Author Topic: Under the Scarlet Banner  (Read 6016 times)

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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #20 on: October 29, 2017, 10:17:25 AM »
The Breaking Point of Mutual Trust

Flickers of doubt and excitement rushed through Carethas’ mind as he followed Osran to the next training field along with his remaining fellow cadets. It was still a shock for him to see over half of his comrades failing in the first test, not least because he had expected to be a mediocre fighter at best. Now he had proceeded further than most of the considerably stronger and determined-looking recruits. Not only that but he had also shown the promise of becoming a paladin one, a prospect he had never even dreamed of. Still, the deep wounds in his body still sent shivers of pain flowing through his body which caused him to grit his teeth in discomfort. Even then, it was more than likely that he’d have to fight for hours with far worse injuries in a real battle. It was no use thinking about that.

The small group stopped near another barrack near the northern mountain range sheltering Tyr’s Hand. To the cadets’ slight relief, there didn’t seem to be anymore dog cages or anything else that seemed too vicious. However, they seemed somewhat puzzled as three new people arrived to the scene soon, their red cloaks revealing them to be priests of the Crusade. The recruits looked at the newcomers in puzzlement and waited for Osran to begin speaking again. Each of them had developed a certain level of trust to the crusader due to his simultaneous mercilessness and righteous guiding during the first test. The knight put his hands behind his back when he started to speak again.

“My deepest appreciation for your presence, brothers. I’m honored to see you coming to test these new cadets in their quest to learn to deal the mortal blow to the enemy.” Osran bowed to the trio briefly and they returned the gesture. Carethas looked at the scene in puzzlement, not realizing how these priests could ever offer any real resemblance to the ghouls or skeletons. The cadets looked at the newcomers in honoring looks when Osran continued to speak.

“Those two of you who have showed to be master the Light won’t partake in this test. You will follow me after I’ve told what the rest of you will do. These three good priests are here to test your fortitude and willingness to fight until the end. You might wonder what these servants of the Light might be able to teach you. Be so kind and show them.” Osran said to the priests who realized what he meant. The recruits looked in astonishment as the trio cast streams of pure Light before themselves which seemed to slowly form into something new. Before their eyes, the bright glow turned into flying ghost-like creatures with clear heads and hands. They had never seen anything like this and they simply stared in awe. Their instructor, however, broke the silence almost immediately.

“These creatures are called the lightspawn and they are beings of pure Light. Not many priests can summon them but they are extremely potent and useful servants in battle. In a real fight, you wouldn’t stand a chance against them. But this time, they will serve as your opponents. The priests will hold them back while you have to prove you have what it takes to take a lightspawn down. You won’t be able to kill them but you will be told when you are doing the fighting well. These priests know a good fighter once they see one and they have my utmost trust to train you with efficiency and honor. However, I’ll leave you here for some time now. I’ll have to try to teach these two how to begin the long road to master their strength. Is everything clear?” The paladin said to the recruits, regretting that he’d have to leave these cadets here but he had to put his full attention to begin training these two potential paladins. One of the priests nodded shortly and answered to Osran.

“It’s clear, crusader Lowriver. We’ll take it from here.” The man said to Osran who addressed the recruits one more time before turning on his heels.

“We’ll try to return in an hour to see how you’re doing. Remember, the only person who’ll benefit from doing your best is yourselves. Best of luck to all of you.” The aging crusader said as he looked at the two younger men who begun to follow him briefly. Carethas looked at the other potential paladin, not remembering if he had heard his name ever before. He seemed unusually weak and short but even Carethas could see that his mind was determined and resilient. He knew that the other man could cause surprises soon enough. The two followed Osran inside another barrack nearby where they stopped inside a rather large training room. The crusader turned to his followers and addressed them once, more this time in a more personal, friendly manner than before.

“You two have shown that you have what it takes to become real paladins. I can help you to learn to master the Light but it is you who will do the real work in the coming months. What are your names?” The paladin asked in a friendly voice, an awkward thought lingering in the back of his mind. The other man seemed familiar but he simply couldn’t remember where he had seen him. Osran had met thousands of people during his life and he couldn’t remember everyone. I will remember once I hear his name. I just hope he isn’t anyone truly important.

“My name is Iren Highfield, sir. I’m from the village of Streamlea which was recently overrun by the undead. I’m honored by this chance to learn from you, crusader Lowriver.” The bald man said as he spoke to the paladin. His voice was low and revering. It was clear that he had the makings of a real servant of the Light. Osran nodded to him acceptingly before turning is gaze to the other cadet. Carethas knew this was the time to reveal his identity and he could only hope Osran didn’t remember him in a bad light.

“My name is Carethas Yrendel, I fought with you in Barrowhome six weeks ago, master Lowriver. It is an honor to meet you again.” Osran nearly flinched as he remembered the young man’s face as he spoke. How could he have forgotten the courageous farmer who had most likely saved his life during that dark hour? Osran knew he could be excused for this forgetfulness but he knew Carethas deserved better after that day. Still, it wasn’t his place to show any real attention to him as he had two trainees who needed real guidance.

“Oh yes, I remember now. I’m honored to have you here today but you will have to work as hard as anyone else. Now then, let’s get to the business. Highfield, sent a wave of Light towards me. Show that you are capable to master the true essence of the Light!” The knight said as he pointed his sword towards the cadet. Iren was clearly taken aback by this development, not expecting such a stern and sudden command. He looked at Osran for a moment, seeing that his hard look didn’t ask for any disagreement. The younger man would have liked to say something to give him more time but he knew it would be futile.

Slowly, Iren stretched his hand forward, trying to remember with all his might how he had summoned the power against the dogs. It had come as if by itself, without further thought, and now, he didn’t seem to have the slightest of ideas on how to do it. He would have wanted to sink through the floor when Osran’s penetrating eyes gazed through him and Carethas’ somewhat amused stare accompanied his efforts to shake his hands and concentrate his thoughts on what he was doing. Still, seconds passed and the only reward he received was the deepening of the awkward silence in the room.

Just as Iren was about to give up, something unexpected happened. Suddenly, Osran started to walk towards him and pulled his sword from its scabbard. The cadet looked at him in puzzlement, not knowing what he was up to. There flamed a burning fire in the aging paladin’s eyes as he approached young man. Iren didn’t know what to do until he felt Osran’s sword slice through his chest, cutting a deep wound into his flesh. He looked at the knight in shock, seeing that only cruelty and sternness lived in Osran’s eyes. They were accompanied by a cold voice.

“Defend yourself, weakling! Fight or fall!” With terrified expression, Iren started to fumble his own scabbard, pulling his sword out in rising alarm. Had his instructor completely lost his mind? Why on earth was he attacking him with this severity? Still, as if in trance, the younger man started to defend himself but all too soon, he realized he was absolutely no match for Osran. The older man dealt blow after blow on Iren and slowly but surely, his stance and position grew increasingly awkward. On his fifth hit, Osran finally dealt the decisive blow, sending Iren’s sword flying into the left corner near the younger man.

At this point, Iren would have wanted to beg for mercy but Osran’s murderous eyes showed there was no mercy to be gained. The older knight pressed the cadet against the wall, putting his sword against his neck. Slowly, ever so agonizingly slowly, the knight started to slice his throat open, small trickles of blood starting to appear on the sword. At this point, Iren’s movements turned into desperate struggles he felt Osran’s sword sink ever deeper into his throat and his whole chest feeling the dropping blood. At this point, it happened. The older man suddenly felt an unseen power hitting his body but he managed to dispel it before it got any worse. Still, Osran answered with a sharp snarl.

“Do it again, now! Don’t hold anything back!” Suddenly, the radiating Light around the wounded cadet started to grow quickly larger, filling Osran’s eyes with the glowing power. He took a few steps backwards and yelled loudly.

“Now, direct it towards me! Do it will all your might!” Iren was growing increasingly weak by the increasing blood loss but even through his mental and physical fatigue, a beam of Light flew towards the trainer. Osran absorbed the incoming Light with his ease, looking in appreciation as Iren collapsed to his knees, panting heavily and looking in shock as his hands turned red as he touched his wounded throat. Osran walked to his side and, the injuries closed out as they had done after the first test. Iren was alarmed by Osran’s presence but he was too weak to even protest it at this point. He was shocked to hear Osran’s earlier, much calmer voice to speak to him.

“Do you now see how you do it? Did you think about what you were doing when I commanded you to attack me?” Osran looked at the cadet in an asking look, the earlier murderous stare gone but the stern, demanding look remained. The younger man panted as he answered to his trainer.

“I… I don’t know. I tried to stay on my feet and when you commanded me to attack you… I think I did it only because of fear. I feared to fail here and let my beloved home unavenged. But… I’m not sure if I can do it again. Sir… is there no other way to do this training?” The man asked pleadingly, knowing his question would have no impact on the paladin’s training methods but he couldn’t fight his fears anymore. First the hounds had ripped off half of his thigh to shreds and wounded his abdomen and now Osran had literally sliced his throat open. The crusader’s stern look told all that he had to know but his words only reinforced the impression of Osran’s resolution.

“I wasn’t the one assigned to take care of your training but I was asked to act as his substitute here. I don’t know what would have waited you if another knight had been here to guide you. I know what you think about me but I simply try to show you what you are going to face very soon. Make no mistake, Highfield, the ghouls will tear your whole body to shreds and they will completely obliterate your whole neck. And if that is what I must do to awake your real strength as a lesson to you, I will do it. Don’t forget that you’re always welcome to leave for our farms but you both answered to Scarlet Protector Redpath that you’re worthy to become knights of the Scarlet Crusade? Was he wrong?” Osran asked in a completely calm voice as he eyed his two apprentices in a wondering look. Iren and Carethas exchanged worried looks but they answered simultaneously to the question.

“No, sir. I will see this to the end.” The two said, surprised to hear each other answer with identical answers. Osran looked at them in an unreadable expression as he walked silently towards Carethas. The younger man looked at his trainer in worry as he started to speak.

“Then what about you, Carethas? I’ve seen you in a real fight but do you have the courage to the next step in your path to join us? There are no easy ways to learn the skills you need to survive and I cannot decide if you are strong enough.” Osran said as he walked to the younger man who nodded to him in clear determination. The paladin sighed as he looked at the two cadets but he knew that it was his duty to see that they’d get all the training they needed. He then moved to the middle of the two and gave the next orders for them.

“Well then, the only way to learn to use the Light is to face a threatening situation, one that will take all of your skill and courage. I wouldn’t be a good challenge to either of you so I suggest that you fight against each other as it is the only way you may even begin to understand the qualities to command the Light. Granted, there are other ways to do it but with the schedule we have, they are mere curiosities. Give your all to this fight and I’ll tell what you are doing right. Are you ready?” The two recruits looked somewhat relieved that they wouldn’t have to face Osran himself in duel anymore but fighting against each other wasn’t something they waited eagerly either. Still, they were ready to give their all to learn the skills they needed. Osran looked at them and said sharply.

“Start the fight! Give no quarter!” The crusader said and immediately the cadets’ swords clashed against each other, Carethas being slightly overpowered in first clash. He took a few steps backwards to which Iren took two steps forward. A serious mistake as Carethas managed to punish him for his too brave advance. He quickly hit the other cadet with the side of his sword, sending him back and inflicting a wound on his hand. Then Carethas did the same mistake, which Iren didn’t manage to punish as effectively. Still the fight was far from decided.

The two continued to trade blows to each other but they managed to only make Osran cringe at the novice-like mistakes the cadets did continuously, deeply lamenting that he simply didn’t have any chance to teach them any skill with the sword. They had a lot to learn in that realm as well if they wished to ever join the Crusade as its real members. Still, the aging knight was pleased to see that the two gave their all to this sparring match. No mercy or reprieve was given and Osran could see that all of their attention had been directed to the foe before them. Still, any signs of the Light was still absent in the fight and especially Carethas seemed quite concentrated on ordinary battle tactics which prompted Osran to yell sternly.

“Stop the tricks with the sword, Yrendel! Even if you could do them properly, remember what this match is all about!”

Those words shocked Carethas as he realized that Osran was right. He had forgotten that he had little chance of impressing anyone with his skill and he hadn’t given a thought on how he was planning to call the Light to his side. If he could remember correctly, he had felt like he was passing due to the immense pain out the first time he had managed to use the holy power. Yet, there was something familiar in that feeling. He had been completely focused on destroying the hounds that were intent on killing him on the spot. Maybe complete disregard for what he was doing and simply focusing on his opponent would help?

The other fighter, Iren, could see that Osran’s advice seemed to have had a clear effect on how Carethas was approaching this match. His movements had become slower but more determined than before, and his intent had clearly turned more hostile. Some kind of mental abstention radiated from his eyes and Iren was growing increasingly worried by the turn of events. Still, Osran’s words were most likely directed on him as well. Iren, too, had mostly focused on staying safe in the face of his earlier beatings by the hounds and Osran. He hadn’t given a thought on how he had used the Light earlier. It had come by itself when Osran had threatened him but on deeper thought, her had always managed to utilize his gift when the threat to his life was the greatest. Perhaps it had something to do with the feeling of danger?

Osran was more than happy to see that his words had awakened some deep thoughts in the duo and that they had finally started to really think what using the Light was all about. He looked in some relief as Carethas charged towards his opponent, throwing away the earlier hesitation. Even the aging crusader was thrown back by the ferocity of the attack. Carethas hit his opponent’s sword from his hand and cutting a long wound on his hand. However, it was only when Iren tried to regain his weapon and Carethas started his next attack, ready to beat his opponent in this moment of glory. It was at this moment when he realized that his sword started to blaze once again and heard the song of the battle in his ears. Carethas was more than happy to see that he had managed to recall his powers in this manner, proving his capability to wield his strength in this way. He was prepared to force Iren to surrender… until the other man managed to get his sword and parry the hit at the final moment.

However, that brief save didn’t shield Iren for long. Carethas’ hit bypassed his defense and his weapon sank into the other man’s shoulder. However, the other man wasn’t done just yet. He could feel the calmness conquer his mind, and in complete serenity in the middle of the battle, the Light started to engulf the weapon that was still buried in his flesh and in shock even to the cadet himself, the pain left his chest immediately. It was if it had been healed… but Osran hadn’t moved a finger during the whole fight. But… he couldn’t have possibly done it, could he? The duo’s mutual surprise was interrupted by their trainer’s voice behind them.

