At the End of All Things

At The End of All Things

By Ryan K. Stansifer

The herald’s voice boomed over the hastily constructed walls of the human fortress.

“The undead are massing! Make ready!”

Lady Jania Proudmoore was grim as she turned to Archmage Dayshaun, who fingered the small gold and blue amulet around his neck. His hand shook slightly around his staff as the weapon dug into the fertile earth of Mount Hyjal. A thousand distractions competed for his attention, but he remained focused upon Lady Proudmoore.

“You won’t have any reinforcements, Dayshaun. I can’t spare a single soldier. I shouldn’t even be sending Lord Shadowbreaker with you.”

“The Sentinels reported a handful of demons,” the archmage pointed out as Lord Grayson Shadowbreaker shifted his golden warhammer. “It should not be a concern.”

”It shouldn’t be,” she muttered, looking to the forests. “But demons do nothing without a plan. I would rather have you three with the defenses, but we cannot risk them finding a weak spot.”

“Milady.” Grayson’s helm shone in the sun streaming through the vast canopy of Nordrassil. “The three of us survived the destruction of Dalaran. We have nothing to fear from these demons.”

At the mention of the city’s name, Jania winced. Her eyes fell to the ground, her blond locks casting a shadow over her fine features. Then she drew a steadying breath and returned her gaze to Grayson.

“We have already lost too many to overconfidence. Do not fall into the same trap.”

Grayson nodded. “As you command, milady.”

Dayshaun ran a hand through his thick shock of scraggly brown hair, trying to hide the trembling in his fingers.

He glanced at Laurena, who stood silent. Her poise belied her tattered attire and exhausted expression. The priestess’s shimmering brown eyes met his beneath a swirl of blond curls.  It seemed only a few short weeks ago he saw the reflection of glittering stars in those eyes.

“Are you ready?” Jania asked, bringing him back to the present.

The calls of the gryphon riders echoed over the fortress. He could hear the terror in the beast’s cries. The scent of death slipped through the air like a silent whisper. From Jania’s expression, she caught the scent too.

The archmage smiled bleakly. “If I say no, would it matter?”

As if in response, a horn blazed over the battlements of the fortress.

“To arms! To arms!” the herald cried. “They’re advancing!”

Jania looked into Dayshaun’s eyes. It was the look of a commander sending her soldiers to their death. He nodded and Jania’s hands shimmered.

“We shall see you soon, milady.” Grayson saluted Jania with his warhammer.

“I hope so,” Jania whispered as she lifted her hand.

A flash of blue blinded Dayshaun. When it cleared, Jania and the fortress were gone. Seconds ticked by as he waited for his sight to adjust to the twilight beneath the canopy. Light wandered through the trees in tattered strips of dull yellow, illuminating the emerald smoke seeping through the dying forest. Beside him, he heard Laurena ask the Light for a blessing of fortitude to stave off sickness caused by the demonic mists creeping around them.

“Such corruption,” Laurena whispered as she fingered her gold and ivory staff. “It’s as if the very land is cursed.”

Dayshaun tried to conjure the words to make the task seem less daunting, but nothing came to him. Instead, he motioned them to spread out, then crept into the underbrush of the forest himself.

Blackened bark and rotting leaves littered the floor, creating a soft squelching noise as Dayshaun slipped beside a fallen log, trying to catch any sign of movement. He felt the minutes slipping away as he peered into the darkness.

He caught a glint of golden plate armor beyond the second tree to the right. The paladin lifted his warhammer and beckoned him forward. Dayshaun whispered a spell and blinked to the paladin’s side. Grayson’s bearded face was grim as he pointed at an enormous swath of destruction cut through the forest just a few yards ahead.

Dayshaun concentrated and whispered their location to Laurena, who hurried to them, her form indistinct and wavering. She released the shadowform spell, transformed into her normal self and peered at the dead path.

Some horrific machine of war had torn the ground apart. There were great thick furrows burned into the dead soil, surrounded by cloven hoof marks of immense demons. Even through Laurena’s protective spells, they could smell the stench of brimstone wafting from small fires scattered in the debris.

The archmage looked to the north and saw the path stretching through the trees in the direction of the mountainside.

Dayshaun knelt beside a strange print he couldn’t identify, trying to ignore the fear and panic welling up inside him. The print was three feet long, yet appeared human. Grayson knelt beside him and placed a hand into the enormous track.

“No ordinary demon made this,” Grayson muttered.

Dayshaun scratched his unwashed stubble. “Then what did?”

“Ahead!” called Laurena.

A cloud of smoke bubbled from the rocks of the mountainside in the distance. Between the plumes of red and black, he saw a glinting green flame and a brief sight of two enormous blades.

“I think we found our demons.” Dayshaun rose and dusted off his patched and worn robes.

