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The Gadgetzan Gazette

Chapter Text

It was one thing to hear of the ship that had once carried the Naaru to Draenor being here as well, but quite another to see its majestic hull half-embedded into the land, even from far offshore.

Yrel kept her mouth shut, though, simply allowing herself to blend into the group returning to their home here on 'Azeroth'. It had been difficult to manage, but she had wanted to understand these draenei who had come from elsewhere and had chosen to go back with their Alliance friends instead of staying with their kin on Draenor, and so she had learned to make herself overlooked by the Naaru and slipped into the supply movements heading back through the repaired Portal.

And now, a continent (and a world) and more than a month from home, she was here, and she couldn't decide how she felt about the fact that none of them had ever mentioned this.

(...then again, she doubted she would have believed it were she told, but after seeing what Gul'dan had twisted the orcs into, and how Azeroth's Horde, especially the orcs, had reacted to the news...)

Still, how the Exodar could be crashed here while it was still in safe orbit back home could be left for later, once she had settled in and could properly access the computers that were still intact, wherever they might be. The others on the ship had started to perk up at the sight, and she couldn't help but smile along with them as they celebrated their successful return.

It was another hour before the ship finally pulled into the simple wooden dock, Yrel following the flow of the crowd as they disembarked to the sight of thousands cheering their return, men and women and children alike standing to the side of the path as the returning soldiers passed by. More than one was pulled to the side by a husband or wife, celebrating their reunion with as much enthusiasm as the rest of the crowds combined.

It reminded her much of the celebrations that had raged across Shadowmoon in the weeks following the demise of Archimonde and the breaking of the Legion's power base on Draenor.

She continued on with the rest, making their way around to the main entrance to the ship, which had thankfully avoided being buried with the rest of the ship during its crash. The crowds started to taper off, giving the group free passage down the winding tunnel that, even in various states of repair, still managed to convey the comforting air and otherworldliness of the Naaru who had built it.

By the time they reached the base of the ramp and emerged into the massive main room, Yrel had brought her awe back under control, focusing instead on the new crowds awaiting them, just as cheerful as those outside had been.

She shifted, starting to realize that she truly did not understand this offshoot of her people, who had faced trials she had never dared imagined, just like they had been so awkward in her world's trials. She was an intruder, spying on these innocent people who were being brought together again after their long separation. She did not belong, and had she not been so damned curious about her once allies, she would still be on Draenor helping to rebuild as she should instead of watching everyone else celebrate.

Suddenly a hush fell across the crowd, drawing her from her morose thoughts of slipping away as soon as she was able. It didn't take long for her to realize someone powerful in the Light was making their way towards them, though who they were didn't strike her for another few precious seconds, during which the crowds had parted to reveal her teacher.

Her dead teacher, who had sacrificed his life to save a Naaru from the corruption inflicted on it by the Iron Horde, but who no one seemed to care was supposed to be dead as he spoke to them. She stared unblinkingly as he paused to greet many of the returning soldiers personally, sometimes resting a hand on their shoulders, in all cases as serene as she remembered.

Then he was beside her, and she couldn't begin to think, her world view still in the process of denial and shattering as his impossibly old and unwaveringly kind gaze settled onto her.

"Hmm," He spoke, his soft voice enough to bring a tear to her eyes. "I don't recall your face among those sent to assist the Archmage and the Alliance. Why do you hide your face, child?"

Yrel couldn't find her voice, still wrapped in the confusing mix of joy and misery at her mentor's perfect likeness. Even when she felt his hand gently pressed to her forehead, she couldn't find the will to stop him, her heart too busy pleading and dreading this to all be real and not just another cruel dream.

The thin illusion of disinterest around her shattered as easily as a bubble, several of those around her startling back as she full presence finally was allowed to be viewed. His gaze remained frozen on hers, neither willing to look away and break the moment that stretched on for an eternity.

"...Yrel?"

She swallowed, more tears starting to leak as she heard the slightest hesitance in his voice, as if he felt as trapped in this dream as she did. "Uncle…"

His hand lowered, eyes looking down on her Vindicator armor and mace before returning to the sigil on her forehead that he had left to her for safekeeping, to remind her to be strong no matter what. "I see you have been burdened greatly, and that you have handled that burden beyond what any could have demanded of you."

The Prophet smiled again, wrenching her heart for a third time in as many moments. "You have done our people well, Yrel, and you have made me proud beyond my wildest imagination."

That was the tipping point, a sob escaping her lips as she surged forward, grappling him in the tightest hug she could to try and hold onto this moment as long as possibly, letting all her buried grief and confusion lose at last in front of the one who had taught her so much. She hardly cared who else was there, because all that mattered was this.

(Maybe this was what she had been meant to avoid all along, or perhaps what she had always been destined to do. Either way, she couldn't wish for anything to have changed.)

Chapter Text

Your name is Millhouse Manastorm, gnome mage extraordinaire, and you are on a quest to prove yourself as the greatest magic user who ever lived!

...if you can actually find out where the hell you are in this ship, anyways.

It'd been such an easy plan; those alien ships with their strange supertechnology aeons beyond anything seen on Azeroth were just sitting there, completely undefended, like the Naaru had just wanted anyone with the brains and power to realize those things to just stride up and take it for themselves. You had thought nothing of whatever defenses they might have left, because they were beings of 'pure light' who 'had faith in the goodness of everyone' and so clearly wouldn't make them too dangerous, especially for a talented mage like yourself.

Phah, who cared about all that when you had a name to make for yourself? All you needed was a few clues as to their use of Arcane magic, and soon you'd be known across Azeroth as the Greatest Mage Ever, outshining even those hyped up tall ones like Medivh and Proudmoore!

Of course, in hindsight, maybe you should have expected some competition from other would-be looters with more than two braincells to rub together. The fact that it was a bunch of high-and-mighty elves didn't bother you much at first… until they started flinging spells at you.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing!?"

The lead elf, who looks remarkably unimpressed with his underlings' accuracy so far, snaps at them. "For goodness sake, will one of you just kill that lowly thing already so we can continue claiming the ships?"

"Lowly?" You cry in disbelief, your anger far outgrowing your body. "Nobody refers to the mighty Millhouse Manastorm as lowly!"

You build up a fireblast in your hands, sending it shrieking at the elf in question. "I'm gonna light you up, sweet cheeks!"

When the smoke clears, the elf leader is completely unharmed, but looking much more pissed now. The bolt of magic he launches at you is much more potent, and tells you that maybe you need a diversion to regroup and plan your next strike. As such, you blast one of the funny looking orbs on the wall.

It, and the orbs surrounding it, promptly deactivate, spitting out a small horde of demons who look mightily confused but quickly come to focus, and in turn draw the focus of, the elves across from you.

Well, you'll take what you can get. Running like the Burning Legion is on your heels (which considering the room you were just in might not be too far from the truth), you make your way further into the depths of the ship, waiting until you couldn't hear any of the sounds of fighting before beginning to slow down, and only coming to a stop when you ran out of breath… and any idea of where you were.

Well, if you don't know where you are, then those elves (and demons) certainly don't, and with any luck they'll just kill each other off and leave you to your research. It seems that once again, you, Millhouse Manastorm, have cleverly dealt with your enemies through clever tactics and simply being that much smarter than them! Surely it will be a grand tale to gloat over once you return home victorious.

Focus, focus! You still need something to prove your might, and since you're here and not really up for another sprint like that right now, you might as well do it here. The orbs (more prisons?) are bigger, possibly more important or else just holding bigger creatures, and your mind marvels at the idea of how they work exactly. Do they simply contain the creatures inside, or is there some sort of temporal mechanics at work to keep those trapped inside from having the time to plot escape?

The things you could adapt such things to are already crossing your mind, leaving you eager to get to work. All it really is is a matter of which of these cages you want to study first.

...On second thought, maybe you should try to find an empty one, just to be safe - you mean, for comparison's sake with an active one, of course! No need to downplay your reasoning! You are, after all, the mighty Millhouse Manastorm, and you don't fear a few measly demons!

Nodding once you assure yourself you were still awesome, you look around, seeing that indeed, there are a few pods which looks empty, if the lack of glowy purple shields and the 'drooped' look to them meant anything. One of them is even close to the floor, giving you perfect access to it! Truly this was an invitation if you'd ever seen one.

"Alright, let's see what you've got…" You rub your hands together gleefully, already putting together your first chain of inspection spells to determine the composition of the material in question.

When the spell hits, though, it's simply absorbed, leaving you with no feedback asides from a faint glow in the central bit of the structure. Perhaps some sort of anti-tampering mechanism to prevent the prison from being damaged while in use? Of course, such a feature would naturally need a complementary reaction feature in order to discourage further tampering-

That's as far as you're able to go with your train of thought before the structure lights up all at once, blinding you right before what feels like a Power Hammer 4000 slams into your skull and turns everything from purple-white to black.

(Benevolent and all-knowing Naaru your ass!)

Chapter Text

Yrel placed a hand upon the small, sparely decorated chest, biting her lip as she rethought her decision to use it in the upcoming battle.

Ever since Velen, her mentor and uncle in all but blood, had sacrificed himself to save the world the horrors of a corrupted Naaru, she had been desperately searching for something, anything, which could help her people stand against the Legion in the wake of the loss of such an important person. Though he had entrusted his gift of prophecy to her, she did not yet feel worthy of being his replacement, especially since she had yet to have any visions.

She had thought, when she had heard rumors of a weapon created by the Naaru specifically meant to fight the Legion, that they had found the answer, but the writings buried alongside the innocuous casket told quite a different tale.

This wasn't just any weapon - it was a device of such immense power that even the beings who had made it had never used it, instead leaving it to collect dust in the very bottom of one of their ships, only found through serendipity and the odd feeling of missing something the first time she'd passed by the room it'd been in. And if the Naaru feared it so, how would she be viewed if she actually dared to use it, even against the hated Legion?

But without such a device, what else did they have to fight with? Though the heroes of Azeroth were strong and tenacious, as were her people and the free orcs of Draenor, none of that meant anything if the Legion was able to send its endless armies, and she would not forgive herself if she had to order her people's retreat to one of the Naaru's vessels to make another escape while their allies bleed and died behind them.

No, her people would fight here, and no matter if she were damned to the Void for its use, if this weapon could save her people from the Legion, she would use it.

"Bring it out to the transport," She told two of the draenei with her, who quickly saluted before grabbing the handles and carting it out of the room. As this also left no one to see her face at that particular moment, she closed her eyes and prayed to the Light that this would not backfire horribly.

In the end, all she had to work with now was, as the humans had put it, 'a hope and a prayer'.

"Naaru guide me…"

~0~0~

It was when she gazed upon the reviled and feared visage of Archimonde that she knew it was time to use the weapon her people had worked hard to keep hidden, not even whispering their hopes of its potential in case the Legion or the Iron Horde heard of it and tried to destroy it. Even the human mage and the orc who had once lead the genocide of her people did not know, and if the plan failed…

Well, they had come this far despite her fears, they could still defeat the Defiler if they put their hearts and souls into it. This was why, in fact, Yrel had made certain to bring two of her own mages along for the final battle while the rest were downstairs holding back the other defences Gul'dan had set up in this Fel-forsaken tower. She made a subtle gesture to them, one specifically meant for this scenario, and they didn't hesitate in pulling the weapon to their location through the twisting Arcane realms.

The box clattered to the floor a bit more roughly than she'd hoped between the two sides, drawing the attention of more than a few eyes. Khadgar raised an eyebrow, more than likely wondering what his ally was thinking. Grom shook his head, turning his attention back to the Eredar Lord, likely uncaring of what the Draenei did so long as it did not get in the way of the fight ahead.

Archimonde laughed mockingly, seeing the summons as a mistake. "Is that your last hope, then? A little box to fight off the Defiler?"

Yrel, completely lacking faith that this would actually work, held her head high and dismissed his mocking as if it was nothing. "If you aren't afraid of it, surely you won't mind us keeping it here, will you?"

"Oh no, I don't think so," He replied, with a lazy stride making it over to the crate, picking it up in a hand that emphasized just how much the Legion had twisted him, looking it over with boredom. "Not even up to standards - it seems you cowards have regressed when it comes to crafting even the simplest things."

Tossing it to the side casually, Yrel winced when she saw it tumble over itself several times, eventually clattering against the wall on its side, the lid cracking open ever so slightly.

It was then that Yrel experienced her first vision, not even aware of what it was telling her before she threw her hammer at the now-opened box. As Archimonde followed its path, Yrel threw up the most powerful shield she could around her allies, Khagdar following her lead even though he still had no idea what was inside.

Even then, the Light that filled the universe around them was close to blinding, forcing her to grit her teeth and close her eyes against the waves of Light pouring out around them. It was then she understood why even the Naaru had feared this weapon, because it wasn't just infused with the Light -

It was the very Heart of Light Itself.

As quickly as she had been blinded, the Light faded, leaving her and her allies blinking away the spots in their eyes as they finally allowed the shields to drop, revealing that almost nothing had changed and that the box was empty inside, her hammer lying to the side of the room.

In the center, by the now closed Legion gate, Archimonde was on his knees, staring blankly at the box, and looking so diminished it took her a full minute to realize that he was no longer the twisted mockery of an Eredar, but an almost normal looking Draenei. The weapon had borne fruit, destroying even the most powerful concentrations of Fel taint.