“Well done, both of you! While I could say a lot about your handlings of the sword, the most important thing here is that you got the grasp of what you are doing with the Light. Not only did you manage to use it without absolute danger but you also showed your strengths in handling this gift.” The crusader said in a cryptic voice, prompting asking looks from the two younger men. They didn’t seem to be the least of idea what Osran was getting at but Carethas asked him with an unsure voice.

“Do… do you mean… that this one fight showed what we can do with the Light and what we cannot?” The former villager asked from the knight who looked at him in a judging look.

“You can learn to master all parts of this power in due time but for now, yes, it does show where you should start your training. You seemed to excel in using the Light to take the fight to the enemy and in trying to vanquish your foe. All the while, Iren, you managed to keep your calm and undo your wounds using the holy power you carry. You are more fit to heal the others’ injuries and bless your comrades in the midst of the battle. You both have clear gifts in these arts and I’m sure you’ll use them for the good of the order. Now…” At this point, Osran words were interrupted by a female voice from the door of the room. She was a trusted courier, one of those who were honored enough to carry the messages between the leaders of the city. The aging knight was immediately taken aback by this as her presence seemed to indicate that something was wrong.

“Crimson Legionary Lowriver! The Crusader Lord demands your presence in the fortress immediately!” The woman called to Osran who frowned deeply at this interruption. Not only was he disappointed to have his training session cancelled because of this development but he was also worried about the reason of this meeting. Had Valdemar learned about his mission from Redpath? The paladin felt his mind run cold at the thought but he knew he had no choice. He had to attend
the meeting and see what was wrong. It was highly unlikely that he had been revealed just yet.

“Thank you for the message. As for you two, I’m terribly sorry by this interruption but I’m required elsewhere. I’ll see if I can return at some point but for now, just continue to hone your skill with the Light. Do whatever helps you to develop those skills. You will need them soon enough.” Not waiting for an answer from the duo, Osran followed the courier to the meeting, deeply hoping that the worst possibility wouldn’t come to pass.

None of the officers present were happy to have another meeting called only hours after the conclusion of the last one but the situation simply called for it. Valdemar had received another letter from Stratholme and its contents were far from what the Crusader Lord would have wanted. His face was the mask of outrage, deeply insulted by the Grand Crusader’s newest order. Just as he had thought he had known what Dathrohan was after came another, even more crushing order. He was being told to assemble his troops again and to take Corin’s Crossing the very next day! Who did the Grand Crusader he was?

The Crusader Lord rubbed the corner of his eye as he waited for his officers to arrive. He had heard Redpath wouldn’t be attending this time but it seemed like most of the others would. Demetria was already in the room as was Brigitte Abbendis who Dathrohan had sent along with the courier. Her presence brought another concern to Valdemar who was increasingly being tested by the autocratic Grand Crusader. Had he sent the younger Abbendis to spy on him or to give him orders? Daughter of the High General or not, she would have to stay away from his path or answer to him personally.

Another person present was a former noble who had ruled over the former county of Northern Darrowmere bordering the lost lands of Quel’Thalas. Nicholas Zverenhoff still liked to be referred to as duke, a favor which most of his comrades, including Valdemar, were more than happy to provide him. He had been a major ally to Valdemar who had wished to continue their old alliance even after Nicholas’ domain had crumbled under the horde of the Scourge and he was another commander of Tyr’s Hand these days. That left only Osran who had earned the right to attend these meeting due to his new promotion. Valdemar had been surprised to hear that he had seemingly taken training the new recruits to his shoulders. Valdemar smiled at his old friend’s fortitude but the earlier meeting with him still bothered him. Osran had seemed extremely odd earlier, almost too eager to show his support to his cause. He had seemed very unnatural back then and Valdemar had to wonder what had been wrong back then. The Crusader’s Lord gaze rose up from the tale when he heard the door open and Osran walk in to the room.

“My greetings to all of you. Am I late?” Osran asked in a steady voice, more than realizing that his cards would be abysmal if anyone suspected him of working against the city’s mater. To his relief, nothing among those attending seemed to implicate anything like that. He was extremely relieved to hear Nicholas answer to his in his usual low voice.

“We were waiting for you, Lowriver. Sit down so we may start.” The former duke said in an impatient voice, seemingly worried about Valdemar’s invitation. None of those in the room knew anything about this instance and they waited eagerly to hear the explanation. Valdemar looked at his officers with a long and serious stare before he relieve their curiosity.

“My honored officers, I’ve invited you here to tell about yet another overstepping of Dathrohan’s authority. Without further words, he ordered us to take Corin’s Crossing TOMORROW! Doesn’t he realize that we are simply not ready! I have every right to decline this order!” The Crusader Lord hit his fist to the table as a gesture of his outrage. At this point, most of his respect to the Grand Crusader were vanishing at a rapid rate. In his mind, even pulling out from the Crusade didn’t seem like an impossible idea. Id Dathrohan wasn’t ready to cooperate, then all hopes of a meaningful war machine would be vanquished. The other leaders assembled looked at Valdemar in surprise, Zverenhoff being the first to open his mouth.

“I agree! We have to pull the line here and now! We cannot let that bastard overstep his authority at our expense. If this is how the Crusade works, I want nothing to do with it!” The noble said, clearly behind his words. He had been a close ally and supporter to the Crusader Lord and he knew how this kind of overstepping by the Grand crusader must feel for another proud lord. However, the meeting grew considerably more tense after the next speaker. Brigitte Abbendis made her presence known in an unusually diplomatic way but it was still enough to take the situation further towards an all-out fight.

“If this is how your city works, we will never stand a chance! I know you have your own ideas on how we should proceed but this for the good of all of us. I hope you can see that without Tyr’s Hand’s participation, Lordaeron is as good as lost!” The younger Abbendis said in a steady voice, willing to advance her cause without taking the situation further towards confrontation. She wasn’t prepared to compromise in any way but even she knew that there was no use in provoking the others too much too quickly. However, she was very disappointed as she heard the next answer.

“Then it is with an even better reason that Dathrohan sticks to his promises! Does he seriously think he can say anything and expect me to follow him like a damned dog? As I said, that won’t happen and I’m not about to agree to this outrage. Tell the Grand Crusader to make a better offer or he’ll have to do without Tyr’s Hand’s help!” At this point, it clear that the situation was reaching dangerous levels of tension but none of the others wished to partake in the duo’s fight just yet. Abbendis looked at Valdemar in clear disappointment and she answered immediately.

“If you think you are too good to obey the Grand Crusader, you’re terribly mistaken, Crusader Lord. Dathrohan sent me here to make sure that everything goes according to plan and I’m planning to see it to the end! I’ll tell it right now that pulling out of this campaign isn’t an option!”” These words brought momentary silence to the hall as Valdemar thought about the younger Abbendis’ words. Had she just claimed he had no right to rule this city in any way? Had she just said what he had feared all along? Valdemar rose up from his chair as he yelled to his guest.

“You have no right to command me, girl! If you think you are the leader here, I ask you to leave immediately! I won’t allow anyone to steal my city from me, not Dathrohan and not you! This is my domain and no one, not even Abbendis’ daughter, will change that fact!” The Crusader Lord yelled in a loud voice, silencing everyone else present but Abbendis. Osran looked at the duo in fear, hoping that this meeting wouldn’t escalate much further. The younger leader belonged to the Crimson Legion and he knew his duty lied with her but he certainly didn’t want to stand up to Valdemar like this. It simply wasn’t something he wanted to do. The paladin looked in concern as Abbendis answered to Valdemar’s comment.

“Steal your city? Why would I do it when I have the Grand Crusader’s authority to make his will known here! As always, you will be leading these troops but we cannot negotiate about launching the attack! The future of Scarlet Bastion is at stake here and your pride won’t strip us from our holy sanctuary and our homeland!” Brigitte said in a loud voice, earning another hateful glance from Valdemar. Nicholas was about to answer but Osran was first. The aging paladin wished to make his stance clear before letting the situation go too far. He tried to sound as polite as he only could but he could feel the poisonous atmosphere tangibly as he spoke.

“With all due respect, younger general Abbendis, Tyr’s Hand will stand behind its lord as it always has. However, I trust that Dathrohan isn’t pulling us by the strings as he wills. We expect a more reasonable offer from him than mere direct orders. This isn’t a mutiny but a righteous request.” Osran cringed as he spoke, fearing he was giving too much away to Valdemar in this situation. Brigitte’s expression confirmed his fears but neither was Valdemar happy with his old friend’s words. He had expected more support from him, not any vague statements calling for negotiations at this point. Still, the female looked at Osran with an odd look before he answered.

“His first and only proposal is more than fair to everyone here. As I said, we have no will to overthrow you, honored Crusader Lord, but we expect you to follow our lead. Dathrohan simply cannot begin asking his officers about these kinds of decisions. You must understand it yourself and I know you must understand our stance. This matter isn’t up for debate!” Abbendis said in a storming voice. However, it wasn’t received well by Nicholas.

“As isn’t our position here! It is futile for you to think that we can be manipulated to give up the rights we were promised! How stupid you think we are?” The noble asked in a toxic voice, knowing that he had a point. Valdemar nodded to him before continuing where he left.

“Exactly. These kinds of arrangements would never end in our favor. Yes, I understand that Dathrohan needs to do tough decisions but not this clearly on our expense! His requests are purely outrageous! I could n…” At this point, the Crusader Lord’s words interrupted by a pained voice. Osran decided to interrupt his old friend’s words as he looked at him in clear resolution.

“And if we decline, what then? The last Light-blessed district of Stratholme falls and hundreds of our comrades will be slaughtered! What’s even worse, we could become enemies of the Crusade and a conflict between us would be a blessing to the Lich King! That cannot be allowed to happen!” The knight hated himself for saying those words but he had as little personal options here as Tyr’s Hand had in regard to the Crusade. Valdemar looked at Osran in shock, his eyes communicating deep betrayal. He was about to answer when Demetria joined Osran in his stance.

“Our fate is tied to that of Lordaeron, my lord. No matter what, we cannot leave it as point. It is the Light’s will and demand.” The priestess said in a silent but steady voice. Valdemar looked at her and Osran for a long time, not willing to believe what he was just hearing. Were two of his most trusted officers really standing against him?

“You two… are you seriously suggesting me to back down? Should I bow before this child and give up the city we have built for years? Is that what you want?” The lord retorted sharply, willing to get to the bottom of this. At this point, he wanted nothing but the pure truth, not any kinds of circumlocutions. Demetria’s answer confirmed his worst fears.

“The Grand Inquisitor, the head of our Church, has called us to this order and I have no choice but to trust him. You have my utmost respect, lord Valdemar, but this is a holy cause.” The priestess said in a surprisingly clear manner which chilled Osran to the bone. Before he could give his answer, Nicholas’ cry caught the attention of everyone in the room.

“How can you say that, Demetria? You haven’t met Isillien in ages and you have never served him! Valdemar is much more worthy of our loyalty than some priest who hasn’t visited here since the War! Osran, tell me that at you know what is the right thing to do here!” The former duke said in a stunned and increasingly unbelieving voice. Osran cringed heavily as he spoke. He wanted to continue his balancing act but at this point, he realized it would be far from easy. With forced words, he started to speak.

“We have to confront Dathrohan for this later but as things stand now, there’s only one way to go. We must follow Abbendis’ orders for now!” The knight knew these words would only polarize the meeting further but he said the only thing he could. However, it turned out soon that it wasn’t enough. Valdemar looked at the two in shock, realizing that Dathrohan’s conspiracy against him was moving on full speed. His words started in a restrained manner but they grew ever more raged as he continued to speak.

“I see how it is… After all this time… my old friends and comrades wish me to give up my city, your home? I’ve led it for decades with wisdom and strength and I always thought I had the backing of all of its inhabitants. Have you two really plotted against my back to surrender Tyr’s Hand to outsiders on Dathrohan’s behalf? Have I really been deceived this badly?” The Crusader Lord’s hands shook as he looked at the gathered crusaders around him. He simply couldn’t believe that the two would ever rise against him but here they were, ready to side with this outsider and plotter against him, their real Lord. His mind was already seething when he heard Osran speak to him once again.

“Please understand, Valdemar! None of us want to see it but we have to think beyond our pride! We simply have no choice but this to beat the Scourge!” Osran pleaded with a desperate voice, trying to show how much he believed in his own words. The aging knight knew that his chances of changing the mind of the stubborn lord were dwindling fast but even through all this, Valdemar was walking to his own doom and he was apparently trying to take down the whole Tyr’s Hand with him. Osran knew it was his duty to try to steer him away from this disastrous path, no matter how unlikely that endeavor would be. However, it was Nicholas who was the first to answer to Osran’s words.

“We survived for years without any pompous Crusade and we can do just well without it, Lowriver, and you know it! There’s no…” At this point Valdemar rose to stand, seemingly forgetting all restraint as he opened his mouth. It was painfully clear to everyone involved that Valdemar was beyond offended by his comrades’ decisions and his voice thundered with uncontained rage.

“All my life I have worked to safeguard Lordaeron and its remains, trying to earn my position with hard work and undying dedication to my followers. I have worked my way up to the position of a lord from a lonely peasant and I’m not planning to give it all up because some upstart demands it! On top of all this, one of my most trusted comrades and the head of Tyr’s Hand’s church have risen against me! Get away from here, all of you! I will announce this city’s withdrawal from the Crusade this evening and I will show that joke of a Grand Crusader what I think of his dictates!” The Crusader Lord yelled to the attendees, his whole body trembling with hatred and disgust at the people before him. These people he had once called his allies were in truth traitors and nothing they could say would prove it otherwise. However, the tension was only upped by another answer, this time from the younger Abbendis.

“You know what this means, don’t you Lord Valdemar? No one leaves the Crusade at this point without a price! You are a traitor to humanity and a lowly outcast! Mark my words, your reign here won’t be a long one!” Abbendis said in a calm yet enraged voice. The situation in the room didn’t stay silent for long after that statement as Valdemar’s toxic-dipping voice answered to her.

“You may try, cowards! Leave my city immediately or I’ll send you to Dathrohan without a head! Go, now!” Dathrohan hit his fist to the table as a gesture of his resolution and slowly and with concerned looks, all those assembled rose up, looking at each other in either confusion or in loathing. Abbendis’ gestures communicated deep anger before anything else and it was clear to everyone that she had meant these last words. Demetria’s unsure steps and worried look gave away her extremely conflicted mind while Nicholas’ utmost feeling seemed to be that of loathing. Loathing at the two officers who had come here to oppose their honored master and their benefactor from countless years.

