Author Topic: Under the Scarlet Banner  (Read 6015 times)

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Under the Scarlet Banner
« on: April 24, 2017, 11:27:20 AM »
And here is the World of Warcraft story I mentioned. It's a story about the campaign of the zealous Scarlet Crusade against the undead Scourge in the days after the Third War. Even if you're not familiar with the Warcraft universe, I urge you to take a look at this story too.  :) There are many references in the story that might be unfamilar to non-players but they shouldn't be too distracting.  Personally I've always loved this part of the game's lore and I'm happy to write this alongside Separate Paths. Any feedback would be welcome!   :yes

                                                      Gathering of the Legends

Fight for honor, your people and strive to save that which is still pure in our world. Our foes may be overwhelming and horrifying in brutality but our duty remains. Arthas and the Scourge can be stopped but only with the Light’s blessing. That is why you must never forsake the righteous path of the Silver Hand and the will to defend the innocent.

-Uther the Lightbringer

Among the burning houses moved a silent host of knights, knowing their fight would be lost if they lingered in the cursed streets for too long. The infiltration of the cursed city was a risky endeavor but one that each of them was willing to take. The group’s leader, Saidan Dathrohan, couldn’t shake the feeling of pride and anticipation as he thought about the things that would unfold here today as he saw an opening far in the distance. He remembered each one of the streets and the times when he still worked for the people of the lost city were still fresh in his mind. Those days were long gone but even then, the paladin couldn’t help but feel beaten on the rows of ever-burning lanes and terrifying reminders of the people who had once inhabited the capital of Eastern Lordaeron. Above the burning hellscape floated the source of the corruption in the city, the citadel of Naxxramas. It’s eerie shadow covered the entire city, a testament to the new order of the defiled lands.

At the end of the winding, narrow street opened a square which had once been a magnificent sight, one of the hearts of the mighty city of Stratholme. The Crusaders’ Square, as it was called, was a center of commerce and public events in the western neighborhoods of Stratholme. But most importantly for the paladins, it housed their destination, the famed Silver Hand Bastion which had for centuries been the refuge of hope during times of war and peace. A symbol of valor and righteousness in the once proud center of eastern Lordaeron. How fitting that it was chosen to be the meeting place for those seeking to reestablish it as the symbol of Light it had always been.

Saidan or his host didn’t waver a moment as they marched on into the square swarmed by hordes of ghouls and shades. If anything, the sight of the undead crawling the streets made them even more willing to fight. Their homeland, their families… nearly of those here today they had lost everything to those monsters. If they had to lay down their lives to stand a change against this foe, so be it.

“Charge! Purge this sacred place of those monsters!” Dathrohan cried as he quickened his pace to attack the horde of rotting flesh swarming between him and the Bastion. His large, red blade shined with bright light as it clashed with the warriors of the undead horde. The foe outnumbered them greatly but without proper leadership, they weren’t able to put an effective plan to repel the attacking knights. Even then, the mere number and brutality of the rotting corpses made them a formidable enemy.

Saidan gritted his teeth as a group of ghouls charged at him from his sides. The paladin waved his hand swiftly and three of the attackers suddenly started to burn from the inside. Soon, they fell as the holy fire burned their remaining flesh. The knight’s allies managed to dislodge the remaining attackers from their leader but the enemy’s numbers were seemingly endless. The group of knight’s healed each other’s wounds but they wouldn’t be able to hold the enemy off for much longer.

Dozens upon dozens of undead fell upon the swords of the knights of the Silver Hand. All of them knew that they had to be able to fight the enemy off if their new initiative was to have any chance of success. Meter by meter, the gate of the Silver Hand bastion came closer and the group’s wounds grew more severe. Dathrohan let out a roar when and quickened his pace while remnants of undead broke down under his legs. However, the attack only decided by an encouraging yell from the gates of the mighty fortress.

“Death to the Scourge!”

A second host of knights attacked the ghouls from the other side, quickly slicing through any resistance they could put on the living. Dathrohan wasted no time utilizing the  new opportunity and ran towards safety. Hundreds of undead were heading towards them from the depths of the cursed city, a force that no small group of knights could withstand. The two groups of paladins retreated into the building slowly, defiantly holding the undead back as they rose the stairs slowly. When the last of them had reached the shelter, the wall-like gate was finally sealed. Without a leader, the mindless horde of undead wouldn’t be able to breach the gate. Dathrohan and his followers took a moment to catch his breath and to revel in the fact that his daring plan to infiltrate the city had worked without any casualties. There were a few serious injuries and cuts but it was nothing that couldn’t be healed.

“Good job, Abbendis. That’s the only thing that’ll do for those light-forsaken monsters. Are the other ones here already?” The younger knight finally said as he begun to calm down. The forces of the Scourge seldom were that easily surprised but even then, the fight would have brought casualties if it weren’t for Abbendis’ knights.

“You were the last one, Dathrohan. Welcome! We have a lot to discuss…” Abbendis was clearly pleased now that the last of the groups had arrived. He was about to turn away when Saidan asked him another question.

“And more importantly, have all of them proved themselves to be loyal? We must be prepared to do anything before the end.” Saidan’s voice resonated with great passion and hidden hatred. Abbendis turned to look at him in slight surprise.

“We all are. Lordaeron will be restored before long. Each of us have proved our loyalty many times over, Dathrohan. If you still doubt them, you’ll have to ask them yourself.” The General turned around and headed deeper into the building. Saidan truly wished that his comrade was right and begun to follow him. Abbendis wasn’t the one he was doubting but there was no telling what would happen before the end. He was dedicated to anything to achieve the knights’ goals, no matter horrifying they might be. The light-haired knight looked around himself when they headed towards the Hall of Lights. He had spent years stationed here in the service of the old order. Even now, the sacred rays of light flowed through the darkened windows as the last remains of the slayed undead were being carried away from the holy building. Saidan knew each of the stones in the walls and each ruined painting and bookshelf that weren’t there anymore. The citadel was a mere shadow, a ruin of its former self but if this new dream proved a success, maybe he would once again be able to call this most holy of places his home. He would give his all to pursue that dream.

“Our last honored comrade is finally here! Please welcome lord Saidan Dathrohan!” An aging man spoke with a chanting voice from the back of the innermost sanctum. Dozens of knights were assembled around him as he bid his welcome to the newcomers. They were greeted with applause and relief. None of them had waited for long as the meeting had been planned for that morning but it was far from certain all of them would succeed in their journey. Saidan was a legend among the members of Silver Hand, one of the original five knights picked by the revered Alonsus Faol himself. His participation in the new order would be crucial to its success.

“Thank you, Isillien. I wouldn’t have missed this meeting for any price. I’ve waited far too long for this.” Saidan said as he took a seat in the place of corner that was clearly reserved for him and his followers. The Argent Throne, as it was called, was a perfect place for this meeting: it was the residence of the leader of the united order of the Silver Hand that would soon pass into history. Yet, holding this monumental meeting here would be a way to put the withered order to rest while signaling that a new force was born upon its ruins.

“Now, our numbers are complete. I cannot express my gratitude to any of you but I’ll say this. Today, we will make history. We have the purest, most devoted people left from our old order and kingdom, united for the first time since Uther’s passing. Thus far, we have only scrambled for survival in our strongholds, unable to stem the endless tide of death in our beloved homeland. Today, that will end. Today, we will begin something that will echo through the ages! On this day, a new order will be born!” All the negotiations on the practical issues had been completed already between the leaders and this was mainly a ceremony to bring all of the signatories together to signal the birth of a united high command of the reborn order of the Silver Hand.

Immediately, all of those present rose up from their seats, cheering in unison to commemorate the great occasion they were witnessing. A glimmer of hope that had been lingering for so long grew in strength, illuminating the room around them. After the noise had settled down, Isillien spoke once again.

“All of the preparations are already complete. All except for one. We need one of you to unite us under his leadership. One of us must rise as the Grand Crusader!” The priest’s voice rang through the blackened walls of the great hall as he spoke in a pompous voice. All of those present knew what was coming. Dathrohan knew that he was one of the more likely candidates due to his highly respected rank among the Silver Hand. Few possessed his vigor and strength as well as his lack of patience for stalling. However, there was one serious contender for him.

Not far to his left stood another legendary figure of the old order. The hero of the Blackrock, the Bane of the Scourge, the legendary Ashbringer Alexandros Mograine. He, too. was a born leader and an inspiring figure for anyone around him. His weapon laid by his side, shining its pure light around the dark hall. That weapon had vanquished thousands of undeath and its wielder was a hero of numerous battles. Whatever would be chosen, Dathrohan knew he would follow or lead his comrades to his best ability.

“We have five candidates. Let each of them speak a few words before you, my comrades, will make the choice. Our champions, be sure to keep the Light as your only witness and judge. First, we have the revered general Abbendis who defended Tyr’s Hand with his life during the Great War!” The middle-aged man rose to many applauds and waited for a moment until he spoke in a loud, determined but in somewhat neutral voice.

“All my life I have served the people of Lordaeron and fought to safeguard our lands against every enemy we have faced. Even now, my duty remains the same. I swear that I will give my all to save the people who still are living in peace and to restore our great kingdom! Whether as the Grand Crusader or not, you will have my support and guidance!” A revering silence fell upon the hall when the General sat down. All of those present knew he would be a formidable asset to the new order. Isillien continued with his usual chanting voice. The priest wore a robe of white, the usual clothing of a priest of the Church.

“Next we have his daughter Brigitte Abbendis who saved the lands of Havenshire and New Avalon from the undead! Her bravery and courage helped to stem the Scourge’s offensive and the people of our eastern coast owe their lives to her!” The young captain wasn’t considered to be the strongest nominee for the post of the Grand Crusader but none questioned her tactical skills and bravery. She would become a mighty leader one day but for now, she was heavily overshadowed by her father. She rose up and spoke in a more silent, even restrained voice. However, her expression showed that she wasn’t any softer than the older Abbendis.

“Their numbers are endless. Defeating them will be a great endeavor but I have seen it happen. They can be beaten. And as long as there’s a tiny bit of chance to beat those monsters, I will give my last breath for our cause! You have my word of this!” The response wasn’t any less enthusiastic as the young knight sat down.

“The light’s chosen knight, Ashbringer Alexandros Mograine! He has vanquished more of those devils than the rest of us combined and proved his worth against the orcs and undead! He is a man who we should all try to follow in our actions!” This time the hall exploded into a chorus of cheers and salutes. Mograine’s presence gave them all hope of a better tomorrow and of an eventual victory. During the Second War, many battles were won because of him and back then, he didn’t even wield his weapon of legend. The aging warrior rose slowly and his voice echoed in the ears of everyone present.

 “My old friend Anduin Lothar taught me that no matter how savage and overwhelming the enemy, the Light will guide the righteous to victory! We won the fight against the orcs even if they were on the gates of Lordaeron itself and we will beat back the Scourge. Even the Lion’s death paved way for an eventual victory and that is what I ask of myself and from all of you. Whatever you do, remember that no sacrifice is in vain. As the Ashbringer, and your potential grand Crusader, I swear that Arthas will pay for his betrayal! For the line of the Menethil!” It was clear that here was a living legend of the defenders of the light. Even Dahtrohan confessed to himself that this was a man he could follow. A paladin without equal.

“Highlord Taelan Fordring, the Lord of Mardenholde and the son of the once-famed Tirion Fordring!” This time the response was more quiet, without major salutes. Taelan was little more than a boy and he had joined the Crusade because of his position and lineage but even then, the young paladin’s heritage still took a great toll on his reputation.

“I will prove to you that I’m much more than my father ever was. I will not waver in the face of the enemy and I will make Hearthglen the haven of hope and light in these cursed lands! The Scourge will scatter before the house of Fordring once again!” Taelan’s voice was less pompous and it even held a flicker of hesitation. He hadn’t wanted to dissolve the old order in the first place but all of his comrades had agreed with the other leaders of the Silver Hand. He had no chance but to comply.

“And finally, one of Faol’s chosen, one of the legendary five founders of the Silver Hand! Welcome the hero of Lordaeron, Saidan Dathrohan!”

The brown-haired knight took a moment before he rose up to speak. He looked at the many statues and ruined bookshelves that dotted the Argent Hall and the corridors around it. He was standing at the second holiest place of the Silver Hand, the domain of many heroes of the past. No matter what, he wanted to be worthy of the honor of trying to revive their withered order. His voice echoed through the blackened halls as he spoke to those that could soon be his followers.

“I remember the day when the Silver Hand was born. Each of us felt that something eternal and good was being born. I was ready to die for my comrades and to follow in the Lightbringer’s steps. Alas, that wasn’t to be. Now, I truly hope I can atone for my failures. Soldiers of Lordaeron! Make no mistake: the undead will be eradicated! Stratholme will once again be the pride of humanity! The Throne of the Menethil will be restored! This… this I wow upon the charge that was given to me so long ago.” Dathrohan looked in pride as everyone present greeted his words. Whatever they would decide, the decision would echo down the ages. Isillien looked satisfied as he continued to speak.

“One of these heroes will be the one who will guide us through these dark ages, our Grand Crusader. Only the Light will be your witness as you decide this. You are all former knights or clerics of the Silver Hand. I trust in your judgement. Do as you see fit.” The grey-robed priest then waved and four of his assistants arrived to distribute a piece of paper to every one of the few hundred knights who were assembled. Nearly every attendee wrote his or her nominee immediately, their preferred Grand Crusader chosen in advance. Dathrohan, due to his respect and confidence in him, voted for Mograine, his nearest competitor.

In mere moments, all of the papers were once again collected. What followed was long moments of waiting as Isillien’s followers counted the votes in the surrounding rooms. The atmosphere was extremely expectant and revering. A cloud of hope floated in the room. Each and every one of them believed from the bottoms of their hearts that on this day, the Light’s judgement would begin to push the endless undead hordes back. The silent mutterings stopped completely when they saw Isillien once again return to the Hall. His expression was calm and optimistic as he once again stood in the back of the hall. Dathrohan looked at him in respect. The priest had been the one who had recruited most of those present today to their cause and united the warring knight lords under one banner. There was no one better suited to announce this decision than him.

“My dear friends and comrades, we have a Grand Crusader! The result was surprisingly close but it was decisive. All hail Grand Crusader Saidan Dathrohan!”

Dathrohan felt stunned by the revelation even if he had tried to prepare for it in his mind. He was the last hope of his people and his homeland. He didn’t feel like he was ready but… who else was?

Uther, Gavinrad… please help me in this task. There is no one else… I have to be ready for this charge! For your memory, for king Terenas… for the Light, pray that I will be worthy of this trust!

The knight rose up and started to walk towards Isillien. He would have to unite all of the newly-born order under his leadership. His steps were firm and his expression noble and dedicated even if his mind was a flurry of different doubts and emotions but he knew he was up to the task. He had to. Isillien gave way for his Grand Crusader who took a moment to revel in the sight of his followers and the majesty of the castle. This was his charge and he was going to see it to the end.

“Our blessed founder Faol knew that only by forming a prestigious, pure Order could we keep the darkness at bay. I was there to witness the rise of such a power and for decades we safeguarded the lands of Lordaeron. However, eventually darkness crept into our sacred circle of trusted knights and corroded Faol and Uther’s dream from within. This will not happen again!”

Dathrohan could see Mograine looking at him in deep expectation and revere. The two paladins had known each other for years and fought many times together. It was clear that he would stand by his side whatever would happen in the following weeks. Abbendis’ expression was more contained but none in the room seemed to disapprove his election.

“You are the best Lordaeron has left. You are its defenders, its last leaders and the last beacons of hope of our lost home. If you will not lead our people back to Light, no one will. Whatever comes to pass, remember that you are the last and the best we have. Because of this, I’ll entrust some of you with great responsibility today. Ashbringer, move forward!” The aging paladin walked towards Dathrohan and bowed before him. His voice was deep and honoring as he spoke.

“My blade and guidance are yours, Grand Crusader. Ask your bidding and I will do it.” It was shocking for the younger paladin to see his old friend bow so readily before him. He didn’t feel like he deserved it: the Ashbringer had saved him more times than he could remember. Dathrohan drew his sword and raised it into the air before lowering his arm.

“Alexandros Mograine, I know the extent of your valor and honor. Your resolve is second to none and you are an inspiration to anyone willing to follow the path of anything that is holy. You will walk as my second-in-command, as the Highlord of our new Crusade.” The older paladin rose and spoke briefly before moving to his leader’s side.

“Our foes will fall before us. I thank you for this charge, Grand Crusader.” Dathrohan nodded to him in approval and then spoke for the second time.

“General Abbendis, I name you the High General of the Crusade and its face to our people! You have always defended the poor and your name has echoed long in the mouths of the common people. You are the most important remnant of the armies of Lordaeron and as thus, the righteous leader of our armies.” The General walked to him and was ready to speak when the Grand Crusader interrupted him.

“And the honored priest Isillien will serve as the spiritual heart of the Crusade. You were the one who kept the spark of hope alive in each of us during our darkest hours. You were the one who united all of us here today. From now on, your voice will be the voice of Light itself, Grand Inquisitor.” The priest had already resigned to the thought that his part in today’s ceremony was over. He had done the things he was credited for but never would have he expected such a senior post for a non-knight like himself. Isillien walked to Abbendis’ side and when all of his three aides stood by his side, Dathrohan once again spoke.

“Under our command, the tremendous task that lies before us can begin. Our first mission is to spread the flag of our Crusade among those who still wish to keep the shadow at bay. The city of Tyr’s Hand , Light’s Hope and the Monastery of Righteousness still stand, abandoned by the lack of unity among the remnants of this land. Those are the places we have to make join our cause. We must also save the villages still untainted by the undead and only then can we push them back. The path will be long and most of us will not see its completion. I am ready to accept that. I will lay down my life if that means that a step towards our goal can be achieved! Will you follow us to the depths of madness and despair?” Dathrohan’s voice intensified with each word and at the end of his speech he was trembling and his words rang through the sacred halls of the fortress. Each and every one of his followers rose up and a chorus of shouts filled the room. the Grand Crusader then rose his sword into the air and called in a thundering voice.

“Then it’ll happen! On this day, our march into the rest of Stratholme and to Lordaeron city will begin! The cursed undead will be eradicated! This I wow as your Grand Crusader! Today, the Scarlet Crusade is born!” Dathrohan felt rays of light penetrating the blackened hall smile upon him as he saw the response his speech roused among his followers. He was about to begin relaying his first orders when he felt a familiar voice speak to him from next to.

“It’ll be a long and rough battle but we’ll make it happen as Anduin and Uther did. I’ll look forward to our next battle together, Saidan.” Alexandros looked at his old comrade as he ended his speech. The older paladin’s voice was filled with hope and he took everything out of the moment. Saidan turned to him and smiled at his old friend.

“Likewise. If the orcs can be beaten, so can the Scourge. We’ll see this through together.”


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2017, 05:14:38 PM »
Okay, here goes. I am not a very good reviewer, but here goes.

I haven't played or know about World of Warcraft, but I absolutely love the writing you made for your story. It is very well written and shows a lot of potential. I understood the plot and I kind of knew what was happening. It shows you also have a lot of potential as well during your previous experiences as a writer.

Quick thing I need to say, I used to be a bookworm until I lost interest in books and stopped reading, until I saw this since I was urged to read this. So I did the unthinkable, I did what was right and read this. I know this sounds silly, but this is a really rare time I actually read something which feels like a book. I always try to read something, but my mind refuses to read a book. But I actually read it.

So, I have to thank you for making this to help me. Sorry for going a bit off topic, but I had to say it.


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« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2017, 09:53:28 AM »
Thank you for your kind words.  :)  I understand that some names and references might be confusing (they should become easier to remember as the story progressses) but I'm happy that you found the story and my writing enjoyable. My last WoW story had its share of problems which I hope to repair during my new fics. I too must admit that at the moment I mostly read fanfics but luckily there are lots of good stuff out there. That being said, the next chapter for this story should out tomorrow. :yes


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« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2017, 03:27:50 PM »
Here's the second chapter to this story. I really hope you'll find this interesting and the next chapter of the Separate Ways should be released soon enough. That being said, enjoy!   :)                                                    

                                             The Letter to Tyr’s Hand

The faint light of golden yellow candles lighted the large hall, offering some comfort in the darkness of the early morning. The air was still chilling and the sun would rise over Tyr’s Hand and its cathedral only after the whole occasion was over. Some of those in the church were seemingly tired, exhausted by the usual early awakenings of the city. However, Osran Lowriver wasn’t one of them. He had long since gone past the stage when he wasn’t ready to answer the Light’s call in times pf peace and war. The aging paladin stood among his comrades, following the prayer’s progression. It was headed by the main cleric of Tyr’s Hand, the famous priestess Demetria.

“As you know, the Light has given us an enormous gift. This gift’s beauty still lies around us, whether we choose to see it or not. The Creation is not only this tainted land around them nor the defiled remains of our loved ones. What lies around us is a mere reminder of the goodness that can be revealed by us, the Church of the Holy Light. But there is much more to our lives than this…”

Osran listened to Demetria’s words in a respecting if not particularly inspired mood. He had heard these words many times more as these prayers were obligatory to all paladins and priests of Lordaeron. Even if the kingdom had fallen, its last vestiges still wished to retain reminders of the better days of the past.

“The Holy Light blesses anyone who is willing to partake in the flows of its holy sacred power. This is one of its true miracles: its cause is able to unite us in this time of need with its pure goodness. It asks those three things from us in return. Respect, Tenacity, Compassion. As long as you retain those, shadow shall never fall upon our beloved city!”

With those words, everyone in the hall prepared to reinforce the oath each one of them had taken when they had joined the ranks of armies of Lordaeron. It was a holy responsibility and a source of pride. The leaders of those forces enforced the following of those oaths and breaking them was strictly forbidden. Osran knew this and never had he even wished to stray from the true path, making him one of the most respected knights the city had. This oath was followed only in Lordaeron, making it one of the last things that still tied their fate to the fallen throne of the Menethil. He started to speak in unison with the rest of the crowd, once again renewing the pledge he had given in easier, happier times.

“To the revered and holy Church and to the mighty Crown, I give my sacred vow. Every path before me is filled with shade and sorrow but whatever happens, the Light’s goodness will still penetrate my heart. This I pledge, my soul will forever walk in the Light and I will forever work and fight for the good. Respect for the enemy, tenacity to work for eventual victory, compassion for the weak. These are the things that will safeguard me from evil and from straying from the path I’ve chosen. To the Church and the Crown, this is the vow I give you. May the pure Light guide my steps in everything I do.”

Demetria nodded to the audience in approval, as she always did after the renewal of the sacred oath. Even if the occasion wasn’t unusual at all, it was necessary to remind each of the defenders of the city of their charge and of the ways to follow the path of the Light.

“Those words are up to each of us to redeem. We have saved our city from destruction because of our righteous path but the night is still deep. You may see the birth of a new day around you but the true dawn is still to come. The dawn of good in our hearts. Go, and remember the Light’s teachings. The darkness can be kept at bay by sword but each of your actions will either deepen or vanquish the evil. May the Light bless us all in these dark times.” A revering silence claimed the cathedral as first of those assembled started to leave the hall.

Osran looked at the pale morning light enter the room and felt a rush of relief by its sight. These ceremonies were repeated every day but he felt the touch of hope and pride each time he had the chance to attend the morning prayer. It was a time for mental purification and expressing gratitude for continued life. It was a privilege to listen to those holy words in the presence of those men and women he had learned to respect and appreciate so much. That might change during any confrontation with the hated enemy but any knight had long ago accepted that fact.

The aging knight joined the line of people flowing away from the cathedral. The crowd was completely silent and the chatter only started outside the holy heart of Tyr’s Hand. The people’s walk was slow and each step showed a great decree of reverence to others around them. Osran followed the flow to the door of the church when he saw a familiar knight walking in front of him, a one that belonged to one of his closest comrades in the city. Osran quickened his pace and called to her in a neutral but cordial voice. As he approached her, he could see that her expression was somewhat darker than the others’ around her.

“Veria, I’m glad to see that your patrol was successful.” He knew that the other knight had been ordered to join a patrol outside the western walls in order to check that no necromancers or other enemies were about to threaten the humans’ last strongholds. The mission was most likely successful as no reports of heavy casualties had been reported in. Veria turned to look at Osran as he appeared from the crowd.

“It was the same rubbish as always, Osran. Only those cursed ghouls and other vile beasts. The patrols feel like complete waste of time these days.” Her voice was clearly stressed as she spoke. It was far from friendly but it was the kind of tone the older knight had come to expect from her. He knew exactly what she meant but Osran feared that this lull in the attacks wouldn’t last.

“Nothing new then… that’s the best we can expect. I’d love to see us regain our lands but it seems unlikely today. I’d risk my life if there was even the slightest of chances of victory but until we’re here alone, we’re no match for the Scourge.” Osran looked towards the walls of the city with a tense expression, yearning to see the flag of the Silver Hand flying far behind them. Veria shrugged as she answered.

“I honestly don’t care about that wasteland anymore. It’s lost for good, Osran. I’m in no hurry to die as long as I can live my days here. Or are you more willing to join the Light now or to clean up the abbey’s quarters?” Veria took a small smile as she reminded her counterpart of his today’s task. Only a small group of knights had to serve in active patrol or defending duty whereas the others worked to keep the city in the same condition as it had been in the old days and to safeguard the crucial trade routes through New Avalon. Only the small harbor of the village kept Tyr’s Hand and the Light’s Hope alive. Osran chuckled a bit as he answered.

“I’ll do it gladly as long as we can at least preserve this place and our way of life. But I just hope that one day we’ll have a chance to achieve something else once again. That… wasteland is our home, Veria. I just pray that the Light will give us it should we prove ourselves worthy of its blessing.” Osran had no problems in retaining his current lot in life but he remembered the Eastern Lordaeron as it used to be. Beyond the walls opened used to open a string of small hamlets surrounded by endless farmlands leading to the prosperous town of Corin’s Crossing from which started the long roads to Stratholme and Lordaeron City and to his old home in the village of Northdale. Some of those villages still survive but they were small, languishing communities that were slowly but surely dying down. The times in Northdale and the small joys of his old life were the memories that prevented him from giving up the hope of Light’s eventual retribution. Veria seemed to hesitate for a moment until she answered.

“Maybe you’re right… but it hasn’t happened yet. For now it’s just more days of trying to survive in our little city. But now, I think I should go. I’ll have to report to Havenshire. It’s lighthouse is under repair and they need help guarding the site.” Veria said in a weary voice. She was similar to Osran in her hopes and fears but she was more pessimistic about any change in the coming days. The other knight answered in an encouraging voice.

“May the Light guide you. I’ll see you some other time.” Veria returned his gesture and headed towards the eastern opening of the city. Osran signed as he contemplated the city’s situation. Even in their isolation and hopeless situation, its inhabitants hadn’t given up. Even if Tyr’s Hand had changed tremendously, it was still as lively and hard-working as ever. Sadly, his task today was less glamorous than many others’ but it had to be done. But before that, he had another thing had to do. The morning was still young and he had the entire day reserved for his job.

The house of the blacksmith was quite a small building in the middle of the many monumental churches and barracks of the city which would easily be overlooked by an occasional outsider. However, the small house was a vital lifeline in these times of conflict. It housed five blacksmiths who worked nearly night and day to create and repair the equipment of the knights stationed in the proud bastion of the Light.

“Osran! It’s good to see you again, lad! Coming to get your wrist armor, eh?” A long and surprisingly slender man spoke as he saw Osran enter the building. He was perhaps the most renowned of the city’s blacksmiths, having worked in the dwarven land of Loch Modan for years until his return to his homeland during the rise of the Scourge.

“I have, Arlen. I’ll need them again tomorrow and I trust you’re already done with them.” His voice wasn’t exactly friendly but he had given the smiths days to repair the damage they had received during his last battle with the undead. Arlen was slightly taken aback but he quickly answered.

“Why, they are. Just wait a moment.” The blacksmith quickly said as he headed for the storage. It contained dozens of new pieces of armor and also many others waiting for repairs. Osran took a seat near the door and looked to the main street of the city, connecting the two gates and sides of the city. He quickly glanced at the four other smiths still continuing their job when he turned his gaze back into the street again. This time, a group of knights riding on horses were heading towards the western gate. One of today’s squads assigned to protect the few villages still standing near the city. And among them was riding a familiar figure.

That’s right! Today was Eneath’s turn to go to defend our protected villages. Well… be safe and make the Light proud. I wouldn’t wish to hear any tragic news later on.

The thought of his still young nephew heading to the front was still a hard one for Osran but he had proved himself a brave and courageous soldier and a true champion of the Light. There was nothing he could say to himself to say that Eneath wasn’t ready to become a great paladin of his own. Even then, it seemed like such a short time since he was but a child, always relying on his uncle and other relatives to protect him. Saving and bringing him and his own, aged mother here from old Northdale had been one of the most terrifying times of his life. He was more than happy to see that the child was finally growing up.

Soon, Osran could hear the mighty gate of Tyr’s Hand open up and let the valiant soldiers of the Light enter the great expanse of the once-beautiful lands, now known by a far more fitting name, the Plaguelands. After a short while, the gates closed once again, signaling that his nephew was gone. Osran sighed as he saw Arlen return from the storage with a pair of wrist armor. The paladin rose quickly to take them from the blacksmith.

“There was no permanent damage to them. They should be as good as new.” The blacksmith smiled as Osran took the armor from his hands. The paladin examined them for a moment before he returned the smile. The repairs were done masterfully.

“I thank you and your assistants, Arlen. Without you, we would be out of armor in a week.” Osran said in a polite way. He knew that the smiths’ reasons to be here were the same as his own. Even if he resented them, he couldn’t deny that the dwarves’ teachings was vital in upkeeping the city.

“It is just our humble way to thank ye for the protection ye and the Church give us. Just make sure to keep the supplies going and we’ll take care of the rest.” Arlen said as he was preparing to return to work. There was never a moment of peace as more and more new recruits needed new armor and the old soldiers repairs. However, the smith was kept off by a messenger who called from the door.

“Osran! I finally found you. Come with me, Lord Valdemar wants to talk to you.” The messenger’s voice was relieved as he finally had found his target. Osran looked at him in surprise and asked in a calm voice.

“Why is that? What does he want?” The messenger answered quickly to the brown-haired knight’s question.

“He didn’t tell me. Come, his business sounded urgent.” Osran frowned as he heard the courier’s words. It was very unusual for Valdemar not to tell his couriers the message. Apparently something very unusual had happened which explained the secrecy.

The city’s commander’s quarters were located at the top of Tyr’s Hand’s castle which also served as the residence of the new recruits and for those serving directly under the city’s master. Valdemar had ruled the city ever since the fall of the Royal authority during the great War. Valdemar was a general of the remaining armies back then and it was his leadership that had managed to preserve Tyr’s Hand and the nearby Light’s Hope Chapel from the onslaught of the Scourge. No one had questioned his authority after those days and nobody even wished to do so. The General still led his troops in many of the battles and the city had been spared the fate of the surrounding lands.

Osran’s expression was concerned but he was always happy to meet Valdemar. The two had met a long time ago, during the Orcish invasion of Lordaeron and they fought side by side against the forces of Orgrim Doomhammer in the forests of Silverpine. They had since grown somewhat apart but the Scourge had once again caused the old friends to cross ways. Since then, the two had renewed their friendship and even if Osran wasn’t a part of the official leadership of the city, Valdemar often respected the knight’s opinion on things. Perhaps this was only one of those occasions?

The messenger stopped as the two entered the second floor of the fort. It was a part of the normal custom: no courier would be allowed to attend the actual meeting. Osran nodded to his companion quickly and walked the short corridor until the familiar turn to the right. On the walls hanged the different coat of arms of the old knight and noble families of the old kingdom, many of which had been extinguished during the War. Still, they were a fitting reminder of those who had once been instrumental in safeguarding their way of life. The houses of Breezewood, Redpath, Barov, Hillmire, Wanrethen and Faol… only few of the old, prestigious families whose fires Arthas had forever extinguished.

Osran felt shivers crawl down his spine as everywhere he walked, the shadows of the lost time haunted the last living town of the land. The knight was relieved as he saw his commander and friend sitting behind his table as he usually did. Osran was the first one to speak.

“What’s the matter, Valdemar? It’s very unusual for you to keep your assistants this ignorant.” His voice was serious but it carried a friendly tone. Valdemar eyed the newcomer for a moment and he sighed when he answered.

“I received an… offer, Osran.” His answer was brief and the General’s voice was highly thoughtful. He sounded almost absentminded as he spoke. Osran frowned as he heard Valdemar’s answer.

“An offer? What kind of offer?” The obvious answer prompted the higher-ranked of the two to search his table’s racks and after a moment, he gave Osran a letter, stamped by a highly decorated seal any former Knight of the Silver Hand knew. The seal of the Dathrohan. Osran quickly grabbed the letter and his eyes widened as he read it. His hands started to shake as he started to realize the full implications of the letter’s content. After he had finished it, he looked at Valdemar and asked in an awed voice.

"Who brought this letter to you? Is there a chance that this letter is false?” The modestly-bearded knight asked in deep excitement. If the letter was genuine, his years-long prayers had finally been answered.

“I doubt no one would be willing to search for that seal among the undead and then sent me a false letter for a prank. Also, I know Saidan’s handwriting, Osran. It’s genuine.” Valdemar still looked into the distance, not saying anything in addition to his answer. This puzzled Osran severely and he answered in a questioning voice.

“This letter is what we have waited for years! We cannot pass this chance! We won’t get a better opportunity to initiate the Light’s Vengeance than this!” The knight’s voice rose as he spoke. He simply couldn’t understand Valdemar’s hesitation on answering this most noble of summons.

“It might look like that, Osran. But beating back the Scourge would still be a highly risky and unlikely campaign. We might end up waging a losing war against an unbeatable enemy, only calling for worse curses from Arthas.” Valdemar’s eyes stared into the distance as Osran started to think about his words. The bearded knight had never thought that the Scourge could do worse than they already had. It was true that they didn’t know what Arthas was up to and he could be waging another war in distant lands that the simple folk of Tyr’s Hand hadn’t even heard of. However, that was only a guess which didn’t have the least of proof. Osran spoke in a confident and steady voice as he answered.

“Arthas fled these lands suspiciously quickly. For all we know, he could be dead by now. The Scourge seems leaderless and they could be an easy prey for our united forces. Valdemar… we won’t get a better chance.” The knight’s words were sincere and his slow speech only underlined that he meant what he said. This time. Valdemar turned his eyes to look directly at Osran. His voice was grave and deeply inquisitive as he spoke. It was clear that he wanted to hear the whole truth about his friend’s opinion. He was alone with the choice but he wished to hear his most trusted comrades’ reactions to the news before he made his choice.

“Osran, are you ready to head to a possibly hopeless war that could possibly doom us all, out of the hope that we could have a small chance to restore our homeland? Are you willing to take that risk and endanger yours and your family’s lives in order to strive for a better tomorrow?” His words were sharp and his eyes seemed to penetrate into Osran’s soul. It was clear that the General had already paid a lot of thought to the issue. Osran hesitated a moment before he answered to his friend’s question.

“That war is a part of our lives even now, Valdemar. Every day we bear the weight of growing casualties, just to safeguard the life we have now. When Arthas was still our prince, he gave his everything for us, even his own soul in the end. We would be doomed to a future of pitiful struggling and desperate battle for our defeated and humiliated kingdom. The Lich King is weak and the Scourge in disarray. Now is our chance Valdemar. For the sake of the Light, let’s do this.” The silence was tangible after Osran finished. Valdemar stared at him for a long time before he sighed deeply and started to scratch his left eyebrow. After a while, he spoke in a forced, lost voice.

“I asked for your opinion because you often knew when to fight and when not to during our youth. Without you, I would have most likely fallen back then. Even during our time here, you have shown good judgement. I’ll trust your word with this. I’ll have to ask Demetria and my officers first but I doubt they’ll oppose this move. For better or worse, on this day Tyr’s Hand joins the Scarlet Crusade. I pray for the Light that it’s the right move.” Valdemar said as he looked resigned to the upcoming event. Osran’s face formed a smile when he heard those words. He quickly answered to his friend’s words in a relieved, yet just as serious voice.

“Dathrohan, Mograine, Abbendis. They are the very best we have left. If we with their leadership won’t be able to achieve the final victory, we never will. Our people will follow you to the Crusade. We won’t let them down.” Osran said in a comforting voice. Valdemar was renowned because of his campaign to secure Tyr’s Hand. Every inhabitant of the city had smelled victory on that deay and they would do so again.

“I truly hope you’re right. I have to go meet the priests now. Let’s meet again some other time, Osran.” Valdemar said wearily as he rose from his table. Even if he still sounded unsure and hesitating, a certain look was beginning to appear in his eyes. The fire of leadership was starting to form in his eyes.

“Indeed. Until the next time.” Osran said before he turned on his heels. He quickly walked down the stairs and nodded to the guards that his audience was over. His steps felt unreal as his mind dwelled on completely different matters. This Scarlet Crusade could be the blessing of the Light he had waited for so long. He had known Dathrohan for a long time and he knew the Grand Crusader’s determination and high level of leadership. Very unusually for these days, the stifling, sickly air of the Plaguelands didn’t make him feel nauseous. Behind the walls opened the once-green, beautiful homeland of his comrades and friends. Even through the orange mist, he could feel fresher air blowing from the Great Sea. One day not far in the future, there was a chance Northdale would be rebuilt and its lands cleared from the Scourge. Osran smiled as he headed towards the Abbey. Today marked a new chapter in the history of Lordaeron: an age of uprising of the living.


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2017, 11:26:29 AM »
The Return of Fear

Osran frowned heavily as he looked at winding road in front of him. It was growing extremely narrow and poor in shape, almost vanishing under the sickly orange mist that covered the entire dead woodland. The paladin felt the air turn even colder as he looked at the dead trunks around him and the eerie calls of sickly and deformed animals in the distance. Sadly, the inconsolable sight was little different from the rest of the old Darrowmere Forest.

The southern reaches of the land had long been isolated and sparsely populated, partly because of the distance to the important trading centers of the kingdom and the prevalence of lawlessness in those areas. It had been home to many small, idyllic-looking villages but banditry and poverty had long marked these areas. Yet, it was partly because of this legacy that it was these areas that had managed to house some kind of human life through the times of the Plague. Yet, it didn’t change the eerie, hopeless atmosphere of the cursed forest. Osran felt disgust and sorrow as the images of decaying trees and dying animals suffer in front of his eyes. Fortunately, the blackened forest started to give way to a lifeless clearing, a vast field that had once been the fertile farmland of Barrowhome, one of the isolated villages southwest of Tyr’s Hand.

After a gallop through the hazy fields, the first images of the village appeared through the unnatural mist. The foul-smelling, cold wind flowed through the open clearing as the ten riders approached their destination. Waiting for them were ten other knights, waiting for the others to take their place in the village. Osran called to the group’s apparent leader as he approached them.

”Greetings to you, Tareth! The situation’s unchanged, I take it?” Osran called to the horseman who took a few steps forward. Osran didn’t know the other knight too well but the two had gotten acquainted during their years in Tyr’s Hand even if their relationship had been completely professional. Tareth answered in a neutral voice and eyed the desolate landscape around him in expectation.

“Indeed, Osran. A few ghouls here and there but otherwise there isn’t much to see but hysteric villagers and more of these cursed woods! I don’t envy you or your group: I hope you’ll find a way to pass the time.” Tareth looked at his counterpart in an asking look, eager to flee to the safety of Tyr’s Hand. He didn’t like the sight of the long-dead forest and the unnatural giant bats flying at its canopy. Shivers would have crept down his spine if he hadn’t been forced to become used to those monsters. Osran shared his gaze at the surroundings and answered soon in a neutral voice.

“Very well, Tareth. You’re free to go. Light bless you for your efforts.” It was a custom to let the next group of guards’ leader to free the previous squad of their duties if they had found their work satisfactory. Osran nodded to him in approval to which Tareth responded in kind. Even with their distant relationship, nearly every old knight of the Silver Hand held tremendous respect to each other. There was no alternative: even a slight internal conflict in the order could pave the way for the humans’ final collapse.

“Thank you. May the Light protect your steps in the coming hours.”  Tareth said in relief as he and his followers quickly moved towards Osran’s group and headed for Tyr’s Hand. The two groups’ members shook hands as they walked past each other. After the traditions, Osran once again turned his gaze in front of him. Barrowhome had never been a large village and today most of its houses had been left empty, their denizens either killed or fled. A small group of villagers approached Osran who dismounted as he prepared to speak with them. The villagers seemed distressed by the outsiders’ presence but they had been forced to learn to tolerate the only ones who would protect them from the undead.

“Thank goodness for your arrival, sir! The people of Barrowhome greatly appreciate your city’s efforts to defend us!” The man’s voice seemed genuinely grateful for the knights’ presence even if there was something in his voice Osran didn’t like. Even then, he answered to the poor villager in a calm voice. He wished to keep the formalities as brief as possible as he wasn’t too happy to be assigned to this mission in the first place. Something about these small villages and their denizens unnerved him.

“Tyr’s Hand is always ready to defend its allies, peasant. As long as our city and order stand, so will your home. Do you have any special request to us?” Osran tried to keep his voice friendly and humble but it still held a degree of involuntary stiffness. Even then, he was determined to see his charge through with honor. He wasn’t the most usual choice to lead these missions but it had become more usual lately due to his long experience and good reputation among his comrades. There had even been rumors of a temporary elevation of rank for him.

“Your presence here is all we can ask for, good knight. But please, we are striving to train some of us to be good defenders if something happens to you and you cannot protect us anymore. If anything unexpected comes to pass today, let them help.” The peasant’s voice was respecting and it carried the sense of actual concern for the future of the village. Osran looked at the man for a moment, not exactly excited by the prospect of being forced to fight alongside poorly equipped and trained villagers and be accounted responsible for their lives. Even then, if there was something he or his comrades could teach to these poor villagers in future battles against the Scourge, it was his duty as a paladin to accept the offer.

“Who are there new recruits you are talking about?” He asked in an inquisitive manner. Osran had little appetite to start an argument about the issue and he wished to get it quickly over with. The villager waved his hand and eight young men stepped forward from the group of villagers who had gathered to welcome their defenders. Osran frowned as he saw them. They had swords or clubs but most of them were of very poor material or broken. They had no real armor and they didn’t seem too experienced either. Osran would have wanted to sigh heavily at the sight of his new followers but his duty was unchanged. If there were new fighters to be gained for the Crusade, they would have to be utilized and trained to the best of his ability. The knight’s voice was serious but understanding as he answered.

“Very well. They may follow our work but we have no time to train them. We will treat them as our comrades, nothing more. And they are responsible for their own survival.” The villagers seemed somewhat disappointed by Osran’s answer but the matter was settled. Without further words, Osran once again mounted and gave an order to his comrades. His voice was friendly towards his honored comrades as he gave the command.

“Surround the village! Spread to a formation so we may see every direction in every part of the hamlet!” The knights saluted and started to spread out towards their posts. Seeing this, Osran turned away to once again talk to the villagers.

“You eight may take your places next to ours. Most importantly, alert us about any dangers you may see during the day. Let no sighting of advancing undead go unreported.” With those words,
Osran started to ride towards the edge of the village, looking at his comrades who had taken up their positions near him. The village was small, today housing little more than a few dozen people resolute on staying in their homes as long as they could, either because of deep love for their hamlet or because of simple resoluteness to fight against the Scourge until the end.

Osran started his duty on the northern side of Barrowhome, looking at the endless, dead farmlands and the black forest to his left.  The wind had died down and the entire scene before him was silent and unmoving, only stirred up by an occasional scream of a ghoul in the distance. In the absence of a threat Osran turned his look to the houses closest to him.

He had been in this village only once before, about a year ago on a very similar mission to this one. He didn’t know the full history of Barrowhome but judging by the collapsing houses that dotted the small village, most of the original villagers were no more, either being the very ghouls that now stalked the outskirts of the village or burned by their merciful relatives. Osran couldn’t but respect the peasants’ will to live in their homes despite all of the tragedies and horrors that had befallen upon them. Even then, Osran had to wonder how his own life would be different had he chosen the life of a farmer in Northdale and given up his dream to serve the Light. What would have changed in his life? Would he even be alive? Would he be living like these poor fools today, living in the mercy of those more powerful than him?

Never mind the answer, the aging knight dearly hoped that the people of Barrowhome and entire Lordaeron would be able to receive their vengeance. It had only been a day since Osran had heard of this new order and it would take some time to formalize Tyr’s Hand’s participation in it. Osran would have wished nothing more than to already serve the Scarlet Crusade but he didn’t have a voice at this matter yet. Before Grand Crusader Dathrohan gave his word to start the attack, this would be his lot in life. Osran’s eyes investigated the scenes around him in case anything threatening could be seen but for nothing. The midday slowly turned into afternoon, intensifying the orange mist hanging upon the fields. The knights’ watch would still be long but a certain time was approaching. Time for dinner.

There was very little the villagers could offer their guardians in return but they had taken up the responsibility to provide the night with one meal during their duty. The food was always simple and disgusting-tasting but it wasn’t poisonous, more than what could be said about most things in the land. Osran whistled in order to signal that the time for the break had come.

The ten knights quickly gathered around the apparent “town hall” middle of the hamlet to get their day’s only piece of food. There were two elderly women sharing them but many other villagers had been gathering the resources and preparing them for their defenders. Even then, there was little joy in the break, knowing that there were still seven more hours before they could head for home. Also, the food was the most usual meal in the Plaguelands: giant worm meat in a cup of water and pieces of decaying carrots.

The knights were about to resume their posts when four of the eight recruits approached them. They had hopeful if reserved looks on their faces. They still weren’t completely adapted to the idea of outsiders staying in their village for this long. Still, their voices were confident as they started to speak.

“When are they going to attack? Surely you must know more of their tactics than we do?” The speaker was a rather short, pale man who wore a brown leather jacket. Osran turned his gaze on the villager when he heard a voice answer from behind him.

“But we don’t. Those ghouls are completely brainless and they can’t do anything without someone commanding them. A shame really… even a small chance to slaughter those monsters would make these guard duties more interesting.” Osran looked at the young knight and answered quickly in slight disappointment.

“Don’t say that, Arilde. You haven’t had the chance to fight them many times but trust me, you don’t want to. They may be brainless but they also know no fear. Even now, they are a force to be reckoned with.” Osran voice underlined his wish to get his point understood and Arilde simply shrugged as an answer. The villager then asked in a careful voice.

“But we have to face them at some point, don’t we? I mean… if we are not willing to live in their mercy forever.” The villager looked directly at the knight, willing to get a clear answer. Osran, on the other hand, would have wanted to tell the peasant of the fledgling Crusade but it would be best if it were kept in secret for now. There was no reason to make unneeded fuss about such things that might reach the ears of the Scourge prematurely. It was best to keep these matters between those who had something to contribute to the Crusade. The knight answered simply and in a normal, honest voice.

“The Light will give us a chance, villager, as long as we give it a chance. What is your name?” Osran was preparing to mount as the peasant answered to him.

“Carethas, sir. Carethas Yrendel.” The simple answer earned a respectful look from the knight who approached the younger man. He placed his hand on Carethas’ shoulder and spoke to him with a hopeful expression.

“There will be more to the future than this, friend. Just make sure you’ll be there to see it. A true champion of Lordaeron does all he can for his people and sometimes fleeing from battle is the best way we can do that.” Osran then raised his voice so that the other villagers could hear words. The peasants looked at the knight as he spoke.

“Don’t act like a hero. I know it sounds like a glorious destiny but trying to trust too much just on yourself leads to miscalculations. I’ve seen it myself: many good people thought they could win an orc or undead by themselves and… they couldn’t. That has even happened to myself. Luckily, I had comrades back then who helped me to escape Andorhal during its fall… People of Barrowhome, we are together in this struggle and we should fight for each other. That is the best advice I can give you right now. No one benefits if you get yourself killed.” Osran was finally ready to head back to patrol when a loud cry was heard from the hamlet’s southern outskirts. All of the surrounding villagers started to escape to their homes after they heard the ghastly cry.

“Undead are approaching! Move to positions!” The voice was urgent but not panicked. Osran quickly mounted his steed and headed towards the voice. It belonged to one of his knights, a middle-aged man called Arlos. Osran saw him standing in front of a collapsing house on the edge of the dead forest.

Osran was about to ask about Arlos’ sightings when a ear-piercing wail penetrated through the entire village. It was a sound of nightmare: a horrifying cry of a lost soul, forever bound to haunt the land and to sniff the land of the living. The voice belonged to a banshee. The vengeful ghosts weren’t quite as numerous as ghouls or skeletons but the difference between their numbers wasn’t huge. When Osran reached his comrade’s side, he too could see the approaching threat.

“Arilde, Ertas, stay on your posts! Others, assist us!” The two knights had to be kept on guard in order to avoid possible flanking. Dozens of ghouls and skeletons slowly started to move forward from the darkened woods, quickening their pace as they advanced. Osran looked at them in fear, wondering about the surprising development. It wasn’t often these days that the undead were attacking by these numbers. What had changed today? And more importantly, how many undead were on the offensive?

The bearded knight waited until his seven followers and the eight villagers had gathered around him. Only the knights had steeds, however, so they would have to join the attack only as a backup. Osran drew his sword from its scabbard, raising it to the air as he spoke.

“Crush the monsters before they can enter the village! Protect the villagers and leave no enemy of the Light alive! Charge!” The eight horsemen begun their charge, quickly advancing on the horde of decaying flesh. The undead quickened their pace as well and it was mere seconds until the two forces collided. Osran had changed his course somewhat so that his position would be safer from any surprise attacks. He felt only a tremble as a skeleton was trampled under the hooves of his grey-armored steed.

Swords flashed in the pale light of the afternoon as the knights’ swords cut into the attacking undead horde. Many of the villains crumbled immediately, destroyed by the weight of the charging steeds and the paladins’ weapons. The crushing strength of the charge alone was a strong weapon against the savage enemy. However, a terrified scream interrupted the fight against the enemy. It was Arlos’ voice and a quick glance revealed the reason of his distress. A larger-than-usual ghoul had attacked his steed, tearing away its armor and eating its way into the animal’s viscera. With sickening scream, the horse fell and Arlos was thrown into the ground, surrounded by the undead. Immediately, orbs of Light formed in his hands and burned their way through the closest enemies. However, he wouldn’t be able to hold back all of his enemies alone.

Osran charged towards his comrades, fighting off the attempts to slay his own mount. Arlos was about to get overrun when his commander’s sword dismembered two of the skeleton warriors attacking him. Two other knights joined him and it was mere moments until Arlos’ location was safe. Osran nodded to him and then called to his followers.

“Try to avoid losing your steeds! The attack is not over!” As if to underline the bearded knight’s word, another even more terrifying wail was heard from the fields on the other side of the hamlet. Osran turned to look at that direction, looking in horror as three white, hazy beings floated towards the village, accompanied by another host of undead. This was an all-out attack, one that wouldn’t be repelled easily. Banshees were far more dangerous than the other common undead. The knight quickly regained his composure and gave another command.

“Villagers, follow me! It falls to you to defend our northern flank!” Osran wasn’t happy to being forced to rely on the inexperienced peasants but he had no choice. All of the other knights were needed to keep the current front, making the villagers his only choice in repelling the banshees. The eight poorly equipped farmers followed him without hesitation.

Arilde and Ertas had already taken their defensive positions, knowing better than to charge against an enemy capable of casting spells and dismounting a careless attacker. The three knights looked in fear as the mass of undead approached them through the fields, their only relief being that there were no more potent weapons of the Scourge like necromancers or abominations on the march. Even then, the coming fight would take their everything if they wished to live until dusk. The knights exchanged their blessings in silence, willing to share the grace of the Light before the showdown would start. Each of the seconds seemed to stretch forever as the horrifying mass of the dead drew closer. Ertas suddenly asked Osran in an anxious, silent voice.

“What are our allies going to do? They’re no capable of handling this threat!” Osran suddenly snapped out of his fearful thoughts as he realized that it was up to him if any of the eleven defenders wished to live through this. The aging paladin’s mind raced as he tried to come up with the best strategy to counter the threat but in the end, only raw power and the Light’s guidance would be able to counter these monsters. He could only hope that the villagers were up to the challenge. This wasn’t a challenge he would have wanted to force on fresh recruits but in the end, few ever were ready for the coming ordeals. Osran could only hope their inexperience wouldn’t be the end of him and his comrades as well. He turned to look at the villagers and spoke in as relaxed voice as he could at this point.

“Try to defend our position from the invaders. We three are able to vanquish those beasts if they won’t overpower us at first. Support us and we will do our all to ensure that you won’t fall.” It was widely known that the knights of the old Silver Hand were very potent healers but it did little to alleviate the fears of mutilation and unspeakable fear. Even then, the villagers were defending their only home, their beloved Barrowhome. If the outsiders were willing to give up their lives to save it, then so were the villagers. They formed a defensive lines around the knights as they watched the distance between the two groups disappear. With a roar, Osran finally commanded.


The villagers and the knights then started their charge, unwilling to give the initial edge to the enemy. The first clash managed to fell some skeletons but it was mostly ineffective due to the small number and the relatively slow speed of the horsemen. Horrifying screams could be heard as the merciless undead bit their way into the peasants’ flesh, covering the ground around them sickeningly red. Radiant flashes of pure Light illuminated the dark field as the knights started their work. The horrifying wounds closed as the paladins’ powers moved to close the gaping injuries. At the same time, luminous orbs burned their way through their enemies, turning their opponents into ash. The villagers looked in awe as the three champions of the Light rode into the hordes of undead, vanquishing the enemies of Lordaeron on their way and restoring the will of their allies at the same time. It was like a stuff of legends watching the bright light shining around the armor of the paladins. So this was the famed power of the knights of the Silver Hand. This was why they had put their lives into their hands.

Osran saw things differently. The fight drained his strength quickly and even if the enemy’s casualties were severe, it was likely that he wouldn’t be able to fight on forever. His steed was also severely injured and it wouldn’t be long before it fell under the onslaught. However, another scream of the banshees ended those fears prematurely. The hapless horse quickly rose to its hind legs and threw Osran from its back. The knight hit the ground violently, stunning him for a few seconds but quickly, he regained his senses. His steed had charged towards the undead and he could only see it ripped to pieces near him. Even then, the fight was still ongoing.

The two other paladins’ steeds had also fallen, forcing the defenders to move closer to each other in order to secure each others’ flanks. Hit upon hit, Light’s judgement after another, more of the undead fell but it also raised the risk of the enemy being able to surround the eleven defenders. Carethas looked in horror as the mass of skeletons and ghouls surrounded the small host and started to tear the houses around them to pieces. He and his comrades fought as valiantly as they could but only the three paladins did serious damage to the soldiers of the Scourge. He couldn’t help but admire the way the way the knights kept their company together while defending their beloved Barrowhome. Something about the trio’s presence gave him hope that the fight would end well after all.

“Osran! We have to take out the banshees or we don’t stand a chance! They’re draining our strength!” Arilde yelled as the wailing of the ghosts became ever more horrifying. Osran looked at the banshees in the distance and he knew that Arilde was right. Banshees could easily turn the tide of any battle. However, they were surrounded by scores of enemies and any attempt at taking them out would be a massive risk. Even then, there was no choice. If the ghosts were allowed to stay there unchallenged, all of the defenders were as good as dead. With a deep sigh, Osran gave his order.

“No matter what, the banshees must fall! Try to protect each other but in the end, the only thing that matters is to get rid of the banshees!” Ertas looked at his superior in surprise, asking him quickly in an unsure voice.

“But… we’ll never reach them in time!” The other knight’s voice was fearful as he spoke and it was clear that he wasn’t confident in the order. Osran answered in an agitated voice, not willing to argue in the middle of the fight.

“It’s not about what we can do but about we have to! Move!” The small group was already pushing towards the banshees in the middle of fields. Killing them wouldn’t end the attack but without them, the defenders would have a fighting chance. The knights pierced through the ghouls and skeletons but they were slowed down by the struggling villagers. Three overwhelming screams reached Osran’s ears, signaling that his followers were starting to fall. The knight gritted his teeth: casualties couldn’t be avoided in battles like these.

Carethas looked in horror as his comrades fell around him. He had seen it before as had most of the people of Barrowhome but losing treasured friends to these cursed beasts was never a fate he would have wished. Even then, he knew what he had signed up to when he volunteered to training. The villager tried to keep the undead at bay with his small wooden shield and his small wounds were being healed by the minute. Most importantly, the three knights had reached the banshees, one ghost for each of them.

Osran eyed the transparent creature before him, preparing another charge of Light’s wrath upon the banshee. However, the spirit’s magics weakened the knight’s powers, forcing him to wait for a moment before making his move. Unfortunately for the paladin, a skeleton had snuck behind him, ready to penetrate the knight’s chest with its small sword. Carethas, however, could see the situation and quickly understood that the fate of the hamlet could rest in his hands.

The peasant quickly run towards the skeleton who preparing to deal the surprising blow. However, its plans were interrupted by Carethas’ sword which quickly  broke the being’s fragile neck. The skeleton’s collapse alerted Osran’s attention, noticing that Carethas was standing behind him over a pile of bones. Processing the flow of events, he nodded to the villager approvingly, giving his brief thanks to his unlikely savior. It surprised the knight greatly that the peasant had found the courage to act at the right moment. Maybe they could play a part in the future of the Crusade after all. The paladin then released his bolt of Light, burning the wraith with its pure power. Similar sights could be seen around him as the banshees burned like white pyres on Midsummer. With a hopeful look the eight surviving fighters regrouped and fought on as the forces around them begun to finally thin out.

The afternoon was growing old as Osran walked through a mass of rotting flesh and dismembered bones. He was exhausted as he looked around him, seeing his seven comrades who were equally drained. The undead horde had been crushed but three of the villagers were dead and part of the village razed by the savage attacks. Osran’s voice was weak as he spoke to his comrades.

“It’s… over. Are you alright?” It was a few moments before anyone answered and it was the familiar voice of Arilde.

“Just barely, Osran. It’s a small wonder I’m even in that good shape, though.” Arilde was severely injured but she managed to stay on her feet. The villagers merely nodded as an answer before they headed to search for their fallen friends. Osran looked after them and then spoke in an honoring if apologizing voice. Especially Carithas’ deeds had earned his respect, washing away his doubts about the peasants’ resolve.

“I’m sorry your first day went like this even though many others’ first fight is also their last. But make no mistake: all of you did well today. Especially you, Carithas. Thank you.” Osran didn’t expect an answer but Carithas turned around and said simply. His voice was clearly surprised by Osran’s praise but the situation’s bleakness ruined any hopes about considering today a success.
“Thank you for helping us. We would all be dead without you.” The three knights didn’t answer as the peasants continued their search. Osran turned around and remembered his other followers. Judging by the deadly silence of the hamlet, it was likely that the seven other knights had prevailed but at which cost? Concerned thoughts swirled in the knight’s head as he walked through the collapsed houses. Soon, he could see the others also approaching from the other side of the village.

“Osran! You made it!” Called one of the paladins in apparent relief. Their tabards and armor were covered in their own blood, and each was clearly injured. Even then, that was a better condition than many would dare to ask at this point.

“I did and so did the others. Where… where are Elia and Irthen?” Osran asked in fear as he saw that two of the paladins were missing from the group. The survivors’ faces told the answer already but Osran was still happy to hear the reason of the tragedy.

“The undead swarmed around us, trying to separate us from each other. They succeeded twice. We could only hear their cries as the ghouls tore them apart.” One of the knights told in a mournful voice. Osran turned to look into the distance, reflecting on today’s events. It was unusual to lose two knights at the same time but on the other hand, nothing in today’s events were usual. His command was cold and plain.

“Burn the corpses. Our comrades will never serve the Lich King, not even in death.” Osran’s expression was stern as he headed to execute his command on the other pile of corpses. His followers didn’t have the time to answer to their commander before he was already gone. A deep hatred burned in Osran’s eyes, one that he’d never show to his followers. These monsters had already taken so much from him and they would continue to do so in the coming months. No matter what, his comrades’ sacrifice would be avenged. The darkening evening of the dying hamlet of Barrowhome was illuminated by the pyres of burning flesh, a horrifying testament to the deceased denizens and defenders of the once-proud village of these southern lands.


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2017, 11:46:28 AM »
The Crusade's Call

Tyr’s Hand was most of all a city of the remaining knights and priests of the old eastern parts of Lordaeron. Its largest buildings along the city’s main road were all either barracks or churches along with places of command. There was little room for the hundreds of refugees from the lost areas further inland in the city and they were forced to either join the Order or the Church and earn their living or to live in modest, poor surroundings. Most chose the life of a paladin or a priest over the hapless, eventless life in the tents or shacks near the walls of the city. Trying to fight the rapid growth of the city was the main reason the city maintained the small villages in the countryside. The Church strived to provide every survivor who sought refuge in Tyr’s Hand a good, safe life but they couldn’t do more than the scarce resources would allow. Many of the poorest and sickest lived a difficult, scarce life with little hope of a better tomorrow.

Many of those were too elderly to be of any use in the defense of the city. They were either retired paladins or old villagers who had gathered into the safety of the city’s walls. Osran’s mother was one of them. She had lived in Northdale all her life and the chaotic retreat from the village had taken a heavy toll on her. Back then, she had lived in the house that was her father’s and her father’s before her, a small but beautiful house near the small marketplace of the village. However, here she was forced to live on a large tent village near the city’s eastern walls. Life there was rough and hard for an old person like her which brought great concern to Osran.

The refugees’ housing was a depressing sight far behind the Cathedral and Osran felt sick each time he had to go there. Not because of the overall sight of the camp but because he could only imagine the toll living there took his mother. Her tent was at the foot of eastern walls and the surrounding steep hills. At least her tent was in a better condition than the others’, mostly due to the fact that there were people who cared for her, something that couldn’t be said about most of the others in the camp.

