Captured by the unnamed warlock who controlled the undead gnolls at Beren's Peril, Varlus and Arcanna were forced to hear his epiphany: he was not just some mad sorcerer bent on revenge or conquering the world; rather, he served "a higher purpose" and claimed to work for an unknown force threatening to destroy Azeroth. He even went so far as to call the Burning Legion "our lapdog". Unnerved by this information, Varlus stood by as Arcanna freed herself from her magical bonds by some unknown mean, and then proceeded to stab and kill the warlock with his own dagger. Now both of them prepare to escape the evil den...
A PALADIN'S SOJOURNEdit
Chapter Three: Braving The PerilEdit
Beren’s Peril extended as far as the eyes could see. Crevices, chasms, pitfalls, stalagmites and their counterparts… And on top of that, the gnolls and other undead horrors patrolled the endless, darkened corridors. Unlike the hellish prison we were just in, the rest of the caverns were not tainted by the burning crimson of death, rather a (heavenly looking, as far as I was concerned) strange mix of blue and green. The corridors were quite wide and fairly rough shaped, with lots of ramps and rocks that gave Arcanna quite the advantage thanks to her agility. I inspected my dagger: it wasn’t a bad blade by any means, but I was really untrained with short weapons. Since Arcanna was a huntress, I offered the short blade to her, but she vehemently refused, flapping her head side to side vigorously.
“Arcanna, listen to me, I’m no good with daggers!” I pleaded.
“No. I can fight barehanded quite skillfully. You need not worry about me” she denied with a cute smile. How could I not worry about her, where I nearly died trying to rescue her? Unacceptable.
“I can fight barehanded as well, and you’ll make much better use of it than me” I insisted.
“I will feel much less worried if you have it, Varlus. Please.”
I was taken by surprise by the huntress’ declaration. Her eyes, her faint smile and overall face expression took my mind away of all doubts, eradicating my apprehensions instantly and leaving me with the purest truth: she was truthfully, genuinely worried about my integrity and wellbeing. I found myself with no visible way of continuing the discussion, since my brain was jammed.
“Varlus, you look lost” said Arcanna, and she was right.
I was at a loss of words save for that simple yet meaningful letter, gazing almost stupidly to the huntress’ eyes. Why did she worry about me? As far as I knew (or, apparently, thought I knew), night elves were not known for being very social or trusting someone of a different race quickly. They were often defined, accurately enough, as isolationists, minding their own business and almost never caring much for the others’. One needs only remember how much time and effort (not to mention lives) it took Jaina Proudmoore (leader of the human “kingdom” of sorts of Theramore and Heroine of the Third War, just in case someone clueless enough reads this journal) to gain Tyrande Whisperwind (see Jaina’s description, switch “human kingdom of Theramore” for “leader of the Sentinel faction of Night Elves and current regent of Darnassus, the night elf capital” and add “Priestess of the Moon”) and all of the night elves’ trust. So what was Arcanna’s case? She had no reason to trust and confide in a simple human paladin, no matter the sacrifices I made, which weren’t many. And what if I’d lied to her, and I wasn’t a paladin but a petty thief or a vicious murderer or worse? I imagine she would’ve noticed, but then again, what if she hadn’t?
“Varlus?” called Arcanna from what seemed a very faraway place, no longer smiling.
Perhaps it was love? The mere thought of it being true was preposterous, yet the feeling was there, nagging me constantly. But what exactly was that feeling? I had to wonder: was it only a deduction and the eagerness of knowing if it was correct or not, or rather something that had never happened before? Could it be that it was a feeling of desire, a wish for it to either be or become true? At that moment, I couldn’t say. I was never loved in my life; I had my share of encounters with the opposite sex, true, but they were only that: encounters, run-ins, one night stands. None of them were in love with me, even though they did say it sometimes; nor did I love them, and neither I said so. The fact a woman, and a night elf at that, was in love with me filled me with a kind of happiness and passion like I had never known, but also a despairing sense of fear and dread. Or rather, denial? My mind was full of doubts.
“Varlus, behind you!” bellowed Arcanna. I was shaken out of my soul-searching trance and turned around to see a fairly sharp bladed object flying directly towards my face. I could have dodged it easily, but behind me Arcanna was standing ready to rush into attack, and she would’ve taken the full hit. I braced myself for the unavoidable sting I would soon be feeling, but before I did I felt Arcanna’s hand fiercely pushing me to my right.
“Leave it to me. Watch my back, Varlus” she calmly ordered as I stumbled to her side and she dropped into a fighting stance. I recovered rapidly and was about to push her out of the blade’s way when she gave a clear demonstration of her skills.
