against the sonic assault, Seth cautiously followed. The sight that met his eyes on emerging was every bit as fantastic as Kiera’s mania suggested. A large contraption had appeared, buffeting the edge of the camp with the downdraft from a pair of propellers, each several times wider than he was tall.
Grand Magna Tyria moved to meet the strange visitor, her robe whipping around her. She seemed nonplussed by the violence of the wind. A Gnome woman disembarked from the contraption and saluted. “Spec Ops Unit Nine reporting as requested, ma’am!” she shouted over the noise. Seth looked her up and down as he inched closer. The newcomer was dressed in black leather armor, the golden phoenix of the Light’s Vanguard embroidered on the cuirass. A dagger was sheathed at each hip, with a sizable gun slung across her back. An eyepatch covered her right socket, studded with intimidating spikes. What was truly unusual was her hair: most Gnomes dyed theirs wild colors as befitting their enthusiastic embrace of technology in every aspect of life, but this one left it in a natural black. In fact, it was cut so short she could’ve easily been mistaken for a man, if not for the extra space built into her armor.
The grand magna returned her salute with a smile. “Good to see you, Tilly. We have a very important bit of scouting today.”
“So the briefing said. These are the famous stowaways?” She gestured to the children.
“Yes,” Tyria said with a sigh, “I’ve ended up with them, it seems. You wouldn’t mind if they came along, would you? There shouldn’t be that much danger on a mission like this.”
Tilly glanced back into the machine. “Well,” she said hesitantly, “after you get in, there’s only one more seat. That could be a problem.”
Tyria’s expression darkened. “Yes it could. Seth, Kiera, come here!” she called, turning to the children. Both of them had kept a cautious distance up to then, but moved closer at the magna’s summons. “As much as I need to keep an eye on both of you, it seems only one can come.”
“I’m not afraid of flying,” Kiera asserted with her usual defiance.
Tyria’s amused smile seemed to deflate her a bit. “As much as I’m sure that’s true, Kiera, there is someone who could better benefit from a guiding hand in magical expertise.” Her gaze fell to Seth.
The boy shrank back, as he always did under scrutiny. “You want…me?” he asked with obvious dread.
“I do,” she confirmed, sounding as if she had been previously unsure but now was certain. The grand magna extracted the communicator crystal from her belt. “Daz’jir, inform Lieutenant Blackburn that she will be responsible for one of the children until I return to base.
Kiera was incensed. “You’re sending me back to her?! NO WAY!”
“If I had a choice…” Tyria began, but she never finished because the girl took off running back into the camp. The grand magna paused, unsure of how to respond to such petulant behavior. Finally, she spoke into the crystal again. “Daz’jir, advise Lieutenant Blackburn that she will also need to find said child.”
There was a noticeable pause before the reply. “Yes, ma’am.”
Tyria turned back to Seth with the unspoken command to board the noisy contraption. Tilly seemed to get the message as well: she hopped back up to the floor platform and offered a hand, even though she was no taller than he was. Seth accepted the offered hand, but found the powerful vibrations deeply disconcerting.
The machine was built around a dorsal spine, with a wide, open platform slung underneath. A cross-piece over the center of the craft supported the twin rotors, while another at the rear sported a set of tailfins for stability. A pair of outriggers arched out from the spar, connecting to skis on either side of the deck. A double row of outward-facing seats ran down the middle of the platform, so that the occupants were seated back-to-back. The pilot sat in a forward-facing seat, surrounded by numerous control levers. She was looking back over her shoulder as the passengers boarded, a three-fingered hand gripping what was presumably the actuator to lift off.
Tilly unslung her gun before hopping up into the foremost seat. She pulled a V-shaped harness down over her shoulders and chest, ratchet-clicks holding it in place as it swung down. Tyria did the same, and motioned for Seth to take the seat next to her. The grand magna helped him with the restraint, showing him how it was able to slide up and down to accommodate beings of different sizes. Once her unexpected guest was secured, the Gnome nodded to the pilot, who turned to look ahead. “Hang on,” she called, “we’re in for some chop!”
The vibration increased dramatically as the craft left the ground, the landing-gear struts flexing as the weight was removed. Seth found himself fighting back rising panic as the tent village dropped away.
* * *
Kiera watched as the rickety flying machine lifted off. There was something about it that produced overwhelming fear. Slowly, it faded into a dot on the horizon and then out of sight. It was only then that she turned to her surroundings. The girl had slipped between two very close-spaced tents, using her small size to outmaneuver any pursuers as she always did. It was partly out of habit, and partly out of the conviction that it was only a matter of time before someone came looking for her. She paused when she came to one of the “streets,” carefully checking that no-one was looking before darting across. She did this several more times before she noticed something. It was a smell; the aroma of simmering broth.
The vagabond girl paused, pressing her troublesome ear back into its proper place. The scent almost immediately triggered a comment from her stomach. Cooked food will be watched, she reasoned, but they might leave bread or something on the side. At once, she was on the hunt, though still taking care to remain unseen. It was a game she loved. Back at the orphanage, the Sisters had reprimanded her many times for taking more than her share of rations. Eventually, they stopped, not because she’d stopped stealing, but because she’d gotten so good at it.