Osran, however, was horrified by this sudden and unexpected escalation. Had Valdemar actually just announced his decision to withdraw from the Crusade? The knight felt like he was floating in nothingness as he approached the door. His task of keeping the situation in the city had failed horribly and as a consequence, a n easily-exploding conflict was about to be born between the Crusade and the largest remaining human city in Lordaeron.

And what about himself? He wouldn’t be able to stay in the city without revealing the entirety of his deeds to Valdemar, potentially earning him a death sentence from both Dathrohan and Valdemar while weakening the Crusade’s command structure even further. if this was what Valdemar had claimed, he would have to leave the city along with all of the forces still loyal to the Crusade. Horrific images flowed by Osran’s eyes as he exited the room. However, his thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a hand which quickly put a small piece of paper to his hand. Even in this hurry, Osran could see that it had been the younger Abbendis whose hand had left the message. The knight quickly looked at the message before anyone else could see anything odd in his behavior. The knight frowned slightly as he read the brief request from the general.

Meet me in the second floor of the abbey in ten minutes, Crimson Legionary. We have a few things
to discuss.


Osran looked at the message in worry, knowing Abbendis’ loyalties to lie purely with the leadership of the Scarlet Bastion. The knight knew his own situation didn’t differ from hers as much but she was an outsider. She hadn’t felt the solidarity that had lived in Tyr’s hand before the first letter from Dathrohan and she didn’t bear a personal attachment to the city. And worst of all, Valdemar was merely a pawn to her, one small piece on the board of the Crusade that could be sacrificed for the greater good. Still, the knight knew he had no choice but to abide by her command. With unsure and forced steps, Osran set out for city’s great abbey.

The massive building was dimly-lighted even in the middle of the day and even if it was very modest in comparison to the cathedral and Scarlet Monastery, it was still an impressive sight and the humble home of the city’s priests. To his personal regret, Osran hadn’t visited the abbey many times but he could still guess the place where Abbendis would likely wish to meet him. The aging paladin rose the steep stairs to the second floor and headed towards one of the corridors filled with candelabrum’s and beautifully-painted windows everywhere. There were tens of doors in the corridor but to his relief, he could see that Abbendis was waiting for him already in the hallway itself. To his increasing regret, he could see that Abbendis seemed far from amused by the situation. it was she who opened the conversation.

“At least you came on time. I had feared these traitors had taken a toll on your loyalty as well, Lowriver.” The general’s voice dipped with poison and Osran could see burning rage in her eyes. Still, even in this situation, Osran wasn’t planning to completely throw away his own caution and critical thinking. Osran’s voice was calmer but just as resolute as he answered.

“This is all just a terrible misunderstanding, general Abbendis! Valdemar is a great man and a noble leader and we simply cannot discard him just yet! He’s the only one this city listens to!” Osran sizzled as he tried to calm himself and to make his stance clear to the younger leader. Abbendis frowned at those words and she answered briefly.

“He just announced he’ll leave the Crusade! That is an utmost treason and it has to be punished with death! We cannot allow any city to leave us at this point, especially Tyr’s Hand!” The woman answered quickly, prompting an increasingly uncomfortable expression from the older paladin.

“If we kill Valdemar, at least half of this city will be up in arms against the Grand Crusader! He’s the only thing gathering all of our loyalties and hopes together! He’s the only master most of this city has seen and only he has enough respect to lead the knights here!” Osran said pleadingly, knowing Abbendis was his superior and she could force her point if things ever got that far. However, it was the next words that chilled Osran even further than anything he had heard today.

“That is where you prove you’re still a novice among us, Lowriver. I guess you think Valdemar is an important leader in the Crusade, don’t you? Well, let me tell you something important about the Crimson Legion. We are the Grand Crusader’s chosen, the only ones who he or his closest friends trust. We are the ones who get his commands and we are the ones who execute them. The actual command structure of our order isn’t exactly the same as the official one.” Abbendis concluded as Osran’s mind started to register her words. Was the whole promise to Valdemar a mere lie from the beginning? Did Dathrohan never even intend to hold on to his bargain? Had his old friend only been Dathrohan’s pawn all along? The situation dawned slowly on him and the knight was far from happy about this development.

“But… that’s a complete outrage! We have to trust each other if we are going to beat the Scourge! The Crusade can’t be led by a secret group that’s unknown to the common soldier! Even the Horde had its own secret leadership, the Shadow Council! If we follow in their footsteps, how can we ever claim to be better than the orcs?” Osran said in a higher but still restrained voice to Abbendis who looked at him in growing disapproval.

“Snap out of those dreams, Lowriver! You’ve seen it yourself how the servants of the Lich King and the Banshee Queen have penetrated our ranks and how hard it is to measure which peasants are infected with the Plague and which ones aren’t! The Crimson Legion’s true creed is a secret because of that very reason! As long as we are a secret to our comrades, we will be a secret to our enemies as well! Also, Dathrohan can’t lead us if we, his hand, won’t obey him without question. The Crusade needs a secure and flexible core which is protected from all vile influences!” The woman spoke quickly in an annoyed voice, prompting another determined answer from Osran.

“That may be but we can’t lay down our whole fate on his shoulders! I know Dathrohan’s feats but he’s still only one man and capable of mistakes! Can’t you see that his absolute rule will only lead to further conflicts with the nobles and lower our morale? We will get rid of each and every traitor but Valdemar or the other leaders aren’t asking too much!” The aging paladin said, prompting a disappointed look from Abbendis. She took a long breath before she answered to this outburst.

“You still don’t get it? This city is the only one who causes us problems! Whitemane has already pledged herself to us, Taelan is too stupid or naÔve to realize he’s being manipulated and Light’s Hope lacks any real leader who could bargain with us! Valdemar has been a thorn on the Crusade’s side for too long and we aren’t going to do compromises because of one man!” Abbendis said to the man who seemed increasingly fatigued by this argument. He was surprised to hear how easily the other cities had pledged themselves to Dathrohan’s direct service. Osran knew his hand was getting rather empty here.

“Very well. I can see that this thing has already been decided but even then, we have to hold on to Valdemar. I think there might be a way we could get him to cooperate with us. Mark my words, even if we could stage a coup d’Ètat here, things wouldn’t be easy. Too many things depend on him.” Osran regained his composure as he tried to calm down. He was treading on dangerous waters and earning the general’s hostility would do very little to help him in the long run. Abbendis was happy to see Osran backing down from his initial argument but she could still see Osran was clinging to his rather strongly. Still, she decided to give him a chance.

“The Grand Inquisitor put a lot of faith on you when he invited you to join the Legion. I trust you are worthy of that honor. Tell me what you plan on doing.” It was clear that Abbendis was far from convinced but Osran was happy to see that it was possible to find a middle ground with her. Osran put his hand on his scabbard as he begun to speak.

“Valdemar may be proud and stubborn but he’s not stupid. As long as his announcements are not made public, he still has a chance to back down. Even if the meeting was far from helpful, I think there is still a chance he would listen to me if I place my words right. But that means I’ll have to tell him the truth about my new charge and about the necessity of the situation. And I think there’s still one more thing working in our favor if all else fails: the one thing Valdemar fears is losing everything he has earned in his long years of service: this city. We may be able to convince him even that way if we make our case clear enough. This is a long shot but the Crusader Lord has earned a second chance.” The determination and strength in Osran’s words seemed to change something Abbendis’ composure as she pondered he older knight’s words. They seemed genuine and even if it contained a huge risk of leaking important information, Abbendis was beginning to believe in the benefits of a softer approach in containing the rebellious lord.

“Very well, Lowriver. I trust in your judgement but don’t think I’ll simply think I’ll trust in your trustworthiness just yet. I’ll take a few of my soldiers around the meeting place and if he won’t see things our way, we’ll show no mercy to the traitor. Is that clear?” The younger crusader asked in a slow voice, willing to make her point as clear as possible. Osran felt his fears rise immediately at her words, knowing that this was it. As if on accident, he had recently given up so much of his past and honor and if he would be forced to slay his old friend, nothing would remain of the Osran who had served Tyr’s Hand without selfish thoughts or doubts about his loyalties. On his stead would appear a cunning, murderous agent of the Grand Crusader who could never again call himself a servant of the Light and all that was good in Azeroth. That thought sickened the knight to the bone but he was relieved he had been given a chance to avoid that grisly future. He could only hope he’d be able to take it.

“It is, general Abbendis. Gather your soldiers and meet me near the central keep in half an hour. There’s one thing I’d like to do before we begin.” Osran said to Abbendis who seemed somewhat irritated by the delay but she simply nodded before leaving the corridor, preparing for the coming ordeal. Osran on the other hand, knew it was his time to report to Isillien as a major development had happened that he needed to know about. Even if there was no time for any courier to ride to Hearthglen and back in time, Osran needed to know as quickly as possible if the plans had been affected in any way by the event. This was a time when Osran knew it was his duty to send such a note. He went on to sit on a small table in the back of the corridor and with pained, forced movements he started to write.

To Honored Grand Inquisitor Isillien

Far too much has happened since I last reported to you and some of the recent developments have reached magnitudes none of us could have ever imagined. As you know, the Crusader Lord has never been one to accept our methods and the recent decision by the Grand Crusader to redeploy Tyr’s Hand’s troops without Valdemar’s acceptance finally took us near the point of no return. Still, it felt like things might become calmer again and in the meantime, I started to train our new cadets with new, harsh methods Uther would never have accepted as I felt it was the only way I could prepare them for the coming battles. But that’s only of secondary importance as it is the next development is what I wanted to report.

To my deepest shame, my mission to calm down the situation in Tyr’s Hand has failed. While I must second the Crusader Lord’s sentiment¥s that the Grand Crusader’s delegate in this delicate time wasn’t ideal, I will do all that I can to bring him back to line with our plans. I beg your deepest pardon for my failure in containing the situation but believe me when I assure you that I’ll do everything in my power to defend the peace in this city. Either I will make Valdemar see reason or this will be my last report from Tyr’s Hand. I pray for Light’s guidance in assuring the latter won’t come to pass.


Osran cringed heavily at his last sentences but he had promised himself he wouldn’t let Valdemar go to his grave alone. If things ever got that bad, Osran knew he’d align with the Crusader Lord, no matter how foolish that decision might look from an outsider’s point of view. Still, the aging crusader wanted to see himself as a man of honor and killing his old friend in cold blood would be the last plunge into the world of shame and darkness for him. No matter what, this was one last privilege he decided to retain regardless of the consequences.

The crusader quickly run towards the stairs and headed for the main door of the abbey. Like every member of the Legion, he always had a courier waiting for his messages near the gates who were usually disguised as ordinary guardsmen. Osran quickly walked towards one of them whom he recognized due to the courier’s slightly unorthodox boots which were more suitable to riding than fighting but which were not enough to raise any doubts among the other guards. Osran moved close to the guard and spoke to him silently in order to not raise suspicion.

“Are you ready to ride for Hearthglen? The Grand Inquisitor must have this message without any delay!” The knight asked to which the man only nodded in approval.

“That’s my job, servant of the Crimson Legion. I’ll be on my way right away.” The courier said and Osran handed his letter to the man. Unlike official letters of the Crusade, these secret notes bore no insignias or anything that implicated about the importance of the message. The messengers were chosen from the absolutely most trustworthy of crusaders so worrying about them wasn’t a concern. The courier took the paper and put it quickly to his bag. Before leaving for the stables, he spoke to Osran one more time.

“I’ll return as soon as I can, crusader Lowriver. Serve the Grand Crusader well until then.” The messenger said to which Osran only answered in slight worry.

“May the Light guide your path through those cursed lands. Good luck.” Osran wished as the courier saluted and left the aging crusader to himself. Now, everything he had worked for hanged in the balance as he’d have to meet Abbendis shortly. The clouded sky seemed to weigh down upon him immensely as he slowly started to force his steps towards the stronghold of the city’s lord. Soon enough it would be seen whether he’d live on as a man of honor or die as a despicable traitor.

The fledgling distrust within the Crusade's leadership has finally escalated into open hostility and there's a real chance it could begin to tear the whole order apart. Osran's position is extremely volatile in the face of his broken friendship and failed mission but is he able to survive the situation that has come to pass? As always, I truly hope you enjoyed this chapter and see you next time! :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #21 on: November 14, 2017, 04:00:46 PM »
The First Step

The walls of Tyr’s Hand’s keep stood proudly in the middle of the city, it’s massive form casting an imposing presence on the surrounding landscape. For years it had been the center of the resistance to the Lich King as the center of the mighty, defiant city. However, that spell had been recently broken for Osran who moved towards the castle. Uncharacteristically for him, he had shrouded his head with a thick hood in order to hide his true identity for as long as he simply was able. In addition to it, he had covered his tabard and armor with a brown robe to draw the attention away from himself.

The knight looked at the people around himself with an apologetic look, regretting the mission he had assigned for himself. However, the knight was far past the point of no return as any failure to do his duties at this point would lead to both his own death and to a serious disaster to the Crusade itself. With forced steps and clearly anxious expression, Osran headed towards a small house near to the entrance of the mighty castle, knowing that Brigitte Abbendis was most likely there, waiting for Osran before they’d start their dangerous task. Abbendis looked at Osran with suspicious eyes as he approached her.

“I hope you’re up to this, Lowriver. I don’t want to see even a flicker of hesitation or regret within you. The Crusader Lord will either budge or fall. Is that clear?” The younger paladin asked Osran whose nerves were slowly being tested by the constant suspicion and angered remarks. Osran frowned at her antics, willing to keep his own dignity while still affirming his commitment to the mission.

“That is what we decided, general, but don’t think I’m your servant. I’ll do my part if you keep silent and lead your men wisely. I don’t want this to turn to a bloodbath and you’d better make sure that won’t be the case. Most of these people don’t mean anything to you but I assure, each one of the paladins around us is a true asset to the Crusade.” Osran spoke silently, the hood partly covering his worried eyes from Abbendis. The younger paladin looked at Osran for a moment and returned the sharp remark.

“That was the plan but there can be no bargaining about this if things begin going against us. We go as far as we can peacefully but once the tide turns against us, I am not going to spare anyone.” Abbendis said, her eyes gleaming with the anticipation of taking the fight to the renegade noble. Osran knew there was nothing to be gained from reasoning with the general at this point and he merely nodded to her slightly, his beard being close to the only thing the other crusaders saw of his face in the house’s shadow. He then answered briefly.