Grayson pulled his shield out, the Light-blessed crest of the Lion of Stormwind glinting in the fel fires. Laurena’s holy staff shone with the same Light, giving Dayshaun a bit of comfort. No wind stirred the trees to either side of them as they moved like shadows along the dead scar through the forests of Mount Hyjal.

After a few hurried minutes, Grayson lifted a hand. Dayshaun tensed.

A growl pierced the dead air as something enormous bounded out from the trees before them. Fanged tentacles swayed from the mottled black and red hide. Its malevolent black eyes snapped between the three humans as the fel stalker sized up its prey.

“By the Light,” Laurena whispered as she flashed into her shadowform.

The paladin noble said nothing, deigning only to lift his shield and study the beast. Dayshaun could feel the holy power radiating from Grayson like the sun.

Before Dayshaun could react with orders, the fel stalker bounded toward them with impossible speed. The archmage couldn’t believe something twice the size of a horse could move so fast. Dayshaun shouted a word of power and flung out his hand, thickening the air around the beast. The fel stalker snapped its dripping jaws as it lost momentum and tumbled into the earth.

Grayson didn’t hesitate. With a fierce cry, he charged forward, bringing his mighty hammer up. But the slowing spell dissipated when the tentacles sank into the earth and dissolved the energy coursing around the thing’s feet. It charged upwards and slammed into the paladin, briefly ripping one of the clawed suckers across his chest.

The paladin staggered backward as the beast lashed at him with his tentacles. Dayshaun and Laurena’s voices shouted in union as they blasted the creature. Shadow energy exploded from Laurena and a tendril of death tore across the demon’s hide. A flurry of arcane missiles erupted from Dayshaun as he focused his energy into blasting the magic-draining tentacles off its head.

Yet the fel stalker’s assault became more vicious. The attack was only strengthening it.

A tentacle speared past Grayson’s shield and latched onto his chest. The paladin let out a howl of agony as the monster began to feed directly on him. Laurena flashed into her normal form and instantly started flooding the paladin with holy light, but the stalker was draining Grayson far too quickly.

Dayshaun didn’t have a choice. With a roar, he launched himself at the fel stalker. The moment he came within range, he unleashed the molten fury of his blast wave.

A wall of flame erupted from him. With its attention on Grayson, the explosion caught the beast unaware. The connection broke and it flew backwards to the edge of the path. Grayson, protected from the fire by Dayshaun, collapsed to his knees with a gasp as Laurena hastily healed him.

Dayshaun dropped to the ground and attempted to lift the paladin to his feet, but the man was groggy and confused. He heard movement behind him and redoubled his efforts.

“Come on!” he shouted only as a hand shoved him aside.

Laurena screamed.

Dayshaun spun around.

She had thrown herself in front of the beast for him. The priestess shrieked as she desperately tried to ward off the demon’s powers, but she didn’t have the stamina of Grayson.

She shuttered and spat blood as the tentacles fed upon her. Her skin became gray and cracked as the archmage unleashed a combination of arcane and fire spells upon the monster. The beast staggered, nothing more.

He ran forward, intent on ripping the tentacles from the fel stalker’s body with his bare hands when Grayson charged past him. Dayshaun stared as the paladin conjured a shield of holy light around the struggling priestess. The impenetrable barrier snapped through the tentacles, severing them with enormous gouts of black blood.

Laurena dropped to the ground in a heap and didn’t move.

Grayson landed on the beast’s back and brought his hammer down upon the monster’s head with a savage roar. It screamed in pain and flailed wildly, trying to buck off the raging paladin. Dayshaun paused, unwilling to strike lest he hit his comrade.

The paladin slammed his hand down upon the fel stalker. A flood of light erupted from his palm and burned a savage hole in its hide. As the creature’s earsplitting screech washed over them, Grayson leapt from the monster and landed neatly before it.

In one final attempt to destroy its tormentor, it rushed at Grayson with its dripping maw wide. Grayson roared as his shield erupted with light and crashed into the demon, sending it spinning backward with a shattered jaw.

With its ability to drain magic finally broken, Dayshaun sent a frostfire bolt through its head and the demon collapsed in a heap of burned flesh and smoldering bones.

The archmage blasted the carcass with a few more firebolts to be sure it was dead, then rushed to Laurena’s side. Grayson had already removed the suckers from her back, though she still looked ashen and pale.

“Is she…?” Dayshaun trailed off, unable to take his eyes off the fallen priestess. She wasn’t breathing.

Grayson laid a hand across her brow, murmured a benediction and the holy light flowed from him into her. The archmage felt impotent as he knelt beside them, praying to anyone who would listen.

She coughed. Dayshaun had never heard a happier sound.

Laurena sat up with a start, her eyes wide with panic as she gasped for breath.

“What happened?”