Kiera tracked her quarry to a large tent; a very large one. It was the largest of all the tents, aside from those that composed the field hospital. Slowly, she crept around to the rear. A bored-looking Orc slowly stirred a cauldron of what looked to be soup. Underneath, a magic-fueled fire heated the contents to a boil. Around him were strewn a number of empty crates in varying degrees of destruction, each bearing the stenciled name of its former contents.
“Busy day for KP duty, eh Zugg?” A Human man emerged from the tent with a tray of bowls. He wore an apron so badly stained it was impossible to say for certain what its original color was. Zugg merely scowled in response, filling the bowls with a ladle big enough to fill each in one pass. As the other man left, the Orc turned back to his task, even more focused on not thinking about it than before.
Kiera seized the opportunity to slip inside. She found herself behind the counter of a cafeteria line. Off-duty soldiers filed past, accepting various items of food from servers at stations for each. As the only hot item on the menu, the soup was by far the most popular. Kiera dropped to her hands and knees, knowing that staying low would be key to avoiding detection. Her target was a barrel of apples near the start of the line. Once in range, her hand shot out.
The split-second action was astronomically unlikely to be seen, but the server somehow happened to choose the same apple at the same time. Both of them stared at each other in bewilderment at the unexpected turn of events. While the server looked down her crooked nose, the soldier’s unsettling violet eyes flashed in recognition. As if the first coincidence hadn’t been enough!
Kiera bolted. Ismene Blackburn’s tray crashed to the floor as she moved to intercept. Still, the girl had enough of a head start to escape back into the maze of tents. What she hadn’t counted on was Blackburn’s tactical pursuit training. The security chief scoured every passage with a speed that belied its thoroughness. More than once, the hunter found her, forcing the girl to undertake her disappearing act over and over.
Kiera glanced around the next corner, breathing heavily. Blackburn was closer than ever, getting moreso each time they caught up with each other. Her only hope was to duck into a tent and hide, she realized. She picked one at random, hoping against hope it would be unoccupied. Not willing to risk exposure on the main thoroughfare, she slipped under the wall.
At first, the silence convinced her her luck had finally changed. It was only after she turned around that she saw she was not alone. A Draenei woman lay crumpled on the floor, motionless in a puddle of cerulean liquid. Blood, Kiera quickly realized, Draenei have blue blood. She stumbled back in shock, images of the hospital ward flashing through her mind. Even more disturbingly, the woman was bound and blindfolded, seemingly killed in a helpless state.
Kiera turned, running out of the tent. She turned back when she realized she’d rushed past guards posted at the entrance. They looked just as surprised to see her as she was to see them. Given the gravity of the situation, she pointed into the tent. “In there,” she managed to mumble. Her look of stunned horror seemed to convince the guards of her sincerity, even if their faces were obscured by dark-tinted glasses. One of them, a Dwarf, ducked inside, while the other, a Troll, took a defensive stance over the entrance.
Suddenly, a vice-like grip clamped onto the girl’s arm. “Gotcha,” Lieutenant Blackburn said smugly. Kiera made no move to resist, continuing to stare at the tent. Ismene seemed to sense something was wrong.
The Dwarf burst out of the tent at a dead run. “Healer!” he bellowed. “We need a healer NOW!” He made a beeline for the field hospital.
The commotion quickly attracted a crowd. The security chief needed no permission from the remaining guard to investigate. The moment she entered, she unleashed a string of swear words her newly captured charge hadn’t even heard before. She was speaking into a communicator crystal in a flash. “Controller, Dornaa is down! Repeat: Dornaa is down!”
There was a pause before the crystal replied, “The Marshal is on her way, Lieutenant, with a full medical and security staff.”
Blackburn marched back outside. “Keep everyone back,” she ordered the additional security personnel converging on the tent. They managed to carve out an open bubble in front of the tent, but the crowd continued to grow.
Everyone drew back, however, when a familiar figure burst on the scene. Field Marshal Alanderas had arrived. “Blackburn, report,” she demanded, motioning for the trailing medical team to enter the tent.
“It looks like she did it again, ma’am,” the security chief replied.
Alanderas scowled, sweeping into the tent with palpable fury. “This wasn’t supposed to happen, Lieutenant. I will not allow the mission of the Light’s Vanguard to be sabotaged by a rebellious weapon!”
Ismene followed at a cautious distance, observing the events unfolding within. The lead medic stood to meet them. “She’s gone,” he said, shaking his head.
If possible, the marshal’s fury grew. “Bring her back, Jerris,” she ordered with terrible finality.
The medic nodded and turned back to his work. He placed his hands on the body and prayed, strain showing on his face. Suddenly, a blinding flash erupted through the tent. It took a moment for Kiera’s mesmerized vision to return, but Dornaa stirred, groaning in pain. Alanderas flicked her wrist, causing Dornaa to be thrown back into the chair behind her. “I’ve already gone to great lengths to keep you at my disposal, murderer. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“The voices,” Dornaa whimpered, “the voices; make them stop!” She raised her hands to cover her face as though shielding herself from an invisible assault. Kiera could see numerous scars on the prisoner’s wrists as she held them up. This was not the first time; or the second; or the third. It was merely the most recent of many. “You brought me back! What did I ever do…”
“Genocide,” the marshal hissed. “You honestly expect me to sympathize with you, Dornaa the Betrayer, who condemned an entire species to extinction? The Naaru showed you mercy beyond your comprehension, wretch. You deserve far worse than this.”
