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Dark Scales

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Anduin couldn’t count on more than one hand all the times he was permitted to leave Stormwind Keep on his own. Not when he was known as Prince Anduin, and very rarely now as King Anduin. Despite the tragedies that had led up to his father’s crown being placed upon him, Anduin always had the smallest glimmer of hope that his freedom would come with it.

But that was not the case. The past seven months had made that clearer than ever, as Anduin finds himself where he always was: pouring over his writing desk, in his study, two guards outside the door with their shadow spilling under its crack. Deeds and reports lie in front of him for reading; reports of battles he should be present for, or even at the very least, on the same continent of. He couldn’t visit the wounded soldiers that returned to Stormwind on most days, despite his powerful gift of the Light he could use to aid their recovery. Anduin’s advisors would insist he had far too many kingly duties to attend to. People like Greymane would fear the dying carried Plague on them.

He couldn’t help but loathe the memory of their assault on Lordaeron. So paranoid had the leaders of the Alliance become since seeing Sylvanas’s capabilities for themselves; but worst of all, those capabilities had shown how terrifyingly ruthless she could be. Toward his soldiers, toward her own Horde…

It was a victory for the Alliance, but at a great cost to both sides.

It also cost him his allies’ peace of mind. The leaders and his commanders-- most of all Greymane-- would not be content to see Anduin on the battlefield again, now that they’ve seen the true quantities of Sylvanas’s plague that she had at her disposal.

He bounces his leg as he reads another report, impatience starting to bleed into how quickly his eyes pass each line. Casualties in Stormsong. Evidence of Forsaken involvement. Poison. No capture.

The paper is set aside. Two more take its place. Vulpera and Sethrak civil war escalating. Not open to Alliance negotiation. Champion missing.

Anduin’s leg continues to bounce. He reads another.

Loa god awakened. Horde numbers increasing.

Success in Drustvar. Low casualties.

Request for naval repairs. The bouncing grows in speed, impatience mounting with its rhythm. Blacksmiths requested. Gnomish air forces suffer loss in Nazmir. Proudmoore fleet requests more sailors. Loa gods. Old Gods. Rogue elementalists. Funding dispute. Champion deceased. Kaldor’ei refugee unrest--

Something suddenly clatters to the floor. Anduin yelps as his hand catches the edge of the desk before his body can meet the cold stone. His heart pounds from the quick spook, though he quickly understands his predicament. He rightens himself on his chair and sighs.

His leg had come dislocated from the knee-down with all his anxious bouncing-- the metal knee, that is. The rest of the fake appendage lies on the floor with his boot, leaving the leg of his right trouser empty and hanging flat off the edge of his seat. Anduin leans down to retrieve it.

It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened; not since he’s been back in Stormwind. The Pandaren had made him an excellent leg out of their giant, timeless bamboo trees when he had first lost his leg to Garrosh Hellscream and the Divine Bell. Anduin had marched all over Pandaria with that leg after he recovered, and it hardly buckled once. Then he got older, and taller, and the gnomes have made almost ten different prosthetics for him since his return. He felt guilty about asking for repairs or a new one every time one couldn’t handle the stress he put on it. The materials and tinkering it was replaced with were never the most pristine, but his engineers needed to focus their best effort on the war effort, not him. That’s what he would tell himself.

But it was still inconvenient. He was not marching anywhere now, though, he reminds himself. He was stuck in his own keep, a prisoner of war, of a war he was not even allowed to fight in. The leg was dropped harshly on the desk in front of him.

He looks back down at the reports. He tries to concentrate again, tries to read slower and ignore the asymmetric weight he’s balanced on in his chair. Sentences start to overlap. His fingers taptaptaptap on the wood. The fake leg on the desk rattles with them. The names of places he’s never been stop making sense as they pass over his eyes.

He loathes it. The drumming stops, and Anduin suddenly pushes paper and leg alike away from him with a grand sweep of his arm.

His fingers loop and yank out the tight ponytail from his hair. The heavy, decorated blue coat he wore is torn away and carelessly left discarded on the floor. He undoes the cuffs of his shirt, hastily rolling the sleeves to his elbows. There are no quick or panting breaths, but Anduin’s nostrils flare as he dismantles the perfect, tidy, presentable persona of himself in the jerky motions of his hands. Papers, scrolls, and books are cast aside in his haste to bring disorder to the prison of a workspace he knows by heart. It’s a frenzy he’s wont but to give in to. He knows naught the faces of the starving refugees. He hasn’t held his father’s sword on the battlefield in over a year. The humans have no king, no friendly face allowed to greet them in their homes, no majesty to turn to, no withering soul he can comfort with all the gentleness his Light yearns to reach out with--

Finally: Anduin leans far in his chair, balancing precariously on its back legs as his one, real foot lifts and drops its heel on his desk. His head tips far back enough for his now-loose hair to spill over his shoulders.

His blue eyes close slowly, and a sigh escapes his lips.

Sometimes, Anduin Wrynn was allowed his freedom. But only if he had his guards, if he was a good little king who never left his castle, and always did as he was told.

Chapter Text

The wind was howling fiercely against the stone walls of Stormwind and its homes. It would not be a good day for sailing, Anduin thinks, as he goes about his brief rounds with the dockmaster. Unfavorable conditions or no, Anduin basks in the opportunity to be out of the keep in whatever way he can.

Sailors salute him as they pass, and he smiles politely back at them. The dockmaster, a burly man who was once a captain in the time of the Northrend campaign, continues to point out to the king his pride and joy of a naval bay. Canvas flaps loudly in the wind. One of the ships in the harbor had survived the infamous siege on Zuldazar. Newly-arrived ammunition sits in crates that the dock workers were loading into another ship set to Kul Tiras at dawn tomorrow. Everything was orderly. Not a nail out of place, the dockmaster said.

Suddenly, an explosion has Anduin’s pauldrons shooting up to his ears. He and the dockmaster immediately whirl their faces over their shoulders.

A young dwarven man with a beard barely past his collarbone grins sheepishly back at them, face over a barrel and covered in soot. “Sorry, y’er Majesty.”

Anduin can’t help but bite the corner of his lip to suppress a grin. The dockmaster immediately marches over to berate the lad, as two more young sailors help the dwarf hurriedly lug the ruined barrel away.

He apologizes profusely when he returns. Anduin waves him off in reassurance, and they continue the rest of their way down long, endless docks of Stormwind’s harbor.

 


 

Anduin was still patting down his windswept bangs when the doors to the throne room opens that later morning. Citizens of numerous races start to pour in at an orderly fashion-- And Anduin could confidently say “numerous” now, as the kingdom had become the star refuge of every people under the Alliance banner, to those stricken with tragedy in less than a decade’s time.

Little did he know that that would be exactly why the first person in line, a broad kal’dorei woman, would be here before him. She bows deeply, as do the two night elf advisors in ceremonial robes flanking her. “Your Majesty. The people of Darnassus have come to feel overcrowded in your city; dare I say, even suffocated. We thank you for your hospitality. But we have come to an agreement to find sanctuary elsewhere.”

A pang of guilt finds Anduin. He leans forward toward her. “I am truly sorry, Lady Cerlune. Even now, the kingdom is still picking up the efforts of re-homing the victims of the Cataclysm that my father left off; to be blindsided by the tragedy of the night elves-- I deeply apologize that we could not accommodate you better.”

A tense smile finds Cerlune’s face. She is not the first person to hear of the woes the human nation’s homeless epidemic has exasperated Stormwind’s funds. Anduin guesses she will not be the last today, either. He winces at how undeserving he is of her gentle words. “Thank you, your Majesty. Your generosity to our people has not gone unnoticed. We only regret that we may not be able to bring many of the Gilnean population with us, as we had watched over them in very much the same way.”

“Where will you go?” Anduin asks.

She glances back at her advisors. They all turn back to the king. “For now, Val’Sharah. The druids tell of the Nightmare’s recession almost completely vanquished. We could help heal the land further. We would… have some semblance of what we lost. The High Priestess has already made preparations with the temples in the south while she continues to oversee Darkshore’s progress.”

Anduin nods slowly. He leans back against the grand throne behind him, visibly mulling the developments over. “And I cannot convince you to stay? You have no demands at all?”

She shakes her head. “I am sorry, your Majesty. This is something we must do, so that we may move forward.”

The king nods again. “Thank you,” he says at last, softly so, “for bringing this news to me. I cannot speak over Lady Tyrande’s decision, and I do not wish to bring her people any more grief. Should hardship find you-- the gates of Stormwind are always open. Always, Lady Cerlune.”

This time, the woman’s smile is easier. She bows to him once again, and the two behind her follow suit. They leave the hall to make way for the next audience at the foot of Anduin’s throne.

It was going to be a long day, Anduin knew, as sadness made itself an early guest in his heart. The next citizen starts to speak of flooded crop lands, and he quickly buries that sadness aside to listen.

 


 

 

The bells of the keep’s tower ring for midday many hours later. The line of the king’s audience had dwindled to a trickle, until Anduin was left only with the stray Champion collecting a coin purse or a bounty from one of his many royal officials. They would take their leave outside the throne room on shining steeds or, in the case of one champion, a giant rat. Anduin did not care for that one. He would have to request someone sanitize the steps thoroughly.

“I am going for some air,” Anduin announces. His advisors take that as their cue for their own break.

Several guards step forward to follow him, but the king waves them off. “I am only going to the library. I will not need an escort, but thank you.” He takes his leave once they salute him and resume their posts.

Not that Anduin would truly have a moment of solitude on his way there; guards were stationed at practically every inch of the keep, whether it be outside a door or making their rounds through the corridors. Every one gave their king a salute, or a bow, that Anduin would nod politely to before skirting past them.

He longs to be rid of the armor that weighed heavily on his thin frame. It wouldn’t be until dinner that he would be able to, however. This respite was but to be a brief one before he was to return to an even longer line of troubled townsfolk than this morning. He would hear every one. Such was his duty. Such was his love for his people, as often as he found himself wishing for a farther reach of protection for them.

He makes it to the library at last. Two guards salute him. He nods. He slips through the door, and lets it fall heavily back into place. He does not lock it though, for that would be suspicious of him.

Also, because he needn’t to. A few quick, noisy strides of the steel greaves around his feet lead Anduin to another set of doors made of glass. He pushes them away, and breathes deep before he must release his breath in a sigh.

The ocean winds had grown stronger than they were at dawn. Its chilliness cools Anduin’s face almost immediately to the point of burning, and he is glad for how it grounds him. His bangs whip around his face no matter how many times he attempts to push them behind his ears.

From the balcony, Anduin can see his entire beloved city below him. Its gardens stand out in a lush green among the gray stone and colored rooftops. He can see people milling about in markets, going through their ordinary days despite the dreaded cold of autumn’s approach. This city was his home. It stood unrelenting against so much, even the events Anduin had only witnessed in his own short lifetime. He would do anything for it.

It is precisely why he is unstartled by his guest. “Aren’t you cold?” Anduin asks, not turning away from the view in front of him.

“Maybe if I could remember what winters in Quel’Thalas were like to compare it to. But no, sweetie, I am fine.”

Anduin smiles. He takes in the sight of his city one last time before he turns his head, and sees the familiar face of Valeera smiling back at him. “You’re the only person I know who doesn’t address me by my title, and yet I sometimes find ‘sweetie’ much more irritating.”

Valeera just shrugs her shoulders. He knows she won’t change a thing, and he values their friendship for such familiarity. “I’ve been away for a while. Judging by the lack of gossip I’ve heard, I’m going to guess nothing much has happened since I was gone.”

"Thankfully no,” Anduin says. “We’re continuing to lend our aid to Kul Tiras, but nothing has been amiss on our own shores.”

“You’re probably bored.”

“I’m trying not to be.”

The elf chuckles. She joins him along the stone banister, mimicking Anduin’s laced fingers atop of it as they observe the city together. For a while, they merely stand there enjoying each other’s company.

“I have that information for you,” Valeera says after a while. “You won’t like it.”

The heavy armor around him does well to hide the sag in Anduin’s posture. He is hardly ever happy when he’s given reports. “I would still like to see it.”

A rustle through a satchel, and then the sound of papers being taken out. The two of them turn their back to the city, lest the small journal passed between them be lost to the ocean winds. Anduin thumbs through the pages, then opens them to the passage Valeera had marked.

She waits for him to read every word, watching his features focus and shift. There is intrigue on his face. Then tension. Some parts of Valeera’s writing clearly confuse him, so he reads it twice.

“Sylvanas’s reign is progressing much worse than we feared,” Valeera says when the king meets her gaze with wide eyes. “You know of what happened when you ordered the Alliance to rescue Baine. But that undead tidesage, Zelling-- Derek Proudemoore’s rescue would not be possible without him. His family remains in Drustvar, but I have taken it upon myself to station rogues to watch over them, in case the Warchief wishes for their deaths as well.”

Anduin nods, letting out a shaky breath. “I-- I appreciate that decision. Thank you.”

He runs a hand through the hair still blowing about his face. Thomas Zelling and his death wasn’t the only thing of interest in Valeera’s report: Discontentment was loud and clear among the Horde leaders. Sylvanas’s response was to squeeze them as best she could; but this was not the same reign as Garrosh had. She could not put Orgrimmar under lockdown, for the Horde leaders were putting their heads together in Zandalar. She would not sail there, but her champion Nathanos would. He made no effort to hide the fact he was the ring leader in many sabotage missions against Jaina’s forces.

Aunt Jaina. Anduin misses her, and was relieved by the reunion of her albeit dead brother. Undead brother, he quickly reminds himself. Another pin in the cruelty the Warchief was capable of.

“Thank you,” Anduin says again, calmer this time. He hands the journal back to her. “I… I have much to think about what has been kept from me.”

Valeera smiles. “That’s what I’m here for. That will be five thousand gold, please.”

Despite the horrors he had just read, Anduin breathes a laugh. The rogue grins at him, ruffling his tangled hair. Just like she did when he was a child.

“If you don’t need anything else, I think I’m going to find a nice, biiiig bed to cozy into.” Valeera yawns dramatically, stretching her arms over her head. “Light knows when you’re sending me off on another boat ride with the worst hiding places to sleep in.”

“I’m sorry,” Anduin says, but there’s soft amusement in his sympathy. “You know I appreciate you doing this. I would not trust anybody else.”

A single green eye peeks at him. Valeera smiles. “I know. It is my honor to do this for you, Anduin… for your father.”

Slowly, Anduin nods. When his wave of melancholy has passed, he nods again up at her. “The third guestroom in the west hall is free. Loot the kitchen anytime you please.”

Valeera brightens. She gives him a hug, a mock-salute, then disappears over the edge of the banister. Anduin knows his eyes do not have to follow the descent to assure she lands safely in someone’s window without being seen. He knows she will.

The smile doesn’t return to his face as he ponders on what he had just learned. This war was turning into the entire world against one Queen, who would stop at nothing to see her conquests met.