“Greetings, Orotha. How are things going?” Osran asked as he entered the small dwelling, willing to comfort the old woman whenever he could. She was still sleeping at this time but it couldn’t be helped. The defenders of the city had very little time to spare and the moment after the prayer was one of those. Orotha twitched as she awoke, startled by the sudden voice. Her expression turned quickly to a smile, happy to see the newcomer.

“Osran! It’s good to see you again. Come, come in!” The paladin closed the doors as he complied with his mother’s request. Orotha had already risen up to greet her son who seemed seemingly weary. She asked in a concerned voice as Osran took a seat on a small chair.

“Is something the matter? You seem somewhat tired.” The old woman understood that Osran’s duties were far more severe than hers but she knew very little of the paladins’ actual work. The knight frowned as he took a look at his mother, disappointed by the fact that he had hidden his fears so poorly. He was still concerned about the attack at Barrowhome and about his comrades dying in vain. Still, it was part of a soldier’s life and he simply was forced to accept it. However, it was the Scourge’s sudden resurgence that really bothered him. But there was little reason to concern his mother with such affairs. Osran’s answer was simple as he tried to put on a more neutral face.

“I had just a bad patrol. Nothing out of the ordinary even if they are never something I’d wish to experience. But I brought you something I figured you would like.” Osran had a small pouch which he gave to his mother. Osran spoke to her as she opened the package.

“It’s just a small felt but I thought it’d be something you’d need here. One of the ships in the New Avalon brought some of these with them.” Osran smiled as he saw Orotha look at the felt, clearly appreciating the small gift.

“Thank you, Osran. The nights really do get cold these days. This tent offers little shelter and even my mattress is old and broken these days. It’s nice to know that you still remember me even with all your duties out there.” Orotha’s voice was clearly happy as she put the felt down.

“Of course I will, as long as I can serve here. Who would I be if I simply forgot you here? I’d love to do more for you but the city has no extra room for civilians.” Osran stopped short of promising anything he couldn’t keep. Even with the formation of the Crusade, he didn’t believe Northdale could be rebuilt, at least in his own lifetime.

“I know that. But without the city, I’d be dead long ago. I understand that this will be my part. This is the place where I’ll live for the rest of my days.” Orotha’s voice wasn’t sad or disappointed as she had long since accepted the fact. But as long as the last family she still had would stay with her, this was a life she was still willing to lead. It was more than many others of her old friends could ask.

“I’m happy you’re still content with that part. I’ll do my best to help you while I’m here. Have you heard about Eneath lately? I haven’t seen him since he left to patrol the day before yesterday.” Osran hadn’t seen his nephew since his return which wasn’t really a miracle as they lived in different barracks due to their differences in experience. Still, he would be more than happy if his mother knew something about him.

“Eneath came to greet me in the same day’s evening. He was seemingly tired but unharmed. He seemed to be mostly bored by the day’s work as he told there was nothing to do during the whole day. I haven’t seen him since.” Her voice was calm and it held no concern about the young paladin’s missions. This calmed down Osran somewhat even if it brought a small flicker of envy within him. Why did it have to be him to be forced into an all-out-battle in a nearly desperate position?

“That’s good to hear. I don’t even want to think of the possibility that his career came to an end before it even begun. I hope he will have time to learn to fight before the real test begins for him. I had chosen this life long before Arthas’ betrayal but Eneath was forced to accept it. I just wish it didn’t have to come to that as he never seemed eager to accept the life of a soldier. He seemed to have a greater calling in continuing the farming tradition of our family.” The paladin smiled as he remembered the times when his young nephew had been learning the work of a farmer even if Osran had been able to follow it during his brief vacations from service.

“That he did. Most of the times I regretted your choice because it was a great change from everything we knew. In Northdale very few things ever changed except for the size of the crops we got there. My concerns grew even worse when your brother died. I would have wanted to plead you to stay after your vacations but I could see you were no longer suited for that kind of life. You don’t know how much your visits mattered to me.” Orotha’s voice seemed faraway as she remembered the days gone by. Even then, she seemed happy that she still carried those times with her.

“As they did to me. The life in the Order has always been a part of me and I’ve always felt like that was where I meant to be. I wouldn’t exchange any of it away, even now. But it was the times when I returned back to Northdale that I really felt like home. I could see that my visits mattered a lot to Eleath, especially after Sesren’s passing. He looked to me as an example, even if he didn’t share my ambitions. The long days of telling him about my deeds and training him in farming… I probably wouldn’t have been able to survive for this long if you weren’t there for me back then.” Osran sounded nostalgic as his mind’s eye flew him back to the green, sunny farmlands of Northdale and the neighbors of his youth. He had never felt like he was lost in life but those days had always held a special place in his memories.

“What a shame he could never use those skills. Even if I’d like to have seen him inherit our family’s old house, I can safely say he’ll make a splendid paladin soon. He has learned fast and his heart is open to the Light. It won’t be long before we’ll fight side by side. I’ll look after him. I promise.” Osran said as he started to rise from his sitting position. The day was long but so was his duty in overseeing the trade at New Avalon. Orotha looked at him in understanding, being forced to accept that the visits from her last relatives would be brief ones. She, too, rose up and spoke to her son before he would head out.

“Just be safe, Osran. Our new home needs its defenders. Be sure to visit me soon again and thank you for your gift.” The old woman looked at Osran in an approving expression to which the knight nodded and returned the smile.

“I will, mother. Make sure that you’ll get by here in the meantime.” And with those words, Osran left the tent and quickened his pace as he didn’t want to dwell in this depressing place longer than he need to. Also, he had to get a new horse before he could head to New Avalon and it took some time to do the paperwork that was required.

A freezing chill blew through the sickly plains as a small group of horsemen rode slowly through them. They couldn’t use the main roads as they were swarmed with hordes of undead so they were forced to ride through the dead forests and grasslands in order to reach Tyr’s Hand. Taelan Fordring felt somewhat restless for being chosen to welcome the city to the Scarlet Crusade as he still didn’t feel like forming a new Crusade was the right choice. Silver Hand had been the order which he had dreamt of his whole life and now he was marching to vanquish the last remains of it. Even then, he was one of the leaders of this new order and it was his duty to strengthen it in any ways he could.

The days since forming the new order had been busy due to the formation of new units, designing the Crusade’s emblems and drawing up battle plans in order to start the campaign. The latter was the main reason Taelan had been sent to meet Tyr’s Hand’s master, Lord Valdemar. They would have to coordinate the course of action if they were going to lead a merciless campaign against the overwhelming enemy.

It was many hours before the walls of the city came into Taelan’s view, a welcome sight after a long march through the haunting landscapes of the old Darrowmere Forest. He was stopped near the wall by a loud call from the city’s walls.

“Who are you? What is your business?” The speaker was a middle-aged man who stood on a small platform on the wall. Taelan turned his gaze quickly on the guard and called in a friendly voice.

“I am Taelan Fordring, Lord of Mardenholde, Highlord of the Scarlet Crusade! My visit has been arranged in advance with the honored general Valdemar!” The guard nodded as his face turned into a smile. He had been informed of this most important visitor as had every guard during the last day. He started to open the gates quickly as he called to Taelan.

“Blessed be your name, Highlord! Welcome to Tyr’s Hand!” Taelan saluted to the guard as he and his guards moved through the gates into the city. The host’s armor was the first thing that drew attention from the quickly assembling residents of the mighty city. The reddish-black armor and the white tabard with flames in their center. So this was the new outfit of the Crusade that each of the city’s knight would soon wear. Taelan had visited Tyr’s Hand once but he had never met Valdemar before. The young Highlord could only hope he would prove willing to cooperate. He was positively surprised as he saw the General coming from his castle to bid his greetings.

“Hail, Highlord! Welcome to our city, Taelan!” Valdemar said in genuine respect as the younger man descended from his horse’s back. He quickly walked towards his host and returned the smile.

“Thank you very much for the warm welcome, Lord Valdemar. I hope our negotiations will prove successful. The time is already growing short.” Taelan hated to be this blunt but it couldn’t be helped. Dathrohan had made his point clear that time was of the essence. The Scourge had to be caught by surprise in order to achieve quick early gains. Valdemar frowned somewhat but he continued to speak with a neutral voice. Even if he had was waiting this meeting eagerly, he wasn’t willing to be completely overshadowed by the Crusade’s new authorities.

“By all means, come inside, Highlord. I’m sure we have much to discuss.”

After making sure that all of the guards had left the surrounding corridors and that they were truly alone, Valdemar addressed his guest in deep interest. The younger paladin had already recovered from the long journey and Valdemar knew this conversation would prove most important. He was somewhat disappointed that it was Taelan, the dishonored Tirion’s son, who was sent to welcome Lordaeron’s largest surviving city into the Crusade. Even then, he could understand that the other leaders of the Crusade were busy. Taelan hadn’t made the best initial impression on him. It was clear that the Highlord held himself in high regard due to his position and he seemed far too self-confident considering his limited experience.

“So, everything Saidan told me in the letter was true?” His first question was understandable as he wished to know that he was trusted by his new superiors. Taelan grabbed a mug of water from the table as he answered. Even if he wasn’t used to these meetings, he wished to show some kind of authority to his host to reinforce his position in the Crusade.

“To my knowledge, yes. The Silver Hand is now officially dead, paving way for our new Crusade. Saidan and Alexandros seemed very eager to get into action and because of that, I arrived here this quick.” Valdemar listened in deep interest, relieved to hear those names again.

“I’ve known both of them for a long time. I had feared they had left the fight and fled into hiding. I’m glad I was proven wrong. Tell me, Taelan, how have they and Abbendis fared since I’ve last met them?” Valdemar had fought alongside the Silver Hand in many battles but it was Abbendis who he knew best. He had served as Valdemar’s direct superior during the Horde’s invasion all those years ago and during the rise of the Scourge, they had met often during the meetings of the army’s highest echelon. Often it was the duo’s common strategic thinking that had managed to slow down the Scourge’s attack and to evacuate as many citizens as possible. Abbendis had always been a loyal comrade and a good friend during war and peace. Valdemar was happy to serve alongside him once again and confident that they would respect his old friend’s position.

“With all due respect General, I haven’t known them nearly as long as you have. But the way I see it, they’ve seemed anxious to start the war, as am I. I was one of the candidates to become the Grand Crusader but in the end, I wasn’t the one our followers elected. But during these months we’ve worked together, I have decided to put all of my faith in them. They are the best we have left.” Taelan tried to maintain a confident face and to refrain from hesitating. In truth, he had admired Saidan since he was a child as his father had often told about life as a paladin and Saidan was one of the ones Tirion had respected the most. As much as he wished to despise his father, he hadn’t managed to shed his vision of nobleness and honor. Valdemar looked at his guest in an inquisitive expression. At least it seemed like his old comrades were up to the task.

“Well then… I have accepted Tyr’s Hand’s entry into the Crusade. What is the Grand Crusader’s bidding, Highlord?” That was the most important question. If Saidan had been this eager to get things started, it was most likely that he had some initial plans to test his new Crusade’s strength. Tyr’s Hand’s role would be enormous due to its large numbers so it would carry a high burden from the initial clashes until the end. Taelan looked at his host in a neutral face as he contemplated how to state his business. After a short while, the young paladin gave his answer.

“The old Silver Hand Bastion, or the Scarlet Bastion as we call it now, Tyr’s Hand, Hearthglen, Light’s Hope and the Monastery of Righteousness. Those are our seats of power as we begin our campaign. They are mightiest bastions of Light in our poor homeland but the distances between them are filled with undead filth. Those landscapes are the places we have to purge of their corruption first.” Taelan kept a pause in order to prompt the obvious response from his host.

“We are in no position to begin retaking Corin’s Crossing, Taelan. You know that as well as I do.” Valdemar said seriously as he looked at his guest. He had heard many things about his guest but none of them questioned his intelligence. Still, it was becoming clear that he wasn’t getting to the point right away which frustrated Valdemar somewhat.

“No, we are not. But there are parts of the old Menethil road that could be purged of wandering ghouls. We may not be able to start retaking the old towns just yet but we may just be able to form safe passages between our main strongholds. After they are safe and working, we will start to truly push back the Scourge.” Taelan looked at his host in an inquisitive look, willing to see if there was anything his host might be hiding and to take the lead in the conversation. However, Valdemar’s face was stoic as he thought about the young Highlord’s offer. It took a moment before he once again answered.

“I see what Saidan is after with this plan. It is wise to reunite what is left of our homeland. But there is a small thing I’d like to bring to your attention.” Osran’s report had disturbed Valdemar greatly. For years, the Scourge had stayed relatively calm without major assaults. If this was only a sign of the future, Valdemar wouldn’t want to know about it.

“And what is that?” Taelan’s answer was brief as he refilled his mug once again.

“One of our guarding groups was attacked yesterday while defending a small hamlet to our south. I was reported of dozens of ghouls and skeletons and there were five banshees also. We lost two of our knights in the attack.” Taelan of course knew the overall situation as well as his host and the answer made him frown greatly. Still, he was willing to dismiss the incident as a harmless deviation from the normal order.

“I partake in your city’s loss, General, but this unfortunate event cannot be allowed to stand in the way of Light’s Vengeance. We can only strive to end this slaughter before it claims any more unnecessary lives.” There was no reason to state the obvious and to affirm that no one knows if the attack meant anything. Valdemar understood this as well but it had left a concerned feeling on him and he was disappointed that Taelan dismissed the issue that easily. Still, he knew that there was nothing more he could say about the issue.

“So, where does the Grand Crusader wish us to strike first? I trust he has made all the plans ready.” Valdemar’s voice was waiting as he longed to know the first steps of rebirth of Lordaeron. Taelan answered quickly as finally presented his offer to his host.

“While we aren’t strong enough to free Corin’s Crossing, there is a small watchtower to its north near the Menethil road. The area isn’t as infested with the undead as many others and it could serve as a relief outpost between Tyr’s Hand and Scarlet Bastion. Our positions in Stratholme are able to defend themselves but supplying them is difficult. With a string of outposts, we might be able to safeguard our position in the city. That is where the knights of Tyr’s Hand come in.” Taelan’s voice was excited and his face communicated that the strategy had already been settled. Valdemar waited for a moment, judging Saidan’s order carefully before he answered.

“And the troops in Strathome? Will they help us?” That was the obvious question. The coastal city’s troops were spread thin and without an attack from both flanks, a large-scale offensive could prove dangerous. To, Valdemar’s great chagrin, Taelan shook his head.

“Regrettably, they cannot. Strathome is under practical siege and they cannot counterattack from there. I’m sorry but you are on your own there but I’m sure…” Taelan’s words were interrupted by Valdemar’s loud answer which cut the young paladin short.

“With all due respect, I don’t really care if you’re sure about this, Highlord. I’ve led my knights for years and I know each and every one of them and I’m not going to lead them to their deaths if I’m not required to do so. I know that Saidan and Alexandros wouldn’t sacrifice their old comrades in vain and I trust their judgement. Even then, the battle will be fought by my own terms and plans.” Valdemar wasn’t willing to trust Taelan’s leadership just yet and he wasn’t used to obeying during his years as the undisputed leader of his city. He could see Taelan’s darkening expression but there was nothing the younger soldier could say. No one had commanded him to lead the mission so he could only try to accept Valdemar’s arrogant remark and to build respect among his comrades during the mission.

“I wasn’t told about the details on which you should do this mission. Lord Dathrohan has given you free hands on how to proceed, Crusader Lord.” Taelan thought that this was the right time to announce his host’s new title which Valdemar notified immediately. He hadn’t given too much thought to his new titles but he had made it clear to Saidan in his answer that he expected to retain practical control over Tyr’s Hand and its knights. Crusader Lord was a clear modification of his practical position as the lord of his town. It would do as a compromise between his position and the Crusade’s leaders’ leadership.

“Thank you, Taelan. I’ll begin the preparations soon and I may contact you again in case there is something I have to know.” Valdemar rose from his chair to indicate that the audience was over to which Taelan would have wanted to sigh in relief. The situation was slowly getting on his nerves and he was more than happy to hear that Valdemar had accepted most of the Crusade’s terms. He, too, rose up and answered to his host before he headed to his next formality, to publicly welcome his new comrades to the Crusade’s fold.

“I’ll be there if you need more information, Crusader Lord. Thank you for your hospitality.” Taelan quickly but carefully turned on his heels and headed down the stairs once again. The next part would be far easier.

Heavy clouds and powerful wind had risen during the two commanders’ conversation, a harbinger of a coming rain from the sea. However, the slowly falling temperature hadn’t dampened the audience’s expectations as they saw Taelan appear from the main gate of Valdemar’s castle. They knew that the first meeting between the leaders would be little less than an initial exchange of news, sharing the most important pieces of information and getting acquainted.

Taelan looked at the first drops of rain fall from the sky as he prepared to start to bid his greetings to his new comrades. This was the easy part: he had held many speeches due to his position but he didn’t have nearly as much experience in the art of negotiations. He turned his gaze into the group of knights in front of him and spoke in a loud voice, Valdemar standing beside him in a symbolic gesture.

“My comrades, each of you took the vow to live and die as a paladin of the Order of Silver Hand. I have done so too but to my great shame, I served the Order for a far too short time. As most of you know, I am Taelan Fordring, master of Hearthglen and a former knight of our exalted Order. Most of its members, our beloved friends and honored comrades, have passed away along with the revered Uther the Lightbringer. One would be forgiven for believing that Faol’s dream died with Arthas’ betrayal.” Taelan took a short break to regain his thoughts and to magnify the effect of his surprisingly morbid start. He then continued with a more upbeat tone.

“I have fought to protect my city while you have given your everything to save Tyr’s Hand from the flame and we have both succeeded in stemming the attack of the Scourge. Each of us has done their best to keep the Light’s bastions alive and to defend the poor and weak. Uther would be proud to have called you his comrades. However, just as important as winning fights is the drive to avoid them and to save as many lives as we can. Our charge was to preserve peace and happiness in Lordaeron, a task we failed to do in the past. The fault wasn’t ours but this failure doesn’t relieve us of our duty. This is the reason why I’m here today.” At this point, drops of rain were starting to fall from the sky but Taelan didn’t give it one thought. He had always felt great pride about his quest and even if it had taken a surprising turn, his own charge remained.

“I, along with Lordaeron’s greatest champions, invite each of you to renew your oaths. The Order of the Silver Hand has been reborn, or rather reformed as the Scarlet Crusade. The original order died with Uther but with Light’s blessing, it can be born once again. That is the Crusade’s mission. The Order strived to protect Lordaeron whereas we, the Scarlet Crusade, fight to reclaim our homeland.  We have taken a break from the past in order to save whatever can be saved from it. Your leader, Crusader Lord Valdemar has accepted my offer but only you can speak for yourselves. Will you accept Dathrohan’s plea and follow us into the heart of the hated Scourge?”

Taelan’s mouth turned into smile as he saw the rows of knights before him shout their honors and salutes at him. He had never really considered the possibility of his offer being rejected but the magnitude of the reception surpassed his expectations. Looks of unspeakable hope and immense dedication were apparent in the paladins’ faces and their shouts rang in the Highlord’s ears. The small drizzle had already turned into real rain but Taelan cared little for it. As the salutes died down, Taelan called once again in a loud voice.

“Your faith honors me, knights of Tyr’s Hand. Our work begins in the dawn of the day after tomorrow. Our first job is to secure a path between this city and the areas we hold in Stratholme. It will take most of our forces but it is the first step to uniting the forces of the Crusade and to safeguarding our position across Darrowmere Forest. Prepare well and do the preparations as this first operation will be one of the first times we will liberate lands from Arthas’ control. We want to make it successful.” Taelan took one more break in order to underline the symbolism of his next words. He had given his initial words to his new comrades but he hadn’t yet bid his real welcome.

“I wish you luck, soldiers of the Scarlet Crusade. The time for struggling to survive until tomorrow is over. From this on, it is our duty to give our all to escape from this nightmarish time. As a Highlord of the Crusade, I bid each of you welcome to our ranks. Be prepared to do anything it takes to lift our cause forward. Respect and live by the ideals of the Silver Hand but leave no stone unturned to fight the undead. Each of us has to give our everything. Only… only that way can we ever return home.”

After those words, the crowd’s cheers filled the city as Taelan turned and entered the castle once again. Everything that needed to be said had been said. All that remained was to redeem those words.


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2017, 02:58:36 PM »
Plaguelands’ Growing Light

Eneath looked in excitement at the opening of the main gate of Tyr’s Hand. He could feel his heart swell with pride as the mighty walls of the city grew closer to him and his comrades. Not only was he serving in the first fight of the newborn Scarlet Crusade but he was also serving alongside his uncle for the first time in his life, the man who he had looked up all his life and who had saved his life during the time of the first Scourge of Lordaeron. Osran was riding alongside his nephew, with an equally expecting but slightly less excited expression.

Osran was more than happy to have finally his nephew on his side in real battle and to see how he would handle the coming hardships. Usually their difference in experience had forced them to serve on different missions but this was far different. Over half of Tyr’s Hand’s paladins had been assembled to strike at the Scourge and to open the way to the sacred and cursed city of Stratholme. It wasn’t often that Valdemar led these operations himself but now he and Taelan were at the head of the army, personally overseeing operation’s success. This was more than enough to underline the importance of today’s mission and every one of Tyr’s Hand’s defenders had given their everything to prepare for today, most of all Valdemar and his advisors and the tailors who had tried to equip as many as they could with the new colors. They had worked hard and without sparing their trouble but half of the paladins still wore their own tabards.

Osran eyed Eneath in a mix of pride and nostalgia. First of all, he was happy to be able to deliver one more lesson to the young man and on the other hand, he was slightly envious of his carefree and reckless attitude towards the Scourge, something that he hadn’t been able to feel since the downfall of the Silver Hand. After he heard the gates close behind him, he spoke calmly to his nephew.

“Be careful, Eneath. The undead become more numerous as we go farther from the city.” Osran knew that Eneath wasn’t oblivious to the fact and he had meant his words only as a way to open a discussion to pass the time during the ride and to calm their nerves.

“Of course they do, uncle. I’ve been quite far from there already. You don’t have to worry about me but you should try to make sure your own strength lasts the whole day.” Eneath said with a slight smirk, not willing to be lectured during an offensive. Still, he valued Osran’s support in the coming battle and he chose to answer with a humorous insult rather than simply dismissing the older paladin’s words. Osran sneered slightly before he answered, the aging knight’s eyes fixed on the rows of riders in front of him.

“I’ve fought for days without an end, child. You wouldn’t stand even a fraction of my usual fights. Maybe you’ll be able to comprehend them after today.” Osran tried to answer with an equally ironic comment but he quickly turned the tone back to somewhat serious. He didn’t mind a small amount of lighthearted chatter here and then but he didn’t consider himself a joking or a funny person, most often willing to talk business than jokes.

“I know that you’ve told me many times not to be too excited to get in a fight with the undead but I cannot help but feel eager to kill those bastards. I hope lord Taelan didn’t forget to tell something to us.” Eneath said in an odd voice, willing to get quickly into action. He added the last sentence not to spread distrust at the Highlord but because of genuine concern that there was something he hadn’t taken into consideration. Osran, however dismissed that part, trying to think about what how he felt about the mission.

“Eneath… you are right that I’ve always said that caution is one of the most important qualities for a paladin but I would be a liar if I said I didn’t feel the same way. We’re making history here, nephew, and I wouldn’t skip it for any price. I’m sure Saidan knows the…” Osran was surprised as he heard a voice from his other side, one that was far from unknown to him.

“Saidan may be the most experienced of us but he still doesn’t know what’s going on with Scourge. We could be walking right into a trap and we wouldn’t even know it. Whatever we do, we shouldn’t see today’s outcome as set in stone. Accidents happen and we haven’t seen the Scourge’s true might in ages.” The voice belonged to Veria Longlea, the same paladin who Osran had last met outside the Cathedral four days ago. Osran wasn’t surprised to see her here and he wasn’t too happy by her words. Unlike him, she believed little in the Light’s guidance, being more focused on concrete actions. She was a devout servant of the Light but she saw it in more concrete rather than mystic way. Whereas the Light was the incarnation of everything good for Osran, it was merely a tool for good for Veria.

“Greeting to you, Veria. We were actually talking about our chances of success. The Scourge won’t know about our attack so everything should go well enough. If something happens, we should be able to flee in good order before we’re slaughtered. Trust me, we won’t “fail” this mission. Either way, we’ll know our strength after this attack and regroup later on.” Osran tried to reason the situation in his mind in order to keep his own spirit high and even, Veria’s scenario was extremely unlikely in all scenarios the paladin could think of.

“We’re past that stage. Each paladin knows that the Scourge won’t prevail in the end. Maybe not today but we’ll get there. I’m sure of it.” Eneath said to Veria in a calm and defiant voice. The two had met only a few times but they knew each other somewhat as did every knight in Tyr’s Hand.

“Try to keep your hopes down for now, Eneath. The Light is many things and it serves us well but its might isn’t invincible. Uther and Gavinrad mastered and understood the Light far better than any of us but it didn’t save them in the end. I see this Crusade as a chance to test our mettle against the enemy but we won’t get Stratholme. Even the most beautiful of ambitions can’t fight an invincible force.” Veria tried to soften her voice somewhat as a distant village’s ruins came into the army’s sight. Corin’s Crossing was near which meant their actual target was approaching slowly but surely. Osran frowned as he looked at Veria, upset with her attitude towards the offensive. He couldn’t care less what she thought inside her head but spreading these doubts would help no one.

“This isn’t the time to speak about that. The two gave their everything to resist the Scourge, not to prove to us that we cannot succeed where they failed. I know you see our cause as unlikely but we’re all risking our lives here. You may think what you wish but try to honor the others if they believe in our cause, Veria. Please.” Osran added the last word to show that he wasn’t angry or picking up a fight but to simply avoid making this situations even more difficult for the others. Veria simply turned her glance away. No more words were exchanged during the remaining journey, the mighty host walking in gracious silence through the ruined land.

It was almost an hour later when the monotonous, oppressive march was interrupted by a short whistle from the frontal part of the host, the voice belonging to Valdemar. The surrounding lands were little different from the other lost countryside but the Crusader Lord knew their position better than his followers. Even then, each of the knights knew what this signal meant. It was the first signal that the watchtower was quickly approaching. The answer to this mark had been instilled into the soldiers’ minds so that they could repeat the strategy even in their sleep.

After this whistle, the army would split in two from the middle, besieging the watchtower from its both sides and slaughtering the roaming undead in their way. A small group would then enter the tower and purge it from the enemy. The real challenge would be to keep their positions this deep in Scourge territory. Even if they had been rather passive lately in the fringe areas of the land, they seemed to be determined to destroy each and every living being in the old Forest’s central regions. It would probably take a full-blown massacre to secure this new position and to keep it in the hands of the Crusade and to fortify it enough to last the coming assaults. One that would no doubt demand the lives of many crusaders. The only question was whether the crusaders would be able to withstand the attack long enough for the onslaught to dissipate.

It took only a few seconds until the two sides of the army took off from each other and widened their formation. The undead were already starting to swarm the land, their numbers increasing by the minute as they rushed to slaughter the attackers. The hill on which the watchtower, their target, lied could be seen in the far distance, its dark silhouette casting its shadow upon the dead earth with the wailing wind howling in its cracks. It had once been a royal stronghold, overlooking the Menethil road and defending it from bandits and murderers but now it was almost a chilling sight painted into the background of orange sky.

Osran moved into the frontline which now encompassed dozens of knights, slaughtering any and every undead before them Thus far they had been the most ordinary servants of the Lich King. The more dangerous ones, most notably abominations and death knights, hadn’t been seen in years. It was most likely that they had followed their master into Northrend or were waiting in the depths of the Scourge’s bastion in these lands. Whatever the case, Osran was relieved to see that they weren’t here. Veria had taken his left side whereas Eneath was now riding behind him, the less experienced ones serving in a more supportive role.

Osran couldn’t help but feel deep pleasure as he felt the first skeletons getting crushed under the hooves of his new steed. Here he was once again riding with the warriors of the Light, fighting to regain their lost honor and to vanquish the hated enemy. The paladin felt extremely emotional to be able to see this day by himself. No matter what happened later on, he would be eternally grateful to be able to witness the rise of this new Order and to be part of its dawn. He watched in deep appreciation at his comrades’ crimson armor and red blood-red emblems on their horses as they trampled the enemy under them in a picturesque manner. Their new symbol was a perfect color to symbolize their personal sacrifice and the burning rage of the living against their oppressor.

Each of the paladins looked in expectation as they saw the tower slowly creeping closer and the road leading to the hill opening in front of them. A small group took off from the main host, seeking to capture the tower itself. Some of the knights were starting to fall before the brutal attacks of the ghouls to their flanks. None of the others had time to even see who they were as time was off the essence to fortify themselves in their new outpost.

Eneath was slightly disappointed by his position but he was also happy to be trusted with defending his uncle’s flank from the attacks. His hits were slightly faster but far less firm than Osran’s due to his lack of experience and the young paladin had to strike a few times to dislodge a ghoul’s head from its shoulders. Still, things seemed promising as the Crusade’s casualties seemed rather low considering their swift advances. It was only a short few moments before the two groups met on the other side of the tower after which they started to spread out to fight off the undead and to dig in their positions. A small number of builders were brought alongside the paladins to raise palisades and archers’ positions inside them. Even if the fight would be long, even the Scourge’s numbers weren’t endless without a necromancer. Luckily, they weren’t seen since the first Scourge.

The paladins started to form a large ring around the tower, letting the builders get to the work. When the defending line was complete, Valdemar who led Osran’s flank, commanded his groups to once again charge towards the enemy, making full use of their mounts and the still-apparent surprise element. The fighting had already ceased inside the tower and Osran could feel his pride rising as the new banner of the Scarlet Crusade was being raised on the top of the liberated building. It seemed to shine on the top of the darkened tower, giving hope of an eventual victory on those who fought under its shadow. Turning their gazes back into the fight, Osran and Eneath both looked grimly into the distance, seeing the approaching hordes of undead heading towards their direction.

“Fall back! Don’t spread too far or you’ll be isolated and overwhelmed!” Valdemar called on his fighters as he saw a few reckless knights charging too far and quickly falling prey to the savage hordes of decaying flesh and bone. Eneath looked in horror and disbelief at the mistakes of his comrades, knowing full well how such follies nearly always ended. He quickly turned his gaze as he heard his uncle’s voice nearby.

“You heard Valdemar! Their mistakes are their own, fall back.” Osran called as he turned his own steed back to the tower, having full confidence that his nephew would follow immediately. The first, weakest palisades were already up, the workers doing everything they could to end the battle as quickly as they could. The retreating knights left concentrations of Holy Light on the ground, burning terrifying injuries into the flesh of the undead as they charged through the radiating areas. That, combined with the collective blessings the paladins shared with each other made the task of eliminating the weakest of the attackers rather easy. There were groups of banshees in the distance but at this point it would have been a deadly folly to attack them. Together the knights had enough power to withstand their onslaught if that the fortifying would go as planned. If they were flanked or if the workers were killed off somehow, all would be lost.

“You didn’t expect this many enemies, did you Osran?” Veria said as the two regrouped near the tower. The line of the defenders was still mostly intact but a few cracks were appearing here and there. Osran answered quickly, not on the mood for chattering.

“Actually I did, Veria. I know full well how many undead roam these lands!” The paladin infused his blade with holy power as he delivered a destructive blow on a ghoul near him. Here and there lied dead crusaders but their numbers weren’t dangerously high yet. Unless nothing unexpected happened, they should be able to pull the battle off. The knights’ leader was determined to make it happen. Osran could see a frenzied look on the Crusader Lord’s face as he fought the endless tide of the enemies. For many long minutes, the battle seemed to turn into a static melee with great casualties inflicted on both sides. Weapons clashed and bones broke but the frontlines changed very little even if the piles of the dead grew at a fast rate. However, each of the paladins felt their blood run cold as they heard a loud, long call of a horn calling from the tower. It meant that something unexpected and dangerous was on the way. Each of them knew what were the options and when they heard the cry from the tower, Osran felt his heart jump into his throat.

“Abominations! Dozens of abominations heading towards us from the northwest and south! They’re charging towards us!” The guard’s voice was horrified as he announced the approaching danger. Abominations were some of Scourge’s most horrifying and dangerous creations: rotting, deformed monsters put together from the fallen enemies of the Scourge, reanimated into a construct of death and making a mockery of life. In addition to their horrifying appearance, their brute strength was superior to that of any human’s. They were one of the most feared agents of the Scourge and for a good reason.

The defenders fell instinctually into a tighter ring, knowing that if they dispersed, the newcomers would crush them in a moment. They couldn’t be seen yet but the fear was tangible in the air. In the midst of the continuing skirmishes, Osran called to Eneath in a worried voice.

“You haven’t faced one of those monsters yet, nephew. Whatever you do, don’t expect them to be anything like the enemies we’ve fought before.” Osran stopped short of trying to tell the young man to stay out of the fight as it was clear to all those present that they needed all the help they could get. Between the endless lines of lesser undead, Osran saw the sight that confirmed his fears. Lines of the dreaded aberrations were approaching the army of crusaders, their sickening gurgling and disgusting smell already apparent to the defenders.

“I’ve been taught how to face them and during those times I always hoped I didn’t need to do that. We’ll, no one said this battle would be easily over.” Eneath tried to lighten the mood somewhat as he sighed in an attempt to hide his growing fears. Osran simply nodded to his nephew and continued to wait for the starting onslaught as a thundering, firm voice rang through the army.

“Give the monsters hell! Don’t let them put a cursed foot through your lines! Strike in the name of the Crusade! Valdemar’s face had turned into a hateful smirk as he looked at a charging enemy. Taelan’s struggling leadership of the other wing was far from ideal and Valdemar cursed the fact that he wasn’t able to lead both flanks. He was a man who trusted only himself even if he asked his trusted friends’ advice in matters that weren’t clear to himself. All his life, Valdemar had taken matters into his own hands and only through his own handiwork had he achieved the things he had strived for. The Crusader Lord felt himself miserable for being unable to command the whole army alone and being reduced to only one soldier in the ensuing battle. However, none of that converted into fear, holding back or despair. It all turned into hot rage and more masterful command of his powers. Valdemar was a fierce and dangerous opponent for anyone. Osran felt relief to be able to fight beside his old friend once again as he saw Valdemar cut through the enemy in cold anger. Even with the abominations entering the fight, the aging paladin was confident that their stories wouldn’t end here. With shining weapons of Light and deep determination, the defenders finally started their charge, facing their opponents a few dozen meters away from the rising palisades.

Many knights fell in the initial clash against the towering monstrosities as their bodies were crushed under the brute strength of the horrifying enemy. Sickening screams accompanied the slashes of rotten flesh and the nauseous gurgles of the abominations. Veria looked in fear as some of the knights around her were cut down. The rest of the paladins were locked in combat with them, cutting gaping wounds into the monsters’ bodies and releasing mounds of degenerating viscera into the ground. Veria grimaced as they squirted all around her, the knight’s whole armor covered in the intestines of the long-dead villagers of the surrounding hamlets. Anyone would have run from her in disgust had she showed up in Tyr’s Hand like this.

Even then, it was becoming clear that the paladins’ efforts weren’t enough to keep the enemy at bay. One by one, the crusaders fell under the onslaught and they wouldn’t last long enough at this rate for the fortifications to be completed. Veria, Osran and Eneath had slowly been driven to a tightening pocket near the walls, their escape routes cut by the ghouls that still lingered in the battlefield. The oldest knight felt his heart beating in his chest, cold fear starting to take grip in his mind. He wasn’t prepared to fall just yet and he wouldn’t let it happen. He had been a proponent of the Crusade and he would see it through. Osran was extremely self-confident and knew that his part in the Crusade wouldn’t end just yet. Also, Eneath deserved better than this. When he released another bolt of golden power upon a towering abomination, he heard the enraged battlecry of the Crusader Lord. Valdemar would never give up and neither would his followers.

Eneath looked in surprise and revering silence as his uncle’s sword started to glow even brighter and his mastery of his powers seemed to grow immensely. He suddenly said in a firm, commanding voice as he attacked and cut another monstrosity’s throat.

“Follow me, Eneath, Veria. Show these monsters the Crusade’s might!” The two exchanged glances before they joined Osran’s onslaught. One by one, they surrounded and cut down charging abominations and even if their numbers seemed endless, the crusaders had once again seemed to secure their lines. Osran panted heavily as he stood between three dead abominations, the smell almost overpowering his mind. He was almost exhausted but he would never give up the fight. His two comrades seemed also drained but the battle was still ongoing.

Valdemar looked at his surroundings with a mix of disappointment and respect. He was angry with Taelan for leading them on this fight and with his followers for struggling to withstand the enemy. Taelan’s group was taking even heavier casualties than his, even if their lines seemed to hold tighter than Valdemar’s. This battle was everything he had feared for after receiving Saidan’s letter. However, he couldn’t deny his followers’ bravery in the face of this overwhelming foe. The former general knew that he had no business complaining as he had served a long time as these knights’ leader and if they thought it was time for reckoning, so be it. No matter what, he would be honored to serve alongside this host of heroes. However, something caught his eye that alerted him greatly.

Osran was surrounded by five abominations, with his comrades unable to help him due to their own battles. About one-fifth of the army had fallen at this point but on the other hand, the plains around the battlefield were no longer swarmed with the undead. Their numbers, too, were slowly becoming drained. However, Valdemar wasn’t about to let his old friend fall here. The Crusader Lord started to run towards the monsters, hoping Osran would be able to stand his ground long enough.

The bearded paladin looked around himself, fearful of the situation he had fought himself to. Everywhere around him stood these walls of dead flesh, hindering his escape. His unyielding thirst for victory had made him unable to look at his surroundings closely enough, his arrogance sending him into this seemingly hopeless situation. Even if Osran knew his chances were slowly depleting, his eyes still burned with determination to live. The paladin spread the Holy Light in the ground to buy himself some breather and to hope for an opening out of this death trap. It was only a few moments until he thought he saw it. Between two abominations was a small gap, possibly large enough for him to escape.

The aging knight had fought these enemies many times before but never in these quantities. Usually they moved alone or in small groups but today there were groups of them, slowly destroying the crusaders’ defenses. With hesitant thoughts, Osran had to accept the chance that there far more abominations than anyone had ever thought, looming in the many strongholds of the Scourge. Even if the Crusade was victorious here, this would be a point they would have to discuss before continuing forward. Many others would have given up in Osran’s position but he knew his experience granted him a small chance for survival. If anything, these monsters were slow and often unable to think about the opponent’s moves. In other words, they wouldn’t be able to foresee his escape.

With a quick and powerful leap, Osran jumped against one of the abominations, cutting his blade deep into the degenerating flesh and forcing the monster a few steps back while widening the opening from the trap. However, at the same moment, a small ghoul ran towards the paladin, slashing a wound into Osran’s leg and felling him to the ground. One of the abominations turned on the crusader who was struggling to regain his footing. To the knight’s horror, his injury prevented a quick escape. Osran’s face was a mask of fear as the abomination’s crushing chain drew ever closer to his face. A few more seconds and he would be gone…

Osran was dumbstruck when a long, heavy sword blocked the chain’s way. He had already prepared for the worst and he was almost overwhelmed to hear a commanding yet friendly voice speak to him. Also, the paladin was surprised as he felt the pain in his leg dissipating, the limb surrounded by an aura of golden Light.

“Get up, Osran! You will not give up that easily, old friend!” The aging knight turned to look at his savior who was cutting down the foremost abomination. Osran felt waves of shame flow into his mind as he rose up. It had only been the first battle and he had already resigned himself to death. He stuttered slightly as he tried to thank his friend for the salvation.

“Thank… thank you, Valdemar. I won’t let myself be surprised again.” Osran was ashamed to be beaten already but even then, no one was immune to mistakes. His own had been to resign to his instincts and to believe in the Light’s guidance, even if the knight wouldn’t admit it to himself. Osran was willing to learn from his mistakes but, for better or worse, his beliefs and philosophies were resolute. Valdemar simply nodded as he answered. The two fought side by side, now safeguarding each other’s flanks and cutting down the remaining abominations in the area.

“No, you did well, Osran. Better than most, anyway. Most of the others gave up to rage or fear and forgot to rely on the Light. Far too many have fallen already. Even then, we may still prevail.” Valdemar said as last of the monstrosities in the area fell down. The two eyed the devastation around them for a moment before they heard a younger voice call to them from nearby.

“General… excuse me, Crusader Lord Valdemar! I… I have no words to thank you for your help in saving my uncle.” Eneath said as he had seen his leader’s deeds. The young crusader had won his own fight and helped to bring down another abomination. It was more than many others his age could claim. He was surprised to hear that Valdemar knew his name but on the other hand, he usually seemed to know all of his followers rather well.

“I owe your uncle a lot from the old times, young Eneath. Even more than he could have probably told you already. As for you, your lack of experience prevented you to be of much help, I’m afraid. However, I hope that will change in the future. Be grateful that you survived.” Valdemar was too exhausted and angry to hold too much sympathy for the less capable paladins and their smaller feats. Eneath looked at his superior with a surprised and slightly saddened expression. He had never hoped to impress the Crusader Lord just yet but he hadn’t expected to hear such words from him. Osran was already starting to defend his nephew when Valdemar looked at him with a grim look.

“It’s the truth, Osran. We may talk about it later but we still haven’t secured our position!” Looking at his surroundings, Osran couldn’t deny his friend’s words. There were still knights falling around the battlefield and the paladin wasn’t about to let anyone fall because of his own vainglory, even if the issue had to be settled later. He quickly mounted his horse again which had dropped him soon after the abominations’ attack. Valdemar nodded to his friend, slightly disappointed with his own rudeness but keeping his stoic stature.

The next minutes were a chaos of crumbling bones and parting limbs as the crusaders slowly recovered their positions, once again reestablishing the defensive line around the tower. Osran looked at the plains around him which were slowly getting drained from the attackers. He could tell that victory was theirs, even if on a higher price than he would have wished. Almost a third of the defenders had fallen, their red armors almost disappearing into the terrifying mass of blood and flesh which dotted the battlefield.

Even then, sadness wasn’t the first one that came to his mind as he looked at the traces of the hard-earned victory. Of course, he was crushed by the familiar faces lying on the ground but on the other hand, his eyes were instinctually turning to the tower on which was flying the reddened emblem of Lordaeron. After the sacrifices of his comrades, he felt a mix of pride and ecstasy flow through his veins. This was it. The first piece of land retaken from the Scourge.

Osran fell to a sitting position as long as he saw the last ghouls and banshees being cut down around the battlefield. The paladin panted and sighed deeply as he finally put his sword back into its sheath. Even through his internal triumphant feeling, his physical exhaustion was almost getting a better of him at this moment. He couldn’t fight on as long as during his youth anymore. However, the paladin’s strength started to return immediately as he heard Eneath’s voice behind him, speaking in a relieved voice. It was apparent that the red-haired knight was stunned by the destruction around him but he, too, understood today’s meaning.

“Are you alright, uncle? We… we did it.” Osran closed his eyes for a moment before he rose up and put a hand on his nephew’s shoulder and spoke warmly.

“Don’t let Valdemar’s words bother you, Eneath. You did well today.” Osran wished Eneath to see over the Crusader Lord’s unsavory remark but he simply sighed as an answer. Osran was about to answer when a loud voice called from the tower.

“Half of the right flank, you may enter the tower! Come celebrate the Crusade’s first victory!” The voice was most of all triumphant and revering towards all of the fighters who stood in the tower’s shadow. Before leaving for the refuge, Eneath spoke to his uncle in a calm voice.

“He may be right. I’m still learning. I cannot expect to be worthy of his respect just yet. I’ll be, one day. I promise.” The younger paladin said to his uncle as the two started to head for the tower’s shelter. Osran smiled as he heard his nephew’s words. If there was one thing Eneath already surpassed him was his respect for other people and their ideas. Osran had never been one to be trifled with as some of his comrades had seen. He didn’t look for trouble but he stood for his ideals and hated to be dragged into arguments or unsavory criticisms. His nephew lacked these qualities and the older knight couldn’t help but see this as a positive trait.

The two entered the small gate that had been built in the now-high wooden walls. The watchtower was now secured and until the undead launched another great offensive, their positions were safe. Both of the two knew that the rest of the day would be spent resting and celebrating, a moment of rest until the next battles that not all of them would see through. But for now, this day had been a victory for the Light which would shine as a symbol of hope for the weeks to come.


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« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2017, 11:40:39 AM »
Old Alliances

As was expected, the undead assaults started to dissipate as the long day turned towards dusk. There were few major incidents that were of major danger to the newly-founded outpost of the Crusade which was still being fortified in expectation of the vengeance of the Scourge. However, none ever came. It was as if there wasn’t any leadership left to lead the undead and to push back the attacking humans. A victory of this magnitude should have been of great joy to the knights but that wasn’t fully the case due to the secretive actions of their enemy. As the victory was getting ever more clear, the highest-ranking commanders fled from the midst of the battle to discuss the battle’s long-reaching implications that could have an effect on the coming ordeals.

Valdemar and Taelan and their closest associates gathered in the highest floor of the ruined tower, a gaping hole in the ceiling allowing gusts of the disgusting-smelling wind inside the once-proud building. Parts of the collapsed roof had dealt severe damage to the floor but it would still hold for some time. Valdemar was the first one to speak, his eyes scanning his comrades with a demanding expression. His words weren’t too judging but they held a degree of disappointment.

“Taelan, your wing almost fell during the abominations’ assault. To your credit, you held them off but your casualties were too high. You have to do better than this to earn your position as our Highlord.” Valdemar meant each of his words. He wasn’t going to let a young, inexperienced boy weaken his own position. Taelan felt somewhat hurt by Valdemar’s words but he knew he had to stand his ground. He had done his best and he wasn’t about to let this man to slander his superior.

“My flank was attacked more severely than yours, Crusader Lord. I stood my ground and our leadership bought us victory. We couldn’t have known about the abominations.” Taelan spoke firmly, trying to hide his insecurities under his resolute appearance. However, this brought additional attacks from the other knight.

“And that is why we shouldn’t have attacked this quickly. True, we haven’t seen abominations in ages but we know what horrors Scourge has in its arsenal. I have to contact Saidan and tell him that…” Valdemar’s words were cut short by a loud call of horn in the distance. It was clearly a human horn and a particularly deep one. The Crusader Lord couldn’t hide his surprise as he realized to whom the instrument belonged. He hadn’t heard it in years but he could recognize it anywhere. To his surprise, the younger knight knew it also.

“That is Abbendis’ horn! What in…” Taelan said as he turned to look towards the north where the call was heard. Soon, they could see a host about two dozen appear over the horizon, quickly approaching the tower. The red banner of the Scarlet Crusade flew over them as the host rode over the lesser undead. The High General himself rode at the head of the troops, his distinctive, even grim expression increasingly more apparent. No words were required for the three to know that this was a guest they would have to greet without further delays.

Abbendis was highly relieved to see the familiar flag still casting its shadow over the sick, orange soil of the old Darrowmere Forest. The High General had set off from Stratholme as quickly as he could after he heard about the incoming assault on the tower, fully knowing that the battle would be far from easy. He had known about the battle plan all along but Saidan hadn’t given him the troops to be able to make a real difference. However, he hadn’t wanted to leave the offensive completely to Taelan and Valdemar, willing to make sure that it was a success. Abbendis was more than pleased to see that his fears had been misplaced. Apart from securing the attack’s success, he also had another, much more important thing he had to relay to the larger army.

“Open the gate! Make way for the High General!” Valdemar cried as he run from the watchtower’s door, the other officers following him closely. The guards were some of the most inexperienced of the crusaders and they could only tell that the newcomers were allies but they didn’t know their leader’s position. The guardsmen simply nodded as they started to open the temporary wooden gate. It rose quickly as the knights complied to their leader’s order. Abbendis waited impatiently as he looked at the gateway rising before him, willing to check the situation as soon as he could.

“Greetings, Abbendis… or is it High General these days? What brings you to us?” Valdemar called heartily as the grim-faced General rode slowly inside. Even if Abbendis wasn’t the kindest or easy-going of all people, there were few who didn’t respect him. He never left anything unfinished and he was always easily approachable by even the lowest of his subordinates. Additionally, his strategic mind was nothing short of genius. He nodded grimly but somewhat approvingly to Valdemar moved on to greet him.

“I thought you would need my help. I don’t really want to leave these operations to less capable or inexperienced officers like you.” Abbendis said as he dismounted his horse and moved to greet the three leaders. His voice was audibly relieved to see that his fears were misplaced even if his eyes or voice showed none of it. Valdemar was used to Abbendis’ antics but he wouldn’t be overlooked by even the High General.

“We don’t need babysitting, Abbendis. We are more than capable to execute the Grand Crusader’s orders by ourselves.” Valdemar tried to keep his voice at a somewhat light tone even if he meant what he said. Abbendis locked his eyes on the Crusader Lord, visibly angered by his rebuke.

“Know your place, Valdemar. You may have done well in the past but the day will come when you will make a mistake. And without help, that will be the day of the Crusade’s downfall. We have worked too hard for this cause to let that happen. And Taelan, it seems like you managed to do your mission somewhat right.” The High General turned his gaze on the young paladin, his arrogant tone only intensifying as he talked him to the Highlord’s chagrin.

“My mission was a success, High General. Tyr’s Hand accepted our terms readily and the effects can already be seen.” Taelan put on a stoic expression as tried to prove that he was an asset to the Crusade but Abbendis’ voice was even colder as he answered.

“So you can do something right. I guess congratulations are in order. Even then, there’s one thing that I have to tell you about.” Abbendis said as he turned his attention to the Crusader Lord.

“What is it?” Valdemar said as Abbendis approached him slowly. It was becoming clearer by the minute that there was more to Abbendis’ arrival than he wanted to tell.

“Let’s go inside. I’ll tell more when there aren’t more listening to us.” Valdemar could see what the High General meant. The hill around the tower was filled with knights who couldn’t help but listen to the conversation. Valdemar turned on his heels and entered the tower once again. Another warrior joined Abbendis as he walked through the building’s gaping entrance. A gust of wind accompanied the leaders into the dreary, candle-lighted stairways of the ruined tower.

Abbendis looked in gloomy eyes at his surroundings in the highest floor of the tower, each piece of the lost kingdom bringing another wave of anger through him. He had served in outposts like these for decades and seeing them these days never got easier for him. The High General turned towards the four other leaders present.

“I truly wondered if you had it in you to succeed in this attack but there is another reason for my presence. I’d like to introduce Orman Stronghill, the last surviving member of the famed noble family of our old ally of Stromgarde!” Abbendis’ voice wasn’t particularly inspired but it was clear that this man had more to him that met the eye. He was middle-aged with a tan skin. He carried a massive sword that only a few humans would be able to raise, let alone swing. Even then, his family name was known to almost everyone in the old Seven Kingdoms as it was the largest and most loyal vassal of the old Trollbane dynasty of the kingdom of Stromgarde. It was a surprise for everyone present that one of that house had joined their ranks without their knowledge.

“It is my honor to be here, warriors of the Scarlet Crusade! Indeed, I have been in talks with the revered Saidan for weeks now. As you know, my beloved Stromgarde is in its death throes because of our current king Galen’s treachery and it is under attack by ogres and other filth. He may be the legitimate king but I won’t serve under Thoras’ murderer! That is why I chose to approach the Crusade. I’d rather die to help our greatest ally and try to forge a new future for our lands than slither under the traitor.” Orman kept a small pause which Valdemar utilized to make a question about their new ally’s motives. The Crusader Lord couldn’t help but feel relieved to know that there were some who still wished to help their cause beyond the kingdom’s old borders. Still, he could immediately tell that Orman’s motives weren’t as selfless as they seemed at first glance.

“We greatly appreciate your presence, Orman. Stromgarde has always been one of the most noble of the human kingdoms and I’ve been honored to serve alongside your brave people against the Horde. You have my condolences about the last few years but I cannot help but wonder. Your kingdom is weak and fractured, true, but it’s enemies are but a fraction of the threat Arthas poses to us. Why aren’t you helping your own people retain their lands and to overthrow Galen yourself? You should have enough influence to be able to stand against him.” Valdemar looked deep into Orman’s eyes, willing to make sure that they were being honest with each other. The noble returned Valdemar’s glance, taking a curious look before he turned around to look at the surrounding plains.

“We have never wished to acknowledge it but after Lordaeron’s destruction, each of the surrounding kingdoms crumbled almost immediately. There may have been Seven Kingdoms but Lordaeron was their heart and their protector. We might have been able to hold our lines longer if Alterac stood proudly in the wake of those savages’ attacks but the traitor Perenolde ruined even that! My people stand divided under a murderer and a usurper without any allies! That is the real reason I’m here. I’m willing to join the Crusade with my followers if it gives me a small chance to save my own home by saving Lordaeron. I only ask that after your land has been reborn that you help me gain the throne of Stromgarde.” The last sentence stunned everyone but Abbendis who had already heard the noble’s plans. Orman wasn’t the king’s relative so helping him gain the throne would prove highly controversial in the days following Lordaeron’s rebirth. The whole subject brought an ironic and sad smile to Taelan’s face who swiftly answered to Orman.

“We’re going quite a bit ahead of things, Orman. It isn’t like Scourge is going away anytime soon. I hate to admit but it’ll take a miracle if we were to win our own battle.” Taelan sounded more frustrated than he would have wanted but it wasn’t misplaced. Abbendis and Valdemar exchanged glances before the former stood up from the chair near the hole in the wall.

“Our guest here plans to attack Icecrown itself. I’ve already spoken to him about it but this boy thinks he has it in him to bring down the Lich King himself in his own stronghold.”
Abbendis was still in deep disbelief himself as he walked before the three others. His announcement stunned everyone completely as they struggled to come up with something to say. Attacking Icecrown? Was Orman completely insane? It wasn’t long before he decided to explain himself and his ambition.

“You saw it yourselves. Most of the Scourge’s power has been gathered here, in Lordaeron, so a small but effective army could well reach the Lich King in time and put an end to this nightmare! I know my men and they would follow me to Hell itself if I wished it. We can do it.” Orman spoke defiantly in order to earn his comrades’ approval to his plan. His massive sword itself seemed to thirst for undead flesh as Orman stopped his speech. Taelan was the first one to answer and his voice hinged in the borderline of ridiculed and stunned.

“No, you cannot. I have heard stories of the freezing chill of the North and the hordes of dead that stalk those Light-forbidden lands. Arthas struggled to keep his foothold there and he didn’t even try to venture inland! Even trying to reach Icecrown is suicide!” Taelan sounded as if he was holding back a laugh but Abbendis’ stare silenced him immediately. It was clear that the High General wasn’t going to readily pass this opportunity.

“Orman has fought against the ogres and the undead for years with minimal casualties. It’s all about the right strategy and time. If the Lich King thinks we’re on the move here and we attack Northrend secretly, there’s a tiny window to strike at the heart of the beast. It’s unlikely and we don’t know what Arthas is up to but a success would end our campaign before it truly begun.” Abbendis’ face was highly confused by his own words as he was far from sure whether it would be the right decision to accept Orman’s plan. Valdemar finally spoke up, his voice reflecting is concerns about their guest’s idea.

“And if he fails? He will have wasted an army that could be better used to fight for Lordaeron! The risk is too great for us to take!” Valdemar was often one of the most cautious of Lordaeron’s generals which had earned him part of respected fame. However, many had in the past claimed that he had passed many good plans because of his own fears. Still, the Crusader Lord was determined to keep his ground and to do what he could to safeguard the steady march to victory.

“Indeed, Valdemar. But so is the risk of not taking this chance. I know that you don’t like plans like these but by the Grand Crusader’s order, the decision is not yours to make. Saidan has already accepted his plan.” Abbendis finally announced to his two companions’ great surprise. The issue was already settled. After a moment of silence, Orman once again started to speak.

“The preparations are already in full swing. Dozens of ships are already being built in Tirisfal and we’re already choosing people for the operation. We need more men than I alone can bring. We need an army that can move fast but one that can destroy the obstacles on its way. Apart from me, the High General and his old friend admiral Barean Westwind are going to spearhead the attack. He served under Arthas in Northrend and he knows those waters better than anyone else.” Orman clarified as he tried to create more faith on his mission. Abbendis was the next one to speak.

“I’ll take the charge of this campaign. I’ll lead our troops all the way to Icecrown and strike at monster’s heart before anyone else will fall victim to Arthas’ betrayal! Also, we’re lucky to have a man who knows the way there. If Westwind won’t be able to take us to Northrend, no one can. I have full faith in both him and on Orman. If the tales of Lich King’s weakness are true, this is the best chance we have to end this nightmare. I trust Saidan’s judgement fully.” Abbendis said in a proud and heavy voice, as he revealed his own stake in the coming weeks. It was clear that the plans were already further than anyone had imagined. Valdemar answered in an almost pleading voice as he tried to appeal to his superior once more.

“Abbendis, don’t do this. If you fall, the crusade will be greatly weakened. We need you here to lead our forces to victory!” Valdemar was preparing to continue his rant but Abbendis silenced him quickly. His voice turned stark once again as he resolved to end the debate.

“It’s done! Valdemar, are you willing to question my and the Grand Crusader’s judgement?” Abbendis narrowed his eyes to underline his point. He wasn’t willing to test the Crusader Lord’s patience just yet but he wasn’t about to let himself be opposed by his old underling. Too much was on the stake for that. Valdemar turned to look at the plains around him, thinking feverishly what to answer. He knew that answering unwisely would only hurt his own position by branding him a renegade among the crusade but simply giving up wasn’t something he was willing to do. An empty threat was the best he could say at this point.

“Very well. Do what you will but remember my words. This attack will be too big a risk.” Valdemar’s voice was resigned but defiant. Abbendis looked at him in anger, having little tolerance for such behavior but he knew better than to create even more rifts inside the higher echelons of leadership the Crusade.

“We will embark within a week. You will press on with this attack to open the supply lines to Stratholme but there is still one other issue I have to speak to you. One that’ll require the help of your troops.”

Osran sat calmly by the cold stone wall among decaying artifacts from the better days. The lower floors of the tower were slowly being filled with the wounded and weary warriors of the Crusade. Among the endless ranks of the injured knights walked a few dozen priests who did their all to heal the gaping wounds of the warriors. The attacks outside continued to dissipate, letting more of the Crusaders to rest before the next leg of the long offensive. On tomorrow evening, many more of those stationed in the ruined halls would lie lifeless and broken on the cursed fields.

“Have you been here before, uncle? In this watchtower, I mean” Eneath asked as the two as they waited for the arrival of more knights, anxious to find out whether their friends and comrades would come in or join the pyres of corpses around the tower. Osran waited a moment before answering, his kind being burdened by the absence of Arilde, the paladin who had served with him in Barrowhome. She had been Osran’s close associate for years and her death would be a major blow to the aging knight.

“These watchtowers were the spine that held the trade routes of these lands together, Eneath. Any old warrior knows these towers like their own home.” The statement was surprisingly literal as they served as free places of rest to any soldier of Lordaeron who needed a place to sleep or rest before continuing on their journey. The knights who were stationed in Eastern Lordaeron used them often but they were never meant to be their main housing even during their missions. Eneath looked at the older paladin in envy as he had had the privilege to see all of Lordaeron in its full glory whereas he had spent his childhood firmly during their home village.

“I would have liked to see the Capital as it used to be. I reckon seeing the King leading the royal ceremonies was a sight to see. From what I’ve heard, Lordaeron City was a truly awe-inspiring place.” Eneath had heard only stories about the old royal capital which was located far to the west from Darrowmere Forest. It had been the seat of the Menethil dynasty since time immemorial and it had also been the first place that had fallen to the Scourge. Osran cringed as he heard the mention of that place which bore many unpleasant, painful memories. Also, its present condition brought him additional anguish.

“It was, Eneath. The feeling of entering the main gate after a successful defense of the kingdom to be greeted by King Terenas was as humbling each time. He was a great man, Eneath. Even then, I don’t know if I wish to see it again. Do you know what has happened to the city since Arthas’ betrayal?” Osran turned to look at his nephew with a weary look. When Eneath didn’t answer, Osran continued.

“Nearing the end of the War, a group of undead broke off from the Lich King’s command and after a long time of searching and fighting, they took the ruins of the Capital for themselves. Rumors tell that they have built their own dark city of undeath beneath the ruins of our exalted capital. I don’t know if those whispers held any truth to them but in any case, only the cursed memories and dark whispers of the past linger in those halls today. It is a place of great horror and tragedy, possibly even more so than Stratholme.” Osran’s voice turned into one of lament and bitterness as he reflected on the Capital’s fate. Eneath took an odd expression as he answered shortly.

“They broke away from the Scourge? Shouldn’t they be our allies, then?” Eneath asked in bewilderment. He hadn’t even known such a thing was possible. Why wasn’t the Crusade giving this issue more attention? However, his own thoughts were disturbed by a stern and angered voice of his uncle.

“They are still monsters, Eneath! They are a mockery of the memories of our countrymen and friends. Their minds may be their own but they still serve themselves and the undead want to spread their own curse to others whenever they get the chance. Would you want to share a reborn Lordaeron with worm-infested, murderous, rotting corpses that imprison the souls of once-honorable people?” Osran looked into the eyes of his nephew who seemed to be deep in thought. The younger paladin was about to answer when a tall, thin man approached the two. He didn’t wear the armor of the Scarlet Crusade, meaning that he was merely a messenger. Still, Osran listened him in interest as he started to speak.

“I trust that you are Osran Lowriver? In that case, please follow me. The Crusader Lord asks for your presence at the top of the tower.” The messenger spoke quickly and it was clear that he didn’t know what the issue was. Osran quickly rose up, immediately interested what his old friend had in mind.