“The Naaru are cruel!” Dornaa protested. “Why couldn’t I be in a stasis cell like her? She did the actual-”
Alanderas’ backhand dropped the prisoner back to the ground. “You both gave yourselves the power,” she spat. “Hers are just too great to be useful.” The marshal turned to the security chief. “Keep her restrained,” she ordered, “completely, if necessary. This will not happen again.”
Ismene saluted uncertainly. “Yes, ma’am.”
Dornaa lay still as the ropes were wrapped around her, sobbing and sobbing.
* * *
The wave of pain that swept over Seth Whitemane sent him slumping against the harness restraint that bound his shoulders, his breathing ragged. It was not a pain of the body: it afflicted no organ or appendage. Rather, it was a pain of the mind, an excruciating tide of anguish. It was a weight that crushed him more fundamentally than any physical pressure could hope to do. A shadow passed through him, dulling his senses.
Beside him, Grand Magna Tyria took hold of his hand, a look of utmost concern etched on her face. “Seth, are you okay?”
The albino boy forced himself to calm before replying. “I don’t like this…THING!” he shouted over the roar of the rotors.
Tilly, seated on his other side, scowled at him. “This ‘thing’ happens to be one of my inventions, kid! If you don’t like it-”
The grand magna intervened with calculated precision. “Well, it’s hard to expect someone to appreciate something they don’t understand.” She flashed a sly grin in response to the boy’s look of confusion.
The Gnome’s response soon provided an explanation for the eccentric suggestion. “Why does everybody ‘not understand?’” she griped, redirecting her fury to a more abstract antagonist. “I swear; the only time people aren’t afraid of technology is when they’re taking it for granted! If they’d just take the time to understand what’s in front of them, they’d see!
Seth felt a light tap on his knee, but he was smart enough to recognize the cue without further prompting. “So this thing is yours?” he asked nervously.
Tilly slapped her chest. “You bet it’s mine! Captain Tilly Hoverblast: that’s who you’re talking to! I built the synchropter myself; every bolt. I know everything about it.”
Seth couldn’t help but grin at his neighbor’s over-enthusiasm. For a moment, he forgot they were strapped to a contraption of dubious reliability, hurtling along at breakneck speed over uncharted terrain. It was enough of a reprieve to formulate the question that bothered him most: “How can the blades pass through each other without hitting? It’s like they’re made of smoke!”
The soldier/inventor rolled her remaining eye in exasperation. “Why does everyone always ask that? Both rotors run off the same dynamo; the gears are set so only one blade can pass at a time. This shouldn’t be that hard, kid. The interference prevention is build right into the driveshaft.”
The boy now mirrored her insolence. “If you’re such an expert, how come you’re not the one up there?” He gestured to where the pilot guided the controls.
Tilly shot him a glare that threatened violence. “There’s a reason,” she said grudgingly, tapping her eyepatch.
Their exchange was interrupted by an announcement from the pilot. “Now approaching destination.” Seth now saw the advantage of the synchropter’s open design: an unobstructed view of the lands below. Up to now it had been ever more of the monotonous, gently-rolling plains, albeit with distant mountains on the horizon. Now, there was clear evidence of demi-human presence. A ribbon of clear, compacted earth snaked across the plains, obviously a road. Its length was punctuated by small structures along its sides, each surrounded by a low wall. Though at first puzzled by the sight, the boy soon realized he was looking at the dwellings of the native people.
The huts grew steadily more frequent as time passed, until suddenly the landscape changed. The road was interrupted by an imposing wall, the area beyond packed solid with buildings: a city. The ground went momentarily out of view as the synchopter banked into a spiraling descent. When it returned, the roof tops were much closer. It was now apparent that the city’s black coloration was not an aesthetic choice by its builders. Rather, it seemed to have been the victim of a massive fire. Here and there, columns of smoke were still rising from the smoldering wreckage. What was more, the interruptions in the roofline were not plazas as he’d first thought, but craters blasted by powerful explosions. The sheer scale of the destruction was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Another tight turn sent him looking into one of the blast craters. The ground had been scoured clean, but remnants of the buildings’ foundations had managed to hold their place. “This a good place?” the pilot shouted back over the noise.
Tyria replied with a voice that sounded artificially amplified. “Just drop us on the outskirts, Somi’yah. We’re not going to risk close quarters on a scouting mission.”
“Roger that.” If possible, the curve tightened further as Somi’yah completed her reverse. They were so close to the rooftops now that a number of the surviving structures crumbled under the downwash as the craft passed back out of the city. The pilot rotated the synchopter to face what was once the city gate as it came down, ending up moving backward in the process.