Left leg to the front, Arcanna waited for the perfect time to dodge. As the blade came closer to her she sidestepped to the right and lunged forward, positioning her hands above and below the blade, as if accompanying its flight. Once her grip was secure, she twisted her hands and the blade rolled up in midair. Fanciful and amazing move, but she left herself exposed to a second undead gnoll that was already aiming its crossbow towards her. We both noticed at the same time, and I decided it was my turn to act: ignoring Arcanna’s plea to stay back, I ran in front of her and tried to block the incoming projectiles with my tiny blade; two of them were sent to the ground and wall respectively and one hit me in the shoulder. I screamed in pain; it had hit a nerve for sure since it hurt like a hot brazier, and it was even more painful to tear off. Behind me, a sudden gust of wind told me Arcanna had taken grasp of the sword and was ready to retaliate.
“Kneel!” she ordered with a firmer voice. As I did so, I felt another rush of air above me; I looked up and saw the huntress had charged at the crossbow-wielding gnoll, but she wasn’t running or jumping; unbelievably enough, she was flying to her enemy, gliding through the air with majestic grace, almost like a ghost, a rictus of anger and battle-readiness across her face, her hair drawing countless strings of silvery, absolute beauty through the air. I was left to admire Arcanna’s flight breathlessly when I spotted a third gnoll armed with a morning star preparing to attack Arcanna in midflight. I ran towards him, dagger in hand, and leaped to stab the weapon in its thick, rotten skull, only it wasn’t there anymore, my weapon sinking into the exposed insides of the now dead (again) gnoll’s neck. While landing back on the ground I saw a glimpse of Arcanna’s face smiling at me; she had spun in midair gracefully, decapitating the gnoll in the process. I got up and looked around: it seemed as if time had stopped, for the gnoll the huntress had originally targeted was still standing in the same spot it was moments ago. Undead gnolls were kind of dumb, but not that dumb as to stand still while a flying night elf huntress armed with a blade was flying towards them with murderous intentions. Then I thought maybe she used some kind of magic to root the foul creature in place. Maybe her magic was making everything slower than it actually was and she was in fact moving at normal speed, or maybe she was making herself faster than her surroundings; at that time and place I could believe anything.
Arcanna had finally reached her target. Helplessly, the gnoll timidly raised his half bony, half rotten hands in a pathetic attempt to defend himself against the silvery-haired herald of fury and death rushing to him. Meanwhile, the remaining gnoll sat quietly across the chasm in the room, preparing a bone made bow to attack us from distance. Unable to hit him with my dagger and lacking the huntress’ powers of flight and/or levitation, I did the only thing I could: smite him with an exorcising spell. It drained my energies considerably but seemed to do the trick, since the creature staggered back howling painfully, angry red burns all over him. Arcanna landed back on her feet over the other gnoll’s carcass, and for a moment there she seemed tired, but she performed yet another amazing feat: she threw the blade with her left hand towards the burned gnoll, and it flew in a beautiful arc towards its head, chopping it off with a large gush of blackened blood. Then the blade unexplainably continued its circling path, flying back in another arc (that I had to dogde) towards the huntress’ hand. She seized the now ranged weapon and smiled again, the danger momentarily over.
“Are you okay?” she asked, noticing the bolt wound on my shoulder, her smile fading instantly. But the wound was the least of my worries.
“I don’t mean to sound rude here, Arcanna,” I began, “but exactly what are your skills? I mean, I might be from Gilneas and not know a whole lot of the outside world, but I do know hunters do not possess flight or telekinesis skills…” I found it hard to explain in words what I had just seen. “The way you flew across the room, that boomerang sword trick… it was amazing, fantastic, completely stunning.”
“You embarrass me greatly, Varlus” she said weakly, and accentuated her feeling by blushing violently and staring at the floor. She looked undeniably lovely. “I only do what I can.”
“Never seen anything like it, and I’ve seen my fair share of battles. It seems your silvery hair is not your only unique trait, Arcanna.” I couldn’t help it: I smiled. She gazed at me for a second, then away, then back again into my eyes. She was deeply embarrassed. I would’ve mentioned she looked like a heavenly angel when she performed her flight, but I did not want to fluster her further. An eerie silence fell upon us, the kind of silence created for lovers to embrace in a lovely and passionate kiss. Don’t get any ideas, for this was obviously not the case. Rather, my mind seized the moment to drift away from Arcanna and back into our situation and current objective: escaping the Peril. The skirmish surely upstirred the various gnoll nests in the caverns, so we were most certainly in for a bloody fight to the exit. Arcanna gave me the sword: it was a nice blade, certainly honoring the gnolls’ excellent blacksmithing skills even in undeath, though it was a little rusty, probably from lack of use, or maybe excessive use. I gave Arcanna the dagger, which she took reluctantly, and prepared to brave the rest of the caverns. There were two choices from where we were: to the right a winding path had the certain look of carrying us into the deepest recesses of the Peril, which was not our intention: rather, we picked the central path, sloping upwards towards the surface.
