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[Added to Timeline] Blood is Thicker

#1

Vereesa Windrunner strode through the dank subterranean halls that made up one of the many pocketed ghettos deep below the city.  These were the closest things to safety within the shimmering ban'dinoriel that kept them, and their quarry, trapped within the city.  Once, the ancient ziggurats, crypts, and catacombs that underlain the city like a web had been considered a risk to security.  Twenty years ago, these same tunnels had been used by the Amani troll assassin and war-hero, Zul'jin, to infiltrate the city, and two months ago, they were used to orchestrate the Sacking of Silvermoon, and the opening of the Dark Portal.

King Anasterian and his second wife, Queen Elysia.
Prince Nallorath and his entire family, including his heir.
Her own mother, Lireesa, who gave her life trying to defend the royal family.
Not to mention the hundreds of lives sacrifice to tear open the Sunwell, and thousands more killed and enslaved

These passages were responsible for the deaths of thousands of elves and the near-annihilation of the Sunstrider bloodline, even in her short lifetime.  And now, they were the only thing sheltering her people from extinction.

She, and the other brave soldiers of the Resistance - the other quel'dorei trapped within the death trap that Silvermoon City had become - were the only things protecting people from extinction.

It was why she had chosen to wear red.  The colors of the Sunstrider dynasty.  Of the pendant given to her by Alleria.  Of the blood of her countrymen.

It was why she concealed her face behind a harlequin's mask, a crimson-beaked bird that concealed her eyes from the world, so that they could only see her smile.

Not the fear of anticipation before a raid.
Not the fatigue that had set deep in her mended bones over a month ago.
Not the tears that fall for every life lost, every captive taken.
Not the hatred when knocks an arrow with a orc in her sights.
Not the shadow of glee when slaughtering one of the demon-loving traitors who dared to still call themselves elves.

Just her smile.

It was getting harder to smile ever day.

With the Grand Magister's death, the Gatekeeper's days were numbered.  There were still archmagi within and without the barrier, but Belo'vir was the cornerstone of the incantation, the pillar that kept it from crumbling.  No other loss, save perhaps Kael'thas and the Key of Three Moons itself, would have been felt so keenly.

As she glanced around to the innocents huddled in makeshift shelters and tents, each of their lives weighed ever heavier on her mind.

Demon Hunters,  Vereesa thought to herself, musing on the encounter with the curious satyr the night previous.  One extends an olive branch and sues for peace while the other slays one of the most powerful magi alive.

She shook her head.  There was much to process.  Magistrix Goldensword's proclamation months ago, of the Ancients, of the Queen, Azshara, and of the demonic history of the world, was likely true.  What information she had been able to get from Velameestra corroborated that much of Nyxxa's story.

But there were too many variables.  Too many people depending on Vereesa.  Too many lives at stake.  Too many moving parts, and too many hidden agendas.

She wanted ever so to trust the demon hunter.  For a spy, a fly on the wall, a blade in the dark to fight for them, and not against them.  But to do so with caution unfettered would be folly.

But so, too, would it be to disregard her information... or her warning.

Her ears perked up.  Glancing over to the source of the disturbance, her eyes were drawn to two young boys.  Neither was older than a dozen years old, though one was perhaps a couple of years senior to his brother.  They shouted back and forth at each other, their hands tugging back and forth clasped around a small stuffed toy.

"Give it back!" the younger one shouted.

"No!  We don't have time to play with stupid, dumb toys."

"I-it's not dumb!  You're dumb, you big-"

Riiiiiip.

The boys tumbled away from each other, the stuffed dragonhawk that was the source of their feud now torn asunder.  The younger sibling held the torn toy in his hands like one might cradle a slain child, his eyes welling up with tears.  The elder boy stood up, brushing the dirt from his tunic.  He spiked his half of the toy down at his brother.

"There.  Now maybe you can stop worrying about your stupid toy for a change."

The younger brother buried his face into the cloth and torn stitches.  "I hate you!" he screamed, muffled by the stuffing in his face and disrupted by his sobbing.

A gentle hand on the boy's head provoked a gasping hiccup that stalled his tears for the briefest moment.  She recognized them.  Their mother was a farstrider trapped outside the barrier, their father, one of the victims of the abductions some months back.

"Now, now," she said, brushing her hand through his sandy hair.  "There's no room for such harsh words towards your brother."  She glanced over to the older brother, meeting his eyes through her mask.  "Nor is there room for such cruelty towards each other."  Her hand scooped the scraps of toy and stuffing from the ground.  "We all have to stick together and help one another right now.  It is okay to fight.  It is okay to feel sad, or angry.  To express those emotions... but you must not say things you do not mean.  Especially to your brother."

She pulled the mask from her eyes and let it dangle around her neck, mingling with her ruby pendant.  With a gentle smile, she offered a hand to towards the younger brother.  "May I see it?" she asked.  The boy nodded and gave her her half of the toy.

"Separate, we are alone and weak.  A torn whole can't do much but fall apart and scatter."  She brought the sundered toy together, her hands beginning to glow with a soft silver light.  Slowly, the torn seam began to knit itself back together, as if sewn together by an invisible thread.  "But together... we can do so, so very much more."

As the magic faded, the plush dragonhawk was whole once more.  Vereesa stood back up to her full height holding a hand to the fallen sibling.  As she helped the boy up, she smiled at them, one hand on each of their shoulders.

"There may come a day - hopefully a long, long time from now - when you have only each other in this world.  And so, you must be one another's best ally.  Promise me you won't forget that, okay?"

The boys looked to the ground and nodded.  "Okay," they said.  

"Good."  Though they were younger than Giramar and Galadin were now, looking at the boys, her heart couldn't help but churn in her chest.  Oh, how she yearned to hold her boys close to her chest and never let them go, to shield them from this violent, dark world.

But for now, she had to keep fighting.

"Lady Shrike," a voice called from behind her.  It was Zaeneas. Since saving her life during the Sacking, the young farstrider had been acting as an attache for her, helping her disseminate information across the city.  His knowledge of the sewers and secret passageways had been instrumental, to say the least.  "You've a visitor.  An unexpected one, if Sir Brokensword's reaction is anything to go off of."

She glanced back at the young man.  "Who?"

"Zendarin."

Vereesa's eyebrows raised in shock.  "Oh."

"Yeah.  That's about what I expected.  You guys have a history, yeah?"

"Yeah," Vereesa said, absentmindedly, her mind drifting to the previous night.  "Is he alone?"

"Nope.  He's got his wife with him.  They look pretty rough, but they said they had something urgent to talk to you about.  They wouldn't tell anyone else."

Sinestra.

"I don’t know what she is, though she appears as an elf, she is not, nor is she a demon. She is something incredibly powerful."

It seems the Demon Hunter was mistaken about Sinestra supposedly fleeing through the portal.  Mistaken... or a dozen other possibilities.

Quite the timing for a family reunion, she thought through gritted teeth.  Her estranged cousin, Zendarin, was an elf supremacist.  He had never had positive things to say about her or her half-human children.  But they could have valuable intel.  Zendarin was a powerful magister, and Sinestra the former leader of the Alchemist's guild in Silvermoon. 

Not to mention the opportunity to ascertain the veracity of the satyr's words, if there was any to be found. 

"Take me to them," she said, re-affixing her mask.  She cast the boys one last smile before her eyes were hidden once more, masking the emotions that swirled in her head and heart.

"Aye aye, captain," Zaeneas said.  "Right this way."
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#2

"Well, well, well," Vereesa said, sauntering up to the edge of the aqueduct adjacent to the Resistance hideout, "look what trolled in from the sewers.  You're looking sufficiently humbled, Zendarin.  I never thought I'd see the day.  It suits you." Her mas was affixed, her hood raised, and her hair tied back tightly so that not a single strand of white hair could be seen - something she endeavored to do frequently while making public appearances.  While she was not the most well-known Windrunner, she was the only one naturally silver of hair out of the main clan.  Nirenn's hair had been a snowy white, of course, and since the encounter at the Sunwell, so too was her daughter's.  She could not allow such a distinctive feature to betray her identity.

Especially not to someone like Zendarin.