“Understood, Abbendis. But there’s one last thing: we can’t take more than four of your fighters with us without raising too much unwanted attention. The others will have to stay here.” Abbendis felt her heart sink at this comment but it was true: eight “bodyguards” could seem suspicious for the guards. Her low voice snarled one last time before she headed towards the entrance she and Osran had agreed to use.

“Very well. But let us not waste more time. Every second I waste here fighting with you is another second closer to our order’s dissolution. Follow me!”

The keep had only one primary entrance which was used by nearly all of those who wished to enter the citadel. However, Osran knew the guards would most likely recognize Abbendis even in disguise and there was no way they’d reach the Crusader Lord without becoming overpowered. That left only one another option to enter the stronghold: a little-known tunnel from the Cathedral. Its mouth was in the bishop’s private room which had been abandoned ever since the death of the last holder of that office during the Third War. It was very little known and there was only a handful of people still living who knew of its existence anymore. Osran knew Valdemar was one of them but he still liked to believe his old friend didn’t expect him to infiltrate the castle. Osran felt miserable, knowing he was about to prove his friend’s trust misplaced. The aging paladin led the group of six towards the Cathedral which had no guards at this point. Osran kept his eyes in the floor in front of him but he felt Abbendis’ eyes observing his every movement, clearly fearful that his loyalties were still conflicted.

A few of the clerics in the room looked at the group in slight interest, wondering why such a host had entered their quarters. Still, they stayed silent as it wasn’t a completely unprecedented sight. Even if they usually stayed on their own areas, they would enter the cathedral once in a while. Osran was more than grateful he or Abbendis need to explain anything to the priests as the seemed to stay preoccupied on their own tasks.

“Follow me. The tunnel begins under the western part of the church where the room is.” The hooded crusader said to Abbendis who didn’t answer to his comment. Osran entered one of the doorways opening from the main hall of the church and headed towards the side room. However, there could be heard a silent curse as Osran noticed something unexpected and highly unwanted.

“The damn door’s locked! Can any of you open it?” If there was one thing Osran had never excelled, it was the small-scale tinkering that needed stable and swift hands. Luckily, one of Abbendis’ aides stepped forward, almost pushing Osran aside as he approached the door. He quickly pulled a picklock from his pocket and hit the door in a gentle flick. The man then kneeled before the door while the other crusaders tried to act as normally as they could in order to not raise suspicion. It was  only half a minute before the door quickly opened, the creak making most of the soldiers cringe in anxiety.

“Enter, now! We don’t have all day!” None of the five others hesitated for a moment and they quickly entered the room. It was a small but rather small but cozy looking hall that was now seeming abandoned this had been the room of the last bishop of Tyr’s Hand and the long absence of his successor was apparent. The entire room was covered in dust and there were spider webs everywhere. The windows were unclear with the dirt of the years but luckily, Osran knew exactly where the mouth of the tunnel would be.

“There it is, under the bed. Help me move it before we’re found!” Osran said as another of Abbendis’ followers moved to raise the heavy bed. Under it lied apparently nothing of interest but the aging crusader knew better. He put his hand to the ground and shortly, he found a small hole in the floor. With growing relief, Osran moved the switch and slowly and carefully, the hatch opened and revealed dark entrance to the underground. Abbendis turned to the others, willing to quickly explain what she and her followers were going to do.

“As all of you know, Lordaeron has never built a fortress which doesn’t have an emergency exit or some trick which catch the enemy off guard. If Osran’s words are correct, this tunnel will lead to the keep’s dungeon, opening us a way to enter the building without any kind of security check. However, we won’t be allowed out of the dungeon without questions. That is our first dangerous part: we have to take the guards out before they can ask any questions. But don’t kill them: they will still be valuable comrades to us once the rotten head is cut off.” Abbendis took a small pause, earning a disapproving look from Osran. There was no way he could defend Valdemar but it didn’t make Abbendis’ words any more pleasant. As an effort to promote his own position in the small group, Osran continued where Abbendis had stopped.

“After we enter the ground floor, we should split up and head towards Valdemar’s room from two directions, each group lead by one either me or the general. Try to maintain the peace but if problems arise, you have to defend yourselves but don’t attack Valdemar before I get there. Otherwise the main objective of this mission is going to fail. I trust things are clear to everyone?” Abbendis had explained the plan to his followers earlier and to his slight relief, Osran didn’t see anyone’s faces twitching. It was actually somewhat ironic: just over an hour ago, he had been addressing the new cadets with similar words but in a completely different situation. Only a while ago, everything had seemed easy and peaceful enough but now he was surrounded by suspicious agents who wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if it suited their needs. Osran had known he had played on large bets when he joined the Crimson Legion but only now did the whole truth dawn on him.

“Very well, follow me! Oleria, light the torch.” One of the paladins took the torch from her belt and quickly lighted it and headed first towards the tunnel. Abbendis waited for the others to go but apparently Osran had similar ideas. With an impatient voice, Abbendis spoke to Osran.

“Go there, now! I can never be too careful with the traitor’s friends.” Osran snorted in outrage but he had no choice. With slow steps, the bearded knight entered the deep tunnel, following the light ahead of him. There would be no way to see around oneself in the pitch-black tunnel which bore no sources of illumination. It was surrounded by naked ground, and large cockroaches and spiders crawled mere inches from the crusaders’ faces. Still, that was far from enough to dissuade any of them from their goal. Some of the knights nearly tripped over a few branches that stuck out far from the ground but they managed to regain their balance soon enough.
After a few minutes’ careful walk, the tunnel started to rise again steeply and it wasn’t long before a hatch could be seen on the cavern’s ceiling. The torch-bearing crusader looked at it for a moment, trying to find a way to open the way to the world above. After a few, fleeting seconds, the silence was broken by the woman’s silent and stern voice.

“This is it, everyone. The cells are above us and once I open the hatch, there’s no turning back. Are all of you ready?”  The voice that was a mere whisper to begin with nearly sank into the darkness as the paladin spoke but it was just loud enough so everyone could hear it. No looks or words of regret could be heard among the attackers as Abbendis answered angrily.

“Of course we are! And, as a warning to you all, the one who ruins this mission will answer to me before the end! Now, open it!” Abbendis cast a murdering glance at the foremost knight and she merely nodded hastily. Hardly the meekest of creaks could be heard as the hatch begun to rise and the pale light of the torches in the dungeon cast their gleam into the opening tunnel. The woman quickly jumped up to the jail and each one of her companions followed her instantly. Osran looked around himself briefly before he could tell their exact location.

“This is the deepest part of the dungeon and there are hardly ever guards or prisoners down here. Follow me, I know where we should go!” Osran said as he thought about the keep’s interior in his mind. The aging paladin quickly entered the corridor and turned left. The other infiltrators wasted no time following him as they drew out their weapons in anticipation of the possible confrontation.
Osran was pleased to see that his memory hadn’t failed him. In the darkness before him could be seen the wooden stairs that led to the main part of the jail and after it, to the ground floor of the keep. The paladin quickly slowed down his running as he reached the top part of the stairs, knowing that this floor would probably contain at least a few guards. He could see that Abbendis knew it also as she moved to follow him. Osran pulled the hood from his head, knowing that his identity would most likely confuse the guards long enough. Osran knew he was sacrificing his good name and honor-bound relationships to the unity of the Crusade but that was a price he was willing to pay.

“Follow me but try to remain unseen. I’ll handle this part.” Osran said as he heard distant speech in the next corridor, implicating there was at least guards gathered there to play cards, most likely. The other crusaders did as was told, Abbendis knowing Osran wouldn’t do anything funny if it would endanger the lives of his comrades. The general wasn’t by no means a stranger to these kinds of sentiments but her father and the ordeals she’d been through had taught her to bury her personal feelings under her drive to eradicate the curse of undeath wherever it could be found.
Osran walked in as normal way as he only could towards the guards and suddenly, to the ultimate surprise of the trio, he interrupted their game quickly.

“Greetings to all of you. Has there been anything to report?” Osran cringed as he asked but he knew this was as good an opening as any. One of the gathered men looked at Osran in a stunned look, the obvious questions rising to his mind instantly.

“Osran? What are you doing here and why were you in the lower dungeon? Weren’t you supposed to be training the cadets?” The man asked, frowning heavily as Osran moved closer to them. The knight’s expression didn’t change at all as he heard those questions, as two of Abbendis’ bodyguards appeared from the darkness. It was clear they were warriors of the Crusade but it wasn’t enough to alarm the guards just yet, especially if Osran was with them. They had heard of Valdemar’s outburst but they weren’t quite ready to accept its finality. However, Osran’s next words started to quickly raise their fears.

“I received a far more important task and believe me, I’m doing it for all of us. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt.” Suddenly, the two strongly-built knights attacked the trio alongside with Osran and the defenders didn’t manage to draw their weapons in time. Osran’s sword’s scabbard hit the first guard to his head after which Osran threw him to the ground, only to give another hit to the man’s head. Osran’s companions did the same and it was mere seconds when the three guards were lying on the ground, unconscious. The paladin cringed at the sight of his comrades’ bleeding heads but he was thankful he had survived without being forced to kill the poor guards.

“You two, follow me! The rest, go with Osran! Remember our plan! We have no room for mistakes!” Abbendis said as she took her followers with her. Both of the new groups quickly headed out of the jail and immediately following their exit from the dungeon, they went their separate ways. Most of the human keeps had stairs to the upper floors on both sides of the building, the symmetrical structure familiar to every soldier who had ever served a human kingdom. When the groups reached Valdemar’s floor, they’d unite once again and push the renegade leader against the wall.

At this point, Osran and his two followers walked rather slowly, knowing that the guards wouldn’t stop them at this point. They knew nothing of the episode in the dungeon and because of their ignorance, they thought the crusaders had passed the safety control at the main door. Also, their old comrades’ presence was far from unusual within the keep so the calm was preserved.

None of the three could believe their luck as they approached the upper floors of the castle. Osran tried to avoid showing his concern to the guards and he did his all to walk in his normal, graceful pace as if nothing was wrong. To the paladin’s puzzlement, there were even less paladins patrolling Valdemar’s floor. Could he truly be that lucky that he could simply walk to the Crusader Lord’s office without being interrupted. However, those hopes were crushed quickly when the three moved on head to their final destination. From the side rooms quickly appeared two strongly-built and heavily-armored knights who looked at the newcomers in deep suspicion.

“Crusader Lord Valdemar doesn’t wish to be interrupted right now! Turn around and leave immediately!” One of the men said in a loud voice, his brutish gestures bringing cold sweat to even Osran’s forehead. However, the paladin wasn’t about to turn back now. He frowned at the comment and answered in as resolute and strong voice as he simply could.

“Our business with him is more than urgent, good knight. I give you my word that he won’t wish to decline this audience.” Osran said, knowing that there was a good chance Valdemar’s personal guards would remember his words at the meeting only two hours ago. To his disappointment, he soon saw he was right.

“I beg to differ, traitor. Valdemar said that especially you nor your new friends are to be let near him. So, leave now, or we’ll show what it means to turn your back to our lord and our city!” The two armored paladins said as they raised their weapons. Osran knew he had already lost this war of words but he wasn’t about to turn around. Too much was at stake for him to falter at this point. He was about to take a terrible step but for some reason, it didn’t seem to bother the bearded crusader anymore. He had already suffered too much for his new allegiance to care.

“This isn’t up to debate! We will meet Valdemar!” Osran said as suddenly cast a powerful judgement of Light against the rightmost defender, determined to knock him out with one hit. The tall man visibly thrown back by this hit but the surprise attack didn’t knock him out. After regaining his balance, the man raised his axe and raised his hand to return the favor to Osran. Light filled the narrow corridor as the larger man begun to advance towards Osran with terrible, brutal power. The weapon sank into the walls as the massive knight did his all to smash the traitor before him.

The only relief for Osran was to see his two companions taking on the other guard, even if they seemed to struggle in their efforts to stand their ground. Osran knew he would have to turn the tables against their enemies or all would be lost. Osran dodged one last hit from the avenging wrath and concentrated all of his power into his sword, preparing for one, mighty hit worthy of the Crusade. When the powerful man raised his axe from the floor again, Osran saw it was his time to strike.

The blow cut through the defender’s chest armor but to his momentary horror, Osran saw that the heavily-built man had managed to stop his attack with his weapon, practically parrying his attack. However, Osran quickly regained his concentration and in a moment of great determination, the paladin quickly threw a hammer made of pure Light towards his enemy. The armored paladin looked at the weapon in fear but he didn’t have the time to stop it. The knight fell to his knees and for a moment, Osran weighed the possibility of saving him in his mind. This man was one of Valdemar’s trusted defenders and most likely a good acquaintance to him. However, Osran could see that his companions were being overpowered by their foe and with a sad acceptance, Osran realized he had no time to try to knock his opponent unconscious. With one, heavy blow Osran sank his sword into the defender’s chest, ending his struggles immediately.

The other loyalist paladin looked in growing fear as his companion fell heavily to the ground. He knew he couldn’t stand against all three attackers and Osran’s entrance to the fight quickly proved him right. it was mere seconds until the other loyalist’s battle was ended. Osran looked at the corpses, knowing all too well these were the first humans, save for necromancers, he had killed in battle and to his worry, he didn’t feel nearly as guilty as he would have wished. The men lying on the door were merely in the wrong place in the wrong time and there was no use mourning them when there was a mission to complete.

“Follow me! Now nothing stands between us and Valdemar!” The three started to run their last leg to the lord’s office and Osran’s mind worked on overdrive. Would he manage to convince Valdemar to change his mind or would his mission end in a bloodbath? The paladin could feel the blood pumping in his ears as he took the final turn to the familiar hall… only to see his old friend’s eyes staring right at his. The renegade lord wore a joyless smile accompanied by bitter thoughts and to Osran’s growing worry, he wore a full battle armor. Had he expected the group’s arrival? And if that was the case, where was Abbendis and her group? The tense silence was broken by Valdemar’s poison-dipping voice as he looked at his former friend.

“There’s no reason to even begin, Osran. I can see how it is. It’s rather brilliant actually: you return to my city on the shadow of an old comradeship, infiltrate my inner circle only to lure me into the Crusade. Afterwards, you betray me and then try to assassinate me to deliver Tyr’s Hand into the Crusade’s open arms. I can only imagine what they promised you: did Dathrohan offer to make you my successor perhaps? Well, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you break the records of the most lowly, despicable traitor I’ve ever met.” Valdemar leaned on his table while he looked at Osran with a trembling voice. Osran’s words during the meeting had raised deep suspicions about him and the Crimson Legion and the alarm he had received from his followers had confirmed his deepest fears. Osran was about to stutter as a response but he managed to regain the control of his voice right away.

