Chapter 1: Prologue
In which Gul'dan finds what he's looking for and sets his plot in motion.
Standard disclaimers here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Gul'dan surveyed the work below him from a high up within the cave. He watched as the red-skinned wyrmtongues clawed their way through earth and stone, torches burning with fel fire illuminating the demons' work. Occasionally, a succubus would crack her whip against the back of one of the diminutive demons and it would howl in pain as it dug faster.
He spent years digging through the ruins of kingdoms past for lost tomes and forgotten scrolls. Countless nights found him painstakingly putting together pieces of torn parchment. All the clues pointed to here, Deadwind Pass, the last home of Magus Medivah.
It's here. It has to be here, he thought to himself.
Though Karazhan loomed tall in the distance with its magic corrupting everything within a 50-mile radius, he could feel traces of the old power resting somewhere in the sprawling network of caves that laid deep under the ground in Deadwind Pass. The last three sites turned up empty and Gul'dan was ready to immolate the entirety of his demonic retinue if they came up empty a fourth time.
An excited gibbering mash of Demonic and Orcish followed a shout, catching Gul'dan's attention. His heart sped up and his fist clenched tightly about his staff. The hem of his dark robes fluttered about him as he hurried down from the ledge. As he drew closer to the site, the whispers of power he felt days earlier heightened to a roar. Demons parted in the wake of their master as the warlock approached. Two wrymtongues were still digging feverishly with their oversized claws, chucking clawfuls of dirt behind them.
The radiating glow of his red eyes intensified as he saw the smooth rim of a dark stone bowl sticking out from the ground. A glimmering blue light broke through the now loose soil around the bowl and Gul'dan knew.
"The forge of the guardian," he breathed, "is mine at last."
His laughter, dark and raucous, echoed through the chamber. He would sleep well tonight, dreaming of the power to finally overthrow the yoke of his masters.
Honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing. But here's hoping I'll be able to keep this up.
Chapter 2: Of Master and Servants
In which our heroine, Jaina Proudmoore, is given her task and summons her servant.
Holy Exposition Antonidas.
Jaina Proudmoore stood before the Director of the Kirin Tor's office, chewing on her lower lip in mild hesitation. As the director's apprentice, she could simply enter and leave whenever she so chose, within reason, but something stopped her this time. She felt something was "off" the moment Vice Director Modera stopped in her in the hall between classes with specific instructions to be at her mentor's office as soon as possible and the feeling lingered, even as she debated between simply walking in or knocking.
Jaina took a deep breath and took a moment to smooth out her knee-length skirt before rapping her knuckles sharply on the heavy wooden door. There was a moment of silence before the response.
"Come in Jaina." Antonidas's voice came through muffled but as warm as it always was when it came to his apprentice. The door swung open by itself, revealing an office that proved to be the very definition of organized chaos. Books, scrolls, and artifacts haphazardly stacked one on top of the other in piles ordered loosely by category. His desk was no better. Administrative paperwork mingled with spell books and personal notes with only a small cleared space directly in front of him.
The director himself sat in the center of the mess, his own robes neat. The high collar stiff collar nearly cleared his head but proved effective at blotting out the direct sunlight behind him. It was, Jaina had mused once, an effective if eccentric way for the back of his bald head from getting sunburned. Regardless of its finery, dark violet silks edged in gold trim, they were decades behind current fashion. No other mage in the Violet Citadel wore robes like that anymore.
Many of the older students and not a few of the researches told stories of him. How he was nearly as old as the Kirin Tor itself. How no other living Magi within the Kirin Tor ever remembered seeing Antonidas as anything but an elderly human in his 70s. How he was effectively a slave driver when it came to his apprentices. How he used them more as research subjects rather than students and at night, one could still hear the screams of his former apprentices emitting from his workshop. How he was stronger than the rest of the Council of Six combined.
Jaina believed none of these tales save, perhaps, for the last one. He'd shown her nothing but kindness and an eagerness to help her become a powerful mage over the last two years. She had grown to know her mentor's moods and follow his, occasionally, rambling thoughts. She even considered him a close friend by this point.
So when she sat across from him at this moment, she noticed the change in his demeanor. The kindness was still there, present in the small smile half hidden behind his great bushy gray beard but gone was the usual cheer he exhibited around her. His furrowed brow and the deep lines around his eyes made him look tired and old. For the first time since her apprenticeship began two years ago, she wondered how old he truly was.
"I'm sorry for interrupting your studies Jaina but please, take a seat." He gestured towards one of the two chairs he kept in his office for visitors. At the gesture, the pile of scrolls piled there vanished, reappearing in an already over-following bin. With another gesture, a tray of tea materialized on top of a stack of papers on his desk. It seemed to wobble for a moment before stabilizing itself.
Jaina hummed as she took the offered seat. "I would have come to see you sooner but I was on my way to Professor Cedric's class when Lady Modera found me."
Antonidas only laughed. "Ah yes. Cedric's rather strict on attendance isn't he? It's alright." He filled one of the teacups and turned it so that the handle pointed towards Jaina. "What do you know about the Forge of the Guardian?"
She blinked as she reached for the teacup. "The forge?" It was an odd question but she took her time to gather her thoughts and comb through her memory. "The forge is a legendary artifact that was once tied to the Guardian Aegwynn," she began slowly. Aegwynn was something of a personal hero to Jaina and as a young girl had read everything she could find of her. When her mentor said nothing, she continued on, reciting passages from the books she read as if by rote. "It is said that millennia ago, the Burning Legion still walked on Azeroth. A collection of the most powerful magi alive gathered to create a weapon to fight them.
"They called themselves the Council of Tirisfal and poured all their power into a single focal point, the Forge of the Guardian. The forge would pass on the power to a single mage selected by the council to be the Guardian of Tirisfal. The last known Guardian was a mage by the name of Medivah, Aegwynn's son. He betrayed the Council and opened the Dark Portal, instigating the First War and brought the orcs to Azeroth."
She tilted her head slightly to the side in confusion, "The Forge was lost sometime after that. Presumably, Aegwynn destroyed it after she took back the role of Guardian from Medivah but that was centuries ago. What does that have to do with anything happening now?"
Antonidas sighed, his hand digging through some of the papers on his desk, "Ah child, if only she had. Alas, it isn't so simple. It's true that the forge disappeared ages ago and we, the Kirin Tor, have been searching for it ever since. We found it recently." At this, he frowned, the lines around his eyes deepened even more. "Or to be more precise, Gul'dan and his faction found it and are planning to use its power to split from the Kirin Tor and establish another order."
"What?!" Jaina sat up sharply, nearly spilling her tea. "H-how? Why?" Her thoughts raced, wondering what would become of the Kirin Tor if such an open and public split were to occur. Who would leave? What would the Violet Citadel look like? She paled. Would she have to fight her own classmates?
"Gul'dan believes that the rules of the Kirin Tor are far too restrictive and we should allow for a more open and free form of study and sorcery." Antonidas leaned back in his seat and sighed. "I don't disagree with the thought but we have rules in place for a reason. He seeks to meddle in magics both dangerous and forbidden."
The director tapped on the worn leather cover of a small book he uncovered. "Fortunately we still have a chance to avoid this crisis. The Council created a contest of sorts to ensure that only the most powerful and skilled among them would become the Guardian. Each candidate, up to seven, would use the forge to summon the spirit of a hero from Azeroth's past, present or future. These spirits would be bound to the caster's will and engage in combat against each other. When one servant was defeated, it would be dispelled and the power funneled into the forge. The 'war' ..." Antonidas paused, his lips twisting into a grimace at the word 'war'.
He shook his head and took a sip from his own cup of tea. "The entire point of the war was that the last Master standing would inherit all the power within in the Forge and become the new Guardian of Tirisfal."
Jaina's brow furrowed. "So Gul'dan intends on recreating this 'war', taking six of his followers and then dispel the servants one by one until he's the only one left to claim the power of the Guardian. If that's the case, then why am I here? Shouldn't we be conferring with Wizard Marshal Rhonin?"
The director grimaced, "We already tried that. The Council dispatched Rhonin along with an elite squad of magi in attempt to retake the forge. Most didn't even survive the encounter. We're still waiting on Rhonin's official report but he's currently incapacitated." From another pile on his desk, he pulled out a singed envelope. This one he slid across the desk towards Jaina. She waited for the nod from her mentor before taking it in hand and removing the contents. It was a letter written in a mix of Common and Orcish. She skimmed the letter quickly and then paused, "I.. Gul'dan is issuing a challenge? I still don't understand. Couldn't he do what he wanted with just six followers?"
Antonidas took a sip of his tea, making a face before gesturing with his other hand. A wisp of smoke floated upwards and he took another, longer, sip. "Normally he could but it seems that the Council of Tirisfal built in a false safe to prevent this specific scenario. If a large enough number of servants and masters ended up working in concert, the Forge would allow for the summoning of a second set. That is Gul'dan's challenge. He wants the Kirin Tor to select seven champions and meet him in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. That, child, is why you are here today."
Jaina looked shocked, her face growing pale at the implication, "Wh-? I-I appreciate your confidence sir but I'm still just an apprentice!" She couldn't help but clutch the teacup in her hands just a little tighter. "I mean.."
He cut her off with a wave of his hand, "Nonsense Jaina. You're as skilled as some of the full-fledged magi within the Violet Citadel. Your potential is greater than many of them as well. I have full confidence that you will summon a strong servant and do us all proud. Besides, you will not be fighting alone. We've already reached out to several others who have agreed to champion us in this cause. I believe you even know some of them." His smile widened and even his unruly eyebrows raised slightly in amusement, "King Varian of Stormwind and Prince Arthas of Lordaeron. Childhood friends of yours if I recall."
The mention of Arthas caused Jaina to flush and she used the presence of the teacup to stop any sort of hand wringing at the mention of his name. "I.. yes. Varian and I were wards under King Menethil's care for a time." She shook her head to banish her thoughts of Arthas. She'd deal with those memories in the privacy of her own room later.
If Antonidas sensed the discomfort coming from his young apprentice, he didn't show it. Instead, he placed a small case of wood and brass on top of the book he located earlier and slid both towards Jaina. "A friendly and familiar face during these trying times will be a boon," he said gently. "Know that the Kirin Tor would not send one of its own unprepared. In fact, I've selected a catalyst for you already."
Jaina set the teacup aside to take both the box and the book. A cursory glance of the book told her that it was old. The gilding on the cover was practically worn off but she could still read the title stamped into the leather.
A Treatise on the Theory and Method of Summoning and Maintaining Heroic Spirits by Meitre.
The title intrigued her. It held the promise of an entirely new class of magic. She was eager to start reading but there was the matter of the case. Antonidas had an expectant look on his face and his eyes flickered to the case. She studied the case for a moment, running her slender fingers lightly over the top and then the sides. She could feel the pulse of the arcane within it, weak but steady. Her thumb caught the latch and lifted it, slowly raising the lid.
