Bloodwen: Part XVIII - Finale
Srymmner padded along, golden eye piercing the darkness wherever he looked. The shadows hissed and skittered away from the pair, delving further into the Citadel to either warn their master or escape their advance. Sutera heard the sounds of battle behind her and thought to rush back to Teake, yet knew his words rung true: the Lich King would use their distraction to his advantage, striking them down. She was forced to shove Teake’s fate to the back of her mind, gripping tight her sword and setting her jaw as she departed.
The darkness seemed impenetrable. Despite the blue nimbus that floated through this level it was all she could do to see one foot in front of the other. She heard the Scourge moving around her, climbing the walls and shuffling through the corridors. Flapping wings echoed to her ears, no doubt from his watching guardians.
All at once the gloom lifted, and a chamber opened before her. In its center was a frozen throne, illuminated with a shaft of light from somewhere above. Numerous alcoves dotted this room, stretching as high as she could see, and geists crawled from one opening to the next, crying out at her intrusion. Now she could see the gargoyles as they flapped overhead, shrieking a warning to those below.
Falais waited up the flight of stairs, a group of Death Knights with him. It took her a moment, but she recognized the tabards of the Horde and Alliance, barely fastened to their bloodied chests. He smiled at the horror the revelation brought. Here was the kind man that had welcomed them into their town. There was the priestess that prepared their meals for them. A dwarf still carried the flask of rum he had been so glad to share with the two. The souls of the paladins were resigned to imprisonment within their rotting bodies, unable to call upon the Light to free them from their prisons of flesh. At his nod they advanced, the former defenders of Blight’s Shadow obeying the will of the one that had destroyed them.
Sutera let them come, keeping the tip of her sword pointed toward the floor. Srymmner growled, thinking she did not understand the threat. She offered him a smile. Though it did nothing to put the cat at ease, he slunk closer to her, pressed so tight against her leg that he could have pushed her over.
It was as if an curtain of magic whispered between them. One minute they were Death Knights, runic weapons glowing as diseases danced across their fingertips. They were ready to corrupt her, to infect her, to destroy the mortal shell and convert her to their cause. After moving through that curtain, however, they milled about, eyes wide with wonder at the restoration of their bodies. Like the Deathcharger before them, the dark steed transformed into something holy and pure, they were now mortal, whole and complete.
She moved past them.
“Run,” she said.
They did nothing, watching as she mounted the steps. Horde or Alliance, it mattered not, for each was torn between fleeing this dreadful place or coming to the aid of their savior. Before they could decide either way, tendrils of cold weaved their way in front of them. Their breath escaped their lips in jets of frost. Most retreated, overcome with terror.
A dwarf, hardheaded as ever, shouldered his hammer and pressed forward. He would not bow to this new danger. The paladin only wanted to stand by her side.
The wall of ice enveloped him as it sealed the corridor shut.
The defenders of Blight’s Shadow fled. Some would make it from the Citadel alive, struggling through caverns and corridors after finding the main entry sealed. They would surface in various parts of Icecrown and the Dragonblight, helping one another through the blizzards and undead dangers on their way back to their town. Once there, they would uncover the terrible truth.
Not a shred of Blight’s Shadow remained. Not a single dock piling. Not a single timber for the huts. Not a single piece of fabric from the tents or flags. Falais had it all destroyed, the sheet of ice it rested on cracking and tumbling into the Sea. A few slabs from the Path of the Titans followed suit. The union of the Horde and Alliance was over, they would find. Though there remained a few battles left they would enter shoulder-to-shoulder, those were few and far between. When next they met on the battlefield, they would find themselves at each other’s throats.
The floor crumbled behind Sutera. Rotting fingers clawed upwards through the ice, ghouls wrenching themselves free from their graves. A dozen, maybe more, all cackling with their limbs swinging as they ran. So fixated was she on Falais that Srymmner had to give her a nip to get her attention.