“You know that isn’t true, Valdemar! It was an honor serving by your side all these years and I’m more than proud to say I called and still call you my comrade. I can only say that I never intended to see this day. All I ever did was to help in the war against the Scourge in the best way I simply could: by helping the Crusade. I’ll say it now: I chose the Crusade over your position in this city but I did it only to help the Grand Crusader beat back the Scourge!” Osran’s voice trembled with upheld emotion as it hurt him immediately to see Valdemar talk him to like this. He knew his words wouldn’t stand a chance of convincing the outraged lord but he would leave no stone unturned in this war of two former friends. Valdemar laughed in deep hate as he answered.

“And you plan on doing that by trading away all that you once claimed to respect? Tyr’s Hand stood for years as a bastion of humanity against the Scourge but I see nothing is good enough for you, Osran. You have abandoned everything to chase a dream that will never succeed and you plan to take me along with you! You won’t get away with this, I assure you, old friend!” Valdemar said as he raised his hand to give order to his troops. Osran realized immediately what the gesture meant and he shouted quickly before Valdemar could say anything.

“Wait! I have to admit that Abbendis wished to kill you but I managed to convince her to strike out a compromise between you and the Crusade! The Grand Crusader needs Tyr’s Hand’s help and Tyr’s Hand needs you to lead it! There is no other here who can lead our men to victory but you and Abbendis is willing to overlook your earlier words if you swear now your loyalty to Dathrohan. I ask you, Valdemar, accept this in the name of everything our city, what Lordaeron and what the whole world has gone through. Your title isn’t worth throwing the last remains of Lordaeron away. You know it’s the truth.” Osran said almost pleadingly, knowing that his chances of success were growing slimmer by the second.

The Crusader Lord’s mind cried out with the idea of giving the final order to attack Osran and his companions. Osran had betrayed everything the two had once believed in, his true crime perhaps not being his siding with the Crusade but the keeping his plans from his old friend and at the very last by engaging in this coup attempt against the city’s rightful lord. At this point, Valdemar knew Osran had stepped too far and even if his own emotions fought against the idea, he knew Osran was beyond pardoning. The Grand Crusader and his followers had betrayed him and as the city’s master, Valdemar had to show what happened to traitors. His voice grew slightly less enraged but it took a more final, heavyhearted tone to it. Before opening his mouth, the lord closed his eyes and tried to calm down to his best ability.

“Even after all of this, I’d like to believe you, Osran. You always made it seem like your path was the pure one and you were always there by my side in the battlefield. But look at you now: can you truly call your choice the correct one? You joined headlong to Saidan’s organization and after only a few days, you are here murdering your own comrades in his name. Do you think the Osran who nobly lead the survivors of Northdale here would have agreed with you? Is this what Uther and Alonsus would have wanted?” The room had grown silent, each one of those present understanding how much was depending on the two paladins’ debate. Could the battle still be avoided? Who would take the first step to a full-fledged battle?

Osran, on his part, as seriously taken aback by his former friend’s words. It was true that a lot had happened since those days and he had given up a lot of his former honor and it was true that the Osran of old would never had done but he was doing now. Uther would probably strip him of his paladin’s powers in an instant along with the Crusade’s leaders but even them, Osran didn’t forget for a moment his reason for being here. He had repeated them in his mind over and over and now, the aging knight felt like he had the courage to answer.

“It isn’t and it is far from what I would have wanted even now either. But can’t you see? This is about so much more than mine or your personal wishes! This is about the future of Lordaeron and humanity and for that, I’m willing to part with my honor and past! There is nothing more important than bringing down the Lich King and ending the mockery of the house of Menethil! Together, we can do it! Uther would never have approved of this but Uther failed and we are not planning to follow him to his grave!” The paladin panted with exhaustion as he spoke to the rebellious lord in a quick voice, willing to make his point as clear as possible. Valdemar looked at him with a thoughtful look and even if Osran’s words raised some dreamlike thoughts in his mind, Valdemar was not willing to follow his friend on his new path. He looked at the Crimson Legionary for a moment before he answered in a heavy voice.

“That is what you believe. I, on my part, have seen that Dathrohan will lead us only to defeats like in Northrend and then he uses those disasters to consolidate his own power and crush all that question him. This Crusade won’t succeed, Osran, and I will follow him no longer. I’m sorry it will end like this but you chose your own fate, my old friend. Attack, now! Leave no traitors alive!” Suddenly, there erupted dozens of knights still loyal to Valdemar from the lower floors and they easily overpowered Osran and his companions. However, the left stairs remained empty, indicating that Abbendis was keeping part of the reinforcements at bay for now. Still, that helped little if he was forced to fight in this large disadvantage. The crusader knew there was only one option to him left: he had to beat Valdemar and force him to listen. He roared quickly in clear fear as he started his attack.

“Follow me! No matter what, we must bring the Crusader Lord down! Keep his bodyguards in check!” The two crusaders quickly run towards the guards surrounding Valdemar while Osran set his sights on his old friend. Valdemar narrowed his eyes as he knew he’d have to repel Osran’s attack and his reinforcements would take care of the rest. The paladin knew this all too well as well and he decided to put all of his strength to bringing his opponent to his needs.

Similarly to High General Abbendis, Valdemar wasn’t a full-fledged paladin. He had some command of the Light and he could infuse his weapon with the holy strength but his true forte was his command of his sword. He wasn’t even particularly strong but his mastery of his weapon as well as his infinite knowledge of the art of dueling had cost many of his opponents’ their lives. Osran of course knew all of this and he tried to gain an early advantage by casting a bluish judgement on his enemy as well as paralyzing him for a moment with a powerful hammer of justice. Osran, however, was too late to make a true breakthrough. His sword only cut a moderate wound to Valdemar’s stomach before he regained his composure. Valdemar wasted no time starting his counterattack and, faithfully to his style, hit Osran’s blade with a quick strike, forcing the paladin to defend himself. After many seemingly useless maneuvers, the lord suddenly took a step forward and with an immense risk, stabbed Osran to his side with a nasty hit.

The knight cringed in pain at this point but it wasn’t long before the injury disappeared under the power of the sacred power of the Light. Osran quickly created a mighty blessing around himself, changing his main power from healing to spells. They were Valdemar’s weakness and those were what he’d need to use to win. Suddenly, a bright tempest formed around Osran’s body, knocking Valdemar towards the wall and almost felling him to the ground. Osran used this moment to cast another demonstration of the Light’s vengeance which hit Valdemar to his chest with a powerful force. Osran moved to finish the fight but to his misfortune, he left one last opening for the Crusader Lord.

“Not so fast, Osran! You always were too eager to finish the job!” Valdemar rose back to his feet, his face twisted with pain, and he managed to repel Osran’s attack and sink his sword into his old friend’s upper abdomen. Osran was stunned by the sudden pain but his mind realized that this wouldn’t be the end. With a deep breath, Osran called an impenetrable shield around himself and with one, last strike, he sent the Crusader Lord’s weapon flying to the corner of the room. With his shield wearing off, the paladin started to shine with golden light as the red pool below him slowly stopped spreading. Osran knew the fight was still on but he decided to try one last time to see if this mission held any chance of succeeding anymore.

“It’s done, Valdemar. Order your men to stop the fight and I will spare your life. I swear this on my honor as a paladin and a servant of the Light.” The knight looked in a mixture of guilt and fear as he saw the lord’s increasingly forced breathing and the depth of pain he was in. A single bitter snort came from Valdemar’s mouth as he looked at Osran.

“You threw the last vestiges of that honor away long ago. Kill me if you wish but at least I will pass away as a true servant of king Terenas, a right you no longer have. I will only say that I will never join your cursed Crusade anymore. That is not up for discussion anymore.” It was clear that Valdemar’s injuries would be lethal without healing but that mattered little to Osran at this point. All that mattered was the resolution to this conflict, one way or another.

“Very well. I did my all to prevent this from happening but it was not enough. In the name of…” The knight’s words were interrupted by a call from behind him, the voice belonging to someone whose Osran had wondered for a while now.

“Do it, now! Show no mercy to these traitors!” Osran didn’t know at first what was happening and he looked in shock as Abbendis’ words’ content dawned upon him. Nearly half of the “loyalists” in the room suddenly turned around and stabbed their comrades to their sides before they could even begin to defend themselves. A few of them managed to dodge the initial attacks but it wasn’t long before they were cut down by the turncoats. Osran, who was still holding his blade on Valdemar’s throat, couldn’t believe what he had just seen. What… how… why had this happened? To his growing numbness, Abbendis walked to the center of the room and spoke to her soldiers triumphantly.

“You have made the Grand Crusader proud this day, my warriors! The Light will whisper your names for all eternity for answering the call of the Crusade and abandoning the traitor to his fate. You’ve all done a great service to Lordaeron.” The woman said as she begun to walk towards Osran with a careful smile on her face. The man looked at her with wide eyes and his voice was unbelieving and angered as he spoke.

“You had convinced Valdemar’s own soldiers to slaughter their comrades in cold blood without telling of your plans to me? This is a disgrace! Did you ever even seek a peaceful resolution to all this or did you just use me as your pawn?” The knight knew this was a clear success from Dathrohan’s perspective but this wasn’t what he had wanted or asked for. Twenty of his comrades lied dead on the ground and his old friend would join them shortly. Abbendis continued his walk towards Osran and in a few seconds, she was at his side looking at the weakening lord.

“I would have welcomed your success, Lowriver, but I knew it was almost impossible for you to actually convince this old fool about anything. Did you truly believe I’d follow you to a certain death? There were some things I had to take care of before this endeavor.” The younger Abbendis’ eyes scoured the fallen leader as she drew her sword from its scabbard. However, Osran saw what she was going to do and quickly put his hand before her to stop her plan. The bearded man felt beyond humiliated by his own deeds as all of his remaining hopes had been proven wrong. He couldn’t even save his old friend from this fate and Abbendis had proven to be his superior in coming up with strategies. Still, he wanted to do this last gesture as a token of respect to his fallen lord.

“Let me do this, general. He deserves at least to be put to rest by my hand.” Osran said with a heavy heart, willing to his last honor to his old comrade-in-arms. He was taking another breath as Abbendis’ words stunned him completely. The woman looked before her with an expressionless face which, to Osran’s enormous surprise, seemed to even hold a small flicker of sadness to it.

“Too many have already fallen in this foolish endeavor. Valdemar’s life will be spared.” At this point the general turned around and addressed her followers in clear seriousness and calm that Osran hadn’t seen in her before.

“As I said, each one of you is a true hero of the light. However, there is one thing for us to do. We must hold a little conversation with your lord. He will receive another chance to serve the Crusade. I must request that you leave now as this is a matter we have to do by ourselves. We will make an announcement to the entire city soon.” The crusaders looked at her in slight disappointment but they knew better than to question the general’s order. They quickly left for the lower floors leaving Abbendis, Osran and Valdemar alone in the hall that had once served as the Crusader Lord’s sanctum. The weakening crusader tried to rise to a sitting position as he spoke in a forced and resolute voice.

“My position remains unchanged, traitors. I will never serve your evil purposes. Kill me now as there’s nothing you can gain about this meeting.” The lord’s face was pained as he struggled to speak and in a surprisingly kind voice, Abbendis approached him.

“That is where you are mistaken, Valdemar. We offered you many chances to cooperate with us but each time you threw that chance away. However, Tyr’s Hand really needs you but we cannot keep you as a burden for the rest of this war. We have to move to drastic measures.” There was something in the way Abbendis spoke that sent worried shivers through Osran’s spine. His instincts told him there was something seriously wrong and he quickly turned to Abbendis.

“What are you saying, general? We cannot force him to fight against his will! A noble death is all we can give him at this point!” The crusader wanted to believe he was right but time and time again, he had been surprised by the different ways of magic. He could only hope no darker powers had been discovered. The paladin’s already fearful thoughts were further increased as steps could be heard from the corridors surrounding the hall. Two figures soon entered the room and Osran wasn’t exactly relieved by the newcomers.

“Priestess Demetria and inquisitor Landgren, I’m honored to see you could answer my call. Your help is sorely appreciated by everyone who still stand against the falling shadow.” Abbendis said as the two clerics joined the three paladins in the hall. Osran looked at the two and in a disbelieving look, he turned to Abbendis for answers.

“What are they doing here? There’s nothing a priest can do in this situation! Let’s just get away with this!” The paladin said in an increasingly forceful voice, the latest development unnerving him greatly. Valdemar was also staring at the newcomers in suspicion, his misery only deepening as he saw Demetria joining Osran’s side. At first, he had hoped he was only paranoid with his fears but it seems like his worst fears were coming to pass. Had his rule really caused this much hate in his former subordinates?

“You are in quite a hurry to kill the same man who you wanted to save so badly, Lowriver. I summoned the good inquisitor Landgren from Hearthglen to teach new arts of the Light to our priests and Demetria has gone to great lengths to learn everything she can from him. Together they can convince the Crusader Lord to join us once again. I’m confident the Grand Inquisitor told you about these things during your initiation to the Legion.” Abbendis’ words raised memories within Osran’s mind which made his heart feel like it was going to explode. It was true: when he had asked Isillien what would happen if he failed to pass his initiation, he had answered there was a way to destroy part of his mind to wipe away the memories of the meeting. But… certainly Abbendis wouldn’t be planning to do this? Even considering such a thing had infuriated the aging knight and if it was going to be used here…

“Absolutely not, Abbendis! We have to use each and every weapon in our disposal against the Scourge but Valdemar is one of us, one of the defenders of Lordaeron! Even if he fought against us, he is still a good man and he doesn’t deserve this kind of fate! You know this is true, general! Let us not betray our cause by this kind of barbarism! Dathrohan or Mograine would never have agreed to something like this!” Osran was shaking with rising hate and disbelief. What was Abbendis thinking? Did she really plan on making the proud master of Tyr’s Hand to her mindless puppet?
In the inside, Abbendis felt the loathing of the older crusader grow by the minute. It was true, this operation wasn’t authorized by the highest echelons of the Crusade’s leadership but they would never know of it. Most couriers served Isillien and they wouldn’t deliver any letters containing such information to Scarlet Bastion. Isillien, while not planning to raise a coup against the Grand Crusader, had secretly taken many things to his own hands.