“Lead the way. Let’s see what business he has with me.”

As the two approached the top of the tower, Osran could see that there were many others going the same way as they had. There were about twenty knights heading upwards, apparently unknowing what made the Crusader Lord ask for their presence. Among the others was Veria who had stayed outside in case the fighting intensified again. As the stairs eventually ended, Valdemar was waiting for the knights and made bid them a fond welcome. Most of them seemed rather experienced, meaning that the Crusader Lord had something important to say.

“Welcome, my comrades! I was today honored by the arrival of our High General Abbendis as most of you probably noticed. He came with a most intriguing plan that you need to know about. Please, let me finish until you begin to speak.” Valdemar then told everything about the leaders’ meeting and Abbendis’ plan. Each of the attendees would have wanted to interrupt their superior many times but each of them held enough respect for him to comply to his bidding. A stunned silence was left floating in the room as Valdemar finally ended his explanation. So, the real battle would be fought in Northrend after all. One knight asked in an intermittent voice as the others thought about what they had just heard.

“So… are we going to partake in this attack? Are you sending us to Northrend?” The knight’s voice was hopeful but Valdemar’s answer ended such thoughts very quickly.

“No. You are some of my most trusted knights. You are needed here in Lordaeron but there is another threat that I’m going to order you to deal with. Firstly, our shipbuilders need extra protection and even more importantly, the cursed Forsaken are on the move.” Valdemar’s voice turned into a bitter one as he spoke. The Scourge was a horde of mindless monsters but the fact that the Forsaken claimed to be the same people they were as living humans. That took the issue to a more personal and emotional level. The Crusader Lord was seemingly angered when heard Veria ask a question in an inquisitive tone.

“Is it wise to open another front in Tirisfal? We are having our hands full right here!” Veria tried to reason before Valdemar’s angered look silenced her.

“As I said, it is they who are attacking! The Scourge hasn’t been able to put on a real attack for years but now there are rumors about a necromancer preparing an attack against the Monastery of Righteousness, or rather, Scarlet Monastery. It is your job to secure our western flank while our heroes are attacking the Lich King.” Each of those present knew that his remark held the unspoken hope that they should only fight a war of attrition until the Lich King’s planned demise. But saying it out loud could prompt the paladins to fall into a lull that the war wasn’t in their hands. Everybody had to give their all until the end.

“A necromancer? Are you sure?” Asked one of the few priests present, his voice carrying hesitation. Necromancers were an incredibly terrifying foes as killing their minions was completely useless as they rose over and over again until their master met his demise. They were the masters of the dead and the ultimate enemies of the living.

“That’s what I’ve heard and I truly hope my scouts aren’t lying. They’ve seen him with their own eyes. The necromancer is a real threat. And one that we have to deal with if the Monastery is going to be safe ever again.” Valdemar said dryly, not willing to give further proof to his subordinates. Osran looked at his superior and asked one last question that had haunted his thoughts.

“Is this our chance to wipe out the cursed Forsaken? Without the necromancer, we could have a chance to end their wretched existence once and for all.” Osran asked, his mind hungering to get into killing the cursed undead. If their secret weapon was dealt with, the small numbers of the Forsaken could open a window to eliminate one more threat. However, Valdemar’s disapproving look ended those hopes quickly.

“No. You are capable of crippling their offensive abilities but we cannot destroy their hideout just yet. Be patient, Osran. Their day of reckoning will come soon enough. You’ll leave at tomorrow morning. May Tyr’s spirit guide your actions.” Valdemar said as he signaled the end of the meeting. The knights and priests left the room one by one, their minds fixed on the coming journey and this new menace they were bound to face. No matter what, the return of the necromancers did little to ease their fight against the undead.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter and any feedback you may have is always welcome!  :)


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« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2017, 09:53:09 AM »
Arrival in Tirisfal Glades

Pale lips turned into an expecting smile as a hooded form looked his vials fill from a thick, green ichor from his cauldron. The man felt his innards ache in pain when he was near the liquid, its destructive energies almost too much for his organs. However, that agony started to dissipate as he sealed the vials and put them in his pocket. These vials could be a major stepping stone on his quest, the magnitude of this breakthrough determined by the effect on his prisoners. With a self-confident smile, he headed towards a corridor that would be the stuff of nightmares to anyone but its master.

”I’m sure we all wish to get this over with, don’t we? Today is the day you have been waiting for…” A weary, chuckling voice called from the dark hallway. The figure was dressed in a black robe with violet decorations, his walking being slow due to his body that had been tainted by numerous poisons that would have killed most other humans. Almost his whole face was covered by his hood and headscarf, only a small sliver revealing his expectant eyes. Two poorly dressed farmers looked in deep horror as the robed man entered the pitch-black room while carrying a small candle, an additional torture to his victims. The farmers looked around them in terror, seeing large splotches of blood on the walls, with blackened remains of long-dead people covering the room. They had never seen what lied in the room due to the ever-present darkness but they could guess it from the sickening smell in the room.

The robed man’s lungs wheezed as he drew closer. The farmers started writhe in horror as they could already guess what was coming. This was the necromancer they had heard rumors about, the one who held the entire Tirisfal in fear but nobody knew where he dwelled, not even his victims. One or two farmers would disappear from time to time, their families slaughtered by hosts of undead who seemed to appear from nowhere. The necromancer stopped in front of the two, looking at them in an uninterested, smug glance.

“It seems like you know me already even if I’ve taken such care to hide my presence from filth like you. At least you know what to expect…” The man said as he searched his pockets. He didn’t react in any way as the female yelled to him in a desperate voice.

“Please, don’t do this! We’ll do anything you demand!” She was almost on the verge of tears but the necromancer turned to her only after a moment of searching. His voice was extremely complacent as he answered his prisoner.

“Be silent. The servants of the freezing cold serve higher aims than mercy or life, farmer. Oh, Kel’Thuzad will be overjoyed when I am done with you and this land…”  The robed man took a small vial from his pocket. It carried the deep green liquid that seemed like it was boiling without end. The necromancer looked at the two in loathing, regretting that even this experiment would likely be but a small step in his search for the greater truth of the Nether.

“Your meaningless lives are an unworthy vessel for my quest. Get out of my sight!” The man then opened his small vial, its contents quickly becoming one with the air itself. The liquid writhed and changed as it dissolved into the room. The necromancer started to cough ever more violently but a joyless smirk appeared on his hidden mouth when blood started to bleed from his damaged lungs. The pain was multiplied by the knowledge that the sight in front of him was only a small but necessary step towards his goal.

The two humans screamed as their skin started to die and its rotten vestiges starting falling to the floor. Their bodies themselves tore themselves apart as their decaying intestines started to fall out of their abdomens, along with the dissolving, bloody lungs. It was only when their heads started to turn until the screams finally dissipated. The necromancer looked at his handiwork with an expression that was nearly a mask of displeasure. His work needed a lot of improvement before he could follow in his revered master’s footsteps. The victims had been infected too slowly, died too quickly and the resulting ghouls were far from strong enough.

“At least I soon have enough material for my masterpiece… The Monastery will soon see my power. And then…” The necromancer’s face turned into a sickening smile as he turned to return back to his tunnels. With a wave of hand, he commanded his new servants to clean up and store their own earthly remains. Soon, both the Forsaken and the humans would fall under the necromancer’s onslaught.

Osran looked in a slightly hopeful glance at his surroundings. The Tirisfal Glades were a dark, sickly reminder of Lordaeron’s old heartland but it was a paradise compared to the old Darrowmere. The sickly, orange mist was gone and there was black and meek but living grass everywhere. Additionally, there was far less undead roaming the dark moors, a testament to the lesser amount of corruption Arthas managed to spread here. The aging knight was rather interested to see the Monastery as he had only visited it once and that was during the days of his youth. Was it still the seat of knowledge and Light that it had been on those days or had it fallen to slow decay after the kingdom’s demise?

Osran could see similar sentiments among his comrades. The trip had been done as quickly as was possible, with change of horses done in outposts at Thondrodil river and near Hearthglen. As a result, there had been rather little talking as they had to ride at the maximum speed in case the expected assault would be launched sooner than thought.

The old path started to turn towards the east as the long day of travel started to turn to into late evening. Heavy clouds hung over the dark grasslands as the lights finally started to appear between the high, dying trees. The building’s tower stood proud and defiant on the hill, its noble silhouette painting its picture into the night sky. Osran was pleased to see the Monastery being untouched by the war, preserved most likely by its rather remote location in the northern reaches of Tirisfal, surrounded by endless expanses of farms and woodlands. They could see that a small number monks had assembled at the main entrance, prepared to greet their newly arrived allies.

“Light’s blessing upon you, servants of the Light! Are we in time?” The leader of the knights asked. He was Tareth, one of the most respected paladins of Tyr’s Hand who had also served in Barrowhome the day before Osran’s nearly fateful watch. The monks bowed before their guests before one of them answered in a way that showed deep respect.

“The Abbot’s deepest thanks for answering our call this quickly. The necromancer has yet to reveal himself but many of the surrounding farmers have been gone missing during the last weeks, never to be seen again.” The monk spoke sadly, humbled by the Monastery’s inability to help the poor people. It was clear that this phenomenon was more widespread than the monks would have wanted to tell. Tareth frowned as he heard the answer, the tale being remarkedly different than in the initial report.

“Don’t you have any sightings of this villain? We were told that you have seen the necromancer many times already!” Tareth said in slight frustration, disappointed by the lack of honest reporting from their hosts. The monk looked at the paladin with a stoic expression, hiding his thoughts from the crusaders.

“The true servants of the Light welcome help wherever it can be found. Our honored brother Arellas Fireleaf has felt the death’s touch upon the land, its corruption creeping under the shadows of the trees even now. He has felt it, Tareth.” The monk spoke absentmindedly, not willing to reveal more just yet. Tareth’s face turned into an ever more conflicted one, somewhat perplexed by the sudden turn of events.

“Arellas? Isn’t that an elven name? What is an elf doing here, in the house of the Holy Light?” The two races’ relations had been a complex one, to say the least. Even if there had rarely been conflict between them, any real alliance or cooperation had been also rare. The kingdom of Quel’Thalas had often kept to itself, caring little for Lordaeron’s fall at least until Arthas’ onslaught reached the city of Silvermoon itself. A mutual feeling of distrust lingered between the peoples and Tareth was surprised to hear that one of them was aligned with the Crusade.

“As I said, we welcome all the aid we can get. The Light’s mercy makes itself known in many different, often unclear forms, and we have all the trust that the art of arcane will help us in the days to come. But you don’t need to think about it today, good sirs. Please follow us.” The monk turned on his heels, not leaving any time for an answer from the paladins. They quickly looked at each other before they started to follow the group of monks into the massive building. The night wind blew into the corridor when the knights entered the dark hallway. Behind it opened a grand hall which was an impressive sight for anyone seeking refuge or knowledge from the keepers of the Monastery. Candle trees cast their light into playing shadows on the opposing walls, their sight relieving the knights from their long journey.

Everything was like Osran remembered it. Even if the monk’s answer troubled him somewhat, he could see that the monks and the soldiers serving the Monastery were doing a good job at preserving Lordaeron’s knowledge. He looked in interest as their hosts started to speak again.

“Half of you may follow me, the other half can go with Serin. Your rooms are ready.” The monk said as another, rather tall man headed towards the opposing door. The entrance hall was the gateway to the different parts of the monastery complex, containing doors leading to the famed library, the soldiers’ quarter, the interrogation and graveyard wing as well as the central Cathedral which served as the Monastery’s heart. Osran joined the group that followed the man named Serin who entered the corridor on the right side of the back wall. Osran remembered that it led to the guest and soldiers’ quarter known to its denizens as the Armory wing. It was used as the home of the knights guarding the Monastery but it was large enough to house occasional guests. Soon after entering the wing, Serin spoke in a silent but kind voice.

“We have a few rooms to spare. Please honor our home during your visit.” There were three rooms around the spot Serin stood on, each of them housing four beds but little else. Tareth had gone with the other monk so Osran spoke to his host in an equally appreciating, smooth voice.

“We are extremely grateful for your welcome, Serin. We’ll start our mission early on the morning.” Osran looked at the monk in a thankful smile, looking forward to getting to sleep. He was almost exhausted after a ride that had started long before dawn. Serin could see this and turned to walk away before he spoke shortly to his guests.

“Don’t forget to come to the Cathedral during the standard time. The Monastery appreciates if its guests live by its rules during their visits. Also, the revered Ferren Marcus wishes to address you before you’ll start your mission so it would be advisable not to miss it.” After those words, the monk started to head back towards the central hall, leaving the paladins to sort the rooming themselves in the light of a few pale candles hanging from the walls. The distribution of room brought no problems and each of the knights was more than overjoyed to be allowed to fall to sleep.

However, one thing kept Osran awake for a moment. Was the Monastery allowing or even promoting arcane magic within its walls? That particular school of sorcery was by no means forbidden but it had received a bad name after Kel’Thuzad’s and his followers descent into the realm of necromancy. One kind of magic could swiftly degenerate into a more dangerous one and that was why most mages in the old Darrowmere Forest had turned into priests. Moreover, what was an elf doing within the Crusade? There were many different thoughts swirling in the fatigued paladin’s mind when the shroud of sleep finally swept across his mind.

“My brothers and sisters, I wish to thank each of you for showing your respect to the Light that protects us all as well as our home. Our Monastery has struggled through times of war and destruction but here we stand, still ready to help the needy and those seeking the blessing of knowledge. Use this day to prove that the Light’s grace shines through our desolate land as it always has. Sometimes a single beacon is enough to keep the darkness at bay. As the Church has taught us, respect, tenacity, and compassion are the things that keep our rays shining through these cursed times. Our work here in the Monastery is invaluable to our people and kingdom but all of it is rendered worthless if we forget our principles. Also, we have to have the courage to stand against the shadow, especially when it isn’t seen clearly. The evil surrounds us, brothers, and I fear that our virtuous work alone isn’t enough to hold it back. That is why I’d like you to spare your thanks to our new allies!” The speaker was a modestly robed and old man, his head bowed down as a gesture of respect to his listeners. The High Abbot Ferren Marcus was a living example of true virtue and loyal service to his principles and followers.

The old man’s voice was a mix of gentle humbleness and true devotion and authority. Even in his advanced age, he advised his followers wisely and his burning vigor earned him great reverence among those who had met and known the old Abbot. He was born in Stratholme but his heart had led him to the center of Lordaeron’s wisdom at an early age and he had served as its leader for many successful decades. During those endless years, Marcus had become the symbol of the Monastery itself and its timeless traditions along with the Cathedral they were in. It was the very heart of the complex and one of the largest churches in all of humanity’s kingdoms. Following the Abbot’s announcement, Tareth walked beside him, trying to mix the humbling atmosphere of the complex with his firm, militaristic voice.

“I thank you for your time, denizens of the Scarlet Monastery. I’m more than honored to call you my comrades. I’ve visited this place often and I must say, few places in all of Lordaeron have matched your home’s grandeur. We came here to answer your call to stop this necromancer once and for all. We will do our all to free you from his grasp but we will need all the help you can get. Not many necromancers remain and those that do are immensely powerful. Addressing this enemy will require our cooperation but, if Light allows it, we will stand victorious in the end. This Monastery stood through the Plague and it will survive the attack of one necromancer!” Tareth moved back to take his seat. It was clear that the enemy was very powerful and feared but dozens of necromancers had already died during the initial war. Getting rid of one more shouldn’t be difficult. Marcus nodded at him approvingly after which the old man spoke a few more words.

“You’ll have all the help you ask, noble paladins of the Crusade. We might refrain from violence even too often but this Monastery hasn’t fallen once during the six centuries of its existence. Answering the Grand’s Crusader’s call was the result of a long consideration but I see we chose rightly. Do whatever you need and ask what you will. All the power and wisdom we possess is in your disposal, warriors of the Scarlet Crusade. Now go, my brothers and prove that Light still lingers in this lost land.” Marcus said as he left the altar of the Cathedral in order to signal that the attendees were free to leave to perform their duties.  The hundreds of people gathered started to slowly leave the hall, each of them heading for their own tasks. However, Osran had one person he’d like to meet before the paladins would head off to their mission but he needed help if he wished to find him. The paladin turned around to ask another, younger knight for help.

“Excuse me, sir, but could tell me where I might find Arellas Fireleaf?” The man’s expression wasn’t amused when he turned to look at Osran and his answer exactly kind either.

“Why would you want to find that elven fool, outsider? He’s of very little value even to us so what do you want of him?” Osran was taken aback by the answer as he had expected the denizens of the Monastery to respect each other without end. Also, Osran had thought the knight to be unknown to him but as he looked at his sharp features, he was surprised to find out that he knew the younger paladin.

“Renault? Renault Mograine? Are you living here?” Osran had seen the younger Mograine as Alexandros had once wished to show his son the life of the Crusade first hand and let him to spend a day in the ranks of the Silver Hand. The young man’s facial features were remarkedly unchanged since those days even if he had aged a lot. Renault looked at Osran in slight surprise but his antics changed little.

“For now. My father thought that the Monastery is one of the more safe places to live in these times and I’ve taken my place here even if the monks are getting on my nerves. It seems my name has walked before me.” Renault wasn’t sure if he was pleased to be recognized as he held little respect to his father or his name. It brought him more status among his comrades but it brought the shadow of his father’s smug sight and his brother’s insufferable antics to his mind. He wouldn’t mind at all if they both disappeared from his life for good. Osran was about to answer when a young woman headed back towards the two in an impatient voice.

“The Light’s tasks won’t complete themselves, Renault. We should go.” The woman looked coldly at Osran who returned the unapproving gaze. The distrust was clearly mutual. Renault turned his gaze back on Osran when he answered the older paladin quickly before his departure.

“Arellas spends most of his time in the Library, most often at his private sanctum at its end. But he has nothing of value, outsider. No one can trust the elves. Let’s go, Sally.” With those words, the two left Osran ponder about the stale conversation. The two were far from the monastery ideal Osran had thought of, both of them being seemingly untrusting towards outsiders and even hostile to their own allies. He was somewhat disappointed to see Alexandros’ son with such an attitude. He could only hope that the young man could find his own way before long and not dwell in his distrust and apparent bitterness.

The Monastery’s library was a massive place, with long and high bookshelves standing in many large halls after each other. Most of them held historical chronicles about Lordaeron’s distant history as well as philosophical and practical studies about the Light’s nature qualities. However, there was also a surprising number of tales about distant lands, among them from the newly-found continent of Kalimdor, as well as textbooks about hunting, sneaking and even dark powers such as demoncraft. Osran frowned as he saw them in the shelves as any warlock-related knowledge was supposed to be strictly forbidden in all the Seven Kingdoms but here the books were, open for anyone to read and study. The paladin shrugged, deciding that it was not his place to lecture the librarians. Osran approached carefully one monk who was wiping the dust away from the bookshelves.

“I was told that Arellas can be found in his room here in the library? Could you tell where it is?” The paladin asked the monk in a neutral voice. The librarian didn’t even turn his eyes on the asker, only absentmindedly answering his question while browsing one, heavy book.

“When you enter next hall, turn left and in the next one right again. You can see the door to his sanctum at its end.” The monk’s voice was monotonic and its tone was completely dismissing. Osran thanked him briefly and then headed to the direction he was advised to. The library was truly an impressive building and it received a heavenly lighting because of the masterfully crafted windows which let in only dim light to illuminate the scholar’s work. Osran was glad to see that the monk had spoken the truth as the sight of the open door opened before him.

The first thing the knight noticed about Arellas was that the elf looked younger than he had expected even if he was in truth considerably older due to the longevity of his race. The high elf was deep in thought reading a book when the knight entered his room. The elf didn’t seem to notice his guest as he was noticeably alerted when he heard the paladin speak.

“Bal’a dash, Arellas. I’m honored to meet you.” Osran greeted simply, using one of the few words he knew about Thalassian language. He had met some elves before so he had learned the most basic phrases about their language. Arellas didn’t seem at all pleased by the interruption but he seemed to be interested by the outsider’s visit. Even then, he answered swiftly and politely as was the custom of his kind.

“Light’s blessing upon you, paladin. What brings you to my library?” Arellas’s voice was rather high and it sounded somewhat slick. Still, Osran couldn’t see any malevolence in him so he went straight to the point. The knight was surprised to hear the Church’s most usual greeting from an elf but then again, he had lived among humans for a long time. That could probably make the meeting easier.

“I was told that the main proof about the necromancer’s existence has been from your magical observations. Is that the truth?” Osran didn’t expect a negative answer but he wished to start from the basic questions. Was the mage as powerful as he claimed to be? Did he know anything more than he had told? Arellas looked at the paladin in an investigative way, unsure where the knight was going to.

“I feel his dark presence in the earth even now, paladin. He walks this land as we speak and his powers are growing by the day. We have to stop him before it’s too late.” Arellas spoke calmly, willing to prove that he meant what he said. Osran looked at the elf oddly, not willing to tighten the atmosphere just yet. He wanted to learn if the elf was what he claimed to be.

“How can you know this, mage? I don’t remember your colleagues being able to feel things happening in great distances.” Osran wanted to see whether the mage would be able to explain his claims in a believable way or whether he was simply lying. The knight had had too many bad experiences with mages falling victims to evil powers to trust the elf just yet. Arellas frowned at this question, surprised by this kind of question from a paladin.

“Most mages cannot, that’s true, but it is possible. It is a rather new kind of magic, one that started to spread after the death of the great magus Medivh.” Osran sighed as he heard the answer. The Last Guardian. One more example of great people falling victim to the uncontrollable energies of the arcane. His inclusion in the conversation did little to alleviate Osran’s fears.
“What about him? I doubt a demon-possessed madman is a great source of useful knowledge.” Osran sounded even harsher than he had wanted to but the story of the Last Guardian of Tirisfal wasn’t one he was fond of.

“There you couldn’t be further from the truth. He might have acted for evil but his studies on the ley-lines and creating rifts in time and space are truly groundbreaking. The old heart of Lordaeron is a place where the ley lines are even more profound than usual and the magic dripping from them enable me to feel the differing forces of magic in this land, including necromancers.” Arellas looked somewhat agitated as he spoke, knowing the paladin knew nothing from the veins of power penetrating the interior of the world. He was right as he heard the next question from his guest.

“I have known a lot of wizards during my life and none of them spoke of these ley lines. Are they some kind of elven superstition?” Osran pushed the issue further, willing to know if the whole mission was based on an elven belief. Arellas took a deep , tense breath before he started to explain.

“Very little was known about the ley lines among human circles until the last years. The spread of Medivh’s studies changed all that and the true extent of the unfolding horizons created a secret rift in Dalaran before the Plague. You are correct to assume that the issue is closer to us elves as, you see, we are addicted to magic. I don’t know much you know about it but the kingdom of Quel’Thalas was built around our beloved Sunwell, a pool of pure energy of the sun. It was the last remnant of the ancient Well of Eternity, the progenitor of all the magic in our world. The ley lines are the remnants of its power, their immense energies spreading around the very crust of Azeroth. We, the elves, were forced to know this this due to our Sunwell but the humans far too often overlooked them. It was only after Medivh’s death when this knowledge truly spread to Dalaran.” Arellas rose from his chair as he spoke. Even if he didn’t like being questioned like this, the elf hoped Osran could use his knowledge in fighting the necromancer. Osran didn’t want to show that he didn’t know almost anything about what Arellas said so he answered with another point that had haunted his thoughts.

“I understand your hate for the Scourge but why are you here instead of fighting for Quel’Thalas or following your prince? Why are you sacrificing yourself to the Crusade but not to your own people?” The paladin asked in lingering suspicion. He had a hard time trying to respect a man who let his own land suffer while living a good life elsewhere, even if it was his fortune to have more allies on his side.

“Quel’Thalas has fallen and Kael’thas is a mere madman. I cannot deny that the thought of reclaiming my homeland is enticing but I fear there’s nothing I can return to. True, my people still lives but without the Sunwell we’re bound to die out before long. What remains are scattered hamlets and power-hungry extremists who call themselves the Sin’dorei or the blood elves. They cannot be trusted. In the meanwhile, this Monastery offers me the best way to fight against the Lich King. My last comrades from Dalaran are here with me while the new magi in Quel’Thalas deem our ways old-fashioned in the wake of Kael’thas’ demonic powers. This Monastery and its people give me some sense of purpose in the wake of the overwhelming destruction of both our homelands, something my fallen home cannot do.” Arellas looked at Osran mournfully, clearly saddened by the fate that had befallen the land. Osran couldn’t help but feel sympathy for the elf. He wasn’t really informed about the new order in the elven kingdom but he was willing to believe the mage. He seemed far too honest to be completely lying.

“I’m sorry, Arellas. I never saw it myself but I heard that Quel’Thalas was a realm of beauty and grace. Our king Terenas often praised the wisdom of the revered Anasterian. Even if our alliances were rare, I often heard whispers of respect about the Silvermoon’s grace.” The elven capital had been a place of wonder, its golden walls a seat of power and beauty in the land of eternal autumn. Osran had often wished to visit it but the elves wanted as few outsiders as possible to their hallowed lands. Arellas sighed in clear sadness as he sat down again, a distinct melancholy easily recognizable from his face. However, the elf knew there was little sense in yearning for the paradise long lost. He put on a more pragmatic appearance as he looked at Osran again.

“But that isn’t why you came to talk to me, isn’t it? I can see that the real reason is to find something out something about the necromancers that could be of use in the coming days. Doan, could you please come here?” Arellas surprisingly called into the hall outside the room where a rather young man was searching the endless bookshelves, ordering the books into a better formation and browsing some of them. He turned to look at the voice’s source , immediately answering to the request.

“Paladin, this is my apprentice Doan. Doan, this is one of the brave paladins sent to defend our home. The reason why I called you here is your insight about the terrors of necromancy.” Arellas looked at his apprentice in a neutral way, turning Doan’s face into something of a mix between concern and regret. Osran looked at the young man in a curious way, willing to hear if he had anything of interest to tell. Doan looked at the paladin in a bothered way, not willing to share his mistakes with everyone who walked in from the door.

“Yes… you could say that. I know you won’t understand it the way I do but… not many of those who joined the Cult of the Damned were evil to begin with. Medivh’s studies and the newly-found demonology opened whole new frontiers of magical study and… necromancy was one of them.” There was clear regret in Doan’s voice as he recalled his past in the city of Dalaran. It seemed that the magical city had some parts to its history that not many were familiar with. Doan looked into Osran’s eyes, searching for signs of growing rage. On their stead, he saw an expression of uncertainty and hesitation, surprising from a man who had used years to fight against necromancy, his everything in the process. He was momentarily interrupted by a remark from Arellas.

“Be at ease, knight. Doan came to search for me after he realized the error of his ways. He’s my student and successor and I’m helping him to return to the ways of Dalaran’s old magic of fire and ice. He has given up necromancy long ago.” Arellas looked at Osran in a thoughtful way, showing deep trust in his apprentice. Osran merely nodded while Doan quickly glanced at Arellas in clear appreciation. The younger man then continued in a conflicted tone.

“During those days, our Archmage, Antonidas, seemed to fight against these new kinds of magic, his lifetime of experience warning against the embrace of energies of unknown origin. However, there were many who saw the potential of these new energies in tackling the Scourge and to turn Dalaran into the heart of the Seven Kingdoms. Among the most prominent of these renegades was none other than Kel’Thuzad. I know you don’t believe me but he was like you and me back then, willing to dwell into unsearched waters in hopes of a new renaissance for all of us. Initially, I was one of his students who wished to follow him on his path.” Doan turned his head to the library hall, the regret clearly visible on his face. However, something told Osran that he wasn’t exactly repenting but rather mourning that those events ever happened.

“Our research allowed us to raise our loved ones from their graves, even if in the horrifying forms of those cursed ghouls. However, it was a beginning in the quest to beating death. As weeks passed, we found ever more efficient and easier ways of reviving the dead as well as giving them increasingly advanced characteristics. Before long, we could command them at will which I hoped would be a perquisite to giving them a mind of their own. However, it was during these times that my concerns started to rise. Some of my friends and my teacher started to be more interested about controlling the undead rather than seeking freedom for them. Our research continued but in started to become more power-hungry, more focused on pure domination of the dead.” Doan turned to look at the two others, shuddering as he remembered those days. However, to his chagrin, Doan saw a rising suspicion within Osran.

“And you did nothing? You were playing with the most wicked form of evil and you did nothing?” Osran looked Doan in the eyes but the mage simply continued without clear answer.

“The spark for our research came reportedly from a hooded man who sent his findings to Kel’Thuzad. Soon, we started to search for more clues about the man’s whereabouts which wasn’t easy due to the spreading plague. Not long after Arthas’ fall, we were contacted again, this time by a woman who offered to deepen our knowledge. It was during this time that Antonidas found out the depth of our treachery. He could tell who our new masters truly were and he banished us immediately from the city. Furious by his “treachery”, Kel’Thuzad embraced his new teacher immediately and we started our journey into the Scourge. Everyone except me and two others. We are the only ones frim that renegade school who avoided joining the Cult of the Damned.” Doan concluded, his heavy sigh accompanying his heavy mood. Osran couldn’t help but feel respect to this man who had most likely risked his life to avoid joining the Scourge. However, there was only one thing that truly interested him in Doan’s tale.

“You told you studied necromancy for months. How can we beat their magic?” The question was simple enough but it made Doan very thoughtful. He answered in a careful, pondering tone.

“During their time in the Scourge, their powers must have grown manifold. The strength of the first necromancers is terrifying as their minions are nearly impossible to kill. Some of them have mixed their new skills with old ones, making them formidable mages as well. Whatever you do, you must kill them quickly. The Plague is theirs to command and they will turn all of us into their pawns if given the chance. The Plague and the poisons are their greatest weapon.” Doan said to the paladin, shuddering as he recalled the infernal weapons Kel’Thuzad and his followers had dreamt about after the departure from Dalaran. Osran looked at the mage in deep thought, recalling the last times he had fought against the wizards of undeath. They had been mere novices but if he were to believe Arellas, this new enemy would be one of the more dangerous necromancers alive.

“Very well. There’s one last thing I’d like to ask. Do you have any idea who this enemy is? You said you knew all of the original founders of the Cult of the Damned.” Osran wasn’t sure whether this piece of knowledge would be useful but knowing the enemy could prove useful later on. Doan shrugged as he answered.

“Who knows? There were two dozen of us and even among those I know are alive, there are too many choices. If I had to guess judging from the style of their attacks, I’d say it is Diesalven Stillwater, Ras Frostwhisper, Diodor Highforest or Faerlina Gnollslayer. Each of them were potent researchers of the Plague as is our enemy but it’s impossible to tell which one of them he is.” Doan said deep in thought. Osran looked at him and nodded approvingly. He had received all the knowledge he could have asked for.

“Thank you both for your cooperation. I hope your answers help us in the coming fights. May Light guide your paths.” Osran said as he prepared to leave. Doan and Arellas returned the gesture as the elf spoke his own farewell.

“Al diel shala, paladin. We will be here whenever you need help.” It took mere seconds before Arellas immersed himself once again into the book, signaling that the audience was over. Osran left the room in deep concern. If a long fight against a necromancer was a doomed venture, they would have to strike first. However, that wasn’t the area where paladins excelled, them being more used to direct action. There was a lot to discuss with Tareth before the search for the necromancer’s hideout would be ready to begin.

And here's the next chapter for this story. I'm quite happy with how this chapter turned out even if it is quite heavy with the game's lore. From now on, things will heat up a good deal and I hope you'll enjoy the coming chapters. If someone still reads this, any feedback would be appreciated!  :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #9 on: July 03, 2017, 12:11:37 PM »
Final Preparations

A meek rasping sound was the only voice that could be heard in a dark room illuminated by a lone candle. The dim light cast its rays  on the moist, ancient stones bordering the small room which was centered around a small table. On it lied a heavy book whose pages’ surfaces were being scratched by a large quill. The necromancer investigated the book’s pages while going through his own notes which were written on the pages’ edges once again. He knew the book by heart but he tried to find ever more small mistakes or places for improvement. The large volume was called the Book of the Damned which held most of the necessary knowledge in the realm of necromancy.

Diodor Highforest was one of the finest scientists and researchers of the Cult of the Damned, the old necromancer’s knowledge in alchemy and magic being overshadowed only by Kel’Thuzad himself. However, his frail body prevented him from being the most powerful foe in battle but his commendable expertise in preparing his actions more than made up for that fault. The Book was the cornerstone of the whole cult and within it were written everything from the origins of the necromancer’s power as well to the smallest of details in controlling the dead. There were many other volumes that deepened the reader’s knowledge about specific realms of necromancy but the Book of the Damned was the heart of all that knowledge. However, there had been new discoveries in this field of magic during the War and Diodor was more than convinced that some parts of the volume’s knowledge were outdated and capable of being improved.

The old wizard underlined a few lines as he took one of his notebooks lying beside him. There were at least a dozen of them at the floor in good order but it was apparent that this particular one had been by far the most used. After browsing it for a moment, a self-confident smile crept to his face. He had been correct: a skeleton didn’t need to lose even a fracture of its living self’s power as the Book had claimed. His own research and many calculations had proved there had been a slight inconsistency in the book’s line of thought, making him question its accuracy. The mistake had been most likely caused by assumption that a wizard, no matter how careful he would be, couldn’t be able to restructure the deceased person’s experience in undeath. This was but one of many examples of the improvements he was working on the Plague’s formula as well as empowering the undead soldiers.

Diodor marked his thesis as proven in the notebook when he noticed he had been correct. Soon his version of the Plague would be unparalleled even by the original Scourge of Lordaeron and he could once again prove his usefulness to the Cult and especially to its revered leader. His reputation had been shaken when he and a small group of cultists following him were ambushed and he had left the lowly acolytes to fight for themselves. That in itself wouldn’t have been a great crime in itself but one of his closest rivals had claimed that he had sacrificed his group because of his claimed disloyalty to the Cult. There was a never-ending competition and a web of conspiracies among those who were candidates to be chosen to ascent to the highest echelon of the Cult’s leadership. Diodor snorted as he thought about the backlash he had received following that day. Still, all of it mattered little. He lived unlike those weaklings and that was what mattered. He would get his chance to serve the Lich King soon enough.

The necromancer looked at his research notes in distinct relief. His work was close to completion. However, to finish them he needed a more capable prisoner than the useless farmers. They weren’t strong enough for him to test his capabilities in preserving the original powers of his victims but the paladins or the priests harassing his work on the other hand… they would do. Diodor sighed in expectation as he thought about the breakthrough he would be able to achieve once the first paladins would rise under his guidance. But even necromancers had to sleep and Diodor was slowly preparing for the night’s sleep. That was until he heard distant explosions in the distance. Diodor could easily guess what they were but just to be sure, he headed towards the opening of the catacombs.

Small flares of white flew over the nightly forest, lighting the surface of the black lake. The Brightwater Lake was the largest body of water in Tirisfal and the islands in the middle of it were seldom thought to house anything of note. However, they contained the tomb than belonged to the old noble house of Irathen whose final descendants had passed away long ago. Their mausoleum lay abandoned and forgotten in the small island that now served as the necromancer’s hideout. Diodor looked in slight amusement as the white lights started to fall back to the ground and fade from the black sky. It was the final mark of day for the paladins searching for him, signaling the end of the day’s search. It was clear that they still had no idea about his whereabouts even after weeks of searching. A few times it had been a close call but every time he had managed to flee in time. Still, Diodor knew better than to get complacent. He wouldn’t let all of his hard work go to waste because of a small oversight.

The paladins won’t see me coming quick enough. They will provide me a quick, easy way to complete my work. Heh, they won’t stand a chance against me…

The necromancer was left to stand in the dark moor of the island when the lights finally died out. Small glimmers of the Two Moons gleamed in the lake’s surface and painted the silhouettes of the trees against the night sky of the early summer. A slight breath of wind accompanied the necromancer as he walked back into his hideout. Tomorrow would be the day the to put his plans into full motion.

Houndmaster Loksey frowned heavily as he looked at his hounds run away from row of splotches of blood in the ground. They stood in the middle of black spots which were engraved into the very earth. Only a warlock or a necromancer could do this kind of damage to the nature, a destructive power to which all of Lordaeron was a testament these days. Loksey was a famed hound trainer near and far but even he hadn’t been able to make his dogs track down the mysterious necromancer. The brown-haired man turned to look at Tareth who could also see the dogs’ behavior.

“It’s hopeless. The dark magic drives the dogs crazy. I’m sorry but I just cannot get them to stay still and follow the tracks.” Loksey’s voice was almost desperate as he called the hounds back from the woods they had fled to. Tareth sighed in deep frustration at the past weeks’ fruitless search for the elusive enemy who always seemed to be one step ahead of the Crusaders. The paladins’ failure to end the murders and kidnappings of the civilians were slowly starting to erode the people’s faith in the nascent Crusade.

“Cannot we try somewhere else where the magic’s taint isn’t as profound?” Tareth asked in an offering voice even if he could tell by now that things would never be that easy. This was the second day when they had tried to get the houndmaster’s help but there was little progress even with his presence. The hounds were completely useless against the supernatural powers.

“I can see that they know that the necromancer has been here but I cannot force them to follow the tracks. They just cannot seem to be able to even tell which way the necromancer fled, let alone be able to follow him.” Each of the crusaders looked at Loksey with glum expressions. They were at a small hamlet near the Monastery and many villagers had gathered around them to see if the paladins could be able to make progress against the necromancer who held the whole region in a grip of terror. None of them were willing to break the usual news to them that they would once again be forced to spend their nights defenseless, most likely resulting in a few villagers’ demise. Veria kneeled to look at the splashes of blood and could see that, as had often been the case, pieces of ripped, bloody flesh lied in the pools of red liquid, proving that some kind of lesser undead, most likely ghouls, had initially fought against the villagers before they had been taken away. The paladin shivered as she thought about the villagers’ horrifying fate in the necromancer’s hands.

Osran looked at the scene’s surroundings, trying to look for more signs about the direction the enemy had fled after their reprehensible deed but, to his chagrin, the necromancer had hidden his tracks with great care. Miraculously, not even small blood trails were visible outside immediate vicinity of the blood pools. He couldn’t blame the villagers for not having the courage to follow the attacker but that didn’t change fact that the past weeks frustrated him greatly. The necromancer was making a fool out of the crusaders with his brief, decisive strikes. Tareth turned to look at the villagers with a saddened look and started to speak in an apologizing, weary voice.

“I assure you, we are doing our best to track down the necromancer but we haven’t been able to locate him just yet. May light be your shield until his corruption has been cleansed from this beautiful land. I give you my word, villagers, that that day will come.” With those words, Tareth and his comrades rose to their mounts and readied to head to another day’s journey to search for the enemy’s hideout. The villagers were seemingly disappointed and fearful but even then, they knew they had no other defenders. No matter how they tried to look at the future, the horrors would continue with no reprieve. Tareth sighed as he and his followers headed off to a forest road further west in the Glades.

Initially the trip was remarkedly silent, with little words exchanged between the two dozen paladins. Their minds wandered in the many questions their enemy posed on them, most and foremost his remarkable ability to stay hidden and strike quickly. During their weeks in Tirisfal, they hadn’t seen a smallest trace of the murderer who seemed to always know the weakest link in the remaining hamlets in the area. Veria was the first one to speak as the Sun’s rays fought to penetrate the dead canopy of the suffering forest.

“No powerful necromancer would descent into the life of a simple murderer. He must be preparing for something greater with these disappearances.” Veria said matter-of-factly, willing to raise her comrades’ attention to their enemy’s larger plan rather than look simply into the disappearances as mere murders. Osran was the first one to answer, his voice tense at the lack of progress by the crusaders.

“Doan told that our enemy is most likely specialized in poisons and the most disgusting types of corrupting magics. But what can he do with the farmers? I would understand if he wanted to create more ghouls to control but as we see it, he wants living prisoners. I guess we have no way of telling his next move if we don’t find that Light-forsaken bastard’s hideout! But we’ve searched these hills for weeks and we haven’t found anything worth noting! Our comrades are dying in Northrend and Darrowmere and here we are, riding around a forest, simply reporting each of the deaths without being able to do anything! This is a pure disgrace to the Crusade!” Osran’s voice rose as his mind started to dwell in the hateful thoughts towards their mission. No one in the Monastery seemed to blame the knights for the slow progress but it was certainly creating a lot of frustration in the paladins. One of the other knights answered in an agitated voice, willing to silence Osran’s complaints about the situation.

“If you don’t have anything that can help us solve the situation, just shut up! This searching is getting on my nerves without you whining about it further! Do you think there’s anyone here who doesn’t feel the same way?!” The knight looked at Osran with a cold glare, his patience already tested by the recent days. The paladin’s words didn’t seem to be targeted purely on Osran but the situation as a whole but that didn’t make things any easier. Osran was about to answer when Tareth spoke quickly.

“Osran’s right but there’s little we can do about it. At this point it’ll take a miracle if we are to make any progress. I’m sorry but that’s the situation we’re in.” Tareth didn’t turn around and his voice was nearly beaten by the situation. A resigned sigh came from his mouth as he heard the same paladin push the issue even further.

“Valdemar trusted us to get this issue over with and I’m not willing to let him down! Our comrades are dying out there, Tareth! You were put in charge but we haven’t been able to do anything! This isn’t what we came here to do!” The knight’s eyes were locked into Tareth’s back and he was seemingly accusing the mission’s commander. The older knight sat still until the lower-ranked paladin had finished his rant and then turned around and shouted straight at him, Tareth’s usual calmness replaced by full-fledged anger.

“Do you really think I don’t know that, boy!? Do you really think I’m here on vacation? There was a reason Valdemar chose me to lead this quest and not you! Aye, we might be lost and unable to proceed but we are also giving the enemy a chance to mess up! If you…” Tareth’s answer was suddenly stopped by a sudden, sharp remark from a new voice in the conversation.

“Silence, now!” The voice belonged to Loksey and his sharp tone silenced the others immediately. All eyes present turned on the houndmaster and soon they saw the reason for his alarm. The hounds were seemingly fearful and they were starting to move towards a tighter ring in clear terror. The only thing that had caused such a reaction to the dogs had been the pools of black magic in the villages hit by the necromancer’s attack. As the paladins continued to listen to their surroundings, they noticed it was completely silent. The woodlands of Tirisfal were already rid of most of its wildlife but there were still occasional sounds of squirrels and insects. But now, nothing could be heard.

“Prepare yourselves! I guess we have a necromancer to kill…” Tareth said as the hounds’ reactions worsened. The paladins drew their swords, eying the surrounding forest keenly. The late morning’s light did little to illuminate the eternal dusk of Tirisfal so there was very little visible in the surrounding woodland. Seconds went by without the least voice until it was broken by a loud bolt of dark energy hitting the knights who were standing last in the formation.

The initial shock of the attack fell four paladins, instantly killing one of them. In the next few moments, the knights formed a ring to try to defend themselves against further attacks but soon, a horde of dozens of ghouls charged from the forest, instantly jumping on the defenders, doing their best to tear the defenders’ bodies to pieces and forcing a few of them from their steeds. Still, any experienced paladin could survive an attack by the lesser undead but what followed was a quick, decisive turn of events that none of the paladins present would have foreseen.

A high wall of black smoke rose instantly from the ground, separating a few paladins from the main group, cutting them off from the defensive formation. Tareth and Veria noticed this immediately and immediately started their efforts to bypass the wall to reach the knights. That was when they saw a dark form looming amidst the trees, standing still while moving his hands in a manner that anyone could have told was spell casting. He didn’t seem to pay any attention to the paladins looking at him as seemingly all of his concentration was required to control the undead. The two knights exchanged glances and started to sprint towards the man while he wasn’t able to defend himself.

Diodor looked at the two in an investigative way, fully knowing that the paladins wouldn’t be able to attack him from that great a distance. The ghouls and skeletons were doing a good job in dragging the few paladins away from the main host and neither would these two attackers be able to threaten him. An expectant grin crept to his hidden face as he saw from the corner of his eye the two knights charging at him, thinking they stood a chance in this fight. He waited still until the two were at range to cast their first judgements and other weapons of the Light but the necromancer wasn’t willing to let them harass his operation. With a small gesture from the necromancer, clouds of green smoke rose from the ground around the two and the toxic gas started to thicken quickly. Still, to the duo’s luck, Diodor wasn’t willing to reveal even a portion of his true powers so the poison cloud wasn’t lethal but it would end their dreams of stopping him immediately.

Tareth felt like his body was about to fail in the mist of green. Instinctually, he started to stumble to his right, desperate to escape the deathtrap he had gotten himself into. Finally, he felt like he could breathe again but to his horror, he saw that the ghouls were already fleeing with three of his followers and the rest of his troops were in total disarray. He could see that Veria was alive but it was clear that the enemy had managed to accomplish his objectives all too easily. As his thoughts started to become clearer again, he could hear a low, rasping sound speak to him in a silent voice.

“Next time we meet, be sure to fight better. I promise you, a new Scourge is rising and this slight reprieve I give you will soon enough become a curse. No one, not even trash like you, will escape the future I’ll deliver.” Tareth looked in horror as the necromancer started to vanish from his view, quickly merging with the dim background. After a few seconds, everything that had proved that the attack had ever happened disappeared with the departure of the ghouls and the necromancer. All that remained was a group of paladins trying to recover from their new injuries. Among them was one casualty and three knights were nowhere to be seen, taken by the horde of ghouls. Osran was the first one to run after Tareth and Veria, the two lying painfully in the ground.

“Tareth! Veria! Where did the necromancer go?!” Osran would have wanted to check his comrades’ condition but putting an end to the nightmare was a far more important issue at the moment. Veria started to speak in a silent, arduous voice as she turned to look at Osran.

“Gone… he is gone… he disappeared into the air. He isn’t here anymore.” Veria struggled to rise from the ground but her efforts failed due to the intense pain in her whole body. Osran looked at the ground in front of himself before he kicked a large rock away in deep anger. The necromancer had been before him and now four of his comrades were gone for good.

“Cannot anything kill that monster? How many good knights do we have to sacrifice to kill one bastard?” Osran’s mind fumed as he called back to the main group where the knights were still recovering from the attack along with the a few priests who accompanied the paladins. His voice was deep and slow as he tried to put on a forcibly encouraging voice.

“One of the priests, come here! There are two requiring imminent help!” Osran knelt to provide initial ease to his comrades with his own healing powers, noticeably reducing the pain his two comrades were going through. When he noticed that the priest was approaching, he prepared to inform Tareth of his intention to go to see whether his comrades needed any help. However, his words were interrupted by Loksey who was wounded to his leg by a ghoul’s bite. He limped badly but it was clear he had something urgent to say.

“Commander! Commander Tareth! I know who our enemy is!” The houndmaster said in concern as the commander slowly rose to a sitting position. He turned to look at Loksey and asked shortly. He was slowly regaining his senses and the healing was slowly depleting the unbearable pain from his body.

“Well, houndmaster? Tell us his name.” Tareth had been informed by the candidates but only one of them had been familiar to him. If it were any of the others, he wouldn’t care too much but Diodor’s name had been familiar to him since his youth. That knowledge made the brown-haired man’s announcement all the more depressing to the commander.

“He was Diodor Highforest, Tareth. I know him because I fought against him during the War. There’s no doubt about it: even if his voice has grown even weaker and his body even frailer, there’s no doubt in my mind.” Loksey’s voice was disturbed by the memories of the enemy during their last confrontations. He had been extremely lucky to have lived to tell the tale and he was far from eager to experience all of it again. The necromancer was a terrifying opponent and there was no doubt his powers had only grown since then even his body had grown weaker.

Tareth closed his eyes as he thought about the new information. Most of the older warriors of humanity remembered Diodor’s name with great honor due to his exploits during the First War’s siege of Stormwind. He was but a young mage back then who found the courage to risk his life to save the fleeing civilians from the doomed city. He had rallied a few of his colleagues and knights of Stormwind to stand against Blackhand’s onslaught and to everybody’s astonishment, they succeeded in saving the fleeing people. Many of the brave defenders fell in the frantic defense but Diodor and the other mages transported the rest to safety once their success was becoming ever more apparent. In the aftermath of the fall, he took the control of defending the refugees and with his and the remaining officers’ guidance, they managed to reach the welcoming lands of southern Lordaeron. Diodor became a hero and his was one of the most celebrated names from the First War, nearly at par with Anduin Lothar and the fallen king Llane. To think that the deformed, frail man before him was the same Diodor who had saved the people of Stormwind in those distant days brought great discomfort to the knight commander.

“What a shame… Diodor was truly a great man during his time but it seems he has followed the Last Guardian in his way to destructive, evil magic. Well, it cannot be helped anymore, he’s beyond our help. He must be dealt with now. At least we now know who our nemesis is.” Tareth slowly rose to his feet, trying to stand without help but he was quickly forced to lean on a tree to retain his footing. Osran looked at Loksey in clear disappointment, hoping without hope that at least some of humanity’s old heroes were still as noble as they had ever been. Even if Osran had known about Diodor’s fall into necromancy, the knight had still hoped he wouldn’t have to face the fallen mage in battle himself. Fighting an unknown wizard would have been easier than facing an old hero. Tareth turned to look at Osran whose gaze wasn’t any less anxious. Osran’s voice tangled sadness, hate and determination together as he looked at his comrades.

“A champion of the First War or not, he is still a servant of the Lich King and as such, one beyond any hope of redemption. We must give him no quarter for the sake of our comrades. The Crusade’s mission is to destroy any and every vestige of the Scourge from this land and he is no exception.” The conversation with Doan had reminded him of the depth of the necromancers’ treachery even if the mage had said that their newfound powers had changed their way of thinking without them realizing it. Still, that knowledge did little to decrease the damage they had done.

“That’s what we’ve been doing, isn’t it? But even after this incident, we’re still no closer to locating him than we were before!” Veria said in a tired voice as her poisoning was being treated with. Osran turned to look into the forest, as if he was expecting to see something new there. After a moment of clearing his thoughts, Osran started to speak absentmindedly.

“No…, we’re not. You said it yourself, Veria. There’s no doubt that Diodor is chasing far more here than mere massacre against the peasants. His attack against us proved it.” Osran stopped for a little moment before Loksey asked him an obvious question.

“So his plans have succeeded thus far. Whatever he’s up to, we should be prepared for it. We weren’t today and we didn’t stand a chance against his ambush. He could have killed all of us if we would have wanted to!” Loksey spoke in an alerted voice, dreading the return of her hounds’ wailing. He was grateful that the necromancer had left the crusaders alive even if he couldn’t even guess the reason for it.

“But he didn’t, for whatever’s the reason. Clearly Diodor’s priorities weren’t in killing us but in taking our comrades. Even then, he got what he was looking for. We should return to the Monastery. I have a feeling it needs defending before long.” Osran felt sick for proposing abandoning their comrades but each one present knew that they were beyond saving at this point. They could only hope that the Light would make their passing as easy as possible.

“His power and decisiveness are formidable, Osran. Even in the Monastery, beating him will be a herculean task. I don’t know whether we are up to it.” Tareth felt shivers run down his spine as he recalled the necromancer’s voice when he remembered his only words before striking his enemies down. Even with the monks behind them, would they ever be able to beat this terrible foe? Osran looked back at him and turned to Veria and Loksey in an encouraging way. He started to walk towards them and spoke firmly to his comrades.

“Each of us knows that the coming battle will be hard. Our enemy is a necromancer like we’ve never fought with before and he’s more than able to kill of us given the chance. I don’t know what other tricks he has in his sleeve, I don’t even want to know at this point. But neither are we as weak as Diodor made us believe. Or are going to prove that the Light is powerless against necromancy?” Osran said as Veria and Tareth nodded approvingly. Both forms of magic had received a beating during the War but yet, both had survived. Veria was the first one to answer.

“You’re right. Diodor showed us some of his tactics today. We will be prepared in the future and on that day, the fight will be more equal.” Veria tried to see that the paladins still stood a decent chance and she did her best to bury the fearful thoughts in her mind. For better or worse, fleeing from the coming war wasn’t an option. If they were being forced to face the coming battles, they might as well hope they’d live through it. Light’s power was extremely strong so there might still be hope to resist the falling shadow. Osran nodded back at her and continued his speech.

“If things only were so simple. Doan told me that the Plague is the necromancers’ most deadly weapon but we didn’t see a flicker of it today. Make no mistake, the real challenge will come for us later. How I hope it wasn’t so but we must give our all when the time comes. Let’s show that the knights of Tyr’s hand are worthy of their home’s name!” Tyr was an ancient legend within the Church and even if very little was actually known about him, it was believed he was the one being who had brought the knowledge of the Light to the humans in distant, ancient times. During his war with the ancient, unknown beings inhabiting the old Azeroth, he fought for untold ages and in the end, willingly gave up his arm to give the humans a chance to serve the Light and to create a future for themselves. The legend was extremely vague but it was in part its highly mystic nature that had made the story live for millennia. Tareth nodded to Osran, knowing that he spoke the truth. No sacrifice would be too great to free Lordaeron from Diodor’s foul presence.

“The Light has given each of us a role to play in this life. We may as well trust its judgement at this point.” Tareth merely shrugged as they prepared to return to the Monastery. Sooner or later, Diodor’s attack would reach the bastion of Righteousness and, on that day, the defenders would have to be ready if they wished to make a successful stand against the powerful enemy.

The plot is thickening quickly and it isn't long until Diodor's plans will start to move forward. The Monastery's defense will be difficult and will the Crusade be able to stand against this new threat? Any comments or thoughts are welcome! :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2017, 11:42:29 AM »
The Necromancer Makes His Move

Osran looked in slight annoyance at the bread he was breaking.  The paladin put the pieces back to the wooden plate and started to cut the small piece of mutton that was served to every denizen of the Monastery during the mornings along with a cup of water and a few carrots. Usually, wine would have been the drink of choice for any knight but it had grown rare in these times of scarcity. Still, this was a far better meal than most of the others he had had in the last months. At least none of it was rotten or brewed in a ship’s cabin for weeks. Osran was about to bite at the bread when he heard Tareth’s, who was sitting opposite to him, thoughtful remark.

“I wonder how Abbendis and Orman are doing in Northrend. We haven’t heard about them since they left to that cursed hellhole.” Tareth spoke as he drank a mouthful of water from his wooden cup. Osran looked at him in slight surprise, not expecting his commander to bring this issue up right now.

“I hope they’re not worse off than us. I’m sure Abbendis leads them safely and wisely. Arthas must put a good defense if he wishes to stop the High General.” Osran said hopefully, hoping against hope that he was correct. Things would get truly ugly if bad news came from the northern land. Still, Osran’s mind was still in the brief but deadly encounter on the previous day. He could shortly hear a brief answer.

“The High General knows his job but still, assaulting Icecrown Glacier itself? That name has been used only in the most fearful tales concerning the Lich King’s story. It is the embodiment of evil and filth in the whole of Azeroth, a pit of unspeakable evil. That doesn’t sound like a place I’d like to attack.” Tareth looked almost relieved that he was talking about such things as distant, faraway places that had nothing to do with him. It was clear that he didn’t lament being left away from that operation.

“Aye, there have been many whispers about it but most of them is rubbish if you ask me. Nearly all of the tales about the Glacier itself is from Kael’thas’ blood elves and we all know how reliable they are. That being said, there could be anything out there. Whatever Abbendis does, he has to be careful.” Veria said absentmindedly. She was sitting with the two but only now joined the conversation.

“Even small hints are better than nothing, Veria. We sent our best crusaders, we can only hope they are good enough to survive out there.” Tareth said in a hoping voice, eating another piece of the small mutton piece. Osran looked at him oddly, willing to make a few things straight.

“The Crusade has to succeed in Lordaeron and in Northrend, Tareth. Or have you already returned to the thought that we’re still struggling to survive the passing day? We are on the offensive to destroy the undead and our comrades in Northrend believe in our cause. Our job may be less glamorous than theirs but we all share the same goal that we have to realize. Abbendis needs our unbreakable trust as we do his, Tareth.” Osran wished to point out that his superior had to acknowledge the necessity of completing every mission the Crusade gave to its members. Tareth put his cup of water to the table as he answered.

“Of course, Osran, and I’m not at all complaining. You know I’m ready to fight whenever necessary but I’m thankful to the Light that I got to stay here. I don’t fear death but I certainly don’t want to meet it until it is completely necessary.” Tareth answered matter-of-factly while looked at Osran briefly. Veria was the next one to speak.

“By all means, that should have happened yesterday. You have no right to think about such matters anymore.” Veria said half-joking, even if she was right about their miraculous survival. Apparently Diodor had had more pressing concerns than to kill two paladins but none of those present had any doubts about the necromancer’s readiness to kill any of them in the future.

“About Diodor… I find it odd that Valdemar thought he was serving the Forsaken. According to Doan’s tale, Diodor has served the Scourge ever since the war.” Osran said as he remembered the Crusader Lord’s parting words. Apparently his information wasn’t as correct as he had let the others know.

“Even he cannot know everything. But you’re right, Sylvanas has been very quiet lately. Apparently she, too, has some work to do in keeping her people together. It only serves us if those beasts keep their ugly faces away from our business.” Veria said as she was finishing her bread. None of the others could disagree with her statement. Even if the Forsaken were undoubtedly an enemy, they could be dealt with later on. No matter how one looked at it, the Scourge was a far greater threat.

“Well, I guess we should start to prepare for today. I cannot wait to hear the night’s news.” Tareth said dryly as he thought about the usual morning reports: a few farmers killed or kidnapped and houses or even whole hamlets decimated. Today they wouldn’t start their usual search but they would rather safeguard the Monastery’s safety as Osran had suggested. The three rose from the table and headed towards the complex’s main entrance and towards the stables. When they had reached the central hall, when they heard the central Cathedral’s bell ringing frantically in the Monastery’s heart.

“Isn’t that the alarm call? Serin told us the main bell sounds!” Veria said in concern as her two companions nodded. This was the call that told about a full-blown assault against the Monastery or its surroundings. It was the announcement that every defender of the Monastery would have to take up arms and report to the main entrance.

“It is. Let’s prepare ourselves before the entire Monastery gets here. It seems Diodor decided to make his move sooner than we expected.” Tareth said as he prepared to get his steed from the stable building. It was mere moments before groups of soldiers, monks and priests started to appear from the main gate.

No more than ten minutes later, almost a hundred defenders of the Monastery were heading towards the surrounding villages. Only a few them had horses and the riders were sent forward to save whatever they could save at this point. The small group of horsemen contained Tyr’s Hand’s paladins, a few priests and the High Abbot himself. Ferren Marcus had never left his domain’s defense to his subordinates and despite his advanced age, the Abbot was by no means a fighter to be trifled with. He may have been growing weak but his command of the Light wasn’t a far cry from the days of his prime.

Osran looked at Marcus with deep admiration. He had gathered most troops of the Monastery to war unbelievably swiftly and the fact that he still led it to war himself was no small feat. However, his report brought great concern upon the aging paladin. According to him, Diodor’s ghouls were patrolling the streets of some of the furthermost villages but there was no real fighting there. This equation brought grim memories to Osran from the days of the original Plague and he couldn’t help but grow deeply fearful about what they would find when they reached their destination.

Tareth felt a similar horror in his mind. He could remember Diodor’s words about this new Scourge and these news only fumed the flames of fear in his mind. If the necromancer had spoken the truth back then, any kind of monstrosity could be possible. He could only hope he and his comrades were up to the coming challenge.

Diodor walked around the desolate streets of Greendale with an expecting, pleased expression that mirrored his internal excitement about the sight around him. Everywhere lied bloody blobs of rotting flesh and choking villagers whose intestines were struggling to escape their bodies and their prisons. The old good smuggling food crates trick never grew old or lost its strength. No one in the village had doubted when some of his better-preserved servants had given them the crates, dressed as Scarlet Scouts. Now, mere half an hour later, Greendale’s entire life had been snuffed out. Diodor couldn’t help but feel deep schadenfreude as he waited for the Crusaders’ arrival. He would soon be ready to make his next move.

The three knights he had taken in the preceding day had finally convinced him that his work was complete. He had spent many long hours investigating the outcome of his final experiment and everything pointed to the direction that the Plague was now perfect. Diodor shrugged as he heard the final cries of agony die out and the entire village starting to get shrouded by swarming insects, soon enough destroying any evidence there had ever been any living being in the hellish landscape that had a few minutes ago been a thriving farming community. But the necromancer was only interested in the hordes of ghouls and skeletons who were rising from the ground, leaving all the excess flesh lying in the streets.  This was only the first part of his plan in crushing the Crusaders and he could hardly wait to get into real work. The appearance of the scarlet-colored banner of Lordaeron in the horizon was only a matter of time at this point.

Ferren Marcus looked in deep concern as groups of civilians ran in panic towards the advancing army. Their faces were masks of horror and the High Abbot could see groups of ghouls tearing some unfortunate villagers to pieces in the far distance. Riding at full speed was a rough job for the old man but his troops would be highly discouraged had he stayed away from the defense. His position as the master of the Monastery had been his pride for decades and he would see his charge to the end without any reprieve. He and his followers stopped to listen to the farmer’s fearful words.

“Thank the Light you’re here, High Abbot! Most… most of our village was slaughtered by the ghouls and the necromancer! Please, stop them!” Marcus would have wished nothing more than to show more kindness to the poor villager but his position demanded him to ask firmly about further information.

“How? Where did they come from! Where’s Diodor? Speak!” The Abbot sounded almost cruel as he spoke but there were no options. The villager looked at the priest in shock and with some stuttering, he started to speak.

“The… they came from Greendale! Without a warning, our neighboring village fell to the undead and we were overrun next! Some of us has seen the necromancer walking behind his army!” The man had to gather all his courage to relay even a description of the last minutes. Marcus thought about the villagers’ words for a moment before he thanked him in a more gentle, understanding voice.