Beside him, the raven-haired alchemist Nyxxa had warned her of.  She had never met Sinestra Windrunner personally - indeed, Zendarin had married her some time in the last decade.  Considering his outburst and estrangement with the family following the birth of her half-elven boys, she was an unknown to all but Gil and Vel, who had met her briefly, and perhaps Linore or...

Sylvos.  Dammit.

Her elder brother would have known what to do in this situation.  Alas.

"Lady Shrike," Sinestra said, her voice haggard but relieved.  "I am so glad we were able to find you and the Resistance.  I was afraid of what might happen if we weren't able to make contact with you."

The two estranged elves looked worse for wear.  Both of them were cut up and bruised.  Sinestra's left arm was wrapped in a bandage, and she seemed to be nursing a limp on her leg, which she shifted upon uncomfortably.  Her violet eyes were wide with fear, but also with a degree of resolve.

She did not look to be anything but elvish... but that did not mean anything.  She was no mage, but she understood magic enough to know not to trust her senses unquestioningly.

Zendarin's default look of smugness was awash with down-turned eyes, guilt, and uncomfortable humility.  The magister was clearly uncomfortable as he stole glances at Vereesa and the small group of individuals that had joined her here.  Khadgar and Turalyon made an explicit effort to be front and center with her.  Zendarin Windrunner was a Quel'dorei supremacist five-fold times more than the late King Anasterian was.  Vereesa took quiet satisfaction at the discomfort on his face.  It was a shame that Turalyon was a Knight of the Silver Hand.  It was probably preventing him from reveling in it as much as she was.

She couldn't hide a grin, nor did she try to.

"Well, congratulations.  You found us.  Curious that it took you both so long to show."

Kilnar's spymaster, Thalodien, was standing by with a group of his agents, including Zaeneas.  It never hurt to have more eyes.

"I... can explain."  Zendarin started, his voice full of trepidation.  "After the attack, my darling and I barred ourselves within our estate.  We assumed that we would be safe there; that the greenskinned monsters would be routed by Borel and his Guardians."

Sinestra's arm curled around Zendarin's.  "For a time, we thought we were the only survivors.  I was too afraid to even attempt to leave the house and make contact with the Guild.  And, by the time we saw fit to try and do so... the monsters were at our door."

"Orcs," the Blood Shrike said.  "They are called orcs."

Sinestra nodded.  "Yes, the... orcs.  They crashed through our door and seized our manor.  I... I fear one of their foul sorcerers perhaps had learned of what we kept within the manor from one of their slaves, perhaps with magic or torture?  Zendarin fought bravely, but we were bested and captured by the fiends."  

Zendarin continued.  "They... they seized most all of our belongings.  My libraries were burnt or plundered, and dear Sinestra's alchemical reagents were stolen for the orcs' nefarious purposes."

"We huddled among the other slaves of one of their clans.  The... Nelghor-shomash, I believe?  In their tongue, that is.  I know only that these orcs were monsters.  They... they fed many of the other slaves to their twin-headed monsters."  Sinestra clung tighter to Zendarin's arm.  He took his arm and wrapped it around her, holding her closer.

Vereesa winced.  "Yes," she said, "I am acquainted with them.  Exceptionally so."

"So you know how much we must have feared for our lives," Sinestra continued.  "Luckily, with the help of some of the other slaves, we were able to escape, and make our way here."

"Clearly," the Blood Shrike said.  "But frankly, Zendarin, I find it suspect that you would come here now, after you have been so exceedingly absent for so long."

"Come now, my... my lady," Turalyon said, moving closer to Vereesa and gently placing a hand on her shoulder.  It was an intimate gesture for the chaste paladin, but one that served the purposes of their misdirection perfectly.  "The city is in chaos, and we have not exactly been in the open very much.  Perhaps we should... give them the benefit of the doubt?"

"Have you so swiftly forgotten what he said about my sister, Turalyon?  Or of the children?"  She bit back, turning towards him and shirking his hand from her shoulder.

Turalyon bit his lower lip before turning back to Zendarin and Sinestra.

"I... I know," Zendarin said.  "You have every reason to mistrust me, Alleria," he said.

Hah.  Vereesa thought.  The sycophant actually fell for it.  What a fool.

"Truth be told," Sinestra continued, "He was afraid to come here.  For good reason.  He... said some harsh things to you all back then.  He told me what happened.  Truthfully, I could hardly believe that my Zendarin would say such things.  But... but sometimes we must face the truth of matters.  Our people are in danger.  Indeed, the people of Quel'thalas could very well face extinction if we do not band together.  If ever there was a time to make amends... to reunite with family... well, there may not be much more time if we do not.  Surely you must agree, yes?"

"Sinestra has the right of it," Zendarin said with a sigh.  "I... was wholly unfair to you.  To all of you.  I allowed my prejudice to cloud my judgement... to allow pride to swallow and almost kill me, sad and alone.  But... But then I met Sinestra."  Zendarin finally looked up at the Blood Shrike, his eyes welling with tears.  "All this time, I never truly had reason to think of what others felt, but she showed me how wrong that was.  Truthfully, I regret everything that happened back then.  I've... wanted to come and speak with you all for some time, now.  I... wish I had not waited so long.  Perhaps, if I hadn't, Sylvos could have been here, too.  As a family again."

Vereesa's rage waxed.  "As a family, eh?  What a fucking joke."

"Disbelieve me if you wish, Alleria.  You have every right to, as I said before.  But allow not my words to prove my sincerity, but my actions.  I would commit my knowledge and skill towards defending our people, towards defending the Resistance.  If... you would have me."

Vereesa folded her arms across her chest, glancing over at her companions in consideration.

"I do have something further," Sinestra added.  "Something I was able to take from the orcs before we left.  I mentioned their fellow slaves helped us escape, yes?  Well... have you... have you or your scouts happened to see any strange lizard-like creatures prowling about recently?"

Had her eyes not been covered, she would have revealed her widened eyes.  Those creatures.  The ones Nyxxa had spoken of.

"They have," she offered.

"Those poor creatures were slaves of the same clan we had escaped from.  I know little of them, save they were tormented under the orc's thrall.  Many of them were sickly, dying of disease and starvation.  It was how the beasts controlled them.  With a little bit of alchemy and a lot of kindness, I was able to break them free of their masters' control."  Sinestra raised her hand to her mouth and whistled.

Those gathered glanced around cautiously.  A moment later, one, two, three of the strange creatures slinked out of the shadows.  They walked on two legs, but crouched low to the ground, their lanky limbs and tails stretched out for balance as they went.  They eyed the elves cautiously, curiously, as they approached.  Their scales were mottled colors of red and brown, mostly, though one was a hair darker than the rest.  They approached Sinestra slowly and with caution.  As one came close, Sinestra stretched out a hand and caressed the lizard-like creature's long snout.  "These precious little things were the ones that risked their lives to save us.  Many of them perished in the escape, but they are eager to help fight back.  They proved that much in the attempt to seize back our manor."

Not taking an eye off of the... creatures that had joined them.  "You seized back your manor?"

Zendarin nodded.  "Nearly.  We believe they have retreated from it for the most part... but we are hoping to reclaim what is left and reinforce it.  It... would be yours to command, if you desire."

Khadgar flashed a look at Vereesa.  She rubbed her chin with her hand.  "How many of them are there?"

"At least two-hundred so far," Sinestra began, "but there are more scattered in other parts of the city, either imprisoned or otherwise.  One of my goals is to reunite the poor creatures so that they, too, may be saved from the orcs."

Two-bloody-hundred, Vereesa thought.  That's... a lot.  Enough to start evening the odds.  "What do you think?" she said, turning to Khadgar and Turalyon.

"Well," the human archmage said, ponderously, "they seem genuine enough.  And... we are vastly outnumbered.  These creature would help even the score, especially if there are more out there."

"I will follow your lead," Turalyon said.  "As ever."