He turns back around to face his city one last time before he has to return to his duties. One corner always catches his eye and softens his heart: the sight of his father’s memorial in the Park-- the greenest part of Stormwind there is.

 

Chapter Text

Valeera would leave for Kalimdor three days later to monitor the tension around Orgrimmar. Despite being sin’dorei herself, her face was too recognizable to pose as a Horde citizen under Sylvanas’s watchful eye. It would be tricky surveillance work, and Anduin suspected she would gone for another few weeks, if not longer.

He couldn’t be more thankful for her presence since his father’s death. It wasn’t until the discovery of Derek Proudmoore’s body that Anduin had asked Valeera to be his royal spymaster-- his personal spymaster, which she had humbly accepted. No one else knew of this arrangement. It had grown difficult for him to trust his own SI:7 these last few years, and for good reason.

Anduin put aside the book he had been reading. Rain was beating heavily against the windows of his bedroom chamber, the water unseen by the blackness of the evening. Storms like this always made his leg ache; it also blessed him by giving him a rare day of little to do. He had retired to his chambers early, had a meal by himself, and was free to spend the rest of the now-hidden sun lying about without heavy armor nor a creaking leg to walk on. It was nice.

The king slowly rose from his bed, reaching for his cane and standing with a small crack in his back for the trouble. He hobbles his way to every candle in the room, snuffing them out one by one between his fingers and leaving the hearth burning. It provided just enough light to make it back to his bed where he pauses. He looks out his window in quiet contemplation.

Darkness of the night still lingered on the other side of the glass. Lightning flashes once and lights up the harbor.

His injured leg gives a hard twinge of pain. Anduin sits down and puts his hand on it, running over the limb with a hard furrow to his brow as the ache fights him.

This weather always reminded him of when his ship wrecked off the shores of Pandaria. Though he had not lost his leg that day, the memory of the splitting wood and flooded chambers would not loosen its grip on him. It takes a hard squeeze of his eyelids to will away the vivid images of what came after his capture.

He breathes out slowly. His knuckles are white around his injury, until the ache numbs to an annoyance, and he is able to climb under the covers and force himself to sleep before it returns.

The next morning, a heavy fog surrounds Stormwind with its icy touch. It would be another day where hardly anything gets done on the sea, and fewer citizens would come to Anduin’s throne room seeking an audience. Although it guilted him to say so, he was glad for another small break. He was even more glad not to wear his armor, and instead bundle himself in his favorite coat of blue and gold. It was warmer, and his prosthetic gave him less of a fuss without all the extra weight of steel.

Problems were few and less severe when the people of Stormwind came to his throne that morning, but one human woman’s concerns gave Anduin a morbid sense of intrigue: “My children swear they are seeing giant birds fly over Stormwind. Not just gryphons or fat crows, your Majesty. They insist they are ugly things, like vultures.”

Anduin frowns at this. “Are your children sure they are birds? Sometimes our visitors come on strange animals, even sometimes dragons.”

The woman shakes her head. “They insist on them being feathered creatures. I know that are just children, King Anduin, but they insist so strongly that they see them-- almost every night.”

There’s a twinge of empathy Anduin cannot help feeling; he knows all too well the frustration of being a child no one likes to listen to. By the mother’s account, they have been seeing these things for almost a month before their pleas were finally brought to him. “Very well,” he says. “I will have more grpyhon riders stationed for a nightly post until something is found. Where did your children say they saw these birds?”

“Around the farms, your Majesty,” the woman says. “My boy says he’s even seen them fly close around the keep.”

Anduin sneaks a glance around his present councilmen. Some are curious about the claims, but most look bored or irritated. They clearly didn’t care for his quick decision to post more watchmen. They would just have to deal with it.

“Should anything be found, I will send word to your home at once,” Anduin says, watching a relieved smile take to the mother’s face. “Your children might very well be heroes if we find these giant monsters. Travel safe.”

She thanks him profusely, leaving a soft feeling of amusement about Anduin. It would be a nice change of pace to honor a couple of kids for their bravery. Perhaps he could knight them for acting for the greater good of the Alliance. He’d make a whole ceremony about it. Molly and Little Tommy’s Coronation, Attendance Mandatory.

“-- my king. My king.” One of the exasperated councilmen finally startles Anduin for his attention once the woman is gone. “Shall I write a statement for… exactly what we’re looking for, and how many gryphons to post?”

Anduin folds his hands on his knees. “Yes. Tell the guards and the riders to keep an eye out for any large, feathered beasts. Any who are not found with a rider or a carrier of some sort should be captured, but not killed unless necessary.”

His words are scrawled with lazy strokes of the man’s quill. The councilman sighs. “And if none are found?”

“They will still be paid an extra sum for their diligence. We will keep this extra watch for only two days, if you are worried about spreading out men too thin, captain.”

The man scrawls down more notes before giving Anduin a deep, reluctant bow. The king nods, and puts on a polite smile for the next person in line.

The fog had not yet thinned by the time Anduin was fit to retire for the evening. He tries in vain to peer through its ghostly veil from the balcony outside his bedchamber. It was not unnatural weather this time of year, of course, and no one had reported it being caused by magic. It was simply an inconvenience to Stormwind’s naval fleet, as well as Anduin’s own suspicions about the children’s claims of dangerous birds. Were any to breech Stormwind’s walls again tonight, they would be using the fog to their advantage.

His cane taps along the wood floor as he crosses the room to change for bed. Water is splashed on his face, and he frees his hair to fall in a stiff wave down his shoulders. It’s still too early to sleep, he knows, but the weather has exhausted him with the aches it’s brought him.

“Winter needs to be here already,” Anduin falls into the bed and mutters to himself. After he’s had his share of pouting at the ceiling and a dinner delivered to him, he puts out all the candles, and buries himself in his pillows for sleep.

As predicted, the fog would yield no results for the gryphon riders that night. After some thought, it was decided that the search be put on hold until the first sign of fairer weather. Today was already an improvement, as the mist didn’t feel quite so chilling, and Anduin was asked to oversee repairs for a Kul Tiran ship that had arrived with its deck splintered by magical assault.

After that, he was able to send a report to Jaian about the progress and his bids that she and her mother be doing well. Then after that, it was more paperwork and citizen complaints.

Fatigue wraps around Anduin like a blanket and follows him for the duration of the day. The more he hears about losses of life and territory, the wearier he became. How dearly he longs to be away from this place, to aid the war in some better way than to be stuck in his home deciding which tax increase would be the least likely to cause a riot. He was anxious, and he was tired; restless but drained. He decides to go on a walk to clear his mind a few times. Pretending he didn’t have half a dozen guards around him at all times might give him just an inkling of peace. It never did, but it was always worth trying now that he had outgrown his tendencies to sneak out his window.

Night soon settles in again. Anduin retires to his room. He changes his clothes, lounges miserably, eats his food, and puts out the candles for sleep.

 


 

Something in the dead of night makes the glass of Anduin’s balcony door and windows rattle, rousing him to sit up in bed with a start. The sky is clearer tonight than it’s been in days, just barely seen twinkling with stars-- Then is obscured by the blur of a gryphon rider flying by, chasing something large and black in front of it. Anduin throws himself out of bed immediately to attach his leg and reach for his father’s sword.

Before he can run across the room for the latter, glass shatters and explodes into his chamber. Anduin covers his face with his arms, stung with only the tiniest cuts before they lower, and he gasps.

A large, black bird shakes its feathers of the debris, then locks eyes with Anduin immediately. If this was one of the beasts the children claimed to have seen, their observations were only partially accurate: It did have some resemblance of a crow, only ten times larger, and with layers upon layers of plumage that was unkempt and dirty like a diseased scavenger. Its head had small, bald patches that made it look all the more feral. But the sharp gold of its eye told Anduin it was intelligent. It was calculating its next move.

“King Anduin!” the gryphon rider yells, as Anduin throws up a holy barrier around himself to deflect the beast’s lunge. Its feet and beak scrape against the golden shield until its wings push itself away, going for the gryphon rider shooting a crossbow bolt at it instead.

The door to his chamber rattles with guards calling for their king on the other side. Anduin tries to run and unlock it, but the bird is quick to leave its prey and make an advance on him once more. He narrowly dodges its talons by diving to the floor to meet the shattered pieces of his broken windows, and paying dearly as the glass pierces and scrapes against his skin.

The bird lets out an ungodly shriek before its next attack. Anduin rolls and fires a streaming bolt of Light from his hand, the thing dodging and lunging for him again. Another barrier meets its advance, but the king can see its gnarled talons causing visible scrapes against the magical dome. It pins Anduin there between the floor and his own spell, shrieking and trying to tear his protection away from him.

Luckily, as the guards in the hall continue to fight against the door that has saved many a Wrynn from assassination attempts, more riders and soldiers on gryphons burst into the room from the ruined balcony. One with a sword chases the beast off their king with a clean sweep of his blade to the bird’s wing. It cries out, pained and angered, giving Anduin the inch he needs to crawl from the floor and make his way to the first rider, now groaning weakly from his wounds.

“Do not kill it!” Anduin orders as he heals the man. “Capture it, quickly!”

The bird fights fiercely back against their attempts to subdue it. It stands nearly as tall as a gryphon at its full height, its wingspan stretched wide in its attempt to appear larger. The moment it gets desperate enough to try and break the wall of soldiers barring it from its escape, it’s taken down swiftly with blade and netting, the creature crying out all the while it fights against them.

But within minutes of its struggle, the creature gives up under the weight of several soldiers on top of it, and is bound by its beak and wings. Anduin gives a sigh of relief. The rider he attends to does the same, giving the king a weak smile of gratitude for the wounds that close under the king’s healing hand.

“What the hell is that?” one soldier asks. “It looks like a demon!”

“I don’t know,” one answers her. “It’s not undead, otherwise the king’s spells would have burned it to ash.”

“Is it what we were told to look for?” another asks, turning to Anduin as he stands and carefully hands off the healed rider to another. “I’ve never seen something like this in Stormwind before. Let alone at all, your Majesty.”

Anduin couldn’t help but agree. The creature continues to stare at the lot of them in its pacified fury. The intelligence in its eyes still botheres him greatly.

“Search for more,” he orders at once. “Make sure none are chased into the city or anyone’s homes. Capture any you find, and call for a magical study at once.”

The soldiers bow. The creature is taken from Anduin’s chamber, where his many guards no longer trapped on the other side of his door gasp at seeing horrible thing in their possession. Servants immediately pour in after to clean up the mess on the floor, and fuss over the king’s injuries. He promises there is no harm done to him, but they still make him sit down by the fireplace to pluck out the glass pieces in his skin one by one. The healing applied to those wounds are done himself, as he ponders throughout the process on what the hell that thing was.

 


 

 

No one had gone back to sleep since the bird’s attack. The sun was just starting to crest over the horizon, and no riders had yet returned saying they discovered more. A cage sits in the middle of the throne room where all the rest could study it. The grand doors that usually invited Stormwind’s citizens to speak to their king were closed.

Anduin sits on the throne and taps his fingers pensively against his cheek. His other was bandaged from his carelessness in avoiding the creature’s attacks. In front of him, many of his commanders and city’s most gifted with animal study discuss what they could gleam from the thing. They could not reach an agreement on its species, though the most likely of guesses were either magical mutation, something foreign off the coasts of Kul Tiras, or a rookery breeding experiment gone terrible wrong.

What bothers Anduin the most was that, somehow, the thing was almost familiar to him. He racks his brain as much as he can for a reason, but could not place what sparked that place in his mind. Locked away with no one to maim, it merely sits brooding in the middle of the cage with a hateful eye to all.

“We can take it back to the Mage District,” one observer says. “There are traces of magic within it, but they are natural.”

“It is under no thrall?” Anduin asks.

The elf shakes their head. “No. Its actions were under no influence of magic, as far as I can tell. It most likely attacked out of fear, or because it was starving.”

“Or it was trained,” one commander says with a grunt. Anduin feels a twinge of hypocrisy, seeing as it was the same man who was reluctant to look into the children’s claims of the bird at all. “If these things have been seen for a month, they could be smarter than we realize. They could be stealing intel, or trying to take the king’s life like they did tonight.”

“I do not think so,” another says. “The SI:7 have reported nothing missing, and the creature only broke into the king’s chambers because it was chased.”

“Aye,” the rider Anduin healed says. “T’was not my intention, y’er Majesty. It was dark, and I did not think I be so close to ye room.”

Anduin musters a smile and reassuring gesture, palm-out. “We did not expect to find one of these things so soon with the weather,” he points out. “For now… it is more important to figure out why it is here at all.”

A sudden sound.

Every person present in the throne room immediately turns their heads toward the keep’s entrance, where the great, wooden doors to the throne room start to creak and open with the might of a lone figure slowly pushing them open from the outside.

“I believe… I can answer that.”

Anduin stands from his throne. Every guard present has their weapons at the ready, surrounding the king in a semi-circle once the stranger has made their way inside. The doors close heavily as they stride up the sloping stone, the wetness of their boots suggesting they made the journey here on foot and through the heavy mist. The gathered council murmurs to each other in confusion and outrage. “You there! Halt!”

The stranger does not stop. Not until they stand on the flat stone of the throne room proper, no water dripping from their form, but clearly clinging to their dark clothes. Were it not for the moisture they had to walk through, their garments would look like the finest in all the desert sands. The boots on their feet were pointed. Large pauldrons were decorated in a way Anduin almost thought to look like feathers, before realizing they match the scale-like appearance of the stranger’s gauntlets.

Dark hair was swept back. It curled dramatically in the ocean air, long and past broad shoulders. There was a pointed beard, a sinister smile, and lax, glowing red eyes.

The room was silenced of all whispering. Anduin cannot help it when he breaks it with a breath of disbelief, as the revelation nearly knocks the wind out of him. It had been years. But the resemblance was undeniable. “Wrathion?”

There’s a grand sweep of those flashy gauntlets, as the stranger’s fingers spread wide on either side of himself, almost as if to punctuate his grand entrance with a bow. He does not bow, but the flash of a pointy grin articulates the showiness Anduin remembers all too well. “Apologies, your Majesty, but I cannot stay to chat long. I merely came to take back what is mine.”

His brimstone gaze prompts Anduin’s to follow: the bird. One of the councilmen gawks at the dragon. “Are you mad?

“No, but I am in a hurry,” Wrathion reasons with infuriating calm. “So if you would be so kind as to return my beloved pet, we really must be going.”

“Absolutely not!” another exclaims in disbelief. “You think you can just walk in here, claiming ownership of a creature that almost took the king’s life?”

Wrathion puts his hands in front of himself. “A simple misunderstanding, I assure you-”

“He’s a war criminal! He released Garrosh Hellscream! Gul’dan!”

