The musky scent of decay permeated from every organic thing within the murky and dark swamplands of the Black Morass. It clung heavily in the air and choked the very breath from whatever traversed beneath the tightly woven and thick canopy. The hiss of a crocolisk emerged from the stagnate waters as muddy boots left damp impressions in the mossy, mud filled ground. Predatory eyes watched the stranger pass by, assessing instinctively whether it would be easy prey or too much to bother with. The scaly beast stayed where it was, even as the black cloak the stranger wore came close enough for it to snap its fanged maw around and drag it into the murky depths below.
It knew that it would be a battle lost if it tried.
The beast submerged again even as the sounds of the swamp quieted with the stranger’s approach. Birds silenced their chirping and mating caws; jaguars crouched lower in the brush and eyed the stranger warily and the snakes coiled more tightly together beneath the leaves of branches they hung from.
The swamp held its breath, still reeking of death and decay, more so after the stranger had passed, until he came upon the edge of the morass. Even there, it was silent, waiting for the stranger to leave or to see what its purpose here was. But there was no where else to go except back into the swamp, for at the edge was a steep mountain, the tail end of a range that divided the rainforest from the swamplands.
It was here that the stranger wanted to be, and it was here that the beginning of the end would come.
Silently the stranger crouched down and reached out for a handful of the decaying undergrowth, crushing fallen leaves and mixing it through the moist dirt between his fingers before letting it cascade back to the ground. He stood again and studied the cypress sentinels that stood high out of the water by their long, thick roots; and then listened to the wildlife deeper into the swamp as they preyed on or called for mates. For a place that smelled of death and decay, it was rich with precious and beautiful life.
Fuel for the Fel.
“This will serve our needs,” a voice of brimstone and ash spoke out of the dark cowl that hid the stranger’s face from view. His head turned to the left, twin vibrant green flames burned brightly where eyes would have been, dimly illuminating a bearded face underneath in a sickly green. The stranger raised a hand, fingers clawed, and downward as green magic flowed from him to pour downward and caress the ground in a death’s embrace. The moss and lichen withered as earthworms and insects wiggled out of the mud to get away but only to be caught in the tendrils of magic, curling into their death throws as the life was sapped from them.
He moved swiftly; quiet words uttered on his lips in the same terrible voice. “Shalarom, ghiro’mas…” Runes itched themselves into the ground, growing brightly against the gloomy dark of the Black Morass, until they surrounded the stranger completely and he slammed the hand downward, capturing the magic between his fingers. “Shalarom, ork!”
A cacophonous burst thundered from the rune, a vortex of fel magic swirling around the cloaked figure, whipping up the dark fabric and causing the cowl to fall away to reveal a comely human male with hair as dark as the raven feathers on his shoulders. It swirled and roared, almost as if in protest at being contained, before the magic began to suck inward tendrils of life essence from the swamp around him.
“Shalarom, ghiro’mas!” he chanted louder over the sound of the spell. “Shalarom, ork!” The fel vortex tightened as it grew, the swamp dying concurrently, and then, as he repeated the incantation one more time, it shot forward to splash against the mountainside brilliantly. The lichen and moss-covered rock face glowed in defiance and the world darkened for a brief moment until the magic began to spread out into a rectangular shape, spreading until it was thrice as tall as the sorcerer and several shoulders wide.
A blackness filled the center of what was now a portal, bordered by the Fel magic that spawned it. Stars began to twinkle in the darkness and shapes began to form within until the image was replaced with a lush jungle and armored figures.
Many armored figures armed to the teeth and machines of fire and black iron growling behind them.
“What is this?” the demon questioned; brow furrowed in confusion. He pondered on what went wrong with the incantation as the armored figures marched forward and began to pour through from the other side. He saw that they were the orcs he had summoned and yet they were not what he was expecting. “Had Gul’dan failed his part of the bargain?” Yet the portal had opened so the warlock must not have. Perhaps not all of the orcs had partaken of the gift presented to them. Nevertheless, these orcs will serve his purpose fel-tainted or not.
“Orcs of the Horde! This portal is the gateway to your new destiny! Azeroth lies before you, ripe for the taking!” The armored warriors pause at the base of the portal, staring darkly through their helms at the sorcerer that stood in the middle of fading runes.
“Garrosh speaks true,” the one in the lead spoke first, his orcish harsh to the human’s ears. He raised a nasty looking axe and pointed it in his direction. “Iron Horde, attack!” he growled. The warriors rushed forward, shouts of ‘Lok’tar O’gar’ chorusing eagerly from them as weapons of black iron were unsheathed and brandished. Behind them, the machines of fire and black iron rolled through followed by more armored warriors until he was outnumbered tenfold.