Vereesa hummed in contemplation for a moment.  "Fine," she finally spoke.  "But let me make something perfectly clear, Zendarin.  I do not trust you.  And Sinestra, while I appreciate your openness, I do not trust you either.  But I am not a fool enough to turn away help... nor from our people who wish to help."  She gestured to Zaeneas.  "Get a priest to see to their injuries.  And bring your... lizard-things to the Resistance camps.  We will learn their capabilities and set them into our patrols to bolster our numbers and protect our people."  She marched closer to Zendarin and grabbed him by the collar.  She pulled the magister close.  "And Zendarin," she whispered, her lips inches from his ear, "is your one and only chance.  Fuck this up and I will bleed every last drop of Windrunner blood out of your miserable veins.  Do you understand me?"

Zendarin swallowed hard.  "I do.  Thank you, Alleria.  I will not squander this chance."

Vereesa released him, and the magister shrunk back as she swirled away and left the two behind.  Turalyon and Khadgar followed closely behind.

---

"So," Vereesa said, a sentence all in itself.  She was sitting backwards in a wooden chair facing the other two, now in a cluttered space in a room beyond time and space.  Khadgar had a great many mysteries about him - he had been trained by the Guardian, Medivh, after all - but this... extra-dimensional space was by far the strangest.  She had been here over a dozen times since the invasion started, but she never quite got used to it.  The study looked little different from Sylvos's old study, or Rho's office at the Violet Citadel, at face value.  But the room had no doors, and the myriad windows opened to nothing but a starry night's sky.  What's stranger was that time seemed to stand still within here.  After they would inevitably return in ten or so minutes, it would be as if no time had passed whatsoever.

Passing strange, archmagi.  It was better not to try to understand them.

"So indeed," Khadgar said.  "What was your impression?"

Vereesa shook her head.  "I'm not sure.  They seem innocent enough, but Zendarin is a cold-blooded snake.  I have no doubt he is just trying to get something."

"Sinestra seems kind enough," Turalyon said, "but I should also mention that neither of them were susceptible to my Zone of Truth."

"Of course they weren't," Vereesa said, burying her face in her arms.

"I find it curious that their story, ultimately, checks out," Khadgar added, "But also that none of it discredits a single one of Nyxxa's warnings."

"Curious... and frustrating," Vereesa responded.  "So... what do you think we should do?"

Turalyon thought for a moment.  "Well... it is said to keep your friends close, but your enemies closer for a reason.  Until we can determine which they are, perhaps it would be wise for us to keep them close."

"Agreed," Khadgar said.  "These beasts spoke draconic, or at least a broken form of it. I will see - subtly, of course - if they have anything to say, anything I can glean from them as to their real history.  And as to why they speak draconic, of all languages."

Vereesa nodded.  "I think that's wise.  Ultimately... we do need all the help we can get.  But we can't let our guard down.  If there is something more to this than meets the eye, we have to be ready."

Turalyon nodded.  "We should, at the very least, make sure they are alone as little as possible.  For their own protection, of course, but also for the protection of your people as well.  If Nyxxa was correct, they may seek to harm the people under our care.  And that cannot be allowed."

"On that, we agree," Khadgar said.  "Well, we have the scaffolding of a plan, at least.  Let us hope we can keep moving forward with it without the whole thing catching ablaze.  I'll be reaching out to Nyxxa again to speak further on what we have discovered, and secure a line through that.  With luck, we can save everyone once the Gatekeeper falls."

"With luck," Turalyon said, "And with the Light protecting us."

"Luck, light... I'll take anything we can get at this point," Vereesa mumbled.

---

The nerve of that woman.  How dare she lay her human-poxed hands on me like I am some child to be reprimanded!  She is lucky I have more important things to do, or I would take that precious chance she gave me to drive a stake through her bleeding heart!

Patience, Zendarin, Sinestra's voice rang coolly through the mage's head.  They had been taken into the camp, the priests and healers of the Resistance seeing to their wounds.  But within their minds, a very different conversation took place.  There will be time for revenge.  That... that I can promise you.  For now, we have need of the Resistance's resources.  We do not yet have the strength to stand against the Horde, the Legion, and the Alliance.  But we will.

...You are right, my Queen.  I am sorry for allowing my emotions to gain control.

You are forgiven, Zendarin, my most favored servant.  You remember keenly my own... outburst.  I daresay mine was a factor more of a miscalculation than your own internal rage.  But keep that rage.  Allow it to seethe inside of you... and when the time is right, you... no... we will burn away everything in this world until there is aught but ash and blackened bone.  And then...

...And then we will build the world you dreamed of, my Queen.

Yessssss, Sinestra hissed in his mind, oozing contentment and anticipation.  But first... we must finish what we started.  My children are wont to create themselves, after all.

Of course, Zendarin supplicanted.  After all, a true queen must needs be adored by her subjects, and none will be more fitting than the most powerful of dragons this or any other world has ever seen before.
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#3
A gentle splash and two dimly-glowing orbs of blue obscured by a cowl pulled over her horns was all that marked Samaara's passing.  One hand held a large sack hoisted over her shoulder, which clanked softly as she crept into the sewers.  Her other weapons were worn plainly, but were untouched.  

Quietly, she maneuvered her way through the war-torn tunnels beneath the city, carefully stepping over the skull of a slain orc discarded among the refuse.  She moved deliberately, slowly, as to avoid any undue attention.  Finally, she came to a collapsed section of aqueduct - the quenched stones of an infernal, the flaming siege golems used by the legion, still present amidst the rubble.  She knelt down and hefted the large sack into the pile and moved the stones so that they would obscure the package.  Taking a dagger from her hip, she carved a small, subtle mark into the stonework nearby.  As she retraced her steps, she marked the wall in certain locations, noting her path.

Four more times did this happen, retreating to the surface and returning with another bundle, only to be lain in forgotten, derelict places she had located within the sewers.  A final time did she return to the surface and retrieve one last package before heading deeper into the sewers.  She followed the path ordained by her demonic confidant, hoping the letter she carried would be enough to call a parlay.

She came at last to a wider chamber filled with pillars at regular intervals - a foundation of some sort.  Most of the pillars were miraculously unharmed, though a few looked as if they could crumble if put under enough pressure.  As she stepped into the aqueduct, she knew at once that she was not alone.  Yet, she walked undeterred into the center of the room and stopped.  Quietly, she pulled the sack from her shoulder and let it clatter to the floor before raising her arms above her head.

There was silence as she glanced around the chamber, almost palpable.  But as she expected, she heard the shuffling of boot on stone as figures peered at her from behind the pillars that surrounded her.  The unmistakable sound of bow strings drawn taught and blades unsheathed met her ear as the figures, easily a dozen, emerged from around her.  Lights emerged from behind them to reveal that only five were elves.  The remainder of the figures that hid in the dark were the brownish-red scalefolk, the skarvyn, that Sinestra had committed to the Resistance forces.  They were armed with simple weapons and equipment as well, it seemed.

One of the elves, a black-haired fighter with most of his face obscured in dark cloth, approached and spoke in the tongue common to this land.  She sighed internally, wishing that her universal translator had not been confiscated when she had been captured by Garrosh Hellscream so many months ago.

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"I do not understand you," she said slowly, cautiously, in Draenic.  She knew not if one among their number had magics that allowed them to understand her, but there was no harm in trying.  "I have a letter.  I will retrieve it now."  As promised, Samaara slowly, obviously, deliberately moved her hand to her collar.  Maneuvering her fingers beneath the cowl and leathers she wore, she produced a small sheaf of paper from her breast, stopping her movement whenever she sensed even the slightest bit of tension or movement from her captors.  She offered the paper to the freedom fighter, who inched forward and took it.  He swiftly read it, his eyes flickering back and forth across it in the dim light.  He looked back to Samaara and nodded.  He ordered one of his other men to disarm the draenei, who complied and handed her weapons to him.  Another man came to retrieve the satchel, but not before opening it and withdrawing an elvish long sword from it.  He called to his superior, holding the blade up.  Eyes flickered over to Samaara, who smiled.

"A gift," she said.

The elves eyed her warily, but took up her belongings nonetheless.  One of the fighters approached her with a blindfold, which they affixed around her eyes.  She did not struggle as they tied it, nor when they lead her away.  Her heart began to race.  She knew this was necessary, but she disliked being deprived of safety in such a way.  Nevertheless, they had little reason to trust her implicitly.  She would have to trust that the Light would protect her, even if it no longer answered to her.