“You did your very best to prove to me that sparing the Lord’s life is paramount and I’m going to see that to the end! Isillien has always done what is best, even more so than my pompous father!” The younger Abbendis said in resolution to Osran whose expression hardened along with his counterpart’s. The knight was deeply upset by her words and his words turned into a growl as he answered.

“Your father is one of the greatest leaders this world has ever known and I know he would never order something like this! Stop this madness, now!” Osran cried, his hand approaching his sword slowly but surely. Abbendis replicated the gesture but her next words reminded Osran what was going on and how out maneuvered he truly was.

“You have nothing you can do about it, old man. Either you agree to this or I must order you to leave. And if you try to do anything unthought, you will be judged in front of the whole Church of the Light and believe me, it wouldn’t end well for you. What do you choose?” Abbendis narrowed her eyes in deep hate while Osran’s eyes slowly turned to his wounded friend. His mind told him to give his old comrade the mercy of clean death but it would be likely it would end in his own death before long. He knew this order wasn’t issued by the Grand Crusader and once he’d learn about this outrage, the aging crusader knew the young Abbendis would pay and Valdemar set free. In the end, Osran decided that sacrificing himself here would accomplish far too little. He quickly turned his back and he didn’t look back once he spoke.

“Very well. But know this general: it is you who shall pay before the end. The whole Crusade will not be turned into a monstrosity like you: I will make sure of that.” And with those words, Osran left the room, his steps still audible in the nearby corridor. However, Abbendis didn’t waste time beginning her dark plan.

“Now that that old fool is out of the way, let us begin! I trust both of you know what you are supposed to do?” The question was purely rhetorical as the two knew full well their task and the means they had to use to accomplish it.

“It’ll be our honor, good lady. We’ll certainly help this man find his path again.” Landgren, who had for a long time worked as Isillien’s apprentice, said with a clear smirk. Demetria nodded to his words, both of the cleric’s knowing their mission.

Valdemar had tried to hold on a brave and noble composure but it started to crack as the three crusaders approached him. The former lord cursed Osran in his mind for his treachery and cowardice in standing up to the Crusade but he loathed Demetria even more at this point. Unlike the paladin, she had apparently joined Abbendis for her own will and not because of some genuine if misguided ideals. Osran might have been a weak fool but Demetria was a full-blown traitor. Even then, the words Osran and Abbendis had exchanged made his forehead get covered with cold sweat. Had they truly spoken about some kind of manipulation of the mind? Valdemar had never heard of such things before but apparently there were many things kept from him. The lord’s voice wavered as he raised his head as a final show of courage.

“Stay away from me, betrayers of Lordaeron! You may kill me but you’ll never use me for your own ends!” Valdemar said weakly while he coughed blood due to his massive chest injury. He looked in growing fear as streams of Light left Abbendis’ hands and moved straight to his body, healing his massive injury. At the same time, Abbendis spoke in a deep, merciless voice.

“So you think, pitiful old man. However, neither Valdemar’s story nor your lordship over this city will end today. In a few moments, you’ll forget everything about the Grand Crusader’s plans, some of your dealings with him and all about this uprising nonsense. Soon, you’ll be who you were before this war begun: with the distinction that your loyalty to the Crusade will be unquestionable from this day on. Just hope that you won’t lose more than that! Begin, now!” With Abbendis’ mark, the true priests moved on both sides of Valdemar and in a few seconds, a flurry of light and darkness danced around Valdemar’s head. At first they seemed like they were only circling around his cranium but soon enough, the streams changed their direction and entered Valdemar’s brain.

The Crusader Lord’s screams would have haunted his tormentors hadn’t they been far too hardened for that. Landgren and Demetria seemed to even be enjoying the display while some small parts of Abbendis’ mind cringed at the display. Valdemar’s eyes grew dim immediately and his body was twitching violently. The man could feel parts of his mind being literally torn away from the soft membrane of his brain as the duo’s spell continued. It wasn’t long before the lord’s mind darkened altogether and he collapsed to the floor with a ruined mind.

The afternoon was growing old when the familiar form of Crusader Lord Valdemar could be seen stepping out from the gate of Tyr’s Hand’s keep once again. He was accompanied by general Abbendis and Nicholas Zverenhoff, their presence necessary due to the impact of the coming announcement. The latter looked at his lord in worry, not able to understand what had changed Valdemar’s mind so thoroughly. He had been known as a strong-willed leader who wouldn’t bow in the face of pressure. Now, he was preparing to completely take back his earlier, monumental decision and he even seemed calmer than in weeks. Abbendis looked somewhat triumphant but that was to be expected after this breakthrough. However, something in her face made the duke easy but there was nothing he could do against her for now.

A grey curtain of clouds had creeped over Tyr’s Hand from the sea in the past hour and the rain was growing with a rapid rate. However, none of those gathered hesitated to brave the rain to hear what the city’s master had to say. Valdemar’s voice sounded just like it was before as did the pace of his speech. Only Abbendis knew the truth of those present.

“My honored comrades, I’m here to correct a grave mistake I committed earlier today. After some of my trusted officers rose against me, I was lost. For many years, I’ve made the decisions here and to my great pride and honor, I’m willing to say they have often been the correct ones. However, a great leader has to listen to the others and to hear what they have to say. That is a lesson I learned only today. Due to my pride, I was going to make a mistake that could have cost us everything.” Nicholas tried to look at his old comrade for any suspicious signs but he couldn’t find anything truly worrying. Maybe there was a slight, ominous empty look n the corner of his eye but his expression was otherwise sharp as ever. The man beside him raised no questions about his identity or doubts about torture.

“Earlier today, I announced our withdrawal from the Crusade but that decision was based on hasty and emotion-driven things that clouded my judgement about what is truly important: to bring justice to Arthas. This is the first time when I announce to you that I’ll declare my earlier order null and void! Tyr’s Hand will stand with the Scarlet Crusade until every last inch of this land is free and cured again!” His words were greeted with loud cheers which were dampened by the strong wind and the voice of the rain that was far more than pitter-patter at this point.

Abbendis looked at her companion with a self-satisfied smile. With luck, her trick would never be leaked outside the small circle that she had trusted with the knowledge and her slight departure from the Light’s path had been worth it. Valdemar didn’t know the truth himself at this point and her subordinates would never betray her trust. However, Osran was still a question mark at this point. Abbendis knew getting rid of him would solve many issues but the risk in killing another Crimson legionary was too great. The idealistic knight was a trusted member of Isillien’s inner circle and the Grand Inquisitor wouldn’t look kindly if she killed his honored aides. No, Osran’s silence would have to be ensured in other ways. Abbendis’ thoughts were interrupted as Valdemar raised his sword high into the raging sky and yelled in a voice which rivalled the storm’s power.

“Prepare your swords and gather your ranks! The Grand Crusader needs our help in securing the sacred site of Scarlet Bastion and I promise to you, my friends, he will receive it! Tomorrow, Tyr’s Hand will begin its march on Stratholme along with Hearthglen and Light’s Hope! This Brewfest will be celebrated on the liberated and pure streets of our glorious city! Do you hear, Kel’Thuzad?! Your reign of terror is nearing its end!” Valdemar’s emptied mind was filled with confidence and trust as he looked at the wave of war cries before him. Even in his current state, Valdemar knew he’d see this campaign to the very end.

With Abbendis' deed and Isillien's manipulations, the Crusade has taken its first, major step towards its eventual fate. How will Osran respond to this development and will the knowledge of Abbendis' transgression spread further? I truly hope you found the major developments in this chapter satisfying and see you next time!
« Last Edit: November 14, 2017, 04:12:01 PM by Sovereign »


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« Reply #22 on: November 21, 2017, 01:47:26 AM »
This has been a long time coming. I kept putting off reading this but I guess all of this recent WoW talk has helped motivate me to finally submit.  :smile  I've only read chapter 1 so far and I liked what you did with setting up the main characters. The rallying really does encourage and fill one with hope...if you have no knowledge of WoW. For anyone who have at the very least been to the eastern plague lands this chapter is pretty much just filled with dramatic irony, especially with Alexandros Mograine's introduction due to his obvious connection to Naxxramas. I'm not the most knowledgeable when it comes to Warcraft lore so a few of the characters were unfamiliar to me. As for Alonsus Faol...that name is familiar but I can't exactly remember who he was. Was he the forsaken that shot the plague bombs onto Bolvar in WotLK?

Anyways, it's a good start and I'll get around to reading the rest at some point. I'm not sure how much I'll comment but I'll try to chirp my thoughts every now and then.


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« Reply #23 on: November 21, 2017, 11:26:57 AM »
It's great to hear you're giving this story a read! It hasn't received nearly as much reviews as Separate Ways but I hope you'll find it interesting! :) And yes, it's true that the initial optimism of the Crusade is a complete tragedy when we know has happened to the order in WoW. However, the characters in the first chapter aren't the ones we'll follow through the story (though they'll be major players throughout) but that'll be elaborated soon enough. :smile I'm a complete sucker for WoW lore so there might be some rather references to off-screen events and appearances of characters that aren't too important in the game. To answer your question, Alonsus Faol was a former archbishop of the Church of the Light and the one who gathered the original five founders of the Silver Hand together though he is deceased by the time this story begins. He is also a priest companion in Legion (don't know much about that appearance though except that he is undead these days). The one who bombarded Bolvar was Grand Apothecary Putress who doesn't appear in this fic.

Anyway, I truly appreciate you giving this story a read and I hope you find it enjoyable! And don't worry about the reviews, I appreciate the mere fact that someone reads this story though I'll be looking forward if you have something to comment. :yes


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« Reply #24 on: November 24, 2017, 03:53:45 PM »
The Paladin’s Meltdown

A waiting, serious expression radiated from Eneath’s eyes as he gathered the metal-clad armor and tabards from the armory. Even if the offensive to take the city of Corin’s Crossing would start only at the following sunrise, all of the knights knew all of the preparations had to be done on the preceding day in order for the fighters to be ready as soon as possible. Even if the afternoon was still relatively young, Eneath was rather confident that there was very little to guard on the city’s streets at this point of the da so, there was no reason to waste his time later in the evening on these chores. The young paladin was turning the key on the locker which held three armors for the knights’ steeds when Eneath heard a familiar voice speak to him nearby.

“Are you really that eager to get to action that you are willing overlook your guarding duty?” The speaker had a low, rough voice but neither it or his words raised any concern in the young man’s mind. He turned slowly around and looked at his comrade who was standing near the door.

“I’m willing to take that chance as there are dozens of people on the streets after Valdemar’s announcement anyway. And I’m not seeing you do any too complex tasks either, Keril.” Eneath gave a laugh as he started to pull one armor to the floor. It was extremely heavy but he’d be able to get it to the nearby stables using a small cart that were available for such tasks. The man who had been called Keril softened his own expression as he walked towards the other paladin. The two had known each other since they were mere squires and even if they hadn’t spent too much time together, they were still pretty closely acquainted during their common years of service. He moved to Eneath’s side and took a more neutral composure.

“Nobody cares about repairing the barracks’ ceiling at this point so I might as well do these preparations as well. But, Eneath… there was something in Valdemar’s words that really bother me. He has never before changed his mind like this and that’s really strange. Rumor has it that he hasn’t been too fond of the Crusade lately and now he just takes it all back! It doesn’t make the least sense!” Keril said as he frowned heavily at that development. Both of the knights had been there listening to the Crusader’s lord and truth be told, there were few people in Tyr’s Hand who didn’t share their sentiments. All of them had grown to know Valdemar’s strong leadership and Eneath surely was one of those who held an endless amount of respect to him. However, this wasn’t an occasion in which he lamented their lord’s change of heart. The mere thought of taking Tyr’s hand made his mind swirl in excitement.

“It doesn’t but who are we to question him? He said that his officers have made him see the error in his ways and I see no reason to believe he is lying to us. None of us is infallible and I don’t think there’s more to this thing than that. I’m just happy that we can resume our campaign once again. It’s been too long since we last took the fight to the undead.” Eneath said as he moved to take the cart from the corner of the large room and it was clear that he believed his own words. Even if Osran had acted strangely in the past days, Eneath still wanted to believe he had had a good influence on Valdemar’s decisions. Keril cringed at his words but not because of any endless disapproval. He just seemed concerned by the developments.

“I know but… we need Valdemar at his very best to lead us. The Northrend campaign was a disaster and I fear that we’re running towards another defeat like that. The very best of us died there and the tales tell that there are monsters there against which there’s no victory. I can’t shake off the feeling and I’m not feeling too confident about all this.” The man said in clear worry but Eneath merely snorted as an answer as those were some words he wasn’t willing to listen from anyone at this point. The Crusade had gone too far to question itself at this point and Eneath wasn’t going to stomach such doubts now. He merely threw his horse’s red-colored tabards to the cart and prepared to answer to him before he heard another, this one unknown, voice call to him from the door.

“No matter what the traitor prince throws at us, we are not going to slither before him. I thought you knights would trust yourselves if you hope to take the fight to the Scourge. We need every last bit of courage we can gather if we wish to see Corin’s Crossing free once again.” The two turned to look at the newcomer who, to their surprise, wore no tabard, no armor or anything that would prove he even was a member of the Crusade. This complete stranger’s appearance brought slight nervousness to Eneath’s voice and he answered with a rough question.

“I’ve never seen you before around here. Who are you and what do you want? Choose your words carefully.” The young man prepared to strike the newcomer down if he had absolutely any second thoughts about his plans in the armory. Every paladin knew that the servants of the Lich King could be anywhere and the appearance of this stranger unnerved Eneath somewhat. The other man looked at him in surprise, clearly taken aback by his harsh words.

“Uhhh… why, I’m one of the new cadets who was sent here to come get my armor for the coming battle. I heard your discussion and I just decided to voice my thoughts. I… I want no trouble, I assure you.” His words were nervous but they were by no means frightened or unsure. Eneath could see that he wasn’t here on any shady business here but Keril was the first one to continue the interrogation. He didn’t seem to be as convinces as Eneath.

“What’s your name and who sent you here? Not many cadets are deemed worthy to have a knight’s armor this quickly! Speak!” Keril narrowed his eyes and it was at this point that the newcomer took an even firmer expression as he was highly disappointed by the duo’s antics. He raised his voice considerably as he answered.

“If you let me explain myself, my name is Iren Highfield and I was sent here by one of the priests according to the commands of my trainer, Osran Lowriver. Sadly, he was needed elsewhere and he left the training to the clerics. However, he gave them strict orders on how to proceed during his absence.” Iren was seemingly annoyed by the situation. The training against the lightspawn was surprisingly frustrating and it had a long and pain-filled struggle to even touch one of those odd creatures. However, he was surprised by the sudden change in the other man’s expression. Eneath knew that he was on righteous business here and he quickly answered to the newcomer.