“Now, gentlemen,” Wrathion says, “what part of ‘I need to be going’ don’t you understand-”

Anduin takes a heavy step down the throne’s stone stairway, making those closest to him flinch at the sound of armor falling upon it. “No,” he says in a dark, clear rumble. “You nor this creature are leaving this place, Prince Wrathion.”

More infuriating to Anduin still is the way Wrathion rolls his eyes with the bend of his neck. “Actually, if we are using titles, I would prefer-”

“You are not leaving,” Anduin says again. He continues his descent down those steps. The people present part like the sea to make way for his heavy, even strides. “By decree of the Alliance and all who have suffered for your crimes, I cannot allow you to leave this place, or let those outside Stormwind’s walls know of your presence in my kingdom.”

Wrathion scoffs. “What are you going to do?” he asks, “Arrest me?”

The last thing he sees is Anduin’s icy stare disappear behind a swarm of guards and glint of shackles.

 

Chapter Text

Desperately, Anduin reached out his hand. “You don’t have to do it this way. Tell me what’s going on. We can work together. We can find some way to--”

Farewell for now, young prince,” said Wrathion. He lifted a hand, and Anduin knew no more.

– Christine Golden, War Crimes

 

Anduin would not go to the stockades until he had everyone’s word that news of Wrathion’s presence would not leave this hall, or else those who went against his orders would be punished severely. It was a threat he once would have ever dreamed of making. But today, the situation called for absolute secrecy.

The city could not know Wrathion was here. The world could not know Wrathion, the Black Prince who released the Iron Horde and the events of the Legion upon them all, was here.

Anduin makes his way to the dungeons with ice cold resolve. He must be wearing that resolve stronger on his face than he realizes when the guards there give him nothing more than stiff salutes and hurried passage to the underground tunnels. They lead him all the way to the second basement floor, then return to their posts, where his own personal bodyguards follow him the rest of the way to the deepest underbelly of the stockades. Only one jail cell sat within it, and nobody else was to know who occupied it.

He holds his breath, then releases it harshly before undoing the bolt to the massive oak door. On the other side of it lies a room made of prison bars, and shackled away within it, was Wrathion.

The dragon smiles at him. “King. Anduin. Wrynn.”

It was an irritating annunciation of every consonant of Anduin’s name. He still has to convince himself over and over it is really him. The brown hue of his skin was familiar, as were the glow of his red eyes, the slit of his black pupils more catlike than reptilian. The black hair on Wrathion’s head was incredibly long and rich, making Anduin wonder if it was a decision of his human form that he made consciously, or if it had grown long naturally. Closer inspection would tell the king that it would be the case of the latter; the long hair was thick and tangled, and his bright eyes were lidded over dark circles. He looked tired. Even still, Wrathion’s smile does not waver as Anduin observes him with an equally-unwavering stare.

“Well then?” Wrathion asks when the silence stretches on. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”

Anduin says nothing, making the dragon roll his eyes when he gets tired of waiting for an answer. “You’re not still mad like your countrymen, are you? I thought you were too nice to hold a grudge.”

No reply. The king’s gaze becomes colder as he continues to stare the dragon down his nose. Wrathion had made himself at home on the floor, his wrists bound and his feet stretched leisurely out in front of himself. The fact he would not stand at a king’s presence was usually not a rule Anduin felt like getting annoyed over- but he was feeling petty today.

At last, Anduin makes a gesture of dismissal without turning around. His guards bow to him, leaving Anduin and the dragon alone after the door closes with a heavy groan behind him. He glowers at his prisoner’s smiling face through the space of the iron bars. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t have you executed.”

To Anduin’s further aggravation, Wrathion’s smile does not waver, and even turns coy. “Because you do not want to make a spectacle of me,” he says. “You do not even want your beloved people to know I am here.

“A hanging does not always have to be public,” Anduin points out with no trace of argument. “No one has seen you in years. They would never have to know.”

“And miss the opportunity to hang my head next to my dear aunt’s? Dear king, think of the upgrade to the décor.”

Anduin shows no sign of finding it humorous. After another air of heavy silence stretches between them, Wrathion sighs, folding up his knees to hang his arms lazily over them. His head tilts in regarding Anduin at the odd angle.“I know you will not kill me-- at least not yet-- because I’ve done too many things to make the world hate me, and those people would be outraged if they ever found out you offed me in secret. Plus, like I said, you are too nice. You would not take all the glory for yourself.”

“There is nothing glorious about making you pay for what you’ve done,” Anduin seethes through his teeth. “It’s been years since Garrosh’s trial, Wrathion. Years. Do you know what happened after your stunt? Do you know what happened after you disappeared?”

“Well, I--”

“Garrosh escaped to another world of what used to be Outland. Garrosh started a war that released Gul’dan, who made it necessary to free Illidan Stormrage, who brought the entire Legion planet to Azeroth. Do you remember, Wrathion?” Anduin doesn’t realize he’s raised his voice. He’s but inches away from the bars. “Do you remember when you would stop at nothing to prevent the Legion from coming here? Hm? Do you remember all the batshit, conniving things you did in Pandaria to prepare us? Well, guess what. It didn’t matter. NONE of it mattered. It still happened. And it was your. FAULT!

Silence. This time, it was Wrathion who would not answer. Despite of all the anger he had thrown at him, it was Anduin who felt like he had just been slapped in the face by the force of his own shouting. He was scant to ever raise his voice.

He looks at Wrathion, and knows without a doubt what he feels now. He hated him. He hates Wrathion, for everything he had done, and then chose not to do.

He sees Wrathion watching him, still in that lazy seated position on the ground with his head lulled against the wall at one side. But the amusement has faded from his tired eyes, replaced with something pensive Anduin does not want to give the energy to figure out.

The king only sighs. He pulls out a guardman’s chair from the corner of the room and falls heavily into it in a clatter of steel. He tips his head back against the stone behind him and closes his eyes, collecting himself. He doesn’t want to look at Wrathion anymore.

Not that Wrathion has ever been known to give him the satisfaction of peace and quiet. “Is that what you think? That the Legion came, and I hid away doing nothing?”

Anduin won’t open his eyes. His voice sounds tired. “That’s what everyone thinks. I had no choice but to believe it too.”

“Because it was what everyone else believed?”

“Because my father was killed.”

Now it was quiet. Anduin can still see the red of his anger swimming behind his eyelids, but slowly, it starts to dissipate. He changes the subject toward another pressing matter. “Is that bird really your pet?”

“It is,” Wrathion says. “And yet when I came to retrieve it, I found myself locked in prison instead. Do you treat all of your less-than-stellar pet owners like this?”

Anduin’s head remains tipped back against the dungeon wall when he peels his eyes open to lidded cracks. He regards the dragon for a long while until, “Where did it come from?”

Wrathion is smiling again. “I cannot tell you.”

“Because it is where you came from, and you cannot tell me that either?” Anduin asks.

“Precisely.”

Cryptic. If Anduin had any more doubts of this truly being the Black Prince Wrathion he once knew, they were long gone by now. He sighs, running an exasperated gauntlet down his face and stretching the skin of his jaw. “I suppose you will not tell me what it is doing here, either? Are there more?”

“No, and yes. There are many more, actually, but I only let two or three out and about at a time. In which case, I do assure you I do not send them on their way to do harm.”

Anduin’s eyes narrow. “But you do send them on their way to Stormwind.”

The dragon gives a nonplussed shrug from the floor. Despite his bound wrists, he’s taken it upon himself to pick and groom at his sharp nails.

It all continues to put stone after stone of displeasure in Anduin’s gut. Not only had Wrathion boldly made himself known to him in public, but now the dragon had just admitted to some intention of sending his monstrous creatures here. Could his council have been right? Could Wrathion really be trying to steal information from the king’s spies-- or do worse?

Anduin would find out one way or another. He stands, feeling Wrathion’s eyes on his back as he pushes his way through the dungeon door to once again leave the dragon alone in the dark.

He pauses first. Looks over his shoulder with a question that seems to surprise even the Wrathion. “Where are Left and Right?”

“Ah.” Wrathion stretches his legs out in front of him again. “They are… no longer in my company.”

Anduin asks no more questions. He leaves without meeting the dragon’s eye again, hearing the bolt of the dungeon door drop back into place as he and his guards return to the keep in silence.

He was exhausted by his own anxiety the bird and Wrathion’s appearance had brought. Determined however to make it through his duties without fail, Anduin keeps himself as busy as possible, being twice the attentive figurehead to his people’s needs throughout the day. He would not let his thoughts stray and give another rise to his anger. The only thing that mattered, as far as Stormwind was concerned, was that Anduin was their good and honest king with nothing to hide, who would give his life to keep his people safe from any threat who dared tiptoe their borders. Anduin swore this over and over to himself.

It takes all of his self control not to explode into a nova of righteous anger when news of Wrathion’s disappearance-- as well as the disappearance of his monstrous bird-- reaches him that night.

 

Chapter Text

Wrathion’s escape was in the whisper of every advisor who was in the know of his arrival in the first place. They did not need to hide their opinions from Anduin in hushed whispers whenever he walked by: He knows they wished he had simply killed Wrathion the second he walked through those doors. As cruel as the thought was, Anduin couldn’t help but privately agree from time to time.

Two more days would pass without sight of the dragon anywhere, subsiding Anduin’s anger to a numbing paranoia festering within himself. He shouldn’t have kept it a secret. Now Wrathion was gone, and all his own secrets had disappeared with him. Would he return? Would he wreck havoc on the kingdom, or take his folly elsewhere? Exploit the keep’s weaknesses?

By the fourth night, Anduin begrudgingly accepts that these events cannot be changed, and he would move on. His captain was finally eager to agree with him to expend more night watchmen-- to capture the dragon, of course, not some stupid birds-- but Anduin decides that he will call off the search in the morning.

He puts his book away, going about his nightly rituals before crawling into bed and willing himself to sleep. It was a hard task as of late, but it was better than toiling his own thoughts for another hour more.

 


 

He was no longer the heavy sleeper he’d been as a child, ever since the day he was crowned king and knew all eyes of the Horde would be upon him. It is what helps him hear the sound of curtains being drawn aside, and barely-silent footfalls making contact with his floor. His back was to his still-broken balcony, only sealed shut by boards to keep the weather out, and heavy drapery that concealed the entire eyesore until the repairs were to be complete. It would be the perfect opportunity for any thief, Anduin thinks, or an assassin.

His eyes were open to the other side of the room. Someone was avoiding their shadow being caught by the hearth’s fire, but Anduin knew; the intruder’s step creaks on the hardwood at the foot of his bedside.

In an instant, Anduin sits forward and twists himself around, a spell of holy fire in his hand that he lunges unflinching toward them. The spell is dodged, and his wrist seized hard enough to force a hiss through his teeth. He tries to ignite his other hand, but to his bewilderment, it is merely slapped away as he is held aloft by the one arm.

He blinks quickly to adjust his eyes to the darkness and the hearth’s flame. At first, what he sees runs his blood cold. A green face stares at his, with jarring tusks and unfriendly gold eyes. It was truly the day he would meet his end to a Horde assassin.

And then he realizes, and exclaims, “Left--

She slaps her other hand over his mouth. It probably wasn’t meant to hurt, but she was far larger than Anduin. Still, the relief that washed through him made him stop resisting her, and she releases her hold on him. A finger went to her lips.

“Your Majesty?” one of the guards outside calls. “Is everything alright in there?”

Anduin looks back at Left, who glances to the door. What he sees comforts him further: Right, Wrathion’s human bodyguard with her body in a crouch, ready for whatever resistance Anduin’s guards might unleash should they get inside. She breaks her stoic demeanor briefly to smile and wave at him, then resumes staring back at the closed entrance. There’s a nod that Anduin takes as a cue.

“Yes, I am fine,” Anduin says, faking sleepiness in his voice. “-- giving marching orders in my sleep.”

Right shoots him a thumbs-up. When no other inquiries come forth from the other side of the door, Left motions Anduin to follow her to the far curtained side of the room. He grabs his cane and hobbles over.

Anduin didn’t hold nearly as much malice in his heart for Left and Right as he did their employer. It had also been Garrosh’s trial when he had less seen them, and they were the same as ever as far as he could tell. Left was an incredible woman of great stature and even greater, hardier muscle. Never once did Anduin ever see a smile around her tusks, and her golden eyes were as sharp as a wolf’s. Right was always a little friendlier, though never one to get distracted from her task. She was smaller, stealthier, and the secret envy of Anduin’s SI:7 that accompanied him in Pandaria. Despite the two Blacktalons’ professionally stoic nature, Anduin always liked their company. Even if they did knock him out that one time.

“You’re coming with us,” Left says before Anduin can speak. “No changing. We’re leaving, now.”

“Wait,” Anduin hushes. “Are you kidnapping me?”

“Depends on how much you resist,” Left replies. She wasn’t trying to be funny.

Anduin’s fingers drum on the head of his cane. It had only been the other day he had mused to himself his abandoned habits of sneaking out of his room at night. He asks slowly, “Are you taking me to Wrathion?”

“Yes.”

So it would seem that some habits never truly die. That flame of anger he had tried for days to snuff out reignites in him. That’s all Anduin needed to agree to follow them.

 


 

Though wasting time by changing into proper clothing was discouraged, Anduin was allowed to put on his boots and wrap a cloak around himself. The rogues help the king onto one of the gryphons they had waiting; a breed that was tan rather than the gold and white ones the kingdom kept. Anduin recalls distractedly they were found closer to the south, as he settles behind Right, and they take off into the night sky.

The reasoning for their haste was so that Anduin could return before the sun was up, and no one would know their king had gone missing. It was supposed to reassure him that he would not be kept as a prisoner. As much as he likes Left and Right, Anduin still has his reasons not to trust anything a rogue says.

The rest of the world was asleep under their wings. They fly over the mountains, straddling the hazy borders of Elwynn and Redridge and the scattered villages between their valleys. The fact that they were traveling east makes Anduin suspect Wrathion had cozied himself up in the Blasted Lands. It was a suspecting thought he did not care for.

To both his relief and surprise, the gryphons instead veer toward the darker forest lands in the south. They start to fly over Deadwind Pass. Or so Anduin thought: It was not that they were flying over the dusty canyon, but into it. His heart begins to beat in a dreaded rhythm against Right’s back.

Karazhan stood unchallenged in the center of his vision, bearing the glaring reminder of all the wicked things that once inhabited it, and too of all the things that once used its hall for a greater good. Its bricks had grown faded of their mortar, making the tower appear to stand tall as one solid, carved stone. Were it not for all the chipping and missing bricks, that is. Since the efforts against the Legion, Anduin knew of no one who would dare approach it again. It’s probably what confuses him greatly to notice what appeared to be an old party streamer caught in one of its decorative spires.