---

Her captors had done a good job of obfuscating their path.  Within minutes, she had lost track of where they were.  It was obvious why the Resistance had survived for so long.  These elves were a cunning, resilient folk.

Finally, they stopped, and the blindfold was removed from her eyes.  She blinked, reorienting herself.  They were in a small room, more natural than the sewers they were in before.  Most of her entourage was missing, save the raven-haired elf that had taken the note.  In their place were a small group of individuals; two humans and six elves.  One of the humans was a knight with graying blonde hair and tired eyes, the other seemingly the wizard that had reached out to Nyxxa from his robes and staff.
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Of the elves, only two were familiar to her by reputation or appearance.  The red-clad Blood Shrike was recognizable by her mask and demeanor alone, while she had glimpsed enough of Sinestra Windrunner, the so-called leader of their alchemist guild, to recognize her as well.
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The other four elves were unknown to her.  Two of them appeared to be powerful magi.  One was a wispy, androgynous elf with stark white hair.  Though gifted with a small fraction of the draenei's longevity, the elves boasted long lifespans, and retained their beauty for most of their lives - yet she could see a few faint lines of age upon this one's face, indicating that they were likely quite venerable.
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His companion was much younger, a broad-shouldered battlemage with a stern gaze and robes that held almost as much protection as function.  
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The third was a tall, stern looking woman with long, thick blonde hair that poured out from either side of her ranger's hood, while the fourth was a dangerous man with short, choppy blonde hair and a smirk that belied a vicious cunning.
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Samaara bowed, knowing communication would not be easy at this juncture.

The human mage stepped forward, his face perplexed as he spoke.  He smiled gently as he recognized that his words were not understood and he stepped forward.  A couple of paces in front of Samaara, the man drew a sigil in the air before holding his hand towards her.  His eyes flashed silver for a brief moment as she felt magic wash over here.

"There," he said, his words now ringing clear in her ears.  "That should make this a lot easier, I wager."  He winked up at the draenei before returning to his place beside the Blood Shrike.

"Many thanks," Samaara said.

"Where is the Demon Hunter?" the Shrike asked, cutting to the quick.

"She did not respond to my summons," the human mage added.

"She was waylaid by other obligations, and so she sent me to parlay alone in her stead," Samaara explained.  "Your man has a letter written she penned before we departed, if you require further proof."

"Captain Sunfury," the Shrike said, her head turning ever slightly to address him behind Samaara.

"She speaks true, my lady," he said, moving forward and handing over the letter to his superior.  "She also brought... these," he said, placing the sack of weapons on the floor before the Resistance leadership.

The human knight bent down, drawing weapon after weapon from the sack.  "What is this?" he asked.

"An offering of peace," she responded.  "The first of many.  You and your men will find five more caches of weapons and supplies, both elvish and orcish, hidden among the sewers near where I was taken from.  I will show your man," she said, gesturing to the dangerous elf, "the markings I used to signify the dead drops.  I... trust you are their spymaster?"

The man chuckled, holding his arms out to either side.  "Spymaster, eh?  Well, I don't think I'd had the privilege of such an esteemed title... but it wouldn't be inaccurate.  What's your name, stranger?"

"Samaara," she responded.  "I represent a faction of slaves within the Horde called Something Good [[i]Ati-Kaso].  [/i]I have been lead to believe you require ships.  I will help you get them."

"I see you waste no time with idle banter, Samaara," the long-haired ranger said.  "That is good.  But how can we trust you any more than the demoness that sent you?  You brought us weapons, yes, but that is a simple gesture.  Anya vouched for you, but Anya isn't here."

The stern battlemage nodded.  "I concur.  To believe you were here of the kindness of your heart is a notion I very much wish I could believe, but this is war, and you are a self-proclaimed slave.  Where did you even get these weapons, if you do not mind my asking?"

Samaara listened, her face even as she did.  They were right to mistrust her - she was glad that they did.  She came prepared for that.  "Retrieved from the deceased and liberated from their owners.  Beyond my words and my deeds, you have no further assurance of my intent.  Know only that my people have been hunted by the demons for tens of thousands of your years, and my people have been slaughtered by orcs for the better part of the last century.  I have no love for them, nor their masters."  She closed her eyes for a moment.  "But... you are right.  I seek my own freedom and the freedom of the people under my care, but I cannot do so alone.  We share a common enemy and a common goal.  When the time comes, and the barrier drops, we will make our move.  But my people are few, and we cannot do this alone.  I can provide information and assistance.  What you choose to do with it is your own decision."

The Shrike spoke.  "You are a draenei, if I am not mistaken.  Kindred to the woman who our demon-hunter helped escape, and the arcanist with him.  Considering our mutual acquaintance with Nyxxa, I trust you know of her as well?"

Remnii.  Samaara nodded.  "Yes.  She is... my sister, albeit not by blood.  It is that very reason I placed my trust in Nyxxa in the first place."

"I see," the Shrike said, a hand scratching her chin in contemplation.  "We will listen to what you have to say, then.  My sources tell me that she is trustworthy, and at this point, we must take what assistance we can find.  You are no friend to the orcs, and neither are we.  The enemy of my enemy."

Samaara exhaled in relief.  "I am glad to hear it, Commander.  I have prepared a report with my initial scouting information.  Viable vessels, guard posts and patrol times, complement.  Everything we might need for the flight from this place after the barrier drops."  She moved forward, her tail flicking as she walked, handing the reports to the Shrike.  "I suggest we move the third night after your barrier drops.  They will expect us to flee immediately, but the orcs are restless.  When that gate falls, many of their forces will head south in search of further conquest.  It will be the ideal time to flee."

"Will their vessels not be deployed in preparation for their invasion?" Captain Sunfury asked.  "Why construct a fleet if they are not going to use it?"

Samaara looked back to him and smirked.  "The orcs are a superstitious people.  Only a few clans wield naval forces, and most of their vessels have been either been stolen from your own vessels or built mostly for transport.  If they have places to conquer on land, few will choose to do so by sea."

The Shrike, who had already begun glancing at the plans, smiled.  "This is thorough.  You have done your homework, Samaara."

She nodded.  "There is one more thing I would speak of.  The orcs... have prepared a weapon.  One I have no desire to see unleashed upon a people again."  

The leadership listened closely.  "It is called the Red Mist.  It is a magical fel-bourne venom deployed like a cloud of fog that sinks into the depths of the city.  It was unleashed upon my people once, when the orcs took the capitol city.  It... is... It transformed my people.  We once all looked more like... like Remnii did.  But it twisted our minds and bodies.  Broke us.  Severed our innate magical connection to the Light that dwelled within each of us.  Your people, too, have an innate connection to magic.  I fear they seek to use the Red Mist to do the same to you that they did to us."

The androgynous mage's eyes widened.  "I have seen this.  This 'Red Mist'.  In a vision.  A red tide that washed through our people, choking us and twisting us against one another.  I thought it was allegorical, perhaps of the Felblood elves and their own corruption... but this..."

Sinestra interjected.  "This would be catastrophic.  This mist... severs innate magical connections.  That would disrupt an elf's connection to the Sunwell.  While that connection has already been jeopardized with the orc's portal ritual, to do that would be like being deprived of water.  Of draining the blood from their veins."  Sinestra's eyes went wide with fear.  "You say you believe it would have this affect on all creatures that are innately magical?"

Samaara nods.  "Unless they are touched by the Fel.  The orcs were unhindered by the mist, from my knowledge, so I imagine your traitorous cousins would be unaffected as well."

"We cannot allow this to occur," the human knight said.  "Where would they be deploying this weapon?"

Samaara shook her head.  "I do not know.  Not yet."

The mage, his face contorted in thought, posited his own guess.  "Logic would dictate they would likely have already tried to use it to flush us out if they could fill the entire sewers with it... so they must not have a supply large enough to accomplish that.  If they are able to... produce more of this Mist before the barrier drops, we could all be in danger.  Otherwise, I imagine they will try to use it to flush us out once the barrier drops, or perhaps to lure us into a trap."

Sinestra stepped forward.  "We cannot allow that to happen.  I think it would be wise to find where this Mist is located and find some way to destroy it - before they can unleash it upon us.  It sounds like it was created with magic rituals, but I imagine it is alchemical in nature as well.  I may be able to find a way to neutralize it, or at least dispose of it, if I can get my hands on it.  Ah... metaphorically speaking, of course."