“Thank you, good man. In the Light’s name, I promise we will save what we can. Go on now, try to save yourself.” The High Abbot didn’t wait for an answer before he rode forwards, the news taking their time to register in his mind. Greendale had fallen instantly, without a real fight? Shivers crept in the old man’s mind as he tried his best to shut down the thought of the Plague from his mind but it proved to be a harder task than he had hoped. He couldn’t come up with any other explanation to the farmer’s words and that knowledge disturbed him without end.

Tareth, who was riding closely behind the Abbot, looked at Marcus in concern. He had heard the farmer’s words and similar conclusions were forming in the captain’s head. Osran had told him about Diodor’s adeptness in creating the most horrifying of curses and this seemed very much like the necromancer was starting to use his expertise today. Still, the Abbot’s presence created hope in the paladin’s mind. Ferren Marcus was a living beacon Light and one of the leading members of the Church. His feats were widely-known both in the realm of both culture and war. Tareth had to trust he knew what he was doing. There were no people he’d follow more willingly than Ferren Marcus except for the Grand Crusader and the Ashbringer of the Scarlet Crusade.

“To Greendale! Put on a wide line and crush each and every undead on your way and surround the necromancer! This is our chance to stop him once and for all!” Marcus turned around and called on his army that was slowly catching on the riders. No matter Diodor’s power, he’d never be able to fight his way out of the ring that would soon close upon him. Still, neither of the main officers were ready to believe they’d seen the last of the Scourge’s tricks today.

The necromancer could hear the loud steps of the approaching troops grow closer as seconds dragged on slowly. Diodor knew that the defenders of the Monastery thought that by killing him fast and with crushing power they could stop any strategy he was using before he could even start to execute it. The hooded figure looked in a waiting look as the few dozen horsemen appeared over the small range of hills separating Greendale from the nearby Verdant Farms. The necromancer was standing near one of the main streets’ opening, not even trying to hide from the enemy. He had a few ghouls around him but the rest were still hiding, waiting for the first part in the surprise attack.

Veria looked in concern and disgust as she saw the necromancer surrounded by a group of undead and the bloody remains of the village’s denizens. The paladin had a bad feeling about charging the wizard again but she had to accept that he couldn’t fight every one of them at once. She tried to keep her mind calm as the hamlet grew ever closer. The road was still rather narrow as the first surprise of the battle was revealed. From the surrounding woods, about a dozen skeletons suddenly ran towards the charging host, their direction clearly being the center of the attackers’ formation.
Veria looked in confusion as the undead drew closer and closer. Surely they knew that the paladins could easily cut down those enemies? Flashes of Light’s justice illuminated the forest as the knights attempted to strike down the undead. However, something was wrong. They kept on coming, even as their limbs were torn apart from their bodies and bones were burned to ash and by the time the defenders realized what was going on, it was too late.

Explosions of green could be heard around the horsemen and the larger army behind them. There had to be at least forty attackers, nearly the same amount as the farmers who had disappeared during the last month. The green smoke expanded quickly, enveloping many of the riders and even larger part of the army.

“Spread out and burn the infected! It’s deadly poison!” Marcus called as he looked in fear at his left bodyguard vomit his own blood before his throat tore itself to pieces. A few riders were carrying torches which they threw at the falling paladins, making sure their souls could finish their escape from the Lich King’s horrifying grasp.

Osran looked as two more of his old comrades were swallowed by the fire. In the main army the casualties were far higher but even then, the Crusade would take the day. Diodor had used nearly all of his servants for this ambush and he would most likely be left completely defenseless. His poison had done terrifying damage to the crusaders but had he really thought it would kill all of them? This would be a major oversight on the necromancer’s part if it were true.

Meanwhile, in the nearby village of Springmoor, several villagers were starting to feel severe nausea, some of them falling to the ground, trying to avoid fainting from the terrifying feeling. One elderly woman collapsed on the doorstep of her small house, looking around her in deep terror. Many of her neighbors were already dying, their bodies once again rising as horrifying aberrations of themselves. If the woman had been there earlier, she could have told that this was already the second time on the same day this had happened. However, that mattered little to the woman as she realized that she had already taken her last breath as her lungs failed her for the final time. She looked at the pale sun staring down upon the darkened land as the last thing she’d do in this life. The necromancer’s reinforcements were on the way.

Diodor had chosen his position carefully. The town hall was in the center of small winding streets and it would mitigate the charge potential of his enemies considerably. Here, the village’s former residents could do their best to show the Crusaders down and to deal surprising attacks to their flanks. Unlike most of Lordaeron’s villages, Greendale was built rather densely and to a visitor, its center could have been similar to the towns of Corin’s Crossing or Anderhal. This made it easier to defend against larger attacking forces. the necromancer followed in deep concentration as he tried to come up with the most effective strategy to trap the attackers in this village. He looked at the three undead around him. Less than a day before they had been noble paladins of the Crusade, their lives’ fires burning only to kill him. Now, they served as his bodyguards in case anything went wrong. This would be a good chance to test the full extent of his ability to preserve their original powers.

Ferren Marcus looked at Greendale’s streets carefully and tried to see what Diodor was trying to do and to get any hints about his whereabouts after moving deeper into the village. He had ordered his troops to surround the entire village, prolonging the wait until the coming battle’s start but making sure that the enemy wouldn’t be able to escape. The High Abbot waited for minutes until he was confident that Greendale was under complete siege. Marcus blew strongly to his red horn and the Monastery’s army started to advance on the village’s center.

Oh, Greendale… You were one of the fairest villages in this land. I’ve visited here so many times…

The Scarlet Monastery had had a special autonomy from the Crown of Lordaeron, being free to collect its own taxes and to live by its own rules. Greendale had been the westernmost of that territory, its final frontier before the border of the rest of Lordaeron. While most of the hamlets beyond Greendale had fallen long time ago, the Monastery and most of all, its leader, had wished to preserve and defend its old tributaries. The Abbot felt distinct failure to see first of his old domains fall to the Scourge. Was he the Abbot who would finally live to see the downfall of the Monastery itself?

Few of the crusaders had any more positive thoughts when they looked at the houses that were still in perfect condition. They looked like they were still home to their denizens which had been the case as late as in the early morning. Now, the hamlet was the very image of a ghost town, with the dusky light of the sun struggling to find its way through the constant darkness that held Tirisfal Glades in its grip.

The gloomy atmosphere didn’t last long over the crusaders as the short streets led quickly to the town hall. Suddenly, groups of ghouls started to flood out from the doors and the windows of the abandoned houses, cutting their way into the attackers’ ranks. It wouldn’t have taken long for the monks and paladins to repel them but simultaneously, pieces of black ice started to fall from the sky, making ugly hits on the crusaders upon landing. The beating of the huge pieces of ice slowed the attackers down greatly while they struggled to make progress to the main square. Little did they know about what was happening on the other streets.

Diodor looked in contempt as the crusaders fell under his onslaught. Marcus’ group would be in disarray for some time due to the storm and the other attacking group would be held by a larger group of ghouls. Meanwhile, he would have more than enough time to deal with the third major group. Diodor started to move unusually fast for him towards the street, his lungs rasping as he walked. The paladins were fighting off the last of the skeletons when they heard Diodor’s loud voice from ahead of them. The necromancer’s words dipped poison and ambition as he prepared to take one of his vials from his belt unnoticed.

“You’ll be the first to see my new weapon in battle, warriors of Righteousness. We’ll see what happens to your Light and arcane when it is put up against the power of the Cold Dark itself!” Diodor almost shouted as he released the vial’s content in the air. At first, the crusaders tried to ignore the brownish smoke, their minds too focused on killing the cursed necromancer that had csused them trouble for so long. He was so very close… the knights would have to run only a few dozen meters and strike the wizard down and the entire crisis would be over.

One particularly valiant monk, a dwarf, was the first one to run towards the necromancer, confident that he’d managed to land his strike before he would have to take his next breath. The dwarf looked in anger as the image of the source of all the attacks on the Monastery grew ever closer, his covered face completely unmoving as he looked on the dwarf. However, under the hood his mouth formed a few words which went unnoticed to the dwarf.

The monk could feel clear fear forming in his mind suddenly. It was as if the chance that he would never reach the necromancer was the only scenario that was possible to him at this point. Willing to calm himself down, the dwarf unknowingly took a swift breath before he realized his last, decisive mistake. It was mere seconds before the familiar effects of the Plague took hold and the dwarf fell to the ground, his body ruined by the effect of the Plague. One by one, the other crusaders fell to the ground, their escape blocked by a group of skeletons. Not a minute had passed since Diodor’s appearance and the entire street had been turned into a grisly graveyard. One of the major attack groups had been completely annihilated. Diodor didn’t waste a second before started the next part of his operation.

“Rise my minions! Rise and fight in the names of Arthas and Ner’zhul!”

Osran beheaded one of the last skeletons, opening the way for his group’s advance. He or his comrades didn’t have a clue about what had happened on the nearby street, their only thoughts being their offensive against the hated enemy. He looked in relief as the attackers left the violent blizzard and advanced towards the town hall. However, his and the others’ momentary minute of reprieve ended swiftly as a large group of undead appeared before them. Osran raised his sword again, preparing to cut his way through these new enemies when he noticed something disturbing about these new foes.

Most of them were like normal undead but some of them were wearing red tabards or cloaks and many of them had very familiar weapons that were far from normal to the Scourge. Osran felt horror and rage rise within him as he looked at these new attackers, immediately knowing who they had once been.

This ends here, Diodor! Now is the time for reckoning, Light-forsaken traitor!

“Strike them down! The necromancer must be behind them!” Tareth yelled as he charged against his risen comrades. He might have preferred to leave the most dangerous operations to others but there were times when he wasn’t given the chance. Unlike Osran, he didn’t see the Crusade’s mission as something sacred, the captain being more concerned about his own survival. However, sometimes he didn’t have the luxury to pick his battles and he would have never risen to his position if he didn’t give his all in the face of an enemy. He might value his own life very highly but he also understood that it was worth less than Arthas’ honor if the Scourge were ever to achieve their final victory.

However, the crusaders quickly found out that something was horribly wrong. Before they reached their new enemies, flashes of Light started to fall upon the living, their burning power dealing terrible damage on the attackers. Tareth gritted his teeth as he healed a nearly disemboweling hit on his hand and looked at the undead. They looked like any ghouls and skeletons but unlike them, these monsters were able to use the monks’ and priests powers against their own comrades. Tareth looked in fear as their fallen comrades engaged the crusaders in a frantic melee.

Ferren Marcus took a deep breath as he approached his fallen subordinates. The only saving grace in this situation was that he wasn’t able to recognize the disfigured faces of the undead. He would find them out later but now, it was time to use one of his most potent weapons he had in his disposal. The High Abbot spread his arms towards the undead, muttering something under his breath. He had never been one to take joy in learning the most lethal of spells but to his luck, he didn’t need such weapons right now. A mere vindication would be more than enough here.

Many rays of light left Marcus’ hands, falling upon the ghouls like the first rays of morning would upon a still ice on a pond in a spring winter’s morning. Several ghouls burned down immediately as the Light released them from the prison to which they were bound by the vile magic of the necromancer. However, suddenly the bright power vanished, sinking back into the Abbot’s hand almost knocking him down from his steed’s back. The old man regained his balance quickly, only to see the hated enemy standing middle of the street, his voice silently ringing through the street.

“Your magic isn’t enough to return these fallen heroes to their graves. You will have to best them in battle if you wish to face me. However…” Diodor pointed straight forward, to the hills surrounding the fallen village of Greendale. Slowly, hesitant to listen to the old wizard, some of them turned to look behind them and they saw something that took the last vestiges of their hope. Hordes of undead were running towards them in an unbelievably swift pace. It would be mere minutes before they would be surrounded and doomed to be crushed between the two groups. Marcus felt his heart sink as he saw the approaching horde, unable to believe the magnitude of the trap that had been laid upon his forces.

“You didn’t expect Greendale to be the only village to get a shipment from me, did you? You have failed, old man, the Monastery’s buffer villages have all fallen.” Diodor spoke coldly, confirming the reality that the crusaders had feared to be the truth. However, it helped little for the High Abbot to make his decision.

The options were to press on with the offensive and hope to kill the necromancer before the reinforcements arrived or to flee now and prepare for the next battle. The High Abbot felt sick at the knowledge that his troops would never be able to cut through Diodor’s forces in time. If he wished to keep even the smallest of hopes of winning the war, he would have to flee while there still was time for that. With a heavy heart, Marcus took his horn and blew a long and low call, signaling that the operation had been a failure. After concluding his call, the old priest prepared to flee and spoke quickly to the necromancer.

“The Cult will never win, Diodor. You will never snuff out our Monastery’s light. The Church’s vengeance will reach you and Arthas both in time.” All of the attackers turned on their heels and prepared to flee towards the Monastery. Those without mounts would find the escape dangerous but possible if they hurried. The paladins kept the risen crusaders at bay while the others started their flight. However, Diodor wasn’t finished just yet. Heavy blasts of black ice landed upon the paladins, forcing them to flee before they would be completely slaughtered. When they turned around, one of the larger pieces of ice hit the old Abbot to the back, dropping him from his mount’s back.

“High Abbot! Jump behind me, we have to escape!” Osran called in fear as the priest’s mount was slaughtered by the undead. However, the paladin saw a growing pool of black fire in the ground, isolating him from his superior. Marcus rose to his legs and answered to Osran in a shocked voice.

“I’m surrounded, noble paladin! Flee, while there’s still time! I’ll make them fear the Monastery’s power!” The Abbot’s voice was as commanding as ever and Osran could only nod in acceptance as he looked at the old man. There was nothing he could do anymore to save the Monastery’s long-time master. Osran saluted him in deep reverence and headed back with the others.

Ferren Marcus turned to face the advancing undead but to his deep surprise, they started to flee before him. The reason became soon apparent as the hooded figure walked past them towards the doomed priest. His steps were quite calm and confident but they held communicated respect for his opponent.

“Don’t worry, they won’t attack you, master of the Light.”  Diodor tried to sound respecting surprisingly well but it was apparent that he wasn’t addressing the older man due to admiration. Marcus gritted his teeth together as he prepared to answer to the necromancer.

“What is the meaning of this? If you wish to kill me, then do it, but know that the Crusade will stop you!” the Abbot tried to put on a defiant, proud pose which surprised Diodor somewhat. Even now, the old man thought he was Diodor’s equal. Well, no matter. The necromancer prepared to see the truth in that thought.

“Not anytime soon, Ferren. I spared you to see the real power of the Light and how it is overpowered by my magic. I have spent my days improving my ways of mastering the powers granted to me by Kel’Thuzad, honing them to a degree where the force you call the Light never could.” Diodor spoke slowly, his rasping voice hindering his ability to speak quickly. He, too, tried to put on as honorable pose as he could. Ferren Marcus was a living legend and even if Diodor wasn’t about to let him escape, the necromancer had to respect him as one of the last real opponents he’d face in this land. Marcus narrowed his eyes as he answered.

“The Light isn’t something that can be bended or twisted at will, Diodor! It is the force of good that can be channeled by someone who is willing to follow its teachings! It is a holy power that serves us due to our humbleness, unlike your terrifying magic that brings death and misery everywhere it touches!” Marcus spoke in a loud, accusing voice as he looked at Diodor listen closely. The necromancer waited for a moment before he answered.

“You speak as if you know something about this “Light”. I fought alongside the Church long time ago and not once did I receive an answer for anything I wanted to know from them. You haven’t seen a portion of the horrors the Cult has done but each of them has been worth the pain and the torture. I’m closer to finding about the true nature of the world than you or anyone in your Monastery ever will!” Diodor sounded extremely confident about his point, something that the High Abbot disapproved off greatly.

“The nature of the world? The Light is that which grants everything that is pure to us but of course that’s something you will never see! Every bit of knowledge you might gain from your dark path will bring this world closer to destruction and by the time you complete your studies, everything will be lost! Are you too blind to realize that?” The priest nearly shouted at this point, Diodor’s arguments bringing deep hatred upon him. Diodor seemed to reflect those words for a moment before he gave his answer.

“Maybe I would be if I cared for that in the least. But the depths of the magic reveal far more than you can even dream of. Necromancy is but a stepping stone in my research for the true nature of magic and the world behind it. This school of sorcery is a hint bestowed upon us by the Legion, one that can reveal more to us of the Nether than we can know of. The only thing I dream of is the day when I can say I’ve unlocked the last mysteries of the magic and overtaken everyone in this world in knowledge and understanding of the powers that serve us. I care for nothing else.” Diodor said in a hissing voice, his tone slowly taking a more proud tone to it. This was the project that Diodor had dedicated his life into. For now, the Cult was the only group that could advance those aspirations. Marcus could feel that the time for talk was slowly going to end.

“There is far more to Azeroth than sheer brute power, Diodor, but you are too self-confident to realize it. Just remember, your soulless magic will only serve you while our strength guides us and shows us the way to eventual vengeance! You can never win!” After his final words, the High Abbot released a powerful surge of bright Light at the necromancer who countered it with a bolt of dark smoke which was followed by a rain of frosty hail. Diodor knew he was wasting his advantage with exempting the undead from this battle but he wanted to have a real test of his own strength against this formidable opponent. Diodor believed little in honor but the only way he could truly appreciate his triumph was by affirming the true extent of his power.

Marcus moved to shield himself from the falling frost and granted himself many blessings of the Light. He wanted to make sure the necromancer’s attacks wouldn’t breach his defenses easily and it gave him more room for maneuver later on. Diodor took this moment to attack him with a rush of fear, willing to see if it were strong enough to break the old man’s resolve. Marcus could feel horror grow within him but he quickly calmed his mind with extreme dedication and soon enough, he felt the courage return to his battled mind. Diodor looked at the Abbot in an almost respecting way, satisfied by his ability to calm his mind against his powers. Still, the priest would never win. Diodor continued his unending onslaught as the High Abbot tried to stand his ground feverishly.

Osran felt a cold grip in his heart as he saw waves of ghouls close upon the crusaders, closing one of the last spots where an easy escape would have been possible. He looked at the advancing ghouls in deep hatred and he knew there was no time for any kind of hesitation. The ghouls’ ranks seemed to be rather thick but it couldn’t be helped. Either he and his comrades would have to go through or doe here.

“Concentrate on one spot and give your everything to achieve a breakthrough!” Tareth called as the escaping crusaders moved closer to each other. Osran moved to the frontline and prepared for the collision. Exorcisms from the paladins felled many undead immediately but their ranks restored almost immediately. The aging knight looked at the paladins around himself, hoping beyond hope that they could break through the enemy’s lines. The initial contact was a total bloodbath, with the undead being trampled under the knights’ hooves. The infantry followed them closely, safeguarding the flanks from any counterattacks. Rotting hands hit at shields, lights flashed in the dusky morning and the knights managed to penetrate Diodor’s lines. However, a certain accident threatened to cause mayhem in the fleeing troops.

Tareth had been hit from his steed’s and he was lying in the ground. Miraculously, the other paladins managed to avoid trampling him just barely. Osran cringed as he looked at his commander but he was close enough to try to save him. Osran quickly turned around and with precise maneuvering, managed to get to his superior just in time.

“Get behind me, Tareth! We have to go now!” Osran commanded in a stern voice, looking at his captain grimly. Tareth looked at him in appreciation and even with his slight injuries, he managed to rise to Osran’s horse and not a moment too soon. The open spot in the undead ranks was quickly closing and soon Tareth would have been left to die in the hands of the undead. Osran looked towards Greendale, bidding the last honors to the High Abbot before the village disappeared from sight. The operation had failed miserably and the losses had been massive but at least the Crusade would fight another day.

Many blows had been traded between the two combatants and Diodor was more than pleased with the results. The priest was as powerful as he had expected but he was by no means a match for the necromancer. Either the older man had simply defended or his efforts to receive an opening for an attack had been thwarted immediately. A growing resignation rose to the Abbot’s mind as he realized that he was fighting a battle he couldn’t win. Still, he was able to keep his proud posture as he executed an honorable, last stand to the values he had always defended. Finally, after a long duel, Diodor came to the conclusion that his hopes had been confirmed. With a congratulating voice, he spoke for the last time to his opponent.

“You are every bit as powerful as I’ve heard, Ferren. Thank you for giving me this chance to prove that the Light is nothing compared to the power of necromancy. Now, it’s time to close one chapter in the history of Tirisfal!” Diodor stretched his hand towards the hapless priest and released a large cloud of swirling, brownish energy around Marcus, ending the fight immediately. The old man who had led the seat of Lordaeron’s wisdom for decades started to rot before Diodor’s eyes and soon his skin and flesh had been eaten away by the horrifying power of the new Plague. Diodor was prepared to cast the spell to resurrect his combatant when he heard another, slightly older voice speak behind him.

“Well done, Diodor. I guess congratulations are in order.” The necromancer turned quickly to look behind him, startled by the fact that he had been managed to approach without him noticing. Moreover, the newcomer’s identity puzzled him greatly. He was a grey-haired and bearded man who wore a similar robe as Diodor. The robe of the Cult of the Damned.

“Diesalven! What are you doing here? Trying to kill me?” Diodor spoke in an aggressive voice, his old colleague’s appearance troubling him greatly. If the Cult knew about his whereabouts, why hadn’t they contacted him before? The man known as Diesalven walked slowly towards Diodor whose gestures prompted him to stop after walking a few meters.

“No. It would be a tough fight and even if I happened to win, it would be a total waste. You were one of our lead researchers and killing you is surely not in our best interests.” Diesalven looked directly at the other necromancer who returned a confused looked beneath his hood. He was slightly relieved to hear that he wasn’t up for another fight but the older wizard’s antics didn’t amuse him at all.

“Don’t play with me, Diesalven! State your business, now.” Diodor stopped short of sounding truly threatening as he, neither, was far from eager to engage his counterpart in a battle. Diesalven looked around himself at the abandoned village and then answered to the other necromancer.

“The Cult has followed your moves ever since your dismissal from our midst. Even if you failed miserably in the power struggle, we never wished to give up on one of our old core members. We always knew you could offer more to us than you did in the past.” Diesalven’s arrogant voice brought great anger to Diodor who didn’t like Diesalven’s tone at all.

“I was deceived, not defeated! And if the Cult think I’m their pawn, they are badly mistaken! I serve only myself, not some fools who deserted me long ago!” Diodor lied as he tried to strengthen his position in the uncomfortable discussion. His loyalty belonged to Kel’Thuzad but the Cult itself was a mere stepping stone for the younger necromancer. Diesalven looked at him expressionless and answered in a dry voice.

“It matters little whether you were betrayed or defeated in battle, you were still outsmarted and beaten in our eyes. However, Frostwhisper himself has decided to offer you a way to redeem yourself from your failure.” Diesalven finally said as he looked at the other necromancer in an arrogant way. Diodor felt his anger rise from the way his counterpart showed his superior position. Still, Diodor knew that this was his best way to regain his lost position in the eyes of the Scourge’s masters.

“By destroying the Monastery, is that it? I doubt you would have appeared here otherwise today.” Diodor said in an attempt to take back the control of the discussion. Diesalven nodded in approval and answered quickly to his colleague.

“Correct. You would be the first former member who would be allowed back into our organization. Frostwhisper even promised you an audience with Kel’Thuzad himself if you are successful.” Those words finally captured Diodor’s full attention and his contempt at Diesalven was forgotten immediately. If he played his cards correctly, there was a chance he could ask for favors from Kel’Thuzad himself, almost instantly rising to the Cult’s highest echelon of command. He was about to answer when Diesalven interrupted the other necromancer.

“But all of that happens only when the Monastery is overrun by the Scourge. Win or die, I care little for it. The Cult provides no help because you must prove your worth alone.” Diesalven stated the obvious as Diodor felt an ever-deeper urge to complete his mission. It hadn’t changed but it has received an even deeper meaning. Diodor’s mouth turned into an expectant smile as he answered.

“Tell Frostwhisper that he can deem the job done. Now, leave, before you have outstayed my welcome!” Diodor said sharply, prompting the other necromancer to reply in kind and leave the ruins of Greendale, leaving Diodor to consider the new development and to advance his plans for his next move. No matter what, he would return to the Cult and claim his prize. That was a vow he gave to himself as he started to walk back towards the village’s centre.

And there's the next chapter! The campaign for the Monastery has begun and it'll take a small miracle for the crusaders to defeat the advancing Scourge. I hope that those who still read this story finds this a good read and any feedback would be appreciated! Have a great time until the next chapter! :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #11 on: July 25, 2017, 11:41:10 AM »
Whitemane’s Gambit

The retreat to the Monastery was surprisingly organized even if there were minor ambushes launched by the chasing undead and casualties were moderately high among the fleeing soldiers. Everywhere they looked, the crusaders could see dead villages and pools of blood in the spots where their former countrymen and women had met their horrifying ends. Some of the houses were burning and their dancing flames only darkened the already dark sky. Nearly all of the remaining human villages in eastern Tirisfal Glades were wiped out within an hour and worse yet, the villagers would now fill the necromancer’s dwindled ranks. The few remnants of the region’s old countryside were gone forever, only the Monastery itself standing as the last, fading memory about what these lands once were. This day would have a momentous and tragic legacy but for now, the only thing that mattered to the crusaders at this point was safeguarding their own positions in the Monastery and to halt the Scourge’s advance while there was still time.

“Get all the monks and the tools from the Soldiers’ quarter here! Quickly, the undead will be here at any minute!” The voice belonged to Renault Mograine who was among the first of the soldiers to reach the Monastery grounds. Even if he hadn’t witnessed the day’s greatest loss personally, the young paladin could immediately tell that Ferren Marcus was nowhere to be seen. Given the situation, putting the pieces together wasn’t a major challenge. Unlike many of his comrades, the young paladin felt no sadness or regret this development, far from it in fact. As long as he could remember, the blonde-haired knight had despised the old Abbot almost as deeply as he hated his father and he had waited for a chance to take his place. Renault knew that his family name gave him major leverage in giving him the command in this sudden and dangerous situation. He was approached by a tall and extremely muscled man who looked at him with an aggressive expression.

“Who gave you the right to command us, Mograine? Get into the work like the rest of us!” The large man spoke to the young paladin and the latter was momentarily heckled by this display of brute intimidation.

“At least you won’t order me, Herod! You may be one of our mightiest warriors but you don’t know anything about commanding! Leave that part to others, more capable men!” Renault hissed under his breath as he looked at the larger crusader. His hostile look was greeted in kind by the man called Herod who had long served as one of the most ardent defenders of the Monastery due to his strength, passion and skill. Many overlooked him as anything other than a mere brute, a custom Herod didn’t seem to mind.

“Don’t test my patience, brat. You may be the Highlord’s son but that means nothing here. Begin earning your upkeep before I have to teach you a lesson. Get out of my sight!” After one, hateful look Herod moved away from Renault and headed to build the barricades around the Monastery complex, leaving Renault to look at him in annoyance. He respected Herod’s value as a soldier but he despised the larger man’s arrogant and self-righteous attitude. Still, Renault knew his own cards were rather good at this point. The High Abbot was dead and soon many others would have a chance to lay down their strategies and visions until the next Abbot could be appointed which wouldn’t happen anytime soon.

Half an hour later the barricades were high enough to hold off the undead even if it was becoming clear that their assault had been stopped for now. Nearly all of those who had survived the brutal onslaught shuddered at the memory of the turning villagers and the brutal remains of their old bodies as well as the cold, overwhelming power of the Scourge. But most importantly, the Monastery’s exalted and beloved lord was no longer. There was no one who would be able to take his mantle and lead the crusaders to victory in this dire hour. The mood was nearly defeated when the mournful bells of the Monastery called the higher-ranked members of their forces into the Cathedral for reasons that weren’t too difficult to guess.

Osran accompanied his captain to this meeting as one of the few senior knights of his group. The leaders and officers of the Monastery headed to this occasion as soon as they could but the moods and the expressions of the attendees would have been more fitting for a funeral. Some were openly weeping while others’ faces were masks of hatred and retribution. To Osran’s surprise and shock, the priestess who started to speak was the same one to who had interrupted his conversation with Renault in the morning following their arrival. The brief acquaintance had been far from pleasant. Osran could only hope that he had judged her wrong.
“My brothers and sisters, as you know, our revered Abbot Ferren Marcus fell during the morning’s battle, a loss that can never be replaced. His ability to lead and inspire us was without equal and his passion in preserving our Monastery’s wisdom and heritage is an example to us all. He lived and died as a true champion of Lordaeron and the Church. Nonetheless, the reality is that he is dead.” Whitemane’s words were full of sorrow and respect to the dead priest but it turned into a sharper one with the last sentence. Her eyes seemed to penetrate each and every one in the room as she continued.

“I served as his deputy for his last years and by the pretense of Lordaeron’s law, I’ll take his place in absence of the Church’s central command. Normally, our Monastery’s leader should be declared and affirmed by the Church’s supreme leader but due to his absence, I’m taking control of our home for now.” Osran looked around himself with surprise and worry. Something about Whitemane caused distrust in the brown-bearded knight, something he couldn’t quite point out. Still, he knew his word would weigh little here and the paladin raised no objections.

“However, before we do anything else, we must crush the necromancer and secure our Monastery from Diodor’s attack. If we fail, all of our lives will be forfeit. Half of our forces fell today and beating the enemy became much more difficult due to our failure. However, I have already spoken with someone who will be able to provide us with a strategy that can give us a chance to save ourselves. Renault Mograine, please step forward!” Whitemane looked at the young paladin as he moved to her side. Many in the hall exchanged surprised looks as the inexperienced, arrogant boy had been called to give them orders. Especially Herod looked disappointed by this sudden turn of events but he, like Osran, kept his mouth shut. Mograine looked at the others and continued where Whitemane had stopped.

“Indeed, I believe I’ve found a decisive flaw in Diodor’s plans. The cursed enemy of the Light might be able to master his evil, destructive powers and he may have slayed our comrades without end but he is still nothing more than a filthy murderer who stands no chance against our retribution. During the battle, I could see that he knew everything we would do and that helped him counter our strategy easily. According to what I’ve learned, the key to beating him is to catch him by surprise and to give him no time to develop his nefarious plans. I say we regather the rest of our troops and counterattack the necromancer before he has even digested his first, lucky victory.” Mutters of approval and concern could be heard in the room as most of the crusaders had a hard time trusting their very lives to the young paladin and his plan but none of them could come up with anything better. After all, anyone who would object to Renault’s proposition implied that he or she had a better idea, something they simply didn’t have.

However, one paladin couldn’t believe his ears as he listened to Renault’s proposition. Two times the crusaders had attacked Diodor straightly and both times had resulted in a complete disaster. Osran had seen many fine strategies and battleplans during his life but the younger Mograine’s idea certainly wasn’t one of them.

“I object! We cannot rush towards him once more! If he is waiting for our counterattack, we’re all as good as dead! We cannot take that risk” Osran’s voice was almost a cry as he interrupted Renault’s speech. All of the eyes in the hall turned to look at the interrupter, most of them unsure what to make of his objection. Renault turned to look at Osran who quickly walked towards the altar as was a custom for those seeking a chance to speak directly to the preacher.

“Who gave you the right to speak, outsider? Time is of the essence and you wish to waste our time trying to question your superior?” Renault yelled in deep displeasure at the aging paladin who tried to rob him of his newfound authority and respect. Osran answered in a more silent and respecting voice while he still withheld his firmness.

“With all due respect, crusader Mograine, no one appointed you just yet and even if Inquisitor Whitemane did without telling us of it, the Church’s rules allow for its attending members to voice their doubts if they see flaws in the speaker’s judgement. We all know that my right to speak is unquestionable. Isn’t it so, High Inquisitor?” Osran looked at Whitemane with an uncompromising but noble expression. He was quite sure his proposition wouldn’t be accepted but he wasn’t about to let the younger knight or his companion to rob him of his rightful answer. Whitemane looked at Osran in deep annoyance but he knew the older knight spoke the truth. The priestess simply nodded to him reluctantly, signaling that Osran could proceed. Renault looked at his companion in chagrin but he knew better than to say something unthought. No matter how little the younger Mograine despised the situation, he couldn’t afford to lose his credibility now.

“Then speak, old man. Maybe then you finally learn to stay silent during times like these.” Renault’s voice was cold and held clearly restrained anger. Osran realized he wouldn’t get a better arrangement for his objection and he turned to look at the assemble crowd. Most of them didn’t seem to know which one to listen but they at least knew Renault personally while Osran was an outsider, albeit a valuable one.

“We keep losing to him because we do exactly as he expects. During his attacks on the villages in the previous weeks, he could always tell how we’d react to his attacks but we knew nothing of him. He could always plan his attacks perfectly because we wouldn’t be able to counter them. This morning, we attacked him headlong and he had a trap laid out for us and we walked to it without a second thought! Now Diodor probably expects us to counterattack and try to to avenge Marcus and if we once again fall to it, we’re done for!” Osran spoke in a firm voice and his eyes resonated with clear determination. The audience listened to him in worry until Renault once again spoke.

“Or then again he might expect us to whimper here like dogs, resigned to our fate as servants of the Scourge! Are you saying that we should stay here and wait until we’re surrounded and ready to be slaughtered?” Renault narrowed his eyes as they seemed to penetrate Osran will their enraged glare. Osran felt greater concern by the minute for the young Morgraine and his ability to once inherit the Ashbringer and Alexandros’ position from his father but those thoughts had to be cast away now. The Monastery’s fate could very well be decided by this debate.

“The most important thing at this point is to minimize the amount of forces Diodor commands during our next battle. Another failed attack could provide him with an unstoppable advantage in manpower, especially as his soldiers seemed to retain the power they held in life. We have to fight a more restrained battle and let the mages burn…” Osran was suddenly interrupted by Whitemane who decided to partake in the debate sternly and with a voice that echoed Renault’s hostility. She had no more appetite to fight with the paladin and she resolved to get this irritant out of the way.

“The mages? We are in center of Light’s power in this land and you recommend that we rely on the mages? Since when have paladins deemed the good things in this world worthless in face the destructive, brutal power of the unstable magi?” Whitemane yelled at Osran whose calm expression slowly started to give way to the anger he held towards the two. Arellas, who was among the attendees, looked at Osran in surprise, not expecting the paladin to be willing to provide him and his colleagues such a major display of trust in front of the others. Osran’s voice started to rise slowly as he prepared to once again defend himself.

“If they are the key to our victory, yes! We, the paladins and priests, are the main warriors of the Crusade and we will be able to vanquish any evil that we encounter. But that triumph will prove worthless if that evil rises again from its grave! Diodor isn’t invincible and he mustn’t be allowed to get the initiative again! No matter what, we have to avoid falling into his trap once more and the magi, alongside with our scouts, are a good way to bypass his plots!” Osran said in a loud voice which silenced the others to simply follow the debate, willing to see if Mograine and Whitemane would be able to defend their position against this brave outsider.

“And the longer we chatter here, the more time he’ll have to hone his strategy, old man! As for the magi, they’ve proven them too unreliable for us to lay our strategy in their hands! Do you want more of them to join the necromancer’s ranks, outsider? Do you ?!” Renault yelled in cold rage as he thought about the treachery of many of the magi in the past. Not only was this decrepit upstart questioning his authority but he was also threatening the Crusade itself with his reckless plans. He had to show him his place here, before the eyes of his comrades.

“Many others of us will serve the Scourge soon enough if you have your way, Renault! I’ve known your father for years and he has always led his troops with courage and wisdom, always considering all different aspects of the coming battle! The Ashbringer has never sacrificed a comrade needlessly and neither must we today! We simply need to be patient and precise in our moves!” Osran hoped to invoke a flurry of doubts in the younger Mograine’s head but he didn’t know the young man’s contempt for his father. Alexandros was a beacon of hope for the Crusade and surely his son should remember the amount of personal sacrifice the elder Mograine had gone through in the two great wars. At this point, Renault was about to unleash an all-out attack on Osran when Whitemane suddenly whispered something to him. She realized that a rant of the Highlord’s faults wouldn’t be helpful to building trust on the two among the audience.

“The Ashbringer has always been a man of action and today we honor his leadership by following his principles. I believe in his son’s judgement and leadership today over this unknown outsider. The Church grants its acceptance to Mograine’s plan. Does someone object to its order and defend our guest’s proposition?” Confused muttering filled the room but no one wanted to stand up to the decision of the Church’s highest official in the Monastery. Also, Mograine’s name and the straightforwardness of his plan was a huge encouragement to many of those present.

Osran looked around himself with a discouraged expression, seeing that only Tareth, Herod and Arellas looked at him in clearly sympathetic eyes. Osran knew that his cause was lost for now, no matter how much despair acknowledging it brought to the aging knight. Regardless of his disappointment with the outcome of the argument, he knew his chance to speak had been spent and any further arguing would only worsen his position. He bowed gracefully to the duo and spoke in a tense but respecting voice.

“Excuse my interruption, my comrades. I accept your proposition. Let’s hope it will be the correct one.” Osran turned on his heels and walked back to his seat. He could feel Renault’s vengeful eyes bore deep into his back as he walked but he knew there was nothing the young Mograine could do at this point. He had won the argument but it allowed no further repercussions to the lost side. Tareth looked at his follower with an apologizing expression as he sat down.

“Well spoken, Osran. I’m sorry the others couldn’t see the truth in your words.” The knight captain whispered to Osran who followed the duo’s speech with a bitter look.

“They will, eventually. Sadly it may be too late for us by then.” The brown-bearded paladin shook his head as he prepared to head to the courtyard and back into battle. He smiled in bitter irony at the thought that it seemed like his superiors had decided that he and his comrades wouldn’t live until the evening. The thought was a mix of disgust and contempt at the man who was supposed to follow in his father and brother’s footsteps in serving the Light and defending the weak. At this pace he would become the shame of the whole Mograine family.

The Monastery was bordered by now-abandoned farmlands to the south whereas to its west opened a thick forest that separated the complex from its western tributary villages. To the region’s past inhabitants, this would be the time to enjoy the reaps of the warmest time of the year and to enjoy the long, happy days preceding the coming fall and eventual winter. The woods would have once bloomed with life as the Midsummer’s warm wind flushed through them but now, only tiny, struggling pieces of vegetation grew in the dying trees. Beneath the forest’s dark canopy gathered hordes of newfound ghouls, manning the thickets and strategic hills surrounding the Monastery’s western Interrogation quarter. Diodor walked middle of his newly-enlarged army as he saw the towers of the huge Monastery rise between the trees. Originally, the necromancer had planned to put the complex under siege and to batter its defenses down one by one. However, Diesalven’s visit had changed all that. Diodor no longer saw this as a test of his personal merit: this was a chance to achieve the next leg in his lifelong quest into the secrets of sorcery.

Diodor waited patiently as he expected some kind of retaliation from the crusaders, something with which they would hope to avenge their fallen master. The necromancer had decided to rely on more direct action from now on to achieve his desired goal as soon as possible. Still, Diodor was no fool and he knew that he was still far from invincible. The first fight had gone as he had planned but it wasn’t an assurance that the rest of the confrontations would follow the same pattern. The necromancer had gone through far too much to let a simple, stupid surprise turn into his undoing. Diodor could already see the smug, rejoicing faces of his old rivals if they heard about his failure and death.

Still, those seemed distant prospects as Diodor heard massive, thundering behind him. No matter how he tried to prove himself wrong, there simply wasn’t a chance the crusaders would be able to defeat him. Diodor’s worries were further diminished as he saw groups of monks and priests gather at the main door of the Monastery.

Once you make your final mistake, it’s my time to become Kel’Thuzad’s right hand and the overlord of these lands! Come… come here. Whatever you do, it will be of no use before my power!

Arellas didn’t feel comfortable at all when he mounted his steed, ready to join the risky counterattack. He regretted deeply Osran’s failure to persuade his comrades to abandon this foolish endeavor but it was too late now. He could only hope that Renault was wiser than his years would indicate. The elf himself wanted nothing more than to avenge his homeland but not like this. He and the handful of mages following him had been heavily utilized or but little trusted in the previous battles as Marcus saw their value as soldiers but not as comrades. This seemed to change little under the new leadership but still, Arellas knew his duty remained. He would give his all to fight the Scourge, no matter how it would end. He owed it to his now-fallen people to show that the high elves wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Sally Whitemane turned to look at her companion as they prepared to depart to battle. The inquisitor knew she held the true power with the Church’s backing but Mograine’s name was a useful tool in bringing the Monastery under her grip. The two had known each other since their early childhood so a deep amount of trust had developed between the duo who had so easily claimed their place as the masters of the Monastery. Whitemane spoke to Renault in a neutral, matter-of-factly voice.

“Remember what we planned in the morning! We cannot afford to fail or else our legitimacy will be compromised! The others will engage Diodor’s forces in battle and we will outflank him while he’s preoccupied. Just be sure that you won’t fail in this task.” Whitemane wished to make it clear that their careers were most likely on stake here along with their lives. The two had waited for this chance for a long time and Marcus’ death had opened them this window of opportunity. They had even planned to murder the High Abbot in the past but the risk of failure and the chance of being caught outweighed the benefits of getting rid of a man who’d likely pass away in a few years anyway.

“I won’t let that villain live until the evening, Sally. That is the only way I can ever step out from my father’s shadow and to prove that I’m a more powerful paladin that he’ll ever be. Maybe even our subordinates will prove to be useful soon enough. Killing the necromancer is a mere stepping stone to greater power in the Crusade.” Renault spoke coldly, his voice reflecting his internal resoluteness for greater glory and honor within the Crusade. Whitemane looked at her companion with a stern look, not willing to hear those words just yet.

“Just remember that Diodor is more powerful than any of us. You cannot attack him straight away and expect to win! That kind of attitude is why you would have never received the others’ approval for your plan without my help!” Whitemane said, willing to underline her point with a firm voice. Even if she had grown to respect Mograine’s willingness to act and ruthlessness, she wasn’t in any way willing to give him any quarter from her guidance. They might enjoy each other’s company and share a common, happy history but both of them were most of all ambitious and ruthless plotters who knew they simply needed each other’s help in safeguarding their position within the Monastery and the Crusade as a whole.

“How could I forget it? That insufferable corpse did his all to undermine my authority! Without him, no one would have even dared to question a Mograine’s word! I’d get rid of him today already if I didn’t need each and every paladin’s help in this battle. I can show him his place later, after all this has been dealt with!” Renault said in clear anger, knowing that his opponent was only a few meters behind him, riding in the first lines with his captain. No matter. He would leave back to Tyr’s Hand after this battle and Renault would make sure he’d never return to the Monastery in the future.

“It’s amazing how much headache one old man caused you. You could have handled him more easily if you have given your plans more thought! Luckily we already went through it so even you might remember it now!” Whitemane said mockingly as she turned her gaze back at the road before her. It was slowly starting to drift downwards, towards the south where the road to Greendale would start. However, that journey would end much sooner than the two had expected.

Suddenly, without a warning, the ranks of the crusaders broke down as a large group of soldiers suddenly started to scream and run towards each other, causing severe chaos in the wider array of troops and momentarily breaking their will to fight. On this moment, a group of undead appeared from the forest but they didn’t charge as normal ghouls and skeletons would. These newcomers stood still and started to cast their spells upon the surprised crusaders, releasing the Light’s vengeance upon its own champions. However, this time the defenders were prepared for this kind of turn of events and they shielded each other from these blows. As they had been told, it was of extreme importance to keep the casualties as low as possible.

Renault and Whitemane cursed as they saw this sudden development. The paladin moved to safeguard his companion who in turn provided him with powerful healing and blessings that turned the two into a powerful fighting unit.

“Let’s find the bastard and put an end to this! Just safeguard my back!” Renault said as he started to cut into the horde of the undead.

“Just hurry, my champion! We have to catch him off guard!” Their whole strategy relied on the assumption that Diodor didn’t expect a few defenders to breach his lines and to leave their comrades behind. Abandoning one’s allies was against the principles of the Crusade but one that the two were prepared to breach.

The situation in the main force of the defenders was chaotic and discouraged as they had once again been surprised completely. They had managed to defend themselves successfully but more and more of the risen priests and villagers swarmed from the forest. Osran looked at them in despair and rage as he thought about his earlier words and the fact that they had so readily been dismissed by the denizens of the Monastery.

Well, that’s their loss as well as mine. Come here, bastards! I’ll conclude what I started during the fall of Northdale!

Osran’s mind raged with fury as he infused his sword with the power of Light and moved to the front line, willing to cut down as many undead before they would finally be overwhelmed or ordered to flee. He might have been defeated in the debate but he was willing to go to any lengths at this point as long as it hurt the Scourge and the hated traitor of both Lordaeron and Azeroth. Osran’s conscious mind had long since given way to the red fury of the battle and contempt at his leaders. No matter what, his blade would cut down as many undead as possible before the end.

“My fellow crusaders, let’s give them Hell! Cut our comrades down and strike down the cursed necromancer! Fight for Lordaeron!” Osran yelled and started his charge at the undead on the edge of the forest. More and more powerful blasts of twisted Light rained upon the crusader but the sound of his comrades answering to his battlecry swiped the last vestiges of doubt from Osran’s mind and he quickly run past the ditch separating the road from the forest, his comrades’ cries ringing in his ears.

The initial contact brought many casualties on the undead but even in his enraged state, Osran could tell that he couldn’t keep up his momentum for any longer. No matter how hard it was to accept, these were his old comrades and they knew the art of fighting as well as he did. Still, the aging paladin struggled to cut down his foes, encouraged by the thought that the whole Crusade’s fate was hanging in the balance. Should the Monastery fall, the Crusade would be completely wiped out from Tirisfal and another front would be created against them by the Scourge, hampering the humans’ offensive capabilities greatly and probably dooming them to a long and slow defeat.

Even then, he knew that there was close to zero chance of actually beating back the charging undead, their numbers vastly outnumbering the defenders and some of them possessing the same abilities as the living. There wasn’t any chance of victory against this monstrous foe. Osran felt unbelievable pain as a hit upon hit at him, only to be healed by his comrades. Osran was engaging another fallen farmer when one of the risen paladins hit him into the back by a bright judgement, causing a mortal injury to someone who didn’t have healers nearby. Osran turned around and to his relief, he saw a man whose presence filled him with new hope. Herod stood in front of him and looked sternly at the smaller paladin before he continued his fight.

“Stop staring around yourself, paladin! You started this charge so at least fight until the end! Now, monsters, face the Blades of Light!” Osran looked in awe as the huge, red-helmeted man disappeared into the undead horde, his swirling axes cutting dozens of them down instantly. Osran let a slight smile creep into his face: if everyone had Herod’s courage and strength, the Scourge wouldn’t stand a chance.

Diodor himself was following the fight deeper in the woods, carefully inspecting the situation before diving into the heat of the fight. His servants could keep the crusaders busy long enough for him to inspect whether there were any tricks that he should be aware of. Nearly, if not all of the Monastery’s defenders, were engaged in frantic melee and there didn’t seem to be any hidden threats in the dark woods. Maybe it were time for him to end this battle and to impose full siege on the Monastery and to decide this campaign once and for all.

“There he is! Renault, assault him first and I’ll join in once he puts his attention on you!” Whitemane said as she saw Diodor walk towards the raging battle, looking as confident and malicious as ever. The young Mograine looked at the necromancer in fear, his black cloak, tormented appearance and hooded face filling him with horror and hate. Still, should he dispose of this villain, nothing would prevent his ascension into the Crusade’s highest echelon of leadership, past his pitiful relatives and pathetic comrades.

“He doesn’t seem to notice our presence. Just do your part and I’ll do mine. We will slaughter him right here.” Renault whispered to Whitemane who simply nodded and answered.

“Go, now! We don’t have much time!” The two were hiding in the dark bushes near where the necromancer was walking. Renault tightened his grip on his sword, hoping beyond hope that their attack would be a successful one. The time between his appearance from the dark woods into engaging Diodor was little more than two seconds, a time in which he hoped it would be impossible for the necromancer to defend himself. Renault was greatly taken aback by Diodor’s swift jump backwards and his surprisingly agile dodge. The paladin’s sword hit the ground mere inches before the necromancer who was seemingly surprised by the young paladin’s attack.

“I knew you were planning something like this, cowards! It won’t do you any good, though. The power of the Cold…” Diodor was preparing to cast a blast of shadow to quickly burn Renault to ash when he felt a fleeting moment of fear as he felt the spell die down in his hands. The necromancer looked around himself, desperate to see who was messing with his magic. It took a mere moment for him to locate the source of the counterspell and he called with an unusually loud voice while casting another blast of magic into the woods.

“Get out of the hiding, priest! Fight me face to face, scum! You won’t get a chance to hinder my plans!” He looked in contempt as Whitemane run to Renault’s side, the necromancer’s swift reflexes robbing the two of their expected surprise advantage. Still, both of them were unusually potent in their own schools of mastery of the Light and they knew they fielded a small, if fleeting chance against Diodor’s power. Renault turned to face Diodor as Whitemane’s spell wearied out.

“You die here, wicked beast! You will fall beneath the power of Renault Mograine!” The young paladin said as he waved his sword in Diodor’s direction, the sword seemingly turning into Light itself as he infused it with the power of a true crusader. However, Diodor knew what to expect and released a massive barrage of ice against his opponent, stopping the attack and causing a mortal injury hadn’t Renault been fast enough to shield himself with divine grace, protecting himself from any damage conceivable momentarily.

Whitemane used this moment to strike Diodor a blow by hitting the necromancer with a holy smite, inflicting a large wound to the necromancer’s left side. Diodor cursed inwardly, frustrated by the resistance he was meeting here. Clearly he would have to get rid of the priestess as her strikes were harder to predict than the paladin’s. A wall of dark flames rose behind Whitemane, forcing her closer to Diodor who then released a barrage of shadow upon her. The priestess looked at the display in fear but then cast a few, swift spells upon herself, granting herself a brief defense of Light, just barely enabling her to survive the incoming onslaught. Still, she was left terribly injured and burned, probably lethally, before Renault quickly ran to her, placing his hand on her shoulders and muttering a few words into the dark winds. Suddenly, a bright circle illuminated the scene and wondrously, all of Whitemane’s wounds healed instantly. The priestess knew this was to be expected but still the sensation was of utmost grace and reverence to anyone who had felt this blessed Light. Diodor looked at the scene in disgust, not liking what he saw in the least.

“You’ve done well to survive this long but now your “miracles” are drained. I know it’ll be many long minutes before you can use those tricks again! That is exactly why the Cult’s power is supreme… now, disappear from my eyes, weaklings!” Diodor unleashed a heavy wave of the brownish energy stored in the vials on his belt, prepared to see the familiar sight before him. However, what happened was something he had been unable to foresee.

Whitemane infused Renault with a pale Light aura, one which purpose Diodor couldn’t tell. He was stunned to see Renault disappear in the mist of Plague, only to appear from it a few meters before him. With a nearly panicked swiftness, he waved his hand and cast a bolt of frost at the young Mograine, disabling him for a moment and seeing that this was his moment. His spells battered Renault for seconds before Whitemane could see what was happening. She concentrated all of her power to disable the Plague in a few locations and then released a wave of supreme radiance, one that blinded Diodor completely for a moment. The necromancer formed walls of fire around him to prevent any surprise attacks while was disabled. However, once the radiance had dissipated, his enemies were gone. Not a trace of them could be seen, only the pain in his side and the gentle wind of the early afternoon greeting his senses anymore.

He was somewhat relieved that this unforeseen threat had been dealt with but their ability to confront him and live was a reason for concern. He had seriously injured the paladin but with the correct help, he would live. Diodor sighed as he reflected his brief moments of weakness in the battle, stealing an easy victory from him. Well, that couldn’t be helped now. He had to destroy the Monastery in any case and preventing the story of heroism from spreading was only one more reason to see his work to a conclusion. Moreover, this was a good time to introduce his long-planned masterpiece into battle.

Lightfader, here my call! Fear no enemy and crush everyone who serves the Crusade! We shall end this charade together!

Osran was completely covered in his own blood, the numerous wounds upon his body telling their own gory tale about the carnage that was unfolding in the eastern forests of Tirisfal. He had fought his way dozens of meters into the woods, only to be greeted by another undead after another. Herod had been instrumental in keeping their struggling ranks together and all of the defenders had shown formidable courage in this charge. Even if he didn’t notice in it in his mental fog of battle, he was in the center of the battle, his fearless and noble show of courage inspiring most of the others to do their very best in this decisive battle. Even if he didn’t know it, Osran had already saved the crusaders from an immediate defeat.

However, even a courageous fight against an invincible enemy would be for naught. Even if some of the crusaders did their best trying to burn the slain undead, some of them returned back to their “living” state before they could be burned. Also, the falling crusaders refilled the rest of Diodor’s army. Veria hit a risen paladin with her torch, releasing its soul to the afterlife but another of her comrades fell besides her, giftimg Diodor with his next slave. As a final hit on the crusaders’ courage, loud footsteps started to rumble from deep within the forest, growing more profound by the minute. It sounded like a huge abomination but the voice was far louder than any of them could produce. All of the crusaders started to look in horror as a great shadow started to form between the blackened trees, soon forming a terrifying form of a mountain of rotting flesh, one that didn’t resemble a human even as much as a regular abomination did. This one was much quicker and it sent clouds of smoke and brownish mist around it and crushing anything and anyone on its way. Osran was about to call the retreat but Whitemane’s horrified voice was swifter.

“Retreat into the Monastery! we cannot win against this monster in this place!” The priestess appeared from the forest, helping a clearly injured Renault Mograine escape the onslaught. It took no further encouragement for the others to flee, the monster’s massive form growing closer by the second. Knowing that her new position as the leader of the crusaders would soon be challenged, the priestess turned around to face the decomposing mass of rotting flesh, a show of courage that would save her and Renault’s grip on power. Whitemane put her staff into the ground and pointed at the approaching monster.

“Stop where you stand and fight your curse, unholy aberration! Stay still in the name of the Light!” Whitemane concentrated all of her power at the beast, burning many parts of its horrifying body and stopping its charge momentarily. The fleeing crusaders looked at the priestess in awe and resumed their march to the safety of the Monastery’s walls. This ultimate show of power would cement the reverence she held in the Monastery, stopping any claims of incapable leadership. When Whitemane felt her powers grow too weak, she ended her spell and headed after her troops.

Osran had looked at the sight in astonishment, not knowing the depth of the priestess’ power before. Was stopping such an invincible enemy even possible? Apparently the priestess was one of the Monastery’s most powerful denizens and deserving of the position she now held. However, that didn’t change the fact that their battleplan had been a disaster and Diodor’s position had only been strengthened. He turned to speak to Tareth who, too, was overwhelmed by the events of the last two minutes.

“We won’t fall for this trap again, Tareth. Support me at the next meeting and I will present a strategy that won’t lose. Whitemane and Mograine may be powerful but their attack was a catastrophe.” Osran spoke grimly, his anger beginning to die down, only to be replaced by a sense of decisiveness. He had often been advising his commanders before, the knight’s experience and eye for the enemy’s weaknesses earning him the respect of many of his superiors. Now, with leaders who were too full of themselves to listen, Osran wouldn’t leave a stone unturned to prove their faults.

“I don’t think you need much more support after today, Osran. You put up a show that many others won’t forget.” Tareth commented in slight amusement, seeing Osran’s ignorance about his comrades’ sentiments. Osran looked at his captain in confusion, his face prompting Tareth to explain his point further.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t notice it? Many of us fought only because you showed them the way! Your courage inspired our troops to even get into the fight and they won’t forget it readily.” Tareth said as the troops started to enter the Monastery, the lower-ranked knight looking around himself and seeing admiring glances here and there. It took him a moment to accept that his impromptu attack had made a difference but it seemed like Tareth had spoken the truth. Still, it made Osran’s mood little better.

“We still lost! My example may have bought us time but, still, we’re as good as dead at this rate. I truly hope you’re right about their readiness to listen to me, Tareth. If I won’t be listened to today, it’ll be too late.” Osran gritted his teeth, looking behind himself as he approached the Monastery’s main entrance. The final confrontation was approaching and with it, the Monastery’s and the Crusade’s western wing’s fates hanged in the balance.

The battle for the Monastery has reached a critical stage as the siege has finally been imposed upon the crusaders. It'll take a true miracle to save them at this point but Osran seems to have a plan... I'll take a brief break here in order to finish my long-term plans for the Separate Ways. It shouldn't take more than a week before I resume my writing and until then, have a great time! :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #12 on: August 11, 2017, 11:57:20 AM »
The Summertide’s Passing

The overall atmosphere in the courtyard opening before the main gate of the Scarlet Monastery was that of melancholy and regret because once more, their comrades gad fallen because of a lost battle, leaving the living crusaders to fight against their reanimated bodies. But an unmistakable feeling of hope and sublimity could also be recognized at the words and expressions of the surviving knights. Today they had seen acts of bravery and nobility that most of their comrades could only hear tales about. Whitemane’s stand against the massive abomination, Herod’s juggernaut of death and most importantly, Osran’s example of true courage had turned each of the crusaders into true beacons of Light in the eyes of their allies.

This feeling of loss and euphoria wasn’t lost on Osran. The aging paladin could see that even in defeat, the trust in their cause had risen once again. He turned around to see Whitemane riding through the palisade gate, knowing that this would be the best moment he’d get to make his point clear. Osran had rediscovered his respect for the priestess in her valiant stand against the abomination but that didn’t change his plans. He would lead the Monastery to victory and earn the triumph Valdemar had ordered him to accomplish.

“We took a noble stand today, my brave comrades! The servants of the Scourge will remember this day for years to come!” Osran started to speak in a loud, deep voice and the heads turned immediately to look at him. The knight stood near the main gate, leaning towards his sword that stood on the ground. Osran’s voice and unwavering face made a great impression on everyone assembled, his noble presence seemingly calming everyone down. All except one: High Inquisitor Whitemane who decided to stay silent for a moment longer.

“Each of us fulfilled our task manifold and it was an honor fighting beside each of you. Yet, that didn’t change the fact that we lost the battle. Diodor has surrounded us here in the house of Light and we have no chance to continue our fight. I offered your commanders an optional strategy to prevail but they decided to honor Whitemane’s plan. And now we stand here, once again mourning our dead while Diodor’s troops advance by the minute. You followed me earlier today in the battle but now I ask a far greater question: will you follow my lead in the future?” Osran knew his words could be interpreted as arrogant and usurping but he had gone through too much on that day to sugarcoat his words any more. However, he received no answer before another voice started to speak near the bearded paladin.

“That isn’t your question to ask, outsider! You may have fought valiantly but that doesn’t give you the right to overstep the Church’s authority! I would have the option to imprison you immediately for treason!” Whitemane called to Osran, her voice full of displeasure at the paladins’ antics but it wasn’t hateful unlike Osran had expected. Osran answered to her in a tired but encouraging voice.

“You certainly could, High Inquisitor, but your own time as the master of this Monastery would also come to an end sooner than you’d want in that case. Your predecessor fought all his life to preserve this Monastery and I trust you’re not willing to let it go this easily? Whitemane, I’m not willing to question your position or your authority but I simply want you to listen me this time!” Osran’s voice turned into a grimmer one as he spoke and he turned to look directly at the Inquisitor. Whitemane looked somewhat disturbed by his words but she held her hostile expression.

“And who do you think you are to demand that? More capable people than you have failed to win Diodor but you try to force your misguided thoughts upon us? You speak of Marcus as if you knew him better than I, his deputy for the last decade! I will see this campaign to an end and…” Whitemane was interrupted as shouts of disapproval started to appear among the crowd.

“Give him a chance, High Inquisitor! Things can’t possibly get any worse!” The call came from Loksey who was far from impressed by the last battle.

“The monsters can and will be cut down but it’ll take more than magic tricks! I say we follow the paladin!” The next speaker was Herod and it was clear that he wasn’t excited to follow Whitemane’s orders as he hadn’t seen her in battle whereas Osran had fought valiantly in the frontlines. Many others joined their calls but Osran realized his supporters were going too far. Herod was calling for a coup inside the Crusade’s legal leadership and that was far from acceptable to him. Osran started to walk closer to the priestess, determined to make a compromise with her. He whispered to the Inquisitor so that the surrounding people couldn’t hear what he was saying.

“We don’t have to go through this! You may still save your face but only if you’re prepared to talk! Come, let’s go negotiate inside!” Osran knew Whitemane would have never agreed to his proposition if she wasn’t forced to but her fearful face told him everything the knight needed to know. Whitemane sighed deeply and spoke briefly to the gathered soldiers.

“We’ll go speak for a while. Reinforce the palisades and keep the undead at bay. We’ll return soon and tell what we’ve decided to do.” Whitemane sighed deeply as she started to walk after Osran. Being forced to publicly fight the aging paladin was bad enough in itself but now she knew she would be forced to make a real compromise with him if she wanted to retain her own position. The priestess looked in deep anger at the paladin when he started to speak.

“High Inquisitor, I wish to make sure that you understand that I have no plans in taking this place from your command. It’s not my right and I trust…” Osran was interrupted at this point by Whitemane’s answer. He was taken aback by her sharp tone but in a way, he understood the reason for her rage.

“You already have! Did you hear the calls in the courtyard? You have already overstepped your authority, old man! How do you think I’ll believe that it is “all unplanned”? Whitemane knew her position wasn’t as weak as she implicated but she wanted to mount a swift offensive on Osran to try to weaken his resolve. However, Osran’s answer left her unknowing whether her overture had been successful or not.

“You don’t have to believe anything except that I’m here only to buy this vital victory to the Crusade! My future is elsewhere. But I’m willing to stop my rhetoric against you completely and even pledge my loyalty to your leadership if you only give me the authority to lead our troops today! I assure you, the day can still be ours.” Osran looked directly at Whitemane’s eyes who felt deep outrage at Osran’s words but even deeper frustration that she couldn’t really deny his demand. It would seriously undermine her reputation in the Monastery and, even if she no longer wished to acknowledge it, she wasn’t sure if she had a way to defeat the undead at this point.