The three of them land in front of the keep’s monstrous gates and quickly dismount. It was so dark that Anduin could barely see, but something above them caught his eye-- several somethings. Birds? Large birds, black as the night sky--

Anduin gapes. The dreaded carrion creatures circle above the canyon for a meal, or perch themselves along Karazhan’s many rooftops to stare down at the newcomers. He knew them to be native here-- thus answering the pressing questions about the beasts flying into his kingdom-- though it only connects so many dots about their appearance in Stormwind. Did Wrathion really consider them his pets? Was he training them?

“King Anduin,” Left grunts. Anduin turns around and sees Right and the orc holding one of the side gate entrances above their heads. He shuffles over to them quickly, having no choice but to be the first to enter. Cobwebs greet them, as do so many rats that scurry off into their hiding places. The hall in front of them was littered with rotting wood from the walls, and large beams that once fell from the ceiling. The creak of the old foundation bade them to step lightly.

Anduin pushes his hair from his face as he follows the rogues. One of his many sacrifices upon coming here in haste was that it hung loose and windswept from their flight. He narrowly avoids tripping over a destroyed love seat. Left rightens him, and they press forward down another corridor just as ruined as the last.

After what feels like hours of wandering aimlessly from one hallway to another, the first clue of Wrathion’s whereabouts comes from the flicker of candlelight Anduin can see pour from the entryway of a large parlor. A curtain hung on one side of it as a door, its color still as vibrant as the day it was made, but its bottom hem had suffered from many a hungry rodent. Right pushes the fabric aside. Anduin stares at what he sees.

Either the room they are in is an illusion, or its previous residents have kept it tremendously well taken care of. Its walls were not ruined with anything resembling battle or age, but had fine carvings beneath what could very well be fresh lavender paint. More curtains hang from the ceiling, too high to be the victims of a vengeful rat or two, while clean tables host finely-crafted chairs, a sofa, a few paintings that bear the still-colorful faces of nobles Anduin could not name, that were yet to be hung somewhere. Filled bookcases. Patterned rugs. The smell of tea and a fireplace…

And Wrathion. The dragon had his back turned upon the three’s arrival, but regards them now with his arms out on either side of him in greeting. An almost excited grin takes to his face, made sinister by the points of his teeth. “King Anduin Wrynn! You made it. Good, good.”

He wears a white turban Anduin remembers well, though wrapped closer around his head with its usual loose flap to hang over one pauldron, his dark hair buried out of sight underneath the entire thing. His clothes were the same as he had strided into his throne room in, with dark fabrics dry from any nasty weather, golden clasps and buttons that made themselves at home on his ensemble where they may. The coat he wears was almost in a similar style than Anduin’s own favorite blue and gold. The pointed shoes were still ridiculous, but nevertheless a signature aesthetic. He appears better rested than Anduin could recall back in Stormwind as well. It makes him suspicious of his intent all over again.

“You’ve been here,” is all he can say in disbelief. “This whole time. Here.

Wrathion drops his arms to perch his chin on one of his knuckles. “Not the whole time, your Majesty. But lately. Yes. Come in! I have something I want to show you.”

Left and Right make their way further into the room to stand post somewhere, but Anduin does not follow. He stares at the dragon. “Why?” he asks. “I haven’t seen you in years and kept you as a prisoner. Why are you talking to me like we are friends?”

A vengeful, minuscule part of Anduin was almost hoping that would strike a chord. But Wrathion only turns on his heel and waves a hand at him. “You’ll see! I have been dying to share my progress with someone. That someone might as well be you. You’ll like it.”

Anduin’s steps were heavy with reluctance. He follows only after Wrathion had disappeared behind another curtain, waited, then poked his head out to beckon the king with an impatient hand. He tries to tell himself that if this were truly a ploy to end his life, Wrathion probably would have just told Left and Right to push him off the gryphon. “You told me your bodyguards were no longer with you.”

“Yes, they were no longer with me in Stormwind. Now we are together again.”

Anduin wanted to throw something at him.

The room on the other side of the curtain was similar to the other, but smaller. Anduin blinks a few times when he notices what appeared to be an alchemy station on one desk. Chemicals of unknown origins sat in beakers or over a few, low flames. A larger scattering of hand-written notes on the floor and the corners of every available surface were the only things that disturbed the feeling of Karazhan’s one, pristine corner being untouched by some sort of mess. Wrathion was waiting outside one last hanging curtain, and Anduin had to resist groaning at his game of guesses and hidden prizes.

“I told you in your throne room that I could not stay long,” Wrathion says, “and to that, I was being truthful. The things I have dedicated myself to in this place require my constant vigilance.”

Anduin regards him with deep concentration in fighting away any curiosity that might cross his face. He would not give Wrathion the satisfaction of indulging his mysterious endeavors. “Your birds?”

“They are only a small part of it,” Wrathion admits. “I do apologize for their grotesque appearance, though. I swear they were like that when I got here. A pastime of Medivh’s, I’m assuming, or they gobbled up a silly relic they probably shouldn’t have...”

Anduin’s eyebrows flatten into something deadpan. Wrathion notices, and makes a show of clearing his throat as if he were about to announce something grand. “Regardless! Thanks to your generous decision to spare my life-”

“You escaped the stockades--”

“- I have to decided to express my gratitude by showing you a glimpse of my research, one that I have slaved over for many years since our last adventure. All I ask in return is your confidence.” He does not move out of reach of the curtain, but takes a step forward toward Anduin, a fierce look of expectancy on his humanoid face. “Do I have your word?”

Anduin scoffs in his annoyance. “Are you kidding me-”

The dragon’s face darkens. “Do I have your word, King Anduin Wrynn?”

The intensity of Wrathion’s voice surpasses the fierce glow of his eyes. In it, Anduin can hear what he’s suspected ever since he was brought here: Wrathion could hurt him, or have him killed, if he wanted to. Whatever it is that Wrathion had poured himself to in his years of absence, it was something he would get rid of the human for if Anduin threatens it in any way. Something life changing, at least to the dragon, was beyond that veil.

Anduin bites the inside of his cheek. He would not lose his composure in front of the prince again. He nods, slowly, as Wrathion’s lips slowly twist back into an unsettling grin.

“Look closely. What I have here is what will restore the black dragonflight.”

Before he has a chance to let the horror of Wrathion’s words sink in, Anduin watches the curtain be drawn away to reveal a small, unsuspecting alcove. On the floor was a large, ornate cushion that sat under… Under…?

It looked like a stone. A round, heavy stone with irregular bumps around the sides Anduin could see. For all he could tell, it looked like anything that could break from a cliff in a rockslide. He looks back up at Wrathion, who is only beaming back at him. The dragon mouths the words ‘go on’ around his lips, basking in silent delight. Anduin gives him a flat look before indulging him in another step closer toward the stone.

Up close, it looks just the same as the king first observed. It was large enough that Anduin suspected neither he nor Wrathion would be able to carry it by himself-- not in human forms, anyway. The dragon probably flew it here in his talons, or made his Blacktalons cart it here for him.

“Okay,” Anduin sighs exasperatedly. “I give up. What is it?”

He flinches when Wrathion suddenly hops to his side and kneels in front of the pillow, pulling on Anduin’s arm until the man complies and does the same. His red eyes shine bright as he speaks. “It is salvation, King Anduin Wrynn. For me, for my flight, for all of Azeroth. Do you not see it? Look closer. As hard as you can.”

At first, Anduin only looks at him in disbelief. Wrathion notices, shooting him that fierce, unsettling glare again before the king rolls his eyes. He does as he’s told, leaning forward until his nose is but a foot away from the stone.

For the life of him, he still could not place what Wrathion wanted him to see. Some small cracks and flaking along the surface of the round stone suggested it was very old. The bumps around it were strange as well, but they appeared natural to Anduin. Rocks were bumpy. So what.

It took a tilt to his head for Anduin to realize something. He did not look at Wrathion, but could sense the dragon watching him with buzzing anticipation as the king shifts on his knees. Anduin shuffles to observe the stone from another side. He lays a finger on it without the dragon protesting. The digit connects one inconspicuous bump to another, then another, all on the same angled line. The large ridges of this stone were not irregular at all, but completely equidistant from one another. Like they were meant to be there. It had been created this way a long, long time ago.

When Anduin asks the same question, it is not with a tone of annoyance. He is very quiet. “What is it, Wrathion?”

A hand rests on the other side of the stone. Wrathion and him keep their place upon it together, as the dragon’s face splits slowly into a grin back at him. “A fossil,” he breathes. “The egg of my own kin, dormant and forgotten from thousands and thousands of years ago.”

Several emotions seize Anduin in quick succession: Shock, bewilderment, confusion, a little bit of denial of such a thing existing somewhere in the middle. So too do several questions race to meet his tongue. “A fossil. Where the hell did you get a black dragon fossil-- what do you even mean to do with it-?”

But just as quickly as Wrathion had pulled Anduin into their crouch, he’s on his feet and pushing at the protesting king’s back to lead him away from the egg. The curtain conceals it once more as the pair stop in front of the dormant alchemy station. Anduin’s head is spinning from all the come and go of life-changing surprises. “That is exactly what I wanted to show you,” Wrathion starts to prattle excitedly. “Ordinarily, life cannot be re-conceived from this state. Sure, you have walking dinosaur bones and the earth that moves from a shaman’s hands-- but to undo the hands of time that has left this clutch forever lost, to bring it to our world to be reawakened and hatched naturally, we must do more. I must do more. And I will. I already have.”

Anduin is then released from the pushing, readjusting his cloak as he watches the dragon move in a frenzy from one end of desk to the other. He has several reagents among the vials and notes, some the king recognizes as ordinary herbs.

But the dragon reveals one item in particular that paralyzes Anduin. It was an artifact of solid, decorated gold, about as large as Wrathion’s torso as he held it out in front of himself with both hands. It did not look heavy however, for it was broken.

Anduin recognizes it immediately. It was an hourglass. Not just any hourglass, however. “Wrathion. What did you do.”

In his hands was the Vision of Time: a tool of powerful Bronze magic that served in the trial of Garrosh Hellscream. The dragon Kairozdormu had used it in one part, and Chronormu the other, before Kairoz had betrayed them all and destroyed it-- with Wrathion’s aid. The gold of its casting was chipped and dulled from abuse. The glass of course had been busted out of it, rendering all future use of its magic impossible. There wasn’t even a single grain in it.

Even still, the dragon holds that excited grin as Anduin stares dumbstruck back at him. “Isn’t it marvelous? It took ages to find all its pieces, but my Blacktalons and I did it. Do not worry, it is permanently deactivated now. The sands were the most difficult to reconstruct with the same means of the Vision. I have extracted all I could from it, and with a few more preparations it and the other tools I have gathered, will be ready to--”

Anduin doesn’t know who fell to the ground first, but he knows he landed his fist in Wrathion’s face as he intended to, and that’s all he needed.

Unfortunately, Left and Right were just as quick to knock the king off his feet. A swipe of a leg underneath both of his own, and the back of Anduin’s head hits the floor with a loud thud as he groans, opening his eyes just to startle at the two crossbows pointed at his face.

He doesn’t dare turn his gaze away from the weapons, but he can hear Wrathion snort then spit from across his landing. “… ah. Left, Right. That will… not be necessary.”

Anduin watches the two rogues exchange reluctant glances before lowering the crossbows. They take a step back. Anduin slowly pushes himself up on his elbows, with flashes of white still dotting his vision.

The hourglass was back on the desk as Wrathion was picking himself up in front of it, his head tipped back and fingers pinching the bridge of a bloody nose. Satisfaction welled within Anduin. He got back on his feet and refused to allow a wince for the throbbing in the back of his skull.

“Yes,” Wrathion says at last, predictably sounding congested. “I am not saying you are right, but it was fair. Very good.”

Anduin rubs the wrist of his assaulting hand. “I’m leaving,” he announces coolly. “Your bodyguards will take me back. Now.”

Wrathion’s eyes narrow to him, and the two of them stare each other down. Anduin keeps his face composed, and sees Wrathion was doing the same; but there was no denying the sharp anger that added an extra lick of fire red to his eyes. Anduin hopes his own matches in his fury. He would not be persuaded into thinking Wrathion’s actions-- the ones that led to so much loss of life-- were justified.

Slowly, the dragon crosses the room, not breaking eye contact with the king in his strides and his fingertips now held delicately upon the bridge of his nose. He lowers himself into a parlor chair, one leg neatly folding over the other. He studies Anduin for much longer than was comfortable. Then, he says, “Very well. Left, Right.”

The rogues put their hands on the king’s back. He does not look away from Wrathion for as long as the dragon continues to hold his gaze. “I am disappointed, King Anduin Wrynn. I was so hoping my research would sway your newfound impression of me.”

“Goodbye, Prince Wrathion.” Left and Right persuade him toward the parlor exit. He breaks their intense gaze. “I will tell no one of your presence here, so long as you never step foot in my kingdom again.”

The sun was just starting to kiss the horizon in shades of violet when Wrathion’s bodyguards put Anduin on a gryphon and led him home. He would not have time to sleep before his duties called for him. As he dresses, Anduin knows without a doubt, that he never wants to see the monster that was the Black Prince ever again.

Chapter Text

King Anduin Wrynn and the Blacktalons take their leave from Karazhan swiftly. Wrathion does not bid them goodbye, but instead remains seething in his chair with a bloody nose held between his fingers. Most likely the soft bone was broken. Usually, a few changes into his dragon form would guarantee it and any other injuries to his human body being good as new by the time he shifted again.

But it was a persistent annoyance, and this was not the wisest place to change into his larger form. So, taking advantage of his precious minutes of solitude, Wrathion braces himself, and yanks the human tissue in the bridge of his nose into a less disastrous place. A shout is forcibly cut short with many hisses and stamp of his boots on the floor, trying to make a distraction out of many sensations to steer away from the pain. It hurt. It throbbed less, but still.

Wrathion growls. He sits more upright in his seat now, forcing himself in total poise. Where was he? Oh, yes: Back to seething, as he wipes the last of his blood dripping from his nostril across the back of his hand. The force of King Anduin's rejection was one he had not been prepared for. Scorn and anger for his absence, of course, Wrathion does not blame him. But to turn his back on Wrathion’s own life’s work? The blood of his blood, on the brink of rebirth? The dragon simply cannot wrap his head around the idea. When he and the king were young, all Anduin loved to do was tell Wrathion how much he disapproved of the dragon chasing mogu and killing his own kind.

It had always been odd to Wrathion, the way the then-prince thought Wrathion’s slaying in poor taste. Varian and Anduin Wynn’s bad luck with black dragons was legendary-- very much so in the case of the former-- except Anduin had only regarded the Black Prince’s existence with unspoken caution before they were to become friends. They bickered with one another constantly, sure; but they were also inseparable while in that tavern. Why could he not see that Wrathion’s methods were necessary to restore his family’s legacy? Would Anduin not have been glad to see him bring life, instead of all the death he had wrought to bring on all those old lectures?

He sniffs out of his good nostril. No matter. Wrathion was no longer a prince, and his methods are different now. He just has to accept that King Anduin is no longer the ally he thought he had, and that will be that.