The outrigger legs flexed once more as the aircraft touched down. Tilly sent her fist on a collision course with a large button beside her seat, launching the restraint yoke upward under the tension of its spring. “Everybody out! Secure the area!” she bellowed with a volume that belied her size. The other members of Spec Ops Unit 9 did the same, piling out with deadly purpose. The landing gear flexed again as each of them transferred their weight to the ground. One, however, produced such a weight reduction with his egress that the synchropter actually lifted back off the ground, but Somi’yah deftly put it down again.
The grand magna was the last out, taking the time to release her charge. “Stay with me,” she said evenly. “This’ll be fun; you’ll see.” Her clasped hand guided him to the ground as he stepped off the edge of the platform. “Power it down, lieutenant,” she added to the pilot, “but leave the dynamo up. I don’t expect trouble, but we need to be ready.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Somi’yah replied, adjusting some levers. The machine’s sonic assault subsided as the rotors spun down.
Tyria led Seth away to where Tilly had positioned herself. The Gnome looked askance at the continued presence of the child, but saluted smartly as the superior officer approached. “Hoverblast, what can you tell me about this place?”
Tilly shrugged. “The initial scans aren’t in yet, ma’am. There’s not much to say.”
“I meant first impressions. This place was obviously destroyed by a battle, but there’s nothing to indicate the presence of a portal, so it’s probably not the capital we were looking for.”
“The absence of the Shining Advocate should be a dead giveaway on that.”
The comment earned her a warning glare, but nothing more. “I suppose so,” Tyria noted, scanning the horizon, “but we might be able to find some evidence of the Feloi here nonetheless.”
“I’ve got something!” The voice called out to the conversing officers, giving an implicit summons. They complied. The young Human man held a strange device, covered with an incomprehensible array of lights and switches. The box was apparently heavy enough to warrant a neck strap, which held it at chest-height. An ominous aura of shadow clung to the antennae that protruded away from the operator.
“Yes, Sully?” the Spec Ops commander asked, “What do you have?”
“I’m picking up a sapience reading about five hundred yards in.” He pointed to the city gate. “It’s faint, though; he might not have much time left.”
The grand magna turned to the special operations commander. “Well, I figured we’d have to go in. Still, there are lots of places to hide in a city; we’d best be careful.”
Tilly nodded. “I’ll pull together a team. Besides, this’ll be a great chance to test out my latest invention.” She held up her gun.
“Is there something special about it?” Seth asked, his customary inquisitiveness returning at last.
The inventor/soldier looked offended by the question. “Special? You bet this baby is special! Every shot sends a cloud of destruction at the enemy. The short barrel helps the shrapnel to spread out,” she added, tapping the muzzle. “But the new part is the firing mechanism. This baby should be able to fire as fast as I can pull the trigger! You think one blast is scary? Wait ’till you see five!”
Her wicked grin subsided only when she called out to her unit. “Listen up, everybody! We’re going in! Flameye! Fa’sad! Brightflint!” she shouted, pointing to each in turn, “you’re with me! Thundersteppe; Shaw; Shadeblade; Sindo’zoona, you’re running point. Springfield, Rattlescrap, stay with the synchropter.”
The grand magna raised an eyebrow. “You’re bringing the whole combat force?”
Tilly smirked. “If this goes anything like last time, you’ll be the one protecting us.”
* * *
Ash was everywhere; there was no escaping it. Its omnipresence was rivaled only by the soot which clung to the ruined buildings as though they were in mourning. While the outer walls of the structures were made of stone, the vast majority had collapsed when their wooden frames gave way. Those that remained stood like ghostly sentinels, their empty windows staring down on the debris-strewn street.
Shadowed figures moved, silent and nearly unseen, among the ruins. The wraiths were not restless spirits, however. They were very real, the preceding shadows of those that picked their way through the devastation in a more open fashion. The tallest signaled the others to halt. Her motions were purposeful, even though her ornate robe was highly impractical in the rough environment. “Search this area,” she ordered. “Our survivor was about here.” With a nod from the shortest figure, the shadows fanned out, scouring the wreckage for their quarry. Her fingers stroked the snowy hair her second-shortest compatriot. “This is where things get interesting, Seth. Our friend will probably think us more demons.”
The boy ducked out from under her hand, focused instead on the ruins around him. It was a desolate scene, one that weighed heavily on the mind. Seth couldn’t help but try to visualize how his surroundings would have looked before the fire. Had the street been lined with a solid wall of buildings that tall? Had there been wooden doors and shutters on them? Had children once played in the rubble-choked square they now entered? The last thought sliced open a part of his being deeper than he’d even realized existed. It was one thing to imagine a city of nameless, faceless adults; it was quite another to think that an alternate self might have lived here, facing the same, horrific fate as the others.
One of the figures picking through the ruins passed through his vision, the motion a welcome distraction. Of all the members of Spec Ops 9, there was something different about him, something that had been bothering the boy since he first saw him. The trooper sported an impressive rack of horns atop his massive frame, yet wore the same light armor as the others. More importantly, he was armed with daggers. As Seth watched, he seemed not only to slip in and out of the shadows, but in and out of reality itself. “Captain Tilly,” the boy said slowly, “is he…?”