“So you are one of the new recruits Osran told me about. He seemed somewhat hesitant about this whole training thing but I trust he left a good impression on you? I am his nephew, Eneath Lowriver.” The young man said to Iren as he heard about his uncle’s trainees. The latter cringed as he thought about how to answer. On one hand, Osran had displayed true valor in his behavior but he could still feel the older paladin’s blade on his throat. He had put on a far rougher show than Iren would have liked but he still knew better than to complain. Every last inch of experience could be the difference between life and death the following day.

“Let’s just say that he knows what he’s talking about but I’m not sad that the training’s over for today. Anyway, do you have any ideas about how tomorrow’s battle will go? Should the Scourge be able to field a good challenge to us?” That was the most obvious question that could be in a young cadet’s mind at this point. Iren knew that he’d give a rather weak picture of himself but he wanted to know if the  two had anything they’d want to tell him. The recruit could see that both of these paladins were hardly over twenty years old, younger than him, and barely even full knights at this point. Still, they were far more adept in the ways of Light than he was and Iren was more than happy to learn from them if they had something of interest to share. Keril looked at him in deep thought as he thought about how to best answer this simple question. It was never easy for a new recruit to fight his first battle but the newcomer seemed to be strong enough for the challenge.

“You’ll find your own way to fight and serve the Light as you gather experience but don’t understand me wrong. Don’t hold anything back in the coming battle but use only your strengths first and try to survive. You’re no good to anyone if you’re dead and we don’t have an abundance of new blood in our ranks. Give your all and before long, you’ll find your own way.” Keril said with some cringe as he knew this wasn’t the advice his superiors wouldn’t want him to give. There could be no holding back at this point and there was no telling what monstrosities Kel’Thuzad could have brought to Corin’s Crossing since the last battle. Eneath looked at his companion with some chagrin but continued where he ended.

“Also, remember that this is an issue of our own calling. Cling to the hope inside you and never let it go. The founders of our noble order knew that all other skills stem from the very realization that our skills come from our willingness to follow the path of righteousness. Remember that and you should do well tomorrow. At least if there are no surprises.” Eneath said the last sentence under his breath but Iren still heard it. However, he knew better than to cling to it as he knew it’d be better if he didn’t know of the coming horrors. Eneath, however, noticed the other man’s fearful gaze and he suddenly moved closer to him with a more lighthearted expression.

“But none of that matters today. There is no reason to dwell in such thoughts now as these small moments of reprieve are what we should treasure. Leave those worries for the right time.” Eneath smiled slightly as he saw Iren’s anxious expression fail slightly. If there was one thing Eneath had learned during his own, short time of service was to try to keep his spirit high whenever simply possible. Whether it was by simply resting and dreaming about better times, playing cards with his comrades or by honing his own connection to the Light, Eneath didn’t want to leave any more room to gloomy and desperate thoughts than was absolutely necessary. Iren looked at him with a confused expression and after a moment he answered to the paladin.

“I know you’re right bit it’s not too easy at this point. There is still some training to do and knowing the clerics, things will only get more complex from now on. I should be on my way by now, anyway. I didn’t even have the time to get my armor yet.“ Even not considering his preoccupation with the training, things weren’t looking that simple for the cadet. The whole situation was still a new one for him and it was far more difficult for him to simply prepare for the next fight than it was to someone who was far more experienced than he was. Keril nodded to Iren before he left the room.

“I wish you luck. I trust we’ll meet on the battlefield soon enough.” The light-haired man said as he looked at Iren move into the corridor in apparent hurry. Silence returned to the room after a loud closing of a heavy door in the corridor. It was broken only by a thoughtful remark from Eneath who slowly turned to look at his companion.’

“I hope he’ll find his way. There are too few paladins with a real insight of the Light’s miracles and somehow, I think he has potential.” The young man said as Keril crossed his arms, clearly more doubtful than the other paladin.
“That remains to be seen, Eneath. You can’t say anything about these cadets before they face the first undead. Anyway, I’d say that’s enough jabber for now. We both forgot what we were doing.” Keril chuckled as he looked at the massive armor lying on the dusty floor. Eneath seemed to flinch awake of his thoughts as he heard Keril’s words. He suddenly seemed to regain a sense of his surroundings and answered to his comrade before moving to get his cart.

“Oh, you’re right, Keril. I was too preoccupied by this meeting to pay attention to our own business. Anyway, by all means, let us go on with our task.” Eneath said as he looked outside of the small window. The earlier rainy weather was slowly giving way to the usual dim sunlight that so often overlooked the Plaguelands. The young man headed towards the corridor, glad that he had this evening left before the ordeals of the next day. However, his uncle’s gloomy and stressed appearance still haunted his thoughts. In a way, Eneath hoped he wouldn’t have to meet Osran again as trying to make him see reason wasn’t his idea of a calm preparation for battle. Eneath only hoped that the older paladin would find his own courage again before long.

Hurried rustle was all that could be heard in the small room as the bearded man moved on to open a small letter. As usual, it held no seals or anything that would reveal its importance but Osran knew better than that. Still, he could only imagine what kind of message had sent him this time. The aging paladin knew that his earlier, rather brash message wasn’t likely to be appreciated and it was likely that his quarrels with Abbendis were known to the Grand Inquisitor as well. Osran’s face was twisted into a sickened grimace as the events of this day still dominated his thoughts. However, the letter managed to calm him down somewhat even if he knew it wouldn’t hold any encouraging words. The knight took a more comfortable position as he started to read the writing.

Crusader Lowriver, I’m full aware of what happened between you and the Crusader Lord. I am relieved and thankful for your help in containing this serious threat to the Crusade as our order once again stands united and safe from any internal upheaval. However, it seems there are a few principles I have to make clear.

It was clear from your last message to me that you put your relationship with the treacherous lord before that of our order and even if you did your duty in the end, this kind of behavior is completely intolerable. I didn’t make you a Crimson Legionary so you could throw away your life after one of your supposed friends turns against us.

Additionally, general Abbendis already reported to me that you were far from cooperative during your most important mission. As a paladin, you have to understand the importance of discipline before your superiors. You seemed to disapprove of her methods of containing the rebellion for reasons I can only guess. Valdemar was a traitor and he received his just punishment and you seemed to stand against our righteous and just resolution!

This mustn’t come to pass again, Lowriver. The fact that you didn’t hinder Abbendis’ efforts saved you this time. Despite the honored general’s request, I will not order sanctions against you but know that I won’t tolerate this kind of behavior anymore. Stand true to your path and you will be richly rewarded before the end but if you continue to stand on our way, know that you will be taken care of.

Osran put the letter to the table and took a deep sigh as his mind slowly registered all that Isillien had told him. Of course, none of it came as a surprise. In fact, Osran had expected some kind of punishment but it seemed like Isillien held him in high regard. Still, this message was far from what Osran would have wanted to hear. It seemed like Abbendis had had Isillien’s blessing to her deed all along and that was the issue that truly sickened the aging knight.
He still couldn’t believe that Valdemar was either brainwashed or mind controlled in some way because of his help. He had proposed this mission to save Valdemar’s life, not to destroy his will! It was a fate no servant of the Light should have gone through and for the first time during the war, Osran fully felt that he was the villain, the traitor to the Light. Without him, Valdemar would have been killed but at least it would have been a clear end to his noble life and the twisted leadership of the Crusade would have been revealed once and for all. It would have helped the Lich King but, unlike many wanted to remember, Arthas had once been a noble paladin too and Osran had once looked at him as a king worth following. In fact, he had been highly disappointed when his request to accompany Arthas to Northrend had been rejected.

All had begun when Arthas had thrown away the path of the Light and Osran couldn’t help but feel like history was repeating itself. Osran buried his hands to his hands in despair as his mind wandered to the faraway days, to the bright, warm day when he was being welcomed to the Order of the Silver Hand. Everything had been so simple back in those distant times, back when he still believed in the traditional love of the Light. He had been a youth full of promise and hope back then, something Osran still longed for so dearly…

The young paladin looked around himself in endless awe and humility as he looked at the small group of knights who had gathered around him. Among them were numerous officers of the Order of the Silver Hand as well as some landlords of the nearby villages. The initiation of a new knight was always a notable occasion and the moment’s sanctity was more than clear to the young man. He had knelt before an old priest called Pelan Ylens in front of the chapel’s altar, the bright rays of the sun lighting the room into complete white. The young man nearly wept with emotion as he contemplated the situation. He, a humble peasant’s son, was about to fulfill his dream of joining this most revered of orders. Osran’s head stayed low until he finally heard the priest’s words reach his ears. It was low and soft and for some reason, Osran knew he was blessed to have this man leading the ceremony.

“Rise, servant of Lordaeron. The time for your joining has come.” The priest spread his hands and Osran immediately complied to his request. The two now faced each other, mutual respect radiating from both of their faces. However, the occasion was far from equal. Ylens’ features radiated with authority, of kindness and honor but all the same it was clear to everyone who the higher-ranked man was.

“I know you have asked yourself this question many times but I ask of this question from you now, in front of the Light and all these good people gathered here.  Osran Lowriver, are you willing to serve the Light and spread its wisdom and goodness everywhere you go?” Ylens took a grimmer expression which still held no anger or suspicion towards Osran. The knight already opened his mouth but the large statue behind Ylens interrupted Osran’s thoughts. It was a memorial to the mythical Tyr, the ancient hero who was said to have brought the knowledge of Light to humans in the first place. He was described as a stern-looking but noble warrior whose rock eyes seemed to pierce into the young paladin’s heart. Suddenly Osran felt like the whole chapel had grown darker and the people around him turned hostile. For a moment Osran wavered in doubt but soon he found the spark of trust and hope from deep within himself. The brown-haired man took a deep breath before he simply answered with a firm voice.

“Yes, I will.” The priest looked at Osran in further examination, having noticed Osran’s hesitation. He frowned somewhat before he asked his next question.

“Do you swear on your life to hold on to this truth, no matter what comes your way? Will you remain a beacon of Light for everyone in the face of darkness and withhold the name of our order for the rest of your life?” Ylens looked at Osran whose composure was remarkedly better than to his first question. Osran waited a few moments before he answered again.

“By my life, I swear this.” The young man said as he suddenly felt the light warm his soul more than it ever had before and at that moment, Osran felt like his life was complete. He was suddenly snapped out of his dreamlike thoughts as the priest continued the ceremony.

“Then, Osran Lowriver, with the authority of my charge as a priest of the Light, I name you a paladin of the Silver Hand. Good knights, gather around this man and share your blessings with him!” About a dozen armored figures rose from the pews and they steadily walked towards Osran. Even the young knight knew what was coming as even if he had never seen this ceremony before, he had been told a lot about it before this most important of days.
The knights gathered around Osran and moved their hands above their soon-to-be comrade. Osran closed his eyes in silent respect, knowing that the most important part of his initiation was coming. The knight could feel the Light’s hope flow into his very body as the paladins muttered their own, equally heartfelt blessings on their comrade. After a moment, they pulled their hands back and Osran closed his eyes to meet the priest’s gaze. He nodded to Osran slightly before he spoke the last, affirming words of the sacred ceremony.

“You came to this chapel as a farmer’s son but you will leave it as a knight of the Silver Hand. As long as you continue to follow the righteous path, valor and goodness will follow in your wake. Never abandon that path and you will make each of us proud.”[/i]

Those last words chilled Osran’s thoughts as he put his hand in a fist. For decades, he had always held Ylens’ words close to his heart and never questioned them and even to his own astonishment, those words had always been true. He had long been seen as a true paladin and a hope for others but what was he now? What would the priest and all those knights who had blessed him back then say of his recent deeds? Would each of them shun him and regret that they ever knew him at all? Most of them were dead after all these years but it alleviated Osran’s fears little right now. He felt utterly worthless and his mind wandered to a simple thought.

I did my best to save you, Valdemar but it was not enough. I hope you can forgive me of the path I’ve taken but I did it to protect the things that matter to me and even you.

The knight turned to look out of the window but he could only see the courtyard of the complex of barracks with a few assistants doing their simple tasks. Sadness flowed to Osran’s mind as he thought about all the promise and trust of that beautiful day to naught and forced to this dark road. The worst part was that he couldn’t even turn away from it anymore as he was also guilty of Valdemar’s fate and tightly tied to Isillien’s web of control. Osran’s mind continued to wander those dark roads of thought when he suddenly heard the door open. The newcomer did very little to ease Osran’s anxiety.

“What have you done to him, Lowriver? After you and your new friends’ appearance, Valdemar hasn’t acted like himself for a moment! He has never before changed his mind and now he seems to slither before Dathrohan’s commands! Think very carefully before you answer to me, traitor!” The outraged voice of Nicholas Zverenhoff spoke as he quickly marched towards Osran from the door. The black-bearded man’s contained utter rage and it was clear to Osran that the threat was real and Osran couldn’t really blame him. The knight wasn’t given time to rise from his chair before a blade pointed right between his eyes. The Crimson Legionary took a few moments to consider his options before he finally gave his answer.

“With all due respect, Zverenhoff, I’ve played no part in any of this. I know only that Abbendis was here to make sure that Valdemar didn’t turn traitor but it seems like he simply saw that this city has only one way to go. That is more than obvious.” The knight’s voice was cold and defiant as he answered. Beneath his harsh cover, however, the paladin knew he was pulling himself ever deeper into the web of lies, into the bottomless pit from which there was no escape. However, his words did very little to calm the enraged noble down.

“So you know what Abbendis was up to and still you chose to side with her? I don’t know what foul game you are playing here but it certainly doesn’t serve any righteous purpose. Tell me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you here and now before you spread any more poison with your twisted ideals!” Zverenhoff’s words held even more hate with the last sentence but they didn’t worry Osran too greatly as he knew he’d be able to defend himself and perhaps even overpower the former duke if things escalated that far. However, he had been through too much already to engage in another pointless battle. He wanted to get through this unsavory meeting peacefully.

“Because it’s too late for that. What’s been is done and I’d change it all if I were able. Killing me, if you happened to be able to do that, would only make matters worse for you and Valdemar would likely order you to be executed. The Crusade has won and the Scourge will taste the might of our united might.” Osran stared at the wall in a faraway gaze, the words pouring out of his mouth without thinking. The knight wasn’t willing to deny everything but he knew better than to tell what had happened to Valdemar and his words did very little to alleviate Zverenhoff’s alarm. He had only seen Osran as a noble comrade but the two had never been even close enough to call the other one his friend so the former noble had no reason to hold back his words.