“The demon attempted to feed upon you,” Grayson intoned. “We discouraged it.”

Dayshaun gestured to the corpse several yards away. Laurena shuttered at the sight of it.

“Are you well enough to continue?” Grayson asked as he stood and dusted himself off.

“She should rest.” Dayshaun interjected.

“Don’t start with me, Day,” Laurena snapped as she slowly pulled herself to her feet. “I refused to leave you after Dalaran. I’m not leaving you at the end of the world. Either of you.”

“You just had your soul mangled by a demon!” Dayshaun protested. “You can’t expect to fight after that!”

“I will do what’s necessary.” Laurena glowered at him. “Just like you.”

Grayson clapped a hand upon Dayshaun’s shoulder. “She is stronger than you think, Archmage.”

The archmage glared at the paladin. “You are not helping matters.”

Laurena huffed and crossed her arms, tapping her foot. “We don’t have time for this.”

“Bah!” Dayshaun scoffed and whirled around. “So be it!”

He tried to push the fears away and started out again across the blackened path. He had begged her to turn back so often and she always refused. Her resolute inability to walk away infuriated and infatuated him. He would feel even more a fool if she hadn’t reciprocated three nights after the fall of Dalaran in the brutal wilds of the Alterac Mountains.

Grayson took point. Dayshaun followed and Laurena stepped up beside him.

“Do you remember what I said that night?” the priestess whispered.

Dayshaun couldn’t look her in the eyes. He focused on the red smoke pouring from the side of the mountain before them. “This is not the time.”

“I said how wonderful it was that even when the world was dying around us, love could still burn brightly in the night.”

“I remember.” His voice was hoarse.

“Then take heart that it will never change.”

She reached out her hand. Dayshaun stared at it, then grasped it tightly, all his frustrations forgotten.

“We are here,” Grayson warned.

They crested a small rise and caught sight of the demons’ work. Dayshaun could make out ancient night elf ruins on either side of a gaping hole in the mountain. Smoke was leaking from the chasm like a gnomish invention. The tracks in the earth ran into the cave, past scattered bits of ore and rock strewn around the opening. Aside from the smoke, there was no movement.

“A mine?” Grayson whispered. “What purpose would a mine serve in the midst of battle?”

Laurena cursed in Orcish. Both Grayson and Dayshaun stared at the priestess in astonishment.

“This is no mine,” she hissed. “It’s a barrow den. One of the ancient barrow dens. Hyjal was home to many druids before Tyrande awakened them.”

“Regrettable that such a foul presence would invade a place of healing and rest.” The paladin frowned. “Yet they would not do this unless it provided a tactical purpose.”

“The barrow dens wander through these hills for miles.” Laurena dug in her pouch and retrieved a map of the area acquired from one of the soldiers at the fortress. After several moments of tracing lines, she pointed at a particular spot. “Do you not see it?”

Dayshaun’s spine tingled with ice as Grayson murmured something under his breath.

“Tyrande is at the summit.” Laurena’s voice was quick now as she explained the situation. “I suspect her fortification is safe, but both in the other bases are in grave danger.”

“There is no time to request reinforcements,” Dayshaun ran his hand over his stubble. “Even if I am able to contact them. Our forces will be hard pressed as it is. This will be up to us alone.”

Laurena and Grayson considered him. Laurena acquiesced first with a single nod. Grayson turned and studied the rising peak of Mount Hyjal before them. A thick plume of smoke billowed from the human fortress. Time was short and it was getting shorter.

He turned to Dayshaun and straightened his back.

“For the Light.”

It was not a battle cry. It was a vow.

As one, they faced the gaping maw of what had once been a druid’s barrow den and moved forward.

The first strikes were brutal and unwavering. Fire, shadow and light ripped apart two unwary fel guards just inside the entrance in a fraction of a second. Neither made a single noise other than the sound of their bones falling to the floor.

The smell of brimstone permeated the sickly air inside. The paladin again took the lead with Dayshaun and Laurena following closely behind them, weapons at the ready.

They could see almost nothing of the tunnel walls. Thick red and black fog obscured their vision. A few scattered flames were littered about, all of them the corrupt green of demonic fire. They illuminated nothing but black rock, mining debris and the tracks of the demonic vehicle.

And yet, Dayshaun felt uneasy. Aside from the monstrous fel stalker and the pair of weak guards, the labyrinth of tunnels seemed deserted. He strained his hearing, trying to sense any sign of demon or mortal in the squalid mess.

The archmage almost missed the sobs. But the sound was strangely magnified by the tunnels and at the second cry, he was sure he had heard them.

The paladin obviously heard it too. He followed the sound down a side passage, Laurena and Dayshaun bringing up the rear.

After a short stretch of worn rock, they turned a corner. Dayshaun froze in horror. A ragged group of humans, orcs, trolls and elves were crammed into a small antechamber at the end of the passage. From their clothes, he surmised they were captured soldiers and civilians used as slave labor by the Legion.