She also knew with certainty that it would never work again, its entire essence spent in saving one of the fallen leaders of the Eredar, and with him all those tied to his cursed agreement. Where those suddenly saved souls were did not reassure her, and she prayed that the Heart had given them a chance to get to safety even in their confusion.

"What was that?" Grom demanded, looking put out at losing the chance to fight the monster and fearful of what it could have done to him if he hadn't been protected.

"You knew what that would do," Khadgar stated instead, grip around his staff tighter than she'd hoped, though she would be just as worried about an unknown weapon being used without her knowledge.

"Only when he threw it," Yrel replied softly, looking to the box that had once held the Light. "I saw what I had to do to activate it and did so. What would happen… that I did not know. The Naaru built it as a weapon to fight the Legion, and I now understand why they never used it."

She looked back to Archimonde, who was even now starting to collapse in on himself. "It contained a power even they did not fully understand, a power of the Light so great and terrible that they hid it rather than risk using it."

"What is it?" Khadgar pressed, not backing down when she turned to give him a sorrowful smile.

"The Truth."

Chapter Text

Nozdormu watched, and thought.

Back when the Titans had come to Azeroth and granted the Flights their great powers, he had been asked by the High Father himself if he and his brood would be willing to serve and protect Azeroth throughout all eternity. It had not taken long for he and his prime consort Soridormi to agree, pledging themselves to Azeroth's defense until the end times.

Looking back on it, it was hilariously ironic they'd chosen those precise words, and perhaps the High Father had known that as well, because he'd offered a smile before he'd raised his hand up and placed a piece of his essence into the great bronze wyrm.

When Nozdormu had come back to, the first thing he remembered was his maddening descent into death, one that would not come for countless millions of years from his perspective but was as inevitable as the heat death of the universe. His consort, too, must have seen his demise, for her head was rested against his as they both simply took in the gentle, coarse flow of the timeline around them.

(He had a suspicion, but had never confirmed, that it would be her death that would send him spiraling to his own end time; she never offered what sort of death she had foreseen, though, and for that he loved her just a bit more.)

He opened his eyes briefly, momentarily taking in the full weave of potential timelines before him before sweeping most of them away with a thought, focusing on the one his lovely Soridormi was focusing on. She was speaking to a few mortals in one of the timelines where the Caverns had been opened to them, offering them a small boon in exchange for services that would ultimately protect this particular timeline from destruction for a little while longer.

She turned and offered him a smile after the mortals left, likely having sensed the weight of his focus on her, and he returned it before the slight nudge of another timeline drew his gaze away. What was the trouble with this one…

Ah, he saw it now. This timeline was the one set aside by one of his younger consorts and her brood as an indulgent experiment. Momedormi had from her youth been fascinated by the tenacity of the trolls who had ruled Azeroth before their empire had fallen apart, and had been curious to see what would happen if they were allowed to get back on their feet and start rebuilding before the orcs arrived from Draenor to cause havok.

It seemed that the Infinite Flight had tried to sabotage their success by throwing an opposing troll army at the city just after the first group had finished fighting a bloody war to reclaim it all, and now Momedormi was challenging them by bringing in a few troll heroes from the future of that timeline to sabotage the enemy beforehand.

As it seemed well in hand without his interference, he allowed the stream to slip away, once again immersing himself in the numerous possibilities that most would never imagine possible.

He had been asked, challenged, begged even, to interfere more in mortal events, to prevent the damages of their timeline from hurting and killing so many. And he had, in his early days, considered preventing such cruelties from happening so as to protect the younger races as he'd vowed.

But he had watched as his counterpart had tried to do what he would not, had seen the end results of those interferences, had seen the greater suffering he and his children could and would cause should the mortals not be prepared to fight for themselves, and so had learned the patience he had never been able to grasp before then.

Most mortals would never understand that, for every timeline in which they went on to succeed despite all the odds against them, at least five others had to be sacrificed to the sands to make sure those things that could go wrong did not. Inevitably he always lost a few young ones to those who did not wish to see those timelines vanish, but their names were always preserved in some way in the primary timeline they had protected with their deaths.

The mortals would also fail to grasp just how many 'primary timelines' he watched over, each a viable path to a future in which he could honestly admit to keeping his promise to the High Father. Of course, the timeline ruled over by Murozond was also preserved by the corrupted remnants of the flight by the time of his slip into madness, and his own brood accepted that its existence was necessary to protect other timelines from the majority of his corruption.

(He knew he hurt his children, blood or otherwise, to see their great leader and many of their kin as far gone as Neltharion and his brood, but they did not let this stop them from serving as they were born to do.)

(Sometimes, he wished there was a stable timeline which would save his brother from his damnation, but none of his quiet searching had borne fruit. Perhaps he would give up on that fool's errand eventually, but the him of his moment had not yet reached that point.)

He breathed out a sigh, sand that was not yet born escaping his lips before swirling away, disappearing like snowflakes into the timestream. He felt his consort's presence beside him before he felt her scales brush against his, her cheek pressing against his as she settled down beside him physically and temporally.

"What thoughts trouble you, my love?" She asked him, her gaze understanding.

"Nothing you have not heard me sigh over before," Nozdormu replied, enjoying her warmth against him as they leaned into each other. "Momedormi seems to be having some trouble with the Infinite Flight, but I don't want to interfere yet."

"Of course not," Soridormi stated as if it was an obvious conclusion. "She wants to prove herself to you; she hasn't yet realized that we would not have accepted her as a consort if she wasn't capable of handling Murozond's flight in her own timeline."

"She will, in time," He agreed, having seen it even before they'd discussed her elevation in status to lesser consort. "How is our son?"

They had had many children together over the ages, many of whom now watched over the various timelines for their father, but Anachronos had been the first, the strongest of their first nest before the Titans had arrived. He had already been tasked to take over the flight once his parents fell, his own vision of death already proven to not be enough to turn him from his duties, and for that Nozdormu and Soridormi could only feel pride.

Anachronos watched over the timeline in which his father's corrupted counterpart would eventually be slain, guiding the reclamation and disappearance of the Dragon Soul of that timeline so that its power would be slowly worn down by the sands of time, eventually returning the powers of the Flights to their rightful owners when the time was right.

He snorted at the implication the Alexstrasza of that line had made - a being outside of time could hardly lose his powers so readily, especially when it was clear he would get them back in the distant future. But it had been agreed by himself and the others at the time that it was a necessary deception in order to force the mortals to rely on themselves instead of calling on the Aspects to fight again so soon after they'd given everything to destroy their corrupted brother.

(Even the ageless guardians of the world needed time to grieve and recover.)

"He has allowed the alteration to the Dark Portal to stay; he is checking to see whether those in the alternate Draenor are necessary to deal with the Legion invasion to come."

"He's taking great risk, mixing timelines like that," Nozdormu noted, still trusting that his heir knew what he was doing. "Was the Azeroth that Draenor connected to dealt with?"

"It was," Soridormi comforted. "And the mortals still have access to their 'Outlands' thanks to the clever work of Dalaran and some of our drakes, in case they are needed as well."

"Good, good," The Aspect replied, allowing his eyes to shut against the timestreams again as he focused on his consort. "I suppose we have some time to ourselves, then."

"We always do," She replied teasingly, chuckling quietly. "Is there anywhen you'd like to go?"

"None as much as this moment," He replied in turn, knowing she was smiling without needing to look.

No matter how their lives would end, Nozdormu understood as well as any mortal how much the small moments mattered in one's life. And really, what was knowledge of his own end compared to that?

Chapter Text

In a tucked away corner of the Blade's Edge Mountains, far from the reach of any flightless beings, orc, gronn, or otherwise, was a cavern dug deep into the side of a mountain. It was hidden from view by an overhang, for all intents and purposes just another outcropping of unforgiving rock formed in the aftermath of Draenor's near total destruction.

That cavern, however, held great importance for the small number of beings who lived inside. For it was here that the last living daughter of Deathwing made her home, having managed to survive the slaughter of the rest of her flight and the following apocalypse. Her name was Naralia, and she had been one of the youngest to join the expedition through the Dark Portal to start a new branch of their glorious Flight in a new world that was completely unprepared for them.

Except, as it so happened, the world had been more than prepared for them after all. The Gronn, angered by the dragon's intrusion on their territory, joined up with the Alliance pursuing the orcs fleeing from Azeroth to strike at the nests, crushing every egg and slaying every dragon they could reach. Even their great father Deathwing had been forced to flee, both because of the foul mage Khadgar and because of the heavy strain the portals were placing on Draenor.

Naralia had been away from the camp at the time, engaging in a bit of recreation with one of the other young dragons; they'd both come out of it somewhat ragged but otherwise pleased with their efforts.

Then they'd arrived at the scene of the massacre, forced to watch their leader face a losing battle against the enemy while the rest of their Flight bled out around him.

Her partner screeched in rage, going out to defend Deathwing, while she… remained where she was. Some part of her that wasn't the whisperings of glory and bloodshed told her something was very wrong and that she had to get away before it was too late. She should have gone out there and fought as well, but seeing the drake she'd just partnered with shot down before he could even let lose a single gout of flame made her far more alert to the fact that she would die just as easily as the rest of her Flight, all of whom had been far older, stronger, and more cunning than she.

She backed away until there was no way they could see her, then spread her wings and fled, intent only on surviving until the horrid Alliance left and she could rejoin her father. She flew far deeper into the mountains, until she could see no signs of any two legged beings, then found the first cave she could and burrowed herself as deep as she could.

(She was a coward, she knew, but she was not that eager to throw her life away, not when she could wait for the mortals to lower their guard.

Oh yes, just when they thought they were safe, she'd sneak in, raising their camps to the ground, leaving them writhing in their tents to suffer all they'd done to her Flight and then some! Then her father would be proud of her!)

Before she could put together more than the most basic plans for revenge, the world crumbled in on itself. Even as corrupted as the Black Flight had become, she could still feel the screams of the world under her as it collapsed and destroyed itself, an ongoing upheaval that left her using all of her little-used earthen magics simply to protect herself and the eggs growing inside of her.

The world that emerged from the rubble of Draenor was very much different from the world she'd first stepped into with her father. Naralia tiptoed out from her cave a long while after the shaking had finally stopped, looking up at the Twisting Nether dominating the sky and recognizing just how bad things had become for her.

She'd been lucky enough to avoid the worst of the chaos from Gorgrond's reshaping, and more so to have avoided the part of the mountains belonging to Frostfire Ridge, which had been completely destroyed with the rest of the majority of Draenor. The only upside to the entire scenario was that everyone else still alive on this floating hunk of rock would be too busy trying to reorient themselves and survive in the aftermath to come after her.

Still, Naralia often found herself restless, taking long flights from her cavern with no particular destination or path in mind even after she finally laid her first clutch. The feeling failed to go away no matter how carefully she scrutinized her surroundings or double checked her range for signs of intrusion. It took her nearly five months to finally put a name to it, and the realization concerned her greatly.

It was quiet.

Not just in the sense of isolation from others, which she could have handled, but in her mind; the constant whispers of pride, power, glory, and superiority were gone, and though she felt she should have been angry at letting herself be so beaten by everything that had happened to her, she was simply tired and numb. All her energy now went into making sure her children would survive their hatching and trying to figure out how she would feed them all without starting to draw unwanted attention back her way.

That was another thing - she'd started hesitating at the things she'd used to do, in some cases even going against her old habits despite being unable to give a reason to it. She'd stopped killing prey for the thrill of it while leaving it to rot, foregone the more classical moat of lava in favor of a simple stone overhang for defense from intruders, and kept her hunting as close to 'home' as possible instead of forcibly expanding her territory.

She had told herself she was simply being cautious, lowering her enemies' guards in case they were still looking for her, but that excuse wore thin as nothing tried to even come close to her caverns. She was a nonentity, as unaware of what was going on outside of her small hunting range as the outside world was of her and her children.

Again, she failed to put a name to the feelings that particular thought invoked until her children had hatched, the brood not fighting each other anywhere near as roughly or viciously as she and her siblings had when they'd been born back on Azeroth-

Azeroth. Where her father and the rest of her Flight were. She'd spared less thought to them lately, more concerned with surviving and feeding herself and the hatchlings, but seeing her children play carelessly with each other in the safety of the nest left her, dare she say it, leery of her Flight's reactions should she ever run into them again.

Naralia held no illusion that her children would be seen as weak for their less vicious ways, and though she should have culled them herself before they left a mark on her own worth, they were her first brood, and there was no way she was ever going to have another while she was stuck here anyways. They were her one shot - her Flight's last shot - at securing the last remnants of this world for the Black Flight, and she wasn't going to waste them because they were a bit less aggressive right out of the egg.

...not to mention that she simply couldn't go through with it. When she looked at them, she could not convince herself that they were truly any weaker than she had been at their age, nor that they would grow up to be weak if she did not reign them in and correct their temperaments now. They would learn strength enough in this harsh new world, she figured, and as long as they learned to avoid the Gronn and whatever other threats that had survived the end of the world, they would grow up to be worthy enough members of their Flight without the extra pressure.