A long, exasperated sigh escapes from his lips. He readjusts his turban neatly on his head with one hand. Well. He still has one task he needs to do before Left and Right return. The only thing that can calm the dread within Wrathion at the reminder is imagining his bodyguards pushing King Anduin Wrynn from his gryphon, down the chimney of his bedroom hearth. He would never order such a thing, but it was a short comfort all the same.

Making sure the Vision of Time is set safely back in its place, Wrathion then leaves the room with a spin of an only mildly-determined heel.

The curtain door to the parlor is flapped aside. The desolate halls of Karazhan greet him in all its musty glory, the many holes in its high ceilings making the dragon's footsteps echo endlessly in the carcasses of the towers. No robots or arcane familiars roam this place to maintain its upkeep now. Only Wrathion and his Blacktalons remain, and he only required very few of the Guardian's old luxuries.

The parlor was not the only place in Karazhan kept in impeccable condition to its former residents’ liking. Down several corridors, up a spiral staircase and across a banister Wrathion has to leap over like an unpredictable jungle bridge, there lay the grandest room of all: Karazhan's library, where the dragon had spent many of their first weeks of arriving to this place.

“Old Guardian luxuries" were the most abundant here; though no sorcerer had stepped foot in this place for some time, their handiwork continues to be seen right before Wrathion's eyes: Enchanted feather dusters move thoroughly across every shelf, or brooms give the rugs on the floor the very same care.

Heavy tomes sometimes float slowly off the shelves of gargantuan bookcases just to disappear into some place Wrathion's eyes cant follow, returning with the rot of their leather bindings repaired, their pages no longer stained, or the ink fresh. This was not a place knowledge came to die. To those who cherished it enough to construct this place, it was where ancient knowledge lived forever. Which was exactly what Wrathion needed.

He strides into the grand hall with purpose, navigating on autopilot to the row of bookcases he's graced so many times. He stops, stands on his toes, a finger tracing the spine of the book he knows is the one he requires again. He tips it carefully out of its resting place, straining the muscles of his arm until the tome is eased into his line of sight, and into his hands with a triumphant hum.

Wrathion still doesn't like what he has to do. But time is running out, and Left and Right would berate him for taking on this endeavor again. Knowing that King Anduin Wrynn would not truly perish no matter how many times Wrathion tries to imagine it, he reassures himself instead that this will be the very last time he has to call upon any unwanted company.

The book shoved safely under his arm, Wrathion hurries out of the aisle of towering book cases and back to the grand library floor. There are dozens of desks for him to drop the tome on to, where he sets the thing on its spine and flips impatiently through the pages. Could the unseen forces that keep these books from rotting talk, they too would also berate his crude handling of their precious tomes.

Then, there it is. Wrathion peers down at the familiar page, double, triple checking ink upon it before taking the entire book in one arm and digging into his coat with the other.

A piece of chalk, a steady hand-- it’s all he needs. He’s perfected this ritual by now, and King Anduin had the audacity to brush his labors aside. Well! He'll show him.

Wrathion crosses the floor to a place in the room the animated dust sweepers had already cleared since his last doings: a wall, a perfect blank canvas of fine wood between two shelves. The tome under the dragon’s arm, still open to the page he had sought, gets placed on the floor where Wrathion starts to copy the runes printed on the page and to the wall. The language, he knows the origin of: An early form of Common, from the days where humans were the sole bipedal races of Azeroth clever enough to construct language. One final stroke of his hand, and the spell was soon complete.

Wrathion takes a step back, pocketing the chalk back in his coat and taking a deep breath before placing his hand in the center of the rune he had drawn.

The dragon was not the magical type-- not counting his own natural magic, that is-- but Karazhan had taught him well the possibilities of wielding the arcane if one studied hard enough. The circle of runes glow blue around his hand, and Wrathion has just enough wit to draw the limb away before his entire body falls through the portal that grows before him.

He releases the breath he was holding in an unsettled huff. Well. Best to get it over with, he decides, and steps through.

 


 

 

The air that greets Wrathion is heavy with dust and glaring heat. Though the latter does not bother him, he had never quite mastered being immune to the former, and he coughs once. This barren wasteland was easily among his least favorite places to venture to. He groans to himself, waits for another suffocating breeze to push at his back, and changes into his draconic form to take off in flight.

The world below his wings was an ugly sight, but one he had reluctantly become well acquainted with this past year. The mountains that rose from the jagged earth were sharpened naturally to points, as if they threatened to pierce the sky at the smallest threat of rain.

Not that Outland had seen its share of natural weather in decades. The dying rock was only visited by meteors that effortlessly pierced the crumbling planet with little atmosphere to burn through, or thunder that rumbled in the cosmos that served as an ever-present anomaly for the poor inhabitants that watched the sky go unchanged, always the same, with no night and day to discern from.

Many people thought Wrathion was oblivious to the black dragons that inhabited this dying wasteland. But oh, he knew their presence well. He swore to his Blacktalons many times that those clever beasts would meet their end soon enough. Yet clever they were, Wrathion had come to give them credit for. Here, the dragonflight was free of the bloody whispers that forever stained Azeroth's soil with madness. The only price for these dragons was that they were to live out the rest of their long, immortal lives on a crumbling planet-- and crumbling it was.

Wrathion could hear it. It would be a miracle if Outland was not but a million crumbs floating through the Nether at the end of the century. The Legion made sure it was not capable of recovering.

Nevertheless: Wrathion continues his flight, weaving through each jagged stone that threatens to impale him. It would be half an hour's time before he spies a vast canyon yawning below him. The mountains rose at a slanted angle above the massive hole, almost like a shelter-- A cruel one, but some had decided to call this wretched place their home. And it was a homestead Wrathion was still reluctant to visit.

He starts to spiral toward his descent. Here, the heat did not lessen, but continues to beat down angrily at every inch of red stone below Wrathion’s wings. The shade of the massive stone spires above his head promised cool refuge to those who sought it. The subject of his arrival, however, did not have such concerns today.

At a distance, still far below Wrathion, a great form of black scales can be seen sunbathing in the sunlight of Outland's closest star. Though Wrathion was reluctant to admit it, his own draconic form was still growing, still about the size of an adolescent drake. But the dragon he lands quietly behind...

He was enormous. His scales were weathered with his age, of which Wrathion knew without a doubt was at least two millennia over his own. His neck was long, and his head rested contently on his front paws. Orange fins rested against his skull and back, the ones around his aged face soon giving the smallest flare of annoyance at Wrathion's arrival.

It had taken months to earn his trust, of which Wrathion learned not to badger the large dragon with his impatience and prattle. Still, as Wrathion sits on his haunches and waits quietly, his tail cannot help lashing back and forth across the dusty stone.

At last, a thundering yawn sounds, and the dragon slowly cranes his long neck off the ground and behind him, just enough to peer at Wrathion with a sleep-lidded, amber eye.

"So,” he rumbles. “You are back.”

"As per our agreement," Wrathion reminds him stingily. "Yes, I have returned."

The old dragon won't deign him with an immediate response. He yawns again, well-mannered in volume this time. He's slow to get to his paws, but Wrathion knows it has nothing to do with ailment or age. He just enjoys trying to waste the young dragon’s time. It was working.

"Very well," the great lizard rumbles again. "Follow me. And do not touch anything.”

His great wings unfold for flight. Wrathion’s do the same, and the two of them take off together from the canyon ledge to the deeper, sunlit crevices below.

There, Wrathion can see just a few more drakes: The old man's brood, the children of him and his dead mate killed by gronn that have long-since been slain by a lover’s wrath. The younger drakes do not flinch at their father or Wrathion's flight overhead, merely continuing to bask in the sun or converse quietly with one another.

It was strange, but since Wrathion and Sabellian had become somewhat of acquaintances, the presence of so many black dragons did not disturb him. Part of him would always have that itch of fear that corruption might still run through their veins-- But as the two of them touch back down onto the earth of Sabellian's home, Wrathion could hear the planet's voice again through his paws: There were no Old Gods here. Only decay, as Outland loses a bit more of itself to the Nether with each passing minute.

A great cave lies in front of them. Despite being an adequate size for Wrathion's growing form to walk through, he watches as Sabellian is forced to take on his human form to continue passage. Dark hair sits nearly on his shoulders that were decorated with snake-like pauldrons, accenting his robes of orange and crimson. Like Wrathion, and many others of their kind, his human skin was dark, and his draconic eyes unnaturally bright. They regard Wrathion tiredly as he holds out a hand to halt Wrathion's approach halfway through the threshold. "Not another step. You'll break something."

Wrathion snorts. He stays as bidden. Sabellian continues his way to one cavern wall, where an alchemic setup much grander than the one Wrathion kept in Karazhan sits in wait. Potions bubble, and shelves carved into the stone hold reagents by the score. The man had once told Wrathion he used to trade adventurers pretty trinkets for rare ingredients, but had since grown tired of visitors. It struck Wrathion in a way as familiar to his own old habits, and he did not care to reminisce on it.

He cranes his long, draconic neck to watch Sabellian pull out a potion and examine it, tapping at the glass and watching the reaction take place. Then he sets it down, searching through the shelves for some unknown ingredient to break and pinch into the concoction.

Wrathion balks. "I thought you were done by now--"

He's silenced by a dark glare over the alchemist's shoulder. Wrathion shuts his maw, but shoots a stink eye as soon as Sabellian's back is turned. "It is finished. But it will dilute and dull if you do not use it quickly enough."

The potion is picked up again, examined with the same tap of Sabellian's nails, then given a noise that is more or less approving. Then the flask is at last corked with a stopper, as Wrathion is beckoned to take his careful steps into the cave. "The root should give you only a couple of days before it is dissolved and the solution useless,” Sabellian says. “I will not be making you another."

Wrathion glowers at him. Seemingly satisfied, Sabellian puts the potion in a nearby satchel, and the young dragon takes it in his claws. "I thank you for your generosity,” he forces himself to grovel. “You will not regret this."

Except Sabellian's eyes narrow; he has not forfeited the satchel into Wrathions possession quite yet. "Be sure that I do not," he warns. "Do not forget what you promised me, little brother."

Their eyes meet, the second staredown Wrathion is forced to indulge in today. His own red eyes challenge the man's for several beats of tension.

Finally, Sabellian draws away. Wrathion secures the satchel in his clutches. "I have not forgotten," he swears in a low voice. "No one will be able to forget what we have achieved today."

Sabellian makes a noise in his throat, almost like a laugh. "Yes,” he says coldly. “No one could forget achievements the likes of your own, O Dragonslayer."

It was not meant to be praise.

They exchange only a few words before Wrathion departs. Many black dragons raise their heads to watch him emerge from the cavern into the sun, but offer no word of farewell. Like their father, Wrathion knows they coldly, and openly, despise him.

Yes; Wrathion had not at all been oblivious to their presence in his youth. Likewise, the black dragons of Outland knew well of the blood on his hands, as the Black Prince had believed that he was cleansing his own corrupted flight in the name of redeeming them. They did not see Wrathion as their savior. Were his plans to awaken the ancient egg actually succeed, he did not know if they would ever regard him differently. As far as the young dragon knew, those dragons and King Anduin Wrynn shared the very same look of hatred in their eyes.

With nothing more to gain, Wrathion crouches low, then takes off into the air and out of the canyon with Sabellian’s satchel secure in his clutches. He reminds himself again that this would be the last he has to navigate through the threatening spires, and the last time he must endure the loathing stares of his own kind. They mattered not. One day, they will thank him. They all will.

It doesn’t surprise Wrathion when he conjures a runic portal back to Karazhan, changing into his human form to find Left and Right already waiting for him on the other side. The rogues say nothing, so the dragon decides he doesn’t owe them an explanation, either. He brushes past them, and they merely follow.

When they find themselves in the parlor once more, Wrathion is given his privacy to sweep into the small chamber of his work. The small alchemy station remains, as does the dormant Vision of Time. And, most important of all, the dormant egg that the dragon pushes aside the curtain concealing it to regard.

He sighs, a wistful thing. “Soon, little creature. There are great things in store for you.”

It is soon hidden away behind the curtain again. Wrathion returns to the table of brewing potions to carefully extract the one Sabellian had given him, setting it aside as the rest of the satchel is searched. There are a pile of notes that the old man had apparently prepared for him, of which Wrathion was secretly grateful. Sabellian’s threat that there would be no second batch was not the only thing weighing heavily over Wrathion’s ambitions-- There could be no mistakes at all, or the hatchling would not get its chance at life. Everything must be executed perfectly. He had limited time to make sure of this.

He starts to pour over Sabellian’s detailed scrawlings; the man had been kind enough to include his spellwork, and what few layman’s methods could be used to acquire the desired results. The brew was not one single potion on its own, but actually the final ingredient Wrathion needed to add to his own alchemic breakthrough. Afters years of research, this was it. This is the thing that will save them all, and prove Wrathion’s worth of his infamous deeds.

But as he reads further and further down the pages, a sickly feeling courses through Wrathion and produces a wretched growl from his throat. Alas, Sabellian advised the need of a test, first.

Wrathion had been thorough of recounting to the old dragon what his concoction had contained, and Sabellian had spent the last few months perfecting the last ingredient into liquid form. But even still, the solution was dangerous, and potent enough to eventually dull if not used quickly. Like poison on a blade or in someone’s food, Wrathion hazily muses.

But even worse, the control of the test was something Wrathion did not have on hand, and knows Sabellian would not forfeit even if he did have it.

Unfortunately, he knows one person who does. The same person whose rejection of Wrathion’s miracle research still chews away at the dragon in bafflement. He did not need King Anduin Wrynn anymore than he needed the human’s threat of tying a noose around his neck. He won’t humor the idea! That blonde bastard, after how honest Wrathion had bared himself by giving him the privilege of being the first audience Wrathion had presented his work to...

The notes get slapped down on the desk. Wrathion squeezes his eyes shut and sighs.

Maybe King Anduin's good faith of him did not have to be forever lost after all. Maybe, just maybe, if he did not have the support of his own kin in Outland, Wrathion could still win the admiration of an old friend. Then throw it in his face when the human is swept up in amazement at his feats as a hero. Dragon slayer? He would be a dragon savior.

It was still a bad idea, though. But it was better than dwelling-- and Wrathion would not dwell-- on the loneliness of being Azeroth’s last Black Dragon if the egg was lost. Then he truly would have turned his back on his beloved world for nothing.

Chapter Text

Anduin was suffering. He did not get a chance to sleep after Left and Right had returned him to Stormwind, and the last few paranoid days since Wrathion's abrupt appearance would have continued to plague his mind anyway even if he did sleep. He struggles to suppress his yawns throughout the day, or even worse, to keep his eyes open when he is sitting. Deciding to wear his heavy armor was supposed to be uncomfortable enough to deter his sleepiness, but even it somehow felt as inviting as any of his nightclothes.