“That is far more than you may demand from me in good faith! But, Osran or whatever your name was, I know when I am being outmaneuvered or in a position I know I cannot win. But don’t think I agree to this voluntarily: if I ever hear you raise our soldiers against me or Mograine, I’ll make sure it’ll be the end of you! And make sure that your presence will never defile these sacred halls again after this battle!” Whitemane said in a hissing voice, willing tame her point as clear a possible. Osran looked at her in contempt and rebuked immediately.

“I won’t allow myself to be threatened by my own comrades! You may be our commander but in this Crusade, we’re all brothers and sisters in arms. I cannot promise anything for the Crusader Lord but I don’t hold any special will to return here anymore so I’ll do my best to comply to your request. But as long as we’re here, we work together. I’ll remember my place as long as you remember yours. Is that clear, High Inquisitor?” Osran asked slowly and looked Whitemane with a grim look. The priestess would have wanted nothing more than to kill the paladin right here but she also knew that such a scenario would do little to reinforce her own position. With an annoyed look, she nodded briefly and turned away from Osran. The knight returned the nod and turned to return to the courtyard. Whitemane walked by his side and forced a more conciliatory expression to show to the others that she hadn’t been forced into this situation. Osran was the first one to speak of the duo as they appeared from the winding pathway. The heavy, grey clouds still hung over the Monastery complex but they were slowly starting to make way for a careful sunshine over the courtyard, letting a wave of warmth float over the surviving crusaders.

“We have agreed to respect each others’ plans. The respected Inquisitor Whitemane proved her valiance during the last battle and she has my utmost trust and respect. I have every confidence that she’ll lead us with great wisdom and grace in the years to come, along with her honorable right hand Renault Mograine.” Osran spoke in a steady voice, speaking every words with respect to his counterpart. Confused looks and unbelieving voices came from the crowd but they could see that the speech wasn’t over yet. To their surprise, the next one to speak was Whitemane. Her voice sounded even surprisingly passionate and Osran was happy to see that she stayed true to her word.

“But I admit my mistakes during today’s battle. The greatest of leaders are willing to listen to others as well as themselves, a lesson I hadn’t learned until today. Many of our comrades payed for it with their lives, a sin I hope to overcome in the future. I wish to start it by naming our noble comrade Osran Lowriver as our commander against Diodor as I’ve seen that he knows how to turn the tables on our common enemy. I pray for the Light that he is the right man to free us of this horrifying situation.” Save for a few forced words, Whitemane sounded completely sincere in her speech. Osran was positively surprised as sounds of jubilation could be heard in the audience. However, this wasn’t the time to become complacent. This was the time to prove that he had been right about the things he had put together during the two battles.

“I hope I’ll be worthy of this great honor I’ve been granted. The final battle is approaching my comrades! Diodor’s slaves are gathering around us as we speak and they have almost twice the numbers we have. However, there is a way that we can beat them and that is the war of attrition!” Whitemane nearly shuddered as she heard the proposition. Was the knight insane? That would be the worst idea possible against the immortal undead! Sounds of surprise and discomfort could be heard among the crowd also before Osran decided to explain himself.

“I know this sounds odd but we, as the defenders, hold the keys to this battle in our hands. We have to keep the enemy just far enough from us and let the purging fire do its job! Our mages will be instrumental in this job and each of us will join them with our torches! This is the way we may thin the enemy numbers for good before Diodor realizes what’s going on! The slaves of the Scourge may hold our comrades’ powers but they are still nothing but mindless killers who cannot defend themselves!” Mutters of approval could be heard among the crowd as the main point of Osran’s plan begun to dawn on them. However, the last, decisive question remained still unanswered. What would they do with the massive abomination and Diodor himself? Osran noticed the crowd’s hesitation and he decided to finish his strategy’s elaboration.

“I see you still have questions. Well, here’s the rest of my plan…”

Most of the following hour was spent on finalizing the fortifications protecting the Monastery. The work was often interrupted by an undead attack but they were never a major danger to the defenders. Some of them were even surprised by the amount of patience Diodor had for the defenders even if his reasons were likely to bode no good for the crusaders.

The cool air blew on Veria’s face as she finalized her work on a wooden wall overlooking the fields opening under the Monastery’s hill. She had made a few holes on them in order to give the archers the safe shooting spots they needed. The paladin could feel that everyone around her knew that these hours determined the difference between life and death to all of them. No matter what, she would give her very best to prepare for the coming carnage as well as in the battlefield itself. Even then, she was more than happy to hear a call from Herod who led one of the groups doing the fortifications.

“Alright, slackers, it’s time to take a brief break until you return to work! You have no more than fifteen minutes, is that clear?” Herod called in a stern yet somewhat calming voice. Even through his rough antics and barbarous appearance, every one of his comrades knew he was a man of Light and virtue and a true champion of the Crusade. He would be a major asset in the coming battles. Veria looked around herself but saw no familiar faces among the crowd. Veria wasn’t on the mood to talk anyway and she had just an idea how to spend this brief respite.

The Cathedral wing of the Monastery held many rooms for personal searching and private prayers in case one ever needed help from the Light. Right now, Veria was highly conflicted. She knew her fate lied with the Crusade but she was far from confident about her own position within it. The Scourge had killed every member of her family during the fall of Andorhal which had been her ancestral and childhood home. She had joined the Order of the Silver Hand, not because of her own devotion to its cause, but because of the status it had earned her in her home village. Very few people from those provincial towns had managed that feat and she found it odd that she had befriended one of the few other such paladins, Osran. The other knight had offered her with company and mutual respect but he had never understood her own motivations for this cause.

Not that she did herself. That clarity had disappeared with the demise of her family and her old friends. Veria knew she was as capable paladin as any other but, as Osran had so often noticed, her heart very seldom was in her deeds. She hated the Scourge for everything they had done but that was it. She had very little idea about her own future in the reborn Lordaeron.

Veria fell to her knees in one of the small chapels, looking as the Light shone dimly into the room. She heard nothing but her own breath, as the heavy walls of the Monastery blocked all of the other noises. Veria tried to let the Light flow into her and to show her the way she had to go. The Light was a very real force but, unlike many of her comrades, it had never offered her with anything but brute strength to vanquish her foes. But now, like in all these kind of sessions before, the Light was

Veria tried to let her mind float in the cool, light air and to find the inner tranquility she was looking for but to no avail. Seconds flew by but she didn’t feel the inner warmth or peace fill her instincts. When she opened her eyes, she was still no wiser than when she had arrived in this small chapel. She hadn’t received the guidance she was looking for nor had she any more idea about how to proceed from here if she survived at all. Veria took one last look at the small, masterfully painted window from which the light flew into the room and even if the mere sight of it was enough for her to appreciate it as a piece of art, it served little else purpose. Sighing in slight disappointment, the paladin rose back to her feet and started to walk back towards the Monastery’s surroundings. It was still some time until the fifteen minutes would pass but she didn’t have anything else to do.

However, one of the many statues among the massive halls caught her attention. They were filled with memorials to the past heroes of their cause but one of them stopped Veria for a moment. The memorial of Gavinrad the Dire, one of the original knights of the Silver Hand and her old superior. Veria was only slightly younger than Osran and, like him, her old leaders were mostly gone, their legendary deeds passed into the realm of memories. Gavinrad had served as Veria’s captain for many long years and his mere devotion to their cause and his encouragement for his followers had inspired the young knight greatly back then. Even if many found this particular founder of the Silver Hand to be the least notable, Veria knew there were many others who felt like her. She still remembered his encouraging leadership with great respect. Veria was taken aback when she heard a voice speak behind her.

“He truly was a great man, Veria. I often regret that he has been so often overshadowed by the Lightbringer, even if his reputation was also hard-earned.” Veria quickly turned around and noticed Arellas speak to her in a low voice. It carried a sense of sympathy but also respect for the fallen knight.

“You never knew him, elf. You were fighting your own battle back then and it’s a small wonder if you ever even met Gavinrad. Shouldn’t you be helping the others with the fortifications anyway?” Veria answered quickly, not knowing what the elf had to say at this point. She didn’t want to insult him but she wasn’t willing to dwell in those days for too long.

“I’m going there soon but our revered High Abbot had requested a chance to study some of our volumes and I took the liberty to return them to the library now that he no longer needs them. And you’re right, I never met him personally but I know his deeds as well as anyone.” Arellas’ voice was extremely mournful as he stated his business, his respect for the fallen Abbot clearly greater than many would understand. His mood improved somewhat as the conversation moved away from the immense loss the Monastery had just experienced.

“He was a hero in many battles even before Arthas’ betrayal and one of the most gentle knights I’ve known. I’ll always regret that I wasn’t there to help him against the traitor’s onslaught. The fight could have ended differently if Arthas hadn’t managed to divide our troops before engaging Gavinrad. He didn’t stand a chance at that point.” Veria looked at the statue’s head, surprised by the immense accuracy of its stone face. It had been years since Gavinrad’s downfall but she still remembered his features clearly.

“Arthas’ deeds weren’t his own back then, Veria. It seems like the Legion’s demon lords guided Arthas in his first campaign and he would have never been able to achieve such quick gains if it weren’t for them. You should be happy that you survived the battle at all. Very few of Gavinrad’s followers can say the same.” Arellas looked at the human with respect as he reflected on all he had learned about those terrible days. He wasn’t a stranger to desperate situations himself as it was a wonder any of the high elves still lived after the Lich King’s and Kael’thas’ deeds. Even then, he wasn’t willing to talk about such things here. He was fighting the humans’ war after all.

“I guess you’re right if even Uther himself wasn’t a match for Arthas. I just… after Andorhal’s fall and my comrades’ deaths, it seems like me passion for serving the Light has dwindled dramatically. Once I knew I was fighting for my home, then my comrades but now… I don’t even know.” Veria looked at Arellas with an unreadable expression. It wasn’t like she was asking for help but it was a remark that caught Arellas’ attention. He knew it wasn’t his advice to give but he decided to answer nonetheless.

“You know, Veria, the way I see it, many are in a similar position. The Plague has slaughtered most of our kingdoms’ people and enslaved the rest in this nightmarish reality. Many are asking what is left for them to fight for but few have really given up. It seems that there still are many things driving them forward even today.” Arellas spoke from his own experience but he hid it in order to give a more common and relatable context to the paladin. Veria, however, didn’t seem too convinced just yet.

“I know that we’re lucky to be alive but it just seems… worthless. All I have left at this point is the revenge to the undead but I don’t think it’s enough.” Veria turned her gaze back at the statue, knowing that the time passed quickly and that she should soon go to rejoin her comrades. However, there was still some time until then.

“We still have much more than that. Even if it is beyond recognition today, Lordaeron is still your home and all the noble things it once represented still live. Once we get through all this, think it as a great privilege to be involved in rebuilding your beloved homeland. I for one, live to serve my comrades as best as I can and to hope for seeing Quel’Thalas reborn again. Even hope and ideas of a better future are enough to keep you going. The way I understand it, Gavinrad was completely devoted to the Church and he harbored no deeper ambitions than to safeguard his homeland. Every knight of the Silver Hand has devoted themselves to the kingdom in order to be free of such personal ambitions.” Arellas spoke calmly in order to help Veria get over her misgivings about the situation. However, his approach was far from the correct one.

“You never chose the path of a paladin and you never knew Gavinrad, elf! I… I see that you mean well and you may be right but it seems so futile to live for such things! I know I will walk my path until the end but that’s all I know… I just hope things get clearer the further this war goes.” Veria said as she calmed down. She knew Arellas hadn’t meant ill but the situation just felt too oppressing for her. Arellas was about to answer when a monk called from the opening of a nearby corridor.

“Master Fireleaf! The High Inquisitor and Commander Lowriver wish to speak with you!” The young man called and Arellas quickly turned one last time to Veria.

“Think about what I said. Your future will lie with Lordaeron’s rebirth and if you find what you’re looking for, it doesn’t need to be as dark as you fear. Lead the way, good monk.” Arellas said quickly to Veria who took a deep breath before she headed back to work. Arellas’ words rang in her ears but it would take time to see whether they held any real substance to them.

“The plan seems rather simple the way you put it, Osran, but are you sure Diodor won’t find a way to bypass our calculations? Tareth said to Osran as he listened to his comrade’s plan. Burning the enemy down one by one and luring Diodor into making mistakes by not responding to his taunts in any way seemed like a good plan but it held many ifs. But in the case he saw his slaves burn to the ground one by one, there was a real chance he’d make a mistake sooner or later.

“He might very well realize our plan but as long as we have the Monastery, we hold the advantage in a long-term battle. Diodor’s strength has always been the ability to turn our attack into our own defeats. As long as we command the course of the battle, he will have to try to come to us. In all of our previous battles we’ve always underestimated his strength and his preparations for his ambushes but if we won’t attack, those traps will be useless. The moment when he realizes that he has to do all the work himself is the time we need our honored comrade Fireleaf’s and his followers’ help.” Osran explained to Tareth, Whitemane and Herod, the latter being present as hehad to know the plan if he was going to lead the footmen right in the coming battle. The High Inquisitor seemed annoyed by the situation but she knew this was a necessity if she wished to stand on Osran’s seat ever again.

“I fought him alongside with Renault and what good did it do us? We caught him by surprise and even then, he managed to repel our attack!” Whitemane wasn’t afraid to admit the defeat as none in the room questioned her skill in battle. Osran looked at her in a puzzled look, relieved that the priestess seemed to stick by her promise. He wasn’t about to let this momentary solidarity go to waste. He was about to answer when Tareth interrupted him.

“You were working by yourself whereas we need all those able to take him down simultaneously. We need your priests as well as Arellas’ mages if we are to beat him. That is why we sent the courier to search for him.” Tareth answered in a serious voice to Whitemane who simply looked away to hide her chagrin. Osran looked at his commander in approval and continued.

“Judging from your tale, High Inquisitor, you were close to actually defeating him and with some help, you might have been successful. Mark my words, Diodor will join the assault once he sees we’ve learned our lesson. Even then, me must never underestimate this villain. He has outsmarted us thrice and each time we have paid a heavy price. Whatever you do, don’t let your guard down until he lies decapacitated in the ground, his hands unable to cast another curse upon us.” Osran spoke to Whitemane who listened silently. However, no answer came when another voice called from the corridor.

“My humble greetings, High Inquisitor and Commander Lowriver. How may I be of service?” Arellas said as he entered the room, his face concealing any kind of emotion he felt. Osran was happy to see his arrival when he spoke again.

“Welcome, master Fireleaf! I’m happy to see that you managed to get here today! Please, take a seat.” The paladin said while he crossed his legs while sitting. Arellas obliged and looked at Osran in an asking expression. Osran returned his gaze and answered immediately.

“We were discussing our strategy to beat Diodor in the coming battle, Arellas, and we have decided to give you an instrumental task in implementing it. You, with decades of research and experience, know most of us about the different forms of magic and you were working in Dalaran when Kel’Thuzad’s school was forming. We trust that you are most capable of us in trying to foresee Diodor’s moves as you know most of the tricks he has in his sleeve.” Osran spoke in a calm, respecting voice. He expected that the elf wouldn’t feel ready for the mission but he knew that this was an offer the elf couldn’t refuse. Arellas looked at Osran in puzzlement but kept his cool and neutral expression.

“I’m not a necromancer, commander. I have no idea what…” Arellas was trying to make his case clear when Osran interrupted him in a kind manner.

“But your apprentice was, Arellas. I’ve heard that you know all of his past and due to your superior experience, we believe you are more capable to this most important of positions than young Doan is. You are the right man to combine your experience and Doan’s knowledge and to lay a trap to Diodor. With your help, we might get a decisive edge over that traitor!” Osran said in a revering voice, willing to receive Arellas’ consent without any major conflict. Arellas looked at Osran in puzzlement, not knowing what to think of this offer. After a moment of thinking, the elf realized that this was the chance he had waited for to prove that he was an important asset to the Crusade.

“I’m afraid I’m not that capable in deceit, commander Lowriver. But I think one of my followers would like to take care of that detail. Thalnos has always wished to make a difference before the battles even begin.” Arellas said in a confident voice but Whitemane looked at him in an odd look.

“Thalnos? But we have deemed him incapable of instrumental positions due to his inability to listen to our orders. Very few like him and some have even called to his banishment from our Monastery!” Whitemane narrowed her eyes as she looked at the elf. In truth, the younger elf was one of her few allies among the mages but she kept those ties in secret as it enabled her to better manipulate Arellas’ comrades without him noticing. The elf returned her gaze and answered in a decisive voice.

“That may be but I know my mages better than the others among us. I agree that his antics are far from pleasant but I know his abilities. I’ll take care of handling Diodor but I let Thalnos plan the trap where we’ll drag him. But getting that bastard to catch that bait will be up to you.” Arellas said in a smug voice, enjoying the position he suddenly found himself in. The coming confrontation with Diodor worried the elf somewhat but he was hopeful that he’d manage to engage the enemy in a nearly equal fight. In addition, he had mane allies on his side whereas Diodor would stand alone. Osran looked at the elf in slight worry but he decided to trust the mage’s judgement.

“Very well, Arellas, but don’t tarry with your planning. I’m sure Diodor won’t be wasting any time…” Osran’s sentence was cut by a loud call of the Monastery’s bells, implicating that a dangerous escalation was happening outside. Each of those present rose to their feet and started to prepare for the coming battle. Tareth spoke in a sharp, hissing voice.

“Each of you, remember your job! And Arellas, hurry with your plan! It will be needed quicker than expected.”

Diodor was torn between two possibilities. It was becoming clear that the crusaders’ resistance hadn’t been broken just yet and their silence puzzled the necromancer somewhat. They were clearly expecting his attack but he simply couldn’t see how becoming passive would help the defenders’ position. If he could name the battle’s course and strategies, he could even starve the crusaders with a siege if he didn’t have better things to do. However, he wasn’t about to let the scattered remains of the Crusade’s western wing trick him into complacency. He would take an approach none of them expected.

Diodor took one of his notebooks from a small pouch that hanged from his belt. The necromancer browsed it quickly, searching for one detail that had raised curious possibilities to his mind. The results of all his research brought a distinct sense of pride to the necromancer until he found the page he was looking for. Diodor’s face turned into a smile as he read his own notes. Apparently his plague could be stored in new kinds of items, ones that were far less secure than those designed to house them but that was far from a bad thing here. Regular barrels could be found nearly everywhere in the newly-ruined villages and they could be an effective way to crush the crusaders’ futile resistance.

I bet those weaklings think they’re safe in their cozy little home. Well, I’m sure they will come to their senses soon enough!

Diodor looked in expectation as his slaves brought a few barrels to him and the necromancer immediately loaded each of them with one vial of plague or poison. When they reached the Monastery’s courtyard, the defenders’ lives would be fully forfeit. It was most likely, however, that the defenders didn’t expect him in that plan and there was only one thing for him to achieve that plan. Lightfader would be able to toss some of them over the wall but Diodor had to find the weakest spot in the palisades which his forces could break while the defenders were in disarray.

The old man’s eyes scoured the palisades from the edge of the field below the Monastery’s main courtyard. The wooden walls themselves seemed solid and no part of them seemed any weaker than the next one. However, soon he noticed something that caught his interest. One part in the southernmost part of the wall lied near a large natural ramp that could provide his undead with an effective way to breach the walls. Not surprisingly, that part of the wall was lightly garrisoned as the crusaders were likely to expect attacks from the forest and road. Initial casualties, however, meant nothing for a necromancer so this didn’t hamper the strategy’s efficiency.

The old necromancer didn’t turn to even look at the sight when he heard Lightfader gather five barrels containing his poison to its massive arms and started to head towards the Monastery. He didn’t need to as the monster obeyed even his briefest thoughts. Diodor followed the scene with interest as the abomination run towards the spot Diodor had sighted and tossed the barrels uphill all the way over the palisade. The following screams and fuss told Diodor everything he needed to know. The final assault against the Monastery had started.

The sight that greeted Osran as he charged out of the main gate was horrific beyond measure. About a dozen defenders were choking for life with the all-too familiar symptoms. Looking at the noble crusaders’ final, lost struggle for life was a saddening sight but Osran had gone far too much to be seriously disturbed by this. His order was swift and held no slightest tone of hesitation.

“Burn them all! If you have even the slightest of doubt they have infection, burn them immediately! Priests, contain the Plague, now!” The doomed monks and priests looked in panic and resignation as the torches flew upon them, immolating their rapidly deteriorating flesh in flames. The surviving defenders looked in silent respect as the burning forms of their comrades fell to the ground, their struggles against their demise and looming undeath slowly vanishing to the realm of the passed. The priests got into work immediately and the brownish-green cloud was surrounded by bright light. However, all of that vanished swiftly under the noise of huge bolts of dark energy hitting upon the nearby wall, blasting a gaping hole into it immediately.

The breach in the wall was quickly utilized by the attackers as dozens of ghouls and skeletons poured inside the Monastery complex immediately. They attacked with immense ferocity and it took many long seconds until their advance could be even started to be contained. Nearly all of the attackers fell immediately but, as was to be expected, they stayed down for five seconds at most. Tareth moved to the front line and a few other paladins started to distribute torches to the defenders.

“Don’t let the contact line grow any wider! Burn them down!” Tareth called as he started to gather the defenders’ lines together. Osran moved to his side nearly immediately, not planning to stay safe despite his temporary position. The fight became increasingly difficult as the blazes of the dismembering undead grew ever stronger. It didn’t take long before the attackers were pushed away from the courtyard and Osran yelled his last call.

“Throw the torches over the wall! They’ll ignite some of the undead and with luck, spread it to the others!”

Diodor raised his eyebrows as he followed the scene. He had been eager to see how long it’d take for the defenders to utilize the main weakness of his troops. Even then, relying on the weakest ghouls wasn’t the way he was planning to win this battle. No matter what the defenders did, they wouldn’t be able to repair the palisade in time. The defenders didn’t have any major threats against him as they were outnumbered four to one, even without counting the necromancer himself and Lightfader. It was time for the second act in the slow and desperate struggle of the doomed crusaders.

Legions of risen paladins and monks started their advance towards the breach, shielding each other from the arrows and torches with their twisted heals and spells that interrupted the fires’ flight. Soon enough, they would disarm each and every torch from the defenders. That, combined with an incoming flanking attack would even the odds considerably.

Thalnos listened to his master’s words with great intensity and nodded to his remarks constantly as the duo walked quickly towards the central hall. Arellas explained everything he had heard during the last hour and Thalnos’s face was an expressionless mask as he followed his master’s explanation. The younger mage was incredibly heartened by the trust his master was putting on him, even if he held little respect for the older elf. Thalnos, another refugee of Quel’Thalas, had searched to join the Crusade for similar reasons as Arellas but he had never shown any passion for Lordaeron or his new comrades. Most of his comrades saw Thalnos as a cold, distant mage who served or cared about nothing else than himself.

“And that’s where you come in, Thalnos. I need you to decide what is the best way and place to surround and kill the wretched necromancer.” Arellas was calm even if he neither was fond of his companion. He greatly respected most of his comrades as persons but Thalnos was tolerated only because of his power and expertise in his art. Thalnos’ voice was extremely typical for a high elf even if it held an extremely complacent and smug tone.

“Diodor is an immensely orderly and dedicated man and nothing makes him more nervous than disorder and vagueness from our part. I’ve seen it today: he hides and observes us while we walk right into his trap. When we outsmart him once, even a man of his abilities will make a mistake.” Thalnos said as he approached the opening of the Library Wing where he had been upkeeping the priceless volumes it held. Arellas glanced at his apprentice in concern and answered quietly.

“It seems like you admire him, Thalnos.” Arellas tried to reach for his apprentice’s conscience to which the younger elf nearly snorted.

“Any sensible man would do so. He’s our enemy but he has brought the whole Monastery to its knees by himself. Only a fool wouldn’t respect that kind of power! But don’t worry, Master. In the end, your allegiance will be a stronger bargaining chip than eternal servitude under the Lich King. I value myself far too much to exchange it for even Diodor’s power.” Thalnos smirked as he spoke, his words disturbing his teacher to an even greater degree. Even then, he was glad there were things keeping Thalnos from necromancy, no matter how distasteful they were.

“Well… I have sent a word to my colleagues and we’ll be ready to bring down Diodor when the time is right. Observe the battle and try to lead Diodor to our trap. You should know him better than the rest of us after all.” Arellas felt awkward for saying it but it seemed to him that Thalnos and Diodor shared a similar way of seeing the world, thus giving him the best shot in this mission. Thalnos answered shortly.

“Don’t worry, Master. I’ll make sure Diodor won’t see the evening.”

“Stay in line! Whatever you do, don’t let the comrades next to you fall!” Osran called with a steady voice as his blade clashed with that of a scarlet-tabarded ghoul. Trying to vanquish the risen paladins was never an easy job, especially with the utmost care being driven to the effort to defend your own allies. Osran’s whole plan relied on the defenders’ ability to survive the incoming attacks without casualties and bleed Diodor’s forces one by one. The undead fighters did their best to extinguish the flames but the living still held the edge due to Diodor’s disability to predict their moves. Thus far, no one had fallen during the second assault but they couldn’t hold this up together. Osran could only hope Diodor ran out of slaves before all the defenders’ fortitude and stamina was spent. Everything depended on that hope.

Many frowns appeared on Diodor’s face as he followed the battle on going in the Monastery courtyard. The crusaders were doing an extraordinary job in keeping his forces at bay and to his surprise, they were really taking a toll on his forces. Not that it mattered greatly. The defenders probably hoped he’d intervene personally in the fight, exposing himself to their schemes and ambushes. However, there wasn’t any need to as long as he had his most powerful tool still in his disposal. As long as he commanded both his risen troops and Lightfader, he held all the cards he needed to earn his position back in the Cult of the Damned.

Diodor spanned his rod a few times and pointed it towards the Monastery’s main entrance. With unusually stealthy and swift movements for him, the necromancer moved towards the forest to weigh his next moves. He would most certainly join the raging battle but in the way the defenders would expect. He had been very careful not to show all his tricks in the preliminary skirmishes.

Tareth felt his courage return quickly as he noticed the defenders’ strategy working as intended. There was no question that the undead still outnumbered the defenders greatly but the momentum was swinging towards the crusaders. The Scourge’s attack seemed somewhat dissipated and they were slowly but steadily being pushed out from the breach. In this moment of expected triumph, none of the living paid the necessary attention to distant footsteps that were growing stronger by the second. Not until they saw a sight that nearly froze their blood cold.

The Monastery courtyard filled with wooden debris as the highest and strongest part of the palisades were decimated under the immense strength and weight of the massive abomination which continued its charge against the assembled crusaders. Even if he had already seen this sight, the charging, deformed abomination running straight towards him nearly frozen Osran as he struggled to get his thoughts together.

“Scatter and try to dodge the monster’s attacks! Mages, kill it!” Osran cried as he rolled to safety, Lightfader’s foot landing on the spot the paladin had stood mere two seconds earlier. The abomination had to be at least five meters in sight, its rotting intestines slowly growing ever more profound from its open stomach. The beast had no clear face or head even if it seemed to see perfectly what was happening.

Doan, who had been put into charge of the second half of the mages in case something like this happened, look at the sight in jolt as he begun to form a large ball of fire in his hands. This abomination, like every undead, could be brought into life unless it was burned into nothingness.

“You heard commander Lowriver! Give the beast everything you have!” Doan cried as the dozen mages cast their spells at Lightfader while it was trying to kill as many crusaders as possible and while the risen monks and paladins flooded the courtyard. They hoped to see the monstrosity turn into a tower of flame but, to their shock, their magic died as soon as they thought they had launched it. It seemed like they had lost their ability to draw power from the world around them, as if their wizardly abilities had suddenly stripped from them. Doan looked at his comrades in fear as he heard Osran’s voice call from near him.

“Fall back into the Monastery! Get out of this carnage!” Osran was seemingly fearful by this turn of events. His hopes of containing the damage had been proved wrong but the Crusade hadn’t been beaten just yet. However, there was a minor change of plans. Osran quickly searched for Tareth and spoke to him quickly.

“Lead the defense and try to minimize the casualties! I’ll go assist Arellas and Thalnos in ending this nightmare once and for all!” Osran said as he called six paladins to him, readying them for this surprise mission. Tareth looked at his comrade in surprise but simply nodded at him.

“Alright, Osran, but be safe! That will be a tough fight.” Tareth said simply as he prepared to lead the troops’ evacuation back into the main building. Osran looked at his captain in approval and turned to his six followers. Even if Arellas and Thalnos had their plan ready, they would probably need some bait for it and no matter how he regretted bringing his long-time comrades and friends to this immense danger, nothing was as important as stopping Diodor. So many things depended on it.

Diodor himself followed the scene with immense pleasure. His mass counterspell had did the trick to scare the mages and to collapse the Scarlet lines in a second. At this point, the necromancer wished to rely on extreme caution so that he would be able to affirm his victory. If even a tiny detail would escape his notice, there was a real chance of failure even this late into the battle. Diodor wouldn’t join the fighting himself unless he absolutely had to.

“I bet he’s hiding in those woods somewhere. That way he can stay safe and direct the entire battle effectively. There’s no way he could counter our allies’ spells while remaining unseen.” Arellas said as he investigated his surroundings. He, Thalnos and five other mages were scouring the areas around the Monastery, using the thick of the battle to make their movements as unnoticeable as possible.

“Indeed, Master Fireleaf, and it’s likely that he expects either peace or direct action wherever he is. I doubt he thinks we stand a chance anymore and if he does, he probably expects one, final charge from us. However, indirect action is the best way to go right now.” Thalnos said as he looked into the dark, dying forest. The battle raged quite far away so it wouldn’t be likely that Diodor followed their movements with great intensity.

“What do you mean by indirect action, Thalnos? Should we go interfere with his concentration?” Arellas offered, his voice thoughtful at his followers’ proposition. It made sense but there was also a risk that the attackers would simply waste their surprise element.

“That’s correct. If we spread out and attack him vaguely from each direction, he might get unnerved. That might buy our comrades time to bring down the towering monstrosity which in turn forces Diodor’s hand in this struggle. That is when we catch him!” Thalnos said in expectation, his voice turning ever more pleased with himself. Arellas respected his comrade less with every passing second but his help was needed to bring down this foe. He could only hope his complacent attitude wouldn’t become a problem.

Tareth fought fiercely, trying to keep the advancing undead from moving deeper into the entrance hall of the Monastery. His forces were decimated by Lightfader’s fearsome attack and the rest of the defenders knew their lives were no longer in their own hands. Tareth and Herod stood side by side, vanquishing the enemies before them but even then, some of them returned to “life” before they could be burned. The frontline was slowly creeping towards the doors to the library and graveyard wings, letting the attackers into all parts of the complex. Tareth felt desperation flow into him as his ranks were slowly beginning to falter.

“Stand strong, soldiers of the Scarlet Crusade! Each second we hold the enemy here, the more time Osran and Arellas will have to destroy the source of this nightmare! Even now, the Light of Dawn floats above this cursed land!” The knight captain called as he repelled another attack from the enemy. His remark earned only a snort from his side before another brutal assault started.

“And more importantly, destroy these villains! The Light favors the strong!” Herod once again cut into the horde but this time, one detail swiftly received everyone’s attention. The dead no longer rose, the rotting corpses left on the floor for good. Tareth was dumbstruck by this development but not in a negative sense.

“Burn them while there’s still time! Follow me, we might have a chance to even kill the abomination! Diodor is either dead or embattled, now’s our moment!” The leaderless undead were quickly overrun by the crusaders while the defenders quickly ran towards the courtyard. the battle against the monstrosity would be bitter but without the necromancer’s guidance, they had a real chance to do it.

The dim woods momentarily flashed with lights as bursts of arcane, frost and fire illuminated it. Diodor did his best to try to find their source but for now, he would have to regain control of the situation. No matter how many enemy wizards there were, he could repel them once he had the time to prepare. Diodor did his all to stop the incoming spells and his efforts proved highly successful. Not only was he safe, he could also start to return the favor. However, no matter what Diodor did, he could see that none of his attacks hit their target. It was as if the enemy was merely taunting him and to the necromancer’s great annoyance, they were successful. Diodor had no doubt that his ghouls were falling under the crusaders as he had to put his might into repelling the insufferable mages.

“Get here, cowards! No matter what you do, you don’t have a chance!” as Diodor spoke his eyes searched the woods for any signs of the enemy’s whereabouts and to his sudden delight, s shadow could briefly seen among the trees. Not a second was wasted before the necromancer blasted a small but swift spell at the mage, burning him down instantly. Diodor called once again the mages, his voice being even more threatening this time.

“Flee or fight, it will make little difference. I will snuff your lives out one by one if I need to…” Diodor continued to shield himself when Arellas released a small, green light on the air, implicating that the mission had been complete. Now, the next task was to help the crusaders in bringing the massive abomination down as Thalnos had proposed.

Tareth panted intensively as he rolled away from another kick’s way. The monstrosity’s legs were filled with wounds, Herod even injuring its waist but they had little impact on the giant’s ability to fight. Five crusaders had been crushed under its feet and the rest were growing increasingly fatigued. The knight commander was becoming ever more desperate when he heard a voice that renewed his attention into the battle. A loud crack of ice could be heard striking into the abomination’s back, making it reel heavily forwards. He was happy to hear Arellas’ voice call from a nearby hill.

“Take heart, warriors of the Light! Now’s your chance to destroy this monster once and for all!” Storms of ice and fire started to rage around Lightfader, seemingly destabilizing it and making its moves harder. Even if the spells would affect him too, he realized this was the time to strike.

“My comrades, follow me! Let’s hit at the heart of the beast as one!” Tareth called as he and four other paladins around him charged at the reeling abomination. The spells had nearly felled it to the ground, enabling the crusaders to target the monstrosity’s torso with great effectiveness. Tareth’s heart beat in his ears as he looked at the sickening beast but he knew he had to deal the decisive strike. Lightfader looked like it was going to fall apart by itself soon enough.

However, at the last moment, the towering monster regained its former composure. It was too late to stop the charging paladins’ killing blow but it managed to do one, last service to its creator and master. Tareth looked in horror as the abomination, in its mortally wounded condition, tried to grab him and with a herculean effort, the knight captain managed to dodge the hand but its side hit the knight captain heavily in his side. Before he got the chance to rise from the ground, Lightfader stomping its deformed foot on top of the fallen captain. Not even the smallest of noises had the time to leave Tareth before his consciousness failed for the last time.

Lightfader’s demise wasn’t left unnoticed by Diodor. At first, he was extremely angered by this turn of events, his masterpiece and most powerful creation destroyed because of his own inability to divide his thoughts between defending himself and controlling his minions. However, his fury at himself was short-lived as the necromancer started to think about his position in more detail.
In the end, all he had lost was one big blob of meat and a group of lowly ghouls that could be replaced any time he wished so. Even without those assets, Diodor could tell that his victory still wouldn’t be robbed from him. He was one of the founders of the Cult and one of the original disciples of Kel’Thuzad after all and even now, the display of his full power would crush any resistance.

The Crusade has fared far better than I expected but it matters little anymore. Lightfader probably crushed most of their forces and I still command a larger, superior army!

Even then, Diodor realized he couldn’t act brashly. His own powers were second to none in the Monastery but if he made one mistake, he might never be able to use them. He wasn’t going to walk into the enemy’s trap, no matter how well it would be laid.


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #13 on: August 11, 2017, 12:04:40 PM »
Osran and his troops were stationed near the edge of the forest, determined to check that Diodor wasn’t going to bypass them to reinforce his positions in the battlefield. It had been many minutes since the mages had left the woods to join the crusaders vanquish Lightfader before Diodor could interrupt those plans. Those moments seemed to drag on forever as the defenders braced themselves for the necromancer’s appearance. The conversation between him and the mages had been a brief one even if Osran understood their plan.

“You were supposed to attack Diodor, not run from him! Go back immediately!” The paladin called to the mages when Arellas approached him swiftly. A grim look was on the elf’s face as he tried to explain his and Thalnos’ idea to their commander.

“We have bought the defenders time to take the fight back to the courtyard! Once it’s gone, Diodor’s whole strategy will collapse! Please, Commander Lowriver, keep him at bay until we return!” Arellas then left Osran and gave the paladin no real chance to object or question the mage.

Osran started to silently curse Arellas in his mind for leaving him and his comrades in such a dangerous position. He had heard a powerful thud from the Monastery, most likely caused by Lightfader’s downfall but it mattered little if he was in danger of being butchered by the necromancer. Seconds passed by as Osran stared into the dark spaces between the trees, prepared to see a black, hooded form appear from one of them. The whole situation was oppressive beyond measure as each of the defenders waited for their imminent deaths.

Soon, Osran heard a small snap of a breaking branch and immediately cast a powerful judgement there. This failed attack was swiftly countered with a bolt of dark energy aimed at Osran’s head but it was immediately stopped by one of the commander’s comrades. The five knights and Doan looked in fear as Diodor appeared from the forest, a ghastly cloud near the earth making it appear like he was floating in the air. The defenders waited until the necromancer stopped before they started to speak.

“Your abomination and troops are decimated, traitor! You better run now if you wish to live!” Osran said in cold rage. He knew he was hopelessly overpowered by the necromancer but he wished to see what kind of game he was planning after his slaves’ crushing defeat. Diodor looked at the paladin calmly, not letting out any emotion before he spoke. Not only was Diodor interested in hearing how his enemy had survived this long but he always planned to investigate the crusaders to see how they planned to defeat him.

“No one can escape from battle once they have pledged themselves to the Lich King’s service, paladin. No matter what, we will see this to end today. You have created a formidable defense, one that I didn’t expect to face.” Diodor looked at Osran in an investigative way, remembering the aging paladin’s face from the previous battles. The necromancer was intrigued to see how he had lived this long against his powers. However, it wasn’t the paladin who answered.

“Diodor, you were a hero of Azeroth once and I often looked up to you and Ras Frostwhisper during our time in Dalaran! Tell me, how could you complete your studies? How could you not see they were twisted and wrong?” Doan called in an accusing voice, willing to hear how anyone would willingly fall to the depths of necromancy. Diodor turned to look at the speaker and a slight surprise was apparent in his gestures.

“Doan, what a surprise to see you here! I had always thought a mage of your strength would have fallen long ago!” Diodor smirked as he looked at his old comrade. His voice was as toxic and disrespectful as was to be expected but it mattered little to the young mage.

“Not as surprising as the fact that any members of your cursed Cult still survive! So many were slaughtered already during the War that I had already wanted to believe none of you survived! It seems like Kel’Thuzad didn’t lead you to the perfection he promised! Your Lich King is most likely dead and the Legion is beaten! The Scourge has lost, Diodor, and now you will pay for your mistakes!” Doan yelled as he looked at Diodor who twisted his rod in his hands. The necromancer stayed silent for a moment before he answered.

“You are right that in assuming that our greatest plan was a failure. The Legion will never again set a foot on this world and we won’t be able to spread the Scourge all over the world for now. But the Lich King is alive and his power is growing by the minute. We may have suffered a defeat but make no mistake, we will rise again. You threw a glorious future away, Doan, and for what? To sacrifice yourself defending these weaklings against a far superior foe? You might have been one of us but you made your own choice.” Diodor looked at Doan who returned a hateful expression at his former comrade. Osran looked at the duo, wondering how well they had once known each other and what had really happened in Kel’Thuzad’s early school of necromancy. The paladin was the next to speak.

“I heard many tales of your heroism during the evacuation of Stormwind. Yours was one of the names that were whispered with great reverence during our preparation for the Second War, an archetype of an unlikely, young hero during time of need. It saddens me greatly to see you following Arthas and his masters into this terrible fate, Diodor. You were one of the great heroes of the past: let me end it here and maybe you can still be remembered as such.” Osran whispered silently, hoping that something of the old Diodor still remained in that horrifying, withered shell. The paladin didn’t expect the necromancer to agree and to his disappointment, he was right. Diodor kept his respecting posture but his voice dipped with poison as he answered.

“Initially, I only did what I had to survive against the barbaric orcish hordes. Soon after, I, like any other foolish, young man, grew fond of the respect I received and took my position as one of the leaders of the refugees. It is ironic really, that it was those days that showed me how pointless it is to search for glory in others’ eyes. In the end, after risking my life to save those weaklings, what did I achieve? Medals, statues, money. Why in the name of sanity would I care about those? Only Kel’Thuzad gave me what I really yearned for and your promised honors are only a continuation of those shallow “prizes” I received in the past! I live only for myself and only for those great secrets I’m going after!” Diodor looked around the scene, noticing a few very interesting details. There were snapped branches here and there and the environment as a whole was unusually silent. Were his enemies really thinking he was this easy to fool?

“So it was true all along… you were always one of our most eager researchers and you always wanted to know all about the arts we were after. I always wanted to know if there were other things driving you forward but it seems I could see everything I needed back then. It’s a shame really: you could have been a major asset to the Crusade if you had chosen differently.” Doan said slowly, wishing to voice his long-hidden misgivings concerning his foe. It seemed that his old comrades were just as zealous as he had feared all along. Diodor answered quickly as he prepared a powerful spell to counter the coming attack.

“I would have but I wouldn’t want to stick with the losing side, Doan. And if you think I’m on one now, think again! Your pitiful trap won’t hold me!” Diodor released a gigantic magical cloud around him, quickly hitting the nearby mages and paladins that had gathered around him. The necromancer used this moment to flee further into the forest to improve his position. Osran realized his plan immediately and yelled to his comrades.

“No matter what, catch and kill him! The longer he lives, the more of us will die in vain!” Osran was the first one to charge after the old man, many other paladins following him immediately. The chase was on: either Diodor would fall now or else the crusaders would be killed one by one.

Thalnos cursed as he saw Diodor realizing his plan. He had planned to use the arrogant outsider as a bait, a detail he had kept hidden from even Arellas, to get rid of his leadership and to reinforce the more traditional elements in the Monastery’s leadership. Even then, it mattered little to the young elf. The trap had been set too thinly for the necromancer to escape it anymore. Even then, with luck, he might get the chance to get rid of Osran before the battle would be over.

To his growing concern, Diodor noticed that there were more chasers gaining on him for his frail body to escape from. The knowledge that he had to stand and fight was a rather new one for the old necromancer but it brought him no concern whatsoever. What did it matter if he needed to face these pathetic weaklings face-to-face? He would no longer spare any expense in destroying his hated enemies.

“Come then! Bring each of your sorry faces right here and I will pulverize each of you!” For the first time since the great War, Diodor’s options were limited and because of it, he concentrated each and every piece of power he could muster to his spells. Diodor released an enormous, swirling barrage of shadow into the woods, prompting countless pained screams and deathrattles from the poor defenders. Each inch of caution and strategy had left the cornered necromancer: only direct and decisive action could help him escape this terrifying situation.

“If that was too much for you, I won’t even have to show you my full arsenal, spineless ambushers! Disappear from my sight, all of you!” Diodor yelled in rage as the adrenaline of the moment flowed in his veins. He had longed for a real challenge.

Arellas was terrified by all the attacks Diodor was casting upon the crusaders. His aim was sharp and the powers enviable even for a necromancer. None of the earlier fights against him had prepared him or his mages against this kind of display of power but it mattered little at this point. Either Diodor would fall here or the whole nightmare would repeat itself soon enough.

“Try to contain his powers! Counter his spells to buy our comrades the time to engage him in melee!” Arellas called in desperation as mage after another fell upon the onslaught. It seemed almost like Diodor could simply overpower their counterspells but in reality Arellas understood that his expertise allowed the necromancer bypass them with extremely swift, weak spells so he could continue his battle against the wizards of the Crusade. Arellas was determined to see his part of the battle through, no matter the cost.

Osran looked at the scene In fear, seeing that the mages wouldn’t be able to hold their positions for long. In a minute, all of them would be wiped by Diodor’s frenzy and his plan, and hopes of ending this campaign would be lost. Realizing his charge, Osran quickly turned to the nearest officer he could find. This time it turned to be Houndmaster Loksey, who was in the thick of the battle trying to keep Diodor’s reinforcements at bay. Osran turned to him and asked in a low, noble voice.

“Houndmaster, take a few of your troops and hounds and attack Diodor from his left side. While you keep him busy, I’ll put an end to him once and for all!” Osran’s eyes resonated with dedication and even in this situation, Loksey simply nodded to him. Anyone in their right mind would know Osran asked for a suicide in essence but Loksey, as well as any crusader, knew that wars weren’t won by sparing single soldiers’ lives. The Houndmaster then answered briefly to his commander, determined to see Osran’s request through.

“I’ll buy you the time you need, Commander Lowriver. Light bless your path.” Loksey gave his blessings to Osran as his role would be the most dangerous one. The paladin turned around to move towards Diodor when another voice rang in his ears.

“I’ll come with you, Osran. If nothing else, I’ll shield you against the monster’s attacks!” Osran turned around and saw that the speaker was Veria. She was clearly injured but it didn’t look like her wounds were nowhere near dangerous. Osran approved her presence but there was no time to talk. Even now, Arellas’ forces were under attack and Loksey was heading to his doom. Osran continued his walk towards Diodor when he called silently to Veria.

“Then come! I won’t turn down any help I can get!”

Thalnos followed the scene with a self-indulged expression, firmly believing that Diodor’s downfall was merely a matter of time in face of the Crusade’s superior powers. There was only one thing that stood between him and the day’s total success and that was the arrogant paladin. Thalnos was Whitemane’s close associate and he was prepared to get rid off this new power no matter what.

He could see Osran moving silently among the trees, Veria following him closely. The elf mage had moved silently closer to the duo and further from the others in order to ensure that his next deed didn’t have any eyewitnesses. He launched a quick fireball towards Osran, small enough to be hidden among the trees but powerful enough to be lethal. Thalnos looked in expectation as it drew closer to its target… until it suddenly disappeared at the last moment.

The mage looked at it bewilderment, completely dumbstruck by this development. Who had countered his fireball which was moving under the trees’ shadows? No matter. This time he cast a powerful bolt of arcane which nearly hit but it, too, disappeared. Thalnos started to fear for his own security and he prepared a third, foolproof spell to get rid of the new competitor.

Osran was drawing close to Diodor who had thus far managed to maintain his defense against the enemy. The paladin could see Loksey drawing closer to Diodor who was preparing to turn his attention from the last mages into the main host of the crusaders attacking him from his left. Osran was about speak his last words to Veria when she suddenly called to him.

“Get down, now!” He voice was urgent and alerted but silent enough to avoid being heard by Diodor. A powerful explosion of arcane detonated in their previous position, which would have obliterated the duo unless Veria had seen the small, glimmering ball growing between them. As things stood, both of the paladins were seriously wounded but it mattered little to a paladin. Thalnos cursed at his failure but the mage realized it was no longer safe for him to continue his attacks. With silent steps, Thalnos left off to rejoin his fellow mages.

Diodor looked in confusion at the explosion’s direction, not knowing what to make of it. It was unlikely that his enemies were shooting at each other so it was most probable that it was merely a missed attack that had been meant for him. Unmoved by the incident, Diodor continued his attacks. The main hos of the crusaders had started charging against him and once he had slain them, the battle would result in a decisive victory for him.

“What the hell was that?” Veria whispered as the two finished healing their wounds. Her voice was agitated at the incident as it was clear that it wasn’t one of Diodor’s attacks. Which one of their own mages would attack their own commander? Osran looked at Diodor to see whether he had paid the incident any attention but the necromancer seemed completely oblivious to the incident. Knowing that there was no more imminent danger, Osran whispered back to Veria.

“It seems that Arellas’ apprentice wasn’t as innocent as he would have wanted us to think. This must be Doan’s doing! Even then, we must continue our attack! We must go, now!” Osran waited for a nod from his companion as they saw Loksey and his troops storm towards Diodor from the forest. After receiving her approval, Osran took a deep breath and jumped over the bush he had been hiding behind. The die was cast: either his or Diodor’s paths would end on this glade.

The necromancer had started casting powerful lakes of shadow in the opening in front of him, greatly hindering the crusaders’ charge against him. The necromancer almost pitied his opponents as they wished to keep their hopes high even in this hopeless situation. One monk after another fell under his mighty spells, soon to rise as his servants. Everything was going according to plan… until loud footsteps suddenly disturbed his moment of victory.

“You’ll die here, traitor! Here’s for Ferren Marcus!” Loksey prepared to hit Diodor before the latter quickly created a shield for himself to parry the charging Houndmaster’s attack. However, he got no chance to kill him as ten of his comrades ran past their commander, each of them ready to lay down their very lives just to have a chance to land a blow against the necromancer. Diodor was stunned by this turn of events but he quickly stabilized the situation with his magic.

“Many have already tried to ambush me, pathetic morons! None of them…” Diodor’s voice was interrupted by a bolt of fire from behind him, one that he heard approaching at the very last minute. Diodor parried the fireball with a spell of his own but that same instant, the mages’ onslaught resumed in full swing. Diodor started to feel fear rise within him as he realized that he was being assaulted from three directions… only to see a sword fall down upon him from the fourth.

For the first time in years, Diodor was forced to counter a hit with his rod. This, however, proved to be a major disaster for the necromancer as his old, weak hand gave up under Osran’s bright-shining sword. The impact of the hit fell Diodor to the ground, leaving him to watch as all of his enemies closed down upon him. It was at that moment that Diodor could see that he had failed. He would never complete his research and he would never be able to achieve his revenge against his rivals in the Cult. The legacy he had worked all his life would soon be lost forever, along with all hope of learning the truth behind the very nature of magic and the birth of both Scourge and the Legion itself. For the first time in his life, Diodor felt an overwhelming sadness flow through him as he realized how much he was about to lose. Still, if he was going to die, no one would live to claim credit or honor for his personal destruction. No, no one in this forest would escape his last farewell to the world, the final testament to his power.

“You have ruined everything I ever worked for or what cared about! Well done, but now I’ll give my last act of service to the Lich King! You will all follow me to the Cold Dark! Die, cursed weaklings!” Diodor’s voice was monotonic and it was a perfect mirror to the necromancer’s mind which had given up all his ambition and hopes of escaping this trap. Osran looked horror as a brownish whirlwind started to gather around Diodor and it started to spread the Plague immediately. Most of the troops around the dying necromancer started to flee in panic but Osran realized that Diodor could destroy all of them before they could escape.

With herculean effort, Diodor rose to his feet to be able to pass from this world with dignity. He was pleased to see the crusaders run towards their deaths as his spell would cover the whole forest before his enemies could escape. Only one of the crusaders stayed still, the same one who had struck him down in the first place. The necromancer would have wanted nothing, more than to destroy him where he stood but all of Diodor’s power was drained by the mighty spell she was casting. However, he could channel it towards the paladin who so boldly still stood against him.

Osran looked in a mixture of fear and determination at the necromancer whose body’s struggles grew more violent by the minute. It was clear that all those years of experimenting with the Plague had taken a heavy toll on the old man whose body could no longer take all the power that was gathering inside it. Diodor’s body would collapse before this one last spreading of the Plague was over. This was his moment to land the killing blow on villain who had caused him so much trouble and struggling. It was time to put an end to all that. No more words needed to be exchanged: only the final strike was left.

Knowing that the situation was critical, the bearded knight started to run towards Diodor who gritted his teeth as the necromancer raised clouds of brown Plague from the ground, trying to surround Osran within the deadly poison before the knight could reach him. Osran did his all to dodge the incoming clouds and to his intense delight, Diodor’s waning powers enabled him to move faster than the necromancer’s failing body enabled him to create new concentrations of Plague. Step by step, Osran approached his nemesis who slowly started to realize what was happening.

Diodor closed his eyes as he realized that there was no victory in this situation. No matter how hard it was to accept it, a certain kind of respect awoke deep within the necromancer foe the courageous paladin. He had destroyed all he had worked for and soon kill him but he had proven that there were still forces far greater than his in the world, highlighting the amount of things he’d never be able to learn. Diodor didn’t stop casting his spell until the end but in his mind, the necromancer was content to die from the hand of this paladin. There would have been worse fates but this was one the old wizard was willing to accept.

Osran ran towards Diodor, looking in surprise at the necromancer’s closed eyes that could be seen from the holes in his hood. The knight felt immense expectation and thrill as he approached his enemy. However, a he drew closer to his enemy, he could see the calm resignation in Diodor’s posture. This wasn’t the appearance of a desperate, fearful man but that of one who was prepared to die in peace. Osran looked at the necromancer in confusion but he knew he would never get another chance.

The aging knight raised his sword and swung it towards Diodor. That second seemed to drag on forever as Osran saw his sword collide with Diodor’s throat, separating it from his shoulders. The paladin looked in astonishment as the hooded head rolled to the ground, his body first falling to its knees and then to the ground, never to rise again. Osran, too, fell to his knees, panting heavily. The battle for the Scarlet Monastery was over and the Crusade had claimed a total victory.

And with this chapter, the fight for the Scarlet Monastery is over. The Crusade has achieved its first major victory and one of the founding members of the Cult of the Damned lies dead. However, this victory will be short lived as unpleasant news are soon going to reach the Monastery... Wow, this was my longest chapter ever and it even broke the length limit of GoF.  :lol: Anyway, let me know what you think about this chapter and see you in the next one! :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2017, 01:38:21 PM »
News from the Northern Land

The voices of the hasty retreat quickly started to give way for a confused silence. Arellas looked in puzzlement at the sight before him as the brown Plague cloud started to dissolve, revealing the destroyed bodies of those who were too slow to escape from the terrifying death. The elf knew what this meant: Diodor had fallen in battle. The entire campaign was over once and for all but who had been the one to kill the powerful necromancer? The stunned and overjoyed feeling around the elf was becoming tangible as the crusaders realized they were lucky enough to have survived the onslaught.

“Can… can it be, master? Is it over?” Doan muttered as he looked at the elf in astonishment. Arellas nodded quickly and answered to his apprentice’s question. His voice was stunned but it carried an extremely grateful tone.

“It seems so, Doan. But what…” Arellas’ sentence was interrupted as two forms appeared from among the woods. At first the two mages took a defensive stance but as soon as they recognized the newcomers, they relaxed their aggressive posture. Arellas called to the two happily, expecting them to bring news about how the victory was achieved.

“Commander Lowriver! Veria! Thank the Light you’re alive! We’re all in your debt, brave paladins. You…” Arellas cut his congratulations as he saw the expression on the duo’s face. They didn’t belong to heroes who had just achieved a great victory. Rather, they seemed deeply angered and hungering for justice for some unknown crime. The elf looked in concern as they approached him but to his relief, they bypassed the elf completely without giving him any heed. However, another of his followers wasn’t as lucky. Doan looked at the duo in horror as Veria forced her to his knees, Osran hovering his sword above the poor mage’s neck. Osran then asked with a grave voice.

“Old allegiances die hard, am I correct, Doan? It seemed like you had some agreements with our foe about getting rid of me.” Osran’s face sparked with disgust at the young mage, the paladin having had his fill of traitors for a good while. No matter what, he’d make sure not one inch of the Scourge’s corruption defiled the Light’s sanctity from now on. Doan looked at his commander in panic, not knowing what was happening. He could see that Osran was prepared to cut his throat any second which made him all the more fearful.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Commander Lowriver! Please, tell me what is going on!” Doan spoke in a stuttering voice, his apparent sincerity raising hesitation in Osran’s mind. However,  he knew that the servants of the Scourge were prepared for anything and his composure didn’t change any. Still, he would give the mage a chance to prove his innocence. Osran nodded to Veria who then answered the shivering mage.

“We two were attacked with spells that came from the direction of Arellas’ forces. Also, we could see that they weren’t casted by Diodor and still they were clearly directed at us. And who else would be willing to get rid of our Commander if not our very own supposedly-former necromancer?” Veria hit the mage to the back in order to make her point even clearer. Thalnos, who was following the scene nearby, smiled as he saw the mess Doan found himself in. With any luck, he would be sentenced instead of the young elf and this issue would never be brought up again. To Thalnos’ amusement, Arellas was the next one to speak.

“Please, Osran, this is madness! Doan stood by my side the whole battle! I would have seen it if he would have done something like that!” Arellas knew he was speaking the truth but he didn’t question Veria’s tale about the incident. Even then, this brought up the distasteful question about who was the real culprit? He despised the idea that one of his mages would have tried to slay their leader in this critical hour. Osran raised his eyebrows in mockery as he answered.

“He may have worked behind your back, Master Fireleaf. You couldn’t have babysat him the whole battle and even then, necromancers are known to be masters of deceit. Tell me, Doan, did you happen to somehow exchange information with Diodor during our pleasant conversation? Something that told Diodor about our plans or something similar?” The paladin brought his face close to Doan’s when he asked his question. Doan looked increasingly desperate but he wanted to believe there was some way he’d be able to convince Osran of his innocence.

“You’re right, I could have worked in secret from my comrades but I didn’t do it! You saw the hate we showed towards each other with Diodor! You saw me fight against him and I’ve helped you ever since you arrived in our Monastery! Whatever you do, you have to believe me!” Doan cried in fear but Osran knew that those deeds proved nothing. The plots of the Cult were often complex and working together with the enemy in order to advance the organization’s goal wasn’t unusual for the necromancers. Osran nodded to the mage grimly and spoke in a judging voice.

“You’ve proved nothing, traitor! Your wicked kind understands only one kind of punishment. As your superior, I sent…” Osran’s verdict was suddenly interrupted by another voice from nearby. The commander quickly turned to look at the newcomer who appeared to be another mage who Osran had never seen before or at least hadn’t spoken with. Veria answered to him in a demanding voice.

“You better have proof about Doan’s innocence or you might just be the next one accused of treason! State your business, now!” The knight said in a sharp, agitated voice. The mage returned the hard posture and started to speak shortly.

“It was I who stopped those spells hitting you but I couldn’t see who the caster was. I only know that Doan was with Arellas the whole time and he was far from the position where he could have attacked you! Very few mages were near you at that point and Doan certainly wasn’t one of them!” The mage yelled in an angry voice, eager to get his point accepted. He wasn’t too close to Doan but he hated to see someone being wrongly accused. He couldn’t blame the duo for their suspicion towards Doan but he was angered by their inability to adapt their viewpoint to the others’ words.

“Then what were you doing away from the others? And certainly you must have some idea who was behind this? Speak!” Osran looked at the mage impatiently, eager to hear his version of the course of action. The mage was slightly taken aback by his commander’s tone but he answered to the best of his ability. Thalnos was slowly growing uneasy at his words, realizing that he had seen him as he rejoined the rest of the mages. He might just voice his suspicions towards him. The elf knew he had to interfere and ruin his colleague’s testimony once and for all.

“With due respect, Commander Lowriver, may I have your attention? I remember one moment when Doan left Arellas’ and his troops side. It was when most of our troops were charging at Diodor and the others were busy trying to protect our comrades. I was stationed near our left wing in order to safeguard our flanks. I don’t know if Doan had enough time to cast any spells but I found his antics quite odd.” Thalnos spoke in a normal voice, willing to give the impression that he was reciting his true memories, even if they were made up. Whitemane looked at the mage in chagrin, not liking these developments in the least.

You better get yourself away from this mess or at least keep me away from it! If you tell about me, I’ll make sure you’ll pay dearly for it before the end!

Deep frowns came to Arellas’ forehead as he listened to Thalnos. His aid had been instrumental in bringing Diodor down but for some reason, his words unsettled the older mage greatly. Even then, there had been a small moment when Doan escaped his sight during the fight as Thalnos had said. Arellas stayed silent, deeply hoping that Doan could explain himself.

“What? Are you out of your mind, elf? I went only to see if I could do something to help Loksey and his troops! I casted no spells back then!” Doan looked at the elf in horror, not knowing why Thalnos would tell lies about him except… if he actually wanted to get him killed.

“The case seems clear to me, Osran. This filth has already spoken himself to a dead end.” Veria said as he looked at Osran who seemed likewise sure about the course of things. Veria looked at Doan who started to slowly resign to his fate. However, the other mage looked at Thalnos in disgust, slowly coming to terms about what had truly happened. He then spoke to Osran again who looked at him impatiently.

“His words are complete lies, Osran! In fact, I saw him in the woods as I was about to report to Master Fireleaf! I cannot prove it but Thalnos is the main candidate I can come up with! He’s just trying to defend himself!” The mage called in deep anger, prompting another counteraccusation from Thalnos. Osran was slowly starting to become tired of the whole fight and he decided to use his temporal powers for one more command. No matter what, this issue had to be got over with.

“Get Valroth here! He’ll be more than happy to listen to these two traitors!” Osran snorted in anger. The mages were clearly seeing him as a fool but soon their lies would be dealt by Valroth. He was a highly feared priest who left no stone unturned in his eternal conviction to serve the Light even in ways many of his colleagues wouldn’t approve. Because of this quality he had often served as a part-time inquisitor and interrogator, even if those practices weren’t widely practiced in the Order of the Silver Hand or in the Church. Osran’s decision brought many gossips from the audience as it was highly unusual to call this kind of interrogation publicly. Doan was the first one to appeal to the paladin.

“No! Don’t do this Osran!” The elf called but Osran merely scowled at him as an answer. Osran knew his methods of finding out the truth were close to extreme but he couldn’t stand the thought of a traitor inside the Crusade, not after seeing the horrors that Diodor had imposed upon him and his allies. He didn’t even know about Tareth’s fate yet but he was going to make sure that the day truly was won and no treacherous mage would kill him later in his sleep and begin another war of horror. He would end those fears now.

“You called, Commander? Who are the ones who need to be persuaded?” Valroth appeared from the crowd with slow steps. He was a middle-aged man who wore the priest’s red robe. His rod shined greenish Light, a proof that the power inside it was pure but much more grim than the one used to healing.