Now properly armed, I began to be of more help to the huntress: my abilities and skills were a bit rusty, but I still managed to hold my own against the seemingly unstoppable wave of gnolls, skeletons, necromancers and the like that began to storm the ramp we were on. Arcanna continued to amaze me: if she was a total killing machine barehanded, she was a ravaging avatar of destruction if armed: the dagger seemed to blend in perfectly with her hand as she slaughtered (again) the hordes of darkness attacking us. I had to force my eyes away from the wonderful night elf and focused on the enemies engaging me. We also became a somewhat good team: Arcanna glided through the enemy formations sinking her dagger again and again on different creatures while I slashed away at anything that looked rotten, bony or different from a night elf female for that matter. After a good thirty minutes or so of intense fighting my body began to show signs of fatigue, but the huntress raged on and on, her death toll probably rating in the thousands.
“I’m feeling tired, Arcanna!” I shouted while stabbing a necromancer through the chest. Arcanna crashed two skeletons against the wall with a mighty kick, shattering them to dust, then pointed her free hand towards a group of gnolls. The creatures were violently slammed into a nearby rock, and their bones breaking under their putrid skin were clearly audible.
“Stay with me, Varlus! We’re almost at the top!” she answered, rushing towards a fresh wave of ghouls coming down the ramp. Stay with me… it sounded so kind. I put that thought out of my mind and leaped over her into the middle of the ghoul pack, spinning around and thrashing every single ghoul in sight. I was showered in black blood. Arcanna was airborne again by the time I stopped, and landed a perverse kick into a necromancer’s mouth, removing the head completely from the rest of the body. And then it happened: a horrendous creature, looking like remains from other monsters stitched together and emanating an extremely disgusting odor came stumbling down the ramp.
“Holy—“ I began to curse.
“It’s an abomination!” screamed Arcanna, fear noticeable in her voice. “Goddess be praised, how are we supposed to take it down?”
She had a point: the so called “abomination” was massive, easily three or four times our size. It wielded two gigantic cleavers, which he shook from side to side almost out of control, hurting itself. Its mouth opened…
“Must… feed!” it grumbled, in a voice of death.
I desperately looked for a viable weakness on the creature. Maybe its wide open belly… but it was far too big and clear a target to be able to hit it without opening ourselves to be sliced in half by one of those cleavers. Speaking of them, the creature slammed the right one into the wall making the corridor shake violently, small rocks and lots of dirt showering us. Both Arcanna and I coughed and gasped desperately for fresh air. The situation was clearly unfavorable, and then my mind clicked again: its head.
“I’m gonna need your help, Arcanna” I breathed over the dust.
“Whatever you say, I will do, Varlus” said the huntress, visibly scared for the first time.
“I need you to throw me towards its head. That’s its weak spot… I think.”
Arcanna opened her eyes wide as we dodged a boulder sent our way. It was getting close, time was running out, and I could clearly see she was going to argue over the plan. Surely enough, she shouted “Varlus, are you insane?! You want to give yourself so easily to Death’s embrace?”
“No time to argue over it!” I cartwheeled towards the huntress to dodge another rock. “It’s our only chance!”
“No! It cannot be!”
I grasped Arcanna and jumped away from a falling piece of ceiling.
“Do you trust me?” I asked.
“As I do the Goddess, but—“
“Arcanna” I repeated calmly, “do you trust me?”
She was silent for a moment, and my eyes dived into the blue pools of divinity that made hers. She swallowed hard, and nodded.
“Then let’s do this.” I positioned myself in front of the huntress, shattering an incoming boulder with my sword. “Once I’m on top of this sucker, do not, I repeat, do not intervene in the battle. Keep our flanks clear from other monsters, but do not attack the abomination. I’ll need to keep its attention on me if I want the plan to work.”
“What is your plan?” said Arcanna behind me.
“The creature’s clumsy and dumb. If I play my cards correctly, it will destroy itself in the attempt of killing me. See how it hits itself with those cleavers every time it swings them? If I remain fast enough, I will force it to cleave off its own extremities. I don’t think it will endure much of that before going down.”
“Then let me do it!” protested Arcanna, this time validly.