“No!” the commander replied, showing true fear for the first time since he’d met her. “Pohatu is a warrior! If we stop believing that, the universe will explode!”
“Right,” he said quickly. It took a moment’s convincing, but the Tauren soon stayed firmly in existence.
Suddenly, a cascade of disturbed rubble called for attention. “Found him!” a Human woman called out. The movement of the continued ruckus indicated there was a chase. Just as suddenly, a charred beam came crashing down, followed by a cry of pain.
“Man down!” yelled a Gnome, drawing his weapons as he rushed to the scene.
Tilly stamped the ground in frustration. “Thrall’s balls! After him! Mioma!” she added, “Check Terina out!” A Dwarf moved to obey, the golden radiance she conjured revealing her as a priest despite her covert attire. Tilly turned to the grand magna, backing away. “This isn’t gonna end well,” she said darkly. With that, the commander joined the chase.
* * * * * * *
For the purposes of stablizing the universe, I would like to assure everyone that there is not -- and never has been -- a such thing as a Tauren Rogue.
01-24-2012, 02:38 AM
Thrall's balls XD It's so much funnier to have seen you write that! Dornaa's interrogation was definitely creepy, I felt like it could have been a scene in one of those exorcism-like movies that have been coming out lately. I think it could have been longer. Also: pellerator... I keep seeing that word but I'm not sure what it means, and it doesn't show up in my dictionaries. Is it a type of elevator?
01-25-2012, 04:47 PM
Thrall's balls XD It's so much funnier to have seen you write that! Dornaa's interrogation was definitely creepy, I felt like it could have been a scene in one of those exorcism-like movies that have been coming out lately. I think it could have been longer. Also: pellerator... I keep seeing that word but I'm not sure what it means, and it doesn't show up in my dictionaries. Is it a type of elevator?
Yay! Someone commented! To address your points:
I was wondering how that was going to go over. I chose that as her catch phrase before I knew where it came from. I thought someone had made it up. I was wrong, it seems...
I actually wanted to do more with Dornaa there, but I ran out of questions to ask. Ideas? And in case you're wondering, she does deserve her ill treatment. She's been a very bad girl. ;)
A long time ago, there was an obscure puzzle/adventure game called Starship Titanic. The fastest way to travel through the virtual ship was called the 'pellerator,' though I may not be spelling that right. It was a sort of elevator that could move sideways as well as up and down to get from room to room. I could have simply called it the 'lift,' but I'm trying to keep the Star Trek overtones to a minimum.
That clear it up?
06-14-2012, 07:00 PM
Has it really been six months since I posted the last chapter? Wow. I'll just have to assume the impatient readers have already been weeded out. Storywise, demons are evil, mages are callous, the best and the brightest are stumped, and the Convocation of Light has some interesting faces.
* * * * * * *
Chapter Nine: Answers in the Ashes
The flare arced up, painting the sky with its heart of flaming shards. Its report seemed muffled by the monotonous environment, but it was enough to bring attention to the location it marked. Figures began converging toward it, their forms ghostly in the surreal landscape. The passage of footsteps, the slightest breeze wafted the omnipresent ash into the air. This veil enshrouded the city, lending an incorporeal quality to both the stone ruins and the interlopers that now moved among them.
Seth Whitemane thought the specters looming in the haze were nothing short of nightmarish. In some places, it visibility was so poor that it was impossible to confirm the presence of anything without physically touching it. To make matters worse, the choking particulates left a layer of grit encrusting his mouth, even through the cloth scrap tied around his face in a vain attempt to filter his breath. It was his height that put the boy at a disadvantage, leading to the counterintuitive necessity of the group’s most vulnerable member walking in front.
Still, those behind kept watch on him. Directly behind, Tyria led the group. Somehow, her ornate grand magna’s uniform remained unblemished by the ash – probably the result of an enchantment. To her right, the Spec Ops 9 trooper whose sudden injury had launched the chase now walked without difficulty, her simple sprain healed with ease. Nonetheless, the priest who had restored her function kept close watch, seeming to be scanning for anything she’d missed.
“Mioma, you really don’t have to do that,” the soldier said with exasperation.
“Trust me when I say you can’t be too careful,” the priest countered firmly, “Just because I healed it doesn’t mean it can’t pop out again.”
The reluctant patient coughed, the violence of the fit nearly returning her to the ground. “I don’t suppose there’s anything you can do about the dust…” she muttered, wiping spittle on her sleeve.
“Not really.” The answer was as quick as it was emphatic. “Your body’ll have to clear that on its own.”
From there, the conversation lapsed into an unnatural pause. Seth continued for several more steps before he realized that not just the conversation, but the party’s forward progress, had been halted at a sign from the senior officer. The reason why became apparent moments later, when a fifth figure joined them. Whether Tyria had detected his approach through magic or simply by virtue of her Elven heritage, there was no way to tell.
The newcomer was short, even moreso than Seth. This, along with his proportions flagged him immediately as a Gnome. Seth recognized him from before: his obsessively groomed moustache and goatee made him stick out among the more modestly attired special operations unit. The grand magna visibly relaxed on recognition. “Shadeblade,” she said evenly over his salute, “I assume you’ve come to guide us in.”