She was changing, though she refused to notice it, afraid that if she did she would never be able to go back and rejoin her kin. Instead she forced herself to teach her children how to hunt and fly, how to disguise themselves as all the mortal races she knew and how to use the earth to hide and protect themselves if necessary; the last was what she'd used to survive the world's destruction, after all, so it had clearly shown its worth despite being a lesser element to fire and magma.

Ironically, it was the last that finally drew attention from outsiders, though not the ones she had thought to guard against.

Naralia was understandably concerned when she returned to her cave after a hunt to find a local Earth elemental with her children. She'd already come close to building up the fire necessary to scorch the intruder when she realized that her children had not been attacking the thing in self defense - they had been playing with it!

That was enough to stifle her flame for the moment, more intent on what it had come for if not to drive her and her brood out for some perceived intrusion. "Why are you here?"

It looked up to her, one stone arm shifting to acknowledge her. "I am... teaching..."

"Teaching?" She scoffed, wondering what a mere elemental had to teach a dragon. "Teaching what?"

"How to understand the earth... how to shape it..." It replied simply. "They are of the earth... but do not feel it yet..."

"I think I can them that on my own, earthling," She snapped back, trying to figure out the angle it'd take to knock the thing away without hurting her children.

It remained unphased, simply staring at her for a long moment. "You are... corrupted..."

"Corrupted?" Naralia narrowed her gaze at it. "What mad accusation is this?"

"Your essence… dark… twisted… but improving… can be fixed…"

She should have smote it for the claim, but the longer she tried to muster the rage necessary for her flame, the more she realized that it wasn't lying in the least. The thought that she might have still been affected by something from the destruction of Draenor, or even from before that, was unsettling enough that she agreed to the cleansing.

Her children would not be weakened by whatever curse had been thrust on them, and neither would she.

That conviction lasted up until the actual process of cleansing, performed by an older orc shaman whom she had sworn to secrecy - allies they might have been at one point, but she had known even then that it had been an agreement of mere convenience. That this orc had never been of the Horde she knew was of only minor interest - brown skin did not change the fact that it was still an orc.

The ritual had taken a long while, his chants unending as he called on all his various spirits and burned all the appropriate herbs that had nearly made her sneeze several times before it started working. At several point she'd had to stop herself from yawning in boredom, seeing as absolutely nothing had happened thus far aside from the elementals starting to surround her.

She quickly stopped being skeptical when her insides started to burn uncomfortably, dragging her own flames through her veins and leaving her claws to gouge the ground helplessly. She wanted to thrash, to do anything that would get it out of her body, but the earthen spirits holding her in place were stronger and left her with nothing to do but whimper as the burn swept through her. After a long period of helpless confusion and growing pain, all that was left behind by the flames was her newfound sanity and horror of everything she'd witnessed and done in the name of her Flight and father.

"I'm sorry," She whimpered as she found her voice again, thinking of the mortals and dragons she'd killed growing up in order to prove herself to Deathwing, thinking of the lives she'd helped destroy to further her Flight's goals, thinking of what she might have done to her own flesh and blood if she hadn't started coming back from the madness quite so quickly. "I'm so sorry."

Naralia knew she could never make up for the crimes of her flight, but she could at least make sure her children never followed their path. They were free of the whispers that had driven her people mad, and as long as she breathed they would never venture through that portal unless it was a matter of life and death.

Once she recovered, she would have to think of ways to aide the remaining peoples of this world, perhaps starting with stabilizing the remaining continent and encouraging the locals to work together against whatever corruptive forces might still be lurking around. Hadn't those orcs said something about the Burning Legion?

(It wasn't going to be easy getting those races more… familiar with the rest of her Flight to trust her, but she wasn't going to just sit back and do nothing now that she had the mind to truly do something about it.)

Chapter Text

It started, as with most great discoveries, with an innocuous question.

"Where does Fel magic come from?"

Helena looked up at the young man who had spoken, raising an eyebrow at his question. "I thought it was already established it came from demon blood."

"Yes, I know," Khadgar replied, shaking his head as he set the book he had been skimming through down. "But where did they get it from?"

"...from other demons?" Helena replied, sounding a bit less certain.

"That doesn't explain where the first demons got it from."

"Maybe they spontaneously formed from the Twisting Nether," She offered with a sigh. "Why is this bothering you so much?"

"My teacher's been researching them," Khadgar replied, closing the book with a sigh. "I thought that if we could prove they get their powers from an outside source instead of internally, we could track that source down and see if there are ways to block or diminish its influence."

"Like the Sunwell?" Helena frowned.

"Yes, exactly," Khadgar grinned at the analogy. "Of course, it'd be a much larger source to account for the greater numbers, but the Twisting Nether is rather large, so who knows what can hide in its depths?"

She shook her head. "Do you have any sort of proof for this theory?"

He hesitated, looking away from her. "Well, would you consider the odd consistency to their magical signatures to be a good starting point?"

Helena gave him a look. "I think that if you want to convince anyone you aren't just coming up with your theory in order to avoid other work, you'll need more than that."

"What do you think I've been looking for all week?" He replied rhetorically. "I think I'll have better luck once I go back to Karazhan - my teacher's been studying it for a long time, after all."

"Why didn't you start there, then?"

His fingers twitched, not sure how much he should divulge of what was nothing more than a gut feeling of something being off. "I just don't want to let him know I'm looking into this until I have a better grounding for my theory. If I just bring him what I brought you, I'll probably get more than just a few snide comments."

She nodded in understanding. "Good luck with that, then."

"Thank you; I have a feeling I'll need it."

Khadgar sighed as she turned back to her own book glancing back to the shelves he had hoped would give him at least some answers. The Library of Dalaran was supposed to be the largest in the world, gathering all the knowledge of the civilized world in one place for use by any mage or scholar who visited. Surely someone would have thought to look into the Legion before his mentor, leaving behind records he could use to strengthen his case before he presented it.

Unfortunately, it seemed that no one else had ever actually looking into the Legion in great detail, or at least no such records seemed to have been made public. Which in hindsight made sense, because any work detailed enough to give his case weight would also be enough for a young mage with some ambition consider… alternative paths.

He shook his head, grabbing up the books he'd been skimming through and starting to put them back. It was probably for the best to just spend the rest of his time here relaxing since he'd soon be back to running around helping his master in Karazhan. The scrolls and tomes floated back to their appropriate places as he passed by, a simple exercise at this point but easier than trying to climb up the ladders just to reach the higher shelves.

The last spot, at eye level, he shoved into place by hand, only noticing after it was settled in place that there was an unmarked scroll beside it. Curious, he grabbed it and rolled it open, only pausing when he realized the entire thing seemed to be written in green ink. If that weren't enough, the language was far different from any he'd ever seen before, though the symbols making it up seemed familiar somehow…

He unrolled it further, wondering what in the world this could be about, when the stylized green sun came into view. Even on an old piece of parchment, the thing gave off an almost foreboding air, like it was designed specifically to emphasize its importance. Unrolling it even farther showed small sketches of some being - a demon, with those horns - drawing some of the sun's light to itself.

Was this…

He leapt at the sound of muffled footsteps getting closer, and on some instinct rolled up the scroll and tucked it into his sidebag right before the librarian came around the corner.

"It's getting late," The old mage replied, squinting at him as if he sensed something was off about the library. "Shouldn't you be on your way?"

"I was just putting my book away," Khadgar replied carefully, glancing towards the doorway to freedom. "I'll be on my way now."

Just as he'd taken a few deliberately calm steps towards the exit, he was stopped by the librarian again. "Wait."

He sucked in a breath. "Yes?"

Had he been cause so quickly? Right when he might finally have some evidence to his theory at last?

"You're Medivh's student, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am actually." Khadgar replied, relaxing slightly as he realized this wasn't about the scroll.

"Tell him he still hasn't brought back those books he borrowed a few years back," The librarian told him. "And that if he shows his face here again without bringin' them, he'll get a reminder on why he didn't mess with the books as a snot nosed trainee."

"I'll let him know when I see him," The younger mage replied, now more than a bit worried of what the librarian would do to him if he realized the minor thievery in progress. "Was there anything else?"

"No, you get going; I need to close up the place for the evenin'."

"Right then, sorry for the holdup."

Khadgar didn't breathe easy until he'd made it back to his room, resting a hand over where the scroll was still tucked away. Hopefully all of that stress would be worth it in the end.

Chapter Text

Momedormi would have bit her lip if it was an unconscious habit present in dragons, but as it was she merely frowned in displeasure.

The Infinite Flight had gone farther than she expected, sabotaging the Gurubashi trolls in their efforts to prepare for the armies. Her first brood with Nozdormu - the Timeless One himself! - was now old enough to help her, sneaking through the city to correct the smaller sabotages inflicted by the corrupted inversions of her own Flight.

However, that didn't stop them from pulling bigger things, like that horrid anti-scouting barrier keeping the Gurubashi from seeing what the army was defending itself with. If only there was an easy way to get the information to them without drawing too much suspicion! At the least, she'd managed to help get those gnolls riled up and direct them to where they could do the most damage, but it still wasn't going to be enough.

She was going to need heroes.

She slid away temporally from the precursors of the Great War, watching the years flash by like sand in a storm before resettling on the future she was working desperately to preserve. Still in the same spot as she'd been in when she'd left, she stepped out into the busy streets of Zul'Gurub in her trollish disguise, not even drawing curious glances as to all concerned she rightfully owned said house.

Momedormi - Momeru to those around her - made her way almost directly to the home of one of the few mortals of this timeline who could help her in her search, and completely coincidentally was one of the few mortals who knew who she really was due to an incident a few years back that had necessitated the reveal.

Still, Zunto was a trustworthy soul, and if she wanted to succeed, she'd need his experiences from fighting the Horde to pull off what she was planning.

He glanced up from his just completed alchemical tinkering, recognition sparking quickly as she greeted him, easing into Zandali with her dozen centuries of practice.

"Greetins, Zunto."

"Greetins, Memeru," He returned, standing up straight. "What 'chu be needin' from Zunto?"

She offered a tighter smile than she'd hoped. "I'm havin' trouble down the line… you remember the bad time voodoo drakes I was fightin' before?"

"Those were bad spirits, mon," Zunto frowned, nodding in acknowledgement. "You sayin' they're back?"

"It be… complicated," She conceded. "Do ya have friends you trust to keep quiet on this? 'Cause what I need ya for is mighty risky."

He snorted. "Risk ain't nothin' I can't handle, mon. Give me a few hours and I can have them ready."

Momeru nodded, settling down for a wait while he finished bottling his brews and set them to the side. After a nod farewell he left the home, leaving her to close her eyes and briefly review the timestream.

Wherever the Infinite Flight got involved always got a bit muddled to her senses, especially when one tried to focus on certain individuals who weren't directly linked to the changes being made. On the other hand, this worked against the Infinite Flight as well, making it that much harder for them to notice when she mucked around with the timeline as well.

It would also, conveniently, hide the identities of the trolls she would be sending back to the past to sabotage the war machine of the Bloodscalp from behind. They would have to be careful not to target any of the big names in there - not only would that risk their death, but it would mess up the timeline just as much as if she gave up on the Gurubashi and let them get driven under again.

On the other hand, food could be poisoned, supplies burned, and defenses sabotaged from the inside without giving the deception away too early. If it were timed right, she'd be able to weaken the force by another few thousand before the war proper started, and that would give the Gurubashi the extra little edge they needed at this point to pull through.

Momeru smiled, already seeing the shift in the sands again as her how efforts clashed with the Infinite Flight's own. She needed to succeed in this, for herself and for all those in this now who would not exist if she did not make efforts to keep its existence intact.

But she was of the Bronze Flight, a guardian of the shifting sands of Time - there was nothing she could not handle with a bit of clever planning and the patience to make it work.

Chapter Text

“What’s that?”

Heliostrasz looked up from his note taking at the whelp who had landed on top of the tree hosting his current subject of study. Due to his currently being human (hands and fingers were so much more convenient to the lore keeping process), Geristrasza was actually just a bit larger than him, putting her age at around a few months at most. Her attention was directed to the creatures below her, their buzzing drawing her attention easily.

“Those would be bees,” The whelp’s father informed her, smile tugging at his lips. “Shouldn’t you be with your siblings?”

“They’re all sleeping right now,” She sulked, drooping over the top of her perch. “But I’m not tired, and I wanted to see what you were doing ‘cause it looked real important!”

“Well, I suppose it is,” He agreed. “I’m making sure these fellows are healthy; they can tell me if the rest of the area is doing well.”

“Really? How? They’re so small - and they can’t talk!”

The elder dragon quirked an eyebrow. “Oh really? Are you sure about that?”

That stumped Geristrasza, who tilted her head as she thought it over. “Well, they aren’t talking now, are they?”

“Of course they are,” He corrected, gesturing to the insects. “Do you see how they’re bumping into each other? That’s their way of telling the others where the best flowers are, whether there’s any intruders, and how warm it is outside the hive.”

“Really?” She leaned over, trying to see what he was talking about, only to nearly fall from her perch. “But how does that tell you about everything else?”

“Well, if the bees got sick, I could look around and see what’s making them sick.”

“Ohh. You mean like that time you took care of the wolf ‘cause it got caught in an old trap?”

“Yes - you remember how your mother and I spent the day looking for other such things? We’d do the same thing here, except we’d look at things like the flowers they get food from, or perhaps the water they drink.”

