The drums beat in unison. Each strike of the drum was followed by a solid thud of marching men.
"Hold steady." Eldengar growled, his breath coming out in mist. He dared speak aloud because the clansmen would never hear him. Not over the sound of their marching. But he was still careful. His men were so quiet that he was almost worried that they had forgotten how to breathe.
"When I give the signal." Eldengar stated, drawing his sword. He crawled up the hillside and looked down onto the road below. Lines of clansmen were visible on the road. Only their torches gave any light. Even the stars and moon were hidden by winter clouds.
One of the clansmen turned his head and broke rank. He squinted into the darkness, in Eldengar's direction. Eldengar held dead still, as the clansman walked away from his marching cohorts and towards him.
It was now or never. Eldengar leapt over the ridge and drove his sword through the clansman's belly.
"Thoradin's blood!" Eldengar bellowed. "Blood and light!"
Behind him, a hundred voices answered.
"Blood and light!"
And a hundred royalist soldiers followed him over the ridge.
The clansmen were marching in a line of two men at a time; they were not prepared for an ambush. Spears and axes met the royalists, but the clansmen stood no chance. Their marching line was cut in two, with Eldengar's men between them.
"Kill them all!" Eldengar commanded, driving his sword through the throat of a clansman. "For the Holy Light!"
A clansman' shout rang behind Eldengar. Before he could turn, a searing pain tore into his leg. He fell to one knee, groaning with hate. The pagan behind him grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head back. But his grip went loose, and Eldengar was free. Captain Aledar pulled his spear free from the pagan's corpse and helped Eldengar to his feet. Eldengar had to lean on Aledar for support. The Captain dragged him to the sidelines.
"They are in full retreat, my King."
Eldengar spat into the highland grass.
"Don't chase them, Captain. Get the men back."
"Yes, my King. Thales! Look after the King until I return."
As Eldengar lay on the grass, staring up at the pitch black sky, he remembered the past months.
They had reached Strom's Hand after fleeing the Montane. The city had welcomed him, and he had prepared his forces there. But Strom's Hand was not to be a safe place for long. The pagans sent their armies to crush him.
Eldengar made a choice. He pulled his armies into the Montane, to spare Strom's Hand. Madreen Chameral had come after him, but something unexpected and unexplained had happened a week ago, and for some reason, the Ivory elf was dead.
But the pagans were still looking for him. And they would never stop until he was dead.
"We'll get you back to camp, my King." Thales said wearily. The boy had changed a lot since Stonehold. He was a man now. And maybe a friend.
"No. I'll get back when my men get back. I can't let Brightmore see me like this."
Once back in camp, his men rallied for a feast. They had brought back the banner of Clan Vereka with them, and the supplies the pagans had abandoned in their flight. As they feasted, Eldengar had his wounds attended to by Thales and the elf, Liera.
"You are going to get yourself killed someday, Eldengar." Liera said, shaking her head.
"Not as long as I have you and Thales to patch up my wounds, Honey Buttocks."
They were interrupted when a man in a red robe entered the tent. It was the Crimson Cabalist, Elrich.
"It has been a long time, Mage. You have been busy, no doubt. And you shall address me as King."
Elrich did not seem amused.
"I have been busy, yes. I have just returned from Amberport. You remember Commodore Garn, do you not?"
"I remember the man. What of him?" Eldengar replied, wincing as he did so due to the pain of the stitches going through his leg.
"He has information. Your cousin, Tatiana Trollbane, is planning an attack on the city of Stromgarde. For King Vitalian and his bride, Katerina, are going to Dalaran. And in their absence, your cousin hopes to seize the Eagle Throne."
"The Eagle Throne is mine." Eldengar growled, ignoring the pain. He pushed Thales away and stood on his own two feet, gritting his teeth. "I am the rightful King of Stromgarde."
"Try telling that to your cousins, Eldengar." Elrich said a raised eyebrow. "I'm going to make this easy for you, Eldengar. Garn relayed an offer that I deliver to you now. Help Tatiana retake the city of Stromgarde. Marry her and rule jointly as her consort beside the Eagle Throne. This is an offer Tatiana presents to you once, and once only."
"And if I refuse, Elrich? She is asking me to compromise my ideals. Mankind has compromised itself enough already. And enough Kings have sped up the decline."
"You will rot in this barren wasteland until the Vitalins have you hunted down like a dog if you refuse, Eldengar."
Or I refuse Tatiana's proposal and take the city before she does, Eldengar thought.
"And that is what was revealed to us in Shorel'Thalas." Percy finished explaining, his hands clasped before him. The Grand Master had finally given him permission to disclose everything to the men and women of Lordaeron in Fenris Keep.
Marshal James Sherman sat with legs crossed and one hand on his knee. He had said nothing until Percy had finished. But Percy had finished.
"My father was there, with Vandermar Menethil? And Thomas Marden?"
"Yes. They committed themselves to a pagan genocide. I am sorry." Percy said, releasing all the air from his lungs in one gust. "They did what they thought was right, no doubt. Arronax deceived us all."