Then they were all around.
Fire crackled from Sutera’s hands and along her blade. It even played along Srymmner’s claws as he lashed out. Ghoul after ghoul fell, the holy energies burning their bodies. When one managed to dodge the sweep of her blade she would reach out, grasping its skull in her hand, to have the creature shriek as its soul was torn asunder.
She left Srymmner to the task of destroying them as she gained the top of the stairs. Falais waited near the throne and it was only then she saw the bodies scattered around it. It was decorated with rivulets of frozen blood. She knew then, with the throne so close to the entry, that this could not be the Lich King’s true seat. It was a morsel left for overzealous thieves and would-be conquerors, a distraction to draw them away from the deep recesses of the Citadel. There was no telling what end awaited them when they took the throne. Some of their expressions showed expectation, as if they thought the power of the Lich King would leap into them and make them the king of the Scourge. Others wore masks of terror, horror, and betrayal.
Their blades met.
Though Falais’s weapons of choice were daggers and one-handed swords, he was well versed in all the tools of war. Even were he not, one of the hundred souls that now shared his body could lend him centuries of expertise. Sutera was no less a master. She met every thrust with a parry or dodge, even using the throne as cover when needed. His runeblade met with her fiery sword.
They fought as if they had memorized the dance. Neither scored a direct hit, but slices marred their skin. He tried to invade her body with his diseases, but the corruption rolled from her. Falais no longer heard his ghouls fighting, spying Srymmner as the cat paced around the combatants. Her guardian waited for the perfect opportunity to strike. He knew he was losing, her thrusts and advances moving him towards the corner.
When she thought she had the upper hand, she reached out and grasped his shoulder, sending the restorative magic into him.
He laughed, pushing her away. “I chose this, foolish woman,” he spat. “Your life-giving powers have no effect on me.”
Then she heard a yelp from behind. She gave a quick glance, Srymmner sprawled across the ground.
The Lich King stood over him.
It was all the opening Falais needed. He rushed forward, runeblade battering through her defenses. She was not caught totally unawares, however. Still, he sent his blade through a few dizzying attacks before whirling around her side. As he did so, he reached behind to his belt, drawing forth the fel-imbued dagger.
Sutera cried out as it plunged into her lower back.
She staggered away, ripping the dagger free. With it came a rush of blood. The fire crackled along her skin, sealing shut the wound, but the damage was done. Her skin was all at once waxen and pale. Her lips had taken on a greenish tinge and her golden eyes lost some of their luster.
Yet her strength was returning nonetheless.
Stand aside, Falais.
The blood elf did as he was bidden, watching the Lich King draw Frostmourne. Sutera measured his approach, readying her blade, but his strength was unexpected. Frostmourne slammed into her sword, numbing her arm. She held it with both hands as she blocked his next attack, but the effort was futile, each crash sending pinpricks through her limbs. A few more such blows and he swept his hand to the side, sending her flying through. She smacked against the wall, the contact with the ice leaving her knocked senseless.
That is all from the woman that betrayed me? he asked as he approached. From the one who was instrumental in freeing the Death Knights from my control at Light’s Hope? From the person whose actions led to the stealing of Acherus and cleansing of the Ashbringer?
Sutera gritted her teeth, trying to drive the fel magic from her. “Believe what you will,” she grimaced, refusing to validate his claims. Not all of them were correct but she could also not be certain what effects her actions at the Chapel had wrought.
I suspect whatever magic you and the dragon left beneath the Chapel served to weaken my hold over the Knights. You will find that no such tricks will work within this Citadel or against me.
“We shall see.”
Then she was on her feet, rushing at him with all the ferocity of a lioness defending her cubs. He backtracked, for her strength now rivaled his, the blood elf reaching within her to find some hidden reserves. The tip of the sword sparked, glowing brightly before she swept it towards him. Just as it had at Blight’s Shadow, a ball of holy fire burst from the tip, slamming into his chest. He grunted.