A piece of golden tree bark nestled on top of a bed of plush velvet dyed Kirin Tor purple. She held the bark carefully between thumb and forefinger. Without the dampening spells of the case, the piece of bark simply radiated arcane power. "Where is this from?" She breathed in wonder, turning the piece left and then right. It wasn't just golden in color; it seemed to emit a faint light as well. She was struck by the vision of a massive golden tree, it's sap empowered by the arcane. "What is this?"
"It's a piece of bark from Thas'alah, the Mother Tree of Eversong Woods." Antonidas couldn't help but smile at Jaina's wonder. "It's very rare." He smiled sadly, his dark eyes taking on a faraway look. "The trolls cut down the tree centuries ago during a great war when they managed to break through Silvermoon's defenses. The elves managed to take back their homeland after a century or so but Thas'alah was already lost to them by then."
He sighed deeply as if letting go of a beloved memory with that breath. "But that is not why I am giving it to you. The book I am lending you," he stressed the word 'lend', "will inform you on how to use it. When you do so, it will select a great elven warrior as your Servant. Which one, I cannot be certain. There are many legendary warriors with great skill but it will assuredly be one compatible with your talents and abilities."
Jaina felt a bit uneasy. While she had some skill in summoning and controlling water elementals, summoning an actual hero of Azeroth's past was something beyond even her imagination. Then there was the matter of combat. All magi of the Kirin Tor learned battle magic and tactics but she only participated in the occasional duel. It seemed to her, a war with fantastical servants to settle the future of the Kirin Tor was a poor place to learn.
As if sensing her unease, Antonidas rose from his seat rounded the desk. The silk of his long robes whispered about his feat as he approached Jaina. He was a good head taller than her normally but with her sitting now, he seemed to loom. He reached out with a slender and somewhat gnarled hand to rest it on her shoulder. "Child," he continued, "I know this is a lot to ask of you. Know that I would not have given you this task if I did not believe you would succeed." He spoke with such confidence and conviction that Jaina couldn't help but be shamed by her own doubt.
Buoyed by her mentor's confidence, she met her mentor's eyes and spoke with almost a fierce determination, "I promise. I will bring the Forge of the Guardian back to the Kirin Tor."
She swore to herself at that moment that she would see this fight through to the end.
It took a week for Jaina to prepare for this moment. A Treatise on the Theory and Method of Summoning and Maintaining Heroic Spirits was a fascinating read. While the ritual was more elaborate than summoning an elemental, the principle was largely the same. However, things like 'parameters' and 'skills' and 'noble phantasms' would require more research and an amount of time she did not immediately have. She hoped that her Servant, whomever they might be, could answer some of the questions she had.
Study wasn't all she did though. Materials needed to be to gathered and weather tracked. Given the amount of mana used for this particular ritual, Jaina decided that a secluded location, preferably one outdoors, would be best.
Which is exactly how the young mage found herself standing alone barefoot on a deserted beach in her hometown of Boralus at midnight the full moon shining bright in the sky.
She took care in drawing out the summoning circle with a sharp stick, pausing often to refer to the drawing in the book. After checking and double checking her marks, she paused for a moment to put away the stick and rub her bare hands briskly. The friction provided a brief sensation of warmth in her chilled hands.
Jaina put on a pair of gloves before removing a large glass jug filled with quicksilver from the pack she brought for this purpose. Taking a deep breath, she began slowly pouring a thin line of the liquid metal into the grooves she drew into the sand. As she poured, she infused the mercury with some of her own mana. Jaina worked her way from the inside out, keeping one eye on the flow of mercury and another on the placement of her feet. The entire process took a good hour with only a few brief pauses to rest her arms or tuck a lock of golden hair behind her ear. Her arms hurt from lifting and holding the heavy jug for such an extended period.
She moved back to her things. She set the heavy jug down on the sand. The gloves went next. She then picked up a worn navy blue greatcoat. She took great care in shaking it out, brushing sand that clung to the gold epaulets. The coat was too big for Jaina but she shrugged it on with practiced ease. She took a moment to roll up the sleeves slightly so her hands could be free.
She walked to the makeshift alter on the other side of the circle. Without her shoes, the hem of the coat dragged slightly in the sand behind her, sweeping away her footsteps in its wake. From one of the coat's deep pockets, she pulled out the wooden and brass case that protected the bark of Thas'alah. Opening the case revealed the gentle golden glow of the bark and she placed it reverently upon the makeshift alter she built out of driftwood and stone.
The young mage then pulled out a piece of jerky from her pocket and started to chew on it as she made her way back to the her starting point; a spot directly across the summoning circle from the alter. She paused now, pulling the stiff collar of the greatcoat around her face. She could still smell traces of gunpowder, tobacco, rum, and salt; the scents that clung to her father when he returned from sea. The weight of her father's coat around her shoulders was a poor substitute for the warm of his arms but it was enough to give her the strength she needed to begin the ritual.
Jaina positioned her feet a shoulder width apart, curling her toes in the sand as if to anchor herself onto the beach. She extended her right arm, palm open and perpendicular to the ground. Her left hand grasped at the silver anchor she wore around her neck, another memento of her father's. Her voice rose, repeating the incantation she spent the whole week memorizing.
"Let silver and steel be the essence. Let stone and the archduke of contracts be the foundation. Let blue be the color I pay tribute to. Let rise a wall against the wind that shall fall. Let the four cardinal gates close. Let the three-forked road from the crown reaching unto the Kingdom rotate."
The mercury started to glow with the bright blue light of free mana. The utterance of each line of the incantation caused another layer of the circle to light up. Seven layers total of circles and runes began to pulse. The back of Jaina's right hand started to itch.
"Let it be declared now; your flesh shall serve under me, and my fate shall be your sword. Submit to the beckoning of the Forge. If you will submit to this will and this reason... Then answer!" Beads of sweat started to form along Jaina's brow as she poured more mana into the circle. A gentle wind began to rise with the circle as its vortex. Locks of Jaina's fine golden hair blew behind her along with the fringes of her father's epaulets. Strangely, the sand remained undisturbed.
"An oath shall be sworn here. I shall attain all virtues of all of Heaven; I shall have dominion over all evils of all of Hell." The words rolled off her tongue leaving the cold tang of the arcane. The wind was picking up, blowing almost violently now. The hem of her coat and her hair streamed behind her as she grasped her right wrist with her left hand in an attempt to brace herself against the wild magic swirling before her.
The back of Jaina's right hand felt like it was burning and her eyes teared from the constant brightness that assaulted them. The magic was great but her will was greater. Her voice rose into a near shout as she spat out the last words of the incantation, as if daring the gods themselves to deny her. "From the Seventh Heaven, attended to by three great words of power, come forth from the ring of restraint, protector of the Holy Balance!"
The last word rung out like the warning peel of a ship's bell. Jaina held herself still, not even daring to breathe before a hurricane force of wind and mana threatened to knock her off her feet. As it was, she had to throw an arm up to shield her eyes from the sudden surge of light. She could make out the vague shape of silhouette in the center of the circle. Just as suddenly as the wind and light flared, it died, leaving behind the sharp scent of ozone and a tall elven woman.
The woman stood a few inches taller than the mage, taller even when taking into account her long slender ears; her long blonde hair so pale Jaina nearly mistook it for silver under the glow of the full moon. She wore a skin tight black armor with protective steel plating wrapped around the shins, thighs and wrists. Jaina noted with some surprise she wore a blue collarless coat that seemed to match her own, at least in length and in the shade of blue. More steel outlined the broadness of her shoulders and the cut of the coat hugged closely to her body, outlining the powerful muscles of her arms.
She was, Jaina decided, beautiful in a wild and fierce way and utterly unlike any of the elves at the Violet Citadel. "Who..." Her voice came out in a squeak. She flushed and coughed, clearing her throat before speaking again. "Who are you?"
"I am Sylvanas Windrunner. Archer Class." The woman stated proudly. In one smooth movement, she placed her right arm crossed over her chest, her hand resting where her heart would be, and slid her left leg backwards to offer Jaina a slight bow. "I was once the Ranger-General of Quel'Thalas and commander of her armies." Her blue-grey eyes, still glowing faintly from excess mana, flicked upwards to meet Jaina's cerulean blue ones, "I ask you, are you my master?"
Chapter 3: Enter The Council
In which Thrall meets with the other Masters under Gul'dan.
Apologies for another chapter of exposition. But this time we get to meet the Horde side of the equation.
Thrall took a deep breath as soon as he stepped through the portal onto Thunder Bluff. While Orgrimmar had a savage beauty of its own, the smell of the Orc capital could not compare with the scent of pine and fresh grass so prevalent in Mulgore. He looked about, taking a moment to get his bearings before crossing the long walkway that would lead him to the High Rise where his friend and mentor Cairne Bloodhoof resided.
"Remarkable," a deep voice rumbled by Thrall's side. "So this is the Tauren. If only we had them at our side when we first arrived in Azeorth things might have turned out very different."
Thrall shook his head at the heavily armored orc who materialized beside him "The Tauren are a peaceful and honorable people Orgrim. I'm not sure they would have cooperated with the Old Horde, especially under Blackhand."
"And yet here we are, doing that warlock's bidding once again." Orgrim Doomhammer spat the words out as if they were poison in his mouth. "I'm a Servant. I had no choice but to answer the summons. But why do you follow him Thrall?"
Thrall stayed silent for a long moment, idly stroking at his beard with one hand. "I cannot speak for the others but the Elements tell me that something is coming and we need to be prepared. The Kirin Tor lack the... flexibility to even consider such warnings without proof. The Earthen Ring alone lacks the power and this power of the Guardian..." He sighs, "What other choice do I have?"
Orgrim nods slowly. "Stay wary of him. He will betray us all in a heartbeat to get what he wants."
Thrall said nothing as they passed through the entrance way into Cairne's residence. The warning weighed heavy in his mind. It was well known that the warlock was one of the oldest orcs still alive and dark rumors swirled about his unnaturally long life Thrall had his own doubts but hearing it from Orgrim, former warchief of the horde, only made it worse. What Thrall said was true though. The elements were restless and he needed Gul'dan's help to find out why.
It took the orcs a moment to adjust to from the bright outdoors to the muted light of inside the residence. Cairne himself sat on the other side of a firepit that took up a good part of the central living space. His head was bowed over a runed spear that laid over his lap. He held a sharp carving knife in his right hand, holding the shaft of the spear steady in his left. The knife looked small in his massive hands but he handled it deftly, carving delicate runes along the base of the shaft.
Thrall raised his right hand in greeting. "Greetings Cairne."
The Tauren raised his head, the rings in his ear tinkling lightly against each other with the movement. "Greetings Thrall," his eyes fell to Orgrimm. "And Saber I presume?"
"Throm'ka Chieftain of the Bloodhoof clan," Orgrim replied.
Cairne nodded towards the stools that lined the firepit. "Sit. Lancer is out exploring at the moment but he should return to us momentarily." He paused, running his thumb thoughtfully over the runes of his spear. "I'm glad that you agreed to come early Thrall. Hamuul Runetotem tells me that the Earth Mother weeps."