A filthy human in a tattered Kul Tiras tabard draped his arms through the thick metal bars of the makeshift prison. He jumped at their approach and stared with unbelieving eyes at the paladin, the archmage and the priestess.

It took several moments, but the shuffling and quiet crying of the group faded as two dozen defeated eyes turned their gazes upon them.

“Humans?” the Kul Tiras man croaked in shock.

Grayson surveyed the lock. “Fel iron.”

Laurena nodded. “Stand back.”

Despite the varying colors of their skins, no one inside questioned her. They huddled at the rear of the prison. A single holy smite and the lock on the prison door dissolved.

“Is there anyone else here? Any other slaves?” Grayson barked.

Most of the humans were still staring at them in dumbfounded shock. An enormous barrel-chested orc stepped forward and shook his head.

“We are all that is left,” he said in passable Common.

“Where are the guards?”

“Gone,” whispered a small human woman as the slaves crept out of the cell. “They said we weren’t worth killing. The mountain would do it for them.”

“What were you people doing here?” Laurena whispered as she bound the wounds of those with the worst injuries.

“We dig for demons,” another orc grunted. “They tell us to tunnel beneath the rock. To destroy what is above. For the glory of the Mistress and the one she serves.”

“Mistress?”

“I saw her,” said a small dark human near the back. His eyes were of a man living through a nightmare. “They called her…a Shivarra. Mistress Kakazaria. An enormous demon woman with six arms, flames atop her head and a blazing weapon in each palm.”

“We been working the mountain for days,” whispered a hunchbacked troll with a broken tusk. “We give up hope.”

“Days?” Grayson stared. “We believed the demons had just arrived…”

“Kakazaria appeared for final strike. To destroy those above in their moment of hope. She brought the weapons with her,” the first orc said.

The archmage pulled out his chronometer. Twenty minutes had passed since Jania had teleported them into the forest. For all he knew, the human base could be nothing but ash now.

”We must move on,” Dayshaun announced. “Can you make it out of here?”

“I have worked both forest and mountain,” grunted the largest orc. “I will lead them to safety.”

“Then go. Head south. The night elves have a town in central Ashevnvale and the Horde have created one to the south. You’ll find refuge there.”

No one challenged his command.

“Now go. There is no time.”

Laurena finished with the wounded as best she could, then the slaves moved together down the passage. The three brought up the rear and watched as the slaves disappeared toward the mouth of the barrow den. Then they turned and moved further inside.

The fog was getting thicker, making it almost impossible to see. Dayshaun felt like a blind man as he stumbled through the darkness. Then he turned a corner and froze.

There was a large bonfire pushing back the fog in the intersection between two tunnels. A trio of fel guards stood there leaning against a wall. Their mighty axes glimmered with unholy fire as they stared back at them in surprise.

Before Dayshaun could move, one of them unleashed a fierce cry of warning that blasted through the corridors and tunnels of the barrow den. The call was enough to shake him into action, sending a fierce bolt of frozen power into the guard, but the damage was done.

As Laurena and Grayson leapt to his aid, he heard shouts of alarm throughout the labyrinth. The demons were cut down swiftly with a good swing from Grayson’s hammer and a few seconds of a mind flay from Laurena, but the mountain now rang with demonic calls and the pounding of armored boots.

“The tracks lead forward!” Grayson shouted over the enormous din. “You two must find the weapons the slaves spoke of and stop this!”

As fierce golden light poured from the paladin, Dayshaun grabbed his arm, “What are you doing?”

“Engaging the enemy and giving you the time you need!”

Lord Grayson Shadowbreaker broke free of Dayshaun and unleashed the full power of his consecrate. The world around him burst into brilliant yellows and golds. A gleaming bubble of Light erupted around him as he threw himself forward into the shadows.

In moments, Dayshaun heard the pitched sounds of battle pounding through the tunnels like the beat of some horrific drum.

“We can’t just leave him!” Laurena screamed.

“Every one of us is expendable,” Dayshaun coughed, forcing himself not to rush to the aid of the paladin.  “Except the mission.”

With effort, Dayshaun turned and followed the gashes in the earth, resisting the urge to look back. Several seconds passed before he felt Laurena moving beside him again. He glanced at the proud woman, who stared ahead with a resolution of stone. His heart swelled as a thousand emotions warred for dominance.

She gave him a single look. Everything was said in a flash of her eyes.

The corridor widened and the rocky brown walls fell away into the smoke as the swirls and eddies began to fade.

Light glimmered beyond a bend. Neither of them stopped to consider it before they stepped through one final wall of smoke.