The blade grew brighter still, until any looking upon it might very well go blind.
The globe of fire shot from the blade. The Lich King raised Frostmourne just in time, the cursed artifact absorbing the magical assault. Still, the force of the attack lifted him from his feet, sending him crashing into the opposite wall.
He had seen enough. He suspected they might well battle throughout the eons with no clear victor, so evenly matched were they.
The geists waiting in the alcoves above answered his call. They bounded down, carrying in their grips fel-enchanted chains. Sutera saw them, sending ball after ball of fire into their ranks. Where one dropped, another would pick up, until they leapt around her. She whirled, trying to keep up with their chaotic movements, but it was futile. Their numbers seemed endless. The sword was jerked from her hand. It slid across the floor to the base of the throne as a manacle slapped into place. At once she felt the magic diminish. She lashed out, screaming in defiance, but this was answered with links wrapped around her ankles.
Their work was done. They scattered into the shadows, leaving her on her knees. Her arms and legs were bound, each length of chain attached to a solid ball of demonic steel.
Stay your hand, Falais, he said as he approached. The Lich King knelt, taking her chin in his hand. His eyes, hidden in the darkness beneath his helm, glowed a harsh blue. I doubt that you could kill her. I doubt that we should. The dragonflights sent her against me. What better revenge than to unleash their weapon upon them?
A chamber opened to their right, the slab of stone sliding upward. Falais disappeared for a moment, then emerged with a struggling, bound night elf. Sutera could not place him, but his bloodied robes informed her of his association with the Cenarion Circle. At once her thoughts drifted to Nighthaven, to an old druid Teake had talked with upon their arrival. She could not be certain, but believed this to be his mentor, Elder Sannra Leafrunner.
The old elf spat on Falais.
Elder Sannra. You will open a portal to the Emerald Dream.
The elf shook his head and laughed. “You are a fool, Lich King, for such a thing is impossible. We druids can cross over spiritually for a time, but what you ask is not within my power.”
You lie. The Lich King rose from Sutera, walking around the old druid. You are afraid your body will be ripped asunder from the magic. Fear not, for your body is no longer your own as I will join my magic with you.
Elder Sannra struggled as Falais pushed him to his knees. The Lich King took up Frostmourne, a thin sliver of the cursed blade detaching into his hand. Kneeling, he pressed this thin slice into the base of Sannra’s skull, causing the night elf to scream in agony.
Though the scream ended, his mouth and eyes remained wide open.
The Lich King severed his bonds, allowing his hands to drop to his side. He whispered in his ear and Sannra focused on the air near the throne. His body shook, breaking into convulsions as the magic flowed through him. The black magic of the Lich King aided him, worming its way through his brain.
A sudden crack appeared in the air, green energy flowing through it and snapping into the room. The aperture widened, another crack crossing the first. With a moan Sannra sensed the Dream, the portal exploding into being.
The Lich King said nothing as Sannra continued to shake. The magic running through his veins slowly destroyed him, his skin tearing from the exertion. The Death Knight threw Srymmner through the portal first, the cat barely able to offer a growl. Then he took Sutera by her throat, dragging her and her chains across the ice. She tried to fight, but the demonic energy sapped her abilities and strength. She grasped a length of chain, struggling to pull it forward enough to strike him.
Now she was brought to her feet before the portal. Through it she could see the darkness of the Nightmare, making a slow advance toward the entrance. Every blade of grass, every branch it touched withered and died. Rabbits and squirrels keeled over, their bodies contorting until they were unrecognizable. The creatures then attacked their own kind.
The Lich King shoved her.
Teake, sprinting through the halls above the chamber, did not stop as he made the alcove entrance. He launched himself from the edge with nary a sound, his form shimmering until he regained his ghostly bear body. Falais had no time to react as all five tons of fur and muscle struck him in the back, driving him into the ground. His armor bent, bones beneath breaking as Teake made contact. As the bear sprang from him, loping toward the Lich King, Falais managed to raise himself to one elbow, hurling all manner of diseases at him.