“Good. What is the status of the subject? The flare was to indicate success, as I recall.”
“Fa’sad has him sequestered. Put up quite a fight for such a little guy.”
Tyria arched an eyebrow in curiosity. “Him? The subject is male, then?”
“As certain as I can be without ripping his clothes off to check,” Shadeblade said with a shrug.
The grand magna resumed her purposeful march. “Very well. Is there anything else I should know?”
The Gnome seemed to hesitate before proceeding. “Well…it could just be the way his body is proportioned, but it looks like we’re dealing with a kid.”
Tyria halted once more, pondering this unexpected turn of events. “Yes, that could complicate matters,” she said to no-one in particular. “Are you sure?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, looking down, “but he’s not like the others—who most certainly won’t be telling us anything, if you get my meaning”
Tyria tapped a finger to her lips as they resumed walking. “I see. It’s going to be much harder to get anything out of a traumatized child, especially when we don’t know the language. I’ll have to think about this.”
The five traveled in silence for an extended period, the grand magna deep in thought and the others too respectful to disturb her, aside from Shadeblade pointing out which streets were the best to take. Aside from those places where debris had collapsed into their path, progress was unimpeded. That changed when the party reached its destination.
Shadestep guided his charges to a hole in the ground. The very center of the city, it seemed, had been not only leveled, but excavated. A region of several blocks (as much as the word could be used in a city of aimlessly meandering streets) had been replaced by a crater deep enough to swallow any building in Shattrath City.
As spectacular as the sight was, the party barely noticed. The rim of the crater was studded with a regular series of heavy, wooden posts. Oversized, cruel nails held a body to each of them, all in poses that inspired agony by sight. All the bodies were mounted above what appeared to be their flayed skins, leaving them clothed only by a halo of flies. The stench indicated they had been this way for some time.
Seth was overcome by a wave of nausea at the gruesome sight. What remained of his breakfast soon wetted the ash-strewn cobbles. “A word of advice: If you ever find yourself surrounded by demons, don’t surrender.” Though still retching, Seth looked up to the familiar face of Captain Hoverblast.
“The worst part is that they were probably still alive,” the priest noted, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
“Yes,” Tyria said slowly, “I think the most disturbing thing about demons is how much they enjoy their jobs. Still,” she continued, bending down to help Seth back to his feet, “we have our own job to do here. What of our captive?” The boy beside her wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
Tilly nodded. “We have him in a bubble. He’s protected and confined.” She pointed to where a golden sphere floated just off the ground. The outline of a humanoid figure could be vaguely discerned within, frantically pressing hands against the sides in a futile attempt to escape.
The grand magna moved closer, regarding it impassively. “I think I have a plan.”
* * *
The doors slid open, revealing a long room with an equally long table running its length. Chairs at regular intervals held various important-looking beings, though some were replaced by holograms in otherwise empty seats. It was exactly what Ismene Blackburn expected to find every time she entered the captain’s ready room. The difference was that she now had a child handcuffed to her arm. It was disconcerting that none of those present seemed the least bit surprised by the security chief’s unwanted accessory.
Nonetheless, Ismene saluted the moment she stepped through the door, contributing to the atmosphere of willful ignorance. “Reporting as requested, sir; though you must forgive my tardiness.” She exchanged contemptuous glances with the girl at her side.
The captain merely swept a hand over the table. “I fully understand, Lieutenant. Please, take your seat.”
Blackburn assumed the table’s last empty chair, only to find that her charge’s forced proximity prevented her from swiveling into place. With a sigh, she pressed the button to release the shackle from her arm.
“I am aware that rumors have been floating around about why we are here,” Captain Nuramaas said from his seat at the head of the table. Though not the highest-ranking officer present, he chaired discussions as host. “I want to begin by correcting any garbled details you might have heard. We have just been through a major battle, quite possibly the most definitive of the campaign.”
“Indeed,” a commanding voice cut in, “Vonterat is to be our new home port – one that should be more secure than Outland ever was.” Field Marshal Alanderas’ interruption held all of her usual impudence. “I will be presenting the official report to the Convocation in three hours.”
“Thank you for that information, Marshal,” the captain returned, the obvious lack of a rebuke being one in itself. The marshal herself seemed unaware that any breach of protocol had taken place. Nuramaas continued his briefing as though nothing had happened. “In the heat of battle, the main force of the Light’s Vanguard was nearly destroyed by a dastardly act of sabotage aboard this vessel. Our Light cannons were knocked out in a disturbingly fundamental way. Grand Magna, I believe you were the one to find this?” He gestured to the hologram filling one of the chairs.
“That’s correct,” Tyria said with a nod. “The weapons core is supposed to be the most secure part of any Dawn’s Armada ship. The demons will have to destroy the whole ship to get at the Naaru. Somehow, a saboteur was able to not only bypass the toughest security measures we can devise, but completely incapacitate one of the Sha’tar. When I arrived, N’eras was bound by a containment field.”