The cavern was enormous. The Mage’s Tower of Stormwind could have fit inside with room to spare. The ceiling was a perfect curved dome buttressed with braces of stone, obviously the work of the night elves who were once sheltered here. The walls retained their rough-hewn appearance of nature’s creative process, dotted with small passages leading to other parts of the mountain.

In the center of the room stood an enormous stone bier surrounded by four freestanding pillars of night elf design. A bright sphere of captured moonlight illuminated the room from above the bier.

They took cover behind a set of stalagmites to survey the room. Then he saw them. Along every wall were thick bundles of demonic explosives, shimmering black and green in the dim light. There was enough to destroy the den ten times over.

“I have never seen so many explosives,” Laurena whispered in shock as she surveyed the assortment of death.

“They are not done yet,” Dayshaun hissed back, gesturing to the gigantic cart  near the stone bier. The red and black smoke they had seen was pouring from the rear of the strange device, muddying the air with its fumes.

Strange, hunched figures too big to be orcs skittered from the cart to key points along the walls. They gibbered and squeaked at each other as they moved the weapons into tight bundles around the columns supporting the immense cavern.

“Where are we?” Dayshaun’s hands clutched his ebony staff.

As Laurena consulted her map, he counted at least thirty of the engineer demons scurrying around the room. A thick mist still clutched at the ground, making it difficult to get a clear picture of the barrow den.

The fire gave her away. A helm of green flame sputtered near one of the columns in the center of the room. Dayshaun gasped at the sight of the creature.

She stood at least three feet taller than Dayshaun. Her body was clothed in tight emerald and black plates. There were two enormous swords crisscrossed on her back, held there by some fel magic. Each blade glowed with dull red runes, though the hilts of the curved weapons burned a fierce green. Her voluptuous body moved effortlessly with the certain grace of someone who was in complete control of the situation.

Kakazaria didn’t appear concerned about the alarms the fel guards had raised, or the faint sounds of battle coming from down the corridors. She simply snapped orders at the other demons, ignoring everything else.

Laurena pulled on Dayshaun’s worn robes and gestured to the map. “We are directly beneath the Orc base.”

Dayshaun took a breath and tried once again to sense how the battle fared above them. He needed more information before he could act.

The response was so sudden he almost gave a yelp of surprise.

“Archmage Dayshaun! You…live!” Jania’s voice burst inside his mind. “I cannot keep this link open for long. The human fortress…overrun and we are making our stand with the Horde. The elves have moved up to assist us and…. We are digging in…”

Her voice sputtered as her whisper of magic broke apart.

A frozen hand gripped his heart at the news. He sent a response with all the strength he could muster. “Lady Proudmoore! The demons intend to destroy a barrow den directly beneath you! You must evacuate!”

“I…what was…there…what is…your party?”

The words were coming in nothing but jagged syllables now.

“Well?” Laurena asked. Dayshaun blinked and at once, the link was lost.

“The human fortress has fallen,” he reported in a dull tone. “They are with the Horde now. The High Priestess has moved troops into the Orc base to assist in the defense.”

“So if the demons succeed here…”

“They will wipe out the defenders in one move.”

“What do we do?”

Dayshaun looked at Kakazaria, who stood next to a massive control system attached to the nearly empty cart of explosives. She was speaking in low tones to a transparent figure atop the black metal.

She saluted and bowed her head. The figure vanished.

Her voice rose. She shouted a few words in demonic and the engineers cheered. They began running thick lengths of cable to the control assembly.

“We need to destroy that control system. Now.”

Laurena looked at Dayshaun and gave him a brief smile.

“Just so you know, I don’t regret a thing.”

Dayshaun held her hand tight. “I know.”

They rose.

“You slow down Kakazaria. I’ll handle the control system.”

Dayshaun moved right. Laurena moved left.

An unearthly silence filled the cavern. Though she was still some distance, Kakazaria turned. Her brilliant green eyes narrowed at the sight of them and she let out a scornful laugh.

“A mage and a priestess?” she scoffed. “This is all that Azeroth sends? Pathetic.”

Dayshaun took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He felt his hands begin to glow with iridescent fire. There was no panic or struggle in the calm place within his mind. There was only the mission.

His eyes snapped open. And the pyroblast erupted from him like a cannon shot. Kakazaria looked amused for a brief moment, thinking he had targeted her.

She shrieked in surprise when the blast veered for the control assembly. The demoness flung out a hand to conjure a shield, but fiery boulder tore through it. Nevertheless, shield had enough power to knock the pyroblast slightly off course. It blew through one end of the fel machinery, tearing it apart in a blaze of fire and scrap.

“Now that was not wise, little pets,” Kakazaria seethed as she reinforced the shields surrounding the control systems. A fierce red dome now encased the demon technology. “Gan’rag! Mo’arg! Repair the damage!”