Thrall sat but Orgrim remained standing. Thrall leaned forward, resting his his arms on the back of his legs, hands clasped together. "I understand. The Elements are restless as well. I've tried speaking to the Kirin Tor about this but they refuse to listen."
"And you think Gul'dan will?"
Orgrim snorted but Thrall narrowed his eyes slightly at him. The other orc grunted but let Thrall continue. "I can only hope."
"Sometimes hope is not enough."
A long shadow cast itself over the three sitting around the pit. Thrall looked up, only to find himself in the careful gaze of a massive tauren.
"Lancer!" Cairne rose out of his chair, His head bowed respectfully, his graying mane falling over his eyes. "I trust you found Thunder Bluff to your liking?"
Lancer hummed, "It is not Highmountain but you have built your people a good home Bloodhoof."
Cairne appeared pleased by the compliment. Lancer turned his attention back to Thrall. His dark eyes seemed to peer deep into Thrall's soul. Whatever he found there, it seemed that he did not find the orc wanting. "I do not know this Gul'dan but we heard of the Guardians when I lived. They were powerful magi who welded great magic and fought the Burning Legion during the Age of the Ancients. There must be a reason for Gul'dan to seek this power."
Orgrim's face darkened, "Not for anything good in my experience." He looks at Thrall, "We need to be the ones to win this war. If it's you or Cairne, then I wouldn't mind. But neither the humans nor Gul'dan should be allowed to achieve victory."
Thrall shook his head, "We will do what we must to ensure victory but there are some humans who may be worthy."
Orgrim scowled, his lower jaw jutting out even further by the action. A horn sounded in the distance and Cairne rose to his feet. "It's time."
Thrall and Ogrim blinked. "Time for what old friend?" Thrall asked.
"Time to meet up with the rest of the Masters Gul'dan selected," Lancer said. "Saber. You and I should remain hidden if at all possible."
Ogrim nodded, "Agreed. I would rather Gul'dan not know that I've been summoned."
Cairne clapped his hands and stood, "Then it's decided. Shall we go?"
Thrall grunted as he rose to his feet. "I don't suppose we have a choice?"
"No, I don't think we do."
Thrall and Cairne stepped through the portal into Gadgetzan. Here, beings of all races mingled while goblin enforcers of the Stormwheedle Cartel kept a close eye on any troublemakers. In Gadgetzan, anything and everything was allowed as long as one could pay the price. While this gave the port city an air of lawlessness, it made it the perfect place for clandestine meetings.
The pair picked their way through the winding streets until they reached a low squat building. The outside appeared to be a rather drab looking warehouse but as soon as Thrall and Cairne got close, a pair of heavy set goblin bruisers appeared. Their dark suits and even darker sunglasses seemed out of place in the hot desert air of the city but the scars running along their cheeks and hands spoke volumes. This was not an ordinary warehouse.
The goblin on the left sneered, peering over the rim of his sunglasses as they approached, "Stop. No one passes through here without an invite. If you don't got one, better turn around now."
The goblin right cracked his knuckles, "Or don't. It's been awhile since I've had a good fight."
Thrall felt the flush of rage under his skin, though he couldn't tell if it was his own anger or that of Ogrim's. He took half a step forward, hands already curling and clenching into fists. Cairne shook his head and pulled a piece of red cardstock from a the pouch he wore off his belt. The cardstock was gilded in gold with the Stormwheedle Cartel's logo embossed upon the back. He presented this card to the goblin on the left.
The goblin took the card and gave it a once over. He scratched at the gold embellishments lightly with a single fingernail and then nodded at the other bruiser. "They're good."
The goblin stopped cracking his knuckles and appeared somewhat disappointed that he wouldn't get to fight that day. "Fine." He sounded somewhat put out as well, "Welcome to the Cartel Casino. Rules are simple. No cheating, no fighting," he grins wickedly, "Unless you want a shot in the pit."
The left goblin cackled, "Sign-ups are still open!"
Thrall clenched his jaw and his fists, "Thank you but no thank you. We will just be on our way." He spent enough time fighting for other people's profit. He wouldn't do it every again.
Cairne seemed to sense his friend's anger. He placed a heavy hand upon Thrall's shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. Thrall took a deep breath and exhaled. The rage simmered under his skin there still but lessened just enough that he could continue onward into the casino.
The cool air-conditioned air of the casino helped further alleviate the heat of his rage but it was still Cairne who guided him through the maze of flashing lights and ruckus bells. There were people everywhere, many of them clustered around tables playing cards or throwing dice. High elves and night elves dressed in skimpy skin-tight clothing weaved their way through the crowds bearing trays of drinks and bright smiles for their customers. One of the night elf wearing only a pair of tight pants and a bow tie winked at Thrall before attending to an elderly gnomish matron.
Cairne gave a low chuckle. "As popular as ever I see."
"Not quite my type however." Thrall smiled at Cairne.
It wasn't long before the pair arrived at their destination, an opulent private meeting room towards the back of the casino. With the door closed behind them, the din of the casino fell away, muffled by rich red velvet curtains. One of the nightbourne was lounging on one of the low backless couches sipping from a glass of arcwine. Thrall breathed a sigh of relief when he recognized the blue-skinned troll attending to the nightbourne. "I didn't know they chose Vol'jin as a master," he murmured to Cairne. There was relief in his tone however. "But I don't recognize the woman he's speaking with."
Cairne squinted at the nightbourne, his eyes sweeping over the deep purple of her gown and the stitched silver runes of her shawl. His greying muzzle wrinkled with thought. "I believe that is the First Arcanist of Suramar our friend is speaking with."
Thrall blinked, "I thought she and Gul'dan weren't on speaking terms?"
'Thalyssra and Gul'dan never did get along, but she is a mage through and through. This is the kind of challenge no mage worth their magic would turn down. Even if the host is Gul'dan,' Orgrim murmured into Thrall and Cairne's minds. Lancer made a noise of agreement.
Thrall made half a step towards the pair when pale red caught his eye. He turned his head and openly stared at the sight of young red-skinned orc in a glaring contest with a half-orc, half-ogre warrior dressed hunting gear and a cowl that covered the upper half of his face. The grey pelt of a wolf draped across his broad shoulders.
"Oh no," Cairne murmured. "I better to see what young Garrosh has done to upset Rexxar. Thrall, I leave the rest to you." He clapped Thrall on the shoulder before hurrying off to break up whatever fight was brewing.
"Good luck," was all Thrall could offer before his path took him to the reason why they were all gathered her. Gul'dan stood in a darkened corner of the room trading low words with a human. The human looked so gaunt and his skin so pale that Thrall thought the man had one foot already in the grave. Judging by how slow his movements were, he probably was. The conversation stopped abruptly as Thrall approached and they both turned to look at him. He noted with surprise that the human's eyes were gold.
"Throm'ka," said Thrall as he raised his right hand in greeting.
Gul'dan nodded in return, "Throm'ka." His voice was low, almost difficult to hear even in the muted room. The hood of his robe partially hid his expression. What Thrall could see made him think that someone forced Gul'dan to swallow a exceptionally sour lemon. The human's face remained placid and serene. He bowed before Thrall and spoke in a rough orcish, "Light be with you."
Both the choice in greeting and the harsh guttural sound of the human's voice caused Thrall to recoil in surprise.
"This is Alonsus Faol, our representative from the Church of Holy Light. He is here to ensure that we obey the rules." There was something dismissive in the way Gul'dan spoke the words.
'Gul'dan was never one to follow the rules unless they suited him," Orgrim supplied unhelpfully.
Alonsus smiled beatifically, "No need to worry just yet. The Fountain selected Archbishop Benedictus as the official overseer. I am merely here as an extension of his authority. But now that everyone is here, shall we proceed?"
Gul'dan grunted and his hands lit up with the sickly green glow of fel magic. He clapped once, the magically enhanced sound echoing through the room like a crack of thunder. The room fell into silence but Thrall noted that Cairne, Vol'jin and Thalyssra's ears visibly flicked in irritation at the sound.
Alonsus flinched slightly and coughed, "Thank you Gul'dan." He switched to Common but his voice retained that same rough guttural quality from before. "Welcome Masters of the Red." He opened his arms slowly, as if the heavily embroidered sleeves of his grey and blue robes were weighing them down. "The Fountain has chosen you seven to represent a new order. According to the tenants of your Council, the new order represents a more egalitarian approach, where all that matters is the skill in which you wield your magic." He glances at Gul'dan from the corner of his eye, who nods in agreement.
Thrall tunes out the words, looking about at the other Masters gathered. Cairne and Vol'jin were clearly listening to what this priest had to say. Thalyssra and Garrosh simply looked bored while Rexxar remained inscrutable.
'Pretty words,' Orgrim said, 'But I doubt Gul'dan actually believes it.'
"Hush," Thrall murmured, drawing a strange look from Alonsus.
Alonsus clasped his hands together. "Whether or not you succeed will depend on your skills in the upcoming battle. Even as we speak, the Kirin Tor is gathering their champions and preparing their own set of masters to defend their ideals and their ways. This contest ends when all servants of at least one side is defeated. The remaining masters will then decide among themselves who will wield the power of the Guardian."
"Oh? So it hasn't been decided yet?" A lilted voice interrupted the priest. Thrall turned to see Thalyssra sitting upright, her own ears perked in interest. "So theoretically it could be any of us then, assuming we make it that far."
Gul'dan leveled his red-eyed gaze at Thalyssra. "No. As part of the agreement for joining under my banner, you forfeit your vote to me."
Thalyssra raised one of her long elegant eyebrows, "Oh? And here I thought that in the Council, all voices are equal. I didn't trade being overlooked by one set of old men for another set Gul'dan."
His lips set into a thin line but Cairne interrupted. "We can discuss who becomes the new Guardian if we win."
"When we win," Thrall heard Garrosh mutter under his breath.
"Let de mon finish," Vol'jin cut in before any more arguments could break out. "Den you can go back to arguing 'bout who is more worthy."
"Thank you Vol'jin." Alonsus sounded relieved. "I won't waste too much more of your time then. The battle site will be in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms in Pandaria. The Celestials have assured us that there is enough free mana to sustain a battle of this size and caliber. To ensure a fair fight, the Church also secured sanctuary sites for the Council and the Kirin Tor. These are the Shrine of the Seven Stars and the Shrine of the Two Moons. You can consider these shrines to be safe places to rest and plan your next moves."
'Interesting. I wonder if the sanctuary is enforced by rule or by magic,' Orgrim mused. 'We should enlist the aid of the other servants and do some reconnaissance.'
Thrall nodded slightly in agreement. The old warchief's advice was sound. Another thing he would have to prepare for when they arrived.
"And how do you propose us reach Pandaria?" Thalyssra asked. She purposefully left her question open. Air travel would be safest and quickest but even though, could take days.
Gul'dan waved his hand, "A small matter. Alonsus and his ilk have arranged for a portal. It will take us straight to the Shrine of the Two Moons." He looked to each of the Masters gathered before gesturing towards Garrosh. "Get your affairs in order. We leave for the Shrine in four days. If you want a chance to win the greatest battle each of you will ever face as individuals, you will be there." The warlock turned and started to leave the room.