"I know some of it is located within the palace in the center of town.  I would not be surprised if they had caches elsewhere."

"Any information you can provide will be most appreciated, Samaara," the Shrike said.

Samaara nodded.  "I will tell you what I know.  Of their clans, their locations, and their forces.  Of their plans, including the mission to infiltrate the manor belonging to the woman named Kilnar Goldensword.  I will speak until this magic wears off, and further if you are willing to grant me its boon again, Sage," she said, glancing at the human mage.

He chuckled.  "It is ungentlemanly to deny the request of a woman in need.  It would be an honor, Samaara."

The knight shook his head.  "The guardian is missing for years and yet you still sound like him sometimes, Khadgar."

"One does not need the guardian's influence to respect women, Turalyon.  I suspect you would know that more than most people, yes?"

"Gentlemen, please," the Shrike said.  "Your flirting can wait until after our guest is gone.  Samaara, if you please."

Samaara nodded.  "Very well.  Do you have a map of the city, and perhaps some parchment?  I am no artist, but I can at least show you the sigils of the various clans, and where they are located..."
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#4
The night was still, considering the Clipped Wing Coalition under Arthak had succeeded in dropping the barrier around the magistrix's manor not far from the Stormreaver spire.  Everything was going according to plan.  Soon, the Red Mist would be deployed upon the wretched elves.  Their numbers, their will to fight, to survive, would be broken, and the rest of this wretched world would fall.

Gorash had been Gul'dan's loyal servant since well before the Stormreavers were established, but he now proudly wore the wave-crashed standard.  As he looked down upon the city, now well within the grasp of the Horde - within the grasp of his dark master - he could not help bug grin.  His red eyes flickered from beneath his deep indigo cowl.

The barrier weakened with every second.  Soon, the Horde would wash across this blighted star like a pox of fire and brimstone and bring it to its knees.  He could not prevent a stifled laugh from escaping his yellow-toothed maw.

He didn't notice the raven that flew in through the window behind him.  He did not notice it land a few feet behind him, nor it hop about the chamber for a moment.  He did, however, hear magic rippling from behind him.  As the orc swirled to investigate, he found not a raven, but a aging smalltooth in blue and gray robes.

[Image: khadgar-hearthstone-650x325.jpg]

"Hello there," the man said, the words unknown to the orc.  Before he could raise a magicked hand in protest, the human beat him to the punch.  A swift and potent blast of violet energy sent the warlock careening from the window that had acted as the mage's route of entry.

The stone streets below marked the end of Gorash's long career of loyal service.

---




Vereesa was the last to ascend the spire upon the rope lowered by Khagar.  There were nine of them in total - just enough for a safe, rapid exit via teleportation.

The Blood Shrike took stock of the team.  The draenei, Samaara, was already sweeping the chamber, checking the area for imperceptible targets, like imps or succubi.  Captain Kayn Sunfury, garbed in black, stood by the window, pulling the rope back up.  Khadgar was preparing a detection spell for the purposes of finding magical traps, while Turalyon - the sore thumb of the group - did his best not to blow their cover.  He had a great many skills, her brother-in-law did, but stealth was not among them.

Luckily for him, he was not without aid.  The room's shadows had already bent to their presence, their footsteps quiet and masked.  Loralen was crouched by the window, her hood low and her bow drawn, the masking magics radiating from her presence as her shadow grew long and indistinct in the night.  Nearby, near the door on the far side of the chamber, more shadows twisted around Zaeneas, who had been recommended to join their squad by the Spymaster.  While she was initially against the young strider joining them, she had relented at Thalodien's insistence - and at Zaeneas's persistence.  She did owe him her life, after all.  He had proven himself more than capable.  She only hoped more young lives would not be snuffed out by this bold plan.


The stern war-mage Astalor Bloodsworn and Sinestra were the final two of the squad.  She was surprised at how adept the alchemist had proven to be in combat.  Even now she cut a bold figure, looking more like one of Thalodien's spies than a humble alchemist.

Though from Nyxxa's testimony, perhaps I should not be so surprised.

"Coast is clear," Loralen said.  "No one's noticed our ascent."

"Good," Vereesa said.  "Samaara," she turned to the draenei.  "Do you know where the Red Mist is being kept?"

She shook her head.  "Not precisely," her words rang with supernatural comprehension - a gift from Khadgar before their infiltration.  "But I've discovered old maps of this place.  I have a few theories."

"I aided the king in this palace before it was twisted by the vile orcs into this... abomination," Astalor spat.  "Where?"

"There are places within this place devoted to arcane studies and experiments.  'Arcane sanctums,' I believe.  Those are options... but Gul'dan is paranoid if nothing else.  He will hide his prize in the deepest, most well-protected place in the tower."

"The king's former chambers," Astalor offered.  "They were guarded well with many wards and defenses."

"Let's move, then," Vereesa spoke, adjusting her Shrike mask.  "We have no time to lose."

They truly didn't.  The excitement of the Seeker of Wisdom's manor dropping provided them a narrow window to pull this off.  Right now, Thalodien and the other Resistance members were spread out around the city, hitting every cache of Red Mist they've traced up until this point.  Once word spread to Gul'dan and the rest of his minions, their retribution would be swift.

And they would be gone before that.

I pray your sacrifice won't be in fain, Magistrix Goldensword, she thought to herself as she and the others moved forward.

"Ready?" Zaeneas said, his hand on the knob.  

Everyone nodded.  

The door flung open, and the strike team moved deeper into the palace.

---

"Area secure," Velonara said, plucking an arrow from the meaty jugular of a still-bleeding orc.  The atrium they had entered branched off towards a number of studies and sanctums, but also ascended to the royal chambers.

"We've been lucky so far," Sunfury said, flicking the black blood from his blades.  "Resistance has been minimal.  It seems many of their protectors have been drawn away by the other caches."

"Or we're walking into a trap," Zaeneas posited.

"I'm afraid you might be right, my boy," Turalyon said.  "This has been far too easy."

"Well, we can't afford to waste time on over-caution," Sinestra said.  "Neutralizing the Mist will take time."

"Then let's keep moving," Vereesa said.

The group moved forward, ascending the narrow, spiraling staircase until they came to a long chamber.  Multiple doors lay on either side - doors that once belonged to the Sunstrider dynasty, cut to pieces twenty years ago.  Now, even the furthermost chamber at the end of the hall held not its owner, but foul experiments wrought by Fel magic.

Vereesa moved to lead the way, but Astalor's hand stopped her.  "Wait.  Look."  His hand glowed and a wave of blue magic washed out from him, revealing bleeding glyphs of mystic power lining the hall.  "It seems our host has prepared even more protections than the Magistrate had left," he said, his deep, droning voice full of irritation. "How kind of him."

Khadgar stepped forward, his hand alight with violet magic.  "Shall we make a contest of this, Bloodsworn?  Kirin Tor versus the Magistrate, here and now," he said with a smile.

The elf rolled his eyes with a dramatic scoff.  "Don't waste my time, human.  I am aware that you aren't even an adult by our standards, but it would serve you to take this more seriously."

Khadgar sighed.  "You must be great at parties, Magister."  The archmage and magister began to draw circles in tandem as the duo began to unweave the sigils and glyphs that barred their way.  In a matter of moments, the hallway was clear.  "That's all of them.  And, for the record, I dispelled six of them."

"And I seven.  Shall we end this farce and quit this place?" Astalor said, gesturing forward towards the door.  

As the rangers cased the location for mundane traps and undid the lock on the door, Turalyon stepped up and leaned in closer to the other human in the group.  "While I can't be certain, I only counted ten glyphs.  I believe the magister was lying."

Khadgar smiled and put a hand on his old friend's shoulder.  "We'll let him have this one, aye?"  They shared a chuckle before following the others.