Marshal James Sherman stroked his chin with a semblance of self-control. But the tightness around his eyes revealed something else was going on.
"Thank you, Agent Fayette. Unless you have anything else to add, you are dismissed."
With a respectful bow, Percy turned and left.
Katherine Adai watched Marshal Sherman's expression with a growing sense of discomfort and unease. There was a ledge that the man had come across in his mind. It was a ledge that led to an abrupt drop; an abyss. And he just needed a slight nudge to tumble over the edge. What came next, she was not sure.
This accursed keep had seen far too many dark moments. The very Lake Lordamere had become a graveyard, and even her flagship rested on its muddy bottom.
Her attention turned to the three men behind her. Alford Menethil's face was unreadable under his Mithril Mask. Whatever Sherman was feeling, he was probably suffering far worse.
"It finally makes sense." Alford said, his voice unhinged. "What Bauros told me."
Bauros Menethil, rotting beneath Fenris Keep. The man had told something to Alford, and to nobody else. And Alford had not revealed what.
"It's time you let those demons out, Alford." Thomassy said, rounding on the man. He grasped him by both shoulders. "Please, Alford. My friend. My King."
Alford put a hand to his face and gently removed the Mithril Mask. Katherine Adai stifled a gasp. Alford looked ten years older, his hair greying at the roots.
"My brother told me that I was just a tool. That my father Vandermar always intended for me to drive Lordaeron into the ground; that Lordaeron had to be destroyed, so that it could be reborn. Reborn in the fire of a Bright Lord. Only now do the pieces come together and make sense with what we have been told."
"Bauros lies." Thomassy grated. "He wants to break you."
"No, don't you see?" Alford said, throwing the mask to the ground with a clang. "Bauros vanished and helped engineer the civil war. The Perfectibilists used me as part of their plan. My own father thought I was too weak to include in his plans. I've been manipulated. By Archbishop Marden. By my brother. And by my own father."
Katherine Adai reached out and stroked Alford's cheek. There was a time she would have been too afraid to do that. But he was no longer merely her King. He was a man now as well; and a wounded man.
"If you blame yourself for the Great War, you will destroy yourself."
"It is what I deserve. My only redemption lies in death." Alford stated, turning away.
Marshal Sherman rose slowly, visible in the corner of Katherine's eye. She could not have predicted what the Marshal did next.
He grabbed Adaen Melrache by the throat and slammed the man into the wall. The Esarim flared brightly, but did not resist.
"You were Commander
of the Witch Hunters. Chosen by Marden to be Esarim
." Sherman bellowed. "What-do-you-know?"
The Esarim was motionless for a moment. Then he burned brightly, causing Sherman to stagger back shielding his eyes. Adaen spoke, his voice suddenly bearing the familiar echo that was trademark of an unrestrained Esarim.
"We come to a crossroads, Marshal. A crossroads I have awaited a long time."
"What are you talking about?"
Adaen Melrache's wings suddenly burst into sight in a wreath of golden fire.
"You are the one who fulfilled the prophecy's criteria. A child orphaned by the seeds of the conflict that was foreseen."
James Sherman was shaking his head.
are the Bright Lord." Adaen Melrache fell to his knees before James Sherman. "Accept your destiny and liberate the Holy Light from its place beneath the iron boot of paganism. Purge this world clean."
Katherine Adai saw it happen.
The ledge that James Sherman had stood on before crumbled. James Sherman tumbled into the abyss. She had not known what would happen. She could not have predicted it.
But she saw
"You hold within you the power to save all that you love." Adaen said, emanating raw emotion, burning like the sun. "You can be clean again. Free. And happy. Choose rebirth, Sherman."
James Sherman's face changed. He made a choice.
"I choose to be reborn in fire." he stated. "I shall be your Bright Lord."
"No, James!" Alford yelled, reaching out with one hand. "You'll regret it if you do this, I swear it! Don't do this, please!"
"What else would you have me do, Alford?" James Sherman's voice was deafening as it broke. His eyes were red with suppressed tears. "Our entire lives, Alford, were built around this moment. This is destiny. It was prophecied. I have nothing else."
"You are like a brother to me, James. I am begging you. We can still fix this and go home. This war need not go on."
"Our home? We have no home. Andol took it from us. And I will take it back. And if you will not be King of Lordaeron, then so be it. As Lord of the Light, I strip you of your authority and exile you from Lordaeron. Perhaps your son shall be the man Bauros probably raised him to be."
Without another word, Alford Menethil walked past Sherman slowly. He picked up the Mithril Mask and put it back on. And then he walked out of the door, out of sight. Thomassy followed him out.
"Silverpine is still under our control." Sherman said, taking a deep breath. "I hereby declare Silverpine's independence as a holy protectorate, until Lordaeron is liberated."
"Have you gone mad, Sherman?" Katherine asked, taking a step back.
"It is done." Sherman said in a more composed voice. "And you have a choice to make as well, Admiral."