Thrall could sense the implied threat under Gul'dan's words. Obey Gul'dan in this at least and be saved from his wraith. He looked about the room and wondered who would dare to oppose him so early.
Everyone shared Thrall's grim expression. Everyone except Garrosh. He merely grunted at his summons, leering triumphantly at Rexxar before trotting after Gul'dan.
The long awkward silence was broken by Alonsus. "Well now. I suppose you should be on your way. May the light be with you."
"The light be with you," the remaining masters murmured in response as they filtered out of the room one by one.
Thrall was the last to leave. He stopped at the doorway and something told him to look back. He saw Alonsus Faol standing alone, an expression like sadness etched on his gaunt features. The expression stayed with Thrall all the way back to Orgimmar along with a sense of foreboding.
Chapter 4: Light Preserve Us
In which Jaina gets a rude awakening and meets up with some of the other Kirin Tor Masters and their servants.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Jaina awoke to the mid-morning sun shining directly against her eyes. She groaned and buried her face into her pillow to block out the offending light. The late night and the intense mana drain from the summoning spell left her exhausted still. While sleep had restored a good chunk of her reserves, it wasn't fully restored yet. Despite the glare of the sun, she was tempted to sleep the rest of the morning away.
"I know your awake."
An unfamiliar voice in her room caused a surge of panic. Jaina bolted upright, right hand flung out ready to cast a spell. Two things stopped her. The presence of a tattoo inked in red on the back of her right hand and a tall elven woman leaning casually against her dresser. The events of the previous evening came flooding back to memory.
"Y-you!" Jaina stuttered.
The high elf smirked. "Me. Or do you not remember my name Master?" Her arms were folded across her chest, legs crossed at the ankle. She still wore that strange armor she appeared in but otherwise seemed entirely at ease in Jaina's bedroom.
"Of course I remember your name," Jaina snapped. "As if anyone could forget a name like Sylvanas Windrunner. What are you doing in my bedroom?" Her hands dropped to grip the edges of her blanket, fighting the urge to draw it up to her chest. She had simply collapsed into bed still wearing her skirt and blouse but under the scrutinizing gaze of her Servant, it didn't feel like enough.
Sylvanas shrugged, "It's 10:30 in the morning and there's a note on your refrigerator about a portal to Stormwind at noon."
"What?!" A quick glance at her bedside clock informed her that Sylvanas was telling the truth. She overslept. Jaina threw off her blankets and all but fell out of the bed in her haste. The elf stayed in place appearing vaguely amused at watching her hurry about the room, gathering a clean change of clothing and then rushing into the bathroom.
Jaina all but slammed the door in her haste and dropped her clothing on the bathroom floor. It was only then that she took stock of her own appearance in the mirror. Her fine blonde hair stuck out everywhere and her eyes looked slightly bloodshot. A sure indication of a rough night. The addition of a red tattoo on the back of her right hand bore closer inspection. It looked like a highly stylized anchor. The arms were their own separate pieces and the shank looked like an arrow without fletching. She traced the shape of it with a finger and could feel the faint pulse of magic emanating from it.
'The command seal', she thought. The sign of a Master but more importantly three spells she could use to make Sylvanas do whatever she wanted. She had done it. She managed to summon a servant, as requested by Antonidas. Not just any servant either. History recorded Sylvanas Windrunner as one of the premiere rangers in Quel'Thasas history; a true testament to her linage. She wondered if others would be able to recognize her on sight. The book had informed her that for the sake of both Master and Servant, it was best to keep the true identity of any servant as secret as possible.
Jaina changed quickly into a pair of white trousers and a navy blue blouse as she mulled over the sudden and immediate knowledge of just how powerful her Servant actually was. There was no way to tell how Sylvanas compared to the other Servants though. Only live combat would reveal that truth.
There wasn't much time to tame her hair, so Jaina bound it quickly into a braid and a quick application of make up hid the dark circles under her eyes. Satisfied that she at least looked somewhat normal, she collected her dirty clothing and emerged from the bathroom. The Servant was gone by then but she could hear sounds from the now open bedroom door accompanied by the scent of toast.
The bedroom opened into directly into a living room with a small kitchenette. Sylvanas managed to find the kettle and was brewing a pot of tea. A small pot of jam sat next to two pieces of toast, a few slices of apples and cheddar cheese. "Your diet is atrocious. I couldn't find anything edible other than apples, cheese and bread. If we're going to win this war, you're going to need to eat better." She glared at Jaina, the tips of her ears twitching in mild irritation, "I refuse to lose because my master is malnourished."
Jaina huffed as she went to collect her plate, "My diet is just fine thank you!" She grabbed the plate and sat down at the lone stool on the other side of the counter.
Sylvanas snorted and gestured at the plate, "Only if you consider that and jerky to be a balanced diet."
"I normally take my meals at the Violet Citadel. Also, I just came in yesterday afternoon. I haven't had time to do any shopping yet!"
All Jaina received in response was an eye-roll before the Servant went to push some books and scrolls off the lone couch in the middle of the living room area. She flopped over, letting her long legs dangle over the arm of the couch.
The mage grumbled to herself around a mouthful toast as she poured herself a cup of tea from the pot. Sylvanas picked up one of the discarded books and idly flipped through it as Jaina ate. When Jaina finished, she deposited her plate and teacup in the sink. She'd wash them later. Checking the time, Jaina began collecting the things she would need for her meeting: the book on servants, her keys, a snack, and her wallet.
As she started to shove everything into her messenger bag Sylvanas waved a hand to get her attention. "Master. Leave some cash on the counter."
Jaina blinked, "What?"
The Servant sat up, "I am speaking Common yes? I'm asking you to leave some money for me."
"Yes yes, I got that," Jaina snapped, "But why?"
Sylvanas stared at Jaina like she was a simpleton and very slowly said, "... So I can go buy groceries while you're out. You still need money to buy groceries in this time period?"
This stopped Jaina in her tracks. "I thought Servants couldn't leave their master's side."
"Anar'alah, you know nothing don't you? I don't have to be at your side every waking moment. In fact, one of the benefits of being an Archer means I don't even have to do what you say unless you use a command spell." Sylvanas paused and snorted, "And don't get any silly ideas about that. You only get three and using one to make me obey your every command would not only be stupid but could get you killed down the road."
Jaina flushed, "I wouldn't even...!" She was, in fact, thinking of doing such a thing. But Sylvanas was right. It would be a waste of a command spell. Still, she leveled her best glare. "I'll be meeting with some of the other Masters of the Kirin Tor. I think it would be best if you accompanied me. We can go shopping afterwards." She gestured to Sylvanas's outfit. "Also you're clothing doesn't exactly... I mean you don't really..."
The Servant rolled her eyes before vanishing entirely from view. 'Is this better my master?'
Jaina jerked slightly. Sylvanas's voice in her head still carried an air of disdain. But the mage schooled her features, "Yes much and please, for Tides's sake, call me Jaina."
'Better run along now Jaina or we're going to miss your portal.'
Sylvanas remained silent for the rest of the trip but Jaina could feel her smug presence the entire time.
The Cathedral of Light never failed to take Jaina's breath away. The best of Stormwind's stonemasons spent decades building it almost 200 years ago and their heirs kept the white and gold spires and the flawless white marble walls in good repair. Light filtered through large stain glass windows that lined the outer walls; casting a kaleidoscope of color across white stone and plush blue rugs.
"A bit extravagant for a simple meeting of masters isn't it?" Even in hushed tones, Sylvanas's voice seemed to echo through the antechamber of the cathedral.
Jaina jumped slightly at the sound of Sylvanas's voice so close to her ear rather than in her head. She glared at the high elf, who seemed somewhat smug, as if knowing exactly how Jaina would react if she just materialized beside her. "Don't do that," Jaina hissed and started walking towards the nave, waving her hands in the air. "Varian was the one who picked the location. He probably thought that the cathedral was a more inconspicuous place to meet up rather than the castle."
"Oh yes, nothing says inconspicuous like a handful of random people gathering at a church on a day when there isn't even a service."
Jaina rolled her eyes as the pair approached a side chapel.
"The Church is considered a neutral party in this conflict. I'd consider it a personal insult if you think the Archbishop would let any of Gul'dan's lackeys spy on us." A deep voice cut off Jaina's retort. A mountain of a man filled the doorway to the side chapel with his wild mane of brown hair tied back into a long ponytail. Despite the supposedly peaceful nature of the meetings, a wicked long sword with an uneven edge and a hollow that glowed as bright as the sun hung at his side.
"Varian!" Jaina exclaimed with joy as she closed the space between them and threw her arms around the large man. Varian's grim expression broke into a smile as he wrapped Jaina up in a brief but tight hug.
"Proudmoore, you're late."
"Hah! You should know by now that Miss Proudmoore always runs a bit late Varian."
Jaina took a step backwards, eyeing the blonde man who joined her reunion with Varian. He did not open his arms for a hug nor did Jaina offer one. Instead, she just smiled up at him, polite and proper. "It's good to see you too Arthas." She was surprised by the lack of bitterness in her voice. Their breakup three years prior had felt rather one sided at the time and there was always a phantom ache when she let herself think about the man she had once called her prince.
An emotion Jaina couldn't quite place flitted across Arthas's face. He opened his mouth to say something else when another voice, feminine with a Thalassian accent, interrupted him. "Belore, you lot are about as bad as a group of gossiping housewives." Both Jaina and Sylvanas turned, the latter's ears shooting up in alarm and quickly putting herself in front of Jaina. Arthas stepped forward, reaching for a weapon that wasn't there. Varian merely sighed in exasperation.
The high elf in front of them grinned widely, showing off just a hint of fang. She wore a red sleeveless blouse and a pair of daisy duke shorts. Unlike Sylvanas, her own eyes glowed faintly green. None of the humans heard her approach, a surprising feat given the fact that she wore knee high blood red stiletto boots. Judging by the snarl on Sylvanas's lips, she managed to escape even the Ranger-General's reportedly legendary sense of hearing.
Even more alarming was the tall silent figure decked out from head to toe in ornate plate armor behind her. The horned helmet covered the face so completely that Jaina wasn’t even sure there was someone behind the helmet. The armored person was the same height as Varian and Sylvanas and the massive pauldrons and cloak made them seem as broad as the king. Jaina got the distinct impression that the armored figure did not like them.
Varian sighed again, "Valeera..."
"Oh fine fine. Ma-" The armored figure turned their gaze sharply towards Valeera. She coughed once, "Right, I mean Assassin. Can you remove the helmet? You're scaring the others." She gestured flippantly at Jaina and Arthas. Sylvanas remained on high alert, the glow of her eyes intensifying somewhat as they narrowed into slits even as she subtly tried to nudge Jaina out of the other Servant's line of sight.
Assassin removed their helmet, revealing a night elf woman with a face heavily scarred by a lifetime of war and torture. With the helmet off it was clear that she was glowering at the lot of them; her lips curled in a snarl that made the scars on her cheek twist in a dangerous and grotesque way.