Several of the larger engineer demons came scuttling forward through the shield. All Dayshaun could see was pale skin and metal claws through the red glow as they swarmed over the control systems.

Dayshaun unleashed a flurry of firebolts at the shield. Laurena summoned her shadowfiend. Kakazaria growled as she reached behind her back and grasped her terrible blades.

The shadowfiend leapt the demoness as Dayshaun continued to batter the shield with a combination of fire and arcane spells, but the shield was strong. The engineers cackled in glee at the sparks exploding from it as they worked to repair the damage.

Kakazaria roared as one of her blades pierced the flailing body of the shadowfiend. With a mighty swing, she flung the dead thing across the room. It vanished in a puff of shadow.

“I have served Sargaras for millennia,” she murmured as she approached them. Laurena was blasting her with all of the powers at her disposal, but the demoness brushed the attacks aside as if they were gnats. “I have seen countless worlds burn into glass. Yours will be no different.”

Dayshaun turned his attention to the demoness. A flash of ice tried to grasp her feet, but she broke through it effortlessly.

“Your kind is wonderfully savage. There is so much potential in the many races of this world. The orcs served, but were lost. Even the elves were worthy of the gift. Think of how grand the humans would be among the ranks of the Legion.”

Her footsteps were unceasing and unwavering, like a force of nature.

“I see no need to cast the entire world into flame. There are always those worthy from world to world.”

Her voice seemed to echo in his head, like a whisper in his mind, tugging at his thoughts. Despair threatened to drag him to his knees. Fear and horror washed over him. But something made him hold on. Maybe it was the fierce words of Laurena as she muttered her shadow spells. Perhaps it was the faint bellow of Grayson in the echoing distance of the barrow den. Maybe it was subtle warmth of the amulet around his neck.

“A great many people will die today. You need not be one of them.”

“You’re right.” He spread his arms and spoke the arcane word of power.

A ripple washed over him as he felt the very fabric of realty twist. His vision fragmented before a flash of light blinded him.

Then, as one, four firebolts exploded from the hands of four Dayshauns.

Kakazaria had easily brushed off the assaults of Laurena and Dayshaun. However, the addition of three copies of the archmage were too much to handle. She recoiled underneath the onslaught of fire as it began to eat through the shield she’d conjured around herself. The demoness staggered backwards with a howl of frustration, blinded by the flames burning up the world around her. The control shield flickered and faded.

With the demoness distracted by his mirror images, he once more funneled his power into a furious pyroblast and sent it screaming through the air at the control system for the explosives.

This time, it struck true.

The explosion sent shockwaves through the room as screaming demons went flying, their mangled bodies aflame. Kakazaria howled in impotent fury as she watched the entire system go up in an enormous plume of smoke. The few demons that remained panicked and scrambled out of the room.

This time, she offered no comment. Instead, a horrific grin spread across her face as her body began to swell. Dayshaun staggered backwards as the mirror images faded. He gaped at the creature as it doubled it height, then tripled. Her arms split as she grew a second pair out of her armor, another pair of blades appearing instantly.

“Do you now realize who you taunt, mortals?” she hissed. “I am no mere demon. I am one of the chosen of Sargaras himself. And you shall feel my wrath!”

The blades burned as she reached a height of nearly thirty feet. Laurena looked at Dayshaun in horror. Another pair of terrible arms sprouted from the creature.

Two blades speared toward each of them. Laurena screamed as she tried to conjure a shield. Dayshaun leapt at her, trying to block the blow.

And the blades stopped with a fierce clang of metal and a distinctive male grunt.

“I apologize for the late arrival,” Grayson coughed as he shoved off the swords. His blessed shield blazed like a sun in the dark depths of the cavern. “There was quite a demonic infestation here.”

“Grayson look out!” Dayshaun called.

With unnatural swiftness, Grayson dodged the sword blow that would have decapitated him. A red and gold fire burned around him as he roared in challenge, turning to face the demon.

“Come demon, face a paladin of the Light!”

Despite the gashes, dents and scorch marks in his armor, Grayson showed no hesitation as he launched himself at the demon.

“As one!” he roared as he leapt forward and struck her savagely on the leg.

The demon howled as Dayshaun and Laurena renewed their assault, peppering the demoness with blasts of fire and shadow. Grayson never stopped moving, but struck again and again. In a matter of moments, the demon was bleeding profusely from dozens of savage wounds. The combined might of Grayson, Laurena and Dayshaun was whittling away her strength. Her attacks became increasingly desperate as the sheer determination of her assailants enraged her.

As Grayson leapt forward to strike at one of her arms, suddenly Kakazaria anticipated him and brought her sword crashing down upon his helm. The paladin groaned in agony and staggered backwards. With a savage swing, she brought up the blade to slice him open. There was a flash of light as the unmistakable shimmer of a divine intervention spell burst into existence around him.