“Ohh. So are the bees okay?”

Heliostrasz chuckled. “They are perfectly fine, I assure you, though I have no doubts they’d appreciate you not shaking their tree any more than necessary.”

The whelp gasped, scrambling to get off the tree in a rush at that. “I didn’t mean to bother them, honest!”

“I know you didn’t, and so do they,” He reassured his daughter, who was now huddled besides him and peering up apologetically. “How about we let them get back to their jobs and go check in on the rabbit dens, hmm?”

“Bunnies?” The whelp gasped. “Oh oh I’ll be the best helper ever!”

“Just remember to be quiet - you don’t want to scare them, do you?”

Geristrasza firmly pressed her lips together and nodded as seriously as any child could. Heliostrasz smiled in turn and nodded, inwardly grateful that she was the easiest of his children to keep under control even if she had a bad habit of avoiding naps whenever she could.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Of course; the process worked well enough for me, didn't it?"

"Sometimes I wonder."

Wrathion shook his head, turning back to the Titan device he'd recovered from Uldaman, the same device that had in fact purified his own egg. Right now it lay inert, for all intents a pretty bauble to any who didn't know it for what it was.

But that would change soon.

He'd gotten all the notes from Dr. Blam, split between observations that he and his red dragon friend - no, Rheastrasza, she'd given her life to save his, it was only fair he remember her name - had put together in the years before their success. From there, he'd taken great care to gather all the same ingredients they had, and had almost considered running the test in the same place, but had ultimately foregone it in favor of security and convenience.

No need for anyone to know about this too early, after all. Though how Prince Anduin had found out and subsequently gotten to the rather isolated locale, he wasn't quite sure.

(He'd place bets on that always meddling bronze dragon, given the choice.)

There was a good chance this wouldn't work. Twilight drakes, after all, were the end product of his father's nasty experiments into combining the might of all the flights into one breed, and the relic might not even recognize it due to them not being of titan origin, or worse, would think them abominations and just blast them to bits.

He had backup plans, of course - he'd been considering manipulating a bronze drake or two into helping him build an army - but using his own father's experiments in a way he would have loathed just felt like a good way to snub him from wherever his non-existent soul was rotting. Not to mention that he knew of several dozen caches of unhatched eggs that would be wasted should they be discovered and destroyed by overeager mortals.

Twilight drakes, for the atrocities that had created them, were by far the most powerful beings he could hope for on such short notice. Their firepower, turned against the Legion, would perhaps be just the thing necessary to turn the tide in Azeroth's favor, but first he had to free them of whatever corruption they were infused with.

Hence why the bodies of as many drakes as he could salvage without notice were lying around, circling the small nest of unhatched eggs he'd managed to keep in stasis so they wouldn't hatch or freeze.

But now was the moment of truth. He took the idle relic in hand, stepping forward and clearing away the statis spells in the process. The titan relic lit up as he held it over the eggs, floating out of his hands to begin the scanning process, and he stepped back just far enough to avoid being in its path.

^Boot-up protocol complete. Scanning for objective.^

White light poured over the entire area, geometric shapes hovering and weaving over everything like a watery film before its focus narrowed onto one of the drake bodies.

^Object unknown. Comparing to known objects in database.^

Wrathion's lips pressed tightly together. If this failed now, after he'd put so much effort into collecting everything together…

^Object identified. Azerothian dragon hybrid added to database. Calculating...^

It stopped scanning for a moment, lights and colors dancing across its surface. If only he could afford it, he probably would have enjoyed figuring out what made it tick.

^Anomalies detected. Probable sources: Azerothian old gods, incomplete genetic sequencing. Attempting to correct anomalies.^

The relic lit up again, energy concentrated below it before firing it all into the drake corpse. He winced at seeing flesh cut into so easily, but made himself keep watching as oily smoke curled up from the body. After almost a minute it stopped, the body charred greatly in the process, and the young black dragon closed his eyes and breathed to block out the sight.

^Anomalies excised. Repeating sub-protocols.^

Anduin stepped a bit closer, probably just as bothered as he was.

As the relic moved to hover over one of the eggs, he sent out another private wish for this to actually work.

Again the beam lashed out, drawing thick lines along the shell as it searched for whatever was in the unhatched dragon that would twist its mind so deeply. When the laser died out, its previously pink shell was completely ashen, and Wrathion worried that, should it do the same to the others, that he would have nothing left to show even were the test successful.

^Anomalies excised. Calculating...^

The relic flew up, spinning at a more furious pace before stopping at nearly eight feet off the ground. When it froze Wrathion feared it had somehow broken, but it quickly proved fine when it spoke up again.

^Incomplete genetic data. Enacting repair protocols.^

Light lashed out at the other drake bodies, this time only inflicting minor burns before moving on to the next one. Around the light went, tense minutes passing with little conversation between the two watching the process.

"What are you going to do if this mad plan of yours succeeds?" Anduin asked, glancing to Wrathion.

"I'm going to get them ready for war."

"They'll be children still."

Wrathion's face didn't twitch. "That hardly matters when the fate of the world is at stake."

Childhood was overrated, especially for dragons. Besides, if they lucked out and gained some Titan benefits from the relic, they would be more than up to the challenge when the Legion came.

(Why couldn't the red dragons understand that?)

After it finished with the last body, it started sinking again, whirling up as, Wrathion supposed, a way to show how much information it was working through at the time.

^Calculations complete. Genetic sequences devised. Enacting excising protocols.^

It quickly made its way through the eggs, charring black holes into them until the last of the oily smoke had risen from their shells. If he hadn't read the recordings of what had happened to his own egg, Wrathion would have been more concerned, but as things were he was content to let the relic finish its task.

(It was still so hard to believe this was working! It had been such a longshot, but… well no matter. It saved him quite a bit of trouble, and he wouldn't have to cause any trouble for the mortal races in the short term either. Everyone won!)

Once that nasty deed was done, the relic lit up, light pouring out over the eggs.

^Anomalies excised. Recombining remaining genetic material.^

Wrathion grinned, unable to help himself at this point as he watched several of the eggs dissolve, seeming to flow into their neighbors and repair the damage that had been done. After another few minutes, the light faded away to reveal an even six eggs left of the original two dozen. A fair price, all things considered, although he would have liked at least a few more.

^User-objective protocol complete. Stasis protocol re-enabled.^

The relic sank to the ground, the light within fading to its dull, lifeless state just outside of the eggs. Wrathion turned to the human prince, waving a hand at the purified eggs.

"Have I mentioned yet that I am a genius? Because I think I just solved several problems at once."

"I think your ego is getting away from you again," Anduin retorted, looking back to the eggs with a frown. "I hope this plan of yours pans out, or else we might have more problems than we need."

Wrathion did not admit that that was a small, but persistent concern to him as well.

Chapter Text

Very few knew of it, but Nozdormu was not the only of the Aspects with access to the weave of time and space.

Of course, Malygos could not feel the flow of time around him instinctively, nor could he move through it at a whim as his fellow Aspect's flight could. What he had instead was magic, to such a refined and potent degree that the laws of the universe bent to his whim. And sometimes, when he wasn't busy with matters and studies of his own world, he would use his powers to bend other universes to his whim as well.

It wasn't an easy process - it took an artifact left behind by Norgannon himself in order to provide the focus needed to breach the tumultuous layers between universe and resolve the view to a degree capable of providing information - but he and his children were more than capable of providing the power necessary for their research.

Which came back around to the concepts of time and space. The number of universes abounding around their own was nigh infinite, each possessing their own unique timelines and histories and even magics, and were not bound to the same rate of passage of time as their own. Some crawled compared to the viewers, while others leapt and bounded ahead far more quickly.

Some of these universes even closely mirrored their own, and that was one of the main focuses of Malygos and his select group of researchers. He studied their histories and differences in detail, seeing what had brought about success or tragedy for them and how they might use their magic just a bit differently.

He'd seen himself and his siblings alternate between sweet madness and horrific sanity, seen himself tear apart Azeroth in a desperate bid to save it from itself, seen what he might have become if he were not so wary of the consequences. In such, he felt a certain kinship to his temporally unbound brother, having witnessed his death enough to have started becoming desensitized to it.

(Maybe one day he would go mad and have to be put down as well as his alternates. Until that day, he would do everything in his power to keep his children and his world safe.)

He'd seen mortals rise to prominence once, never, or a thousand times, he'd seen civilizations collapse or rise, he'd even seen worlds where the divergences were so great that he could barely recognize Azeroth for what it was. All of this was dutifully recorded and maintained, for if (not when, not if he could help it) his flight was brought to its knees, something needed to remain of their efforts.

He gazed on worlds that were nothing like Azeroth as well - worlds without a drop of magic to their names, worlds where technology had risen sapients to the level of the Titans, worlds of peace and worlds of war, worlds so surreal that even he could not watch them for long. All these, too, were recorded, though they were kept even from what rumor mills abounded in the isolationist blue flight.

And then there were the worlds where they, very rarely, managed to make contact. These ones he personally recorded and maintained, no detail escaping his mind or his scrolls. It had only happened a handful of times in the millennia since he had first discovered the full capabilities of the titan artifacts he'd been left, and were it to get out… well, look at what the mortals would do with access to just one other world!

Thrice he had spoken with his own counterparts, seen madness and sanity alike reflected back at him. Twice he had spoken to his siblings - once to Alexstrasza, shortly after his death in that world, and once to Neltharion, when he had been the only Aspect left with his mind intact after the horrors his world had gone through. Once, he had spoken to the young blue dragon who would replace him as Aspect, and found during their conversation that Kalecgos was a fine choice for the difficult task.

And four times, he had spoken to those who had never heard of Azeroth.

The first had been a world where, amusingly enough, the wildlife were the ones to wield magic instead of the resident humans. The anomaly on their side had been noticed by one of said creatures, who had quickly investigated while Malygos had been recording the magical subdivisions of the world. 'Mewtwo', as he called himself, had been rather helpful once the situation had been explained, in exchange for some information on magic and Azeroth's style of wielding it.

(He might have to check in on that again soon, actually. Perhaps see if he could locate more of those 'legendary' pokemon.)

The second had been a world ravaged by shadowy beasts, reminiscent of the fel beasts that still roamed certain patches of Azeroth. That had been a more deliberate reach out, offering what knowledge he could to help the peoples who lived there survive and fight back against the darkness. He was not certain of their fate, but he held hope that they had pulled through despite the overwhelming odds they seemed to face.

What the third world had lacked in magic it had had in technology, much of which was the equal if not greater than their counterparts in Azeroth. He hadn't spoken to any of the local mortals, instead speaking with one of the ascended beings akin to the Naaru, if far more egotistical. Still, there had been much to learn from the various races of that galaxy, and his assistants were still spending time going from planet to planet in order to properly document what might be worth further research.

The fourth world... had not truly been a world. It had been a continent floating through space, much like the Outlands he'd viewed time and again, and it had had beings living there that reminded him a great deal of the Titans, if smaller. One of the younger ones, their equivalent of Loken, had caught onto his subtle viewings and had investigated. It had been rather amusing to be the elder and wiser of the two this time around, and their conversation had lasted quite a while. Eventually, though, he had had to go before anyone noticed he was missing, and Malygos had had to end the spell so the artifact could cool down.

His claws slid down the artifact, pondering what world he might see this time. With all the things he'd see so far, his appetite for the unknown had only grown, fueled both by firm awareness of his own mortality and his desire to make up for all he'd done so far.

Where were those assistants, anyways? How did they expect him to get work done when they weren't there to do their own tasks on time?

Chapter Text

"This sucks."

So spoketh the goblin known as Darcy, who'd gone to sleep in her luxurious, overly plush bed only to wake up in the middle of a jungle. And not even the one downtown, but an actual, grime and mud and too many trees for comfort jungle.

Whoever had dumped her here was an asshole. A brilliant one, to get her here without waking her up - if she even found out how it was done, she might reward them by only taking most of their gold when she sued them - but still an asshole. And she didn't even have her Goblin Positioning System to direct her back to civilization!

She glowered at some nature sprite thing that was staring at her from across the way. "What're you lookin' at, mudball?"

It yelped and vanished into the underbrush, giving her a brief moment of satisfaction before the realization that she was still lost crept back into her mind. A hand went to her waist, where her dagger should have been, only to come up empty there as well. No way to defend herself from wild animals or whatever jerks might still be around, laughing at her predicament.

She didn't even have her secret stash of explosives for when she needed to get someone's attention or just wanted to cheer herself up! What sort of goblin just took another's secret stash of explosives? It just wasn't done!

More underbrush cracked nearby, and she turned to sneer at whatever other beast had decided to bother her, only for it to fade into a reasonable fear as she looked up, and up, and up, into the face of a very large, very green dragon. Whose focus was entirely on her, and it was only black dragons that ate goblins, right? She'd never met a green dragon, but they were supposed to be mostly harmless druid types, right?

"Hmm, I've never seen a goblin this awake before," It rumbled, tilting its head in what might've been curiosity or hunger.

"Yeah, because snoozing in the middle of this huge ass jungle seems like the smart thing to do," Darcy snarked, figuring if she was dead she might as well go in style. If she'd rocket boots, she'd've done the sensible thing and fled, but those were sadly missing as well.