"By the Light," Arthas breathed. "That's Assassin?! Varian!" He turned to the king, panic creeping into his voice. "This has to be a joke! There is no way that is an Assassin."
"Hey! We're right here," shouted Valeera even as a massive circular glaive materialized in Assassin's hand. She growled lowly at Arthas with her notched ears pinned back as she took half a step towards him.
Sylvanas actively pushed Jaina further back with one hand, a heavily runed halberd appearing in her other. "Stay behind me," she murmured.
Jaina reached out and grasped at Sylvanas's arms, as if her touch could somehow stop the Servant from attacking. "Syl- Archer. Don't do anything rash."
The sharp clink of metal striking stone forced everyone to stop. As one, all eyes turned to the source of the sound. A priest adorned in robes of gold and white stood before them. The staff in his hands emitted a warm white light. Beside him stood an armored knight with a full brown beard. A massive sword was strapped to his back, any identifying markings hidden by an equally massive shield that hung there. Neither the priest nor the knight looked pleased at the sight before them.
"This is the Cathedral of Light. Show some respect!" The knight's gaze turned to Varian. "Master, as king you should have stopped this before Archbishop Benedictus was forced to intervene."
Varian met the knight's gaze and then bowed his head slightly towards Benedictus. "My apologies Archbishop, I didn't expect Arthas to get so upset in the presence of Assassin." In turn, he shot a glare at Arthas. The young prince of Lordaeron said nothing though Jaina could see a light flush color his cheeks. She couldn't tell if it was shame or embarrassment. Knowing him, it was most likely a mix of both.
"Personally, I think he owes us an apology. You know, for almost starting a fight," Valeera quipped. Assassin's accompanying smile made her scars twist in an unpleasant manner. Jaina got the distinct impression that she preferred to appear as vaguely threatening.
Arthas glowered and gave a stiff bow, "My apologies Miss.."
"Sanguinar. Valeera Sanguinar."
"Of course. Miss Sanguinar and Assassin. My apologies."
"Mmm... Assassin, did that sound sincere to you?" Valeera's ears twitched. Assassin tilted her head slightly, lips pulled back to reveal sharp canines. "No."
"Okay," Jaina hurriedly interrupted just as Arthas's face darkened even further and his hands clenched into fists. Varian grasped Arthas's shoulder with one hand, as if to hold him back. "Let's move on with the introductions! I'm Jaina Proudmoore and this is Sy-"
"Sylvanas Windrunner." Sylvanas's ears twitched in mild irritation at Jaina's interjection. The halberd she held earlier disappeared and she held her hands behind her back. "I would prefer if you referred to me as Archer in the field. A Servant's true name is a dangerous thing to know." Sylvanas stared at Jaina who blushed lightly in embarrassment.
"Well met," the knight replied. He touched his fist crosswise over his chest, the steel of his gauntlet ringing against his chest plate. "I am Anduin Lothar, Saber of the Blue and Servant to King Varian."
"And you all know Valeera and Assassin by now." Varian inclined his head towards the elven pair. There is a moment of awkward silence before Valeera spoke up again, "Assassin doesn't want anyone to know her name unless it's absolutely necessary. So we're just going to keep it to ourselves for now!"
All eyes fell to Arthas who growled, "I am Prince Arthas Menethil of Lordaeron. My Servant is Caster." He pauses and then sighs, "Caster is... shy. He prefers not to be seen unless he absolutely needs to be."
The visible servants shared an uneasy glance. They were all proud warriors and while it was understandable not wanting to reveal their True Names, not even showing their face among allies seemed downright suspicious.
Benedictus tapped his staff. "Good! Now that introductions have been made, it is my duty to inform you that the August Celestials of Pandaria have agreed to allow the Kirin Tor and the Council to use the Vale of Eternal Blossoms as your fighting ground. The Church of Holy Light will be monitoring the progress from Setting Sun Garrison nearby and I have been named the arbitrator in this conflict. My predecessor, Archbishop Faol is relaying the same information to the Gul'dan's Council even as we speak."
Jaina raised her hand, "Excuse me. But ah... There's only four of us here. The Director told me that there should be seven masters for the Kirin Tor."
Benedictus smiled serenely at Jaina, "Quite right. There are seven masters. Lancer of the Blue's master is already in Pandaria. He will greet you when you arrive. I believe the Masters for Rider and Berserker were originally a long ways off and are already on their way to Pandaria by airship. The Church is using the ley lines here to create a portal straight to Pandaria for the rest of you."
That made sense, Jaina mused. She glanced about. None of the gathered Masters seemed particularly disturbed by this. Valeera even looked excited at the prospect of adventuring to the normally closed off island nation.
"I have a few affairs I need to settle first," Varian said. "I will meet with all of you in a four days time and we will go through the portal together." He looked to Benedictus, "Would that be acceptable Archbishop?"
The archbishop seemed to consider the idea before nodding, "I believe so. I will send word to Alonsus. The contest will officially begin in five days." He pauses, "I must warn you. Agreeing to meet in and fight in Pandaria in five days hence is merely a formality. Neither side is under any obligation to wait until all the relevant parties are there. Once you leave the sanctity of this building, the only sanctuary you will receive is if you manage to make it back here or at the Shrine of Seven Stars. The Council will have their own sanctuary in Pandaria, the Shrine of Two Moons. Please keep this in mind."
Varian snorted, "I dare anyone to try and pull off something in Stormwind. My guards have been on high alert since I received the command seals. I will personally ensure that we all make it to Pandaria intact." He leveled his gaze at the Servants, "And I mean all of us. Now if you will excuse me, I have other meetings to attend." Varian bowed and gestured to Lothar, who saluted everyone else and followed his king out. The Archbishop was next to leave, bowing slightly before turning away.
"Well, I guess that's our cue to leave too. Assassin, come on! Let's go visit Anduin before we go! Who knows when I'll get to see him again!" Valeera jogged after Varian. Assassin rolled her eyes and glared again at Arthas for good measure. She didn't even look at Sylvanas or Jaina as she slid her helmet back on over her face and followed after her Master. Jaina felt somewhat relieved to have escaped the night elf's scrutiny. Sylvanas looked less than pleased at being ignored.
"I guess we ought to.." She started but Arthas was already walking up to the pair.
"Jaina," he said quietly. His hand reached up, as if to touch her but then thought better of it. "It's been a while. I thought maybe we could catch up over some tea?" His blue eyes flickered to Sylvanas, who stared at him impassively. "Just the two of us."
Sylvanas snorted. Her opinion of Arthas seemed plain. Jaina touched her arm gently, "It's fine." She looked to Arthas, "Tea will be fine."
He nodded and smiled at her, a small hopeful thing, even as he offered her his arm. She took it and as they left, she pretended to ignore the burning stare of two glowing eyes.
Hrk. We'll finally get to see some action next chapter. But if you made it this far, thanks for reading!
Chapter 5: Welcome to Pandaria
In which all of the players finally arrive and the stage is finally set.
As promised, the portal provided by the Church of Holy Light opened right onto the terrace of the Shrine of the Two Moons. The shrine itself stood several stories tall and from the terrace, Thrall could see large groups of pandaren bustling about conducting their business. But it was his surroundings that caught his attention. The trees and the grass gleamed gold in the late afternoon sun. It was easily one of the most beautiful places he'd seen in his life. A grand palace nestled against the mountains to the east. The place was clearly a place of power but he ignored it for the time being to survey the rest of the land before him.
A gentle breeze slipped over him, carrying with it the scent of some delicate flower he'd yet to identify. Closing his eyes, Thrall opened himself up to the elementals in the area. They seemed at peace for the most part but something dark lurked below the soil. He frowned at this but further attempts to identify this dark element were forestalled when a warm hand fell on his shoulder. "Last one here and the first one ta greet the elements I see."
The orc turned and he grinned broadly at the familiar sight of a blue skinned troll with a flaming red mohawk. He wore a burgundy coat with the edges trimmed in colorful geometric patterns with loose fitting trousers and bare feet. "Vol'jin!" Thrall took a step back to grasp the troll by the forearm. "I apologize for not greeting you when we met in Gadgetzan! You looked preoccupied."
Vol'jin returned the embrace, grinning widely. "That alright mon. The First Arcanist and I had much to discuss. So what did you see out there?"
Thrall turned his gaze sideways back out towards the terrace. The thick twin braids of his jet black hair swayed slightly at the movement. "A land at peace. I admit that I am more than a bit hesitant to fight the Kirin Tor here of all places. It's true that there's power here and I worry about what we might disturb."
"Aye, I agree with you there mon. But them Celestials, this is their land. They know better than anybody what this land can handle. They wouldn't have opened it up to us otherwise."
"I suppose your right." Thrall smiled a little sadly, "I still think it would be a sad thing to tear up such a beautiful place." He let out a sigh, "So you said I am the last to arrive? Where are the rest?"
Vol'jin patted Thrall on the shoulder again, "It be alright. As for the others, some be resting. Others be around. Let me take you ta your room."
As Vol'jin led the way, Orgrim materialized beside the other orc. "And Gul'dan? Where is he?"
The troll looked over his shoulder and shrugged. "That, I don't know. Haven't seen him since I arrived. Garrosh might know." His face shifted to a look of displeasure at the mention of Garrosh's name. "Gul'dan's taken a shine to him."
Both Orgrim and Thrall winced. Garrosh was young, hot-headed and eager to prove himself. Thrall had hoped to take him in at some point, show him the old ways of the Orcs, the path to honor. Perhaps he still could. "I see. Perhaps I will seek Garrosh out later and speak with him. We have slightly more pressing matters. Have all the servants arrived as well? I haven't seen any other than Saber and Lancer."
Vol'jin laughed, "Aye. They be around. Rider and Rexxar are out scouting the area around the Shrine with Archer right now. The Loa only know where Assassin and Berserker are though. Haven't seen either of them. Lancer's with Cairne in his room discussing something."
"Right in front of you."
Standing directly in front of them was a high elf. He was tall for his race but still at least a full head shorter than Thrall. His long blonde hair flowed loosely about his shoulders and the elaborate high collar of his cloak that framed his head coupled with an equally elaborate and large set of gold and red pauldrons gave off the illusion of him being taller and larger than his actual stature implied. His eyes glowed the same sickly green as Fel magic. He smirked at the three, his arms hidden beneath the folds of red and gold cloth. "Kael'thas Sunstrider at your service," he bowed slightly at the waist but there was a haughty tone to his words that made Orgrim narrow his eyes. Thrall gave his Servant a sharp look.
Vol'jin merely sighed, pressing his fingers lightly against his forehead. "Caster..." His voice carried a note of warning; a warning that Kael'thas ignored.
The Servant appeared to size up Thrall and Orgrim before he shook his head. "At least you two look competent. For orcs."
Orgrim snarled, "What did you say elf?!"
Thrall and Vol'jin shouted their Servants' names at the same time. The sound caused some of the pandaren in the vicinity to stop and stare at the four of them. Vol'jin gave another deep sigh before making shooing motions at the high elf. "Just... go... Go read a book Caster. There's a library in the Shrine. Find out more about the ley lines in this area and how we can tap into them."