A part of Anduin knows he can simply go back to bed for a quick nap. He also knows he can’t skirt his duties just because he was foolish enough to sneak off and humor Wrathion. In spite of how angry the whole ordeal had made him, he was still determined to keep his word and not let anyone know of the dragon’s whereabouts, and let Stormwind-- and its king-- be rid of him for good.

Yet he was practically dead on his feet by noon. He surprises his guards when he changes direction from the war room to the kitchens without warning, politely but insistently asking the off-duty staff there for a brew of coffee. Since when did he like coffee? Since never, that’s when. Desperate times called for desperate, caffeine-enabled measures.

He was nursing his third cup when good news reached him for the first time in what felt like ages: Jaina Proudmoore would be returning to Stormwind for another short respite. Not only that, but she would be bringing Taelia Fordragon with her, while Jaina’s family continues to look after Dereck.

Anduin was thrilled. He missed his aunt terribly, and most of all, he would welcome the chance to have two friends at his side now that he’s banished the abrupt headache that was Black Prince Wrathion from his kingdom. He and Jaina would instead tell quiet stories together in the library like they used to, tea in their hands and a hearth’s fire lighting up their eyes in the dark of a still, quiet night. Anduin would certainly catch up with Taelia as well; they had much in common, two nobles with high expectations who had lost their fathers to a terrible fate, and the woman loved to pressure him into sparring with her whenever they saw each other-- to which she always came out victorious.

Yes, Anduin would be looking forward to this for days. Part of him even hopes to see Valeera again, though none of her rogues had reported her capture nor her return, so he could only assume-- and hope-- she still fared well. All the ideas swimming together at once make him feel giddy, of which he quickly blames the rest of the coffee he downs in a swig.

It sparks him into wistful planning, as if he can only chase the high of his optimism for so long before his energy wanes again. Those children who warned him of the birds deserved a nice letter. Some gold? Maybe a new horse, or he could commission medals for them. Though it wouldn’t be long before a pack of guards came to escort Anduin to his next duty, and he had no choice but to put the projects on the back burner.

Soon, he thought, with a caffeinated spring to his step. Soon, he can finally get back on track to doing something that felt meaningful to him.

 


 

 

Black, leathery wings swoop low from the canopies of one grand tree to the next. Wrathion was smart enough not to fly across forest in broad daylight, but he had yet to earn the cover of night. The grand mountains that cradled Elwynn’s borders would still soon hide the sun from another short autumn day, and the dragon was determined to meet King Anduin before the man retired for bed.

He hates it though. Hates it hates it HATES it, knowing he has to grovel at the king’s feet. It is not that threat Anduin made that disturbs him, but the fact Wrathion was to forfeit his pride if he had even the smallest chance to convince King Anduin to aid him.

And truth be told? He did not even truly need a favor. He could simply hide in the shadows, wait until nightfall, and pluck his needed prize with no one the wiser. King Anduin could go the rest of his life without Wrathion in it, and the dragon would be content doing the same.

But gods above, nothing Wrathion did could shake that prickling, unpleasant feeling of exile he carried with him from Blade’s Edge. Those dragons were his kin, his actual blood, and they despised him for the blood he had on his hands. Realizing that King Anduin felt the same way was an epiphany Wrathion didn’t care to have at all, but there it was, and it somehow makes him feel thrice as restless.

Probably because they were once friends. And then Wrathion had betrayed Anduin, seized the opportunities Kairoz’s foolishness had left like a trail of breadcrumbs, and left himself with no allies to assure him his achievements would change the world for the better.

He sniffs indignantly at the tone of pity that creeps into his thoughts. Asinine. He does not need pity. He needs a second chance for Anduin to see how important his work is, and how his peace-loving human-self could have the once in a lifetime chance to be a part of history. With newfound resolve, Wrathion breaks the cover of his treeline to swoop toward the daunting rise of Stormwind Keep.

It belatedly becomes obvious that he did not, exactly, know where King Anduin would be this time of day. In fact, Wrathion did not even know which side of the castle his bedchamber was. He had never been to Stormwind at all up until a few days ago, and the fact his second appearance was to be made under such revolting circumstances doesn’t bide well with his frustrations.

Luckily, he brought help. As new to the kingdom as Wrathion was, he knows without a doubt that there are sentries and gryphon riders on constant vigilance. Perching behind a momentarily-vacant watchtower, he peels his eyes for sign of his bodyguards.

A twinge of blood magic tapped into his mind, and he swung his head in the direction it prodded him toward. He spies the familiar form of Right wave from near the canals. Another magical tap, and he sees Left across the courtyard and at the base of another watchtower.

Excellent. He and King Anduin could at least agree on one thing: It would not be wise for Wrathion’s appearance to be known to the world quite yet, and being captured without the king present to do crowd control would certainly spell disaster for him.

It takes a handful of minutes for Wrathion to feel another signal. His rogues were monitoring the gryphon routes, until the three of them have the timing memorized well enough to spur the dragon into a short flight. He glides from one tower to the next, waits, then moves again. The setting sun was making it easier to blend his dark form with the elongated shadows of the day’s dying light.

At last, he makes it to the keep walls proper, where his dragon form crouches low to stay out of sight of patrols or windows. This part was trickier; Wrathion had dismantled the mental links between himself and his agents some time ago when he had disappeared. Only a few loyal Blacktalons remained, including Left and Right. The new blood magic bestowed upon them could not always communicate verbal thought, but instead the impression of thought, like feelings of panic or approval.

It was a terribly flawed system, but alas, Wrathion no longer had a throng of adventurers eager to do his grocery shopping of magical items for him. So now he was left with a guessing game, jumping or flying from one section of the keep to the next, as his bodyguards watch from below to give him vague direction.

He tries the tallest tower first. Left prods at his mind that he is incorrect. Next, his talons cling to the stone to scurry his way down and to another broad section of the building facing the mountains. He is deterred from that one, too.

The game starts to get irritating, and Wrathion knows he is radiating his displeasure strong enough for a wordless scolding from Right. The sun has nearly set over the ocean waters, bathing him in complete darkness by the time something rings of approval in his mind. He sees broken windows and many boards barring them: King Anduin’s room. Yes, he remembers well what he was told of his unsavory birds breaking into the man’s chambers. He only needs to find the small weakness Left and Right had infiltrated last night, and he can get this over with…

But something like a series of frantic, mental pokes start to assault Wrathion just as he’s eased his snout under a loose board. He growls out loud, and conveys the same annoyance back to his bodyguards. But they continue to fuss for his attention. Some sort of force from Left persuades him into craning his neck toward the ground below.

He may have found the king’s chambers, but King Anduin himself was not within it. Instead, the man was far below him in the gardens, holding what Wrathion recognizes in complete surprise to be Shalamayne in his hands. Of course he knew nobody but Anduin would be the one to inherit the blade upon Varian’s death. He was merely flabbergast to see the king hold it without buckling under its weight. Anduin used to be a twig.

Fortunately, the man also appears to be sparring alone with a dummy made of straw. As much as Wrathion wants to watch long enough to see the sword finally get the most of the king and make him fall on his ass, time was running out. As soon as there was no more daylight for Anduin to practice by, he would surely disappear back into the keep. And Wrathion was not intent to push his luck waltzing into the throne room a second time. With no other warning from Left and Right that there were guards about, he jumps from the king’s banister, and makes his silent landing among the hedges far too thick for Anduin to take notice.

He would have to approach this carefully. The rogues would probably take care of any alarm the human might sound, but there was a delicacy to his proposition, and Anduin was still swinging that stupidly large sword at that defenseless militia dummy, and if Wrathion took one wrong step and whoosh, he lost a horn--

A branch snaps under his paw. He had intended to shift into his human form, to make the meeting a formal one, but that crunching sound was as loud as a gunshot in Wrathion’s ears.

Anduin had heard it too. His face snaps over his shoulders with Shalamayne wedged into his inanimate opponent, and Wrathion doesn’t think before he’s stepping out of the shrubs when he sees the blade get pulled free.

“Wait!” Wrathion squawks. “Wait, wait, do not STAB me!”

To his credit, Anduin does wait. Or is shocked into place. “Wrathion?” he breathes dumbly. And then thinks much better of it. “Wrathion. GUARDS--

But Wrathion is also a quick thinker, if less deftly so. Before the first letter of Anduin’s rallying cry even leaves his mouth, there is a long, thick dragon tail wrapping around his shoulders and the lower half of his face.

The king looks shocked, and then absolutely affronted. Shalamayne is dropped so that the king’s gauntlet hands can scramble for purchase on Wrathion’s tail, but the dragon’s hold is steadfast. Wonderful. This is definitely how he wanted to start this whole ‘second chance’ thing.

“Stop it!” Wrathion hisses, stretching his long neck to stare down at Anduin eye-to-eye. “Stop it, I am not here to harm you! But I see you do very much intend to do me harm by the blade of your guards, and I simply will not have it. Stop squirming.”

To his credit, Anduin does stop trying to break free, the short-lived panic on his face now replaced by how blatantly livid he was. He does not try to speak under the sure-muffle of Wrathion’s scales. He only stares at the dragon, furious and expectant.

It was still better than Anduin trying to cut him to pieces. Wrathion takes a step back, further into the protective shadows of the garden’s privacy wall. Once he’s confirmed the king has no choice but to follow, they continue walking backwards until they were completed concealed away from the keep’s candle-lit windows. Wrathion’s reptilian eyes regard his captor, squinting at the unfriendly face fuming back at him. “Now then. I am going to uncover your mouth so that we may speak, but you will not call for your guards. Understood?”

Anduin’s brows lay flat. He was not appreciative of being grappled or being negotiated with. But he soon nods.

Cautiously, Wrathion untwines the end of his tail from across the human’s chin. And Anduin makes the most of it. “GUARDS-

SLAP. The king is silenced again. This time, it was Wrathion fuming, while the other only radiates sudden and total contentment.

“Again,” the dragon hisses, his neck stretching to the point where their brows almost lay flat against one another. Wrathion’s large red eyes burn with fury, but Anduin merely stares unflinching back at them. “We are going to try this again.”

He unfurls the end of his tail again, slowly.

And then: “GUAR--

“No!” Another slap of his tail falling back into place, this time making Anduin stumble and glare thereafter. “We! Are! Not! Shouting! We are having a civil conversation, King Anduin Wrynn, or Light so help me I will fly to the mountains just to drop you on your soft little skull! I mean it!”

Again, Anduin is only left with nothing more than the ability to stare back at him. Wrathion growls something low in his throat when he swears he sees amusement on the human’s face. The audacity! He was taunting him!

The growl continues, eventually deterring into a sound of thoughtful frustration. Wrathion sighs harshly. “Alright: I should not be here. You made it very clear I was not welcomed here, and believe me, I would like nothing more than to take my leave. But believe me King Anduin, despite what this looks like, I only came to talk.”

At first, Anduin’s brows were raised over tired, expectant eyes that agreed that yes, Wrathion should not, in fact, be here at all. The dragon’s following insistence that he was here for conversation then gets another look of annoyance; he either didn’t believe Wrathion, or was not willing to give him the time of day.

Wrathion thought this fair of him again, and continues. “If you force my hand with all your yelling, however, I will not hesitate to take us far away from this place so that we may be understanding about this. I would not like to do this, however, because I pointedly came to Stormwind for your aid, and leaving the city would just seem counterproductive.”

Silence, as the two stare at each other. Wrathion’s red eyes bathe the human’s face in a glow that illuminates the dark circles on Anduin’s skin. At last, hands start to work on the dragon’s tail again, less frenzied but still determined to make Wrathion release him. Wrathion hesitates, but lets his tail unfurl from the king’s shoulders completely. He steps back to give Anduin space when the only thing the human does is rub his jaw free of the imprints his scales left behind.

Maybe Wrathion’s luck was coming through, or he had simply worn down the king’s patience. Either way, Anduin does not shout for his men this time. “I’m listening,” he says. “What do you want?”

A cloud of smoke, and Wrathion shifts into his human form. “It is about my research-- of which I know you do not approve of,” he adds when Anduin’s face hardens, “-- but it is dear to me. I need only one last item before I can test my potions on the fossil.”

“An item,” Anduin says back. He suddenly looks very, very wary. “If this is about blood--”

“No!” Wrathion’s voice raises an octave, and then he clears his throat. “No. Well-- ah, no. It is not something I need from you, personally, King Anduin. Instead, I am here… to ask your permission for it.”

Oh no. This was the part Wrathion had been dreading all day. His formalities to the king had been easier when he was making a boisterous show of himself, but now he was to win King Anduin’s trust, and to win King Anduin’s trust means all but prostrating himself before him.

He sighs. “I come asking for your permission-- and your help-- in removing a piece from my Aunt Onyxia’s skull, so that I ensure I do not bring the egg to harm. Nothing more.”

The bow he gives is held for much longer than is comfortable for Wrathion’s spine. When he looks up, he is not at all surprised to find Anduin’s tired face regarding his own with mild surprise. His arms were folded over the breastplate on his chest, and the dragon knows he is trying to process whatever in the hell Wrathion needs a dead relative’s bones for. But Sabellian would never provide any remains of his children, and Wrathion had ensured long ago that the bodies of the corrupted dragons he had slain were burned to nothingness.

Anduin starts to speak slowly, “You want a piece of Onyxia’s head.”

“Yes,” Wrathion replies. He straightens himself and his fine coat. “And before you think otherwise, I am perfectly capable of just stealing a spike or a tooth without your or your people ever knowing.

“… but,” he reluctantly continues, “this research is important to me. It can change the world, should I succeed. And I suppose, somewhere, I owe you...” He starts to roll his wrist in the air to distract himself from Anduin’s hard eyes. “... more-- honest methods. Because you have every reason to think what I did in Kun-lai was wrong. But I can show you, King Anduin. There is a new hope for Azeroth-- for my people-- should my final methods succeed.”

Wrathion feels like he was speaking all with the same meager breath. He takes in another, deep and slow, to watch the unchanging expression on the human’s face.

Though the rest of Anduin had changed so much. The dragon remembers a bright-eyed teenager that stared in wonder at every new aspect of life he saw. But between then and now, King Anduin Llane Wrynn had become an unflinching figurehead for his Alliance, and Wrathion can only just barely recall the time he had teased at the boy for being too soft for Stormwind’s throne. Something tells him he had been sorely mistaken.

Wrathion’s blood freezes as he watches Anduin cross the gardens and retrieve his sword from the ground. But instead of a death sentence, the king says, “Very well. You may take a tooth from Onyxia’s head. And then you will leave.”

The dragon immediately shakes off his scare and preens. “Splendid. But I would like you to accompany me.”

Anduin stops. He frowns deeply. “Why?”