“One of these two was in league with Diodor! Find out which one and try to also see if they have any allies.” Whitemane cringed at Osran’s words, furious that the paladin was overstepping the boundaries of their deal. Even then, if she demanded him to stop at this point, it would merely reinforce the suspicion others had for her. The High Inquisitor was forced to watch powerlessly as one of her closest associates was being tortured to reveal her plans to kill her rival. The two mages stared at the priest in horror as Valroth approached them and rose his rod to the air. The duo had been tied to two trees, robbing them any hope of escape. Valroth spoke shortly before he started his work.

“I pray the Light that you are ready to face the judgement that waits for the traitor. I promise you, your secrets will belong to me before long!” Valroth’s rod released bright rays that penetrated the very bodies of the two, the mages crying in agony as they were being questioned. Every second, the yellowish beams of Light grew stronger and with it, the duo’s pain seemed to only grow more intense. Valroth then spoke in a demanding voice, momentarily stopping his spell.

“Describe the place the Commander was when you attacked him! He will determine when he has heard enough! Speak, now!” Doan looked at his torturer in despair, hoping beyond hope that he had actually something to tell the priest. Everything was in Thalnos’ hands now. The elf stayed expressionless, determined to stay silent as long as he only could. Doan turned fearfully to Valroth who then continued his operation.

“Very well. I’ll listen once you are ready to speak!” Valroth resumed his spell, the beams’ intensity growing by the second. Doan felt like his whole body was about to get crushed and his mind completely devoured by the endless pain. He tried to keep the traces of his pride intact but it wasn’t soon before he found himself quivering in deep anguish, his cries disturbing many of the troops. Was this the same Commander who so valiantly had led them earlier in the morning? What had happened? How could he follow this sickening display with a neutral face? Even Whitemane hadn’t advocated for this kind of line during her time as the Monastery’s second-in-command.

Osran’s eyes may have been unmoved by the two mages’ agony but his mind was working on overdrive. He knew he was betraying Uther and Faol’s ideals of nobility and respect but something in Diodor’s barbaric tactics had changed him inside. He hadn’t realized it himself until he had learned of further treason in the Crusade’s ranks. He cringed deeply at the cruel display of brutish strength but even then, he didn’t feel even the least of sympathies against the two mages. Sure, Doan had helped him in the past but that proved nothing.

The paladin’s eyes scoured the writhing prisoners, regretting it had to come to this. He hoped the guilty would confess soon as he hated to watch this. The paladin wanted to dispense justice, not torture the innocent, but this time it seemed like this part couldn’t be avoided. He had never watched an inquisitor’s work this closely but he was thankful he didn’t have to do it himself. He could hear gossiping around him and Osran knew full well why. He would have questioned his own motives as well if he hadn’t faced Diodor as closely as he had. He knew he was crossing many lines with this decision but it was a price the knight was willing to pay.

Mind-bearing pain flowed through Thalnos’ brain as he struggled to hold his ground against the inquisitor’s power. He whimpered pitifully as his body struggled to escape from the torture. The mage knew certain death awaited him should he give up but the other option wasn’t too appetizing either. The elf knew that Doan wouldn’t be able to describe the surroundings where his attach had happened so the only one who could end this misery was he himself. Even if he tried to stay strong, he knew that he was fighting a losing battle. The elf knew by the looks in Valroth and Osran’s faces that they weren’t about to give up. Everything pointed to the fact that one of the two was the traitor and they were dead set to discover the truth.

Minutes went by and Thalnos’ struggles grew ever more desperate and tired. With a resigned thought, he had to admit that every shock of pain was a futile one as every inch of hope was long gone. With a silent and pained voice, the mage whispered to his torturer.

“I did it. I was the one who served Diodor.” The elf knew that Whitemane could make his moments even more agonizing than they would otherwise be. It was a better bet to try to leave the High Inquisitor away from this and try to make them believe he was in league with Diodor. The endless shocks of bright power ended immediately after his words.

“What was the location of your attack? Tell me!” Valroth said sternly, keeping his rod in place to be ready to continue questioning if Thalnos’s tale would prove to be false. The elf took a few deep breaths as he tried to calm down and remember the situation. After a moment, he started to speak.

“I was standing on the upper slopes of a rather big hill whereas Commander Lowriver and Veria tried to hide from my master behind large bushes. My last, most powerful spell was stopped just before it hit my target. Diodor couldn’t see the two because he was preoccupied with the charging cannon fodder.” Osran listened to Thalnos’ words and he decided that the description was good enough.

“He’s correct, Valroth. It seems like he’s the traitor.” Osran said in an angry voice, taking an expression that made Thalnos’ head fall immediately. The elf started to whimper as he realized how easily he had been broken. Now he had thrown everything away and his execution was only a matter of time. He was, however, interrupted when another, more violent bolt of Light hit his body.

“What in the memory of Uther are you doing, Valroth! Stop immediately!” Osran yelled angrily, surprised by Valroth’s continued efforts to torture the elf. The priest looked at his commander in a resolute look, not heeding his command.

“He’s a servant of the Lich King, Commander! He doesn’t deserve a quick end!” Valroth said as he looked at Thalnos in deep disgust. He had dedicated all his life to purging the undead from the face of Azeroth and this spineless elf before him was an anathema to all he had ever worked for. Even then, the priest knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to complete his work without a major punishment from Osran.

“We are a bastion of Light and justice in this world of evil and death, Valroth! No matter what, we won’t fall to this kind of barbary! If we begin torturing others to satisfy our own desires, what will be left of our noble order? Soon we would be no better than the Scourge! As your direct superior, I order you to stop this, now!” Osran raised his sword and pointed it towards Valroth who knew that his ability to prolong Thalnos’ suffering had come to an end. He ended his spell quickly and nodded to Osran before he left him to decide how to proceed.

“As you wish, Commander Lowriver. Continue as you see fit.” Valroth took one last glance at the paladin and disappeared into the crowd. Osran looked after him in clear chagrin before he once again turned back to face Thalnos. His voice dipped with disgust as he nodded to a few soldiers. the elf looked at him in desperation as he knew what was coming.

“Take him to a fitting place. The punishment for treachery is death.” The soldiers untied Thalnos’ hands and quickly forced him to walk wherever they would take him. Osran would follow them soon but first he had something to say to Doan. He untied the mage’s knots himself as he spoke to him in a kinder voice. Doan was too drained to know what to think when he heard Osran’s words.

“I apologize for this, Doan, but I did what I had to. I won’t ask for your pardon and I don’t deserve one but please believe that I took no pleasure in it. You’re a free man, Doan.” Osran said to the elf as he rose up from the ground. He had nothing of worth to say to his commander. Still, he couldn’t accuse the paladin even if he was overwhelmed by his deeds.

“I… I understand, Osran. I’m just happy he confessed. If you forgive me, I’d want to take my leave.” The young mage quickly moved away as he wanted nothing more than to be at peace now. Osran felt a sting of guilt as he watched Doan leave. It was clear that he would never look at him the same way again but Osran took refuge in the knowledge that he had done as he thought was right. Doing one’s dity was all that anyone could do at this point.

Two monks did their best to keep the writhing elf still when they took him closer to the forest to prepare him for Osran’s arrival. Thalnos himself tried to do his everything to escape even if he knew those struggles were useless. The two guards forced him to his knees, placing his head on a rock, and waited for a moment for Osran’s arrival. The paladin took a deep breath as he prepared to do his last deed as the commander of the Monastery. He looked loathingly at the mage as he drew his sword from its scabbard. The knight kept his words brief as the traitor deserved no honors.

“Bloodmage Thalnos, the Crusade has found you guilty of treason against Lordaeron and conspiring with the Scourge to harm our cause. Such an offense would usually deserve a far severe punishment but this time, I’ll grant you a swift death. Die, traitor!” Osran swung his sword before Thalnos could do anything. The elf’s struggles were over before they truly even begun. Osran panted heavily at this last action, relieved that the Scourge’s plot was over once and for all. The monks moved away silently, knowing that their duty was completed. Osran was left alone until he heard a feminine voice speak behind him.

“I trust you are a man of your word, crusader Lowriver. Your part in this battle is over.” Whitemane spoke in a sharp voice, Osran feeling her penetrating eyes in his back. In a way, the knight wasn’t disappointed in the least by this turn of events. He was happy to leave this day of nightmares behind him and prepare to leave for home. He was more than happy to meet Eneath and his mother once again and to continue the fight in more familiar lands. He turned around and nodded quickly to Whitemane.

“Indeed, High Inquisitor. The Scarlet Monastery is once more yours to command. I’ll leave tomorrow and I’ll do my best to stay away from your path. Make the Grand Crusader proud.” During the last sentence, Osran put his hand on Whitemane’s shoulder as a gesture of goodwill and confidence. Whitemane was furious at the death of her ally but she knew raising a fuss about this day wouldn’t serve her interests. No matter how much she hated the thought, letting Osran go was the best course of action here. She simply returned the paladin’s gaze but spoke nothing.

Many thoughts flowed in Osran’s mind as he begun his search for his fellow paladins to see how many of them would live to see Tyr’s Hand again. He felt completely drained as his temporary leadership came to an end. Despite the conflicted stares around him, the aging knight truly felt like he had done the right things today. However, one more shock waited for him as he once again joined Veria. Osran asked one question from her that had troubled his mind as he looked at the gathered crowd.

“Veria, have you seen Tareth anywhere?”

Much of the following day was spent on gathering the dead in the Monastery and its surroundings together to allow them one, honorable funeral. There were few denizens in the Monastery who hadn’t lost a close comrade on this day and even the victory was being overshadowed by this fact. Even then, every crusader had known what to expect and they knew they would continue to give their all to the Crusade. They had achieved a great victory today and because of Diodor’s fall, the Cult had been dealt a heavy blow. The last defenders of Lordaeron could sleep their knights better knowing that the hated enemy was gone forever.

The flurry of flames danced against the dim sky, their shadows bringing chills up Veria’s spine. It was as if the parting souls of the lost were disappearing into the sky from the bonfire that was quickly wiping out their earthly remains. The paladin looked at the sky, feeling empty as she contemplated at the situation. Tareth, one of the knights she had been closest to, was gone, killed by a brainless abomination stepping on him. It wasn’t a fate that the valiant knight deserved but neither were those of the others’. Veria and the other crusaders stood around the flames in silence, bidding good luck on their comrades on their last journeys.

Veria remembered only one time when she was forced to attend a mass burial of this size and that was when her former unit under Gavinrad’s command was obliterated. There had been hardly a dozen survivors and the silent, mournful solidarity of that day had made a great impression the paladin. All of those gathered back then could feel tangible feeling of mutual trust and hope of a better future, as well as the sorror caused by the loss of dear friends and a great leader. Today, however, such an atmosphere was lacking greatly. Whitemane’s stern lead, Osran’s deeds and Thalnos’ betrayal casted another deep shadow on the occasion, leaving Veria bid her own farewell to the fallen knight.

However, those thoughts were quickly cast aside by a sudden call from the Monastery’s northern guards. The cry was a loud and excited one and it was clear that his message was of utmost importance.

“Ships! Ships are coming from the north and they are bearing our flags!”

The cry also reached Whitemane’s ears who was more than happy to be able to leave this boring occasion. She was never one to remember her fallen comrades as she had a very straightforward way to see things: once her comrades were dead, they were dead and no longer of any use to anyone. Additionally, the ships were most likely the ones returning from Northrend and that meant only one thing: during the next hour, they’d know whether the Lich King was dead or not.

“Commanders, follow me! Let’s take a look and hear if our struggle is over!” The High Inquisitor called to the others as she started to head towards the harbor near the Monastery. She was displeased to see that Osran started to also follow her but, regrettably, after Tareth’s death, he was the next one to lead the small host of paladins until their return to Tyr’s Hand. The priestess merely shrugged to this as she started to head towards the port. Very soon, they’d be a lot wiser about the true course of the war.

A loud thud could be heard as the large battleships slowly floated against the quays but it meant nothing to High General Abbendis who eyes emotionlessly at the gathering officers of the Scarlet Monastery. The old soldier was seemingly tired and the usual decisiveness in his eyes was long gone. Whitemane looked in concern as she saw the returning troops’ postures and their small numbers. A chilling feeling was creeping into her mind as she realized what had been the outcome of the risky offensive. Osran also waited fearfully as the High General left the ship before his troops. The High Inquisitor greeted the higher-ranked leader as he approached her.

“Thank the Light for your safe return, High General! We…” Whitemane was taken aback as Abbendis didn’t seem to pay her any heed. It looked like he would simply walk past her but instead, he stopped right next to Whitemane and answered in a haunted, faraway voice which was nearly unheard of for the usually-decisive leader.

“It was all a disaster, Sally. Ask the others if you truly wish to know what happened, I have to go meet Saidan as soon as I can. Light’s blessings to you.” The priestess looked in shock as Abbendis’ form grew more distant, saying only those few words before leaving the scene. It was clear that something horrible had happened in Northrend and it chilled even the ruthless Inquisitor’s heart. She and her followers were left in an awkward silence until another returning soldiers stopped to address them.

“Forgive his behavior but the High General has been through too in the last few days as have we all. My name is Harthal Triesight and I’ve been the second officer ever since… our darkest hour.” The paladin said in an exhausted voice, his energies clearly spent on the journey. He sounded fatigued and mournful at the same time and the same fear that could be seen in Abbendis’ eyes was also present in his. Whitemane asked him carefully the obvious question.

“Wh… what happened in there? I can see its outcome but… is Arthas still alive? Have the rest of your forces fallen?” The priestess offered to Harthal whose posture remained as frozen as before. The paladin seemed more receptive than his superior but it was clear it would take a lot from him to recite the whole story again. the knight waited for a moment before he answered.

“What happened is something we never expected… but I cannot tell all of it now. Please, let us rest for a while. I’ll tell of our ordeals later but right now, all I want is to have a moment of peace as do all of my comrades.” Harthal said to Whitemane who nodded quickly to his words. Even she knew when it was best to comply to others’ requests. The returning crusaders were quickly taken into the Monastery but their numbers shocked everyone who saw the pitiful group of broken knight. Five hundred crusaders had disembarked from New Avalon but less than seventy returned. It was a disheartening sight after the struggles the Monastery’s own defenders had just gone through.

The rest of the day was spent trying to help the wounded and to try to repair the badly damaged ships. Many of the returned crusaders were severely frostbitten and they had badly-tended wounds everywhere. Even necrosis wasn’t that uncommon among the wounded knights and four of those who had made it this far had to be helped to die. Their injuries were lethal and that decision saved them many days of terrifying torture.

It was late evening when the leadership of the Monastery was called to the Cathedral to listen to Harthal’s story. Abbendis had already left for Stratholme along with his closest bodyguards, leaving  his followers to wait for further orders from the Grand Crusader. Harthal was still highly shocked by the recent events but he knew the others deserved to know the news only he could tell them. He looked in a tired expression as the dozen highest-ranking crusaders gathered to hear his words. The others were barred from the occasion in case parts of the tale held knowledge that would harm the common morale, even if the official explanation was to provide some comfort to the speaker.

“My good comrades, as I promised, I’ll tell you what caused our crushing defeat in that freezing land of death. All of you have seen that It was a crushing defeat and, as you may have noticed, Admiral Westwind or General Orman weren’t among those who returned. Both of them made the Crusade proud but that doesn’t change what transpired. But if you think you know what the Scourge is capable of, prepare to be proven wrong.” Harthal’s words were heavy with sorrow but they were slowly starting to get more relaxed. Osran listened to them in disappointment, clearly saddened by the sudden bad news after his triumph. Still, nobody said anything as they listened to the paladin’s tale.

“Things got bad soon after we left the port of New Avalon. Not a minute of our journey was spared from the raging storms, as if the sea itself would have wanted to prevent our success. Still, Admiral Westwind handled those days masterfully, proving that Abbendis’ trust on him wasn’t misplaced. He hardly slept as he gave orders which saved our ships from the giant waves and he partook in our work personally. He wouldn’t let anything go wrong in our journey and only because of his wise guidance did we survive the trip. Days passed slowly and the air grew ever colder but finally the icy shores of Northrend appeared in our horizon. However, things only got worse from there on.” The last sentence was full of bitterness as it was clear that the knight scorned those days greatly. However, he soon continued his tale.

“Something happened that none of us, not even Barean, could have foreseen. We continued to sail northwards in order to get as close to Icecrown as we only could we were attacked. A heavy mist rose, one that not even our most efficient lights could penetrate. It was like were floating in grey void, with only our comrades’ silhouettes to be seen. The other ships looked like ghosts with their distant lights being seen only vaguely and their forms were nearly entirely swallowed by the fog.

Harthal shuddered in the freezing, moist air as he looked downwards from the Menethil’s Pride’s deck into the depths below him. The ship’s bell rang near him to inform the other ships of the fleet of their position, the vague lights too dim to be of major help. The wind was nearly non-existent and the ships were mostly floating in the grey nothingness when Harthal heard Barean’s faraway-sounding voice.

“Lower the sails! We’re not getting anywhere without wind and we have to wait out for the mist to go. There’s nothing more we can do now!” Westwind moved to lead his crew with lowering the sails. Harthal waited for a moment before he turned to join the others. He glanced one last time into the mist but he didn’t see even the water, let alone anything in the distance. He was about to turn around when he heard a small voice in the distance. It sounded like a ship’s bottom striking against an incoming wave. The knight turned to immediately look at the direction of the sound but when he heard or saw nothing, he figured the atmosphere must have made his imagination run wild. Once again, he was about to turn away when the sound appeared again, this time closer. Harthal’s heart begun to beat faster as he called to the others.

“There’s a ship coming from that direction! I hear its voice!” The paladin called. Westwind quickly moved to his side, seemingly unconvinced by the knight’s claim but he wished to take a look nonetheless.

“Turn the lantern to that direction, now! I’ve got to see if there’s something coming!”  The beam of light slowly turned to the direction Harthal had pointed at. It stopped at a similar endless darkness as the whole scene. Westwind looked at the direction for many seconds until the voice returned even louder. The Admiral realized that the warning had been a correct one. The reality was that an unknown ship was sailing right towards them in a completely calm weather without his crew being able to defend themselves.

“Every able man to the deck! We must try to repel them if they’re hostile! Ring the bells so that they may hear us!” The Admiral’s order were interrupted by an extremely bright light, one that illuminated the whole ship. However, it blinded the crusaders and once they realized what was happening, it was too late.

“Five nightmarish ships clashed against ours, giving the attackers an overwhelming advantage. I still don’t know what those devils were but they looked like humans except they were twice our height and much more muscular and able to command the mist. We fought for hours and we lost two of our ships to them and a tenth of our men. I guess they underestimated our numbers but General Abbendis and Orman quickly rallied us to repel them. However, that didn’t help the Admiral. Our ship was one of the most heavily attacked and the villains surrounded and slayed our brave Admiral. He was our first major loss.” Harthal spoke with a troubled look in his eyes. It was clear that this memory was a painful one for him.

Arellas looked at the knight in compassion and waited until he had concluded this part of his story. The mage was highly shocked by Thalnos’ abrupt end but he had long since accepted that Osran’s judgement was the right one. Even then, he had hoped that the younger elf was simply searching for his place in the world but the truth was a painful one for the wizard. Still, he was willing to continue his work without one fake apprentice ruining everything. Hearing that he had stopped for now, Arellas raised his voice and spoke in a clear voice.

“Excuse me, crusader Truesight, but I think I’ve heard about such monsters before. Those mist-controlling villains are known as Kvaldir but the sightings of them have been extremely rare. In fact, most have considered them as legendary beings. Not much of them is known about them but you are lucky to be here. Very few have lived to tell the tale after meeting those monsters.” Arellas told intermittently as it was clear that he was searching for the bits of knowledge from his mind. Harthal listened to him with great interest and nodded his thanks as the elf concluded his remarks. He took a small pause before he answered.

“Kvaldir… thank you for telling me those villains’ name, good elf. Now, where was I… That’s right, we continued our journey towards the north even if Admiral Westwind was no longer leading us. He was the only one to know the closest landing site to Icecrown so we decided to land to the nearest coast we could find. We searched for a day before we could escape that mist and find the nearest place where we could drop the anchor. Needless to say, we didn’t choose wisely.” Harthal turned his gaze upwards to underline the amount of regret he had about their journey. Still, he continued to recite it to the best of his ability.

“We didn’t know it back then but it was the land of northern trolls who were enemies of Scourge but they weren’t any kinder to us. The High General knew that we would have to fight for every meter we’d advance. Luckily, he had his plans ready and we started our march to Icecrown as soon as we laid our feet on that cursed continent. Each of us took our horses and we separated into three different groups in order to divide the Scourge’s undead. We would meet after every ten kilometers we advanced in order to report any important developments. Admiral Westwind had anticipated that it was nearly ten times that distance from the eastern coast to the Icecrown Glacier and each of us knew that it was almost certainly a one-way trip to the heart of the corruption on Azeroth. It would be the ultimate sacrifice to free the world of Arthas’ reign of terror.  

During the first leg of our journey, we met little resistance except from the trolls but we faced creatures of mighty power they summoned. You might be surprised but these trolls seemed to have no connection with the Lich King. I know it’s difficult to believe but there are still people free from Arthas’s grasp even in Northrend. But as can be expected, all the inhabitants of that freezing hellhole are as hostile as the land itself. The beasts towered four times our height and they appeared from nowhere. I’ve heard that the trolls of Stranglethorn Vale are capable of such things and it seems they’re not alone with this skill. They could have served as valuable allies but sadly they wouldn’t listen to us.” Harthal said as he remembered that brief and unfortunate encounter. This knowledge, however, earned instant rebuke from Whitemane who thought this whole speculation was for nothing.

“Those trolls were a pain in our neck, always trying to raid the northern villages of Darrowmere! They’re nothing but barbaric thieves who come to steal from better people! Their ways are alien to the Light and they make a mockery of every virtue we struggle to uphold!” The High Inquisitor called to the paladin, willing to end this apologizing for those vile villains. This outburst earned quick rebuke from Herod who was sitting on the furthermost pew from the speaker.

“They might be Light-forsaken savages but they’re some of the fiercest and most honorable fighters I’ve seen! I’ve seen five of them hold their own against an overwhelming power of our forces even without hands and most of their blood already gone! They’re great and loyal warriors, make no mistake, High Inquisitor.” Herod spoke matter-of-factly to which the priestess merely snorted. It was clear which qualities Herod respected most. Harthal looked at the two tiredly but answered to them nonetheless.

“The Amani are nothing like these northern trolls. Unlike the Amani, the enemies we encountered were blue and they were more attuned towards their magics unlike our neighbors who believe in brute force. After having faced both of them, fighting our familiar neighbors would feel like a vacation. Also, there trolls were much more advanced in architecture as we saw mighty temples and fortifications during our journey. They apparently rivalled the great shrine of Zul’Gurub itself. Anyway, we could escape from their onslaught only with Orman’s command to divide into smaller groups and to ensure that we wouldn’t be surrounded by the trolls’ minions. It was a close call and it demanded many dead trolls but the Light’s justice wasn’t interrupted by those unfortunate people who were unlucky enough to have met us. We lost dozens of people as one large kodo-like creature stomped them to the ground. We were lucky that we never had to meet them again.” The paladin looked concerned about the next part of his tale. It was clear that it would be painful to him but Harthal knew that this part of the tale would be the most important one.

“It was only after that when things got really rough. Thus far we had managed to escape from the Lich King’s servants and our casualties were kept low by luck and the leadership of the revered Admiral Westwind and Genera Abbendis. However, that wouldn’t last for long. Even if we didn’t know it yet, Arthas had already set a trap for us. We could already taste victory but I’ll tell you how our cause was lost. It all happened in the forests of Crystalsong and the edges of the Icrecrown Glacier itself…”

After the resounding triumph defending the Monastery, the victors now find themselves staring the face of an even larger defeat. What happened in Icecrown and how will the Crusade regain from this  staggering blow? I hope you enjoyed this chapter and see you soon!  :)


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« Reply #15 on: August 29, 2017, 03:29:31 PM »
The Tale of the Frigid Grave

The cold night’s wind swirled in powerful gusts, flushing silently from the walls’ small cracks into the large Cathedral, making the air inside the building chillier by the minute. Osran looked outside from the window, shivers running down his spine as he thought what kind of monsters still lurked out there. Once all of Lordaeron had been safe and familiar to its residents but now a new kind of beast could lurk inside any shadow or whisper of a wind. None of this was new but the paladin couldn’t help but wonder of the horrors of the cold night as he listened to Harthal’s story.

The speaker took a longer pause to gather his thoughts as one of the candles near him suddenly died down. Harthal glanced slowly at it after which he returned to look at his audience. He was about to recite the part of his story that had brought upon the downfall of the campaign and that would chill the hearts of the survivors for the rest of their lives. However, he would have to describe the situation’s background first.

“The maps and imaginations of Northrend’s frigid interior held many inaccuracies but the way the Grand Admiral had planned our opffensive was surprisingly correct. After the land of the trolls was behind us, there was but one region between us and Icecrown. You may not believe me but it was a land of wondrous, crystalline trees that seemed to shine in the Sun’s cold light. It was much more welcoming than the dark realm of the trolls but we should have known we are already under the Lich King’s eye.” Harthal’s words about those crystal trees caused many frowns among his audience but none decided to interrupt him. There had been many strange stories from the newfound continent of Kalimdor like dancing lights in the trees or walking and speaking bulls. It seemed like Azeroth still held a lot of secrets none of the crusaders could have even dreamt about.

“We rode for many hours until mighty mountains started to surround us from all sides. We knew Icecrown was near us but we didn’t know the way to enter that cursed glacier. We decided to make a camp for the night, safe in the foolish belief that we were still sheltered from the Lich King’s curses.”

Harthal shuddered violently as the evening’s chill fell upon the crusaders. The temperature was far below the hardest winters of Lordaeron and even the knights’ thick fur armors weren’t enough to prevent the coldness from creeping under their skins, chilling their hands completely numb. In fact, the furs themselves creaked and squeaked as the frozen clothes failed to fold even an inch. The paladin looked at the sky, seeing that more snow was on the way. There was already enough to reach a human’s waist and the horses found it increasingly difficult to advance. That was when he heard a command from Orman that he had waited for hours.

“Halt, crusaders! We won’t be able to find the way to Icecrown today so put up the tents before we’ll freeze here!” The pretender of Stromgarde called to his troops in the wind, his voice barely audible in the northern winds and the carriages at the back of the army started to be quickly unloaded and tents put up. It wasn’t much more than ten minutes until the army’s camp was complete and all the tents standing in row. Harthal and one of his closest comrades called Ilon went to receive their food rations from the carriages and ran afterwards into their tents to hide from the biting winds of Northrend. Ilon looked in disappointment as he opened the package of food that had been shared to every crusader on the army. It consisted of a few rusks, dried apples and water. It was a far cry from a good meal but it was enough to keep the knights alive for the duration of the battle.

“It feels like my hands are burning! What kind of hellhole are we going to? If it gets any colder like this, I won’t be even to continue if I wanted to!” Ilon said in a low voice as he started to eat his ration of the food. The paladin was seriously starting to get wearied off by the rough weather and the long rides. He couldn’t even think what kind of horrors awaited in their destination.

“You already said you like winters and you have enough apples to eat. What else is it that you want?” Harthal asked in half irony, willing to remind his comrade that he still had some things which he had liked in the past. Harthal knew that they wouldn’t make his companion to feel any better but it was better than to think about the unsavory wonders of this cold land. His own slowly melting hands were a cause of immense agony but there was nothing that could be done about it.

“You know that these are nothing compared to the winters of Lordaeron, Truesight! I damn wish I’d never accepted the call to this hell of a mission! Everything has gone wrong since we left New Avalon!” Ilon rose up and started to walk around the tent. The frigid air flowed in from the floor which guaranteed a temperature below freezing even inside the temporary shelters.

“I don’t but this is still a nightmare. It’ll take a miracle if we wish to take on Arthas and otherwise our whole struggle has been for nothing! We never had to do this and we can blame no one but ourselves. The High General underlined the fact that no one would be forced to join this attack. At least he doesn’t have any better conditions than we have.” Harthal said as he thought about the army’s leaders. They had done their all to partake in the soldiers’ ordeals and to lead them forward with valor.

“I know you’ve heard more about these things more than I so please enlighten me, Truesight. What do the rumors tell about Icecrown Glacier? I know you’ve heard some tales.” The light-haired man spoke to his companion. He knew complaining would help no one so maybe thinking about the next day would make things a bit easier. Harthal sighed deeply and started to recite one account from an elf he had met in Tyr’s Hand a few years back. She had claimed to have been in Kael’thas’ army when the prince assaulted the Lich King’s sanctuary itself.

“I’ve heard that the air itself is dim in there and harsh mountains surround and dot the glacier. And if we thought it’s cold out here, you’ll be lucky if you leave Icecrown with all of your fingers and toes as most soldiers who reached it lost even their limbs to the freezing cold. The sky is filled with horrifying aberrations and at the very southern end of the region, the Lich King watches over all from his mighty Frozen Throne, ready to stop everyone who even threatens the sanctity of his eternal domain.” Harthal’s voice was faraway as he spoke, bringing shivers of fear and cold down Ilon’s spine. The paladin stayed still for a moment before he answered to Harthal’s tale.

“Most of that is probably lies, Harthal. There’s no way all of those horrors are gathered in one cursed glacier! It cannot be much worse than what we already went through already!” Ilon tried to reassure himself but his comrade returned a thoughtful expression to him.

“Illidan’s expedition was far larger than ours’ and still they fell before the Lich King’s wrath. Still, it is their sacrifice that gives us even a chance to strike at the heart of the Scourge. But make no mistake: Illidan and Kael’thas’ forces were even more experienced than we are and something in that dark glacier decimated them. Arthas commands forces that we cannot even dream about.” Harthal knew his words were far from encouraging but he spoke only what he had heard in the past. He would leave the rest to Abbendis and Orman.

“Where is the cursed pass, Ranger Swiftarrow? We should have already reached it by now!” Abbendis yelled as he spread the Icecrown’s and its surroundings’ map to the ground. The High General was extremely frustrated by the delay in reaching the Icecrown as it ate his troops’ morale and gave Arthas more openings to repel the crusaders’ attack. Fellari Swiftarrow bowed to look at the map again and spoke shortly in a reassuring voice.

“The map is inaccurate in many places, High General. The pass must be somewhere near us but we cannot say where.” Fellari said silently, knowing that the situation would turn bleak if the crusaders would be forced to linger too long here. It was a struggle to even put her own hand in a fist in the cold and she knew that many in the army were faring even worse.

“That is exactly why we brought an experienced ranger with us! If you can’t track the way forward, you’re completely useless to us!” Abbendis raged to the poor elf, enraged by the lack of information she had been able to give during the trip. She had reportedly been a high-ranking ranger captain of Silvermoon but those titles did little to impress the frustrated human.

“We’ve all done our best to bring our troops this far, High General! These accusations help no one!” Orman yelled as he reacted to Abbendis’ outburst. The younger man had led the other group during their ride through the land of the trolls but Abbendis saw him merely as one more captain. He had been granted the title of Captain General before leaving Lordaeron but it mattered little to Abbendis. As long as he was concerned, he was the only leader this expedition would see.

“As doesn’t sugar-coating our position, Captain General. It’ll take a miracle if we are to even challenge Arthas and you said your troops would march through this land without any hardships! What nonsense! You never seemed to understand the seriousness of this operation!” The older man said in an angry voice. It was caused by frustration most of all but he was also disappointed in his officers. He turned frantically to look at Fellari who started to speak again.

“The way I see it, our position is secure for now. I cannot see a way that we could be surrounded and the opening to Icecrown must be near. We might be freezing and our supplies running low but the situation is far from lost, High General. If we manage to conquer the paths to the glacier, we’ll hold the advantage of terrain over the undead. Tracking anything down in this snow is impossible but the normal rules of war still work in this place. Trust me, we still hold the keys to eventual victory.” The elf said in determination as she investigated the map’s description of Icecrown’s eastern edges. After thinking the elf’s words for a moment, Orman answered to Abbendis with a serious voice.

“My forces will follow me wherever I go with similar zeal as yours do your command, High General. There have been no signs of mutiny during this campaign and I assure you that there won’t be. The Light will provide us with this victory. You heard that our odds are better than what they seem.” Orman said but Abbendis seemed to merely order him silent. The older man was one of the few high-ranking commanders of the Crusade who had never belonged to the Order of the Silver Hand and Orman’s words started to slowly to wear him off.

“Forget the Light, Captain General! It may be a powerful tool but it won’t assure our victory in this cursed continent. This is the Lich King’s realm and we can only trust in ourselves if we are to survive! We must continue our march at first light, my commanders. For better or worse, either we or Arthas won’t see the next sunset. You are all dismissed!” The two other crusaders nodded in respect and left the tent. Abbendis sat down on the snow and shook his head. This situation wasn’t a new one for him but the stakes had never been this high before. The whole fate of the Crusade rested on his shoulders and the knowledge that every struggle of his life had let to this one offensive weighed immensely on him. Even then, Abbendis realized there was no other who could take command of this fight due to his immense experience and renowned strategical thinking. No matter what, Abbendis knew that he would give his all to destroy the Lich King once and for all. He could only hope it was enough.

“That was the last night many of us would ever see. Few of us slept well due to the biting cold but the fatigue eventually prevailed. I and I llon were luckier than most as our tent kept the cold better out than the others’.” A respecting silence had reigned in the Cathedral during Harthal’s tale and it continued even long after the paladin had started his break. The audience looked at the knight in deep interest but it was Osran who asked the first question.

“You said you hadn’t seen the slightest trace of the undead. Are you saying that such large areas of Northrend are actually free of the Lich king’s corruption?” Osran asked in disbelief, finding it hard to believe that the Scourge had swallowed nearly all of Lordaeron but not Northrend. The story about these frost trolls had been enough but now Harthal was claiming that the Scourge didn’t actually rule even Icecrown’s surroundings? Harthal looked at him for a moment and tapped the pulpit in slight anxiety.

“That’s correct. There were groups of undead here and there but they were far and between. However, none of that land is safe or welcoming to outsiders. Everywhere we went there, we were an enemy. Whatever one finds in Northrend, it won’t bring anything good.” Harthal said absentmindedly, his thought wandering in far more personal issues. His thoughts were once again interrupted by Whitemane’s remark.

“That doesn’t come as a surprise. The friendliness stays unchanged whether you go south or even west. Lordaeron must stand on its own because no other people came to our help in our darkest hour. The Crusade can trust only itself.” Whitemane said, her eyes fixed forward with a determine expression in them. The High Inquisitor would never forgive the dwarves or Quel’Thalas for abandoning her homeland to the Lich King’s mercy. Because of it, Arellas’ next remark only worsened her mood.

“The revered Anasterian made a serious mistake when he initially overlooked Arthas’ campaign but you must understand that Quel’Thalas has believed in defending only itself for millennia, High Inquisitor! We paid a heavy price from our stubbornness but I assure you, there are still people determined to bring down the Lich King. They may not care for you but we all have the same enemy.” Arellas spoke, trying to bring Whitemane to see reason but her answer did little to raise his hopes.

“Which would soon change again. I tolerate your presence, High Wizard, due to your long-term contributions to the Crusade but Thalnos just proved that we may never know what’ll happen. I prefer to have allies that won’t plot behind my back, waiting for the moment to benefit from my moments of weakness!” The priestess would have cringed heavily if she had given even the slightest of thoughts to the hypocrisy of her words. However, she didn’t and Arellas was left to look at her in chagrin.

“I know my subordinate was a traitor but I’m still here as is Fellari Swiftarrow, and we are ready to continue the fight. I apologize deeply for what Thalnos did but I’ll do everything in my power to undo the damage he caused all of us.” Arellas said as Osran looked at the two, feeling extremely awkward as he thought about his role in that incident. He knew Arellas was extremely taken aback by his stern and quick actions but that didn’t mean Osran was even planning to apologize. He merely sighed and spoke in a tired voice.

“The justice is served, High Inquisitor. There’s no reason to push the issue further. What’s done is done.” Osran looked to Arellas in a compassionate look to which the priestess was about to answer when they heard a voice from in front of them.

“May I have your attention? I thought you wanted to hear what happened in Icecrown while you were simply sitting here doing nothing!” Harthal called in rising anger, his patience severely tested by the episode in the Cathedral. He hadn’t heard a word about the campaign against Diodor which caused him to say what he did.

“You have a lot of catching-up to do, Truesight! You weren’t the only ones fighting an important battle but for now, go on!” Whitemane called, trying to overlook the knight’s unthought words. She could understand Harthal’s reasoning and it was mostly her pride that was damaged by his words. The speaker looked at her in confusion but he continued after clearing his throat.

“As I was about to say, the night itself was rather uneventful. Two of us slowly froze to death but they were casualties that couldn’t be avoided. None of us truly knew where we were going to and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in falling before the north’s frozen winds. However, as Abbendis had decided, we gathered our camp at first light and ranger Swiftarrow restarted her job in finding the opening we were looking for. She listened to voices in every direction, compared all the breaths of the four winds and followed the behavior of each living being we encountered. Slowly but surely, her endless efforts paid off and we could see the menacing mountains rise before us, the feared dark mists floating in the air behind them.” Harthal took a swift pause and a quick sip of a cup of water that the monks had brought to him. The paladin relaxed slightly but his posture continued be tense and worried.

“Even our flawed maps could tell that the maw to that icy Hell was near us. For the first time, at least as far as I can remember, the High General was seemingly scared. He glanced continuously around him and his orders were sometimes vague and always spoken in a forcefully brave voice. However, he showed none of it to us and each of our commanders stayed calm before us and their example gave us the courage we needed to press on. It wasn’t long before we reached an opening in the endless range of mountains, the pass leading towards the northwest. Right towards the heart of evil.” The paladin had a haunted look in his eyes as he spoke and he was putting all of his weight on his right leg as a token to his anxiety. It was clear that the following parts of the story still brought great fear to the hardened paladin.

Harthal and Ilon walked in deafening silence as the army of the hundreds of crusaders moved through the quickly darkening valley. None of the paladins dared to say a word as each of them knew that this was it. The moment that could end all of the struggles starting with Arthas’ betrayal all those years ago. Many of those marching towards the icy heart of Northrend today had never known anything but the endless fear that the former prince’s treachery had brought upon the world. Arthas had taken everything from them while they were still young children and each of them would sacrifice themselves gladly if they could just ensure that no other human would ever be forced through that same crucible that they had.

One of the two paladins breathed deeply as he looked at two strange undead fly over the valley, seemingly paying no attention to those far below it. Ilon couldn’t see what it was but he knew it was likely nothing he even wanted to know. The knight cursed heavily as his belt cracked and broke under the freezing air. Harthal had been right: the temperature was dropping and fast: the crusaders would have to get out of here fast or they would all freeze to death. However, his worried thoughts were interrupted by an odd sight that caught his eye. It seemed like a huge rock at first glance but there was something odd about it. Parts of it seemed suspiciously high, as if it had been made artificially. As if… as if it wasn’t a rock at all.

“Captain General Orman! Take a look at that!” Ilon called to the officer that was closest to him. Orman looked at him in surprise and asked in an annoyed voice. This wasn’t the situation to start examining rocks or make a fuss about their position.

“What is it, crusader Tarien? Can’t you see that we are about to enter Icecrown so close your mouth!” Orman used Ilon’s last name but the crusader didn’t take heed of his words. He continued to push the issue further to Orman’s surprise and displeasure.

“It’s not what you think! That rock looks a building but why would there be any here? Except if it’s hideout of the Scourge!” Ilon voiced his concerns and the higher-ranked paladin took an annoyed look at the spot Ilon had pointed to. The pretender of Stromgarde took a sigh when he realized his responsibility. He called to the others and called in a restrained voice.

“Halt! We’ll go investigate that one point crusader Tarien seems so interested about. We’ll continue soon.” Orman could feel Abbendis’ eyes boring into his back in annoyance but it couldn’t be helped. If he missed something of importance, the failure of this campaign would be on his shoulders. The Captain General dismounted heavily, cursing as his feet sank into the thick cover of snow. He moved closer to the stone and observed it for a moment. Sure, it was strangely formed but that didn’t change the fact that it was of very little value to the crusaders.

“Perhaps now you’ll think twice before you waste my time! Come, let’s…” Orman was interrupted as he saw Ilon start to wipe the snow away from the stone, not seeing the point at first. Under the white curtain appeared nothing more than black ice that was of no interest to anyone. However, there was something that caught Ilon’s attention. A flicker of red could be seen under the ice which could point only to one possibility. He swung his sword at the ice, pieces of the hard matter flying in all directions. However, something surprising was hidden under the now-destroyed layer of ice. A red crystal-like lining on a white wall. Orman panted as he looked at the sight before him. Only one kind of people built their buildings like this.

“Blood elf keep! How? Why would one of them be here?” Orman took a few steps back as he realized that the stone before him were the remains of the center of an old blood elf outpost. However, he couldn’t put the pieces together just yet. Ilon whispered shortly in distinct respect and sorrow.

“This must have been one of Kael’thas’ outposts during his attack on the Lich King! This means that we are already in Icecrown!” Ilon said in awe as he realized what the battle must have looked like all those years ago. Shivers run down his spine as he remembered what Harthal had said about that battle just yesterday and he thought about the ghastly end the elves had suffered here.

“But where are the other parts of the outpost? Surely the elves built a whole village to support their war effort!” Orman exclaimed in worry. Ilon glanced at him and looked around him more closely than before. His breaths stopped for a moment as he saw something that he hadn’t noticed before. Small mounds rose here and there, hardly noticeable under the snow. They must be all that remained of the proud blood elf village that had graced this valley. Ruined and forgotten, slowly being swallowed by the endless frost of the north. A truly tragic end to those noble elves despite their allegiance to Illidan the Betrayer.

“Look around you, Orman. Everything is still here.” Ilon whispered, deeply moved by the horrifying testament to the reality they found themselves in. They were walking on the ruins of a past force to defeat the Lich King and the crusaders themselves were in in a serious danger of joining the dead in this Light-forsaken land. Orman looked around himself in fear, seeing that Ilon was right. He was about to go investigate one of the smaller ruins when he suddenly fell to the ground, tripped by an object he expected to be a small stone. However, another shock waited the Captain General as he turned around. A grisly sight of entrails-covered skull in the middle of a bloody blob opened under the icy snow. Here lied one elf’s earthly remains, forever buried under the dark sky of Icecrown. Ilon saw the sight and spoke in a fearful voice to Orman.

“Let’s go, Captain Commander. The others are eager to continue.”

“I followed that scene from a distance but it told me everything I needed to know. It was easier to recite what someone else had said about Northrend’s horrors and to experience them myself. After that moment I finally realized that this would be all that would be left of us if Lordaeron would ever fall. A slowly vanishing ruin covered with our bodies. Ilon’s discovery shocked many and the atmosphere turned into an ever darker one. To our luck or misfortune, however, that didn’t last long. Soon, we were forced to confront our worst nightmares face to face.”

The pass started to finally open, revealing an endless expanse of the Icecrown Glacier. It was just as the stories had told it to be: mountain ranges dotted the environment but the Frozen Throne was still too far for us to see. Harthal was enamored to see the sight he had heard so much about but that didn’t last long. His excitement would have been seriously checked if he had realized that it had been the Lich King’s bidding to let the enemy reach his doorstep. Even then, that didn’t last long.

“Giants are coming after us! There are dozens of them!” One of the knights in the last ranks called in clear panic. Nearly all of the assembled crusaders turned around to see that the soldier was speaking the truth. Even Abbendis himself looked shocked for a moment but he didn’t climb to the position he was in by panicking in dangerous situation like this. Especially when he already had an idea how top beat these monsters.

“Surround them but don’t go near enough for them to kick you! Burn the giants down one by one but whatever you do, keep the initiative! If we lose control of the battle, we’re all as good as dead!” The High General immediately turned around and headed to lead the execution of his plan. Hundreds of crusaders nearly instantly moved around the monstrosities but there were always a few who went a meter or two too far so the giants to be able to squash them. A giant after another fell with a loud thud but more of them approached from the pass. Orman realized that the crusaders would never win this battle if they kept on fighting everything the Scourge could throw at them. The Captain General fought his way towards Abbendis, his steed clearing the way through the undead.

“High General! We’ve got to keep moving forward! We’re being slowly grinded to death if we continue fighting these monsters!” Orman yelled in desperation, the sudden ambush shocking him greatly. Abbendis responded to him with a stern but understanding look, knowing that the other officer’s remark was a correct one. A retreating battle would be a risky one which would claim many crusaders but staying here would be a certain defeat. With a nod, Abbendis yelled at his followers, willing to make his point clear immediately.

“Charge towards the south and Frozen Throne! Try to hold the enemy at bay but whatever you do, keep moving forward!” The High General called, moving around the army to regroup his soldiers. Long and mobile lines were formed in order for the last ranks to hold the giants back but  just as the army was once again ready to advance, another surprise waited for the unfortunate leader. A sea of ghouls covered the entire plain before him.

“The next minutes were a complete mess which I don’t even remember too well. In any case, we hoped beyond hope to break the undead ranks and to reach the Lich King’s domain. Our wide line cut thousands of undead down but Icecrown was a larger place than any of us can imagine. We never could get too far before the most dangerous of the Lich King’s servants found us.”

Harthal looked around himself in desperation, realizing that the Crusade’s advance had stopped completely. The five hundred crusaders were surrounded in the center of Scourge’s heartland, unable to do anything but to make their last desperate stand. The paladin was determined to give his all to fight the coming end when something unexpected happened. The Scourge’s troops halted their attack, disengaging from the fight quickly. The humans were left looking around themselves in confusion when the ranks of the undead opened, giving way to a monstrous creature none of the crusaders had ever seen. It bore a resemblance of a beetle with insect-like wings and a clear proboscis. Even then, it was longer than any beetle of that size would be and it didn’t have an insectoid-resembling face. Also, its color decorations seemed even cloth-like, leaving the defenders to wonder whether this race had actually been civilized enough to decoratee themselves. However, the beast’s grisly appearance and hostile arrival gave the crusaders little time to do anything but prepare a desperate but frantic defense. They looked in waiting fear as the massive insectoid-like creature approached them.

“Unwisely, you have marched into the realm of the Lich King, never giving another thought about your foolish quest! Completely ignorant, you’ve moved above the eternal halls and caverns of Azjol’Nerub and thought you were safe! Aieek hi-r-rk-k-k-k-!” The creature hissed in a loud and mocking voice. Its bluish eyes penetrated Abbendis who looked at the monstrous insect in disgust. The High General’s voice dipped with disgust as he answered.

“Leave now, monster! Go back to whichever pit you creeped up from and let us finish our fight! Fight and you will fall, this I, High Geberal Abbenddis wow!” The middle-aged man’s eyes burned with rage as he answered. Orman stood by his side, his eyes fixed on the enemy, his mind burning with endless hate and disgust. This wasn’t a fight their new enemy would win.

“No mortal filth is able to question the power of Anub’arak! I’ve ruled for long before you were born and I will rule long after I’ve slayed you in the name of the Lich King! Come and face the might of the Scourge!” Anub’arak spoke in a venomous voice, finally breaking something in Orman. This whole campaign had been his idea and it was quickly becoming a disaster without him being able to do anything to prevent it. The paladin had already contemplated the foolishness of this quest and there was only one way to redeem himself of this enormous mistake. The pretender of Stromgarde locked his eyes with those of Anub’arak’s and yelled in a decisive voice and started to run.

“Be silent, mindless beast! The Light’s vengeance will engulf you and your master!” Orman felt the time stop around him when the giant insect suddenly disappeared from his sight, digging its way into the ground in a matter of seconds. He looked around himself in confusion, unsure whether his enemy had escaped or if there was something else he was planning. However, his contemplations were cut short by a mind-breaking pain from his legs.

Harthal looked in horror as the massive insectoid appeared from below Orman, tearing his legs to pieces before he moved to disembowel the rest of the paladin’s body. A stunned silence fell upon the crusaders: in a matter of seconds, they had lost their second leader, destroyed without the least of a chance to resist. What was even worse, he had fallen without accomplishing anything before the enemy had destroyed his body with his massive limbs.

“Surrender or each of you will find yourself tied into an eternal web’s embrace before you serve the Lich King! The soldiers of Azjol’Nerub will take pleasure in taking care of trash like you, Ireesh, sh-k-k-k-k!” Anub’arak spoke in a triumphant voice, looking at the crusaders sadistically. Harthal and Ilon could see to their horror that hordes of massive spider-like creatures were moving among the hordes of the Scourge, quickly approaching the living. Harthal whispered to his comrade in resignation as they tightened their ranks.

“It was an honor fighting beside you, Ilon. There’s no way we survive from this.” Harthal’s voice was pained but it still held his courage even in this hopeless situation. The other knight nodded to himself as he waited for orders. He answered shortly in a wavering voice it was clear that neither was he going to give up as long any life flowed through him.

“It isn’t that time as long as our troops still stand! The Crusade’s light won’t be vanquished by these monsters!” Ilon spoke in determination, knowing that the hundreds of crusaders still standing wouldn’t submit to the Lich King’s slaves. The battle was still on.

The High General’s eyes scoured Orman’s bloody remains as Anub’arak walked over them. The sight was extremely gruesome but Abbendis knew he didn’t have the luxury of being stunned by this bloody display. His mind raced on overdrive as he thought about his options. His troops were surrounded, desperately outnumbered and increasingly beaten by the biting cold. The road back to the ships was a long one and he knew that it would be highly risky endeavor anyway. If he chose to advance, his troops’ total annihilation would be a real possibility. However, the High General knew his mission and as long as Arthas could be beaten, he’d take that chance to beat him, no matter what. Abbendis raised his sword and called to his troops.

“Take heart, brave Scarlet Crusaders! Stick to the courage in your hearts and let it shine through this cursed glacier! Spare no effort in destroying the enemy inside you and these devils will follow! Trust in your cause and regroup! March upon the Frozen Throne!” Abbendis yelled and started the charge against the incoming spiders and he was relieved to hear that his troops followed him without question. The crusaders moved to the wide formation co tut down the enemy in as large as a line as they only could. The dark glacier would likely be their tomb but they would crush as many of the Lich King’s servants as they only could.

Great astonishment flowed through Anub’arak’s mind as he looked at the charging knights. This was a development he would have never suspected but it also was a major mistake. Anub’arak’s face turned into a wicked smile as he hit his legs on the ground and crouched as low as he could. Soon, hordes of flying scarabs appeared from under his wings as the mighty warrior charged against the incoming barrage of death.

Many of the crusaders fell as the undead king of Azjol’Nerub charged through their ranks. He suffered many serious injuries but they were of little effect to the beast. Ilon looked at the sight around him in fear and distinct pride as hordes of spiders and skeletons fell along with the proud paladins. If this was the end, it was the kind of end he would be willing to through. He saw that Harthal’s sentiments were highly similar to his own. Anub’arak was moving quickly towards their ranks, half-burrowed on the ground and destroying each and every crusader on his way. Harthal could see that the beetle-like monster would wipe his comrades out quickly if left unchecked. The middle-aged man rode quickly before Anub’arak and yelled to his enemy in a thundering voice while strengthening his aura towards his allies.

“Stay where you are, monster! You nor your spiders will prevail today!” Harthal’s voice didn’t hold a flicker of fear as he spoke, his cause giving him all the strength he needed. Many heads turned towards the rider on his red-armored steed as he stood against the incoming juggernaut of death and destruction.  Anub’arak looked at him in annoyance, surprised that any of the puny living would dare oppose him after what he did to Orman. This crazy human wasn’t worth his answer. The insectoid king resumed his attack immediately and prepared to annihilate this arrogant creature immediately…

… until his attack suddenly stopped. Harthal created a wide shield of white which engulfed Anub’arak from all sides, stopping all of his attacks in their tracks. They weren’t enough to cause him even a theoretical threat but the former king was furious by this show of resistance. He called immediately to his minions in a loud voice.

“Crush the paladin in the name of the Lich King! Tear his head from his shoulders!” Masses of spiders and skeletons begun their march on Harthal who was more than stunned by his own display of power. The knight turned around and called to his allies.

“Go, now! I’ll be able to hold them away for a bit longer!” Ilon and the others hesitated in leaving Harthal here but they knew that none of them were likely to survive the battle anyway. Many honoring glances, including those of Abbendis himself, laid upon the paladin, stunned to see such display of valor in this moment. Still, Harthal was left at holding the army of Azjol’Nerub at bay and to his relief, his earlier powers continued to hold the enemy back.

It was like a bright wall of Light holding the undead at bay. Harthal had always been one of the most powerful paladins among those he knew, often rivalling even his commanders. However, this was the first time that he had stood against an army alone and never had his mastery of his powers been so absolute. He felt like a hero of legend, standing against an overwhelming enemy without fear. In any case, his powers were slowly depleting and he knew he had to either flee or die. Anub’arak was clearly bewildered by the paladin’s deeds but he knew that the Scourge would prevail in the end. With a horrified leap, Harthal released his shield and galloped to join the other crusaders.

Even after the surrounding display of courage, the crusaders’ numbers dwindled quickly but they were also moving towards the south with a good pace. They were more spirited by the fact that their rear was safe for now but that knowledge was quickly being set aside by a majestic but horrifying thing in the horizon. Slowly but surely, a sight that each of them had waited for days, appeared from behind the mountains.

The Frozen Throne stood calmly in the middle of hills marking the southern end of Icecrown Glacier, its white form dominating its surroundings with cold majesty. It was like a beacon of the Scourge’s power in its heartland and a fitting bastion for the Lich King. However, none of the Crusaders knew that this was the closest any of them would ever get to it.

A massive, towering giant of flesh appeared from the plains in front of the knights, its height surpassing a normal abomination’s nearly tenfold. Even Abbendis himself stopped as he saw the enormous enemy who was quickly approaching his troops. Even worse, something happened that finally broke the knights’ spirits for good.

“Did you truly believe you could simply walk here and kill me? Pathetic fools… those who still follow the Light deserve to be wiped from the face of my new world!”

The voice felt like the ultimate distortion of a noble man’s voice, the low, horrifying rasp seemed to twist the very nature of the world. It seemed to come from the land itself with the speaker nowhere to be seen. Even then, everyone who heard it knew to whom this monstrous voice belonged to. The voice of the Lich King held no resemblance to the valiant and determined voice of prince Arthas, all traces of it buried under this monstrous creature who had once been the beloved prince of Lordaeron.

It didn’t take a second until the last bits of light disappeared from the sky, giving way to a ravenous and violent blizzard. Simultaneously, the icy ground broke as endless hordes of undead fought their way up from the depths of the glacier itself. Their eyes and bodies glowed with a bright blue light, clearly raising the ferocity of their attacks. All of these horrors at once finally broke the crusaders’ spirits. There was no victory against this the enormous monstrosity and the Scourge’s true master and his endless stream of slaves. This battle was lost.

“Retreat! We must get away from this place! This campaign was doomed from the start!” Abbendis could feel his mind breaking as he spoke those words but these soldiers would serve better in Lordaeron than to die here. The High General cursed that he had ever agreed to Orman’s suicidal idea but there was no way they could known about giant beetles or massive giants of flesh. The Scourge was more powerful than anyone could have thought. All that remained was to cut down his losses.

“It broke our morale to turn away from the Frozen Throne when we were already that close. I’m sorry that we couldn’t finish what we started.” Harthal’s voice died down as he concluded his last remark. It was clear that those memories had been painful for the paladin but none of those present dared to question his or his comrades’ bravery. At this point, only one question remained.

“How were you able to escape from Icecrown? There’s no way Arthas could have just let you go!” Arellas said in confusion and compassion. He could only guess the horrors the paladin had gone through. Being trapped in that frigid, hostile hellhole surrounded by the most vile of creatures was a thing Arellas dearly hoped he would never have to go through. Harthal looked at the mage in sorrow and he seemed to shudder as he continued. He took one last deep breath before he started to recite the last part of his story.

“High General, we mustn’t try to return the same way we used to come here! The spiders and giants will destroy us!” Fellari called frantically to Abbendis as she rode to his side. The higher-ranked commander turned to look at the elf in anger and retorted to her in frustration.
“The last I looked, we don’t have an option here! Unless you present me with one, just shut up and concentrate on running!” Abbendis said bluntly but Fellari understood the source of his anger. She answered swiftly in order to calm her superior down.

“There is a small pathway through the central mountains towards the pass we came from! I saw it when we arrived here: I believe it allows us to bypass most of the enemies! We’re arriving to it soon enough!” Fellari concluded, her remark followed by silence from Abbendis. He knew it was a long shot but it offered at least a modicum of a chance at survival. He knew this would be his best chance to lead his troops home.

“Crusaders, follow me! Gather near me and don’t question my moves! We can still survive if you comply!” Abbendis yelled as he started to head towards the direction Fellari had spoken about. However, there was still one thing he’d have to do. He spoke to one of his deputies and ordered him to summon someone whose services the High General needed. It was less than a minute until Harthal arrived at the scene.

“Crusader Truesight, your bravery confronting that monstrous beetle was truly inspiring. I fear we might require your skills once again when we reach the place we’re looking for.” Abbendis said, briefly turning to look at Harthal who was extremely surprised by the High General’s praises. Even then, he wasn’t quite sure whether he’d be able to create his invincible aura of Light again. The paladin thought for a moment before he answered positively to his superior.

“I’ll do it, High General. I’ll safeguard our rear or die trying.” Harthal said in determination and turned to ride away before he heard Abbendis’ words which stunned him without end.

“Harthal, you should know that I’m ready to name you my deputy on this mission should you succeed and live. Go, Lord Paladin, and make us all proud.” Harthal turned to stare at the General immediately but his expression told him everything he need to know. Time was of the essence and Abbendis wouldn’t watch him waste time.

It was mere moments before the army entered the pass Fellari had told about. Harthal waited for the last survivors to pass before he moved again to block the Scourge’s advance. The middle-aged paladin took a deep breath and moved his hammer to point at the charging undead. With a determined expression, he sought for the release of another wave of Light. For a moment, it looked like he was about to fail but finally, pure Light filled the canyon. The bright power destroyed many of the following undead and prevented the rest from following. Like a solid wall of white, Harthal’s aura brought upon the decisive hindrance on the undead. The battle was lost, to be sure, but at least some of the crusaders would live to tell the tale of how their brave comrades who would never return from this heart of evil.

“It was all thanks to the High General and Ranger Captain Swiftarrow. The colossal giant crushed dozens of us immediately but there were still a third of us alive when we reached Crystalsong again. The rest of our flight was merely a war of attrition against the warriors of the Scourge who were chasing us through the frozen wastes. Very few of us ever made it back to the ships.” Harthal concluded in regret, knowing that the loss of those troops was a very serious blow to the whole Crusade. He felt a personal responsibility for that wasted army even if he had been a mere line soldier when the campaign begun.

“I understand why Abbendis was so keen on getting to relay these news to the Grand Crusader. It is a major concern for all of us if all of those monsters that you told about are actually in the Lich King’s command. We would have been spared from a lot if you hadn’t fled when you did.” Whitemane said in an arrogant voice, earning a grim and hostile look from Harthal. The paladin was extremely outraged by her remark but he knew that fighting here would solve nothing. All of the Lich King’s horrors were still out there and Harhal knew it better than anyone who the true enemy was.

“The Grand Crusader must know what we’re up against. Those monsters might be far away now but we can never know when they will spread to Lordaeron. We must be ready when that day comes!” Osran said in alarm, realizing the full depth of Harthal’s warning. If the Crusade thought for a second that Diodor’s downfall had been a major victory, they would be up for a major surprise. It seemed like the necromancers were going to be the least of their worries.

“No one can prepare for those abominations if he hasn’t seen them himself. I don’t even know if they can even be beaten but if the Grand Crusader and the Ashbringer won’t be able to figure that out, no one can. The Crusade must work together more than ever if we are to prevail. We must embark on adventures like these anymore as every life and crusader matter. There is no more room for weakness or waste in our ranks.” Harthal spoke grimly, willing to underline the power they were up against. Even Whitemane looked concerned by the news as the Crusade’s victory was also in her own interests. Everyone in the hall nodded in agreement, knowing that the Crusade would never be the same again after this failure. Osran rose up from his pew and spoke to the others in a respectful voice, bowing slightly.

“My task here is done, my comrades. I was planning to leave tomorrow but these news show our situation in new light. There is no room for rest and because of this, I’ll return to Tyr’s Hand tonight. I’ll gather my knights and prepare for departure immediately.” Osran realized that his announcement was a quick one but he also knew that time was of the essence. He would have to report to Valdemar as soon as he could.

“I understand, crusader Lowriver. You may take any steeds you wish but stay safe in your travels. I hope we can fight side by side again soon but until then, may the Light be with you.” The High Inquisitor managed to sound genuine but Osran knew she was only happy to get rid of him and to be honest, he felt the same way. Osran turned quickly on his heels and headed towards the Armory Wing in order to prepare his companions for the sudden departure. The corridors of the Monastery were eerily empty in the late evening and only the cold wind blew in the ancient halls. The paladin couldn’t help but continue to admire the magnificent building and the society that had lived within it for centuries. He felt a flicker of sadness that it would be led by the power-hungry priestess from now on but that was none of his business. He was about to reach the Armory Wing when a sudden voice suddenly called to him from the darkness.

“Crusader Osran Lowriver, I assume?” A robed monk appeared from the shadows, not revealing his face to Osran. The paladin’s hand moved instinctually to his sword’s sheath and he asked in a sharp voice.

“What business have you with me? Speak, now!” The knight assumed the monk was trying to avenge some of his actions as a commander, most likely Thalnos’ execution but he wasn’t going to let the monk proceed with those plans. The man’s face didn’t seem to even stir at Osran’s words and his voice was as stoic as ever.