But it wasn’t quite enough. The blade slipped through the shield just far enough to rip across his face, sending his golden helmet spiraling into the darkness. Grayson roared in pain as blood exploded from the left side of his face.

“I have had enough of this distraction. It is time to reveal to you the true scope of what you face!” The demoness stretched out one of her free hands to the ruined pile of fel machinery. There was a burst of green light.

And despite the destroyed control systems, the wires leading to the explosives burned with unholy power.

“No!” Dayshaun screamed.

Kakazaria howled in mirth as she stomped her foot, sending a massive shockwave of air and dust backwards. Dayshaun and Laurena were only staggered, but Grayson’s proximity sent him flying across the room, where he crashed into one of the far walls with a resounding bang.

He slumped to the ground.

“Laurena! Revive him!”

The demoness laughed in delight as Laurena charged through the smoke and dust to Grayson’s side. Dayshaun once again renewed his assault, focusing on freezing the demoness with his frostbolts.

She staggered as one of them slammed into her damaged right leg, then toppled to her knees just as the first explosives ripped apart one of the dome’s braces.

Dayshaun watched in horror as the ceiling began to buckle and crumble underneath its own weight. Boulders the size of farmhouses came crashing to the ground.

He could hear only the mad laughter of Kakazaria over the din.

Dayshaun unleashed yet another volley of frostbolts. The constant attacks built upon her lower body as she began to solidify into ice and freeze to the ground.

When he was satisfied she was immobilized, he ran over to the other two. Grayson was breathing but the left side of his face was a mess. The blade had destroyed his right eye.

“He’s alive! But barely! We need to get out of here!” Laurena called. “You need to open a portal!”

“I will not let this mountain fall!” Dayshaun bellowed.

“There’s nothing you can do!” Tears streamed down Laurena’s cheeks as she cradled the paladin’s bleeding head in her lap. “Maybe they’ve fallen back to the night elf fortress!”

“We can’t know that!”

A sound of cracking ice split the air behind them. Dayshaun whirled to see Kakazaria chopping at the ice pinning her to the ground.

“You do not have the power to stop this!” Laurena shouted.

Secondary explosions rumbled through the mountain as another batch of bombs erupted into flame.

“No…but she does.” Dayshaun’s voice was a whisper as he squared his shoulders and faced the demoness.

“We can still escape!”

“Not all of us.”

The archmage reached into his robes and withdrew a portal rune. He focused then flung it to the side and a shimmering portal showing the half-built tower of Theramore burst into existence.

“Go.”

An enormous slab of rock crashed to the ground, obliterating the bier in the center of the cavern. The sphere of moonlight spun away, sending wild streaks of light and shadow across the barrow den.

“Don’t do this Dayshaun! Don’t leave me!”

He turned and smiled at her. A wash of memories flooded him.

A whispered kiss in the great library of the Violet Citadel. The awkward comments later. The terror as they fought the undead in the streets of Dalaran. Seeing the ashes of the great city and her weeping in his arms. The night beneath the stars when they had found each other. Dawn breaking and her handing him a small amulet of gold and blue. Aboard the caravan when she had first said the words.

Kakazaria roared as she broke free from the ice and climbed to her feet.

Archmage Dayshaun’s eyes stung as he looked into Laurena’s face. “I love you.”

He turned and rushed toward the demoness.

Kakazaria let out a fierce cry as a blaze of fel magic infused her body. She swelled again and smoldered with hideous green fire. The flame atop her head erupted into a volcano of death. The blades burned with demonic energy. Her howl pierced his ears.

Dayshaun glanced behind him to see Laurena dragging Grayson toward the portal. Then he turned and focused upon the demoness.

And spoke the word he had learned from Antonidas himself.

The spell steal cast was perfect. Kakazaria looked shocked at the sudden reversal as her summoned powers flowed into Dayshaun. The archmage felt his mind burst with the knowledge and power of the demoness. Fel fire swirled around him as the fury of the spell threatened to consume his soul.

He flung his hand out and he spat a demonic spell. The thick ribbon of blue fire coiled through the air and pierced Kakazaria’s chest. She howled in agony as he began to drain the very magic from her body.

“You cannot do this!” she bellowed.

He lifted his other hand to the sky. His mind searched through the stolen knowledge to find anything that would stop the destruction of the barrow den. The earth shook and rumbled as yet another bundle of explosives tore holes in the cavern. He could hear the dome begin to give way.

In the mind of Kakazaria were the powers she had ripped from a thousand souls. In a matter of seconds, he found the one he sought.

The demoness instantly realized what he was going to do. She tried to charge forward, but the force of Dayshaun’s stolen power was implacable. The archmage drained the life from the demoness as the demonic empowerment continued to rush through him.

While he spoke the ancient shamanistic spell, his fist clenched as a ball of purple energy trembled around it. With a great shout, he threw his fist into the air and released the power.