The dragon crouched down, still towering over her but not by such a large degree as before. "You misunderstand. Usually only those attuned to nature are fully aware during their time in the Emerald Dream, which goblins very rarely are, to my awareness. And you, forgive my saying this, do not seem to be an exception."

"The Emerald whatsit?" Darcy asked, looking back to the bushes in case she'd somehow missed the fact that they were made of gemstones. Nope, still plant matter, abet not one she was familiar with.

"The Emerald Dream, the realm when nature reigns, unsullied by civilization. Many pass through here during their dreams without ever remembering it, but recall the sensation of peace and wonder."

That caught the goblin's attention again. "Wait, I'm still asleep then? So none of this is real?"

"Oh, this is very much real," The dragon bared its teeth. "It's just all in your head."

"...you are the weirdest dragon I've ever met," Darcy replied, for lack of anything else to say to that paradox. "So what, do I just sit around waiting to wake up, or is there some way to do that so I can dream about something nicer? Like that rich guy down the block with the huge transmogrifier…"

Damn, did that goblin have some shiny tech, not to mention nice, big ears. She could definitely get herself behind that sort of money.

"I can wake you up, so long as you indulge my curiosity. Did you perhaps do anything new recently that might have influenced your wakefulness in this realm?"

Darcy pressed a finger to her lips as she tried to remember what she'd been doing before she'd gone to bed. "My sister made this device that's supposed to encourage lucid dreaming - you know, awake in dreams so you can run around and control it. Figured some rich types might like it and pay shittons of gold for it."

"The Emerald Dream is not one to be controlled," The dragon replied, amusement more evident in its voice now. "So on that front, it does not work."

"Gee, thanks for that brilliant flash of the obvious," The goblin replied, having already tried to at least make some gold appear after she'd realized she was in a dream. Which was still somewhat doubtful, but she wasn't going to argue with the huge-ass dragon humoring her right now. "Any other bits of enlightenment to share?"

"Perhaps write it off as a failure for now, if you could manage that," The dragon offered. "The Emerald Dream has dangers for the unaware, and I doubt others will be so fortunate as to run into a dragon willing to ward off those leery of unknown faces."

Darcy grimaced. "Whatever. If this is the sort of dreams people're gonna get from the thing, no one's gonna wanna buy it anyways. Can I wake up now?"

In response the dragon shook itself and stood up again, maw opening to release a fine green mist that had the goblin almost instantly cock out, her dream form already fading away as she returned to the waking world.

Issara sighed, stretching out her wings and body before folding the former back into place and continuing with her patrol. Perhaps she'd played up the dangers of the forest a bit - the worst that could normally happen to a proper dreamer was to be frightened awake - but the last thing the Dream needed was a bunch of goblins running around and disturbing the peace of the place.

It was for everyone's benefit, really.

Chapter Text

It was hard, on getting her first look at them, to keep her bow at her side instead of already aiming an arrow. They looked, far, far too much like the demons she and her people had fought for millennia, from the sharp teeth and claws to the horns jutting from their heads.

But Tyrande was not so hasty as to miss the children among their number, huddled behind a variety of adults and their bleached-white beasts, nor had she missed the exhaustion in their leader's eyes, even as she stood between the elves and her own people. She would give them a chance, even if she might regret it later.

"We don't want to fight," The empress told her. "We just need a place for our helmsmen to recover before we move on."

"Do you need healers?" Tyrande asked. "I have several here who could help."

"Our best medicullers are already looking after them," The empress turned down. "I wouldn't be against trading for food, though - especially the kind that can last a while."

The night elf priestess frowned in thought. "We do not have a huge surplus to spare, but our allies might. I would have to get in contact with them, but depending on what you have to trade I do not see them turning you away."

The other woman nodded, only to go stiff when the crowd behind her went silent. Their reasoning quickly became apparent as they parted, a ghost with no small amount of death magic around her approaching the two leaders.

"Aradia."

"Empress." The ghost replied curtly. "They've been here."

The empress's grip around her trident tightened. "How long?"

"Thousands of sweeps ago, and then only recently. The spirits here are restless, especially near you."

"Then was she…" The empress turned back to Tyrande. "You've fought the Legion?"

"We drove them back multiple times," She replied. "Their latest attempt was several years ago."

"You did? Even the Condesce?"

Tyrande's memory brought up the visage of the demoness who'd attacked the World Tree, and had in turn been slain by Malfurion and the numerous guardians within the tree itself. "My husband called on the spirits of the World Tree to destroy her."

Whispers spread through the crowd at that, though their empress remained focused on her. "And if they brought the full might of their armies, you would stand against them?"

"They will not claim Azeroth so long as any of us draws breath."

And now the empress was grinning, bringing back the resemblance to that old foe and giving Tyrande a very good idea of why these newcomers seemed so familiar.

"You wouldn't object to some more help with them, would you?"

~0~0~0~0~

The small group of panthers and lions been stalking the newcomers since they'd entered the Moonglade several hours ago, keeping to the shadows to avoid detection. Not all could keep their teeth from baring at the sight of the mechanical steeds the outsiders were riding, something not quite anathema to the nature-bound beings, but none made a move to attack them. Their intentions were, as far as most were concerned, peaceful until proven otherwise, and so they followed their leader faithfully through the convenient exercise in stealth.

One of the group, however, was lagging behind, crouching low as she danced around the edge of the forest. Her tail twitched once, and she darted forward again, keeping an eye out for a usable distraction to get in closer still.

There! One of the others had accidentally stumbled over a branch - while the instructor's gaze flickered to them to make sure they were uninjured, she darted across the path, her white fur gleaming in a patch of moonlight before she was cloaked in shadows again, away from anyone who could keep her from greeting the party properly.

It was easy to get ahead, her lithe body dancing around trees and over brambles like she'd been born to the form, and her growing knowledge of the woods let her find the perfect vantage point just ahead of the group. It would only be a minute for them to be within striking range, and then… oh, she couldn't hold back her grin now, not when satisfaction was at hand!

As such, by the time the leader of the party turned the bend, she was already poised to leap, only giving him a split second to register the creak of the branch she sprang from before being tackled off his mechanical musclebeast and to the ground. With a pleased growl she dove in for the kill, stuffing her nose right into the sensitive spot right beside his chin.

He yelped as the ticklish feeling before shoving her off, the gentle gesture belying the force she knew she could have shoved her with if he hadn't immediately recognized her. "Nepeta, I would appreciate you restraining such pale greetings until we are on our own next time."

"Aw, but it was fun, Equius!" Nepeta complained, allowing her moirail to get back to his feet. "Besides, I haven't seen you in furrever, and I wanted to show you my manebeast form! Don't I look just like mom?"

He adjusted his glasses, looking her over critically. "Your current appearance does resemble your lusus, I suppose."

With a wide grin she shifted forms, returning to her natural Alternian form, abet in the training clothes of the druids instead of her old outfit. She then grabbed him into a hug, pulling back to look him over critically. "Oh, the Empurress promoted you! Is that what you came all the way here to show me?"

Equius coughed again, far more conscious of the stares of the rest of the group he'd been leading up until then. "Actually, I am here on orders to better relations with the druids by offering some more potential students for training-"

"You can't lie to me, mister," She laughed, pressing a finger to his chest. "She could have sent anyone here - I know Tavros would have been purrfect for the task - and you're sweating too. Just admit it already."

He sighed and tried his best to hide his amused smile behind a stern frown, but she knew him far too well to miss it. "Be that as it may, I still have a task to attend to, so if you wish to catch up, it will be while we continue towards the town."

"Alright," Nepeta agreed easily, waiting for him to remount his musclebeast before hopping on behind him, mind already whirling with all the questions she had about the rest of their friends and the other trolls and the rebuilding effort.

The most important part, however, was that her moirail was the best moirail, and nothing could keep them apart so long as either of them had a say in things.

~0~0~0~0~

Of all the races of the Alliance, the Gnomes were by far the most intrigued by their new, extraterrestrial allies. After all, the secrets of travelling the stars were still being worked out by their best minds (when not otherwise occupied by other issues, such as trogg infestations or demon invasions), and here was a race who'd already cracked the secrets of the universe!

"This. Is. Completely unsanitary!"

The Alternian troll (as opposed to the superstitious, isolationist, and rather hostile Azerothian trolls) lifted his gaze from his programming to the gnome engineer, mismatched gaze making his flat expression even more potent. "It's meant to help the software's antivirus systems get used to fighting off anything that could corrupt data or programs - the more it fights off now, the better it'll be."

The gnome soldiered on, running her Portable Diagnostic Assistant Mark VII over one of the 'finished' programmed grubs. It was a marvel of biologically-based-technology, something that had been considered but discarded as being too unreliable for mass use, but these alien trolls had actually torn apart the underlying code for all living things (with flesh, anyways) and had repurposed it to, well, everything. The benefits of programming in quaternary instead of binary opened up entire new potentialities in terms of what it was possible to run in such a small package, and the chance of something running rampant was much less likely when the thing running the program didn't have limbs or guns.

On the other hand, it squirmed when you prodded it. And that? That was seriously gross.

Urgh.

Chapter Text

The world burned green in her dream, and Tyrande could do nothing.

Before her stood the despised visage of the demoness who had corrupted the Well of Eternity, fel fires gleaming behind her fangs as she strode forward, intent on the dreamer. Tyrande lifted her bow and shot, only for it to be deflected, the arrow's path such that for just a second her eyes were drawn back to the dead body of her husband before the Night Elf priestess forced herself to focus on her opponent again.

Tyrande had never doubted that, while severely weakened, the demoness had never truly died that day, and that one day she would come back and tear the world to pieces if they were not ready for it. Tyrande had also never doubted that, barring a miracle of unity among all the races of the world, they stood no chance if the full brunt of the Legion came upon them.

The demoness stopped, grin fading into a confused scowl, and shadows started to seep past the priestess' feet without touching her. She turned to see a dozen black lights growing, banishing the fel flames and even healing the world it touched on, and with a shriek the demoness ran past her to attack them-

"Lady Tyrande!"

She snapped back to the waking world, pushing herself up from her prone position and blinking green flames from her vision even as she looked to the guard who had interrupted the strange vision. "Yes?"

The guard snapped into a hasty reporting stance. "The night watch have reported seeing something falling towards the isles to the south."

"Falling stars?" No, the guards would not barge in for something so common, and the timing to her almost-prophetic dream…

"They came in too cleanly, and started slowing by the time someone thought to alert you." The guard took a breath. "Your orders, my Lady?"

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, and responded. "Prepare the ships - whoever or whatever it might be, it will not go unchallenged any longer than necessary."

~0~0~

"Elune give us strength," The high priestess whispered hours later, standing aboard the fastest of the ships that had just managed to throw together enough to launch by the time she'd arrived at the docks. Teldrassil had diminished noticeably, but the boughs could just be seen as a smudge on the horizon as they approached the isles where the burning lights had come down.

Where they were now, unfortunately, was still impossible to tell with the storm just rolling in. The islands were not large, by any means, but they still had enough hills and foliage to hide behind from the shoreline. Depending on their size, it could take weeks of searching to find whatever was attempting to hide.

Elune's light briefly broke through the clouds, illuminating a long strip of beachway. Just large enough, in fact, to pull up the boats while they started into the trees. Offering a brief prayer of thanks to Elune, Tyrande called for the boats to land, patiently waiting in the rain until the boats had come up onto sand to step off.

Regardless of how long they had to search, Elune would be with them - and that offered more comfort than anything else she could think of.

=======

Pyralspite had only been out of her egg for two weeks when she smelled something warm-red trying to hide under the face of one of those 'elves' her charge and the others had made friends with. Her tail twitched, but she didn't move, waiting for the strange new not-elf to come closer so she could get a better smell of it while also letting Terezi know.

'Are you sure?' was sent back towards her, concern in her voice even as part of her mind was distracted with easing herself out of the conversation she'd been in with sweat-and-oil.

(There was still something a bit funny about her charge being all grown up and still with her - so many other wrigglers had come and gone past her egg, but this one had been the first to stay, even fighting to bring the unwieldy and massive egg onto the ships when it would have been easier to leave her behind. Not that she was complaining, especially since they'd managed to save five other dragon eggs too! It'd certainly made all those sweeps asleep in the cold place easier to handle.)

'This one smells like leaves painted over apples!' She insisted, turning her mind briefly to the other other awake dragon. 'Doesn't it?'

'Hmm?' Came the slow reply, Almandine lifting his head to sniff in her direction from his sunbathing spot on a large rock. 'I can't really- oh, there's a breeze, I can smell it too.'

'Alright, I've alerted Equius, he'll get the others in case things go bad.'

Pyralspite hummed, sleeping breaths drawing in enough color to track the stranger coming closer to Spessartine, who'd curled up next to the temporary hive her charge was living in with several other wrigglers. Andradite, Grossular, and Uvarovite were sleeping together a bit further away, though upwind enough that she was fairly certain there wasn't another apple-hiding near them. Still, she alerted her charge, who reassured that sweat-oil would protect them as well.

And then Terezi was there, comforting colors firmly in the dragon's nostrils, and Pyralspite couldn't resist uncurling enough to pester her for scratches in the itchy growing spots along her neck. It was so, so good to finally be out of that egg and able to be with her!