“No. You’ve already exposed yourself enough. Time for me to face the Peril.”
“Arcanna, we’re running out of time!” We dodged more boulders coming at us: the creature was now dangerously close. “I don’t want you to expose yourself any more than you already have. I have to do this. It must be me. I haven’t done anything worthy up until this point. Trust me. That’s all I ask.”
Arcanna was silent. I thought I heard a sob behind me. Was she really… crying? I did not turn around: it would have been unbearable. I felt her soft hand on my shoulder. It burned, since it grasped my injured one, but I couldn’t care less.
“I trust you, Varlus. And I thank you for—“
Time was up: the abomination raised its right cleaver. I casted the exorcism spell at it, which did feasible damage but sent it back a little.
“Now! Do it!” I ordered. I felt the rush of wind behind me, and then I was catapulted towards the monstrosity, still stunned by my spell. Now I felt like Arcanna: darting forward with my sword pointing directly to my enemy. I raised my knees to increase aerodynamics, and it worked, since I landed on its left shoulder. Before it could react, I sank my blade on its left cheek: it roared strongly and thrashed around trying to find the culprit of his pain, and I had to grasp my sword tightly to avoid falling off. I could hear sounds of battle below me: Arcanna must have re-engaged the undead foes. After the monster stopped thrashing, I removed my blade from it and waited. It turned its head to me.
“Hit me now!” I taunted, and stabbed it in its nose. It roared again, and its breath nearly knocked me off it. This was not my intention: I wanted it to try and cut me down. I tore the sword away and ran up his left arm, hoping it was smart enough to try and swipe the cleaver at me. It did: I saw the blade raise, point at me, and start coming down.
Arcanna shouted for me, and I forced myself to ignore it, else I was dead; the cleaver came down, and a split second before it was about to hit me I leaped aside, creating the effect I intended: it ran through the whole arm horribly, and the amputated extremity fell towards the ground crushing countless undead in its wake. The abomination gave the loudest of roars and spun around itself in massive pain. By no means was it finished: it now gazed upon me with bloodshot eyes, trying to figure out how a mere human was able to hurt it so much. I slashed rapidly at its shoulder to taunt it even more, and I found out it wasn’t a good idea, since it tried to eat me. I leapt away, however, and it ended up chewing its own shoulder. Then a massive gash of black blood hit me while I was midair and knocked me off it; my only chance was to stab the rocky wall to avoid plummeting down to the ground. I took a moment to check on Arcanna as the creature screamed in pain: she was faring well. Refocusing on my enemy, I saw it was now trying to put an end to my life as quick as possible, perhaps finally realizing the wounds were too severe. I prepared to jump back on it, but then I realized I had sank my blade too deep on the rock: I couldn’t break it off the wall. I watched in horror how the remaining cleaver rose up again, grimly realizing I was a sitting duck. Then I had another clever idea. The abomination hit the space I was occupying in the wall, cracking the rock, but I had already jumped away from the attack, and the blade got freed from the cracking rock. I landed on the cleaver, leaping forwards and away from that lethal position, and stabbed the abomination deeply in one of its eyes. I had to look away as the huge amount of blood splurting out of its eye drenched me in darkness; I could barely hold on. But then I felt what I was eager to feel: falling forwards, falling, falling, the creature screaming its probable last sounds, then a very loud crash, and then, silence.
Rather than hearing, I felt her: her arms pulled me away from the sticky goo that oozed out of the dead creature’s eye and closed around me. I could feel Arcanna’s head on my chest, and I was sure she could hear my heartbeat.
“So worried…” she whispered in a crying sob.
“Told you I would be fine” I said, caressing her hair softly, which was a crime, since I spoiled its beauty with my blackened hands. She looked up to my face, and I looked down on hers, and our eyes met and screamed what words could not express due to lack of confidence and avoidance of pain, of sorrow, of denial.
The moment was broken again, for my senses tingled danger again: I separated from the huntress and gazed around… it could not be.
“Paladin, huntress… lay down your weapons. You may have brought down my abomination, but this is a battle you simply cannot win.”
The voice was female. All around us skeleton archers and mages were aiming at us, ready to lay waste to our lives as soon as the order was given. I looked at Arcanna: she seemed to be thinking the same I was. Reluctantly, I dropped my sword and raised my hands as Arcanna threw down her dagger. We were too tired, too depressed to keep fighting. How could our luck be so rotten? Captured again… but by whom? A dark figure stepped forward from between the ranks of skeletons and into our circle. It was… her.
“You?” asked Arcanna, aghast.
“Where is the warlock?” replied Sylvanas Windrunner, throwing back her hood.