Kael'thas huffed and said stiffly, "As you wish Master." He sneered at the two orcs before spinning on his heel and stalking off.
Thrall grimaced, "Is he always like that?"
Vol'jin sighed and shrugged a little helplessly, "The fallen Prince of the Quel'dorei be a powerful Servant but a handful."
"Ally or not, I will not tolerate any insult. Especially from an elf." Orgrim ground out.
"I can try to make him apologize," Vol'jin said, "But I be making no promises. Like I said, he's a handful. Honestly, I'm hoping we see as little of him as possible. But we be needing his magic at some point."
Thrall rested his hand on Orgrim's armored shoulder. "We will try to minimize our contact until then. We have more important things to focus on at the moment, like getting settled so we can join Rexxar on his scouting."
Orgrim continued to scowl even as Vol'jin and Thrall discussed potential strategies against the Kirin Tor along with speculation as to who the opposing mages were. It didn't take long for them to reach the room Vol'jin indicated was for Thrall's personal use. The room itself was comfortably furnished. A wide window provided a view of a generous expansion of trees and grass. There were two cabinets for Thrall to put his things in and the double bed seemed plush and comfortable. Orgrim took a position by the window. Once Thrall finished putting his things away, he joined the Servant. From their vantage point, they could see three individuals in the distance.
"That must be Rexxar, Rider and Archer," Thrall said as he squinted at the three individuals.
Orgrim hummed in acknowledgment, "Shall we go and meet up with them Thrall?"
The younger orc grinned, "Of course."
When Archbishop Benedictus said they would be housed at the Shrine of the Seven Stars, Jaina was expecting a monastery, not all the comforts of a small city. After settling in, she and Sylvanas agreed to explore the shrine separately. Sunlight and fresh air made their presence known on the open terraces and wooden interior floors. One breeze carried with it the savory scent of cooking noodles as Jaina descended the stairs towards the great hall. Her stomach growled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since Sylvanas forced some eggs and cheese on her after a morning run.
She followed the scent down the hallway and into a back section cordoned off by some painted screens. There, she found several tables and chairs but more importantly a bar built in a half circle with two pandaren behind the counter. One wore an apron and a chef's coat, kneading dough with her great furry paws. The other happened to look up and spot Jaina, waving a paw at her and beckoning over. "Welcome! Please sit!" He gestured at one of the stools at the bar.
As Jaina drew closer, she could see a draenai and two dwarves previously hidden by one of the screens. They appeared to sharing a meal of noodles and beer and had completely ignored the pandaren host. Jaina's eyes lit up at the sight of a familiar safari hat sitting on top of a mop of reddish brown hair and a face half covered by a long red beard split into three braids. "Brann!" She hurried over to him.
Brann Bronzebeard was a semi-regular sight within the halls of the Violet Citadel. He always had time to stop and chat with Jaina about his latest expedition, the artifacts he found, and where he was off to next. It didn't surprise her to know that Antonidas asked him to be one of the masters but the thought comforted her all the same. "Jaina!" Even after all of his travels, his thick Dwarvish accent never faded. "What are you doing all the way out here lass? Did that old bastard send you here to keep an eye on us?"
Jaina laughed as she drew nearer, earning a curious glance from both the Draenai and the other Dwarf. She gave them both a small wave. "Not quite Brann. I'm here for the same reason you are." She turned the back of her hand towards him, showing off the red markings of her command spells.
Brann whistled sharply, "I see. I suppose it's best I introduce you to these two then." He nodded towards the Dwarf next to him, "This is Rider. Rider, this is Jaina Proudmoore, one of the Kirin Tor's most promising young students." The heavy gold crown on the servant's brow lowered slightly as he peered at Jaina. Dark eyes studied her before he grunted. "A pleasure." There was something about the way he spoke, a certain heaviness in his accent that made Jaina think that perhaps he was even older than Sylvanas. The bright blue tattoos that marked what little of his face she could see certainly made him seem fiercer.
Jaina blinked at the noodles and beer in front of the Servant, "Do... I thought Servants didn't need to eat."
Rider shrugged. His eyes wrinkled and his beard shifted, giving off the impression of bemusement. "Just because we don't need to eat doesn't mean we can't appreciate a good meal and a better beer."
"Oh." Before Jaina could ask more question, Brann cut in smoothly, "A servant's got many talents. You'll learn more of ‘em eventually. But let me introduce you to the sweet lass on the other side of me first. Yrel."
"Berserker's master," the draenai said cheerfully as she reached over Brann with an outstretched hand. Her skin was a pale lavender and her horns curved backwards, containing the great mane of silver hair between them. She wore a simple white sundress with gold trim. Jaina had to lean over into Rider's space to shake Yrel's hand. She had calluses on her hands, similar to the ones Arthas and Varian sported as part of their training. Jaina wondered where the Kirin Tor managed to find this woman. There were a few draenai mages at the Violet Citadel but they preferred to keep to themselves for the most part.
"And where is.."
Yrel's laugh cut off Jaina's inquiry at the same time a hot bowl of noodles appeared on the bar. "He is exactly as his name implies, so it's generally safer for all of us if he only comes out when he's needed."
"You better eat your noodles before they get cold," Rider interjected. He inclined his head towards the noodle bowl. "It'd be rude otherwise."
Jaina blinked, "Oh!" She turned her attention to the bowl and sat down at the counter. The host had been kind enough to provide her with a fork and spoon. The scent of the savory broth made her stomach growl again, this time audibly enough for those with her to hear.
"Better see to that stomach of yours Jaina," Brann said with a laugh. Yrel hid hers behind the edge of her own bowl before taking a sip of her soup. Even Rider gave a low chuckle.
The attention made Jaina blush and she hurriedly tried to hide it behind a noisy slurp of noodles. They were cooked perfectly, with just enough give to be chewy. It further sparked her appetite and in a few noisy slurps, her fork scrapped the bottom of the bowl and all she had left was just broth.
The host must have noticed her forlorn expression as he came by with another bowl of noodles. "Good yes?" He laughed, "We have the best noodles in Pandaria. Grandmother Han still makes it the old way, with her paws." He carefully tipped the bowl over, sliding the fresh noodles into the remains of Jaina's broth. "Please, eat up!" He turned to the other two Masters and the Servant, "More beer? More noodles?"
Sylvanas's voice cut through the noise and the questions as she suddenly appeared at her master's side. "Jaina, Lancer spotted members of the Council approaching the shrine! They have Servants with them." Her voice low and urgent, but not so low that Brann, Yrel, and Rider couldn't hear. Immediately, all four of them slid off their stools. "I'm going to join him but I wanted to alert you first."
Rider rolled his shoulder. His simple button up shirt and leather jacket faded away and in its place, a full set of proper dwarven mail. "I'll go with you. A strong show of force on the onset should scare them off and make ‘em think twice." He looked to the Masters. Yrel dropped a few bills on the countertop, "I'll go alert the others. Brann?"
The dwarf in question chewed at his lower lip for a moment. "I'll go with you Yrel. We'll split up and cover more ground that way. Rider, don't lose you here? We still have a lot of fight left to go."
Rider grinned Brann, taking on an almost feral expression, "Don't worry master. I'll live to fight another day."
As the two masters departed, Sylvanas and Rider turned to hurry off as well. Jaina reached out to grasp Sylvanas's arm, "Wait. I'm coming with you."
The Servant looked down and frowned. "No. Even this is just a feint, it's still too dangerous for you to be out there. Stay here, let me take care of this."
The young mage shook her head, "No. In fact, I or-"
Sylvanas and Rider both looked alarmed at what Jaina was about to say. With haste, the elf reached over and slapped her hand over her master's mouth. "Don't!" She hissed, ears twitching in irritation. "Don't waste a command spell on something like THAT."
Jaina glowered at Sylvanas. The immature part of her wanted to lick the hand over her mouth. She suppressed that urge and merely waited until the High Elf dropped her hand. "Fine." she spat. "But I'm still going with you."
The two Servants exchanged a look and Rider shrugged, "She's your master. The way I see it, we either let her come with us or she follows us. Either way, I don't think you're going to change her mind."
Sylvanas sighed, her ears dropping in defeat, "Alright alright. We're wasting time. Come along then. Lancer spotted them off to the west."
"What do you see Archer?" Thrall looked up at the light lavender skinned night elf perched on top of the boulder. The Servant had introduced herself to them as Shandris Feathermoon but out of respect, he referred to her as Archer. She wore simple hunting leathers dyed a deep purple edged in silver and matching bracers rather than gauntlets. A simple leather strap bound her indigo colored hair into a single long ponytail.
Archer hummed and leapt off the boulder with feline grace. On the ground, she stood at height with Orgrim. "From this side, the Shrine looks similar, if not identical to ours but all I saw were pandaren. It's possible that the Kirin Tor haven't arrived yet."
Orgrim snorted, "How arrogant of them. If that's the case, this should be a quick and easy win."
Thrall shook his head, "No. I've trained with members of the Kirin Tor. Many of them are arrogant, especially the ones from long bloodlines but they also the power the back-up their arrogance. We'll wait for Rexxar and Rider's return."
Orgrim looked skeptically at Thrall but turned instead to speak softly with Archer. Thrall took a moment to take a step back and survey the field himself. The mountain range that surrounded the valley provided good isolation from the rest of Pandaria. As far as he could tell, the town of Mistfall was the only large pandaren settlement outside of the Shrines and the Shado-pan garrison. Which meant the vast space between the two Shrines was a viable battle ground for the two mage groups. He wondered if anyone lived in the palace to the east.
"Incoming!" Archer suddenly called, her bow appearing immediately in her hands. The bow itself was plated in silver, studded with violet mana gems. The grip extended outward to guard the entirety of her arm, from the elbow down. She already had an arrow nocked and drawn, ready to let it fly. It took Thrall a moment to see just what she sighted. High up above them flew creature with the head of a wolf, the mane of a lion and the body of a bear. Instead of front arms, it sported a pair of bat-like wings. It circled high overhead, letting out a warning roar before circling down.
Thrall reached out to touch Archer's bow, "Hold your fire!" He could see an oversized saddle on the creature's back, "That wyvern is Rexxar's! If he's sending Leokk to us, he and Rider must be in trouble!"
Archer frowned but lowered her bow as Thrall instructed. "Are you sure?"
"Positive! The saddle. Rexxar had it specially made for him."
Thrall took a step back, pulling Archer with him to give the wyvern space to land. It roared a second time as it touched down on its two hind paws. The large head turned towards Thrall, nostrils flaring in exertion. The orc walked forward, hand stretched out with the palm presented. Leokk bent its head, muzzle pressing into Thrall's hand. When it registered the scent as a friend of Rexxar's, it turned and presented its flank. Without thinking twice, Thrall grasped the horn of the saddle and pulled himself up. "Archer, Saber," he turned his attention to the two Servants. "Are you ready?"
They both nodded. "We'll be right behind you," said Orgrim.