“Because!” Now safe in complete darkness, Wrathion removes himself from the shrubbery to join at the king’s side out in the open. “By granting me this final reagent, no one other than yourself deserves to be a part of this endeavor. Come with me to the city gates, and return to Karazhan with me to watch us reawaken my forgotten sibling.”

Perhaps he was asking too much. Anduin had grown furious with him in Wrathion’s lab at the sight of the Vision of Time, and it would be unwise to evoke him again. Though Anduin’s reply is not what he expects it to be. “I’m tired, Wrathion. I haven’t slept since you took me to your lair last night.”

Wrathion scoffs. “You were just out here swinging a sword. You can’t be that exhausted.”

Anduin glares at him. “I’m expected to practice. And I haven’t had dinner.”

“There is food in Karazhan! King Anduin, please.”

He was growing exasperated, which was blatantly mutual. It seems like this negotiation would not work after all, and Wrathion’s infiltration had been for nothing.

But in the darkness, the dragon sees something change. Anduin looks… thoughtful, perching one hand over the other over the end hilt of Shalamayne. He stands like a king, organizing a strategy in his mind. A compromise.

“How about this,” Anduin says. “I will not allow my absence to be noticed so early in the evening. I will have dinner, and then I will join you when my advisors expect me to sleep.”

Wrathion could not hide the pleasant surprise from his features. Anduin’s reasoning was actually… well, reasonable to him. “I see. Very well. I will… Where should I wait for you?”

Anduin thinks. “Outside the dining hall. I often take my meals alone, but the hall is usually empty by night. You should not have to wait long.”

“Excellent.” Wrathion’s face splits into a pointy grin. “I will see you then.”

 


 

 

Oh, Anduin usually ate alone alright. But today, to the surprise and then delight of the noblefolk gathered at the long banquet table, he would be joining them for some pleasant evening company. It was not so much the people that chased Anduin away from the dining hall, but the fact he was to sit at the head of the table as king, as his father had. The chair he had sat as a prince at Varian’s side was left empty. It was the smallest comfort he could take in this room.

That, and of course, the way Anduin could make out the vaguest shape of Wrathion’s angry, draconic face glaring hellfire at him from one of the vaulted windows. The glass was fogging from his snout pressed against it.

Anduin raises his mug in the dragon’s direction, and many of the nobles follow suit as if it were merely a small toast. He and Wrathion would know better. The human hides well the smile on his lips behind a drink, as the faraway window is completely concealed by the fog of deep, angry dragon breaths.

The evening drags on with delicious food and banter the likes of which Anduin hadn’t indulged in in years. It was always a pleasant experience, and he did not despise it in any way. Aside from the issue of missing his father, he was simply too tired to expend this kind of energy every single night of his life. But as Anduin dismisses himself at last from his people’s company, he leaves the hall feeling the most satisfied with himself he’s been in ages.

Seeing Wrathion’s face only makes it more so. As Anduin strides leisurely down the corridor, his hands behind his back and his eyes facing forward, his peripheral vision delights in seeing the dragon stalk him along the windows from the gardens, like a panther pacing in its cage. His crimson eyes burn furiously at the king through the glass panes. It makes Anduin smile without so much as a glance in his direction as they both continue their strides.

It takes Anduin a few minutes to wait for a patrol of guardsman to pass before he rounds one final corner, then finds himself outdoors again. Wrathion waits for him, sat on his haunches with that same detesting glare glowing in the shadows. “Childish,” he hisses.

Anduin shrugs one shoulder. Back in Wrathion’s presence, it was easy to feel less than thrilled about their undertaking again, and he turns his face stony. “Let’s be quick about this.”

The dragon huffs, but unfolds his wings. Anduin realizes with bitter dismay that he would be flying with Wrathion one way or another. “Climb aboard then, King Anduin, lest you rather I carry you in my talons.”

Needless to say thatAnduin did not prefer that method at all.

When they had first met in Pandaria, Wrathion was but a whelpling with large, devious eyes and a chattering mouth. His artificial construction assured his mind and his magic would mature quickly, and his draconic body seemed to also be following suit when they saw each other again in Kun-lai. Wrathion had been about the size of a Gilnean bloodhound then, but today, he was easily the size a young riding gryphon.

Although when they first took off from the ground with Anduin on his back, Wrathion squawked and demanded he drop off Anduin to his room so the man could remove his ridiculously heavy armor. The king wouldn’t admit that he had complied out of relief; it was refreshing to change into real clothing, and their flight to Stormwind’s city gates proved much smoother.

Left and Right were already gone; Wrathion mentions having needed them to find Anduin in the keep, but it was presently in the king’s hands to assure everything went smoothly should their quest be discovered. They land in the small space of the canals between bridge and mountain stone.

Above them, where she’s sat for well over ten years now, was the head of Onyxia, the dragon who had manipulated Varian and Anduin Wrynn into ruling the kingdom by her own hand when the prince was just a boy. Time and weather had worn away any trace of flesh from her skull, leaving only an open maw of teeth and empty eye sockets. He couldn’t bear to remove it, no matter how much he usually didn’t care for hanging dead things on his walls. It was to be a reminder of Stormwind’s liberation, and the day Varian Wrynn-- barely one whole of two halves-- finally returned home to him.

The narrow drainage they stand in soaks Anduin’s boots around his ankles, and he can tell by the shifting water that the dragon was just as uncomfortable chilling his paws in it. There were patrols about that they watch for what feels like a silent eternity. Once the last of them cover their grounds and disappear through the gates, Wrathion springs into action.

“Watch my back,” he says, quiet and excited.

The sight of Wrathion taking flight and landing in Onyxia’s giant, hanging jaw makes Anduin grimace. He still remembers well the day those teeth tried to close around him. Even for as large as Wrathion had grown, he still looks so incredibly small in comparison to the size of his aunt’s empty skull; like a fly on a sleeping lion’s face.

The king sweeps his eyes over the bridge before focusing on Wrathion again. The idea that he was helping the dragon create life through the means of some mad, manipulating scientist still wouldn’t settle kindly in Anduin. Even worse, Anduin fears what would happen if Wrathion did succeed, and the hatched whelp possessed Deathwing’s madness. Would he kill it? Experiment on it?

He doesn’t have time to linger further before Anduin blanches at the sight of Onyxia’s skull swaying ever so slightly. Wrathion had his talons around one of the smaller teeth in the back of her mouth, struggling to pull it loose. He changes into his human form and wiggles it with all his might, emanating grunts and swears from the stubborn ordeal.

Around one of the gate’s mighty pillars, Anduin can see the approach of torchlight. It was slow, at the designated pace of a returning patrol, but he still fears the worst from the shifting dragon head.

He’s just about to swing over the canal when he hears the rattle of chains overhead. Onyxia’s skull gives one last tremble before Wrathion holds his prize above his head, no doubt giving Anduin a victorious grin the human cannot see in the dark. The king beckons him quickly back to the ground with an impatient gesture.

The same moment he feels the heavy mass of a dragon land silently beside him, Anduin watches the patrols whirl their torches toward the skull hanging from the tower. Wrathion’s leap from it had rattled the chains once more; it continues to sway, enough that Anduin fears in his paranoia it will loosen and crush the men underneath of it, and he breaks out into a cold sweat.

The guards squint and raise their torches higher. The swaying of Onyxia’s head slows, and then… “The wind, maybe?” the king hears one whisper.

“Nah. Probably a vulture pickin’ at it.”

“Wasn’t there something about giant birds a few days ago?”

"Mm.”

He hears Wrathion’s tongue cluck beside him. Anduin grits his teeth. “Well. Your men sure are perceptive, aren’t they? Here, let us get going.”

The king agrees without a word. They fly together across the city’s bridge and enormous gates into the forest below. The moon was not even waxing, giving them the blackest night they could hope for, if also the coldest. It did not matter to Anduin. He would indulge Wrathion one last time, see whether or not the dragon’s ambition succeeds or fails, then make certain they never cross paths without a hundred armed Alliance soliders between them again. The more Wrathion’s unnecessary loops in the air churn his stomach, the more the king finds himself meditating on selling his whereabouts to the Horde for a fat sack of gold.

Left and Right greet them inside Karazhan with bows and nods, only straying their eyes to the item Wrathion held now in his human hand: The tooth of the black dragon Onyxia, supposed to be a small thing compared to the rest, but large enough that Wrathion could barely wrap his fingers around it. When the dragon disappears into his laboratory space, the three of them are beckoned to follow. The egg was no longer concealed. It still sat upon its pillow, the curtain pushed aside to expose it to the air of brews being bubbled to life over their flames.

“Now,” Anduin hears Wrathion say. “Let’s see...”

A potion is pulled off a shelf and into view; the style of its flask no different than the vials he seems to keep on-hand. What catches Anduin’s eye is a potion of a much different style, both in the glass containing it and the blackness the light could not penetrate inside.

Wrathion pulls the vial out as well, but did not use it yet. “Be warned,” he says, looking over his shoulder at Anduin and his rogues, “that no matter the results, this mixtures is to catch its subject aflame. But as the egg and I are black dragons, we are immune to such things-- or at least most of them. Should the Onyxia’s bone produce white smoke, it means the tooth is disintegrating, and will destroy the fossil. Black smoke, and the elixir should be safe, only stripping the stone away and leaving the egg intact. And then… Well: We will just have to see.”

Anduin understands now: The tooth was to act as a control- black dragon DNA that could be tested on without having to risk injury to the fossil or Wrathion himself. He watches the dragon split Onyxia’s age-worn tooth in half, then again. Four pieces to test with, at first. The vial he takes again in his hands is also poured into three other separate flasks.

Where Left and Right were usually bound to stand somewhere out the way, Anduin could feel them at his back, holding their breath just as the king unhappily found himself doing. He could not help it: The first vial, just as it was, is tilted to drip steadily over the first broken piece of bone.

All four of them watch the immediate reaction: A sizzling followed by Wrathion’s soft grumble. The tooth starts to collapse and crumble. The smoke was white. Anduin tries not to breathe it in.

The black liquid vial he noticed before is taken in Wrathion’s hand. A nearby mess of notes is peered over carefully, and with blatant hesitation, the dragon adds just a few drops of the dark substance to one of the split vials. The potion is then easily consumed by those few drops; the concoction turns black as if being churned rapidly by an invisible mixing rod. Even worse, gripping at Anduin’s heart at the sight of it, he sees what can only be the golden specks of Bronze sand. Just as quickly as the inky liquid had overcome the potion’s color, the sands were fighting back, forming out of nothing and growing like a tidal wave to overcome the intrusion.

Wrathion had used the Vision of Time somewhere in the potion’s creation. How? It was only a machine that could show moving pictures of the past, and-- and somehow, with Kairoz and Draenor--

The sands and the black liquid go still in the flask. Wrathion was watching them too, giving the vial a little shake and hum of approval when the two contrasting colors merely stay in place, as if embraced in liquid form.

Only a small portion is dripped over the next piece of the tooth. The same sizzling sound ensues, yet there is something different about it. It does not produce smoke, but steam. Anduin sees Wrathion frown. The dragon pours a little more.

The steam grows higher, then thicker-- then gray. Then black.

Then Anduin sees red. Not the red of his own anger-- not this time-- but physical red; the seam of cracks Wrathion had created by breaking the bone apart start to slowly gather in an opaque shape at the tooth’s root. The king realizes in stunned silence that it was blood. The tooth was bleeding. The potion had stripped the tooth of its old, brittle enamel, and somehow brought to life the blood that should have dried up and evaporated years ago with Onyxia’s skull abandoned to the elements.

The crimson matter pours in a trickle across the surface of the lab desk. Slowly, the flow ceases and dries up. The only sign that Onyxia’s bone had bled was the smallest stain it leaves in the wood.

Left and Right look at their charge. Anduin finally lifts his eyes from the desk to do the same.

The dragon’s thoughts were going a thousand miles a minute. Anduin could see it on the man’s faraway face. He tries the concoction one more time on a spare piece of tooth, this time adding more of the black brew to his originally prepared concoction. The results are very much the same. This time however, the tooth’s regenerated blood canal bleeds for much, much longer.

“My lord,” Right says. There’s a tentative hand reaching in his direction.

But Wrathion only turns at the waist and regards her calmly-- calm in every way but the way his mouth splits into a startling grin. His voice is but a breath. "Shall we?”

 

Chapter Text

Sabellian’s work did not disappoint. In fact, it did exactly as Wrathion had prayed it would do. But he has to be careful now; the elder dragon’s elixir was still to be of use to him after the egg was free. He could not use it all on reversing the fossil. He was immensely impressed with how much of a difference a few drops could make.

Those same droplets gave Wrathion one last task in measuring how much Sabellian’s concoction would be needed to add to the remaining bulk of the reversal potion. As he takes measurements and scribbles the math on a piece of parchment, he can hear the sound of Anduin’s uneven footsteps crossing the floor behind him to where the egg sat in wait.

The king was silent since their return, which in truth was a nice and welcomed change. Wrathion wonders smugly to himself how much his research impressed the human now. Ah. But he could not gloat yet. If this experiment did not work after all, then there would certainly be nothing left for him in this world he called his own, his duty.

The final potion was soon made. The Bronze’s sands fight with the Black essence once more before stilling in harmony. Wrathion carries the potion delicately by its neck and bottom, and his rogues give him space.

Anduin does not move or look at him right away. When he does, it is with an expression the dragon cannot read. “Do you think it will work?”

As much as Wrathion longs to preen, there is no resisting the frown that sets on his face. “According to what I have researched and what I have seen… it must. Move aside, please.”

Anduin does. He stands several paces behind Wrathion, as do Left and Right at his other side. Neither one of them offer any other word.

The dragon lets out a long breath- one that would shake had it not been silent. He takes one step closer to the large stone, the prison of his ancient and unhatched sibling lying beneath layer and layer of neglected years. Tonight, Wrathion would not take his family’s life, but give it, in hopes that the black dragonflight can be redeemed in the eyes of all whose eyes fell on his legacy.

All in the room go still as Wrathion upends the potion over it.

Thick curling smoke immediately fills the room. King Anduin and the rogues immediately step away and shield their faces, but the dragon does not flinch. He merely squints, forcing his draconic gaze to pierce through the burning veil so that he may watch the transformation.

It was just like with Onyxia’s bones: The rock starts to fade away, whether by melting or splintering into broken pieces that clatter across the floor. At first, all Wrathion sees is the disappearing stone, encasing nothing, and his heart clenches in dismay. Could he have been wrong? Did he destroy the egg after all? He could not forgive himself if it were true. Not only to lose the hatchling, but to see his work of the past four years, crumble to nothing in his hands--

It soon catches his eye when the smoke starts to thin ever so slightly: A protruding spike, colored like amber. Then another. More appear, across the base of something dark and dense. Wrathion had not seen one in some time, but he remembers well what a black dragon’s egg looked like when he had marched upon Blackrock and destroyed every corrupted nest inside it.