As the grand door opened, they found the king's former chambers transfigured into a mockery of what they once were.  The bed was replaced by a long experimental slab, the bones fleshless corpse of a skarvyn stretched across it.  Armoires were replaced with tables full of pungent alchemical ingredients, dressers with torture equipment.  And, hanging from walls, ceilings, and otherwise were iron-barred cages seemingly peeled from molten metal.  Some of them were empty, others only with the lifeless bodies of their former inhabitents.  But a half dozen of them shifted as the strike team entered.  Within the cages were emaciated elves.  Their features were sunken and stretched, almost seemingly melted from their faces.  The bottoms of the cages were covered in hair as the once-beautiful locks they held on their head were thin and haggard.  Their hands were thin and narrow, almost claw-like, the flesh between some of their fingers beginning to fuse together.  Their light-less eyes looked up uncertainly at the elves as they entered.

"Y-y-you," one of the elves said, a woman who could have likely at one time been called young and beautiful.  "You're the B-blood Shrike.  You've c-c-come to save us?  Please... P-please... They took... They took my..."

"What happened to these people?" Turalyon asked.

"The Red Mist," Samaara said.  "The handiwork is unmistakable.  We are in the right place."

"I'd say," Zaeneas said, pointing to the far side of the room.  "Look."

There, in a clear vat seemingly made of crystal or glass, was a swirling cloud of malevolent crimson energy.  The vat itself was large, easily large enough for any of them to fit in, likely several at a time."

"Sinestra, you're up," Vereesa said, glancing over at Khadgar.  "See what you can do."

"We have to save these people," Turalyon said, moving towards the cages.  "Here, I'll let you out."

"If you recall, Sir Knight," Astalor said, "we only have easy exit for a small number.  We can't do anything for them."

"Then I'll take them now," Turalyon said.  "You cannot expect me to leave them here."

"That is exactly what I expect you to do," he replied matter-of-factly.

"You are a powerful mage, Lord Bloodsworn.  Is there nothing you can do to aid them?"

He crossed his arms.  "Nothing."

Vereesa looked to the prisoners.  One of them looked no older than her boys.  Her heart sank.

"Magister," she said.  "Get them out of here."

"Lady Shrike, you cannot possibly mean for me to abandon you here," he said.  "What if you-"

"Do I need to repeat myself?" she bit back, closing the distance between herself and the magister.  She looked up at him, her eyes faintly visible through the mask.  "These are our people, Astalor.  I'm not going to leave them here either."

"Then you can take these wretched things from here yourself.  They are a liability, and in their current state, they would be better given the mercy of a quick and clean death."

Vereesa grabbed the magister by the collar and pulled him down a few inches to her level.  "We are fighting to save our people, magister.  These people need our help, and you will give it to them," she hissed, her teeth visibly bared.  "Or would you rather I allow the 'wretched thing' that has been risking her life to help us show you the mercy of a quick, clean death?"

Samaara stepped forward.  "Lady Shrike, please-"

Astalor closed his hand around Vereesa's, gently peeling it from his collar.  "Very well.  I will do as you say. Just be sure to finish the mission without dying.  You cannot save anyone if you are gone."

Astalor turned his back on Vereesa as he moved closer to the elvish prisoners, now free by Turalyon's hand.  He glanced back at Vereesa.  "I only hope you remember who you are fighting as well as you remember why."

The magister walked closer to the decrepit elves and wove a few incantations before he and the prisoners vanished in a flash of blue light.

Turalyon moved next to Vereesa, his brow knit in concern.  "Vereesa," he said, his voice quiet.  "Are you-"

"I'm fine, Turalyon," she interrupted him.  "Thank you.  Really."  She gave him a smile before turning back towards the vat of Red Mist.

"Sinestra," she said.  "What do you have?"

---

This is... magnificent.

In her many, many years, Sinestra had seen, had created, many things.  Plagues that robbed magi of their ability to tap into the leylines.  Mutations that twisted people into scaled abominations, reflections of their former selves.  Alpha-beasts that were the apex of creation, destined to lord over the world of ash and bone.

This... This was on another level.  This mist took the research she had wielded against the Kirin Tor nearly a millennium ago and synthesized it into something elegant and brutal.  As her hand touched the glass, she could feel the power radiating from it.

So... she thought, This is the power of the Fel.

She was awe-struck by its elegance, its virulence.  In her mind's eye, she saw what it could do to the wretched monsters of this world.  Alexstrasza, Malygos, Ysera, Nozdormu.... Neltharion, all rendered into malformed, misshapen lizards.  Powerless.  Weak.  Vulnerable.

A grin came unbidden to her face.

"Sinestra," the call came again, pulling her from her musings.  She turned back towards the rest of the strike team.

"Right, sorry," she said.  "This is... powerful.  More so than I expected."

I could kill them all.

"But we should be able to destroy it,"

It would be a simple thing, really, especially in this crowded room...

Her eyes glanced back at the vat.  "It will take time, however.  I can treat it with a solution, but it will need to be cleansed.  Lord Turalyon, I believe you may be able to help me with that?"

This vat is too large for them to carry... but it would be simple for me.  A prize worthy of a queen.

But they didn't need to kill her.  No... no, all it would take would be one stray strike and...

Fear struck her once again.  Her mind's eye, but now, Alexstrasza, Deathwing, everyone laughing... And she, the twisted mockery of a dragon, powerless, helpless.

She grit her teeth.  No.  No.  No, no no.  Never again.  Never again.

Turalyon stepped forward.  "Just tell me what I have to do.

---

Khadgar did not like the way he had seen Sinestra looking at the mist... but he sensed no duplicity in her words.  By all rights, what she had described should work.

Sinestra had, carefully, inserted a small tube into the top section of the vat, with which she had introduced a mist of her own.  While it did not seem to have any immediate effect, the movement of the mist slowed, it seemingly coagulating into a semi-vicious state, albeit temporarily.

"Now, Turalyon.  Focus your energies upon the vat and cleanse it of its impurities."

Turalyon nodded and placed his hand on the glass.  His other hand reached down and flipped open the holy book - the Libram of Protection - and began reciting words from it.  Slowly, his hand began to glow with holy power as he channeled the Light into the vat.  As he spoke, white light akin to flames upon steel wool spread through the virulent mist, albeit slowly.

"It's working!" Vereesa said.

"How wonderful," a voice cackled from within the chamber.  "I wonder, however... how long will such a ritual take?  I do hope you aren't... discovered... before then."



Rounding the corner from the hallway outside the chamber was an old, hunched orc.  His green-gray robes were punctured through the back by ornamental spikes of blackened bone.  Though an orc, he spoke common unnervingly well.  And, though he was alone and outnumbered, he walked with decrepit confidence.

"Gul'dan," Samaara said.  "We have to go.  Now."

"No," Turalyon said.  "I need more time.  The Mist is still active."

"There's no need to leave so soon," Gul'dan said, his staff punctuating his slow, deliberate movement down the hallway.  "After all... you wouldn't want to miss the welcoming party I prepared for you."

He waved his hand and the doors to his left and right opened.  As they swung wide, the royal chambers were flooded with bodies.

They were elves.  Alive, albeit barely.  Their forms were ragged and crippled, even further than the prisoners that had been freed.  As they poured from the rooms, Gul'dan raised his free hand, encased in a black steel gauntlet, the edges blazing with felfire.

"Come, my friends," he said, bending the weak-willed wretched elves to his will with ease.  "Come and greet our guests!"

In a horde of frenzied hunger, the elves lurched forward, some running on all fours, as they charged towards the remaining eight figures within the King's chambers.  Kayn ran towards the door and slammed it shut, immediately barricading it with his body from the inside.  The door groaned under the pressure of the tide of bodies that slammed into it moments later.  "A little help here would be great," he said.  The others immediately ran to grab whatever they could move to drag it in front of the door, buying as much time as possible.

"That won't hold," Velonara said, kicking over a table.  Glass and pottery shattered on the ground as she ducked beneath the table, taking cover and aim simultaneously.

BOOOM.  BOOOM.  BOOOM.  The elegant wooden door was not made for a siege.  It buckled and splintered with every crashing wave.

The door blasted open as a gout of green flame incinerated most of it from its hinges, sending debris flying into the room.  Wretched elves scrabbled over the debris and fell upon the defenders like a hoard of hungry locusts, and behind them, a dozen red-scaled felhounds nipped at their heels like sheepdogs and their herd.