Thrall grunted his acknowledgment and snapped at Leokk's reins. It crouched for a moment before leaping up into the air. At the height of its leap, it spread out its wings and began to take flight towards its master.
Jaina stood to the side watching Sylvanas fire another volley of pure energy into the distance. The mana crystals that formed the limbs of Sylvanas's massive recurve bow flared brightly with every shot made. Though she couldn't see the targets, the mage knew that they were only warning shots.
"Looks like they've sent for reinforcements," Sylvanas said between volleys.
A monkey like being Jaina recognized as a hozen saddled up next to the high elf and peered into the distance. He wore a simple crown of gold and little else save a loincloth and a pair of golden bracers. He had introduced himself as the Monkey King; a title, he added with a hint of self-depreciation, that meant little in these times. "Bah. I had hoped they would be cowards. Would save me from having to do actual work."
"And here I thought the shrines were supposed to be safe spaces," a pandaren moaned. While his words indicated worry, it seemed to Jaina that he just sounded bored. The pandaren, Chen Stormstout if Jaina remembered his name correctly, sat by a small wooden keg refilling his tankard. He wore black silk cut in the same traditional style some of the older pandaren seemed to favor and a straw based conical hat low on his brow, blocking out the sun and prying eyes. As if feeling Jaina's eyes on him, he tipped his head upwards and offered the tankard towards her, "Beer?"
Jaina smiled and shook her head, "Thank you but no, I think I should keep my wits about me if this turns into something m-"
"Reinforcements! West side!" Rider shouted from the roof of the shrine. "The wyvern's back with a rider!"
Sylvanas stopped shooting to look westward, "Another orc. Is that it? This is their plan? Luring us out with a few orcs?" She snorted, "Seems almost like an insult really."
Lancer hummed, leaning over the railing more heavily. "Perhaps they're just testing us. See how alert we are."
"INCOMING!" Rider shouted again, this time his warning was followed by a series of arrows that fell just short of the shrine. Sylvanas immediately drew herself up to her full height, ears perking straight up.
"Sylvanas?"Jaina walked up next to the servant, placing a hesitant hand on the small of her back.
"Looks like the orc wasn't the only reinforcement. I see a night elf with a bow and another orc with a sword. That night elf is definitely a Servant if her arrows are reaching this far."
The Monkey King grunted, "Archer, cover us. Master, shall we go?"
Chen yawned as he rose to his feet and adjusted his hat so that the notch settled over his right eye. "Hrmph. I would have liked to finish this keg before we engaged in battle but I suppose now is as a good time as any to show them that the citizens of Pandaria are no pushovers."
Rider whistled sharply from above, "You best get going! Looks like they're about to mount an offensive! I'll back you up!"
The Monkey King and Chen looked at each other and nodded once before vaulting over the railing of the terrace. Jaina watched them land on their feet as Sylvanas narrowed her eyes again. "I'll lay down some cover fire for them until they get close enough and we can join them,"the archer murmured. "So you best prepare yourself."She pulled back on the string of her bow and fired off another volley of mana shots, this time in the direction the other set of arrows came from.
"Two forwards incoming!" Rexxar shouted. Rider crouched low beside him, the white wolfskin he wore draped over him helped him blend in with the grey of the rock formation they were using as a barrier against Kirin Tor's Archer. The servant raised his head to peer over the edge but quickly ducked back down. "Take cover! Volley!"
As soon as those words passed his lips, a shower of mana bolts fell just short of their hiding spot.
Rider looked to Orgrim and Thrall, who crouched beside him and then to Archer who stood further back, "Archer! Think you can keep their archer busy while we take care of the welcoming party?"
Archer smiled grimly, "I never miss a shot." She aimed her bow a little higher than before, taking a moment to make slight adjustments for the wind before letting a single arrow fly.
The mana bolts stopped abruptly, giving the rest of the servants and masters enough time to leap up and over the rock formation. With no volleys of mana bolts of arrows overhead, the four orcs quickly closed in on the pandaren and the hozen charging straight at them. Thrall shifted the grip on Doomhammer, preparing it for a forward drive even as he infused the head with lightning. Without a word, Rider fell in step beside him. There was something familiar about this other orc, a draw he couldn't explain despite Rider's bond with Rexxar. There would be time to explore the feeling later. For now, the pair moved like they fought together many times before.
"Lok-tar!" Thrall roared, leaping upwards as soon as he was in striking distance of the hozen. Doomhammer came down at the same time Rider swung his axe low to cut at the enemy's legs. A clap of thunder drowned out all other sounds before both orcs were pushed back by the resulting explosion of Doomhammer's lighting striking another weapon rather than fur and flesh. The silhouette of the hozen erupted from the electrified dust, a wooden staff whirling above his head. Thrall jumped backwards as the staff came down in a diagonal motion but the small wooden keg attached to the staff caught him in the chest. The weight of the steel bound drove the breath from his lungs and he stumbled backwards, gasping for air.
Rider rose from behind the hozen, his double bladed whistling through the air in an upward arc. The hozen yelped, twisting out of the way just in time Thrall saw Rexxar and Orgrim engaging the pandaren at the edges of his peripheral vision. The pandaren moved with a speed and grace that belied his size. He wrenched his attention back to the hozen. Given the speed with which it he was dogging Rider's attack, it was clear that this was a Servant and with the staff in his hand, most likely Lancer. Thrall grunted and stepped back. When it came to brute force, he held little chance against a combat oriented servant. So he tried another tactic. He formed a space between his two hands and channeled power into that space. A ball of lighting crackled and he let it build. Electricity arced between his fingers but he waited. Rider seemed to see Thrall and changed his tactics, pressing down on the hozen with his superior weight and strength. After a few long minutes, he managed to pin Lancer down. "Thrall! Now!" the orc roared.
Thrall let go.
The bolt of lighting arced through the air, striking the hozen first, who screamed, and then jumping off to hit the pandaren a mere five yards away. The pandaren roared with pain and the air filled with the scent of burnt fur and ozone. Instead of dissipating however, the lighting bolt flew straight up into the air. Thrall followed the path and watched it stop at a single point in the sky. He paused and blinked. "Wh-?"
A war cry interrupted his question as the bolt returned to the ground with five times its original power. The explosion tore up the ground, sending all the ground combatants flying backwards. Thrall staggered to his feet, ears ringing and confused. What stopped the lighting? What brought it back down?
A thick dwarvish accent cut through the ringing. "Hey lads! Get your claws off my friend there and come fight a REAL Servant." Blinking the spots out of his eyes, Thrall saw a dwarf in full battle dress throw his hammer.
"Or-," Thrall started, cutting off his shout before he could call out his Servant's real name. Orgrim heard the warning all the same. He swung his blade in a wide arc, parrying the hammer with a sound like the crack of thunder and sent it spinning back towards its thrower. The orc's lip curled into a snarl, "Gladly! I am Saber of the Red and I shall be your opponent!" He charged forward, slashing at the dwarf who caught the edge with his hammer. Thrall could see a white line cutting through the red beard.
"Well met Saber! I'm Rider of the Blue and you're about be GROUNDED!" Hammer met steel, sparks flying with every blow.
Thrall used the break to rush to Rexxar's side. The half-orc waved him off even as he eyed the pandaren also staggering to his feet. "The arrows stopped," Rexxar panted. "The Archers have stopped firing." Thrall looked up into the sky and sure enough, there were no volleys of arrows or mana bolts flying overhead. He frowned. "Did she betray us?"
Rexxar grunted, mouth opening but the whistling of a purple arrow landing right at the pandaren's feet, interrupting his sudden charge, answered the question for the both of them. "I am sworn to my Master and thus to the Council unless she orders otherwise," Archer's cold voice sounded from behind them. "Blue's Archer stopped firing first. I believe she is on her way..." She stopped, ears twitching as she looked upwards. "Here!" In a single smooth motion, she pointed her bow up into the air and fired.
Thrall watched the arrow suddenly get in cased in a block of ice before crashing to the ground, shattering into dozens of pieces. A flash of blue and gold landed between them and Archer.
Thrall blinked again at who he saw land. "Jaina?"
Chapter 6: Divided Loyalties
In which Thrall and Jaina finally meet on the field and they must come to terms what it means to be on opposing sides.
Sorry this took so long. I thought I wrote myself into a corner with the last chapter and I had to figure out how to write myself out of it. Not real pleased with this chapter but hey, it's done. SO HERE WE GO. Thanks for reading so far.
Jaina closed her eyes and clinched her fists, praying to any and all of the gods that the voice did not belong to her friend; that she only imagined that voice. When she turned, all hope faded. "Thrall," she breathed. The memory of disappointment and sadness came flooding back. She heard that her friend had gone to join Gul'dan. She just didn't think that he'd be chosen as a Master.
The stricken look he wore told her that he didn't think she'd be chosen either.
Her nails dug deeply into the palm of her hands when she spotted Rexxar beside him and the glowing red command seal on his massive hand. The large half-orc wasn't a member of the Kirin Tor but she'd played go between for the Director and Lady Modera often enough that she considered the bounty hunter a friend. Now both of them were here on this field, clearly working for Gul'dan's council.
The thought made her stomach turn even as she took an inadvertent step backwards. The step caused her to jostle up against Sylvanas's back. To the Servant's credit, she didn't even seem to budge nor spare a glance backwards at her Master. "Get yourself together," she hissed instead, never taking her eyes off the other Archer who had her bow pointed at her but seemed reluctant to fire, even at such close range. "I can't fight if you're going to be useless."
Sylvanas's words seem to bring Jaina back in to herself and she swallowed as she tried to stare at Thrall and Rexxar, "Y-you two..." Her voice shook even as her mind raced to figure out the best course of action. She wasn't sure she could go up against both Thrall and Rexxar at the same time. From a power perspective, she knew she was as strong as both of them individually, perhaps even together but Rexxar had years of field experience against some of the worst mages around Azeroth and Thrall could read her spellwork as well as she could read his.
Chen solved half the equation for her when he made his presence known with a roar and gust of wind that sent the two orcs stumbling sideways. Rexxar grunted and shoved Thrall towards Jaina, "You deal with her. I'll hold off the pandaren."
Thrall stumbled forward, glaring first at Rexxar and then at Jaina, who continued to stare at him with wide eyes. He trailed his vision behind her. Archer of the Blue already rushed forward to engage Shandris, who wielded a strange three bladed weapon against the other Archer's halberd. "Thrall." Jaina's voice brought his attention back. Even as battle raged, Thrall could not bring himself to raise Doomhammer against his friend.
He watched Jaina twitch her fingers, magic sparking and fading with every half traced rune. It seemed she was having the same issue. "Just...," Jaina said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Just tell me why..."
"The elements. Something's coming Jaina and it's got the elements all worked up. Can't you feel it?"
"But why Gul'dan?"
"Because the Kirin Tor won't listen!" Thrall roared. Jaina recoiled as if she'd been slapped. "They won't... They don't listen! Not unless you're an archmage and even then..." He grit is teeth, "We both know how they feel about shamanistic magic."
"But..." Jaina started.