A murmur of shock circled the room, broken by a timid voice. “With all due respect, ma’am,” said a Worgen female near the far end of the table, “containment fields require constant channeling to stay in effect. You make it sound like there was no-one else in the room.”
The grand magna smiled. “As always, you make my point before I even get to it, Liza. I can confirm that N’eras was the only other person in the room. The containment field was being continuously channeled, but not by beings of any form.” In contrast to the first bombshell, this one was met only with rapt attention. “Someone built machines able to project the necessary magic.”
“Most impressive,” said a Gnome with a mint-green handlebar moustache. “The Mo’arg continue to have us outgunned on every level. I don’t suppose you saved the things? We could learn a lot from something like that.”
The grand magna’s image shook its head. “Unfortunately, no. I had to destroy the devices to break up the spell; though I can get you the fragments, if you’re interested.”
“Thank you,” the chief engineer said. “We might still be able to get something out of this.”
“At the same time,” the captain moved on, “there was a disturbing attack on a member of our crew. High Priestess?”
High Priestess Kyrie nodded in acknowledgement, sending her innumerable earrings cascading against each other. “As both Lapforge and Blackburn can attest, there was a most distressing outburst in the engine core. Ensign Harka Bloodsteel began to behave strangely—violently, in fact. I can confirm from personal examination that she suffered the most complete mental destruction I’ve ever seen. To be blunt, we should probably notify her family of her death, even if her body is still alive.
“At the time, I thought it terrifying; but the more we discuss the matter, the more I’m beginning to suspect the timing was not coincidental.” She paused for a moment in thought. “The explanation, though, is harder to pin down. The display of raw power could’ve been an attempt at intimidation, or possibly a diversion; she could even have been a co-conspirator who was no longer needed; but the simpler possibility is that she saw something she wasn’t supposed to.”
“I wouldn’t think so,” Lapforge piped in. “Harka’s station is power balance. Nothing down there but- No,” he stopped himself, “I sent her to the upper platform to help confirm there were no breaks in the weapons power conduits. That was sort of the emergency of the time, you understand.”
“That makes sense,” Kyrie cut him off. “This matter is of sufficient gravity that I’m placing myself in direct charge of the investigation. Lapforge, I want you to compile a list of everyone Bloodsteel would’ve passed in her final minutes. Blackburn, I want you to interview the witnesses and deliver a report on anything she might’ve seen.”
Ismene scowled, but caught herself. “Ma’am, with all due respect, I have a ship to police; not to mention the Vanguard encampment below. It takes a lot of manpower to keep that much under control.”
The high priestess was nonplussed. “Then appoint someone else to fill those duties. We can’t afford to have anything less than the best on this case.”
The women’s argument was interrupted by their host. “With all due respect, high priestess, perhaps specific plans should be made outside a general staff meeting.”
“Of course, captain,” Kyrie said, a bit more color showing in her pallid cheeks.
“What is important—what everyone needs to be aware of—is that this matter is far from resolved. The most plausible scenario remains that there is a traitor on this ship, one who commands enough power to destroy any of us. Until we have a better handle on this, I strongly recommend keeping this matter inside the senior command staff. Is that understood?” Every head in the room nodded in assent.
There was a pause before Tyria broke the silence once more. “The real problem is the matter of how to take down something so powerful. A being whose mind powers are enough to frighten my sister should be treated with utmost caution. We need to assemble plans of action. Ideas would be welcome from any source.”
The Worgen called Liza looked thoughtful. “If this thing can destroy any of us, perhaps it wouldn’t be so effective against all of us. We could create a multi-disciplinary champion. They did that once back on Azeroth. The spell should still be on file somewhere.”
“I am aware of the incident you mention, Prescott,” Alanderas growled. “Needless to say, it’s not one I care to repeat.”
A blonde-bearded Dwarf leaned forward as he spoke. “High Priestess, I’ve been reading through some old files on mind manipulation for an in-service, and I can’t help but note the total destruction you describe bears a striking resemblance to the victims of Salandria.”
The room fell silent once more, every eye turning toward Kyrie. She breathed deeply before proceeding. “That was one of the first thoughts to go through my mind as well, Breldor. However, after personally examining every inch of that stasis cell, I can’t find any evidence that she’s even conscious, let alone wreaking havoc six decks away. No, it appears the Butcher remains secure.”
Breldor thought for a moment. “What about Dornaa, then? Couldn’t she do the same?”
The High Priestess spoke as though reluctant to revealwhat came next. “By all accounts, yes, but Dornaa needs direct eye contact. Her sentence was to guard her compatriot’s cell, and we’ve already confirmed she was at her post throughout the battle.”
Lapforge stood on his chair in his eagerness to support the assertion. “This ship is laced with magic that tracks the whereabouts of everyone aboard. The records in the information core confirm Dornaa was in-” He stopped himself, realizing he was about to divulge restricted information. “-her place,” he finished.
“Shouldn’t these records be able to tell us who was in the engine core at the time?” Liza mused.
The chief engineer’s enthusiasm rapidly waned. “No. The relevant file has been…erased.”