The strike team rebuffed the attack lead by their former countrymen as much as they could, but they were vastly outnumbered.  Arrows found their mark, but the bodies left behind only stopped the next row for the briefest of moments before they gained more ground.  Kayn danced into the onslaught like a steel cyclone, carving through the abominations with his twin blades.  One latched onto his arm with hungry, broken teeth only to be driven through the heart and thrust back into the fold.  Velonara and Vereesa fired off one arrow after another, targeting the vicious hounds as they poured into the room.  Samaara, rather, took aim for the elder warlock himself.  The orc raised his gauntlet, which deflected the few arrows lucky enough to break through his magical protection.  As he mounded the corpses and debris in the room, one arrow was lucky enough to tear through his robes and catch his thin leg.  He buckled slightly from the hit, but did not falter.  His eyes burned red as he raised his gauntlet, shadow magic leaking from it like smoke from a chimney.  The energy slipped down into the room and wrapped itself around the fallen elves, whose bodies lurched back up to their feet once more, reinforcing the thinned ranks.

A figure darted from the corner as Zaeneas lept up from the shadows, flanking the warlock.  Knives drawn, he buried himself into the twisted orc's back.  He let out a groan of rage and pain as the young elf spun slipped around the side and delivered another strike, followed by a solid kick to the jaw.  Gul'dan regained his footing.

"You will regret that, whelp," he said, moving with surprising speed.  The old warlock's sharp, gauntleted hand lashed out towards the farstrider.  Though he did his best to duck out of the way, the black, shadow-infused steel found its mark, clawing across the young man's face, black magic latching on to him like tar.  He went reeling backwards, tumbling off the debris and coming to a motionless stop near Vereesa.

She moved forward to protect her fallen comrade.  "We need to go.  Now!  Turalyon!"

"Almost there..." he said, his voice straining to push the Light as quickly as he could.  The vat was nearly cleansed... but there was no telling what would happen if he stopped now.

Gul'dan held his skull-adorned staff out and conjured a ball of felfire directing it towards the group... towards the mist... towards everything.  "Farewell, Blood Shrike," he said, the viridian blaze doubling in size, doubling, doubling again.  "You and your Resistance were a nuisance... but one I am glad to be able to end.  Personally."

The warlock released the orb of destruction, sending it careening into the room.

And then, it stopped.



Everything stopped.  Only the faint ticking of a clock could be heard as Khadgar ran forward to intercede with the fireball.

He wove a half-dozen incantations in those faint moments.  

The ticking grew faster, faster, and then everything caught up.

Khadgar held his hand aloft, a blazing streak of violet energy emitting from his hand and his eyes as the massive ball of flame was pushed backwards.  Further and further it went, closing in on Gul'dan.  The warlock grit his teeth, thrusting the energy forward once again.  Green and violet locked in a struggle for supremacy as the two magi fought for control of the battle as their allies and their minions fought around them.

As the magic force strained to erupt from the stress, Turalyon let out a gasp from the exertion.  The white light that had infused his body faded.  The mist was nearly motionless, inert, as his hand separated from the glass.

Gul'dan let out a cry of rage as he redoubled his strength.  Khadgar's foot buckled as he stepped backwards.  "It's getting a little warm in here.  Get ready everyone!"

"Do it!" Vereesa shouted, her bow firmly affixed between the angry, snapping maws of a felhoud as she attempted to shove it off of Zaeneas.

The fireball's energy became unstable as he finished the spell to whisk them to safety.  As the felfire erupted, bathing the room in flame, nothing remained but Gul'dan and his felhounds amidst the charred remains of the wretched elf husks and the destroyed laboratory.  The room quickly filled with thin, inert crimson mist.  Gul'dan reached up and wiped a spot of green blood from his lip.  He sniffed the air, looking up at the sky.  "Good.  Hahaha.  Very good," he said to himself.  "That was a fun preamble, oh dearest Resistance.  Enjoy your hollow victory while you have it.  We have only just begun to fight..."  He turned and walked out of the room, his staff the only sound but the lapping of the felhounds and the flickering of the fires within the lab.

---


The strike team appeared outside, near the sewer enterance they had secured for this purpose.  

"Zaeneas! Zaeneas, speak to me!" Vereesa said, bent over the young man.  "Don't you dare die on me."

He had a nasty, fel-infused scar across his face, nearly across his right eye.  He wasn't breathing.

"No.  No, no, no."

In that moment, he looked so much like Gil.  So, so very much like him.

She began to compress his chest, tears streaming down from behind her mask.

A mailed hand touched her shoulder.  "It's not too late.  Please."  Turalyon stepped forward and knelt next to her.  He leaned over and pulled his libram from his side once again, the pages flipping unbidden as he spoke.  His eyes and hands were awash in white light.

"Oh, divine Light, I am your vessel, your beloved devotee.  Grant me your blessing that I might allow your Child to breathe in your radiance once more.  Destiny hath written its course, and by your grace shall his story not end today.  By the glory and wisdom of your warmth shall we not bear the pain of grief."

The light spread from the paladin's fingertips into the young man.  The soft white glow surrounding him like an aura.  A moment later, his eyes sprung open and he coughed, phlegm and blood in his hand.  "Shit," was all that he could say.

Vereesa threw her arms around him.

"What the..." he said, disoriented, but his arms gravitated around her, an automatic response.  "What happened?"

"We accomplished the mission," she said, pulling away and giving the young man some space.  

"Oh," he said, an finger running along the keen pain that was his new scar.

"Don't celebrate too much, Lady Shrike," Captain Sunfury said.  "Look."

The strike team looked up.  The Third Elfgate, the barrier surrounding the city had fallen.

"It is time," Samaara said.  "I must return to my people.  Three nights from now."

Vereesa nodded.  "Three nights.  Good luck, Samaara."

"And you as well.  I shall see you on the other side."

And with that, Samaara vanished into the night.

"Let's go," Vereesa said.  "We'll be safer underground.  We have work to do, and we have to get ready ourselves."

The strike team stood and gathered themselves, tending to their injuries as they entered the ingress to the sewers. All except for Sinestra, who looked up at the sky, at the thin layer of red mist that now surrounded the tower.

"Are you coming, Lady Windrunner?" Khadgar said, looking back at the alchemist with eyes narrowed.

"Yes, yes.  Of course, my apologies, Archmage," she said, following the archmage as they returned to the underground.  "That was... a lot to take in.  I'm suppose I'm just a bit shaken."

"Of course," he said.  "I'm certain you've never seen anything like that before."

She glanced at him.  Don't be coy, whelp.  I know you've been watching me like a hawk since you spoke with that pesky little satyr.  I could crush your soul with a stray thought if I wished.  "I... am no warrior.  I became an alchemist to change the world... but that mist was..."

"It is good you were able to destroy it, Lady Windrunner," he said, tapping the side of his staff with a finger.  "Were it deployed, I could only imagine the devastation.  It's good you did not decide to take a sample with you."

"I... beg your pardon?"  Sinestra said, her mind a tumultuous storm of fury.  The nerve of this insufferable wretch!

"I saw your hesitation.  I wager you wanted hoped to create an antidote by preserving some of it."  His eyes and face were bereft of emotion.  "I'm glad you didn't.  It's too dangerous.  I'm happy you were wise enough to see it, too."

Sinestra nodded.  "Yes.  Thank you."

Khadgar nodded with a smile and turned towards the sewers, glancing back towards her as he went.  She smiled sweetly as she followed.  I will have to be more careful.  He is... too smart for his own good.  As the night sky left her view, she glanced up at the sky once more.  But at least we are caged no longer.  I believe the time for an exit draws near...
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#5

"Medic!  Please, someone!  Fetch a medic, or a priest, immediately!"

As Kael'thas and the twin Blood Shrikes materialized upon the deck of the Sin'loren, the king's flagship among the vessels partaking in the raid upon the Sunwell, Vereesa tore her own mask off and hurled it across the deck as she knelt beside her eldest sister.