Thrall growled, clutching Doomhammer, "Jaina. You know as well as I do what I say is true! At least Gul'dan is willing to listen." Thrall took a deep breath, his eyes flickering to the battling Archers, "I don't want to hurt you but if I have to to get to Archer, then I will."
Jaina took a deep breath. She didn't want to hurt him but she didn't want to betray the Director or the Kirin Tor either. She looked over her shoulder and watched the two Archers fight. They were blurs of blue and purple, clashing at inhuman speeds. Could she betray Sylvanas's trust for the sake of friendship?
Her fists clenched and her eyes started to glow blue as she opened herself to the mana around her. She channeled the mana towards her right hand, pulling moisture from the air and crystallizing it into a saber made from ice. "I'm sorry Thrall but I can't allow that." She struck out suddenly with a sideways slash. Thrall parried the slash and raised his left hand, throwing a blast of wind right in Jaina's face. The gust knocked her back several feet and onto the ground. She gasped sharply and placed her left hand on the ground, trying to push herself up even as Thrall raced past her towards the dueling archers.
"Thrall! No!" She flung her ice sword at Thrall and immediately etched a rune in its wake. The sword struck the orc in the the back of his calf. Instead of piercing skin and muscle, the ice shattered and reformed itself as a single block, freezing Thrall's leg in place. He shouted, the sudden stop on his momentum causing him to pitch forward. Jaina scrambled to her feet. She could hear the sounds of battle behind her as Servant battled Servant and Rexxar and Chen traded blows.
She could see in her mind how the next few minutes would play out. Thrall would get to his feet and attack Sylvanas. Sylvanas would probably kill Thrall before he even laid a finger on her but that would leave her open to the other Archer. She couldn't let that happen. She needed to separate Thrall from the Archers and then figure out a way to call a retreat.
She started drawing another rune and the field plunged into total darkness.
Shouts erupted all over the field at the sudden lack of light. Even sound came out muffled. Thrall managed to get to his feet, the ice block around his foot melting away. He clutched Doomhammer and attempted summon a flame. The flicker of one appeared but failed to illuminate more than a foot or two around him. "What? Jaina!" He started to say when he felt a light breeze pass against him and then the cold bite of steel against his throat.
"Take my advice," a distinctly feminine voice murmured against his ear, "and get the hell out of here. Would hate for Jaina to have to watch her friend bleed out."
Thrall spun around, swinging his hammer but struck only air. He growled but the voice was right. Whatever this darkness was, it was definitely the work of a mage or a servant, which meant reinforcements. "Council! Disengage!" He shouted. "Archer! Find us a way out of this!" He turned in the vague direction where he thought Jaina stood, "We'll settle this another day Proudmoore."
Jaina recoiled as the magic glow of her rune winked out. "Wha-?" She murmured a cantrip under her breath and a small pale mage light flickered to life. It struggle to stay light and Jaina found herself pouring more power into it than normal. Finally, it stabilized but the light it gave was still meager and the range pathetically short.
All around her, she could hear startled muffled voices shouting in confusion and Thrall shouting her name. Who'd done this? It was clearly some sort of bounded field and a powerful one at that. Another master?
She heard Thrall shout something again. It sounded like a retreat. Before she could question things further, she felt an arm wrap around her shoulder and tug her slightly sideways. "Come on Proudmoore. Let's go." The voice had the distinctive lilt of a high elf.
The voice laughed, "Wrong elf. It's me, Valeera. You got yourself into a real mess Proudmoore. Come on, let's go before Assassin decides to leave our sorry butts behind."
Jaina frowned and looked to her right. The green glow of Valeera's eyes seemed even brighter in the darkness and with it, she could see a hint of cheekbone but no more. With a sigh, she tugged at the binding that connected her to Sylvanas. 'Archer, we're pulling back.'
'Okay Jaina.' Sylvanas sounded mildly indignant but also tired. "Alright," Jaina said quietly to Valeera. "Let's go." The elf dropped her arm and reached out to grasp her by the wrist. "Follow me. Assassin's got Chen. The other servants should be following behind."
Even as she spoke, some of the darkness seemed to lift. She could see more of Valeera's face now thanks to the mage light that continued to flicker by her and the glow from the other woman's eyes. To her left, she felt Sylvanas's presence and with a glance, she saw the soft blue glow of her eyes as well. The trio moved quickly; hurrying off the field. A few minutes later, the darkness lifted and they were standing on top of small hill. Jaina looked back. She could see the retreating backs of the Council Members and the large swath of charred ground between them.
'So this is what war looks like,' Jaina thought to herself. She was saddened to see the beautiful land before her marred by the destruction of the Servants but she knew that it would go through more than just this as time went on.
The return trip back to the Shrine was relatively uneventful. Archer managed to find Thrall in the darkness and by the time they regrouped with Rexxar, Rider and Saber, the darkness had lifted just enough for them to navigate out of with help from Archer's sharp eyes and a small flame elemental Thrall managed to summon.
Now safely back at the Shrine, Thrall could recover and think. What was supposed to be a simple scouting mission had turned into a full on skirmish. A part of Thrall shouldn't have been surprised that the Kirin Tor selected Jaina as a Master. She'd been one of the most talented mages in their class and then some as well as the Director's first apprentice in nearly twenty years. She'd been a dear friend during their time together at the Violet Citadel but he could not ignore the warnings of the elements. It saddened to know that he would most likely cross paths with Jaina again before the war was over.
"There you are."
Thrall looked up from his tea cup to find Cairne standing by his table at the shrine's tavern. "Ah, old friend." He looked about, "Where's Lancer?"
The old Tauren sat down and helped himself to the pot of tea Thrall had ordered earlier. "Being debriefed by the servants that went with you on your little adventure." He kept his expression carefully neutral but there was a hint of disappointment in his voice. "I'll admit, I wasn't expecting full engagement on our first day in Pandaria."
Thrall flushed at the light admonishment. "I wasn't expecting them to show their hand so early either."
Cairne hummed and sipped his tea. "You'll need to be more careful Thrall. The others will be looking to you for guidance. Some, like the First Archanist will be stubborn about it but as Saber's master, the role of leadership falls upon you."
The orc grimaced into his tea, "I didn't ask for this you know."
"I know. But others have taken notice. You've been watched since you stepped foot in Pandaria, likely as soon as you managed to summon a powerful Saber. Gul'dan might have brought us all together, but you will be the one that will lead us to victory. Of that, I am sure."
Cairne paused and rose to his feet. As he passed Thrall, he laid a heavy hand on the orc's shoulder. "You will do well Thrall. Remember that you need only to go after just the Servants, not the Masters and put your faith in Saber. The Kirin Tor are stubborn and arrogant but they do not lack honor." He gave Thrall another pat on the shoulder. You can always talk to me or Vol'jin if things get to much for you."
Thrall looked up and smiled slightly. "Thank you Cairne. I will keep that in mind."
Cairne nodded and strode off, presumably to find Lancer.
Thrall stared into the remnants of his tea trying to decipher his future in the leaves at the bottom of his cup.
Valeera led Jaina and Sylvanas through the main courtyard of the shrine. True to her word, Assassin was already there standing tall and imposing in her armor with Chen, Lancer and Rider. The rest of the Masters and Servants, minus Caster and Berserker, had come out to meet them. Rider was relaying to the rest of the group what happened and who they encountered in that brief skirmish outside of the shrine's boundary field.
Arthas saw Jaina first. His back straightened and he moved quickly to her side in concern. "Jaina! Are you alright?"
Valeera smirked knowingly at Jaina and slid to the side to allow the young prince to take her space. Jaina narrowed her eyes at the blood elf before her vision was taken up by Arthas's broad rugged face. "Are you hurt? Lancer was just telling us you were fighting orcs!"
Jaina took a a step backwards to give herself some breathing room. "I'm fine Arthas. It was a near thing but Valeera intervened. They retreated when the field fell into darkness." She peered over Arthas's shoulder, "Which, by the way, was a life saver. So whoever cast it, thank you."
No one claimed responsibility. Varian and Saber gave each other a puzzled look but Valeera's smirk widened and her ears twitched. Jaina narrowed her eyes again but Arthas already had one hand on her shoulder, ready to usher her further into the shrine. "Even if you aren't hurt, I'd like for one of the shrine healers to look over you."
The young mage placed her hand on his, "Arthas, I'm alright really. It's Chen that really needs to be looked at. He actually engaged one on one with another master."
The pandaren waved his paws. His clothes was obviously torn in a few places and dried blood matted parts of his fur. "I'm alright Miss Proudmoore. Arthas saw to me earlier and took care of the worst. Nothing left that a pint and a nap won't fix!"
Lancer laughed, clapping Chen on the back. "My master is made of stern stuff and don't think I was so busy fighting Rider that I didn't notice you taking a swing at that orc with the hammer!"
"Enough!" Varian's deep voice cut through the start of another round of protests. "I'm glad to see all of you returned safely. We've seen that the Council is not afraid to test their limits. We need to plan a counter attack and fortify our defenses. Archer, Rider, will you come with me? I'd like to speak with you about what you saw on the field. Chen, Lancer, Jaina. You did well today. You're dismissed. The rest of you..."
Valeera waved a hand, "I get it, scram." She started to unzip the protective black vest she wore over a close fitting red bodysuit underneath. "Whew, I could use a drink."
Brann saddled up to Valeera and clapped a hand on her back, "You did good lass. Let me buy you a drink."
She grinned broadly, flashing a bit of fang. "Words I like to hear. Lead the way!"
Jaina watched Brann and Valeera walk away with Assassin and Yrel trailing after them a bit wistfully. She jumped a bit when fingers brushed gently against her shoulder.
"Master," Sylvanas murmured. "I'll be taking my leave now as well. We used a lot of mana so please rest and eat something."
She swallowed, "Oh! Yes, of course! Um.. Let's meet up at my room after you're done with Varian?"
The Servant nodded slightly, her ears flickering as she glanced at Arthas before offering a smart salute and went to join Varian. The prince narrowed his eyes at Sylvanas but as she turned her back, his hand dropped down to Jaina's elbow. "Come on." HIs voice was low and gentle but insistent, "At least let's find you a quiet place to sit down. You had an ordeal."
She watched Sylvanas walk away. The Servant had executed several volleys of raw mana before even joining the fight. When she did, it was a high speed battle with the other Archer. Yet she showed no signs of injury or even being winded. The only indication that the fight even happen was the missing chunk from Jaina's own mana reserves. The adrenaline from the fight and the shock over Thrall and Rexxar gave way to a creeping sense of tiredness and a mild headache. It wasn't much but it was present and suddenly Arthas's offer of a seat sounded wonderful.
She murmured her thanks and allowed him to guide her towards the rear of the shrine where she knew a sweets merchant had a stall. Arthas fussed over her like he used to when they were younger but she let it wash over her. Instead, she replayed her part of the fight in her mind. She'd fought Thrall. She'd been ready to hurt one of her closes friends for Sylvanas. The thought made her gnaw on her lower lip and she wondered what else was she willing to do for her Servant's sake.