The sorcerer narrowed his eyes as the orcs charged. Something had definitely gone wrong on the other side of the portal. The warlock he had charged to create an army for him had failed his task somehow. They would not be attacking him if Gul’dan had informed them of what to expect on the other side. Yet they were and the stranger found himself erecting a shimmering blue shield in defense.
“You dare attack me?!” the voice of brimstone and ash snarled, violet and azure magic coalescing in his palms just before his counterattack was unleashed. “Shala’ros!” The arcane barrage slammed into the nearest orc, sending him sprawling onto his back and kicking up mud and debris. The others paused to stare for a moment before roaring and continuing their charge.
They were upon him in moments, weapons battering at the shield. He can feel his strength waning with each hit and knew he did not have long before they broke through. The ritual had taken much of his strength despite drawing power from the swamp itself. Such was the price of the Fel. He had little choice but to call upon it again to kill these insolent mortals. The demon-possessed sorcerer reached out with a hand toward the cypress trees, drawing upon their own essence to grant him the strength and power he needed to put an end to this fight.
Just as the shield came down, an explosion of violent arcane power erupted from the sorcerer, instantly incinerating the warriors closest to him and knocking back the rest. “I brought you to this world and I will take you out of it for your defiance!” he promised with such furious hatred.
He glanced up in time to see a weapon in the hands of another orc erupt with flames facing in his direction. He felt the impact before he heard the explosive crack, eyes widening in pain and shock. The demon glanced down where the pain was centered, a stain darker than the red runecloth that adorned the robe underneath slowly spread across his chest just above his heart.
“Curse this feeble mortal body,” he dropped to his knees, the fel green glow of his eyes grew brighter in fury until it overcame his entire body. There was an inhuman and furious scream, quickly followed by the magic erupting upward through the lifeless canopy and into the sky. What remained when it was over, was a man clutching at his chest and laboriously breathing, smoke rising from his singed cloak from the demon’s abrupt departure.
“Thank… you,” he said to the orc commander as the warrior cautiously approached.
“Secure the prisoner and tend to his wound. The Warchief wants him alive to fuel the gate on this world.” Several of the remaining warriors rushed forward and grabbed ahold of the wounded man, an expression of confusion and shock mixed with pain and weariness crossed his features as he stared up at the orcs in fear.
“No… Please,” he quickly begged. He tried to struggle in their arms, but it only aggravated the wound, causing him to gasp in pain and nearly black out then and there. His gasps turned to cries as they were not gentle with him, dragging him away through the blood-spilled mud. Too weakened from the ritual and expulsion of the demonic presence, the sorcerer gave up and allowed himself to be taken away.
“Commander Tharbek, the last of the Ironmarch has made it through. What are your orders?” a large, brown skinned orc dressed in black and red armor approached. A wide, two-hander that glowed an eerie blue rested on his back. He waited patiently for his commander to give further instructions, listening all the while for sounds of an enemy hidden within the swampy forest surrounding them. This world was new to them and nothing like the one they had just left behind.
Both orcs turned at the sound of the portal collapsing, and the subordinate knew immediately what would need to be done. “Secure the area and create a perimeter. Get the workers started on building the infrastructure for a new gate and send scouts to recon this new world. Soon, Gar’mak, the rest of the Iron Horde will join us. Until then, we hold this swamp.”
“Swobu, Commander!” Gar’mak stood sharply in acknowledgement of his orders before turning to shout out commands to the other orcs. Tharbek stayed where he was, his gaze drawn to the fading runes on the ground, pondering on what he had witnessed here today. The intel he had received from son of the Warchief had been accurate, that a sorcerer would be waiting for them and that he would be an enemy of the Iron Horde. Not because he was a native of this world, but because of what was within the spellcaster.
Tharbek knew little about demons other than the one he and the Horde had fought early on. He knew that they were deceivers and enslavers of the foolish, those who were willing to bargain and sell their souls. Did this human sorcerer make the same foolish bargain? Hellscream had not explained in detail about the origins of the sorcerer he called the Guardian, only that he was possessed and a threat that needed to be neutralized if their campaign were to succeed.
The Ironmarch commander snorted in contempt at those who would make such bargains and knew exactly what to do with such beings. This guardian would power the gate until he could not any longer and then he would feed the man’s soul to it.