~0~0~0~0~0~0~

Apparently dragons were not going to be quite as novel as previously thought. Terezi felt she probably should have realized that when the elves failed to react with more than surprise - most sane beings were nervous around dragons at first until they realized the babies were bundles of friendliness and curiosity for the first sweep or five.

On the other hand, watching all six hatchlings crawling all over the revealed cherry-red dragon (and wasn't that about the last thing she was expecting!) was an amazing way to ease whatever tensions had come from there being a freaking unknown being in the middle of their camp. The fact that the dragon was taking it with the quiet loss of dignity that came with handling (relative) newborns did more to earn Terezi's trust than any amount of talk could have.

"So you're the lusii for the whole planet, then?"

"Based on your description of it, I suppose you could consider us that, yes," Amralastrasza replied easily, gaze shifting briefly to Spessartine as the drake tried to lick at one of the simple gold bands around the older dragon's wrist. "The five flights were tasked a hundred thousand years ago to make certain the mortal races survive, which has not always been easy to accomplish."

Terezi nodded, having seen the stress looking after so many people could put on a relative immortal's shoulders.

"Did the dragons of your world serve a similar purpose, then?" The dragon asked. "I noticed you only have a few here, all children…"

The troll snorted. "Nah, they're mostly special in how long lived they are compared to most lusii, as well as how rare they are. They're also one of the few lusii who aren't caste-exclusive, which makes it even less likely for any particular wriggler to end up raised by one. If they ever did anything else, there's no records we could recover."

"I see," The red dragon replied, looking over the hatchlings again. "I will admit, the Queen will want to come meet them herself ones she learns of them - she's always had a soft spot for children, and with these ones left as orphans, she might consider keeping a few of our number here to make sure they aren't hurt."

Terezi snorted again. "Trust me, we spent way too much effort getting them off Alternia and keeping them alive in their shells for five thousand sweeps to let anything happen to them, but I can't say meeting other dragons wouldn't be interesting. Just give us warning next time, ya know? We're all just a tiny bit paranoid about intruders."

"Understood."

~0~0~0~0~0~0~

"Sollux, bring me down," Feferi commanded, focused entirely on the massive structure below that was the source of the whisperings that all her people had been feeling since they'd arrived on this frozen continent.

"I still think this is a stupid idea, just so you know," Her matesprit replied, claws tightening around her arms.

"But it might be the best one this world has," She replied softly. "I could reign in one old god at a wriggler, and you heard the costs it took them to permanently put down another one."

The other races of this world simply did not understand how she could have come out of being raised by such a being with her mind intact, and it wasn't like that. Mother was - well, had been - her greatest protector, and her greatest burden. Having to regularly bring the corpses of other lusii just to keep her own quiet and satiated… it was a burden no child should have had to go through, and one she only survived because of Eridan.

She had never been in control of her lusus. She'd been it's sacrifice, all to keep her people alive.

Mother had told her, once, of the mutant seadweller that had once swum up to her sunken city, interrupting her dreams with its pitiful cries. It had been rejected by all potential lusii, left to fend for itself after it made it through the trials. The first fuschia-blood, the first empress, the first sacrifice to the unimaginable god. True, her own powers were great, inherited from that first blessing over life and death from their shared lusus long ago, and she would not have been able to keep her friends alive for so long even with the cryo chambers without them, but the constant awareness of being the only thing between an Old God and the death of billions…

It was a good thing, perhaps, that her heiresses would not have to suffer the same burden. Depending on how today went, she might even leave them a legacy to be proud of.

Sollux, despite all his grumbling, did eventually wrap her in his psiionics and guide her down to the ground below, his own feet hitting shortly before hers. Snow crackled under her feet, the cold starting to wrap around her as the psiionics faded away.

One way or another, she was going to prove herself tonight.

~0~0~0~0~0~0~

"Do you know why Gl'bgolyb protected heiresses instead of just killing them?"

"...because it was the only lusus who could raise them?" Tavros answered uncertainly.

Feferi shook her head. "The first tyrian was a violet mutant - no lusus wanted her. When she ran into Gl'bgolyb, she should have been eaten, but she wasn't."

"And that's a bad thing?" Karkat asked, though some of the heat was lost with Feferi outright stating she was mutant.

"Eridan, you remember how often we had to feed her, right?" She asked instead, looking to her first friend.

"Er, once a perigee or so, right?" The violet frowned.

"For something so large, don't you think she should have needed a lot more food than that?" The empress demanded. "Even with my influence?"

"I… didn't really want to think about it."

Feferi sighed. "She never cared about the flesh. What she fed on was despair, anguish, fear. When my ancestor came to her, my mother saw creating a lineage of empresses would provide more food than simply continuing to manipulate the troll race into violence and bigotry. She created my line, my lineage, specifically to create the empire."

Her head sunk, hiding her eyes briefly. "The Condesce was her perfect daughter - not only brutally putting down every attempt at bringing forth justice and equality, but taking her destruction to the stars to feed my mother even more. I realized a long time ago that if not for the Legion, I would have died on her trident, because I was too soft, too kind - I would have kept her from eating, and so it would be either my life… or all of yours."

"But the Legion changed things. It was something that she could not overcome or influence and that would not tolerate her existence. She… she was going to sing, you know, when the Condesce came - make one last attempt to kill the race so that she could win in the end. I- I used all of my strength, and turned her power on herself, destroyed her from the inside. The prophecy, the story, the truth, all of it - that was her way of mocking my betrayal, telling me I'd never find a home for my people, that I wasn't worthy of leading them to salvation."

"But you did," Nepeta assured her, eyes wide. "And we wouldn't have made it without you to keep everyone together when we all doubted our future."

"I know, and I don't regret it, but…" She shook her head. "I might be the last empress. I don't know whether any heiress after me will retain our longevity or strength without Gl'bgolyb to reapply it, and I don't even know if I should considering the history of my blood. Tyrian - Tyrants - that's all any empress before me has been, and I thought for ages that I could change it, could make Alternia into a world to be proud of…"

"But how can I say that when the only life I've given them is one of constant fear, of children having daymares of being taken by the Legion? How can I say that when I've had to end the lives of millions of healthy grubs because there wasn't enough room, wasn't enough food, to raise them all?" Feferi felt tears starting to roll down her cheeks. "I've caused just as much despair as my ancestors, and I don't even have a glubbing old god as an excuse! What sort of legacy is that?"

Aradia, who had until then given no reaction to the word vomit of despair, gave one low sigh and used a smidgen of her psionics to slap the empress across the face. "A better one than leaving us all dead or monsters, at the least."

"But I…"

"Shush, you've had your rant, now shut up," The ghost cut her off. "Yes, you've fucked up a lot - you've been treading new ground, reinventing entire aspects of our culture from the underground up. Yes, your ancestors were all megalomaniacal tyrants, all of us had bloodthirsty and violent ancestors at one point… except maybe Karkat, all things considered.

"In the end, though, you managed to defy both the Condesce and your lusus - can you think of any other being in the universe who would have had the guts at seven sweeps to kill an old god and run from a new one? And then go on to keep the surviving people alive for five thousand sweeps with only the help of one cynical ghost and a bunch of kids who grew up only knowing the ships?" Aradia shook her head, a smile coming to her lips. "Yes, you could have done better, but considering you rejected two ends to our species and found a way out, even I think you can be forgiven for not being a pinnacle of trolldom."

"I'm going to agree with her," Tavros spoke up next, rubbing the back of his head. "Uh, like, I know that I wasn't, ah, awake all that often, because of my short lifespan, but from what I saw, everyone seemed pretty happy? Uh, compared to how they were on Alternia. Even the lusii seemed, ah, fairly alright with everything? It wasn't, you know, great, because they didn't have too much room for themselves, or their wrigglers, but they all were able to keep raising them, which made them happy enough."

"And as for the grubs," Kanaya continued, chin raised, "It's hardly like you were the one deciding which ones lived or died. It was my idea, in fact, that alerted you to the problem, and the jades since then have done everything they can to keep the numbers needing to be culled as low as possible while still keeping the mother grub and our numbers healthy. Without that, we'd have probably starved ourselves our long ago, or else risked the life of the mothergrub herself."

"Feh, it's not like you had the only lusus who you had to kill for," Vriska pointed out casually. "You saw my mom once, right? Way too big for the ships, so I had to blow her up with one of those shitty apocalypse devices Eridan paid me to make for him. And she didn't even like lusus meat! No, I had to feed her freaking kids, and look at how I was for a while because of that! If I'd had to deal with your lusus - ulgh! Hate to admit it, but I probably would have ended up like the Condesce, or worse. Better we ended up with a softie like you."

"Fishysis," Gamzee stared, a rare serious expression on his face. "I've never cared a motherfuckin' bit about blood or lususes or anything like that, even before we left Alternia. I've told Karbro this, and I'll tell you, too - you're a motherfuckin' miracle, through and through, and there ain't nothin' about you to be ashamed of."

"You managed to overhaul the helmsman system so that it was safe and ethical to use almost the perigee after we'd gotten away from the system," Sollux pointed out, rubbing at his arm where long-healed scars had once been. "Even though none of us would have complained with the alternative hot on our heels."

"You went back for my lusus," Terezi added matter of factly. "And for those of other kids who couldn't reach them immediately. You should've have had to, not with time so tight in the end, but you did it anyways."

Eridan grimaced. "I was a shitty moirail for a while, back before everything went to the veil in a handbasket, but you still managed to keep it together enough to get everything organized and delegate to the kids who could handle what you couldn't. Fuck, none of us were older than eight sweeps, we should have all given up and died one way or another, but you pulled the greatest double reacharound paradox space has ever known even when the stress must've been killing ya, and save all us ungrateful jerks."

"I never would have had the time or the chance to unlearn my uncouth attitudes if it weren't for you," Equius admitted finally. "I am not proud of the child I was back then, and am strongly thankful you gave me and other highbloods - coldbloods, excuse my slip - the chance to live up to your visionary leadership."

"And all of us are really purroud to be your friends!" Nepeta finished with a wide smile, finally leaping from her seat to give Feferi a tight hug. "So don't be sad anymore, okay? We're all here for you."

"Yeah, save the moaning for when you die," Aradia agreed, patting her on the shoulder. "Aren't fuschias supposed to be above that sort of thing?"

Feferi couldn't help the giggle of relief that escaped her, because really, what were the odds of her having eleven amazing friends like these?

Chapter Text

The world burned green as far as she could see through the choking smoke, and Tyrande could do nothing about it.

Before her stood the Condesce, fel fires gleaming behind her eyes and fangs as she lazily strode towards the priestess, who in turned fired arrow after arrow at her opponent only for them all to be deflected by a trident of gold and blood. One arrow sank into the ground mere inches from the corpse of Tyrande’s husband, and she forced herself to not tear up as she notched another arrow.

Tyrande knew in her heart that she was no match for the demoness who had corrupted the Well of Eternity, even as weakened as she must have been after it exploded and cut her connection to it and Azeroth. Only the might of the entire world, united, had any sort of chance at turning back the Legion should they turn their sights to Azeroth in full, an impossible dream that only made the enemy’s inevitable return all the more terrifying.

The Condesce raised her trident to strike, as she always did when Tyrande dreamed of this, and Tyrande could only wait for the inevitable pain of three sharp points through her stomach.

A pain which never came, the other not even looking at her anymore, but to something behind her, lips pulling back into a snarl Tyrande could only remember seeing once before. The demoness then shoved right past her, allowing Tyrande to turn and see what had angered the ancient enemy.

Shadows gathered, smothering the flames and clearing the smoke to reveal the light of Elune shining bright behind them, a shape just taking form from the twisting darkness-

“Lady Tyrande!”

Tyrande jolted awake, eyes stinging from the memory of the dream and the setting sun’s rays peering from between the clouds. The day guard who had awoken her stood ready, though there was a tension to the guard’s form that told the high priestess that she would not have a restful night ahead of her. “Sentinel?”

“Lady Tyrande, the guard of the western border report seeing falling stars coming down towards the southern isles.”

“Falling stars?” Tyrande frowned, sitting up fully. “Those have come before without issue.”

“These ones fell together like a flock of birds coming in to land.”

Impossible to be natural then. Tyrande slowed her eyes and pushed away the remnants of the dream. “Prepare the forward fleet, then - whoever has come to our doorstep will not go unchallenged.”

If it proved to be the Horde with some new technology, perhaps they would be able to infiltrate and destroy their contraptions before they could be used against Darnassus.

If it was the Legion…

Tyrande pushed herself to her feet and began preparing herself for battle.

~0~0~0~0~0~

The clouds had thickened and darkened into a storm by the time night had fully fallen. Though it served as something of a hindrance to speed, it more than made up for itself in stealth, all but guaranteeing that whatever had come down to land would completely miss their ships coming in to land in a secluded bay close enough to call for a retreat should they be noticed too soon.

Tyrande tucked some of the hair plastered to her face by the rain back behind her ears, crouched low as she lead the scouting party towards the place most likely to be the landing site of the fallen stars. Rhok’shalla pressed comfortably against her back, ready to be drawn if necessary, though she hoped it would not come to a fight. She stepped past bushes and through brush carefully, only disturbing them as much as the storm did, listening intently through the softening rain for the sounds of foreign activity that might give away the intrusion.