A blaze of blinding violet energy swept from Dayshaun like a hurricane.

Reality shifted around him in an instant.

The rock solidified in the instant of collapse, the spell granting it the same strength as pure titanium. The power of the shockwave instantly ignited the remaining explosives, but they did nothing against the hardened earth.

The ominous rumbling of the barrow den ceased save for a few pitiful quivers.

He turned to glance at Laurena, who was staring at him in utter astonishment. With Grayson was nowhere to be seen. Then horror crossed her face and she shouted his name in warning.

A surge of pain dropped him to his knees as his outstretched hand burned with agony even as he continued to drain the demoness.

“You think you have found victory?” Kakazaria screamed even though the maddening pain. “If you seek my power, then drink your fill!”

“Dayshaun!” Laurena screamed.

A blaze of molten fire burned its way from Kakazaria’s chest through the tendrils of power. Dayshaun couldn’t stop the spell. He couldn’t disengage.

“GO!” he roared. He flung out his hand and cast a single blast of arcane energy at Laurena.

She was still screaming his name when she vanished through the portal.

The full force of the demoness’s soul slammed into Dayshaun.

Beyond all the madness swirling within his mind, he heard the thump of Kakazaria’s body falling to the ground as a lifeless husk. A thousand tortured voices, souls of the wretched victims of the demoness, shrieked inside his head. Kakazaria’s haughty laugh overrode them all.

He forced his legs to move toward the portal, which flickered with every passing second. He knew the paladins and priests of Theramore could exorcise this monster, but he had to get there first.

Random bursts of arcane sparks flared from his arms, coupled with tendrils of fel flame stretching over his legs. Each step was a nightmare as Kakazaria unleashed a ceaseless assault on every memory and thought in his head.

He was at the portal. He could see the panicked face of Laurena on the other side.

His hands twitched. A lash of blood red power burst from his chest, tearing into the portal, shifting it into something dark and sinister. It pulsed with blinding quickness as a dozen different places appeared before him. Theramore flashed by again.

“You are mine, mage, now and forever.” The voice was a terrible mixture of the demoness’s and his own as she devoured his mind. “Your soul will lament in unending fire as I consume…”

His hand reached up around his neck and he touched the amulet. An heirloom of the High Priestesses of Lordaeron. A token of a promise made in the middle of a war when two people refused to bow to the terror consuming the world.

His fist tightened around it and Dayshaun thought of Laurena. Above all the pain, terror and chaos infecting his mind, he could see her clearly.

A warm glow spread through his hand as the portal became a maelstrom.

And he stepped through.

– – –

The moon washed over the half-built outline of Theramore as Laurena sat on the small hillock. She could hear the cries of the animals and insects of the marsh beyond the fortified wall behind her as she stared at the cranes surrounding the incomplete Tower of Theramore. She could almost see the city built up and thriving in her mind’s eye.

“Mind if I sit down?”

Laurena jerked and glanced upward. Lady Proudmoore was standing there, leaning on her staff. The priestess moved to stand, but Jania waved her down. Her face was worn as she sat cross-legged beside Laurena.

“How’s Grayson?”

Laurena’s eyes returned to the tower as her breath caught in her throat.

“He’s sleeping now. The doctors said he’s lost the eye, but he will be well enough to travel in a few weeks. He’s talking of heading home to Stormwind.”

“And what of you?”

A faint stinging in her left eye made the priestess blink.

“I…I don’t know. Since Dalaran, all I’ve focused on is surviving.”

“That’s not true,” Jania commented as she fiddled with a blade of grass.

A faint blush crossed Laurena’s cheeks. The stinging in her eyes was getting stronger.

“Still no sign of him?” she whispered.

Jania shook her head. “We found nothing of him in the cavern.”

The grass beneath Laurena sparkled in the moonlight. She ignored the rivulets on her cheeks.

“His sacrifice is the only reason we are sitting here,” Jania murmured.

“Doesn’t make it any easier.”

“I know.”

There was a tone of familiar sadness in Jania’s voice.

“I should—“ Jania paused. She stared at the ground before them, her mouth open in surprise.

A small envelope lay on the ground with Laurena’s name in a ragged yet familiar scrawl. There was a fading purple glow around it. A few mystical sparks fluttered through the air.

With trembling hands, Laurena opened the letter, Jania watching over her shoulder.

Laurena,

I don’t have much time. I’m using what little is left of my powers to make sure you get this. I don’t know where I am, but I promise to make it back to you.

I love you.

Dayshaun

As the tears flowed freely from her eyes, Jania squeezed her shoulder, rose and slowly walked away. A weak smile crossed the priestess’s lips.

She stared back up at the stars and whispered three words into the night, hoping somehow, they would make it back to him.

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