Teake hardly slowed, despite the savage assault on his system.
The Lich King paused. Though he thought it unlikely, the slightest chance existed that Teake might be able to free Sannra from his hold. The two druids might then search the Dream and pull Sutera from it before the Nightmare could corrupt her. He was unwilling to take such a chance.
Two steps took him to Sannra. He raised Frostmourne, slashing downward at the elf’s exposed neck.
Teake once again gave thanks for his metallic hands, the claws giving him the extra grip he needed as he changed direction. Charging forward, he sprang through the portal just as it snapped shut.
“I fear for them, Chronormu. I no longer sense them.”
“They are no longer within Azeroth, my Queen. There was no time that saved them from that fate.”
“And did she accomplish what we sent her to do?”
“The Lich King has not sensed it yet. Sutera’s attack caused the slightest crack in Frostmourne. It is not much, but hopefully it will be enough to aid those that follow.”
“What of the Cenarion Circle, Chronormu? What word did they send?”
“They attempted to contact Malfurion and Cenarius both. They did not report success, but such is the nature of communication with those in the Dream.”
“She is the most powerful we have allowed. She is blessed by all the dragonflights. If the Nightmare should corrupt her, I fear not only Azeroth will be lost, but the Dream as well.”
“Then let us hope, Alexstrasza, that Teake remembers the advice given him.”
Shyv watched them approach, his weapon laying just out of reach. It would do him little good, for Teake had smashed that as easily as he had his spine. All his troops were dead, their blood decorating the walls and floor. The escaping Horde and Alliance from Blight’s Shadow had not given him another look, faces pale as they fled.
The two Death Knights stood over him. Falais, thanks to the souls inhabiting him, had almost healed from Teake’s pounce. He looked upon Shyv with just the flicker of a smile, for he had outwitted and fooled the naga and their ilk within the Maelstrom, playing his role to perfection. Shyv could even see the curo, stolen from his master, planted in the hilt of the blood elf’s runeblade.
You will join us, Warlord Shyv, the thought crept through his brain. He tried to fight it, to will himself to die, but the Lich King now had hold of his soul. You and your men will return to the Maelstrom to expand my army.
Frostmourne’s tip touched his chest. As the undead magic coursed through him, perverting every aspect that was once mortal, he heard the Lich King’s orders to Falais.
You will enter into the world and seek those that betrayed me. Find all those Death Knights. If they do not heed your orders to rejoin, kill them. You will do this until such a time as the curo tells you of her return.
The Nightmare had not reached them yet.
Teake resumed his tauren form, retching as Falais’s diseases crashed through his body. Weakened, he was powerless to stop them, hardly able to lift a finger to heal himself. Srymmner lay to one side, the cat’s chest barely rising, while Sutera lay face first nearby. The elf did not move, the fel magic stealing the life from her.
The Nightmare crept closer. The grass along the edge of their clearing withered, crumbling to ash. Misshapen heads, perhaps from deer or some other mutated creature, poked from the shadows, wild eyes alighting on the trio. Darkness closed in, either of the Nightmare’s making or as a result of Falais’s diseases. In his mind ran the words of the raven atop Stonetalon and the bronze dragon’s warning within the Dragonblight. He knew of no one to scream to, no soul that might aid them. Still, using the last ounce of his strength, Teake sent the psychic plea across the whole of the Dream.
My brothers! Aid me!
He knew not how many times he yelled. The diseases overcame him. He pulled himself to Sutera, just able to throw himself over her. It would do little good, he knew, but it was the only thing left to him.
Just as the shadows swallowed them, he thought he saw a bright green glow. Eyes stared at him, a pair of enormous antlers seeming to scrape the sky. He closed his eyes as a large, branch-like hand reached down.