“Stay your hand, Lowriver. I didn’t come to assassinate but rather to bring you a message.” He then straightened his hand and gave a sealed letter to Osran. The bearded knight looked at the man in suspicion but grabbed the letter that he had offered. Great uncertainty could be read from his face but the paladin quickly realized something extremely important. He recognized the letter’s seal: it belonged to the house of Isillien, whose current head served as the Grand Inquisitor of the Crusade. His line had served the Church for generations and every paladin knew their sigil.

The fact that the Grand Inquisitor himself had contacted him brought Oran great concern and excitement. Isillien was the spiritual leader of the whole Crusade and some had even called him its heart. He was easily the order’s most important figure after Saidan Dathrohan and Alexandros Mograine and he would never waste his time contacting line members of the Crusade. Osran opened the letter with a feverish speed and his hands nearly trembled as he read it.

The Grand Inquisitor of the Scarlet Crusade, Ierlas Isillien, sends his greetings to the honorable crusader Osran Lowriver. My associates have reported about your bravery defending the Monastery in its darkest hour, a deed that might have saved our cause in the longer war. You have my most humble gratitude for your valor. I must also salute you for the way you handled the traitor Thalnos as the Crusade’s unity and purity are among its most beautiful virtues and assets. Never forget that, Osran.

Your deeds have prompted me to offer you with a unique honor. I invite you to Hearthglen tomorrow for a ceremony that very few of our members will ever see. I invite you to join the ranks of our highest-ranked units known as the Crimson Legion. It is the highest honor any paladin can ever hope for, the true bastion of virtue and goodness, directly working under the Grand Crusader. I advise you to consider this offer thoroughly as you won’t get another chance like this. Stay silent about the contents of this letter as it is the duty of each of us to preserve the sanctity of the Crimson Legion. Report to me in Hearthglen’s Mardenholde Keep tomorrow if you decide to answer the call of the Crusade.

Grand Inquisitor Isillien

Osran trembled in astonishment as he read. The Crimson Legion was a highly secretive but honored group within the Crusade, even if its numbers were extremely thin. Its members were some of the most respected ones in the Order but nobody knew about their true mission, other than that they served the Grand Crusader himself. This wasn’t an offer he could ever afford to pass up.
It took a lot of effort for Osran to hide his excitement from the courier. It was obvious that he knew nothing of the letter’s content as was the custom with the most secretive messages of the Crusade. Osran nodded to him in approval and spoke briefly.

“My deepest appreciations about your message, good man. Thank you for bringing this to me.” Osran looked at him stoically to hide any hints about the letter’s contents as Isillien had ordered. The courier answered just as shortly before he headed back towards the main hall.

“My honor, crusader Lowriver. Have a good night.” The bearded knight was once again left alone in the dark hallways, only the moon’s pale light shining through the colored windows. Osran couldn’t help but wonder if the encounter had ever happened as the entire situation felt completely unreal. Still, the letter in his hand was an inquestionable proof about the events that had just transpired. He, an aging paladin whose best days were behind him, was invited to join the highest echelon of the Crusade’s leadership? The knight’s mouth turned into a smile even if he realized this changed his plans.

He would have to pass on the small paladin group’s leadership to Veria and tell her to relay the news of his delay to Valdemar. Once he had done that, he’d finally leave the Monastery and head towards the city of Hearthglen. No might in this world would prevent him from realizing the greatest honor in his life. He was more than humbled by the response his brief leadership had brought him. Even if the war against the Scourge would continue sooner than later, this day had ended in his ultimate personal triumph.

Now that the fate of the northern expedition has been fully revealed, it's time for the Crusade to start planning for the future. The coming battles will be tough but it seems that Osran will play an ever more important role in them... I hope you liked this chapter and any thoughts would be welcome!  :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #16 on: September 09, 2017, 03:09:47 PM »
  The Creed of the Crimson Legion

Silent splashes could be heard in the still-dark forest as a brown horse quickly galloped over the small ponds in the ground. The scene was covered with the mist of a late night as Osran ordered his steed to turn left from a major crossroads. It was still an hour until the breaking of the dawn but the paladin knew he was drawing close to the mighty city of Hearthglen. The road started to narrow quickly as the forest turned into the vale that held the city in its embrace. Osran hadn’t slept a second since the first of the three battles against Diodor but the knight knew he didn’t have the luxury of being tired today. This could easily turn out be the most important day in his whole life.

It was only on this journey that Osran realized that the passed day had been the zenith of the summer, the season starting to move towards its end from now on. Not that it mattered greatly but it was highly curious that the frantic campaign had happened on the same day as one of the old Lordaeron’s greatest and most popular festivals. It was highly possible that those hours would pass down to legend as the Summertide campaign or something like that.

The horse’s breaths grew heavier as the trip was slowly coming to an end. After Harthal’s story, Osran had learned to respect their enemy on another level. He could no longer tell what monstrosities lurked in the bushes around him, aside from the slowly rotting animals whose last cries any traveler would be forced to listen on a journey across this cursed land. However, the rider’s thoughts were too focused on the purpose of his ride.

What would the offer to join the Crimson Legion actually hold for him? The more he thought of it, the more their secrecy started to bother Osran. Everybody knew who they were but no one knew why they were such a distinguished group within the Crusade. Their closeness to the Grand Crusader implicated that they were some kind of ruling elite group but it was highly curious why they were so elusive. Well, he’d find it out sooner rather than later as the distant lights of Hearthglen’s watchtowers came to his view. They held the impression of a safe refuge in the middle of the tainted forest, the last bastion of the Light in this sickly land. Osran stopped as a hostile voice called to him.

“Stop immediately and state your business here in Hearthglen or leave! If you fail to comply, you leave us no choice but to eliminate you!” The guardsman could see that the newcomer wore the tabard of the Scarlet crusade but it meant nothing. Any kind of bandit would be able to kill one of the crusaders and steal his garb. However, Osran knew this kind of questioning was of extreme necessity during these times.

“Be at peace, noble crusader! My name is Osran Lowriver and I have a meeting with the Grand Inquisitor! Tell me, how is Isillien?” The paladin called in a strong voice, willing to make the alerted guards calm down a little. However, it seemed like they weren’t about to accept his passage just yet.

“Anyone can claim to be him but The Grand Inquisitor left us strict rules not to let any pretender pass. If you truly are crusader Lowriver, please tell which was the place where you joined the Order of the Silver Hand and who was the priest who initiated you to your new life as a knight?” The guardsman called in a calm voice but it was clear that he expected an answer. Osran frowned heavily as he heard the question, deeply surprised by the amount of questioning. Why would Isillien invite him here and then put him through such interrogation? The paladin looked at the guardsman disapprovingly for a moment, searching his memory for the answer. It had been a long time ago and especially the priest’s name took a moment to recall.

“I was initiated in the Chapel of Light’s Hope 36 years ago at the age of sixteen. If I remember right, the priest who accepted me into the Order was named Pelan Ylens but he is likely long gone by now.” Osran spoke slowly, struggling to recall his memories while he spoke. The guardsman changed a few whispers with his comrade and answered shortly.

“So it is, crusader Lowriver. Welcome to Hearthglen!” The two guards went to the levers and started to open the gate to the second largest city of the Crusade. It had once been Lordaeron’s fourth city after the Capital, Stratholme and Tyr’s Hand and it still stood valiantly after all these years of destruction around it. Osran begun to ride towards the walls when something unexpected happened. A group of ten pike-bearing soldiers walked towards him, seemingly in hurry. One of them spoke to the paladin quickly.

“Follow us and don’t try anything unthought. The Grand Inquisitor will see you shortly. In the meanwhile, do as you’re told.” The soldier spoke in a decisive but calm voice. The others gathered around Osran who looked at them in confusion. What was going on? Things were going far from what the paladin had expected.

“What is the meaning of this? You cannot simply walk to me and practically say I’m under arrest! I came here to talk to Isillien, not to be commanded by you! Move along, now!” Osran said in rising anger. This wasn’t the way any knight should be treated according to Faol’s old rules. Even if those guidelines were now history, this kind of behavior wasn’t something the aging knight would expect from the Crusade. The pikeman raised his weapon, pointing it towards Osran in a threatening gesture

“You heard what we said. You will comply or things will get rough for you. Now, dismount!” Osran looked around him in alarm, not knowing how to respond to this welcoming ceremony. Escalating things came to his mind but his opponents seemed to really be with the Crusade and getting into a fight with them wouldn’t end well no matter the outcome. Osran looked at the leader of the pikemen for a moment with blazing eyes before he answered in a highly annoyed voice.

“Very well, soldier. But know that I ëll tell the Grand inquisitor about this outrage.” Osran spoke in anger, not hiding his disgust at the other crusader. The pikeman snorted in dry humor as he turned around and started to walk towards the keep of Mardenholde.

“Do as you please, old man. It was his holiness himself who ordered us to this meeting. Good luck with trying to prove that he was wrong.” The man answered in a mocking voice, not willing to show any respect to the older crusader. Osran looked at him in surprise, disappointed by Isillien’s welcome. It seemed like this trip wouldn’t be as pleasant or easy as he had suspected.

Ten horses were being prepared for the long journey back towards Tyr’s Hand when Veria looked around herself and sighed. There were far fewer paladins returning home than had initially arrived at the Monastery. Especially Tareth’s loss weighed upon her even if she had already said her farewells to her old captain. No matter what, it was a soldier’s duty not to dwell in the past and to try to make their own way through hard times. This day wasn’t an exception.

Even then, Osran’s message late in the last evening had been a puzzling one. The paladin had relayed most of the things he had heard in Northrend and explained the urgency to begin reinforcing the defense of the old forest of Darrowmere. However, it was his next remark that puzzled the knight deeply. Osran had simply stated that he was needed in Hearthglen for questioning about his temporary leadership. He had seen very eager to get his point accepted, leaving a lingering doubt to Veria’s mind. Clearly Osran had something in mind that didn’t concern her directly but she would have wanted to hear at least something.

“Are you ready? It’ll be a long ride and the sooner we begin moving, the sooner we’ll be in Tyr’s Hand!” Veria called to her followers, still unsure about her newfound position. Osran had left the small group’s leadership to her who had never before served as any kind of officer. Still, she was humbled that Osran had put this responsibility upon her and she’d see that they’d reach their city safely.

“Just a little moment longer, captain! There’s just some problems with this saddle but I’m ready soon!” One of the knights called as he tried to prepare his horse for the trip. Veria sighed at the answer and looked at the start of the long road which would soon join the Menethil Road, the old lifeline for the whole kingdom. It would lead all the way to Corin’s Crossing from where they’d have to turn to Tyr’ Hand. Veria’s thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of a sudden rider in the horizon. She could from his equipment and garb that he was a courier but the knight was highly surprised to see that he was riding towards her. The messenger stopped near her and spoke to her while panting heavily.

“I’ve got a message to the leader of the Tyr’s Hand’s knights in this Monastery. Where is he?” The man asked in confusion, having no knowledge of the small group. Veria looked at him in confusion before she answered.

“It’s me but… what business do you have with us? We were just about to return back to our city.” Veria said in surprise, drawing the courier’s eyes on her. The man turned her gaze at her quickly and started to speak.

“There has been a change in plans knight captain. The situation on the field necessitates your and half of your troops’ presence near Andorhal. The Scourge’s activity has increased concerningly there in the past weeks.” The courier said frantically, clearly willing to get make his point clear and finish his own mission. Veria looked at him in a suspicious look, not understanding this new command at all.

“Andorhal? What business would we have there? We were specially promised that we wouldn’t be forced to move to fronts away from Tyr’s Hand, the only exceptions being the Crusader Lord’s specific orders! It read in the agreement by which he joined the Crusade in the first place!” Veria said sternly, not accepting the mission she had just been presented with just yet. She had prepared for a journey back home and she wasn’t going to let this man rob her of her well-earned return.

“The High General’s orders, captain. I don’t know about your arrangements but I wouldn’t question Abbendis’ commands if I were you.” The courier’s voice turned also into a ruder one as he hated those who started to argue with him like this. He was a simple messenger and he knew little more than those to whom he’d rely his messages. Veria still looked at the courier in puzzlement as she continued to speak.

“I don’t know what he thinks but this was a special promise granted to Valdemar when we joined the Crusade! I’ll comply for now but make no mistake, the Crusader Lord will hear of this! Our trust will not be broken this easily!” The paladin said as she prepared to mount her horse. The man looked at her in annoyance, answering one more remark to her before he left.

“Do whatever you please as long as it doesn’t involve me. I’ve had enough of people like you.” Veria looked in anger as she looked at the messenger starting to take his own horse to the tables, deeply displeased by his behavior. Nevertheless, she quickly turned to her followers and spoke in a frustrated voice.

 “You heard him. Let’s head for Andorhal but with any luck, that post won’t be a long one. I know Valdemar won’t be pleased when he hears about this.” Veria then turned around and ordered her steed into a gallop. The remaining knights followed her silently, the small group still humbled by their comrades’ ends and this knew mission they had just been assigned to.

The paladin squeezed his hand to a fist as he waited for the time to pass. He was getting seriously infuriated by the endless waiting and the guards that were still around him. Was this some kind of test or was Isillien merely mocking him? The familiar interior of a Lordaeron’s keep offered him with little excitement, save for the traditional rows of different famous houses’ tabards in the walls. Once, when the war was over, these tabards and heralds might be the last thing that ever proved these proud families’ existence long after their last descendants had gone to their rest. In a way, these bastions at the hearts of the Scarlet cities were some of the most vibrant domains of Lordaeron’s history. Still, the names of the houses were of little meaning to the aging knight and he crossed his legs in anticipation for anything to happen.

It was nearly an hour since his arrival when a door near him finally opened. To Osran’s chagrin, the opener was merely another soldier. Still, it was a relief to see that he wasn’t completely forgotten.

“Follow me, crusader Lowriver. We cannot be too careful about the Grand inquisitor’s safety.” The soldier said absentmindedly, prompting another frown from Osran. Isillien had fought many battles himself and no one could say that he was a coward who would hide behind a massive machination of guards. What were these soldiers saying? The knight knew that the priest’s guards wouldn’t be of much more help so he decided to stay silent. Isillien himself would have to have a very good explanation for all this.

The group moved for a few minutes until their leader stopped before a small door. Osran looked at ii in puzzlement before the guards opened it and let the paladin in. One of them spoke one last time before they turned to leave.

“Know that we won’t be far if you do something unthought, Lowriver.” With those words, the soldiers went on to their normal posts, leaving Osran to stand in deep uncertainty. Anyway, he realized that he didn’t have much of a choice and entered the room carefully. He was shortly greeted by a deep voice from the room’s back.

“Light’s blessings upon you. I am happy to see you here, crusader Lowriver. I knew you’d accept my invitation.” Isillien was sitting behind a small table on which lied a few books, apparently about the codes of the Church. The priest himself was a middle-aged, bearded man whose traditional priestly garb was made more exquisite by the tabard of the Crimson Legion. The room itself was very small and it clearly wasn’t the normal residence of the Grand Inquisitor. Things got weirder by the minute, Osran thought.

“Of course I did, revered Grand Inquisitor. But why was I guarded so closely my whole time here? You know I couldn’t kill you even if I wanted so what is the meaning of this?” Osran’s eyes bored into Isillien who answered with nearly as displeased look. He hadn’t expected this paladin to understand and in fact, he hadn’t intended to. All of this was part of his plan.

“Very few could, that is true, but they served a purpose. For now, that’s all you need to know.” Isillien concluded cryptically, clearly not wanting the paladin to know too much. Osran was slightly disappointed but he chose to trust the Inquisitor’s judgement. He merely sighed and calmed down before he answered. Attacking his superior with accusations wasn’t the way he’d make this meeting a success.

“I’m deeply humbled by your words about my brief leadership. I worked mostly by instinct and merely to save my own life. I never expected to get into the position that I did. Anyway, I’m surprised that you learned all the details this quickly.” Osran said, willing to get into better terms with the priest. Isillien looked at the paladin, clearly judging his appearance carefully. Osran stood still in discomfort as he didn’t have the slightest of ideas about what was his counterpart’s plan. It was a while before he answered again.

“It is of utmost importance that I and the Grand Crusader know what is going on at all times, crusader Lowriver. Truth be told, your actions were highly arrogant and in normal circumstances you would have been worthy of a punishment than a reward. However…” Osran looked at the priest awkwardly but in relief that Isillien knew also his less than orthodox means to grab power in the Monastery. Still, he was happy that Isillien was willing to overlook that.

“However, despite your motives or means, you saved our western front from obliteration with quick and decisive measures. You might have saved us all in the long run but most importantly, you have seen the depth of the corruption among us.“ The Inquisitor ended in a bitter voice, prompting more thoughts within Osran. He could tell what the priest was referring to but did that mean that there were more traitors within the Crusade’s ranks? The mere thought brought shivers down Osran spine as he contemplated the damage Thalnos could have caused if he hadn’t been stopped when he had. He stuttered slightly as he answered.

“D… do you mean there are more members of the Cult among us? But we are all former soldiers of Lordaeron! Our order is as pure as ever!” Osran said unsurely, not willing to accept Isillien’s claim without questions. During his long years of service, Thalnos had been the first traitor he had met and now he was told that the whole Crusade was filled with them?

“That’s what most of us think but the revered Saidan Dathrohan ordered me to oversee the Crusade’s faithfulness to the Light and I can now see that there are many rotten villains among us. We wish to do it with extreme secrecy but thus far we have neutralized twenty-seven traitors among our ranks. I asked you to come here because you, unlike the others, proved that you are willing to do what is necessary to uproot the corruption that eats our order from within.” The Inquisitor’s voice was slow and it held immense weight in what he was saying. He crossed his hands as he spoke, his gaze looking into the infinite distance. Osran looked at him in concern, not knowing what to think of these news.

“So… am I asked to hunt down these traitors too? Is the Crimson Legion in reality Dathrohan’s secret police?” Osran asked oddly, clearly confused by the priest’s words. Isillien slowly rose up from his chair and took a sterner look at the paladin. It was clear that there was more to this meeting than what Isillien had told him thus far.

“It’s not only that, crusader Lowriver. It is the core of the Crusade and the one that will guarantee its success and purity in the years to come. However, only its members know the full extent of the Legion’s power. Each member of it hold more power than most “leaders” among our ranks, including Taelan and Valdemar. Our power is of different kind but things have been arranged in a way that ties them into our grasp. In addition to that, there are still things that you don’t deserve to know yet.” There was something in the Inquisitor’s voice Osran didn’t like at all. It took a darker tone and his eyes told that there was something coming, something that chilled Osran’s mind. Still, the paladin was far too proud to show any clues of his fear. All his life Osran had fought for the things he had deemed righteous and his pride was one of them. No matter what, he wouldn’t slither in horror before any opponent, either friend or foe.

“If I’m not worthy, why did you summon me here then? I know you wouldn’t waste your time like this. If you ask me to serve, I will do it, but I don’t like being taken for a fool!” The knight’s paladin was tense but it held no disrespect or anger at the priest. Isillien understood it and he knew that very few of the old knights from times of Lordaeron’s days of glory would bow before a threat. That was one of the reasons why he preferred to use them as his agents if at all possible.

“I summoned you here because I wished to give you a chance to prove your worth to me. I will have to know if you have what it takes to take the mantle of the Crimson Legion upon your shoulders. Succeed and you will join the group today.” Isillien narrowed his eyes as he spoke, willing to underline that Osran wouldn’t be able to join the Legion readily and that every member of the group had proved their worth in the same way Osran would. The paladin’s worries only grew more profound as he listened to Isillien’s words.

“And if I fail? How can you make sure that I won’t tell what I learned here to others?” Osran’s face stayed stoic even as he knew that his question would have an extremely distasteful answer. With a sickening feeling, the paladin realized that he had already been tied into this situation. He already knew more about the highest echelon of the Crusade’s leadership than the rest of the line members and he could no longer walk away from this situation. He had to win or suffer the consequences. Isillien’s face turned into a joyless, bitter smile as he answered. This was a question he had expected of course.

“Then you leave me no choice but to burn all traces of this meeting from your mind, Osran. Sadly, a lot else could be lost as well but with luck, you could continue to fight for Lordaeron while we would spread a rumor about the reasons of your sudden madness. Osran, I know that you find all of this as contradicting to the code of honor Uther created for the Silver Hand but we have no choice. Should you prove to be unworthy of this honor, we must silence you as in the unfortunate case you’d leak all that I’ve told you, the very structure of Dathrohan’s leadership would be threatened. I know you are clever and strong enough to understand that these precautions cannot be overlooked. Not in the situation we’re in.” Isillien tried to tone down his threats as he wanted Osran to see why he did what he did. Many of those who had served under Uther had had trouble trying to accept his policies but he didn’t care about their concerns. Osran looked at him in agitation, not wanting to understand what he was hearing.

“You are using the Light’s powers to ruin people’s minds and to hide your own dirty crimes? Isillien, I know that you are one of our most gifted and most respected priest’s but this is too much. Can’t you see that the Crusade can’t turn into a conspiracy that threatens and kills its own members?” Osran said without raising his voice too much. He knew he talking to one of the greatest champions of the Light alive but he wished to make his point clear. Isillien looked at Osran with unreadable expression and waited a moment before he answered.

“All of us are using the Light to advance all things that are good in this world. I thought that you understood it but that is exactly the reason why I called you here. I have to test your vision about what you are willing to do to see Lordaeron restored once again.” Isillien took his rod which had been leaning against the wall while Osran prepared for the worst. If Isillien was going to destroy his mind, he might as well face the end with dignity. Nevertheless, he answered in a stoic voice as he saw Isillien approach him.

“I’m prepared to do anything to see our homeland pure and able to support life again but is corrupting our code of honor really a price we have to pay? I know that you and Saidan do what you can to advance our cause but is there seriously no other way?” Osran tried to defend his position when the Grand Inquisitor suddenly stopped near him. He looked at the paladin in slight apology before he answered slowly.

“We chose the Grand Crusader to do his position and it is not your or my right to question his direct orders. I’ll simply fulfill his new orders to ensure the Crusade’s functionality.” Isillien quickly raised his staff and pointed it at Osran. The paladin struggled not to collapse to the ground in anguish. He knew this wasn’t the same spell Valroth had used on Thalnos and Doan as this wasn’t merely aimed at causing him pain. Rather, the knight realized that this was a spell that was aiming to force him to tell the truth about his motives, even if the spell’s power wasn’t nearly absolute. It put more pressure on him to tell the truth but his mind was still his own, more or less.

“Why did you oppose all orders and your superiors when you took command during the battle for the Monastery? Speak!” Isilien’s voice turned into an angry one as the beam of Light continued to emanate from his rod. Osran looked at him with a highly uncomfortable expression as he answered.

“I already told that I saw it as the only way to survive the battle! Also, I was highly displeased with Whitemane’s mistakes earlier!” Osran spoke truthfully but to his concern, Isillien’s expression softened none. In fact, the priest’s next question was asked with an even grimmer voice.

“So you simply wished to usurp your superior’s authority because you were displeased with her? If you don’t trust those who wish to lead you, where do your loyalties lie?” The Inquisitor continued, willing to get into the bottom of Osran’s ambitions. A man of his morality and sense of duty would be invaluable to the Crimson Legion if he could just prove his loyalty to the Crusade. Osran knew that he was starting to tread on dangerous waters and tried to escape from this situation with a slightly twisted version of the truth.

“Grand Inquisitor, I’ve always fought for our order and its predecessor! I’ve proven my loyalties dozens of times! I opposed Whitemane because I felt that she was leading us astray!” The paladin said in concern as he cringed at his last remark. It was true that he didn’t trust the priestess’ leadership abilities but he also wanted to be the one do put an end the necromancer and avenge the High Abbot. That, accompanied by his frustration at the unending war and his concern for his remaining relatives, brought him with enough reasons to fight for but he decided to keep his personal issues away from this discussion. However, he soon realized his mistake.

“Tell me the whole truth, Lowriver! Don’t think I don’t see through you at all times! I’ve interrogated far too many people for you to even hope to hide something from me!” Isillien raised his voice and released another wave of Light upon Osran whose composure slowly started to crack.

“I never cared for the others as much as my own and my comrades’ survival! Believe me, Grand Inquisitor, I still have a lot to defend and I want to do my all to keep the dream of Lordaeron rebuilt alive! I felt that Whitemane was a threat to that hope and so I wanted to make things right! My utmost loyalty is for the Crusade in order to defend the things I have left but I never cared for strangers or bad leaders! Please understand that!” Osran said in a pained voice, starting to pant from the ordeals he was going through. Isillien stopped his spell for a moment to weigh the paladin’s words. Osran couldn’t say what was going in the priest’s mind but soon the spell continued and the knight was presented with another question.

“You are correct that the creed of the Crusade is supreme but even then, times change. If you wish to join the Legion, you have to cease believing blindly in the Lightbringer’s words. He was an inspiration for all of us still, he lost. You already showed you were willing to go to any lengths to see our cause fulfilled. Was it all just a show?” The priest narrowed his eyes and intensified the beam of Light from his rod. Isillien knew that his younger self would have been appalled by his deeds but those times were gone. The Light’s vengeance was slowly awakening and he couldn’t afford any signs of weakness in himself or his subordinates.

Osran’s face turned into a conflicted mask as he contemplated the Inquisitor’s words. It was true that he had already broken the traditional code of the order by ordering Valroth to torture the two mages and by denying a fair trial to Thalnos. In a way, he didn’t have any right to claim a moral high ground against Isillien but he was still sickened by this situation. He had often seen the Lightbringer’s code of honor as absolute, as a codex of virtue which would anchor the Crusade into its noble past. However, Isillien’s words hit a raw never in his mind.

Despite all of his great deeds, Uther had lost to Arthas and as a result, the whole Lordaeron had been grinded to dust. How could an ideology that failed even its own defender offer a believable way to survive these times? For years, Osran had thought that it was a matter of treachery and deceit from Arthas that had managed him to spread the Scourge of Lordaeron but in the end, it had been a fair duel. However, that didn’t change the fact that the Crusade should strive to preserve his legacy as a way to safeguard its own dignity before the monsters they fought against.

“I was ready to judge Thalnos because I had seen what he was capable of! I know there are many faults in the code of the Silver Hand but what else keeps us from turning into bandits and murderers? I acted because I saw it as the only way to end that campaign of horror and to get rid of the traitor! I simply wanted to safeguard our victory, not stalk upon my comrades in search for some deviation from the Church’s plans!” Osran finally raised his voice in frustration at the amount of distrust Isillien had raised in him against his own ideals. Never before had he questioned the Lightbringer’s strength but it was true that the Grand Inquisitor was slowly gaining ground and it was clear that he knew it as well.

“The Church of the Light is but a shadow of its former self, Lowriver. It is true that it offers us with support but I’d be a fool to play by their rules. Remember, all of my orders come from Saidan Dathrohan himself and he’s the most powerful and respected paladin alive. He saw things as you do for a long time but, unlike you, he acted and travelled these lands all the years after the Scourge’s fall instead of defending in one city. Your service was valuable but the Grand Crusader and I met countless spies of the Lich King, foreign saboteurs and those who were simply disloyal to Lordaeron. Those long years taught us what it takes if we wish to strive for unity in this struggle. There must be no weak links and that will be one of your most important jobs if you pass my tests. It was easy for you to execute Thalnos as he was a stranger to you and an extremely unlikable person as well, I’ve heard. However, I wonder how you’ll fare in a more personal situation…” Isillien’s voice turned into a softer one and it chilled Osran’s heart greatly. Isillien rose once again from his chair and waved Osran to follow him.

The Inquisitor led the paladin to the stairs that traditionally led to the dungeons in human keeps. The knight looked at Isillien with a fearful look, afraid to see what waited him in these cursed prisons. The torches lighted the cold and ghastly place as the empty cells waited for a victim to spend his or her last days in this world in this Light-forsaken jail. There was something in Isillien’s eyes that made Osran highly concerned about this revelation. After a short walk, the Inquisitor finally opened his mouth again.

“If I’m not completely mistaken, you know this one well.” Isillien said as he stopped in front of one of the cells, the blazing torches illuminating the poor prisoner’s face. Still, the dim light forced Osran to look at the man’s pained face before he recognized the poor prisoner.

“Arlos? Wh… what are you doing here?” Osran said in shock as he realized that this was one of his long-time comrades in Tyr’s Hand and one of the first ones he had met since his flight from Northdale. He had always been a loyal and good comrade. To think that he sitting here imprisoned for some crime made Osran pant heavily. He had last time seen this knight during the defense of Barrowhome and back then everything had been as it always had. What had happened? Isillien turned to look at Osran as he answered and took a hardly condemning expression.

“This traitor has revealed many of our plans to the Forsaken in the past in order to save their little outposts around our lands. It was always a good question how they always were one step ahead of us but this revelation is a good start in solving the puzzle!” Isillien’s voice was dry as he recited the former paladin’s crimes. Osran looked at both of the other men, taking a moment before he could clear his thoughts enough to say something sensible.

“Is… is it true, Arlos? Did you truly deceive us like that?” Osran asked in stunned disbelief, his eyes boring into Arlos’ starved face. The jailed man returned the gaze in fatigue, knowing that his case was already lost. He could only hope to save some of his face in Osran’s eyes.

“It’s true, Osran, but I did that only to try to forge some kind of common ground between us. I saw a long time ago that the Forsaken are still the people who they were, even if they hold changed views about some things. There wasn’t any place for mistakes as I met one of my old friends who had been turned into one of them. We both wanted to believe we could one day be allies against the Lich King.” The man spoke sadly, knowing that his vision would never come to pass. Not only that, his foolish endeavor would also cost him his life in this disgusting hellhole. Osran’s breaths deepened as he heard his former comrade’s words. He had seldom heard such trash, especially from a knight he had once deemed wise and honorable.

“They are undead, Arlos! They may claim to be the same persons they were once but can’t you see that it’s all a lie? They are all just as tainted by Frostmourne’s evil as the slaves of the Scourge! They could even be working together as far as we know! You know that I’m speaking the truth!” Osran’s voice turned into a more toxic one as he spoke, his earlier shock slowly turning into disgust. All their lives, they had fought against the curse of undeath and now this moron was claiming they could once be their allies? The imprisoned paladin looked at his old comrades in desperate plead.

“I know it’s hard to believe but all I did, I did for the Crusade! If you could just listen, we might gain a valuable ally! You trusted me once Osran and I ask you, trust me once more! I know what I’m talking about!” Arlos yelled in growing panic as he saw the new fire being born in the older paladin’s eyes. Osran looked at the miserable shadow of a knight who was merely waiting for the end anyway. Some part of Osran’s mind wished to believe the paladin as a token of respect for their common history. There weren’t many people with whom he had served longer than with this knight but the other part of Osran was outraged by this development. Tareth had been literally stomped to death by the Scourge, many of their closest comrades had been slaughtered by the undead before Arlos’ very eyes and even if the Forsaken weren’t a part of the Scourge, they were still bearers of the curse and a distortion of humanity. That wasn’t a thing that could ever be reconciled.

“Do you? The Arlos I knew wouldn’t fall into that kind of wishful thinking or daydreaming. Don’t you understand that you’re betraying the memory of each and every soldier who gave the ultimate sacrifice trying to restore our homeland! You’ll never speak yourself out of this! I’ve given far too much to let anyone get away with this kind of outrage! I don’t say this with pleasure but the very sight of you sickens me.” Osran turned to look away from his old comrade, his thoughts being pained by his words. Isillien turned to look at Osran with an asking look and spoke shortly.

“The punishment for allying with our enemies is death as you well know, Osran. You heard his confession yourself.” Isillien said briefly, not willing to push Osran on this issue any further forcibly. From now on, it was up to the paladin to make his own conclusions about this issue and if he was strong enough, Isillien knew what he’d do. If not… then Osran had wasted the opportunity of his lifetime. The knight looked at Isillien for a moment, not knowing what to make about all this. Clearly all of this was a clear test carefully planned for him, a thing that Osran despised greatly. He didn’t want to be anyone’s pawn but still, the sight before his eyes made Osran’s fists shudder in rage. This paladin was an antithesis to all that he had fought for and he had knowingly harmed the Crusade. Osran listened to him one last time as the man pleaded to him one last time.

“Please, Osran! I don’t see what you went through at the Monastery but please, listen to reason! I want only what’s best for us all! My deeds never brought harm to any of us, they only helped the Forsaken! Please, Osran, don’t listen to him! The Grand Crusader leads us all to ruin if he’s too stupid to listen!” The man cried which only made the older paladin’s expression grow ever colder. He only helped the Forsaken? The Grand Crusader leads all to ruin? Osran didn’t know Saidan personally, that was true, but he knew his great deeds and he was a man the knight was willing to follow, unlike this traitor before his eyes. No matter Isillien’s motives, Arlos had already lost all respect Osran had ever held for him. The Inquisitor’s face stayed stoic as he knew the outcome of this day wasn’t in his hands anymore. He would respect Osran’s decision in any case even if he’d have to suffer the consequences of his failure. The paladin’s eyes lost their last traces of compassion as he answered.

“It is true that Isillien created this whole situation but you gave him the right to do that! If it weren’t for you, none of this would have happened and the Forsaken would be severely weakened! This isn’t the kind of outrage I can tolerate anymore! Tareth and Marcus gave their lives for our cause and both of them were far greater crusaders than you’ll ever be! Arlos, you don’t deserve to serve the Grand Crusader anymore. I’m sorry but you’re far beyond anyone’s help.” With the last, resigned words, Osran formed a powerful hammer of Light which he crashed upon his old comrade, crushing his body under its holy wrath. The paladin looked in a nearly neutral expression as the floor started to turn red and the dead knight’s last shivers died down. Silence reigned for many seconds before Isillien finally broke the silence.

“So you decided to do it. I truly appreciate the respect you give to our cause. This isn’t a situation any of us should go through but the sooner we accept it, the better.” Isillien spoke glumly, his eyes turning to Osran after a moment. The paladin took deep breaths for many seconds before answered. His voice was fatigued but it wasn’t desperate in the way the Inquisitor had expected. In fact, it bore more resignation to the reality than sadness at the loss of his old comrade.

“Don’t think that I did it because you demanded it, Isillien. My choices were my own.” Osran answered as he contemplated his deed. Even now, he didn’t feel any regret as he knew that this traitor had received what he deserved. There was no reason to waste his compassion on him. Isillien nodded slightly before he answered.

“Of course, crusader Lowriver. A man cannot be forced to do anything against his own will. You acted for reasons you felt were right and your readiness to face the cold reality is something that I truly admire. Needless to say, you passed my test.” The Inquisitor continued to speak in an emotionless, calm voice. Unlike many others of his kind, Isillien didn’t believe in pure manipulation of others but rather in directing them to face the future they should strive for. If he tried to brainwash someone, the Crusade itself could be undone if the knowledge of it spread but willing assistants were something that he strived to have. Osran finally returned the Inquisitor’s gaze and answered again.

“Are there more people like these in the Crusade? How can anyone be willing to believe this crap after all that has happened since Mal’ganis appeared on our lands? This is pure madness!” Osran said as he tried to calm down. All his life he had believed in the rationality of his comrades and in the principle that the undead were the common enemy of all humans. Apparently he had been wrong. Isillien sighed before he answered again.

“I don’t know. It seems some seek power, some, like your friend, seem to believe in impossible things. But yes, there are most likely many more within our ranks that wish to cause us harm, without even mentioning the outsiders. We can never know who they serve.” The priest said in a cryptical voice, finally hitting one nerve in Osran’s mind. He may be forced to accept it sooner or later but Arellas wasn’t his enemy and Isillien wasn’t going to convince him otherwise. There may be traitors anywhere but that wasn’t an excuse to become paranoid.

“I’ll decide that myself, Inquisitor. Don’t push me too far.” Osran said in a silent voice, one that caused Isillien to frown deeply. The paladin still retained his pride and he still held some principles. No matter. I already know what I want to.

“Well, Osran, I trust your judgement. You have proven yourself to be willing to look the truth in the eyes and I trust that you’ll find your way even from now on. Finally I ask, are you willing to continue safeguarding our Crusade and to serve directly under the Grand Crusader’s command and as his hand in Tyr’s hand?” Isillien asked calmly, willing to underline that he asked a question, not a command. Osran cast one, final look at the lifeless corpse and felt a shiver run down his spine. Was he willing to spy on his comrades and to report about Valdemar’s deeds to Saidan?

A heavy sigh came from the paladin’s mouth as he contemplated his options for the last time. He knew this wasn’t the future he wanted for himself but this was a task that he had to do for Lordaeron. He had come too far in his quest for revenge against the Lich King to turn his back to this offer now. He would regret this later but Osran’s mind was set up.

“I am, Grand Inquisitor. No matter what, I will make sure that the Crusade’s will shall be executed without a compromise. I will work in the shadows to stop each and every offense against us and prevent the leaders of the city from opposing the Grand Crusader’s command. Of this, you have my word.” Osran spoke slowly but firmly, making sure that he meant every word he said. Isillien took a more approving expression as he spread his hands and bowed slightly.

“That is all we can ask of you, Osran. From the bottom of my heart, I bid you welcome to the Crimson Legion.”

Osran managed to join the revered Crimson Legion but at what cost? It's becoming clear that noble principles and once-loyal friends may become a victim to the Crusade's creed but many are willing to pay whatever price is necessary to restore Lordaeron. I hope you enjoyed this chapter and see you in the next one!  :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #17 on: September 20, 2017, 03:05:43 PM »
Setting the Next Horizon

Five bright candles lighted the dim room near the famed Hall of Lights in the Scarlet Bastion. That small hall resembled more of a cubicle than a part of the fabled stronghold of the Light but Archivist Rael Galford appreciated his small library near the heart of the Crusade, the Crimson Throne. He was one of the most trusted servants of the Grand Crusader and the head of the scholarly society of the order. It was both Galford's duty and honor to lead the efforts to restore and upkeep the history of Lordaeron but at this point, he was working on a far more important issue. To find out if there was anything that could stand up against the might of the Scourge that had been overlooked in the past years for whatever reason. However, all of his efforts had been thus far proven to be for nothing.

The old chronicler sighed as he moved on to clean his monocle. The man's eyes rested on one of his bookshelves that contained countless volumes concerning age-old legends of Lordaeron, history of the servants of the Light as well as mere archive material saved from the royal libraries of the lost capital of the kingdom. Galford knew most of them by heart but more and more books were being researched by him and his assistants every day. The archivist was beyond honored by a chance to serve this close to Dathrohan and to be a part of the Crimson Legion without being forced to fight. Galford knew he had to repay his leader with a breakthrough in his studies sooner or later. Sadly, that seemed to be easier said than done. The chronicler rose from his chair to take another book from the shelf when the familiar creak of his heavy wooden door opening interrupted him. His closest assistant, Keris Highdale looked at his master from the door and asked carefully.

"Are you still awake, master Galford? It is quite late and it seems like we haven't made much progress. The new books we got yesterday held nothing of value." The younger man said regretfully, looking at the dark hall in slight melancholy. Each of the chroniclers wanted desperately to please the Grand Crusader but if there was nothing to report, it couldn't be helped. Galford took the book from its shelf and laid it on his table before he answered to the lower-ranked scholar.

"I am and so should you if you wish to be of any help! The Grand Crusader didn't bring us here to sleep but to find a way to beat the Scourge! Go and make yourself useful!" Galford snarled aggressively, disappointed by his colleague's apparent disregard for their work. Keris looked at his master pleadingly before he answered.

"With all due respect, sir, try to be sensible! We'll get four more books tomorrow but until then, there's not much we can do. We'll be of more help to Dathrohan if we are in full spirits before tomorrow's offerings, if you allow me to say so. If there's nothing we can find, there's no reason to exhaust ourselves." The younger man said carefully, knowing that this wasn't what Galford had wished to hear. To his disaster, the older chronicler was even less receiving this day.

"There are still volumes that we haven't fully read or translated! If you didn't realize, we still have a few books also in Thalassian and Dwarven languages and not everyone can read those chicken scratches! Get back to work or disappear from my sight, moron! We have work to do!" The higher-ranked archivist said as his eyes penetrated into his assistant. Keris swallowed and prepared to turn around to return to his duties when another form appeared in the massive hall, running towards them. Galford narrowed his eyes and after a moment, he could tell it was one of the lowly apprentices. He was already preparing for another enraged fight with an incompetent assistant but to his surprise and astonishment, he was addressed first.

"Master Galford! Pardon my interruption but I believe I found just what we were looking for!" The rather young scholar called in clear excitement. The highest-ranked archivist straightened his monocle as he prepared to answer the arrogant apprentice.

"I highly doubt it, young man. Turn on your heels and stop wasting my time! Far more experienced scholars have failed to find anything of interest and I doubt you have anything to offer either!" Galford was preparing to turn around and continue his studies when the lowest-ranked man started to stutter in a stunned and saddened voice.

"B… but it's true! I may be just a novice but please, just take a look! There's a lot of information about the eternal flame of Alonsus himself! It beats back every undead near it! Just think what would happen if we could recover and even duplicate it!" The apprentice said in a pleading voice, stopping Galford in his tracks. The old scholar returned his gaze to the apprentice and he seemed to judge him for many moments. He could see that there was more to this interruption than mere incompetence. In fact, he was slowly become interested about the younger scholar's findings.

"Every archivist has heard of the sacred flames that Alonsus created all those years ago. They were truly miraculous things but none are known to remain anywhere in Lordaeron. They could be of help but sadly, they are long gone." Galford's voice no longer sounded angered but rather disappointed by the cold fact. His mind was already starting to linger in that lost opportunity when he heard something that finally caught his full attention.

"That's just why I'm here! Not many know it but during the fall of Stratholme after Arthas' fall, a few of the fleeing paladins could see that no undead ever came near the Chapel itself! There must be one flame still in there which is why the Scourge never captured it! It's all in this book!" The young man said while showing the volume to his superior. Galford's eyes widened as he heard those news and quickly took the book from his apprentice. It was titled "A Collection of Tales From the Eyewitnesses of the Plague", apparently containing rather miscellaneous information but it seemed like there was something of value to be learned from even that volume.

"Well, I'll take a look at it. If what you say is true, I can promise that your career just took a good leap forward. Now, go and let me take a look at whatever this book has to offer." The two other scholars bowed quickly and headed towards the sleeping hall of the common crusaders, located near the Hoard. Galford couldn't deny his own excitement as he sat down and opened the index of the book. After a moment of searching, his eyes widened as he saw something interesting. Most of the accounts from last the Fall of Stratholme had been told by Falric, one of the nearest captains of Arthas during the cursed mission in Northrend. Galford was surprised to see that even he had managed to share his experiences before his fall from the hands of his master. The archivist knew that the text before him was valuable even from historical viewpoint but at this point, what interested him the most were the actual account of things during the aftermath of the final fall of Stratholme. Galford knew that the great captain had met his end only after the collapse of the kingdom but it seemed like he had lived longer than had been thought until now.

Galford browsed the book until he found the correct chapter. There was a lot of personal lamenting about Falric's part in Arthas' atrocities and remembrances about the preparations for the final defense of Stratholme. However, none of that was of any interest at this point. Galford moved straight to the latter part of the chapter to see what the doomed captain had told about his fight in Stratholme. The archivist moved a candle near the large book in order to provide enough light.

At that moment, I realized that Stratholme was doomed to fall again. Hordes of abominations and ghouls swarmed into the city from the gates that had been devastated by the unstoppable magic of the Lich. I and Marwyn had tried to escape our old prince's grasp for so long while doing our all to defend our homeland but at this point, both of us seemed to understand that there was no escaping from that hellhole. How I wish we would have seen the madness in Arthas' eyes at the very start… no matter what we want to think, we're both as guilty about all this as the prince himself.

We were taking our last stand near the Artisans' Lane, just north of the already-fallen Elders' Square. There were no more than thee dozens of us, facing the quickly falling shadow. I and Marwyn had already once witnessed Stratholme' fall and that turned out to be our fate once again. There's not much I can tell about the fight except that it was a quick one and my dear friend and comrade Marwyn fell from the hands of one of our old leaders: the former baron of Corin's Crossing, now-fallen noble called Rivendare. The two fought for seemingly eternity but finally, the death knight's powerful runeblade cut through Marwyn's sword and at that point, all of us knew that our fate would be no different.

Except that it was to be. A group of twenty soldiers quickly charged towards us from the Elders' Square and to our great astonishment, the undead scattered immediately. Even Rivendare himself seemed greatly disturbed by the holy fire of the revered Alonsus as we later learned. This miraculous event was too late to save my dear friend but at least it saved me and my comrades. But even more importantly, this gives us a way to defeat the Scourge if we ever will be able to reach the Chapel again. I owe it to tell about this weapon to Marwyn and to my people for all my failures and my blindness about Arthas' true intentions.

Galford was slightly disappointed by the brief and unprofessional descriptions but this tale was apparently documented soon after the battle had ended. In fact, the chronicler realized that there was a brief epilogue about Falric's and the other soldiers' stories. Galford lowered the book carefully back to the table as he contemplated what he had learned. It was cruel irony from the fate that a man who had survived being surrounded in the heart of Stratholme would be ambushed and killed the next day in the northern forests of Darrowmere, an area that was slowly being called on a more appropriate name: the Plaguewood. No matter what, the fact that even this brief account had survived from the fallen captain was a miracle and an opening that could prove to be an unbelievable blessing to the Crusade. It could turn out be Falric's last blessing to his homeland.

There was only one question left: could this book be trusted? Even if hoax stories weren't exactly common, it was always a possibility that had to be addressed. Galford returned to the first pages to see who had collected and published the stories relayed in this volume. After a moment, a smile rose to his face as he saw who it was. High Abbot Ferren Marcus of the Monastery of Righteousness. Every scholar in Lordaeron knew there was no more trustworthy source than the recently fallen Abbot. There was no doubt about it: the stories of the book were authentic. Finally, this is it! The Grand Crusader deserves to know about this immediately!

The chronicler knew there wasn't many times when Dathrohan had approved of intrusions but he had also said that he wanted to know all breaking news immediately, no matter the time. He quickly rose up, taking the book with him and once again opened the door of his chamber. The familiar sight of the hundreds of pillars of the Hall of Lights greeted his eyes as he walked into the massive room.

The sight of the giant chandeliers and the windows on the walls filled the old scholar with immense pride and happiness every time he walked through these halls. It had been only a few months ago when all of this had been in ruins after the Scourge, the hallowed statues and paintings ruined and the beautiful items destroyed and scattered everywhere. This very citadel had once been the very symbol of the Silver Hand's destruction and Lordaeron's fall and Galford still couldn't believe he was walking in this same fortress that had finally been restored to the way it had once been.

Once again the walls were free of holes, the proud coats of arms and insignias covered the walls and once again the feeling of utter humbleness hung in the air. The old chronicler had already seen taking back this holiest of places as a lost cause and he'd never expected to tread these halls again. Despite all the hardships he and his comrades were currently going through, Galford was already feeling as if he lived in a waking dream.

The aged chronicler looked in respect at the opening massive hall before him, initially preparing to knock the door of the Grand Crusader's private quarters. Dathrohan was usually sleeping at this hour but soon after his arrival, two different things surprised him. A faint light glowed from the Crimson Throne and a faraway sound of speech could be heard from the Crimson Throne. The Grand Crusader was still awake but who was he talking with? As the old archivist drew closer to the speakers, he quickly recognized the two others. They were none else than the Highlord and the High General themselves! Was this some kind of secret, additional gathering of the Crusade's leaders? As he drew closer to the hall, he started to hear some words even if they were spoken rather silently.

"I don't care what is out there but no cursed undead will ever escape the Light's fury! It is not up to any one of us to judge what we can or cannot do but our cause is holy and just. I'll send every monster to the gates of Hell before my faith starts to crumble and so should you, Abbendis!" Galford could easily tell the Ashbringer's thundering voice as he seemed to encourage the clearly fearful High General. The archivist knew he wasn't allowed to eavesdrop but he wanted to at least get a picture about what was happening between the three founders of the order.

"I know what you think, Alexandros, but I believe that Abbendis doesn't exaggerate his story. It's true that we have only one way to go forward but that doesn't give any of us a chance to simply believe blindly in the Light! We must act ruthlessly but each one of our steps must be calculated in case of any surprises. We would have never gotten where we are now if we acted brashly. Not all of us have a weapon of legend after all." This voice belonged to the Grand Crusader whose voice was thoughtful above all else. Galford smiled at his last remark as it was true that the Ashbringer's personal strength sometime overshadowed his judgement.

"It's highly improbable that even it would have been of any help. No matter how I look at it, there was nothing the whole Crusade could have done against Arthas' forces. I did all I could and we were still completely destroyed!" Abbendis said in a still-bothered voice as he spoke to the others. It was clear that he was still living in those horrors of the past. He was greeted by Saidan's grim answer.

"We've heard all of that already! We get that the Scourge is more powerful than we thought but if you wish to dwell in that for the rest of your life, I have no choice but to relieve you of your duties! I trust you, Abbendis, but I won't accept that you walk around merely saying we're doomed! The Crusade was once an impossible dream and so is ever winning the Lich King! However, I, unlike you, am willing to see this struggle until the end and if you cannot get your mind over this defeat, I no longer have use of your services!" It was clear that Saidan meant what he said as his anger was apparent in his voice. It was a moment before anyone spoke again and the next voice was clearly bothered.

"I'll serve until the end but I want you to believe my warning. We will fall if we continue this war. It doesn't mean anything for a soldier but dying for vain isn't a fate any of us want." Abbendis spoke in an intermittent voice as he tried to find the right words. Mograine glanced at him in suspicion as he answered to his fellow leader.

"No one has died in vain, High General. Each of us has given our lives with pleasure as a service to a greater good. As long as we bring goodness to our people and ruin to our enemies, things are as they should be! You know that as well as I do! There's a way we will be able to create a path to victory even now." Alexandros concluded as he looked at the two other knights. Dathrohan glanced at him in amusement as he prepared to make the next remark. However, he was interrupted before he could speak. Galford decided that it was finally time to make his entrance. He tried to seem as hurried and excited as he was when he had first found out about his discoveries.

"May I interrupt you, good sirs? I have something I'd like to report to you." The archivist said as he came in from the corridor. The three crusaders looked at him in surprise, not entirely happy by this interruption. The old chronicler had already caused them many disappointments in the last weeks and they had a hard time believing this occasion would be any different. However, Dathrohan sighed and answered to his honored assistant.

"What is it, Galford? Have you finally found something of worth after all this time?" The Grand Crusader's voice held a distinct tone of annoyance at the archivist's slowness but he still decided to keep an open mind. Galford smiled as he answered to the Grand Crusader.

"In fact, I believe one of my apprentices did. I think we have found a way to get a decisive advantage over the Lich King." The balding chronicler said as he looked around himself. The three leaders were sitting around a large table in the middle of the room, with dozens of other chairs dotting the hall's sides. Galford couldn't help but sign in astonishment when he saw this magnificent room. Even more so than the rest of the Bastion, the heart of the Crusade was a masterpiece of Lordaeron's architects, the beautifully-crafted windows and skylights casting the Light at the candelabrums and figures on the floor. They had recently been painted in red, giving the room a distinctly scarlet hue. This wondrous room was a worthy center for the Crusade.

"That is difficult to believe, good archivist. Many have promised us a miracle but even after all of them, we have no other force to trust than our own hearts." Alexandros narrowed his eyes as he looked at the chronicler, deeply skeptic about his claim. The Ashbringer's faith was exceeded by no man but he also knew that there were no shortcuts to victory. True, his weapon was a miracle in itself but the Highlord saw it as a mere reflection of the Light's power in the right hands.

"I truly hope you bring us with something unforeseen, archivist. It's highly exciting to hear what you believe will make such a difference." Abbendis said in a tired but otherwise neutral voice. The horrors of Northrend still lingered in his mind and he knew that there was no victory in this war. Still, his whole life was dedicated to continuing this struggle and he knew it was a true privilege to serve beside the two other legends in this room. Despite his fear, he knew there was nowhere else he'd rather be. Galford knew he should have expected such a cold welcome but that didn't flatten his mood just yet. There was too much at stake for it right now.

"We all know the full extent of the revered Alonsus Faol's expertise with the Light. There has never been a more powerful priest or beacon of the Light than the founder of the revered order of the Silver Hand. Now, I believe I know the location of one of his most powerful belongings still left here after his passing. His eternal flame." The archivist could feel six eyes burrowing into him as he concluded. All of the three leaders knew the stories Galford referred to but none of them had given it much thought. Faol was long gone and so were the miracles he had been famous for. Dathrohan thought for a moment before he answered.

"I've heard of it but what good does that do it to us? It is nothing more than a parable of our old order's "eternity". It didn't do anything of interest and if it worked as Faol envisioned, it should have been extinguished when Uther fell." The Grand Crusader said as he contemplated about his subordinate's words. The flame had never shown any extraordinary qualities in addition to its longevity and he couldn't simply contemplate why Galford was so excited about it. The archivist looked at his audience in deep excitement and he quickly answered.

"Apparently that isn't true. I once thought as you did but it seems that this flame burns any undead near it. My apprentice found an account about Stratholme's final downfall by no one else than captain Falric himself." The chronicler took a small pause which was interrupted by Alexandros whose expression took a clearly darker turn.

"Falric? What does that traitor have to do with this and why are you telling us about him? He is one of the greatest enemies of this land his is one of the names we should forget for good!" The Ashbringer's eyes burned with anger as he thought about the late captain. Even if he knew that Falric served Arthas only because of Frostmourne's power, that didn't change the fact that he had been instrumental in finding that cursed weapon. That was a crime the Highlord would never forgive.

"He wasn't evil, Mograine. I knew him for years and he was always a faithful and skilled commander. If he was still capable of relying this story for us as the archivist says, I'd believe him." Abbendis said deep in thought as he remembered the times when he and Falric had served the king together. He had always respected the captain and he had regretted it deeply when he had heard of his downfall. Apparently it had happened later than he had initially thought but that didn't change the situation greatly.

"As faithful and skilled as Arthas himself, eh Abbendis? I'd say your respect here is a bit misplaced." Alexandros gritted his teeth as he tried to come to terms with the High General's comment. Abbendis would have wanted to continue the argument but he knew that he'd end up arguing for the prince sooner or later, something that wasn't acceptable in the Crusade or anywhere in Lordaeron, for that matter. Dathrohan looked at the two with an unreadable expression as he thought about their words. He wasn't interested in the least in the dead traitor and they clearly had better things to think about.

"Quit fighting over that bastard! We have enough problems as it is and I truly don't want to give that traitor the honor of having his name spoken in this holiest of places! I don't know what you think about him, High General, but I'll hear none of it! Now then, go on Galford." Dathrohan said as he slowly turned his gaze back at the chronicler with an impatient expression. It was clear that he wanted to get over this meeting. Galford looked thankful about his words and without a major pause, he continued his explanation.

"As I was saying, the teller's identity makes no difference in this issue. What is important is that the fleeing soldiers of Stratholme found the resting place of Alonsus' flame and used it to help others escape from being surrounded by the slaves of the Lich King! The chapel itself remains untouched and the fire inside it might just be the way we may regain our footing against the Lich King's onslaught!" Galford explained in a dedicated voice, knowing that this discovery could well turn the tide of history. His audience looked at him in disbelief and doubt. Sure, each of them wanted nothing more than to the old man's words to be true but after all their struggles, they had a hard time believing this would be the answer to all of their woes. A simple fire in this very same city would alone beat the Scourge? Such a scenario wasn't one any of the veteran knights who had given the last years of their life to resist the undeath readily accept. The Grand Crusader was the first one to answer.

"Are you sure about this? One small tale in a book told by an ally of the Lich King about a legend that no one ever deemed of any worth is suddenly becoming our salvation? That sounds unlikely." Saidan knew and respected the Archivist greatly and he wanted to give him a chance to state his business. Galford frowned somewhat as he thought about the answer before speaking again.

"That book was assembled by the revere High Abbot himself and I know he'd never finish a book that has wrong information. I've researched hundreds if not thousands of volumes and I can tell fake information from the right one. The descriptions, the account of what happened and Falric's thoughts… I can see that they were genuine. I put all the respect I've ever gained as a scholar into swearing that this information isn't fake!" A silence fell upon the room as each of the leaders of the Crusade thought about the implications of Galford's words. If what the chronicler said was true, they could have a real window into gaining a true advantage over the Scourge. However, even if what he said was true, the chapel was on the other side of Stratholme, surrounded by hordes after hordes of undead. In essence, this goal would require the Crusade to conquer the entire city Stratholme for the flame to be of any use. This was a prospect that none of the leaders present were anxious about just yet but retaking Stratholme had always been one of the Crusade's main goals. However, it hadn't been considered realistic at this point. The silence dragged on for nearly a minute before it was broken by the Ashbringer. He raised his sword to the table to the others' puzzlement and started to speak.

"I know that this mission will be our most difficult one yet but no one would have ever expected me to find or at least complete the Ashbringer. These kinds of weapons of pure Light belong to legend, not to these dark times of death and destruction. Yet, you've all seen what artifacts like this sword can achieve. I don't know what we'll find in Alonsus' chapel but if I had never taken leaps into the unknown, I would have never been the Highlord I am today." Alexandros spoke as she finally put the massive weapon back into its sheath. The silence continued as the others continued to weigh their options. After another long pause, the Grand Crusader let out a long sigh as he looked at the dark clouds from the windows.

"When you went all the way to Ironforge to ask the dwarves to complete Ashbringer, Mograine, you had a concrete promise that what you possessed could be turned into a force for good whereas now we have nothing except one vague tale. The Crusade has already spread its troops thin and attacking Stratholme now, without securing the surrounding lands, would be madness. This is a step we cannot afford to take just yet." Dathrohan looked bothered at his own words as he knew this was against his own usual policy of faith and occasional gambles. Alexandros looked back at him in clear chagrin and started to speak briefly.

"Haven't you heard what Abbendis told? Normal means of beating the undead aren't enough in this war! Courage and bravery are important assets but we need more than that! Uther fell because he was afraid to act and we cannot afford to make the same mistake! This might be one of the most important decisions in your life!" The Highlord looked grimly at his superior who returned the look with a thoughtful look. Abbendis wished to continue pressing the point.

"He's right, Grand Crusader! We cannot win this if we aren't willing to take risks! We may be able to fend off the Scourge here in Lordaeron but there's nothing we can do if the Lich King brings his full might at us from Northrend! We need this weapon Galford speaks of!" Abbendis joined Alexandros' plea and Dathrohan moved his gaze at to his fellow leaders. He could that they were fully serious about this issue and he could easily tell why. However, there was more to this attack than that. It would be a long campaign and there could be more important goals the Crusade could follow. However, he couldn't question his subordinates' words. This eternal flame sounded highly intriguing and it could help decide the war. Even through his doubts, he realized that in the end, this wasn't an opportunity he could let slip by. But he'd take it on his own terms.

"I agree with you my comrades and I never said we couldn't do this. However, what do you think would happen if our whole army was surrounded in Stratholme? We would all be slaughtered and that would be the end of the Crusade. We must safeguard our rear and flanks before we can take this risk." Dathrohan said in his usual determination and the two other leaders seemed somewhat relieved by his words. They sat in silence as Dathrohan outlined his plans further.

"Our first objective is to create a firm supply line to this fortress! We cannot let this siege continue any longer and only then can we continue to push the offensive! The most important part to realizing this goal is to take the most central crossroads town of this land, Corin's Crossing. Once we rule the southern road, we may move northwards and to secure the rest of the Menethil road. We must restore the watchtower network to ensure that this road will never again fall into enemy hands! Our last step is to slaughter every last undead in the Plaguewood and only then can we even dream of capturing Stratholme." The Grand Crusader said in a serious voice, willing to underline his point. As the head of the Crusade, he simply wasn't allowed to make any kind of foolish mistakes. He'd always be remembered as the man who led Lordaeron to its final defeat if he led his forces to this kind of ambush. Abbendis looked at him and after a moment, he answered in a more approving voice.

"Yes, we have to secure the main roads and strategic points but we have to do so quickly. If the Lich King's power grows too great before we get the fire, we're all doomed. You're right in assuming that we have to play safe, Dathrohan, but don't forget that time is off the essence. We must hurry." Abbendis said as the thought about the plan. He knew the Crusade could advance in the Plaguelands one step at a time but that wasn't simply enough. There would have to be a serious gamble if the crusaders would ever win this battle in time. However, ideas were slowly beginning to form in his mind. For the first time in days, the shroud of horror started to lift from the High General's eyes and he was already starting to feel like himself again. The others realized it and every one of those gathered could sense that they had found a consensus. Dathrohan was the last one to speak and he concluded the meeting.

"So this is the way we'll take. I trust that you are up to the task, Abbendis, to make a successful plan how to best execute this battleplan. I and Mograine will lead this endeavor and the Scourge will fall under our onslaught! Send messages to all members of the Crimson Legion. Soon we'll see who we can trust and who deserves to be get rid of. You're all dismissed." The Grand Crusader rose up from his chair and the others followed his example. Galford bowed deeply as thanks to the trio for accepting his proposition. The atmosphere turned into a lighter one as another flicker of hope had been born on this meeting. After the crushing defeat in Northrend, the Crusade was once again on the offensive.

The morning hadn't aged greatly after the usual morning prayer in the city of Tyr's hand and the rest of the normal procedures were still ongoing. Osran was eagerly waiting for the next announcement from Stratholme as his new position didn't allow him any special treatment. Membership in the Crimson Legion was a great honor bestowed only to the most respected members of the Crusade but its members were seldom seen as anything special by the other knights. Not that Osran even wished for anything like that. Despite the unfortunate encounter with Arlos, he still felt that he was an integral part of the core group of Tyr's Hand's knights.