The soft creak of a branch above was the only alert she had as to the return of Dori’thur, her soft green glow managing to be lost to a cursory glance in the trees around it. The owl tilted her head at Tyrande’s acknowledgement before turning to preen at her ghostly feathers, and the priestess felt her shoulders droop slightly in relief. Whatever was there was not immediately dangerous, or else her companion would not be so relaxed.

The rain petered off as the forest started thinning out, Tyrande and her scouts slipping through the shadows as Dori’thur followed above. She was just able to make out the massive shapes of things too smooth and even to be wood or stone - perhaps metal? The idea of the structures being ships of some kind was strengthened as her scouts started picking out moving shapes - people, but of what race?

Elune chose that moment to peer out from behind the clouds, illuminating a patch of the clearing with one standing calmly in the middle - and Tyrande’s hair stood on end. She knew those horns in her nightmares, that face, that trident. The Condesce stood not forty yards from her - and was staring right at her.

Tyrande didn’t even notice when the bow had entered her hand, nor did she know exactly when she’d nocked an arrow back. She did notice, however, that despite the tremor of her hands betraying her, her fingers refused to let go of the string as Elune’s gaze expanded out across the rest of the clearing. Other demons were either retreating to their metal ships or watching their leader, who continued to do nothing with a calm that only made Tyrande more concerned.

Why was the enemy not attacking? Why was there no taste of fel upon the land despite the hours since they’d landed? How had they gotten here without the magic of the Well to open a rift through the Twisting Nether? And why were there children among their number, if the immature creatures with their pale beasts were that and not some other kind of demon?

She didn’t like not having answers, so she took a breath, relaxed her bow, and forced herself to step out into Elune’s light as well, eyeing her opposite with as blank a face as she could manage. Her scouts stayed behind in the woods despite their quiet protests, because if she fell they would have that much better a chance to retreat to the ships and warn the rest of her people before they could be caught.

“I apologize for the intrusion,” The demoness tilted her head forward and to the side, offering a greeting without breaking eye contact. “We merely came here to gather supplies for the next leg of our journey.”

“Supplies,” Tyrande echoed, disbelief creeping into it even as her gaze wandered again to the young ones looking to their leader. “A world of dozens of races to trade with, and you choose to forage as far from any as possible? That does not exactly give the impression of innocence.”

“Would flying directly by your city have been any better?” The other asked wryly, lips twitching upwards. “You might be good at hiding it, but I could see your expression the second you saw us. I don’t doubt that announcing ourselves up front would have gotten us shot at before I could finish speaking.”

She wasn’t wrong, the night elf leader had to concede. Seeing those ships hovering just outside of Darnassus would have provoked the same response as if a fleet of Horde airships were coming. “Why not try speaking to any of the other races, then? I know several who would have been more than accommodating.”

“The first time we tried that, the other factions of that world attacked our trade partners almost five minutes after we’d left. Trying to spread trade evenly doesn’t work, either - it’s all too easy for them to convince themselves we’ve given their enemies some extra boon.” Her opposite shook her head. “So we keep to ourselves if we have reason to believe revealing ourselves would be detrimental.”

That… sounded a lot more reasonable than she’d expected. She could easily see young races going to war over anything these - people - had to offer, even at a casual glance.

“Why travel at all, then? Why not simply find an empty world and settle? Or return to your old world?”

Her opposite grimaced. “Because mother made a prophecy - you will wander to the ends of the universe, but you will not know a new home until you find a world where the night outshines the sun. And going back would mean death for my people.”

The coincidence was too much, in the end. “The Legion.”

The other leader hissed. “The Condesce. She already had a fleet capable of conquering the galaxy, destroying hundreds of worlds for her own sick amusement, and then she manages to find the one way to ruin the rest of the universe as well! The Legion would never have found us if not for her!”

Tyrande watched the other leader close her eyes and breath deeply, the shaking of her body gradually fading away again - but for a moment, she could almost see the fel flames flickering from her vision.

“If we settled, we would bring the Condesce and her fleet down on whatever world we chose, risking innumerable lives in the process. My mother knew this when her bond with the Condesce was severed, and so I made certain we would keep ourselves and everyone else safe.” Pink eyes opened again, staring down the night elf cautiously. “You’ve met the Legion.”

“We fought the Legion,” Tyrande confirmed. “We banished them from our world long ago, and have worked hard to keep them away.”

“Did it work?”

“For ten thousand years.” The priestess elaborated. “And then several years ago, when a demon lord known as the Grand Highblood led an army of undead and demons to attack the World Tree. Our world came together to delay him and his forces long enough for my husband to awaken the defenses and unleash them on him, utterly destroying him.”

That drew a look of surprise from her opposite. “The Grand Highblood is gone? Are you positive?”

“Completely,” Tyrande affirmed. “All of his power, and that of the Well, vanished at once from his forces - and that could only have happened if there were no way for him to maintain it.”

The other leader was silent for a long while, gaze searching her for any sort of deception. Eventually she straightened herself completely, a new confidence to her that Tyrande hadn’t even noticed was missing until then.

“As Her Guiding Luminescence, Empress of the Free Alternian Peoples, I humbly request refuge for myself and my people, to rebuild our society and prepare for an attack by the Condesce and her fleet at some indefinite point in the future, in exchange for what intelligence and resources we can provide in the fight against the Legion.”

There was a strange sort of power involved when one word could determine the fate of an entire race.

“As High Priestess of the Sisters of Elune and the leader of the kaldorei… I accept your plea for refuge.”

~0~0~0~0~0~

An hour before dawn, the erection of a temporary hold for the kaldorei guard until a more permanent structure could be set up was interrupted by the arrival of a ghost.

More precisely, an Alternian ghost, her horns curling like a ram’s through her mass of freely floating hair. Tyrande held a hand up to stop spells in midcast, more for the safety of her people than concern for the intruder - there was a disturbing amount of Shadow magic swirling about her, possibly enough to challenge the high priestess herself if Elune did not intervene and strengthen her magic.

“You all are jumpy, aren’t you?” The ghost asked rhetorically. “I can see why she didn’t mention us right away.”

“Us?” Tyrande asked, already knowing the answer and not liking it.

“The ghost guard,” The intruder replied. “As chief necropath of the fleet, I am in charge of training the living with death-related psionics, as well as keeping the dead from causing too much trouble. The empress was kind enough to let me know that you had faced down the Grand Highblood as well as an army of the dead.”

The ghost did not seem happy about any of that.

“Since our wise and benevolent leader already forgot to mention our presence,” The ghost noted wryly, “She also would have probably forgotten to let you know that most of the living are going to be asleep before dawn hits. It’s also when I planned on having my ghosts go scouting, and I figured your people would rather not get surprised by a small army of ghosts without some forewarning.”

“We appreciate the warning, then,” Tyrande replied diplomatically, with the sinking understanding of where the idea for the Scourge must have originally come from. “Do you have a name or title we may call you by?”

“Repose. What should I do with your people’s ghosts?”

The priestess blinked. “Excuse me?”

The ghost sighed. “We’re going to sweep the entire island, and probably the nearby ones depending on time. Since this is your territory, I imagine there’ll be at least a few stragglers keeping to themselves for their own reasons. Normally, I’d leave them be if they asked, but I don’t want to risk my people if your ghosts become hostile, so I’d rather know now if you’d like us to lay them to rest or send them to you instead.”

That was… not at all expected, and yet surprisingly thoughtful. “Send them to me, if you would. I can help them settle themselves or get them to move on to Darnassus and leave your people alone.”

The ghost bowed, disappearing into the shadows as the first colors of pre-dawn started to bleed over the eastern horizon. Tyrande exhaled slowly, not looking forward to confronting the empress about that encounter that evening.

Still, she’d definitely learned something important from that conversation - apparently the respect given to the empress was not as universal as the first impression had implied, or else that ghost had a particular grudge against her. And yet, she was in charge of an entire army of ghosts, whose numbers Tyrande could only guess at.

She quietly prayed to Elune that she had not made the wrong choice in letting these outsiders stay.

~0~0~0~0~0~

~0~0~0~0~0~

Repose hummed thoughtfully as she strode through some of the old ruins of the isle, running fingers of magic along the carved stone. There were remnants of magic in these, older than her by far, but no so old that she could not think of older from the homeworld.

In life, she’d had a fondness for exploring the ruins around her rural home, trying to piece together their history without relying on the grubnet’s biased and limited information. It had helped, of course, that she had been a strong necropath even as a wriggler, and so had been able to coax out the few surviving spirits of many, many cleaning attempts by the Condesce to talk and soothe.

It had taken a long time after her death to overcome the natural apathy that encouraged most ghosts to pass on into the Veil, and even now she knew that mild interest was only a fraction of what she’d have felt if she were still alive. Still, Repose failed to regret denying the Empress’s wish to put all her friends in cryosleep to extend their lives beyond what she could manage, because someone had needed to stay equal to the Empress lest she forget what she was fighting to protect.

Ah, perhaps that was what was making her annoyed - the Empress’ faith in this world’s ability to stand up to the Legion. While this world did not seem to be under sway by demons, the Condesce had been known for her long games, taking over difficult worlds through misdirection and guile until defenses fell and the fleet could sweep in to finish off what hadn’t crumbled from her efforts.

It was not a likely scenario, given the genuine distrust the elves had shown her when she’d explained her task of the day, but one she resolved to keep in mind until she was proven right or proven wrong.

“Chief Repose?” One of the younger ghosts approached her, drawing her attention away from the untranslatable words carved into the base of a half-worn statuette. “We managed to finish scouting the southernmost isle.”

“Report then, Reaver.”

~0~0~0~0~0~

~0~0~0~0~0~

Beastmaster frowned as he concentrated, searching for the elusive traces of the minds the Empress had asked him to draw out for examination and proper burial by the necropaths. He’d never had much experience with animals minds after their death, as they rarely had ghosts strong enough to persist more than a few seconds after the body gave up, but these dragons - and it was still weird to think of aliens having something as familiar as those - were apparently strong enough that their ghosts could be riled up and kept around for five thousand sweeps .

One would think that that amount of strength would make them stand out against the general background noise, but there was a drawback in that death fundamentally altered the mind - look at how the necropaths were once they shed their bodies! And, he had to concede, it probably wasn’t any easier when a ghost dragon older than even Repose was doing its best to hide from them, more than likely aware of their intent.

At the least, he wasn’t doing this alone - the Luminesce had asked some of the best of the young adults to accompany him, layering their efforts on top of each other to spread the depth of their probing. Not including himself, there were five living Alternians and two ghosts, the latter of which were only lightly touching the search in order to help open their minds to the undead without overwhelming them. It was enough that, after half a night’s work, he was fairly certain they were close to where the ‘black dragon’ was hiding himself.

Speaking of the others, Kyrene was looking particularly shaky, her whole body drained from the effort she’d been putting into this. Beastmaster had been attempting to get them to take breaks occasionally, but even he knew he had never been leadership material, and it showed here.

Just as he thought it, her mind slipped from the group, and the rest scattered in the wind as her fellows caught her and started checking to make sure she hadn’t burned out her psionics completely. The ghosts had not reacted much, so Beastmaster allowed himself to exhale and roll his shoulders, wincing at the pops from sitting relatively still for so long.

~0~0~0~0~0~

~0~0~0~0~0~

“Your vitals seem to be all in order,” the mediculler told her patient as she glanced through the diagnostics scrolling down the screen. “You can get up and walk around if you like, but the Empress has asked you to wait here for her arrival, so it would be best if you didn’t go too far.”

“Yeah, yeah, I figured,” the threshecutioner formerly known as Karkat replied, more than happy to get his shirt and jacket back on. “Any idea when she plans on showing up?”

“She requested that she be alerted the moment you woke up, so she should be here shortly-”

“Great, can I get something to eat first, or am I gonna have to deal with her sickeningly bubbly personality on a food processor that hasn’t seen food in literal sweeps?” He complained, rolling his shoulders and scowling. “And why the fuck is it so cold in here?”

“It’s to keep your carapace from cracking due to heat expansion, Threshecutioner Dauntless. Too much of a temperature gradient experienced in a short period of time would-”

“Right, got it, too warm and my body splits in two and leaves my guts spilled all over the floor like some sort of macabre tribute to the horrorterrors and then you have to explain to the Empress why I’m a pile of mutant gore spilled all over my former carapace.”

“...ah...” The mediculler replied slowly, losing some of the starry eyed awe that always seemed to cling to the younger ones who only had whatever stories were passed down from the older ones to rely on.

(Not that he minded, per say, but then they started bothering him with endless questions and usually ended up keeping him from doing anything productive like, say, watching dirt foliage grow or taunting whatever murderbeasts decided to evolve themselves on this planet with only his pants and his righteous fury at the general state of the universe.)

“Dauntless, you aren’t making the medicullers uncomfortable already, are you?” The Empress asked as the door slid open to let her in, a smile on her lips even as a fond sigh escaped them. “I thought we broke you of that habit sweeps ago.”

“Please, you know I only do that to the incompetent ones; she mostly has her head on straight.” He gestured with a nod to the mediculler in question, who had flushed green and bowed deeply the moment the Empress had arrived.

“A rare compliment,” Luminesce replied, smile fading a bit. “Has she told you what sweep it is yet?”