Now it was Alanderas’ turn to rise, this time in outrage. “Erased?! By whose authority?”
Lapforge visibly cowered in his seat. “Mine,” he managed to say, “The action log unmistakably carries my log-in.”
Liza had enough experience in command staff politics to head off the situation. “And the weapons core?”
“That’s not recorded to keep the location secret,” said the Gnome, grateful to have a distraction from the towering figure near the head of the table. “Given that there’s no similar gap in the coverage at the entrance, they must’ve found a way to teleport inside.”
“And that is patently impossible,” Tyria assured. “Even I can’t do that.”
Ismene sighed. “So…we face an enemy who’s a better mage than the Grand Magna and a better priest than the High Priestess. Wonderful.”
The captain nodded in her direction. “I would’ve aimed for a more positive spin, lieutenant, but that is the unavoidable conclusion.” Nuramaas rose to address the table more formally. “Once again, we all need to be on guard about this. In fact, I am authorizing everyone present to reconvene this meeting should new evidence come to light. With that, we adjourn…for now.”
Those present stood and filed out of the room, though waiting for the senior officers to do so first. The security chief, however, remained where she was, answering the others’ hushed tones with outright silence. Something about this whole affair seemed…off. A smug grin spread slowly across her features. Kyrie was more devious then she’d ever suspected. Ismene Blackburn had made quite a name for herself catching thieves back in Shattrath, and this feeling was the tried-and-true beginning of one of her investigative obsessions. Not only was she excused from her usual duties, she now had a superior to impress. Yes, this was going to be fun.
Suddenly, Blackburn shot to her feet, eyes scanning the room with withering intensity. “Did anyone-” Her words met only the empty room. “Where’s that [expletive] kid?!”
* * *
The first of the projections flickered into being before the others. The Grand Magna of the Dawn’s Armada bowed slightly before the misshapen creature it depicted. “Chairman Akama,” she intoned, sounding almost reverent.
Akama chuckled, his voice gravelly enough that it sounded about to devolve into coughing at any moment. “You Highborne and your ceremony. Please don’t think me disrespectful, Tyria, if my eagerness to hear your report makes my patience short.” The image looked down rather that directly at her, suggesting he was seated well above the equivalent projector.
To her left, another image materialized, this one of a middle-aged Human. “Indeed,” he said. “Seeking out new races to add to the fold of the redeemed is arguably the more important half of our mandate, especially in these early days. If the Burning Legion numbers in the millions, so must we.”
The other projectors began to engage, one by one. The beings that occupied the fifteen projectors were of every description, representing the myriad peoples who had banded together in their common cause. In moments, the full Convocation of Light was arrayed before the Grand Magna.
“You can keep your lofty ideals in the clouds where they belong, ‘King’ Anduin,” spat an Orc on the far right. She cradled an enormous hammer in her lap, looking far too large for its one-handed grip. “We’re in a war for survival, a fact none of us should forget.”
“As usual, you are both correct,” said an elderly Draenei. He seemed quite small compared to the imposing stature typical of his kind. “Going over this argument again will get us nowhere.”
“Magna,” Akama rumbled, “the sooner we begin, the less chance there will be of fratricide in this chamber.”
Tyria respectfully inclined her head once more. “Yes, Chairman. As you have all been informed,” she began, “we have made first contact with the natives of Vonterat. The dominate race here are called ‘Feloi.’ They were the Legion’s primary target, and, from what we can tell, were also the ones to summon their doom. Their society was advanced enough to build numerous stone cities, and their magic was well-developed if the portals are any indication. All of that is now lost, however; only a few scattered survivors remain.”
“Your pardon, Magna,” interrupted a Tauren on the left, “but you speak as though you learned these things second hand. We were told first contact had been made.”
The Grand Magna took a deep breath before proceeding. “What I’ve told you so far is indeed second-hand information, gleaned from our demonic captives. ‘Contact’ so far consists of one rescued survivor, who remains too traumatized to speak.”
“Then this has all been a waste of time!” shouted the Orc, suddenly standing.
“I will make that determination, Draka,” Akama said firmly. “Sit down—assuming you’d like to be present at future meetings.” Fuming, Draka returned to her seat, gripping the hammer tightly. “Now,” the chairman continued, “I assume you have a plan to deal with this?”
Tyria breathed slowly once more. “It seems the Light is, as always, gracious in unexpected ways. Our survivor is only a child, and he’s far too frightened of us to do anything more than scream and cry. Other children would have a better chance of reaching him, I suspect; they’d be much less threatening.
“I see,” said a Dwarf with a bemused expression. “This wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with those stowaways found on your ship, would it?”
The Grand Magna returned his smile. “You read my mind well, Councilor Thaurissan. Yes, that is the idea.”
“Very well,” the chairman rumbled. “I hope your next report will be more fruitful.”
“As do I, Chairman,” Tyria replied with another subtle bow. The image of Akama reached forward to touch something in front of him, and all the projected images vanished.
* * * * * * *
Not quite the Council of Elrond, but that second segement is probably the longest conversation I've ever written. In any case, that should have enough teasing to drive you crazy over the next few months. :evil:
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