Even then, the aging paladin knew that his most important job now was to ensure that the Grand Crusader's orders were executed smoothly and without question everywhere in the city. Thus far he had thought Isillien had overestimated the threat they possessed to the Crusade but he had to be vigilant whenever he could. No orders had been given at this point so he should mostly ensure that nothing suspicious was going on. That had been the case until he noticed that there were groups of high-ranking officers were moving away from the city's keep, signaling that there had been some kind of meeting Osran hadn't known about. At first the knight didn't think of it as any interest in itself but a few words from Isillien returned to his mind. All of the major meetings by the Crusade's leaders were supposed to be informed to the local members of the Crimson Legion also and the fact that he hadn't been notified about it was of immense puzzlement to him. No matter what was going on, he should know about it.

The Crusader Lord was moving around his room in deep outrage. The leaders of the Crusade had a nerve to tell his troops to regroup somewhere else where he hadn't ordered them? Such actions had clearly been prohibited in the agreement in which he had pledged Tyr's Hand to the Grand Crusader's service and now he was unilaterally changing it? This wasn't something he was planning to let slip by without a fight! This was exactly what he had feared when he had received the invitation letter in the first place! The Crusader Lord was slowly beginning to think that that decision had been a mistake The meeting in which he had informed his officers of this outrage had ended shortly and Valdemar himself was slowly coming to the conclusion that he should go do his other duties also. There was no use fretting about this unfortunate development at this point after all. Even if Dathrohan got on his nerves, there was no use letting it ruin his own leadership and reputation in his own city.

The seemingly higher-ranked officer turned the key in his room's door as he headed towards the first floor of the castle. However, he was surprised to see a very familiar form near the stairs, as if waiting for him. He had met Osran only briefly after his return and he had looked somewhat off even back then. As if something was bothering him even if he had finally received the promotion he had deserved. Valdemar had heard of Tareth's passing but he wasn't the first close comrade Osran had lost during his life. The Crusader Lord approached his long-time comrade in a confused look, worried about what Osran was up to. Deepening his confusion further, it was the Crimson Legionary who spoke first.

"I saw that that there were a lot of officers here just before. Is something wrong?" Osran asked in apparent worry, going rather bluntly into the issue at hand. Valdemar frowned somewhat, not willing to bother Osran with these issues.

"Not really, Osran. It's just that the Grand Crusader doesn't understand the boundaries of his powers. But that doesn't concern anyone here in addition to me. You may return to your duties if that is what you had in mind." The Crusader Lord was still in a bad mood and he didn't want to rely all of the outrageous orders he had just received to the other man. It would do no good to anyone. Osran, however, was deeply concerned. So it was just what he had feared. Isillien had warned him that there was a chance he'd probably get to problems with the Crusader Lord soon enough as he tried to keep to the promises Dathrohan had given him when he had joined the Crusade. Osran understood better than well their meaning to his friend but after everything he'd seen, Osran had had come to the conclusion that beating the Scourge was a superior objective to everything else, including his friend's honor. However, he had to tread carefully here in order not to raise suspicions about his motives. Thankfully, he had the perfect way to continue this conversation.

"Is it about Veria? I heard she was ordered to Andorhal without your consent." Osran knew this was the closest he'd get to the truth without endangering his cover. Even after through all this, he wanted to preserve this friendship and he'd try to hide his deeds from Valdemar as long as he could. Perhaps, in the end, he'd believe that the paladin was making all this simply to help the Crusade, not because he harbored selfish goals. Valdemar looked at his friend in a sad way, realizing that Osran knew more than he had given out.

"Indeed. I tried to ask the Grand Crusader to let them home but he denied my request, even after our agreements! If we cannot trust each other, what can we do? I made it clear that I don't like surprises about these things!" The Crusader Lord said in apparent disappointment and uncertainty. Osran, however, cringed brig time as he heard his old friend's answer. This thing was clearly a painful one for Valdemar and Osran knew he would have to play some role in trying to change his mind. However, Valdemar was a highly stubborn man and trying to speak him out of his privileges would be merely a losing strategy. But what were his alternatives? He could always kill the other man but Osran wouldn't consider that option until it was absolutely necessary. Valdemar was one of his oldest and closest friends and killing him here was simply not an option. For now, he'd just have to keep a low-key appearance and avoid creating suspicion.

"Damn… why can't Dathrohan keep his hands away from these things. Even then, it'll be difficult to deny his requests at this point. I just hope he stays sensible until the end." Osran said somewhat absentmindedly as he thought about the situation. Neither of the leaders would ever back down from their demands willingly and it was easier to try force Valdemar to give up than the headstrong Grand Crusader. The paladin knew at this point that the only way to avoid a confrontation inside the Crusade would be to weaken his friend's leadership to a point where he could no longer avoid the inevitable. However, those thoughts only made the knight feel extremely guilty already but the Crusade's effectiveness was the highest goal anyone should have. Valdemar simply nodded sadly as he answered.

"I hope so too. Dathrohan has always been a good comrade but he is an extremely proud man. He may lead us as well as he can but he never sees things from anyone else's than his own eyes. I'm slowly starting to wonder if I should have thought twice before accepting his request. However, what's done is done. Go now, Osran. We have our own duties to do even now. I'll handle the politics by myself." After those words, the Crusader Lord finally walked past Osran in a worried manner but he knew there was nothing his friend could do about it. He was the leader of Tyr's Hand it was his charge to see it through these turbulent times. Valdemar could only hope that he'd serve his long-time comrades with the honor they all deserved.

Osran sighed deeply as he raised his gaze at the stone ceiling of the castle. The confrontation between his old friends and new alliances had appeared on the very same day he had returned to his home. Even if he knew this would happen sooner or later, the aging paladin was extremely disappointed that he would have to get involved in these things right away. He had hoped for at least a bit easier start to his new charge. Well, that can't be helped at this point as there's not a whole lot I can do!

Osran shuddered as he thought about his options. Dathrohan would know about his failure to act sooner or later and there was no room for inaction inside the Legion. But if talking and murder were more or less discounted as real possibilities, what else could he do? Weakening Valdemar's position seemed like the best way to proceed and the only way to do that would be to spread rumors inside Tyr's Hand and to create conflicts of interest between the Crusader Lord and is deputies. However, none of that would be easy and if he was ever uncovered, it was most likely that Dathrohan's agents would silence him sooner or later. Still, he couldn't but feel that he was turning against everything he had once respected. Valdemar would immediately turn against him for this and Uther would have never accepted his methods. However, none of that was relevant now. He had accepted membership in the Crimson Legion and for better or worse, this was a charge he'd simply have to see through. The knight immersed himself in his thoughts as he slowly walked out from the castle, preparing for a strategy that would help him overcome this highly dangerous and unpleasant task.

Scarlet Protector Carlin Redpath looked at the two dozen people assembled before him in slight disappointment. These were the only ones who had sought refuge in Tyr's Hand in the last weeks and survived the inquisitors' test. Five had turned out to be weak of mind or they simply had been deemed unpure. Such measures worried the Scarlet officer greatly but it wasn't up to him to decide what the priests did with those who searched refuge from the Crusade. He was only more than happy to provide these poor villagers with something that would give them hope of survival even in these rough times if only their heart was in this struggle.

"Welcome to Tyr's Hand, brave villagers. I congratulate each of you for your decision and for the fact that the priests have found each of you worthy of this great honor. I just hope you're all ready for the coming ordeals." Carlin understood the recruits' situation very well as he could remember his own survival even too vividly. The fall of Darrowshire would be a nightmare than would forever follow in his footsteps but he wouldn't mic his own concerns with these recruits.

Each one of the prospective crusaders knew what was at stake in this meeting but only one of them had seen a knight of the Crusade in battle himself. Carethas Yrendel looked around himself in deep worry as he listened to the Scarlet Protector's words. The life in Barrowhome had grown increasingly tough in the past weeks and even the Crusade's defense wouldn't be able to keep the dying hamlet alive for much longer. Carethas had searched for a chance to join the Crusade ever since the brave knight's defense of his home. Perhaps the paladin named Osran was still somewhere around this city?

"I know each of you have your own ways you could be of use to the Crusade and we can show you the way to utilize your talents to their very limits. But remember that while Light always watches over you as you stand against the darkness, only you can stand your own ground. There is nothing supernatural or secret power in our use: our strength comes from years of unwavering service and a brave heart. As the Lightbringer used to say to his followers during the war against the Scourge of Lordaeron: The Light is your guide, your shield and your sword but without the will or strength to support them, they're all worthless to you." Carlin spoke with great stress on his words in order to underline his point. He would turn no recruit away but if they happened to fall because of their own weakness, then so be it. Carethas frowned somewhat at his words but he knew them to be true. Even inside the Crusade, it would eventually be every man for himself. However, he knew he'd give his all in order to earn his right to fight beside Osran and the rest of the knights of this mighty order. He listened in deep interest as the officer continued to speak.

"If you believe you lack that will, tell it now. The Crusade has more use for farmers, blacksmiths or couriers than for dead corpses. Every one of us has a role to play and acknowledging yours is a true test for each of you. If you feel those positions are more suitable for you, speak your mind now." The Scarlet Protector looked in silent approval as five hands rose from the small crowd. Even if he had hoped for all of these young men to be capable of fighting, his words were still true. Dead recruits would help no one and there was always a shortage of workforce in Tyr's Hand. He looked at five men and women in an emotionless face as he answered to them.

"I'm grateful to you for being honest to yourselves. Please, report to the western barracks for further instructions." No heads turned to look at the departing backs of the five even if some of the remaining peasants seemed somewhat amused. Still, Carlin's stern expression kept each and every one in the room silent. Carethas knew he couldn't blame anyone for choosing the easy way but he had a mission to fulfill here. For his beloved Barrowhome and to the knight who had first shown him the courage of a true knight. He wouldn't give up until his home was safe again or would find rest in the peace of his own grave.

"Now, I must admit that we have no time for a sufficient training periods. You might have to face the undead in a few days already so we have no time to lose. I won't lie to you, this training won't be able to prepare you against the enemy but they will teach you to defend yourselves. I apologize for this but you have to earn most of your experience in the battlefield and some of you won't live to see whether you are fit to be a paladin. But I promise you, if any of you show talent in mastering the Light, we will help you in using it. But enough talking. You have half an hour before you will be shown on how defend yourselves against the weaker undead and how to mount a counterattack against them. Welcome to the Scarlet Crusade!" The officer said as he concluded his speech. The new recruits seemed somewhat disappointed by his speech but the sad fact was that there was hardly time to do the necessary preparations for the current troops and there wasn't a whole lot of time anyone could spare for the new ones. Carlin knew this wasn't fair for them but this was one thing that simply wasn't in his power. Even now, he was needed to oversee the guarding of New Avalon's port and he had already gone to this meeting knowing that it would interfere his own duties.

Carethas wasn't more impressed than his comrades. After the perilous and hard journeys and the investigations they had gone through, he had expected even a slightly more respecting welcome. As things stood, it seemed line no one seemed to even appreciate his or his counterparts sacrifices to even get to this point. Still, it was clear that the Crusade was waging a full-scale war and it was likely that there would be little time to spare for complete novices like himself. The young man took a neutral look as he joined the other recruits in moving out of the small room and head for the courtyard. Carethas didn't have the slightest of illusions about what kind of ordeal the beginning training would be.

Each one of the fledgling Crusaders felt extremely awkward as they moved to the courtyard of the barracks to investigate each other. Each one of them were from small hamlets and they had known nearly all of their acquaintances since their childhood. Every one of them knew that this would be the group they'd spend the next few days but the oppressing silence seemed to drag on for minutes. Finally, it was Eneath who spoke first. His voice was nervous as he tried to find the right words to speak at this point. He simply wanted to break the ice and hope that he'd be proud to stand by the side of these men and women before the end.

"I'm honored to meet each one of you. Let's prove it to ourselves that we are ready to take this step." Carethas said the words that first came his mind and he knew the others felt the same way. None of them had come to make friends here as it was likely that most of the others had already lost a loved one to the Scourge. Only one thing united the new cadets: the yearn for revenge and justice. However, the first answer he received was an even grimmer one than he had expected.

"I don't care about you or what you're after here, brat. I came here to slaughter as many undead as I can and I can see that I came to the right place. Just stay out of my way and we'll all have an easier time here." The speaker was a heavily muscled, bald man who carried a large axe on his shoulder. Everyone present looked at him with a tired look as none of them had the least wish to begin a fight already. It seemed like this was one of those things that simply couldn't be avoided during the training. However, his arrogant words earned a quick rebuke.

"And if you understand that all our lives are on stake here, we might even survive. I don't want to be here any more than you want but we cannot think that we have any luxuries here. Remember that." The other man concluded grimly, earning a cold stare from the muscled man. However, after the duo's words, a deep silence fell upon the small group. Carethas sighed as he looked around himself. The first training session would begin soon and all of them could get underway with their training. Despite his apprehension at this whole situation, he'd be proud to join the brave knights who had defended his home for so long. He could only hope his time with them wouldn't be cut short prematurely because of the arrogance of his comrades.

Wow, 100k words crossed! I hope those of you still read this story have found this offering enjoyable. I'll give more focus on the internal conflicts of the Crusade even if the main focus will be kept on fighting the Scourge. That being said, I'd appreciate any feedback you'd be willing to give. See you soon!  :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #18 on: October 10, 2017, 11:17:12 AM »
Naxxramas Beckons

Deep nervousness raced in Osran’s mind as he thought about the best course of action here. He would have to find help among the officers to support giving the Grand Crusader the support he needed but he’d have to make it subtly. None of them would probably accept his proposal willingly but he couldn’t fail. Luckily to him, he saw a familiar figure nearby who could be the right person to start with. Carlin Redpath was a man of honor and even if he was loyal to the Crusader Lord, Osran knew he would listen to his ideas readily.

”May I have a moment of your time, Scarlet Protector?” Osran asked in a determined voice when he saw Carlin Redpath head towards the stables, apparently preparing to leave for his guarding duties. The balding man turned to look at the newcomer and answered to him in an urgent, surprised voice.

“If you’re quick, Osran. I already used up too much time in giving the new cadets a shadow of a real welcome but it can’t be done in such a hurry. What’s your business with me?” Redpath looked at the other knight in a disapproval, hoping he hadn’t met any other hindrances before he could take off once again. Even if he respected his comrades as anyone else, this was an audience he wanted done quickly. The bearded paladin took an unreadable expression as he thought how he should put his business.

“It’s nothing too important but I’m just saying that I’m really looking forward to our next campaign. Rumors have said that soon enough, we’ll launch an attack that should retake the rural areas of Darrowmere and that attack will be our greatest yet. It’ll be an honor to stand with you as we retake our homes from the Lich King.” The knight knew his words were rather vague as could be seen from Carlin’s conflicted face. The Scarlet Protector had no idea how Osran had heard of this but his new membership in the Crimson Legion probably brought him many benefits. However, he had no idea what Osran was after. The two had fought together in the past but they were nowhere as close as Osran’s words seemed to suggest. He answered quickly in a puzzle voice.

“Aye, It’ll be a great day when we begin our real attack but I don’t if I’m ready to see Darrowshire again.  That day was the most horrifying I’ve ever experienced but at least I’ll be able to avenge my brother and nieces. I’ll do anything to redeem their memory as I’m sure you’ll do to avenge your friends in Northdale. But why bring up this all of a sudden? It’s not like this is a new development.” Carlin concluded in a thoughtful note, willing to know what was Osran’s point with this conversation. This wasn’t the most likely situation to remember the old, happier times even if both of the two had painful pasts. Osran cringed internally as he realized that now was the time to push his point or the opportunity would be lost.

“During my time in the Monastery, our battle was lost only when all of us stayed together and put our differences aside to confront the enemy. Don’t tell of this to anyone but I can’t help but feel that our pride here in Tyr’s Hand might be misplaced. We all know and trust each other but we serve the same goal as the other cities. I wished to say that we shouldn’t overestimate our part in the coming campaign as we are but one army that will lead the Crusade to victory.” Osran said slowly, knowing that his words were sudden and slightly wrong but he had to get his point through. He hadn’t spoken of the Grand Crusader but the aging paladin’s words were highly regarded by everyone in Tyr’s Hand, including the Scarlet Protector. If he could weaken his belief in Tyr’s Hand supremacy in the Crusade, he could begin weakening Valdemar’s position. Carlin looked at the other man oddly but his interest was slowly being awakened by this discussion.

“We pledged our allegiance to the Grand Crusader in exchange of our special status within the order. That doesn’t mean that we think of ourselves as anything “special” or something that weakens our comrades in other cities. It is not my position to try to understand the situation but I trust Valdemar to guide us through this as he always has. You should too, Osran. We ordinary soldiers should simply concentrate on staying alive.” Carlin said as he narrowed his eyes at Osran. He was taken aback by the crusader’s sudden words but he knew these weren’t things that concerned either of them. Osran, on the other hand, was growing increasingly concerned by the way this conversation was going. Carlin, perhaps by accident, was getting too close to his own intentions.

“You know I’d lay down my life for the Crusader Lord in a second but I have a bad feeling his pride might not serve him well in the coming battle. I hold nothing but respect to our leaders, especially for Valdemar, but the only thing I want is to return home and to see Lordaeron reborn. We should defend Valdemar’s position at all costs but we should also make sure we do what’s best for all of us. That is what I wanted to tell you.” Osran said in a thoughtful voice, willing to underline that was only saying what he thought, not imposing his thoughts on the Scarlet Protector. Carlin looked extremely thoughtful and he looked at Osran oddly. It was clear that he hadn’t thought things this way but it was clear that he was far from convinced.

“I trust Dathrohan knows what he’s doing, Osran. But I also trust Valdemar and so should you. He has led us for years with wisdom and even if the Grand Crusader is a great man and a champion of the Light, I trust a leader I know, not a one I’m told to trust.” Carlin looked at Osran in an unreadable expression, clearly rebuking the knight’s words. Osran looked at him in disappointment, knowing that he was in a rather weak position here. Still, installing even a flicker of doubt in the officer’s mind could serve him in the long run.

“As should we all. I hope none of us have to think of these things in the future but keep an open mind, Redpath. We never know what the Light throws our way. Goodbye, Scarlet Protector.” Osran suddenly turned around to continue his own rather light duties today when he heard Carlin call to him for one last time.

“Oh, Osran, I just heard that the new recruits’ trainer isn’t able to arrive in time today. Could you please show them a trick or two?” The Scarlet Protector called to the knight who didn’t seem too excited by this request. To tell the truth, he had had other plans regarding his new position and duties but on the other hand, a too quick effort to change the officers’ minds could quickly become suspicious. Also, for the sake of avoiding suspicions, he would have to work as hard as everyone else in the city and to avoid idleness in the others’ eyes. With an unreadable voice, he answered.

“Yes, I heard that we had some new cadets but I hadn’t thought I’d be their instructor. Well, if no one else has time for them, I guess I have no choice. I’ll do it.” Osran looked as Carlin nodded to him in approval and rose to his steed. Osran’s usual schedule had been somewhat relaxed today but these days none was allowed a moment of reprieve. The more he thought of it, he had only increased his workload by joining the Crimson Legion but that couldn’t be helped at this point. He had no choice but to move forward and fulfill his tasks the best he only could. Carlin was left looking the crusader in deep thought, surprised by Osran’s behavior but it was none of his business. With a slight shrug, he finally mounted the horse and took off for New Avalon.

There was still a bit over ten minutes until he was needed in the training fields so Osran decided to go buy a small refreshment from the city’s tavern. The prices were extremely low due to the pressure from the city’s leadership so nearly any member of the Crusade could afford a small drink in addition to the normal meals of the day. Osran was just about to open the door of the tavern when he heard someone call him from behind him.

“Osran! What are you doing?” The voice belonged to Eneath and Osran sighed silently as he turned around to greet his nephew. It wasn’t his appearance that worried the older paladin but his tone which communicated only one thing. The two had met only briefly since Osran’s return and he couldn’t blame his nephew for sounding a bit displeased.

“I was planning to buy a small flask of some beverage before getting to today’s work. Don’t you have anything to do yourself?” The paladin sounded somewhat tired and far more repulsive than he would have wanted. Eneath looked at his uncle in clear chagrin, not understanding his behavior in the least after his return.

“We have hardly met in a month and you seem really willing to get rid of me! Is something wrong?” Eneath frowned as he spoke, never seeing his uncle like this. There had been periods where he had acted dismissively and stressed but not like this. Something was clearly wrong with the older knight.

“It’s nothing. A lot of things happened during my journey and the workload just keeps increasing. I’ll get over it but as it is, I’m just a bit tired. But come, let’s go inside.” Osran opened the door and Eneath quickly followed him. The younger man looked at his uncle with a suspicious look, knowing that losing one’s comrades wasn’t enough to break his spirit and the flow of tasks in the city had stayed somewhat stagnant. He knew Osran was hiding something from him and that fact alone wasn’t something he liked. He was the only family he had left and the fact that his uncle didn’t seem to trust him was highly worrying. The two sat down on a small table near the back of the hall to drink their beverages. The younger man looked at the other for a moment before he restarted the conversation.

“Is it about the Crimson Legion? I know you are too strong to be this greatly upset by battles and I don’t know what else has changed in addition to your new position. You may tell me.” Eneath tried to get his uncle to speak but Osran didn’t seem too happy about his words. The paladin hadn’t even realized how severely his newfound problems with Valdemar had begun to affect him and it was true, he didn’t feel nearly as energetic or self-confident as he usually did. It seemed like he’d have to either accept his new role or be revealed sooner or later. Even if Osran hated to lie to his nephew, this was simply an issue to which Osran couldn’t get him involved. No matter how looked at it, this was a thing he’d simply have to resolve himself.

“No. As I said, I’ll get over it once things get a bit simpler again. Right now, I just have a lot in mind with the news from Northrend and Veria as well as coming to the terms that many of my old comrades will never again greet me during the morning prayer. I hope you understand.” Osran tried to sound a flicker more relaxed as he drank a deep gulp of his Moonberry juice. Eneath looked at him with continuing suspicion but at least it seemed like his uncle wasn’t completely depressed by whatever was going on. For now, he imagined that it would be best if he just stayed silent and tried to return to his problems soon.

“I can imagine that. I am horrified by Harthal’s tale too. We can simply hope that the Grand Crusader knows what he’s up to, We can’t afford to face any more undead than we already have in our hands.” The younger paladin said, turning the conversation to another unsavory subject. Osran looked at in a dry look as he put his mug to the table.

“So do I. I simply hope he knows something that we don’t, something that can prevent them from ever arriving in Lordaeron. But to other matters, how is Orotha? I haven’t had the time to visit her since I returned.” A certain tone of guilt could be heard in Osran’s voice as he realized that he hadn’t visited his mother in ages. An extremely unsavory thing as an old person like her could catch a disease in the refugee camp any day and with her, things could become fatal far too easily. To his relief, Osran didn’t see Eneath’s face fall greatly.

“She’s as fine as anyone can be in there. She’ll survive but this kind of life is taking a toll on her. I just hope she’ll be able to take it. But don’t worry, there hasn’t been any great developments since you left.” Eneath said as he finished his drink. The two men looked at each other and nodded briefly. It was clear that it was time to return their duties.

“That’s a relief at least. However, I’m needed elsewhere shortly. See you sometime soon again, Eneath.” Osran said as he quickly rose from his chair, leaving Eneath sit there for a moment longer in deep thought. Osran was clearly up to something but still, Eneath knew it was none of his business. He knew his uncle and he had always survived on his own and he had no doubt that wouldn’t be the case now. However, the young paladin wasn’t about to see his uncle suffer alone. If things got too bad, he would help him, whether he wanted it or not.

Osran, on the other hand, was grateful for his nephew’s concern but at this point, it helped him none. He couldn’t know how Carlin had really reacted to his words as only he knew what was going on in his mind. He could only hope he had made the first ally among the officers of Tyr’s Hand but only time would reveal the truth about that. Right now, he would have to do his normal duties in order to not raise any fuss about his situation. Even if Osran was rather benevolent towards those who had searched out the Crusade to defend themselves and their loved ones, right now this wasn’t a task he did with great pleasure. His mind was already burdened with his current concerns and overseeing a group of completely unskilled cadets wasn’t something that helped his mood any.

Especially when he saw the small group. Most of them were pure and completely peasants who seemed like they had never even held a weapon in their hands. How was he supposed to teach them anything in a day or two? On the bright side, Osran’s tabard and the knight’s armor seemed to make a good impression on the cadets as did his calm and proud attitude. He was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to give group much attention. He only moved absentmindedly before them and took a deep breath and looked upwards. He wouldn’t let his personal issues hinder his abilities to prepare these recruits for the coming ordeals. None of them would face their ends because he was too stubborn to train them well.

“Welcome to the Scarlet Crusade and to the city of Tyr’s Hand, potential defenders of Lordaeron. I am crusader Osran Lowriver and Protector Redpath asked me to oversee your training today and I will share all of my experience I can with you. In return, I expect each of you to give your all and to cooperate with me and with each other. In the end, only you can safeguard yourselves in battle and if you wish to live, I suggest you take the little training I can give you with the seriousness it deserves. I can see that none of you is a warrior and that only underlines my point.” Osran managed to sound almost normal with great dedication and he was happy to see that the cadets seemed genuinely interested about this words.

Carethas was stunned to see that the knight he had once fought would be the one training him and the other recruits this day. He was rather sure Osran had already forgotten him but at least he would tell that the knight had been an inspiration for him in the past. But before that, he would have to do well in this training. All of his efforts would be in vain if he fell in the first battle. Silence reigned above the group as Osran continued.

“Each of you have been given a blunt but natural-sized training sword and I trust you can use it to some degree already. Now, you must deepen your mastery over that weapon if you are to be of any use in battle. But remember: you won’t be fighting against each other or any other rational being so sparring is highly useless in its traditional form. In its stead, you have to try to defend yourselves against a group of dogs. The hounds, though not ghouls, have similar irrational moves and drive to simply eviscerate you without a strategy. Your training swords won’t hurt the hounds seriously so don’t worry: however, you might not be so lucky. I will stop the beasts if things get really rough but that won’t look good on your hopes of leaving for the battlefield anytime soon. Any questions?” Osran looked at the group in a dry look, feeling like this would be a waste of time. To his slight chagrin, one voice answered him from the small crowd.

“But how can we keep the hounds at bay if we can’t hurt them? They’ll maul us!” A woman’s voice called from the group. Osran looked at her dryly while leaning on his own sword. Even through his disapproval of the situation, he answered calmly.

“You can’t hope to survive from a battle without injuries, cadet. How you are going to minimize them is up to you. I know this is a harsh test but that’s the best I can do with this short notice. Come, let’s go meet your opponents.” Osran apologized as he walked waved at the recruits to follow him. They looked at each other in worry as they started to follow the experienced paladin.

“Well then, are you ready?” The young man shuddered as he looked at the door before him. He was locked in a small room inside one of the barracks, facing a door behind which growled five giant dogs who were clearly trained killers. The cadet held to his training sword in horror, struggling to find his voice again. After a moment, he nodded and answered.

Ye… yes, crusader Lowriver. Open the door.” Osran returned the nod and pulled the switch opening the gate between the two locked rooms. The other recruits looked in horror as the door opened slowly, the hungry dogs already fighting to get under the rising gate-like door. The young recruit tried to calm down and put on a defensive stance which, however, broke as the dogs charged towards him. In a matter of seconds, the hounds surrounded the man and started to rip his sides fiercely. As he heard the man’s cries, Osran knew the time for intervention had come. He opened the emergency door and quickly moved on to cast waves of bright light to drive the animals back to their cage. The cadet lied on the floor in a pool of blood, his breaths weakening by the minute. Osran knelt beside him and put his hand on the fallen recruit’s shoulder. Bright light filled the room and the man’s gaping wounds started to close slowly. Soon, the bleeding stopped but the man remained extremely weak. The aging crusader turned to the others and spoke in a serious voice.

“This poor man lost his courage at the first sight of enemy. It appeared that he would have been a capable swordsman but skill means nothing if your heart is weak. Remember that as your turn comes. Once I see your capabilities here, I can give you more sophisticated training. Alas, I fear this cadet won’t be the last to fall.” The assembled recruits looked at their instructor in fear as he pulled the wounded man away from the room. None of them wanted to be the next to face his fate but on the other hand, they couldn’t simply turn back at this point. With a courageous face, the next recruit walked into the room, ready to be the next to try his luck.

The next fifteen minutes hardly brought more confidence to the young cadets. Three of the next ones were also mauled horribly whereas two managed to defend themselves and even push back the hounds long enough for Osran to decide they were decent enough to deserve a shot in the battlefield. Of course, this test proved nothing about their actual capability to face the undead but there were no other or better ways to determine their worthiness at this point. Carethas felt extremely worried as Osran looked at him, waving him to step into the room. Even if he had been one of the best fighters of Barrowhome, his confidence shook as he faced the now-bloody room. He was slightly disappointed that Osran didn’t seem to remember him at all but he had probably met thousands of people. At this point, he decided to put all of his thoughts into the ordeal. With intense effort, he could stand still with a valiant look on his face as the door once again opened.

The young man felt his heart sink as the barking dogs charged at him but unlike most of the others, he didn’t falter. He ran towards one of the dogs, kicking another away from him, and hit the animal to the wall. These hounds were too large to be seriously hurt by the kicks and Carethas was too busy to think about mercy at this point anyway. The five dogs begun to surround him but he quickly sidestepped away from them. This was how the others had passed this test, by attacking one animal at the time and escaping before the next one hit. However, Carethas wasn’t so lucky.

With a sickening realization, he realized he had been surrounded to one of the corners of the room. With terrifying brutality, the dogs started to tear his legs apart but it was at this moment when something unexpected happened. Despite the pain, the cadet’s consciousness seemed to drift away and something seemed to take control of his mind. Osran and looked in appreciation as the young man released a weak bolt of light around himself which was still powerful enough to drive the dogs away. They started to regroup swiftly but before it happened, Osran’s voice rang in the room.

“Well done, young man! That was a most impressive defense! It isn’t often that fresh recruits are able to show that they are able to learn to control the Light!” Osran said as he opened the smaller door to let Carethas out from the room. The black-haired man didn’t seem to realize what had happened at first and he stuttered as he answered.

“What? Did I manage to… use the Light in battle? Will I be a paladin?” Carethas said in awe as he started to realize what had happened. It had been a strange experience but for some reason, he felt warmth conquer his body and a sense of bliss rise within his mind. Osran, while still sounding approving of Carethas’ feat, answered slowly to keep the test going.

“Not for a long time as you couldn’t control it consciously. However, I’ll show those who pass this test to how to hone their skills and if you manage to survive long enough, you might one day become a full member of the Order. However, we must continue now. The next one, please!”

Carethas sat down in awe as the trial continued. He couldn’t believe he had used the Light even by accident as he had never even dreamed he could be a paladin. His gift was a rare one and utilizing it would require him to survive the next battles. However, he wouldn’t play safe as he wanted to serve the Crusade, not himself. Today, he had taken the first steps towards that dream and he could rest for a moment now. The training would resume soon enough.

Two cadets able to use the Light, six brave and skilled enough to serve as line soldiers. Not enough but they will have to suffice.

Osran sighed slightly as he looked the last trainee fail miserably. Less than half of the cadets had proved capable of even hoping to survive the coming battle which was far less than he had hoped. He looked as the wounded recruits were taken away for further treatment and turned to look at the remaining eight cadets. Most of them had been heavily bruised by the hounds but that couldn’t be helped. At this point, time was off the essence and none of them would have any time to rest. The knight spoke to them in a respecting voice as the failed ones had been taken away.

“Congratulations to all of you. I’ve seen that all of you are worthy of being sent to battle. Two among you held even the promise of becoming real paladins but let us not get ahead of things just yet. You will have to survive the coming offensive but now that you have learned to defend yourselves, next you will have to learn to kill. Please, follow me to our next training field.”

The dim light of the candle illuminated Galford’s tired face as he continued his research on Alonsus’ flame and the late archbishop’s work. At this point, he was reading something that resembled a biography but it also contained chapters concerning his works. The volume was called “The Obscure Works of Alonsus Faol”, written by one his closest apprentices. The archivist had studied the whole night following the approval of his idea by the leaders of the Crusade. The dawn was breaking soon but the scholar wished to repay the trust entrusted to him by doing all he could to learn about the fire they were planning recover. That was until he heard a surprising creak from his door and a sudden question soon afterwards.

“So, you actually think this stuff of legends is still there. I wonder how things will go if things don’t go as you think they will.” Archivist Galford was heavily startled by this new voice from behind him. The scholar quickly turned around and saw the Highlord of the Crusade stand before him. The archivist was surprised to see Alexandros visit him at this time. It was a very only morning and even if Galford hadn’t slept a minute the whole night in search for more clues, he hadn’t expected the others to be awake at this hour. It seemed like the Ashbringer wasn’t one to sleep long either and the scholar would have to be happy for awakening his interest, Galford figured.

“It’s as I said, Highlord. There’s no mistaking it: Alonsus put great emphasis that everything he created would stand the test of time. Sadly, with the Silver Hand that hope wasn’t to be. However, he also created many sacred, unbreakable items like the ones he shared with the five original knights, like the Grand Crusader’s shield. No one really remembers it but Alonsus was also a capable blacksmith and if his feats in magic were even a shadow of his usual fortitude, there’s no way the undead could have snuffed out the last light of eastern Stratholme.” Galford exclaimed in pride at the Highlord who seemed somewhat worried still. He thought about what he had just heard for a moment and leaned to the door as he answered.

“I met Alonsus only once myself as he deemed me unworthy of joining the Order as its founder. He may have been a mighty priest and a hero but he was also insufferably self-confident and I was on his bad side for disobeying his principles mercy in a battle against the orcs. He couldn’t suffer anyone trying to stand up to him and in my eyes, that is a major stain on his memory. However, it’s a shame Saidan doesn’t use his shield. It’s truly a marvelous piece of art and power but he has never been one to hide behind other things to protect him.” Alexandros answered dryly, somewhat saddened by the rift between himself and the late Archbishop. He was far too experienced and old to care about his wasted honor by not being among the first invited to the Silver Hand but he was somewhat disappointed to be forced to rely on his powers to survive. Galford looked at him in interest as he listened to his story.

“Few have dared to speak like that of the most holy Archbishop but those who have, have largely echoed your tale. He was a proud, self-righteous man but he used even his unsavory side to serve the good. But, Highlord… may I ask you about your weapon? I’ve heard dozens of stories about it but is it truly blessed by the Light itself? You are a living legend, Highlord Mograine and as such, your feats have been hard to restructure truthfully.” The archivist said carefully, not knowing if the other man was willing to tell him about the issue. Ashbringer had almost grown to symbol the very struggle for preserving the Light and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Alexandros wouldn’t want to recite everything to him. However, he took a deep sigh and answered briefly.

“I know that I’m told to be able to beat an army of the Scourge by myself and to radiate Light brighter than the Sun when I face the enemy. It’s true that the Ashbringer is a wondrous weapon and a real miracle but its true strength doesn’t lie within the sword itself: it lies in our bond.” The Highlord answered cryptically, prompting Galford to frown in confusion. Alexandros had been called the Ashbringer for years but it had also been seen as a testament to the weapon’s power and wielder’s bravery but the scholar had never heard of any actual bond between them.

“What do you mean, Highlord? I’ve never heard of anyone being able to create a bond with a weapon before. Is such a thing even possible?” Galford asked in disbelief, willing to listen to what the man before him had to say. One of the many things he had to do in his position was to always listen, always be willing to learn new things, no matter how unbelievable they were. To his surprise, Mograine moved his hand forward, pulling his sleeve up to reveal his hand to the scholar. Galford stared at it in deep shock. The hand was dead in absence of a better word, all traces of skin and muscle wasted away, only a blackened bone being lighted by the dim illumination in Galford’s room. The archivist looked at Alexandros in fear, his breaths growing heavier at this ghastly display.

“Highlord, how? Are you…” The chronicler started but he couldn’t finish the sentence. If Alexandros was an undead, there would be little reason for him to reveal it. He started to calm down as the taller man continued his story.

“No, I’m not. Most of me anyway. At first, Ashbringer’s essence was a thing of pure evil and when I found it during the battle for Blackrock Spire, it did this to me. Any sensible man would have destroyed the crystal already back then but it seemed like the crystal spoke to me or at least manipulated my thoughts for me to believe that it wasn’t pure evil. Even with my hand, I kept it with me every moment, hiding its existence from my comrades. Even Saidan learned of it only during the rise of the Scourge. It had taken my hand, corrupted my thoughts… yet I still understood it.” Alexandros said deep in thought, causing deep frowning within Galford. He didn’t like these confessions at all but he didn’t have any authority to stand against the champion of the Crusade. He merely nodded to the Highlord as a gesture for him to continue.

“I take it that you know how we tried to destroy the crystal but only managed to turn it into Light? It cried out to me, even asking me to turn it into a weapon of legend and good… and without any further thoughts, I knew that I had to do it. I wouldn’t have travelled to Ironforge without a very good reason but I knew this would be worth it. The crystal didn’t manipulate me as I could still refuse its requests and pleads. One by one, our minds seemed to converge and we began to think as one.

At first, I was extremely concerned by the implications of all this. Could the crystal be trusted? Was it taking over my mind? Was it still in the service of the Horde? Those were some answers that I couldn’t answer and even my dear friend Fairbanks couldn’t help me. Yet, I realized that this was an opportunity to make a real difference in the battlefield. I decided to give it a chance… and I have never once regretted that choice. It turned out that the crystal had truly been turned to Light. King Magni himself said he had never once seen a weapon this pure or powerful. He told me that it was his honor and privilege to forge it.” Alexandros said dreamily, looking at the candles burning in the room. Galford could see Ashbringer bringing light and warmth into the room, making the whole atmosphere that of wonder and disbelief. He realized that he was in the presence of a man who would join the hall of legends once he was gone from this world. This was a true embodiment of the Light.

“But… when you speak about it, it sounds like the crystal and the sword have minds of their own. I’ve only heard of such a thing with mages’ beings of arcane, never with a paladin. Are you sure that is the case here? Do you feel that the Ashbringer has a mind of its own?” Galford asked for one last time, willing to see whether Alexandros was ready to go that far in his tale. If he was speaking the truth, it would be quite a development in this regard. Alexandros looked at Galford briefly and returned to his cryptic answers.

“Yes and no. It does have its own will, to be sure, but it is not a person who thinks and feels. It is more like a vengeful spirit, thirsting to spill the blood of the unpure. Yet, I have managed to link my thoughts to it and we fight as one, the sword always knowing what I’m going to do. However, this is a bond I know any other cannot hope to understand. Our wills and eyes are one in battle but only I decide what to do.” Alexandros concluded, earning a confused expression from Galford. It was clear that the chronicler wasn’t at all convinced but at least he had received some kind of answer, no matter how convincing it was. He turned to look at his book again as he answered.

“Very well. I’ve heard that some items of immense power can make themselves known to someone but these cases are extremely rare and none of them have reported as strong experiences as you. For example, in ancient times, there were tales that those sentient bugs, the qiraji, carried some kinds items of power so potent that they had an effect on the wielder’s mind.  However, those items are long gone and the accounts from the War of the Shifting Sands are extremely rare and unreliable. But the only thing that matters is that the Ashbringer guides and serves you well.” Galford said as he made a few notes about the books’ contents. Alexandros was about to answer when a loud call could be heard from the Hall of Lights.

“Get up and gather your weapons, now! Man the gates! The undead are massing around us!” A man’s voice called from the corridor, followed by other cries of urgency and fear. Alexandros quickly nodded to Galford and spoke quickly.

“Serve the Crusade the way you’re able and we'll do our part. The Scourge will never again step on this hallowed ground!” Alexandros then opened the door and started running towards the main gate to check the situation. Not a shadow of fear could be read from the red-bearded man’s eyes, only a bright and burning hatred for the undead. This was a defense he would see through, no matter what. He could see the massive gate to the Bastion open as the crusaders ran to safeguard the palisades guarding the main opening to the mighty fortress. Alexandros quickly moved outside from the door and asked another, familiar member of the Crimson Legion.

“What’s the situation, Malor? How many are attacking?” The Highlord asked in an urgent voice, demanding the answer immediately. The other man, nicknamed “the Zealous” for his unyielding hate towards the enemy, answered quickly in a decisive voice.

“Hundreds at the very least, sir! But they won’t stand a chance against the soldiers of the Light. Let’s give the bastards hell!” Malor said and Alexandros merely nodded to him. At the same time, Saidan appeared from the gate as well, clearly alerted for this attack. He looked somewhat cautious about the counterattack as he knew what was the most important thing in fighting the Scourge.

“Locate the leaders of the attack before you attack! Lookouts, to your positions!” The Grand Crusader yelled as he saw the swelling mass of dead flesh oozing around the walls. There were a few wooden palisades at the roof of the bastion, a few ladders built to serve the lookouts who were tasked with locating the brains of the attacks in order for the others to know where to strike.

“Archers and soldiers of the Light, keep the enemy down for now!” Alexandros yelled as arrows and judgements begun to rain down upon the slaves of the Lich King. The Ashbringer knew that it wouldn’t keep them down for long but all they needed was time to keep the enemy down long enough for the living to start their counterattack. However, it was at this time that they heard a chilling and mocking voice among the attackers that still held a shadow of familiarity.

“Only a fool would still linger within the walls of Stratholme! Know that your time here is finally over, Scarlet Crusaders! Such is the will of Kel’Thuzad!” The speaker had a low and irritating voice but it was horribly twisted by death. However, after a moment, Alexandros was able to decide whom this voice belonged to. It was a voice he hadn’t expected to hear again, even less want to under these circumstances.

“So, you’re one of them now, Rivendare. I should have expected as much. But it matters little as the Light’s justice comes for you! You will share the fate of your master soon enough!” The Highlord yelled as he listened to the fallen baron’s words. However, it earned him only a mean laughter and a grisly answer.

“I doubt it, Ashbringer! You may be the bane of the undead but even you have your limitations as you shall soon see! Behold the might of the Dread Necropolis!” Immediately after those words, it felt like the whole ground was shaking. The defenders tightened their ranks, only to hear another, extremely disheartening cry from the lookouts. They were seemingly terrified and as Alexandros felt the violent thuds in the ground grow ever more profound, he could tell why.

“It’s a dog-like giant abomination and it’s charging right at us! You can’t hope to stand against it!” The man yelled in deep shock. The Ashbringer tried to come up with a plan but the Grand Crusader was first. It was clear from his heavy, nervous panting that he was extremely worried but none of the other crusaders questioned his logic for a second.
“Flee to the gates! We cannot fight the monster here!” Saidan yelled as he looked at his followers flee into the bastion. He yelled to his old friend soon after, willing to make sure he realized what the plan was.

“Defend the others’ rear with me! We must make sure the retreat is orderly!” Dathrohan said as the two old knights stood side by side. Even if the high palisade blocked their view of the Crusaders’ Square, both of them felt their hearts pounding violently and their breaths growing ever more terrified as the footsteps grew closer. Just before the incoming crash, another cry could be heard from behind the wall.

“Fall, weaklings! Gluth will drain the last shreds of hope from your hearts and the rest of Lordaeron will follow. Behold my power!” Suddenly, the entire palisade blew up as a bold of dark energy hit the wooden wall. However, neither of the two had any time to shield their eyes as the terrifying monstrosity charged in from the hole in the wall. It resembled a deformed canine but not even the rotting flesh that made up its body could be seen on its head, only the skull remaining. Parts of its fur were replaced by sickly, greenish matter that seemed to be a substitute for the missing body parts.

“Run, Mograine! The others are already inside! We cannot fight this enemy!” Dathrohan said as he rolled to his side, dodging the abomination’s attack. Alexandros did the same and to his disappointment, he had to admit that his comrade was right. This monster could only be killed with a strategy and an army. The two wouldn’t stand a chance. Mograine quickly nodded to Saidan and both of them started to run towards the gate. The monstrosity quickly started to charge after them, knowing they wouldn’t be able to outrun it. For the first time in years, the Highlord felt a flicker of fear as he heard the giant gaining on him. In a few moments, it would reach him and force him into a duel which would likely not end well for living. However, those thoughts proved to be mistaken as he heard Dathrohan’s call.

“Duck, immediately!” They quickly jumped towards the door, revealing the depth of the Grand Crusader’s plan. As the two fell to the floor, a wall of pure Light flew over them right at Gluth. Five paladins had gathered to contain the abomination’s charge, buying a safe escape for their leaders. However, this attack didn’t stop Gluth. The monster was rather blinded and slowed down enough for the two to escape but its charge continued, eventually ending right at the closing main gate of bastion. The heavy doors were obliterated by the impact, opening a doorway for the mass of ordinary undead into the castle.

However, all of this were in the calculations of the Grand Crusader. He wasted no time relaxing from his close call and immediately started to give orders to his followers.

“Malor and the rest of his squad, follow the Highlord! Cannon Master and you three, come with me! We must surprise and surround the death knight to stop this madness. The rest of you, hold back the horde!” The two highest-ranked leaders nodded to each other before moving away. The tactics were ones that had been planned in advance but the canine abomination’s appearance had complicated things greatly. Still, if life had taught them anything about fighting the Scourge, the key to victory would be getting rid of its leaders. The two heads of the Crusade would now spread out and lead their groups towards Rivendare from two directions: Dathrohan would use a less-known side door which Abbendis was guarding right now and Alexandros would make a surprise attack starting from the roof. In the meanwhile, the main group of the crusaders would do their all to advance and put pressure on the enemy at any cost.

“We cannot waste a second! Come, let us go put an end to this, crusaders!” The Ashbringer called as he started to run towards the Hoard where the ladders to the roof were located. The way there was quite short even if the cannons which were lying everywhere hindered the group’s efforts somewhat. It was the Crusade’s storage of weapons in their vulnerable stronghold and one of the most important spots in the massive building. The ladders were now located in the middle of the room and the Highlord wasted no time starting to climb them. For many others, the mere height of the room would have been a major worry but none of the knights had a choice at this point. The climb took only half a minute before the first ones of the host started to reach the roof. The hatch was still open after the lookouts as opening and closing it would often be quite challenging as it could only be closed and opened from the inside.

The opening to the roof was behind the roof’s ridge in order to provide cover for the defenders and to prevent any kind of surprises. There were modest stairs to the lookout palisades on the ridge but that wasn’t where the small group was going. However, Alexandros called to the guards before starting his offensive.

“Are there any new developments? Is the death knight still in his old position?” His voice was urgent and he knew time was of the essence. Saidan was likely leading his own group already down there and he couldn’t stand staying still while others fought his battles.

“No, sir! Rivendare is moving closer to the frontlines and he seems to be raising the undead to fight again! Please, hurry!” The lookout sounded worried as he and his comrades released another volley of arrows downwards. The Ashbringer cringed at these news as Malor spoke in an angered voice.

“Why is he moving in? Does that cursed traitor truly think he can win? Let’s crush him before he manages to escape!” The black-haired man said in clear agitation. He raised his hammer to underline his point. Alexandros didn’t stop to answer as he was already heading to the lower slopes of the roof in order to strike at the side of the enemy. If Dathrohan was attacking from the other side, it was likely that the defenses would be rather light in the rear of the undead horde.

“He certainly won’t! However, we must stay unseen before we can attack! Stay your hand until I give my mark!” The Ashbringer said as he jumped on a lower part of the roof, heading for the surrounding houses to start his assault. The highest part of building grew quickly lower, low enough for the crusaders to use the surrounding houses to their advantage in times of need. The old Silver Hand bastion had been built for this purpose even if it had seldom been actually used. The infrastructure for the defense of the sacred fortress had been prepared a long time ago and this would be the time to put them to use.

The roof of the left side of the bastion joined that of the next house, allowing the small group to run to the next house and to the next one after that. In fact, the whole Crusaders’ square was built with only the safety of the fortress in mind, a fact not told even to the old inhabitants of those houses. The only downside was that the small group of defenders wouldn’t be able to see the battlefield due the fact that the main passageway for the knights was behind the ridge of the houses to make their arrival a surprise.

“Come with me! It is time for us to join the fight! In the name of the Light, destroy the wicked and cursed!” The Highlord entered one of the buildings from a secret hatch which led straight to the door of the home and to the square itself. The room itself was beyond ghastly with decaying wooden structures and destroyed items everywhere and the stains of blood forever attached to the walls. It chilled even Alexandros’ mind to think what kind of end the original inhabitants of this house had experienced. Even the door of the home had been destroyed so the knights had no choice but to join the fight immediately. None of them had any interest to linger in the cursed house any longer, anyway.

Ashbringer glowed brightly in the faint light of the burning city as it cut down the first of the swarming ghouls of the square. The red-bearded man grinned in hateful smile as he charged into the mass of undead, Malor and the rest of the knights following him quickly. The grotesque crushing sound of Malor’s hammer rang in the paladins’ eyes as it obliterated the remaining bones of the undead.

The precise attacks of the legendary sword sang their deadly song in Alexandros’ mind as it searched for the next throat to sever from their shoulders. He didn’t know whether the sword guided his hands or whether it was their combined fortitude and experience cooperating flawlessly. Yet, to anyone witnessing the grisly scene, they knew that this was truly a legendary sight and this man’s memory would be remembered for centuries. Yet, even in his bloodthirsty rampage, the Highlord didn’t forget his mission.

“Attack towards Rivendare! We mustn’t let the death knight leave this place!” Malor listened to Alexandros’ words and he didn’t need any further encouragement. He had once been a young hunter who had spent his whole youth in the wilds of Silverpine forest. He hadn’t had the slightest interest in the Light or the fate of the kingdom and he had long lived as a hermit in the forest.

However, all of that changed when the undead arrived. They desecrated his beloved land, killed his hunting hounds and defiled everything he had ever known. He had always lived with clear principles and once his true passion had been taken away from him, all he had been left with was revenge. Revenge at those who had robbed his life from him. The young man had quickly found his place among the Silver Hand and even if he had never had an interest in the Church, his endurance and burning passion for everything he did helped him to overcome every obstacle that came his way. However, that wasn’t enough. Soon after his joining, Lordaeron City fell and the kingdom and the Order crumbled under the Scourge. Once again, Malor witnessed destruction on a scale which he couldn’t have imagined during his simple life in Silverpine. However, he had been one of the first to join Saidan’s new order and he had quickly climbed to the Crimson Legion with mere brutality and passion. Now, as with every fight, the man yearned to crush every enemy of the Light in his path as painfully and gruesomely as he only could.

The Highlord and Malor the Zealous led the charge towards the death knight who hadn’t noticed their presence just yet. It seemed like their plan was working as there was apparently wedge of crusaders on the other side of the fallen noble. It was clear that Gluth had caused terrifying casualties among the ranks of the main group of the defenders but that couldn’t be helped. With luck the monster could be trapped and destroyed before it could escape.

Rivendare looked at the group attacking his position in loathing. Even with the presence of the Grand Crusader, did they actually think they could withstand the might of the true master of Stratholme? They were approaching him swiftly and Rivendare smirked mockingly as he drew his  famed runeblade from its scabbard. It was another weapon of great power, forged by the greatest blacksmiths of the Kingdom of Azeroth as a customized symbol of power to the noble. Few could afford such a masterpiece and it had always been the baron’s pride. Even in death, Rivendare would never part with his prize.

“Come then, warriors of the Scarlet Crusade! I’ll show you how to truly fight!” Rivendare prepared to command his steed into gallop when he heard further noise from behind him. With annoyed expressions, he turned to look behind him and saw another group of crusaders fight their way towards him. Immediately, the fallen noble knew he couldn’t fight the battle by himself and with a sharp move of his sword, he commanded dozens of ghouls hold back the attacking knights while he would deal with the other group. Time was of the essence: he would have to win the fight now or retreat.

Even if he hadn’t often seen death knights this close, Saidan knew what Rivendare’s urgent commands meant. Alexandros was on the way and more undead were ordered his way. However, the Grand Crusader wasn’t about to let his plan come to pass. This would end quicker than the enemy would want to.

Alexandros could immediately see what was happening. Hordes and hordes of undead swarmed around his group but not once did he even think about stopping or changing his battle plan. The sight of the blue skeletal steed and the hooded figure riding it filled all of his vision, making it impossible to turn back now. For better or worse, this battle would reach its conclusion very soon.

Steel clashed against steel as Rivendare’s mighty blade clashed with the Grand Crusader mace. The duo’s eyes were locked at each other as they traded blows in a frantic manner. A smug smirk greeted Saidan’s eyes as he looked at the death knight riding his steed. All of his comrades were engaged in a fight with the other undead. For now, it was a fight between the two leaders.

“Your unholy sight will be purged from this sacred place, you cursed monster! I promise you this much.” The Grand Crusader said as he started a charge at the fallen noble. Rivendare seemed taken aback by this display and, as if in a miracle, Dathrohan’s club sunk hit into the baron’s abdomen. For a moment, the crusader thought the Light had granted him a miraculous victory when he heard a twisted smile on Rivendare’s face. With a sick feeling, Dathrohan saw the runeblade starting to glow red, as if with blood, and it started to flow into the horrifying wound. Before Saidan’s eyes, the usually lethal wound disappeared, only the crushed spot in the armor implying that his strike ever happened.

“An empty promise. I cannot be wounded that easily and you’ll never be able to deliver a lethal strike on me. Your cause is lost, Grand Crusader. Just lay down your weapon and join your true people…” A shock of frost suddenly left Rivendare’s sword and hit Dathrohan on his chest. Initially, he was taken aback by this twist but when he saw the baron’s reaction, he knew his time had come.

“Once I’m done with you, the rest of your order’s leadership will follow. Soon, you will follow in the footsteps of Uther and Gavinrad… and our king will reign supreme!” Rivendare commanded his steed to charge towards the seemingly falling knight, prepared to deliver the final blow to his enemy. Saidan, however, had different ideas. He had fallen to the ground but only to heal the damage his enemy had caused. When he heard Rivendare starting his attack, he knew his time had come. Suddenly, he rose up and started to run towards the death knight.

“Your king’s slaves will never set a foot in our Bastion again! For Loarderon!” Dathrohan yelled as he swung his hammer towards the skeletal horse’s head, crashing it into a thousand pieces of bone flying around the raging battlefield. The fallen noble himself dropped the ground as his mount disintegrated below him. He rose slowly, turning to face the Grand Crusader once again. His voice dipped with hate and loathing as he started to walk towards the human. Black energies could be seen flying from the mighty runeblade towards the fallen steed as he spoke in a dark voice.

“Deathcharger will rise again, fool. On the bright side, you will rise along with him.” The baron attacked again and the Grand Crusader answered in kind. No quarter or mercy was given as Rivendare’s swiftness and horrifying, dark powers met Saidan’s strength and courage. A blow after blow was exchanged, soon enough bringing the fight to a stalemate. However, that wasn’t to last. The fallen noble soon heard a call which forced him once again change his plan.

“Prepare to answer for your crimes, monster! The Light demands justice!” The voice belonged to Alexandros who was dangerously close to Rivendare’s back. The only way for him to regain control of the fight would be to call Gluth to hold them back, regrettably giving an opening to the crusaders still stationed near the main gate. However, that was the only hope he had at that point.

The Ashbringer radiated with bright power as its wielder headed towards the leader of this horde. However, his and his followers’ charge was soon halted by a sight that would have dispirited any other crusader than the Ashbringer. The massive abomination was quickly moving to hold them away from Rivendare and for a more, Alexandros thought about revising his plan but something within the sword commanded him to go on. The back of his mind echoed the Ashbringer’s demand for blood, his emotions going against the voice of reason. Even then, he knew he had to bring down this enemy. Without it, all would be lost.

However, none of this felt too overwhelming for the Ashbringer. He started running towards the beast, his mind working on overdrive to find the weak spot in the abomination’s terrifying body. The massive undead also started running towards him, the two preparing for the coming confrontation. Alexandros shook in holy rage as he hit at the enemy’s leg, trying to get it off balance. However, the hound didn’t even twitch from the strike and tried to bite Alexandros’ hand off in its stead. The paladin, however, managed to roll away and inflicted a deep wound in the beast’s abdomen. Its counterattack was halted as Malor ran near it, locking it in melee for a few seconds. The abomination, feeling the effect of the many cuts in its body, quickly locked its eyes on another undead and took a few, swift steps towards it. The two paladins looked in disgust as the monstrosity grabbed the ghoul between its jaws and in the next moment, after a sickening crunch, rotting flesh dropped to the ground as the beast swallowed the corpse.

Even then, it was only the next moment that truly shocked the Ashbringer. Bolts of lightning suddenly emanated from the beast’s body, spreading to the paladins around it. Alexandros looked in horror as he was engulfed in the lightning himself. However, it soon disappeared, seemingly leaving him as he were. However, as he tried to raise his holy weapon once again, he felt his strength completely depleted. For a moment, he felt like he couldn’t move a muscle, as if he was unable to continue the fight. He could see a similar condition on his troops and one of them was soon grabbed to the monster’s mouth. The Highlord heard his comrade’s final, horrifying cries as he put his hand on his chest, using all of his remaining power to infuse himself with the most potent blessing of the Light, the Lay on Hands. At this moment, he felt his strength return for a moment and the voice of his comrade being swallowed awoke the final call of retribution within him. The Ashbringer called for the being’s death and Alexandros was more than happy to agree.

The Highlord once again ran towards the abomination, the rage burning in his eyes. The monstrosity was still engaged in a fight with the other crusaders and its movements did little to hold back the attacker. Ashbringer sank into Gluth’s skull but there happened something that not even Alexandros himself had expected. The sword ignited in bright fire, burning its way through the undead. The abomination cried in pain as the sacred fire turned its decaying body into ash. Every paladin seeing the scene looked in awe as the red-bearded man brought down the mighty abomination, the bright fire illuminating the entire square. Gluth tried to shake the paladin off and it turned off from its enemy, finally freeing it from the deadly hit. The monster fled into the depths of the city horribly wounded, leaving the rest of the Scourge in disarray.

“Follow me, brave Scarlet Crusaders! The victory will soon be ours!”

A shocked grin formed under baron Rivendare’s scarf. Had the Highlord truly defeated Gluth, the mightiest construct created in the depths of Naxxramas itself? Was such a thing even possible? If nothing else, the noble knew his battle was finished. All that remained was to flee and try to prove to Kel’Thuzad that the war would still be his. He had underestimated the courage of the Crusade this time but now he knew what he was up against. The Ashbringer had won the fight but without it, the Crusade would be nothing. Rivendare’s voice was mocking as he spoke to Dathrohan for the last time.


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #19 on: October 10, 2017, 11:17:31 AM »
“You surprised me this time but this changes nothing. I will grind your forces to dust if I have to! No one can withstand the power of Rivendare!” The baron mounted his already-reformed Deathcharger and before the Grand Crusader could stop him, rode away from the battlefield, armies of undead safeguarding his flight. Saidan cursed heavily as he realized that both of the biggest living weapons of the Lich King had escaped. The last of the ghouls in the square were either butchered swiftly or in total reatreat but that didn’t change the fact that the none of the knights were dispensable whereas Rivendare could probably sacrifice thousands of its undead without a problem. Even then, this attack had been repelled and one more great story of heroism had been born. He walked towards the Highlord who was still recovering from the electric shock of the canine monster.

“Thank you for your intervention, Alexandros! I wish we could call this a victory but we cannot.” Dathrohan said simply, the disappointment evident in his eyes. Even if he wished to offer his deepest thanks to his followers, this simply wasn’t a situation where it could be done. Mograine seemed even more upset by the conclusion and his voice dipped with bitterness as he looked the crusaders secure the openings into the square.

“This was all a complete waste! Those cowards run the first moment they lost the initiative! I won’t stand for this kind of outrage!” The Ashbringer said as he started to finally realize what this battle meant. The Crusade had been weakened even in victory while Kel’Thuzad’s plan had merely been delayed. Dathrohan knew what this meant. There simply was no time to wait for any longer. The Scarlet offensive would have to start immediately or the knights of the Scarlet Bastion would be leeched slowly but surely and the Grand Crusader wasn’t about to let his followers face a slow death. He was about to answer when he heard Abbendis’ voice nearby.

“It’s… it’s over! How did you beat back the giant abomination?” The High General asked in astonishment, for a moment even fearing that the Bastion would be lost once again. Alexandros looked at him in weary eyes as he answered.

“There’s nothing we cannot do if the Light is with us, Abbendis. You should know it by now. However, wounding that monster means nothing if we cannot strike at the heart of all this. Kel’Thuzad must pay for his crimes.” As if as an answer to the Highlord’s comment, the three leaders could see giant drops of slime fall from high above them. Their gazes turned upwards, towards the giant necropolis in the middle of the sickly, orange sky. The citadel of the Lich Lord of the Plaguelands was their true prize as without vanquishing it, Stratholme would never be free from Kel’Thuzad’s grip. The flying fortress was the heart and symbol of the Scourge in this land and right now, none of three men could even start to think about what kind of monsters were being created in its cursed halls. Assaulting Naxxramas itself would likely be a suicide but it was a necessity soon enough. Each of three knew leading the assault could fall on them in time. For now, there were other things that would have to be addressed, however.

“Let’s return inside. Whether or not Tyr’s Hand and Light’s Hope are ready, our attack will begin tomorrow.” With a loathing face, Saidan glanced at Naxxramas for the last time before heading towards the Scarlet Bastion in deep worry. He was followed by his two officers closely, each of them knowing that the true strength of the Crusade would very soon be revealed.

After a rather long wait, this story has finally been updated. The brief period of relative peace has ended abruptly and it won't spell good for Osran's efforts to influence the leadership of Tyr's Hand or to the young cadets' training. The coming battle will be anything but easy and its success is far from guaranteed. I hope you enjoyed this chapter and see you next time!