The egg sits in the empty shell of the fossil that now cradles it like a primitive bassinet. Its shell was bumpy, almost appearing to be covered in scales of its own, only to be further protected by the uninviting spikes of orange across its surface. And it was there. It was whole. But was it alive?

It takes several minutes for the stone to disintegrate completely, but Wrathion suspects it does not matter if he moves it. He could already see the entirety of the egg before the last of the barrier was stripped from it, urging him to take the thing in his hands to lift it free. He does so gingerly.

As smaller as the egg was compared to its fossilized state, it was still quite large, and Wrathion needed both hands like he did when carrying the Vision. But the moment his hands touch its surface, he cannot help the startled noise that escapes him.

Or the laugh, sudden and frightening and jubilant. “It is warm,” he says, gasps. “The egg-- I did it. It worked.”

He almost forgets he is not alone in the room, nearly startling again when Right is the first to brave appearing at the dragon’s side. Her eyes are as wide as his own; even Left appears at a loss for words, so scarcely as they already come. But Wrathion could feel it: His kin stirred beyond the dense shell in his hands. It was but a babe, still too young in its development to reach out to him with its magic. Wrathion’s fingers shake with his revelation, though his arms did not. He was glad. He did it. He was victorious.

The smoke clears. Wrathion looks up from the stare he did not realize he was so intently holding at his prize, and finds Anduin already staring back at him. There was no celebration on the human’s face. Only shock. Yes, Wrathion had certainly achieved the impossible today, but he knew there was something more on Anduin’s tongue.

He did not want to depart from the egg so soon, but he had a feeling he wasn’t going to get his congratulations from King Anduin if they did not have words. That, and Wrathion had no real idea when the thing would actually hatch. One of his hands comes briefly away from the egg to make a gesture at his bodyguards. They nod, and Wrathion and Anduin wait as another, cleaner resting place is prepared for the egg to sit on.

“Keep your eye on it,” the dragon commands his rogues. “I will be back shortly.”

He tears his gaze away from the egg to settle back on Anduin. The man is already taking to his side as Wrathion asks, “Shall we?”, and they exit the parlor into the ruined hallways beyond.

In the moment of their departure, Wrathion’s concerns for Anduin’s lectures or approvals were far from his mind. He was giddy with his success, his thoughts instead racing with playing the night’s events over and over in them. The potion had worked, and not only that, he felt the life of his ancient kin with his own hands. What would it be like, he wondered. Would there be complications to being awakened in an entirely different timeline? Would it be male or female? What kind of magic would it possess?

Would it be corrupted?

His pondering slowly trails as his and Anduin's steps come to a stop. A staircase stood to one side, but collapsed and no longer able to reach its destination above. Wrathion watches Anduin study it, or pretend to. Just like him, the king’s mind was occupied with what he had just witnessed.

 "Wrathion," he says quietly. His voice is even, and Wrathion still cannot read him. "... I did not think that would work."

Hesitant at first, then quickly happier; Wrathion smiles at him. "See? I told you my research was sound, and not so much as a scratch on the thing..."

His smile slowly fades. The king's blue eyes were fixated on him. Tired. They were so tired and foreign, and Wrathion could now read the disgust in them plainly. "What was in that elixir, Wrathion? It was bronze dragon magic, wasn't it."

The magic from the Vision of Time. Wrathion did not need to answer Anduin out loud; the king had already drawn his conclusion when he saw the chem-magical reaction take place. He continues to stare unhappily at Wrathion. "What about your alchemy? Or that strange dark potion?"

That, Wrathion does not find so easy to answer. He bristles at the king. "It is all draconic magic, King Anduin. A dragon solution to a dragon problem."

"Dragon magic you stole," Anduin snaps. "Dragon magic you took advantage of in the wake of death, after everything that's happened-"

"This again!" Wrathion tosses his hands in the air. "You've made yourself perfectly clear, your Majesty, I know well the fruits of my labors are bitter. But you saw for yourself what these things just accomplished! The preservation process as been reversed and destroyed! A black dragon waits in that egg, and if everything proceeds as well as it has thus far, it will be Azeroth's future."

Anduin’s fists clench then unclench at his sides. "Where did the egg come from?"

Ah. Sharp fangs bite the twist of Wrathion’s tongue. The weigh of the pros and cons of his answering is brief, unneeded.

The dragon straightens himself to fold his hands behind his back. "Highmountain," he says. "After the uncorrupted existence of Ebyssian became known across the Broken Isles, I did not hesitate to infiltrate the cavern where his own egg escaped Deathwing's slaughter.”

Wrathion sees Anduin’s eyes widen ever so slightly. When no more words from the king are forthcoming, the dragon continues. “Thousands of years ago, Neltharion had many mates and many nests in Highmountain, most of which he destroyed in his mad conquest. Not only were these dragons destroyed by his fire, but some by the forces of his power as Earthwarder. Some parts of the mountain itself were destroyed. Cave-ins, landslides…

“One such nest was wiped out by these earthen methods. Crushed beneath stone or swept away by the debris. My rogues and I found the egg fragments and bones preserved in the stone. But among the remains was one fossil that was unscathed. It had not cracked, but been buried.”

And that fossil was no more. It lives and breathes beneath a shell-- the proper shell of a dragon waiting to be hatched. Wrathion can feel his excitement returning to him, only to be staved off by Anduin’s continued stare of disapproval. It infuriates Wrathion to no end, and he snaps, “What can you still possibly have against this operation?” His hands spread out on either side of him. “Is it wrong for me to want to save my people? Have my experiments perhaps stooped me so low to the likes of the Reds who created me? Hm? Or do you want to argue in circles about Pandaria again?”

“I do not,” Anduin snaps back. He stands from the sit he had taken on the bottom stair. “I only want to make very clear what my problem with you since Pandaria is, Wrathion. You were in Highmountain-- presumably during a time the Legion was running rampant through the land-- Used your secret dragon magic you refuse to tell me a damn thing about, and then showed me your secret lair in Medivh’s old stronghold, under Stormwind’s nose, this entire time. My grievances against your ‘operation’ is that I’m still waiting for the part where I’m supposed to trust you.”

The dragon scowls. He takes a few marching steps forward that Anduin doesn’t shy away from, jabbing a claw into the human’s chest. “I said nothing about doing this to earn your precious trust. And I do not know what you expect to accomplish by bringing up the Bronze and the Legion every other minute we are together!”

Anduin tries to move aside Wrathion’s finger with the back of his hand, but the dragon only prods at him again. Anduin sighs exasperatedly. “You know why I bring it up, Wrathion.”

“No, I do not. Enlighten me.”

This time, Anduin’s backhand toward the offending poke is more forceful, but Wrathion merely replaces it with his other hand. The game of annoying pokes and last-words is so familiar to their time as boys that he is almost shocked to find Anduin pushing him away, instead of smothering his face with a pillow that, Wrathion vaguely reminds himself, does not actually exist in Kazarzhan’s dusty halls. “I bring it up because you made it perfectly clear that the Legion was your mortal enemy. From day one, Wrathion, the day I met you, you were thrusting gems in champion’s hands and demanding Horde and Alliance general heads on a platter. Did you just sit back and watch the world burn while you were digging your hands in the mud looking for bones?”

Wrathion takes a deep breath through his nose. It puffs our his chest and flares his nostrils, his gaze burning into Anduin’s. “And so you blame me for not stopping the Legion, single-handedly? Is that it?”

“Why not?” Anduin sneers back. “You have loyal followers by the zounds, don’t you?”

“And you have a whole Alliance at your command. Tell me, then, how did that fare for Teldrassil?”

In any other world, it would have been a low blow. Wrathion sees the king’s eyes widen, then soon look away. But Wrathion had made himself vulnerable in that tavern years ago, and dangling Azeroth’s destruction over his head was not something he was about to stand for. He almost expects Anduin to punch him again, surprised when no words or acts of malice come.

He sighs. “Do you remember, King Anduin, when I told you I no longer had a preference for my title as Prince?”

Anduin had sat back on that bottom stair during their silence. The dragon waits until he meets his eye again, a tiredness in their blue that outweighs the anger the king’s bared thus far. He still looks so different than the bright, pillowing-throwing teenager Wrathion remembers.

“It is because I have no kingdom to rule over,” Wrathion decides to continue. “Of course, I never had a physical kingdom in the first place-- not like yours. As a son of Deathwing, my land was all of Azeroth, and I had usurped her from my father’s reign. It did not matter that I had no family. My champions, my Blacktalons… they are all I needed.”

Some of Anduin’s previous aggravation returns when the dragon unceremoniously plops himself in a sit next to him. He sprawls himself out, feet stretched to the floor and his turbaned head flopped back on the step above the one they both sat on. Wrathion lounges, dramatically, like a noblewoman on the verge of a fainting spell. His sigh only matches in dramatics, ignoring Anduin’s foot prodding at his own for some personal space from his side of the stairwell. “But my champions are gone, you see. I went into hiding to ensure that the egg would not be compromised. I have only a handful of Blacktalons. Five, including Left and Right, in fact, on this continent. Once I disappeared, the curiosity of my whereabouts trickled with each new disaster on the rise.

“So.” Wrathion claps his hands together, once, then lets them droop over the rotting wood like a sad marionette. “The Black Prince is no more. Not until I can prove myself to be a worthy adversary of the world I love so dear… I will bring the black dragonflight to protect her better than I could alone.”

There it was: It was but a scratch of the surface of the secrets Wrathion kept dear to him, but all the same, it was a secret he expects Anduin to have discovered sooner or later. How else would the SI:7 be able to explain the lack of the dragon’s activity over the years? There were simply no Blacktalons skulking about for them to find-- or if there were, they served another trinket-producing figurehead now. Wrathion left no footprints. He would not keep two hundred-something contracts to risk them leaving their own, either.

It was starting to get quiet for far longer than he cared for. Wrathion rolls his head to one side, peeking at the king who was only staring back at him. He looks… taken aback, Wrathion can discern, if only just slightly. Anduin had become a creature determined to harden his heart to anything the dragon had to say to him. Yet even now, he appears surprised about Wrathion’s spun tale of disbanded loyalties.

Though he still gives one last kick to the dragon’s foot. Wrathion complies this time, clicking his heels together as he remains in his stairwell sprawl. Anduin slowly starts to ask, “Then what happens with the egg now?”

Wrathion grunts. “Obviously, it needs to hatch. I will admit, Ebyssian’s condition worries me: Did you know he is uncorrupted, but only by residing in Highmountain? There is a protective force in that land, and with the egg removed from it… I do not know if its magic will linger, or if the Old Golds will penetrate it in this new timeline. I cannot know while it is still incubating.”

Anduin frowns. His bleeding heart was showing. “What if it is corrupted? You said you were going to bring back your flight with this one egg. But what if…?”

Another sigh. Wrathion shakes his head. “I will not destroy it. But with what I have discussed with Ebyssian, and the fact the egg was created in a time before Neltharion’s betrayal, there should be-- there is-- a very good chance that the chronomancy used to bring it to our world will ensure its mind being unharmed. As if it it has been contained in a little bubble of its own time limbo this whole time. If something is to go awry, however… I do not know when I will get a second chance, or a second egg.”

The next question surprises Wrathion. “You’re not going to stay here when it hatches, are you?”

The dragon sits up with a few blinks. “What? Why wouldn’t I?”

Anduin laughs at him, but in that ‘are you stupid?’ kind of way Wrathion doesn’t care for in the least. “Because it’s a dragon. Because it’s going to be a baby dragon, who may not be as smart and mouthy as you are when you were a baby, but look around you, Wrathion. This place is a bonfire waiting to happen.”

He… wasn’t wrong. Though the dragon won’t indulge Anduin in actually looking around the place, he knows Karazhan is a cadaver of the sparkling mage tower it once was. Wood was as dry and brittle as it was abundant, and Deadwind Pass scarcely saw rainfall. It would be any young, feral dragon’s favorite playpen.

“… you may have a point,” Wrathion admits at last, making a face at the hint of a smile the king has pointing back at him. “It is something I will have to consider before the whelp is born.”

Something almost makes him ask if Anduin knows any place suitable-- or even worse, if the human would continue to have a role in the egg’s progress. Which was foolish; Horde activity would pick up again, and King Anduin Wrynn would surely have to be on the front lines. Besides, the rift between them was still clear: He and Wrathion were tolerating each other in this single moment in time, but there was no doubt that forgiveness would forever be out of the question. Too many secrets. Too many years. When the whelp hatches and Outland’s dragons return to their beloved Azeroth, Wrathion would no longer have need of humans or Blacktalons for company. The thought will forever be his cornerstone of hope that this will work.

With the calmer air and many a thought on both their minds, Wrathion invites the king back with him to the parlor for proper seating and food, as the dragon promised. Anduin seems willing to partake in a few desserts, at first, until it becomes apparent that a few of the pastries the dragon has available are a little too familiar to the ones imported to Stormwind Keep, and Wrathion has to awkwardly confess that his birds' visits to the kingdom did serve a purpose. Errand-runners, if you will, for small food things no one would even notice. A couple of pumpkins here, a pie there… A dragon has to eat, you know. Anduin was not happy, but Wrathion had come to expect nothing less at this point.

 It wouldn't be long until the king insists on returning home. He had been exhausted and exasperated here thus far, but there was also a fatigue about Anduin Wrathion noticed ever since the climax of the egg's success had passed. Once or twice in the parlor, the man would lean heavily on his elbow with his chin in his hand, startling himself awake with the heavy dip of his head or the sound of Wrathion's cup being set back on its china plate. It was amusing, and Anduin was adamant about reminding him that his scientific antics were to blame for him not getting any sleep. Which, fair.

By the time Anduin was back in Stormwind, it was almost as if the air around the two of them had changed. They still weren't friends-- not by a long shot-- but there wasn't a single promise of execution or dungeon-brigging made that day, so Wrathion considers it an improvement. Whether or not the king would be interested in being kept in the know of the whelp's upbringing was another story entirely. Wrathion still wouldn’t ask, and even suspected Anduin himself did not know his own feelings on the matter. Black dragon or no, he’s known the human well enough to know that Anduin wouldn’t wish harm or corruption on any living soul, at least.

But Anduin had been sure of one thing, of which Wrathion dwells over now: Karazhan would not be a suitable place to raise an adolescent dragon. Even if the whelp could be contained without a fiery incident, there was no sense staying in the keep forever, and so close to several human settlements. Someone would notice something sooner or later. Children or adventurers would get curious like one does of any seemingly-abandoned or haunted establishment. Left and Right could be away one day, and suddenly there would be drifters worming their way into Wrathion’s base of operation.

Too many things could go wrong. Wrathion needed security, privacy- a shelter of the nonflammable variety. The egg could hatch anywhere between the next month and the next few hours. And so, Wrathion decides, he and his rogues must start packing. A map is unfurled in the parlor for the three of them to look over, plotting with desert safe-havens on their minds and thieved Stormwind tarts in their hands.