“No, she’s been doing her job, not drivelling on about whatever trends are popular with the wrigglers this generation.” Dauntless narrowed his gaze, already knowing he wasn’t going to like what she was going to say next.

“It is currently the 12053rd sweep of my reign, as according to the old world calendar,” She replied, snapping his eyes wide open.

“I wasn’t supposed to wake up for another thirty sweeps, what the fuck, Fef?” He demanded, not caring about the sharp inhale from the nervous mediculler for his casual use of the Empress’s wriggling name. “Don’t tell me we’re in trouble.”

“No no, the opposite, actually,” The Empress shook her head. “We found a place to settle. We’re going to stand and fight the Legion.”

Dauntless’s gaze narrowed. “Who are you, and how did you manage to replace the Empress without anyone noticing? Don’t think I won’t cut you down-”

“Karkat.”

He clamped down on his building tirade, realizing this was beyond serious now. “Why, then?”

“I’ll explain once everyone’s awake,” She replied, already turning to head back out. “But believe me when I say I’m not throwing my people’s lives away with this move.”

“You really think we can win here?” He asked her, giving her pause before she turned to glance at him one last time.

“I believe we stand a chance.” The door slid shut, leaving the sweating mediculler and an unnerved threshecutioner behind in a heavy silence.

~0~0~0~0~0~

~0~0~0~0~0~

The last time Feferi had seen Alternia this closely, it had been when she and her people were fleeing for their lives from the Condesce and her armies, the grey and blue orb so fragile and small as it disappeared in a flash of stars. Now it hung over Azeroth menacingly, the surface practically shredded and bleeding green and black.

Her friends were not much better, even Vriska unable to come up with a snide quip in the face of what the Legion had done to their homeworld. Aradia’s aura was a tangle of emotions, and Feferi could only dread how terrible the emotional writhing of the ghosts of that world were if it could be felt from here.

“Prepare the ships,” Feferi heard herself say, drawing the attention of everyone around. “We’re heading home.”

“Empress-”

“Three weeks. That should be enough time for your forces to rally and prepare, should it not?” She asked, turning to Khadgar. The pink blood still splashed across her and her trident more than likely made an intimidating image, but the mage simply nodded to the request.

~0~0~

The pressure at this depth of the ocean was as comforting as she remembered, Feferi swimming on an instinct she didn’t realize she still had. Meenah was just keeping up with her, youthful energy making up for age and strength, seeing the birthright she’d been spared and denied.

Eridan and a few of Azeroth’s heroes were with her, the latter protected from the depths through the powers of their shaman, though even they were gaping at the size of the massive house that Feferi, so long ago, had lived in. Age showed in the disrepair, even with building drones, and barnacles and other creatures crawled around the outside like they were picking apart a corpse.

But her house was not why she was here. Eridan held her hand as the others were allowed to rest and explore, but her gaze remained firmly outwards, towards where the corpse of Alternia’s old god still hung in her mind’s eye like a beacon. Even so long after her death, Gl'bgolyb had a presence that even the most psi-null could not ignore, and she knew she didn’t miss Meenah’s squirming and constant glances out into the darkness.

It was too long and no time at all before they resumed their trek, the waters becoming more foreboding and emptier as they got closer. Her body was still where Feferi had left it ages ago, tentacles slumped over the massive white form and eyes cloudy and empty, but there was no doubt its focus was on her, a glare palpable enough that she hesitated before closing the rest of the distance and pressing her hand against the beak that had once given her such comfort and despair.

“Hello, mother,” she said. “I’m back. Did you miss me?”

The ghost writhed around her, threatening to choke her, but she was not that scared child anymore, and the shadows could do no more than grasp at her own. Meenah slowly swam forward to join her, one hand clinging to Feferi’s robes while she looked up at her grand-lusus.

“I slew your favorite daughter,” The empress informed the ghost. “Did you feel it? Were you satisfied with that final revenge, or do you still wish I’d been the one to fall up above you?

“I won the throne, mother, just the way you wanted us to. And now I have an heiress of my own, who will be the first to take the crown through peace, not blood. When she’s ready to lead, and no sooner, I will abdicate my seat and let her take it, in hopes that she will go farther than even I could.

“I defied your prophecy. I found a world my people could call home, and stood against that which scared you, and together we have pushed them back to here, where it all began. And soon, I will finish this, and restore Alternia to its former glory.

Feferi remained silent for a long while.

“You know, even after all these sweeps, I still love you in the same breath that I hate you for everything you did to my people, to my species.” She continued, a small cloud of pink leaking from the corner of one of her eyes. “Without you, I couldn’t have saved them, and made them the people they should have been allowed to be in the first place.”

“I’m not sorry I couldn’t be the child you wanted, but this… this was for the best. I’m only sorry you would never have been happy with it.”

Chapter Text

Varian Wrynn, king of the newly rebuild Stormwind, paced the halls restlessly as he waited for the news that had been nine months in coming. The guards around him said nothing as they stood at attention, their duties even more serious on this most important of days, where the lives of not two, but three royals were most as risk.

Theoretically, at least. Varian knew if even the slightest hint of a threat was coming for his wife and child, he would be the first to remove it from the halls of the Keep with as much prejudice as possible, possibly with the bodies mounted outside the city to warn off other fools…

He shook his head to remove the thought, knowing it was more the nerves that came with no news on how his wife was doing. Besides, she most likely would disapprove of leaving dead bodies to rot anywhere near the city where it could unnerve the commoners and nobles passing by.

"Your majesty," one of the priestesses from the Temple called from the doorway to the bedchambers, immediately drawing his thoughts and attention. She looked mildly ruffled, but was smiling as he approached. "Your wife and son are both well and resting now."

"A son…" Varian exhaled, the stress of the past few hours releasing with it as it was replaced with relief. "How long will it take for my wife to recover?"

"Not more than a few days, my king," she replied, opening the door further to allow him to enter. "Sister Allaria has offered to spend the next week on immediate call in case of any complications we may have missed, but it seems unlikely at this point."

He barely acknowledged the last part of her statement besides a muttered agreement, his entire focus on his wife and the bundle of blankets she was cradling in her arms. Tiffin's gaze lifted to meet his, and she offered a tired but elated smiled.

"Varian, come meet our son," she invited, following his progress as he quickly closed the distance between the door and the bed. Sister Allaria, who had been standing by, moved out of the way so that Varian could carefully sit diwn beside his wife on the bed and accept the bundle of blankets holding the young prince. A warm feeling entered his chest as he looked upon the face of his child for the first time.

Nearly a month ago, after the priests had confirmed that the child would be born healthy, he and Tiffin had discussed names for their unborn child. Ultimately they had decided that, if it were a boy, he would be named Anduin Llane after the hero of the Alliance and his father, while a girl would be named Jocelynn Taria after her grandmother and his mother. He knew already that his son would live up to his namesakes, and with a smile he looked back up to his wife.

"Your majesty," Sister Allaria interrupted almost hesitantly, bowing her head as the king and queen both looked to her. "I have to also report that the Holy Light gave me a vision while I was checking on the health of the prince. I could only make out a throne and the gleam of gold on armor, but I believe it is a sign your son will have a long and prosperous reign."

The good news made up for the interruption of the moment, Varian looking back to his son with a smile. If there was any doubt his son would grow into a great king one day, it had been silenced with that good news. Truly, the day was blessed, and nothing would be able to ruin it.

~0~0~0~0~0~

Katrina Prestor, known to a very select few as Onyxia, groaned internally as she waited for all the other nobles to give their congratulations to the king and queen, as well as present their gifts to the newborn prince. She'd had an agent grab something for her so she didn't have to waste the effort on thinking of what to present to a weak little mortal spawnling.

Honestly, any of her children at birth was already capable of defending itself with claws and flames. The fact that mortal spawn across species were fragile and helpless for years of their short, miserable lives disgusted her, and only reaffirmed the knowledge that dragons were meant to rule over them, despite what the other stupid flights seemed to think about the issue.

'At least it'll be dead soon and I won't have to pretend to care about it anymore,' she comforted herself even as the nobles before her finally finished their sucking up and moved on, allowing her to step forward with a practiced smile and the… book, right, something with bland little stories suitable for bland little mortals.

"Your Majesties," Katrina greeted, bowing reverently to the king and queen while internally rolling her eyes. "I offer you my sincere congratulations on the birth of your son and heir."

"Lady Prestor," the queen greeted, smiling brightly. "Welcome back to Stormwind. Your trip went well, I take it?"

"It did," Katrina replied, straightening up and gesturing for her servant to present the book. "I brought this book from my private collection for the prince. I enjoyed the stories in it as a child, and I hoped that he might enjoy them once he is old enough to do so."

"I'm certain he'll love it," the queen replied, one of the palace servants taking it from Katrina's and taking it to where the other gifts were being stored. "Would you like to meet him?"

"I would be honored," Katrina replied immediately while inwardly gagging, knowing that turning it down would hurt her standing, even if only minutely. All she had to do was smile at the mortal spawn, congratulate the king and queen again, and make an excuse to allow her to step out and get to something slightly less irritating, like twisting a few of the other nobles into hardening against the common rabble demanding payment for the rebuilding of Stormwind.

She took the two steps to the crib, set a hand on the edge while she looked over into it with a smile, and used all of her years of experience with keeping her emotions out of her form's body language to avoid the sudden spike of unease she felt on seeing the child. It yawned and blinked tired eyes, as all mortal spawn did at that age, but something in the bottom of her soul just knew it was somehow looking at her, the actual her and not the pretty little face she was wearing.

Onyxia told herself she was stupid for being afraid of a spawn of all things, but that didn't stop her from worrying what would happen as she turned away from it to offer another smile to the king and queen. "He resembles you both greatly; I imagine he'll be a worthy successor."

Both of the royals' faces seemed slightly concerned, but they let her leave without more than the usual niceties. Katrina retreated to the back of the room, accepting a glass of wine from her servant and pretending to listen in on the latest gossip of someone whose name she couldn't even bother to remember at that moment, not when thoughts were racing through her mind on what the blazes that had been.

She'd been considering leaving the spawn alive as a malleable pawn once she was able to remove the king and queen as contests to her control over the city, but that no longer seemed to be in the cards. Whatever those two had spawned, it needed to die as soon as possible, even if it meant changing a few plans early in order to adjust for the fallout.

She just hoped it wasn't already too late.

~0~0~0~0~0~

Nozdormu tilted his head thoughtfully as he looked at the timestream again, wondering what had been causing ever so slight shifts in the future of this line. Neither he nor his brood had been doing much in this section of time, and his corrupted counterpart had shown little interest in it as well. Despite that, differences were happening, and even his careful insight wasn't able to narrow a source.

What was more concerning was that the further it went into the future, the more muddled it became, until even he could not determine what events of that future were true or false.

"Nozdormu," his corrupted counterpart spoke up, stepping into his time-place with the barest shift of warning heralding his arrival.

"Murozond," he replied, glancing away from his examination of the timeline, curious as to what brought his other self out of his cluster of timelines.

The inverted bronze shifted his wings restlessly, looking briefly to the same things Nozdormu had just been looking at. "You've seen it too, then, the drifting of the sands. Something is blocking our senses, and I don't know what it is."

"There have been such thing before," Nozdormu replied, temporarily moving the timeline in question to the side so he could bring up another to prove his point. "The sands settle in time, you know this."

"I sent my children ahead to try and see what was wrong," Murozond replied, shoving the new timeline away to bring back the other one. "The ones that made it back were terrified, Nozdormu, and could not even speak on why, for their minds had been broken."

And Murozond was as well, Nozdormu realized. "You think it's the Old Gods, then?"

The corrupted bronze laughed. "The Old Gods? We know how they work through time, and this is not them, no. You have to let me destroy this timeline, before whatever is there brings about an end worse than anything we can imagine."

"I will not," Nozdormu replied. "I refuse to let the mortals die just because we cannot guarantee their safety to the Allfather."

"Damn you, you fool," Murozond hissed, pacing in a circle around Nozdormu. "Whatever is waiting in that future is too dangerous to entrust to the mortals, of all things! I won't let your naivety create something that could threaten all the timelines!"

"My children will fight your, then, as they do in all timelines you challenge," Nozdormu countered. "You have seen all of our siblings and the old gods who corrupted them brought down by mortals in their own times, even ourselves. You know that the mortals can rise up to challenge anything given the chance, even the Legion and Sargeras himself."

"This is worse than the Legion," Murozond replied, voice soft as he looked to the blurred timeline. "I can't tell you how, or when, or why, but I know that leaving this timeline alive will be the greatest risk we've ever taken. Please, this once, trust me and leave it to wither away."

Nozdormu looked to the almost pleading expression of his other self, and back to the timeline they were fighting over. He could not sense the corruption his other self could, but a tendril of worry curled in his gut nonetheless at the actual fear that was being expressed by the usually overly confident inverted bronze.

"I'm sorry, but I cannot, not when so many innocent lives are at stake."

"Then the consequences be on your head, then!" The other dragon snapped, snarling as he turned away to return to his own timelines. "When everything goes to ruin, you'll have no one to blame but yourself!"

"I know," Nozdormu replied quietly once Murozond could no longer hear, not moving from his place until the eventual intrusion of one of his brood with another problem to deal with.