"Alleria, speak to me," she said, peeling her mask off as well.  She was badly wounded.  Alleria had tried to dive into the waters of the Sunwell along with her husband and all the others, but the... the tree that had spontaneously grown from its had struck her directly in the chest.  Her flesh was dark with bruises and signs of internal bleeding.  The Ranger-Captain's eyes flickered open and closed, her mouth filling with blood.  Vereesa had no idea how many bones her sister had broken, but she was almost certain Alleria's lungs had collapsed.

A hand touched her shoulder.  It was Kael'thas.  "Calm yourself, Miss Windrunner.  She will recover."

"Calm myself?" she spat, looking up at the king.  "I... I..."  Guilt immediately washed over her as she snapped at her king, at the man that had saved her life, and perhaps even her people.

"I will see to it myself," he said, kneeling beside her.  Gently, he swept his hands beneath the broken Windrunner and lifted her with a grace unearthly even for a man as poised as Kael'thas Sunstrider.

"W-where are you taking her?" Vereesa asked.  "Your Majesty?"

The king moved towards the ramp that lead below decks.  "To help her recover.  Stay above deck, Ranger.  If the orcs return, we will need your strength and your skill."

"But I..." she began.  Her fist clenched.  "Yes, your Majesty."

She watched until Alleria and the king vanished from sight.  Adrenaline still pumping through her veins, she paced above deck, helping as many people aboard as she could.  It was hard to see through the snow, but even now, the outline of the great tree that had ruptured from the Sunwell Plateau was visible through the night.

What is that?  What happened?  What went wrong?

Turalyon and Khadgar were gone.  After Sinestra had... had transformed into a dragon.  Just like Nyxxa had warned them.  Just like Khadgar had believed.  After she had transformed and went through the portal, they had tried to go through, both in pursuit of the fell beast and to ensure the Sunwell's destruction.  But now, she was cut off from all of them.  Zaeneas.  Thalodien.  Fyalenn.  So many brave souls that, for all she knew, were crushed by that tree's roots.

She had to stay positive.  She had to.  The Sunwell was gone.  The portal was gone.  The orcs were cut off from their supply lines, and their people were saved from the radiating hatred that had spilled forth from the malicious font of magic.  They... would survive.  It would be hard, but they would survive.

Soon, very soon, she would be able to see Rhonin and her boys.  Vel, Gil, Arator, Lirath, Sylvanas, and all the rest.  Oh, how desperately she needed that.

She would bring Alleria with her.  She... may never be able to fight again with those injuries.  But at least she would be safe.

She turned back to the ramp, now flanked by two of the crimson-clad warriors that had come along with them.  Blood Knights, they had called themselves. They met her gaze, clearly unwilling to let her pass to be with her sister.  She clutched onto Thas'allah, which she had recovered from her sister, and prayed that her mother and father might watch over her.

---

Days had passed, and still the Blood Knights, nor the king, had allowed her to descend to the lowest level, where her sister had been taken to.  Every evening, they ascended to the deck and held watch until the morning, where they descended once again.  Sporadically had she spoken to Kael'thas, where he had assured her that Alleria would make a full recovery.

It didn't seem possible.  It couldn't be. 

There was something terribly wrong.

---

She had learned the fate of their mission.  Lana'thel Dawnseeker was slain in battle.  It seemed that the fell blade she had recovered did not protect her.  From what she understood, she was being kept aboard the Dawnchaser with Grand Magister Rommath.  Such a terrible fate to befall the Dawnseeker family.  She sincerely hoped that poor Thal'ena would be able to bear the loss of her parents.  She was not significantly older than she was when her own parents were slain during the onset of the Troll Wars.  If there was anything that she could do for the girl, she would.

---

It had been nearly a week since she had arrived aboard the ship, and nearly a week since she had seen her sister.  Even still, the Blood Knights would not relent, would not let her descend to the depths of the ship.

"Let me passed," she demanded.  "My sister is still down there.  I demand to see her," she demanded.

The Blood Knight shook his head.  "No," he said.  "King's orders.  Stand down, Windrunner."

She got close to the knight, her face contorted in a scowl.  "What are you hiding down there that I can't see?  I would remind you that I am a ranger of the Farstriders," she said.  "Whatever is down there, I deserve to know.  I demand an audience with the king right this moment."

"The answer is no.  Stay out.  King's orders. You are not disobeying his orders, are you?"

She grit her teeth.  The nerve!  "Listen here, you-"



"Little Moon?" a voice called from beyond the door.

"Alleria?!" Vereesa said.  She pushed past the guard and pressed her ear to the door.  "Alleria, is that you?  Are you okay?  What are they doing to you in there?"

"I'm alright, Vereesa."  Her voice betrayed no weakness.  "I will... speak with you this evening.  Trust me, okay?"

"You know I always will," she said, a tear coming to her eye.  "Can I get you anything?  Do you need anything to eat or drink?  I have your bow."

"I'm fine, Little Moon.  Don't worry."

"Alright. I-I'll wait for you above deck, then," Vereesa said, getting up from the door.  She cleared her throat and brushed the tears from her eyes.  She shot a dirty look at the blood knights and went back above deck.

---

Time slogged by as she threatened the sun to dip below the surface, but finally night came.  And, as promised, Alleria surfaced from the depths of the ship.  She was pale as the moon, but walking as if she had not been near death but a week before.  No broken limbs, no bruises.

Vereesa ran towards her eldest sister and threw her arms around her.  She was cold, and her body was shaking.  She felt weak.  "Alleria," she said, "I'm so glad you're okay."

"I told you I was fine," she responded, returning the hug.

"What happened to you down there?  What did they do?  How did they... how did they fix you so quickly?  You were pretty messed up last time I saw you."

"Vereesa," she said, concern in her voice.  "You... you trust me, yes?"

Vereesa paused.  "Of course, Lady Sun.  You know that.  What did I say earlier?"

"May I see... may I see your hand?  Just for a moment."

Vereesa's brow furrowed.  "Sure..." she said, her hand fidgeting with her necklace.  Carefully, she held her hand out to her sister.  "Are... you sure you're feeling alright? Your trembling.  Do you need a cloak?  Without the Ban'dinoriel, it's quite cold above deck."

Alleria shook her head as she gingerly took Vereesa's hand.  "I'll be fine.  I just need... you to trust me."  Alleria squeezed her hand once, drawing a circle in her sister's palm as she smiled... and bared her now significantly-prominent canines.

Vereesa winced in pain and shock as Alleria's fangs bit into her wrist.  She felt the muscles in her arm convulse as if her very life's blood was being redirected through her veins; as if her bloodflow has abruptly shifted.  She wanted to scream, wanted to pull away, but the shock stole her voice and the pain stole her strength.

Before she knew it, the iron grip of her sister's hand released her.  Vereesa doubled back in shock, her hand clutching the wrist that Alleria had latched upon.  Two red, circular wounds a few inches apart throbbed like knife wounds in her soul.  She looked up to see Alleria's blood-caked mouth and face, her eyes a burning crimson in the night.  She reached up to her face and wiped it off with her sleeve, magically removing the blood from her face with a simple spell.

"What... why?" Vereesa said, her eyes and voice trembling as she looked up at her eldest sister.  Alleria's crimson eyes closed, and Vereesa watched her sister take a deep breath.  She was reinvigorated by the experience, but Vereesa felt colder now than ever before.  "What was that?"

"I am sorry, Little Moon... I didn't want to harm you... but I have not fed in so long.  It was... agony unlike anything I have felt before," she explained.  Her crimson eyes were filled with remorse and sorrow... and hunger.

"What did they do to you?" Vereesa demanded.

"They gave me a chance to live," She explained.  "To fight again.  To slaughter our enemies," she said, darkly. "To see my siblings, and Turalyon, and Arator again."

"I... I..." Vereesa stuttered, her words failing her in the face of a chilling fear that gripped her soul.

Alleria's expression wilted.  "You said you would always trust me, Vereesa," she said, her voice deadpan.

"I do," she said.  Tears came unbidden to her eyes.  She had spent so much time the past few months hiding from her emotions that this was too much.  Whatever... whatever had happened to her sister, to her people, filled her with a fear beyond explanation or comprehension.  And yet, she reached out and embraced her sister once more, crying freely out of fear and joy and remorse and anger and a thousand emotions all at once.  Alleria was still cold... but she trembled no more.  "I do."
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