“So the Crusade has indoctrinated you beyond all hope, Lowriver. However, Valdemar won’t be part of this anymore. I knew you did something to him and I’m planning to get to the bottom of all this. I promise you, I’ll find everything about what is going on and if I found proof about what I think you are really up to, Osran, you will pay the price before the end. This treachery…” It was at this point when Osran realized there was no talking out of this situation and with quick movements, he rose up from his chair and raised his own sword to match Zverenhoff’s threat. The knight cocked his head slightly and hissed in an angered voice.

“I dare you to try, Nicholas. If you embark on that kind of journey, you will not get far. Even the walls have ears in this city and if you think you are free to spread lies about the Grand Crusader, I’ll be forced to take you down. I’ve seen enough death today so don’t force me into this, Zverenhoff. Leave now, and don’t speak about this day’s events to anyone and you might just survive.” Osran’s mouth turned into a hate-filled grin, boring its way into the former noble. Zverenhoff returned Osran’s challenging expression but his mind raced mercilessly. If even half of Osran’s words were true, he would win nothing by ruining his own life but he couldn’t just leave this terrifying crime go unpunished. Still, Nicholas realized that retribution would have to happen on another day. He sternly pulled his sword to his scabbard and hissed silently.

“This isn’t over, Lowriver. Your crimes will be known to everyone.” And with those words, the duke turned around and pulled the door forcefully shut behind him. The aging paladin was left to stare at the closed door in an empty gaze, his mind void of any coherent emotions. He had just made a powerful enemy who had just a day before been his respected comrade. The paladin prayed in his mind that Nicholas would give up his quest before it would be too late for him.

However, facing the noble like this only gave further proof to Osran about who he had become. A loathed outcast who had in a matter of days been turned into an emotionless executioner of noble knights who had only questioned the righteousness of the Grand Crusader’s methods. As he thought about how quickly his life had been turned into this heartbreaking mess, something finally gave up in Osran’s mind. The knight buried his face in his head and for the first time in decades, started to sob hopelessly, for a moment throwing away all the pride he had savored all his long years of service like he had done to his once-precious honor when he had accepted Isillien’s offer less than a week earlier.

The Grand Crusader was far from content as he read his newest report. He was sitting alone on the Crimson Throne, the seat of the order’s master, as he was going through the summary of the failed uprising in Tyr’s Hand. Not that he wasn’t relieved to see the crisis was over but the report itself brought deep frown to his face. His expression turned from unbelieving to outright suspicious as he finished the rather long message.
Dathrohan creased the small piece of paper and threw it on a table next to him. Like so many reports before this one, it seemed to be only the partial truth. Everything seemed to be in order at first glance but as he looked deeper than the first impression, there were serious flaws in its text. For example, who had given Abbendis and this unknown crusader Lowriver the aurhority to assault Valdemar directly and how had they changed the headstrong lord’s mind? The report claimed that they had managed to make him see the truth in the bigger picture after they had shown him mercy. What complete rubbish!

The heavily-built man rose up from his throne and started to walk around in the mighty hall that once again served as the center of all good and pure in the Plaguelands. For weeks now, Dathrohan had felt that the reports he received were lacking in depth and he couldn’t shake off the terrible feeling that he was being manipulated. He, the Grand Crusader! And the only person who would ever be capable of such acts was, no matter how hard it was for him to possible, his old and trusted friend and co-leader of the Crimson Legion, Grand inquisitor Isillien.

He stopped to think about that kind of possibility as he looked at his mighty throne. Isillien had served him faithfully as long as they had known each other but somehow, it felt like there was more going on with the Crimson Legion than he had ordered. At first he had dismissed it as his own forgetfulness but lately it seemed like they were truly executing orders the Grand Crusader hadn’t authorized and the Legion’s agents’ reports seemed to be only growing vaguer. Earlier he had wanted to think these things as mere oversights from his servants but such a weird and unbelievable tale from Tyr’s Hand raised his concerns greatly. He was the master of the Crusade and he had to make sure none of its members were hurting its purity and to do that, he’d have to get to the bottom of all this. Dathrohan took the latest report and headed towards the corridor.

Unusually bright Light shone in from the numerous windows, as if the endless, dim, sickly shroud resting over the land had been taken away. For a moment, someone could have been forgiven for thinking the land had been restored to what it used to be but it wasn’t many seconds until the orange hue once again entered the sacred halls of the Scarlet Bastion. The Grand Crusader stopped for a few seconds to see if the momentary reprieve to the endless nightmare returned but that hope was for naught. Dathrohan turned away from the window with a slow movement and headed towards his subordinates’ quarters. He had an important decision to make.

“So, have any news from Silverpine, Galford? I guess you have heard that the cursed Forsaken are on the move?” Malor the Zealous asked, outraged by the recent news that the Banshee Queen’s pawns had moved on to the Crusade’s outposts in his old homeland, attempting to take what remained of the old frontier of Lordaeron’s center. Galford had been returning to his room after he was returning from one of his rare pauses when he had been stopped by the paladin. The scholar looked at the knight with a surprised look when he turned to look at him.

“Why, yes, I have. We always knew they were on our enemy but it seems that Sylvanas has regained her strength quicker than we thought. I hear they even ambushed ranger Swiftarrow and her troops and at least of what I’ve heard, she hasn’t been seen since. We have to fear the worst concerning her. It seems like that frontier is lost.” The chronicler’s voice was pained but calm as he spoke. Silverpine Forest was an integral part of Lordaeron, true, but it had never
been its heartland nor a central area of operation for the Crusade. Losing the few outposts stationed there wouldn’t fell he whole order but it certainly was a concerning development. Malor more than agreed with that statement.

“And we’re doing nothing! I always knew we should slaughter those abominations when we had the chance! And to make things even worse, we just had to leave Silverpine’s defense to a spineless elf! And now that whole’s place is lost!” Malor raised his voice and his eyes thundered with rage. He would give anything to be given the chance of return to his old, simple life. Galford looked at the other crusader in disapproval and he answered soon in the only way he could.

“We will liberate the capital in due time, commander. However, in case you haven’t noticed, we are surrounded in Stratholme, not there! The Banshee Queen will share Arthas’ fate but we have to advance one step at a time. Lady Swiftarrow was a true champion of the Crusade and we will have to make sure her sacrifices in Northrend and Silverpine will not be forgotten. The remembrance of the heroes who fought for our victory is just as important as fighting the battles themselves.” As a scholar, Galford knew the value of tales of heroism among the soldiers and, if the Crusade would be victorious, their names would pass down in history. Malor, however, snorted dismissingly at this remark.

“Remembrances or writings won’t prevent the undead from turning Silverpine into the next Plaguelands, Galford! We have to stop them on every front or this whole world will burn! The demons might be beaten but Arthas isn’t lesser a threat and you know it! The Grand Crusader should…” Malor’s remark was interrupted by a cold voice from behind him, one that took him off-guard for a moment.

“I should do what, commander? Please, go on.” Dathrohan hadn’t heard what the two had spoken about but these kinds of conversations were far from new to the lord of the Crusade. Malor hesitated for a moment before he decided against holding back. He was seriously disappointed in Dathrohan’s inaction over Silverpine and here he had the perfect opportunity to voice his misgivings. The paladin didn’t even lower his voice as he turned to Saidan.

“With all due respect, Grand Crusader, I cannot even begin to understand why you let Silverpine fall! That forest was instrumental in safeguarding Tirisfal and in keeping the Forsaken at bay. And you let it fall to Sylvanas without sending any reinforcements there to help our comrades! Have you lost your mind?!” An ordinary crusade would never have dared to speak to Dathrohan like that but each knight in the Bastion was handpicked by the Grand Crusader and Malor was a member of the Crimson Legion as well. His was one of the few opinions Dathrohan would listen. Saidan looked at the other knight for a moment, his displeasure evident in his tired eyes. However, his answer was as authoritative and firm as always.

“I discarded that front in order to achieve breakthrough here, where it matters. Sending reinforcements there would have seriously hampered our chances of breaking this cursed siege and our comrades gladly gave their lives for the greater good. I know that was your home but you have to accept that sometimes we have to put our personal feelings aside and concentrate on what really matters! I was born in the old capital but I haven’t ordered us to give up Darrowmere and brashly attack that place! But I didn’t come here to debate about these things with you.” The master of the order cast a somewhat hostile look towards Malor who frowned in anger but knew better than to take this issue any further. It was clear that Dathrohan had already decided the course of action and complaining about those things wouldn’t help things any.
Dathrohan walked towards Galford who looked at his superior with some curiosity. It was clear he had something to show to him as he walked towards the scholar in clear resolution. The knight stopped near the chronicler and silently put a small piece of paper to his hand and snorted sharply.

“¥Read it and tell me what you think about it! Quick!” It was clear to Galford that Dathrohan wasn’t on the mood to wait so he started to quickly go through the letter. He had received the previous reports also but he had only read a few of them. Still, the chronicler was getting a good idea what the Grand Crusader meant. However, out of mere caution, Galford soon raised his gaze from the letter and answered as neutrally as he could.

“It’s good to hear that the situation in Tyr’s Hand has normalized. What is the problem?” The scholar asked carefully but it seemed like it wasn’t the correct way to approach the issue at hand. Dathrohan looked at him in clear frustration and almost shouted the answer.

“You know full well what is the problem! Or do you believe the explanations Abbendis gives in them?” Dathrohan demanded, his anxious movements telling Galford that he had to answer as truthfully as he could. The scholar took a swift glance at Malor before he spoke.

“I don’t know Valdemar as well as you do but if there is even some truth to what I’ve heard about him, yes, this seems a bit strange. How could they change his mind and more importantly, how weren’t the Crusader Lord and his troops able to take down the mutineers? The report overlooks that part completely. B… but what are you trying to say, sir?” Galford frowned as he took another glance at the message. Dathrohan was also perplexed by the scholar’s words, that particular point being overlooked by the Grand Crusader. He simply couldn’t believe Valdemar would leave himself unprotected in a dangerous situation such as this. The whole case was getting ever more suspicious and he took a short pause before he responded to the question.

“I don’t know, Galford, but I can see there’s something going on under my nose. It is as if these messages are manipulated and cut before they are sent to me. In fact, I’m sure that is the case.” At this point, Malor joined the discussion once again. The knight’s expression had turned into a somewhat agitated one and his sentiments were clear as he spoke.

“So you’re saying someone in the highest leadership of the Crusade is a traitor? Just forget it, Dathrohan. You handpicked your closest followers yourself and each and every one of them is a living legend. Even the mere thought of them working for the Lich King is completely ridiculous!” The paladin said unusually brashly but Dathrohan merely ignored his outburst. However, he partly answered his question as he once again started to speak.

“If I’m not completely mistaken, there is only one person in the Crusade capable of this kind of manipulation and treachery. It sickens me to even think that he has strayed from our path. The one I believe is behind this is none other than Grand Inquisitor Isillien himself.” Saidan crossed his arms as his companions gasped in shock. Both of them had all their lives seen Isillien as a beacon of virtue and this announcement caught both of them off-guard. They knew Dathrohan had to have a good reason for his doubts but the two still couldn’t accept this accusation. Once again, Malor was the first one to answer.

“The Grand Inquisitor? How can you even consider that kind of possibility?! He’s the head of our Church and he has never shown us anything but kindness and valor. This must be a joke!” Malor nearly thundered as he spoke but Saidan turned to merely look at him coldly. After he had stopped his yelling, the Grand Crusader answered shortly and sternly.

“If your answers are like that, stay silent, Malor. I have better things to do than listen to that kind of senseless yelling.” He was about to continue when Galford seized his moment and interrupted the Grand Crusader.

“W… what makes you think so? He is Abbendis’ old and trusted friend and all of us respect him greatly.” The scholar’s voice was completely stunned and it contained deep conflict. Dathrohan looked at him with melancholic eyes as he answered.

“As I said, he’s the only one who can do this kind of thing. He leads Crimson Legion in our western lands and he’s the acting head of the Church and the priests back him without question, giving him many loyalists if he tried anything brash. Isillien has always been an ambitious man and now that I think of it, he has seemed to be even too righteous to be a mere mortal. However, all of that is mere speculation for now and I cannot prove anything to anyone yet. I need to have evidence if I’m going to confront him publicly and to show his true colors to everyone. That’s why I searched you two out as quickly as I could.” That announcement didn’t come out as a surprise to either of the two crusaders but they caused Malor some frustration. First Dathrohan came only to insult him and then he’s asking for his help? Such things didn’t sit well for him but Malor more than knew his duty. However, there was no reason to answer before the Grand Crusader had finished his proposition.

“Galford, I need you to research all of the letters and to find if thy hold anything that could help us. After that, I need you to begin revealing and fighting back against those who have taken control of our messaging network. As for you, Malor, I’ll have to ask you for a more direct mission.” The announcement was followed by a slightly awkward silence which was only stopped by the paladin’s answer a few seconds later.

“And what is that “mission”? My sword is yours, Grand Crusader, but I have to ask you to speak directly!” The knight’s expression took a slight agitated look to it which didn’t move Dathrohan in any way. He respected the knight greatly but Malor’s antics were often far from what Dathrohan appreciated. However, he knew he owed an explanation to the man who he was asking to risk his life.

“You will gather me the proof I need to publicly attack the Grand Inquisitor. Only the Light itself knows what that damned priest is up to but I cannot trust any other Crimson Legionary than the ones inside these walls. You will go to Hearthglen and you will confirm my fears to be correct. That’ll open us the opportunity to discard all of those who have given up the pure path to serve the evil.” Dathrohan’s eyes blazed with righteous fire as he spoke but Malor’s frown only deepened he could easily see what his superior was up to but it did little to alleviate his own concerns or curiosity about what he was supposed to do. Malor asked one question that he hoped would ease his curiosity.

“But, in the case you’re correct and Isillien is a traitor, how can I alone hope to gather evidence under his very nose? I’ll never get to even begin my task before he squashes me!” Of course, danger wasn’t something Malor would never escape from but he wanted a very good reason to laying down his very life. Dathrohan turned to face the paladin and spoke to him in a more encouraging voice than before.

“I trust you take caution during your mission. Trying to stay unseen in Isillien’s eyes will be more than wise but remember that the others are our comrades as well. I will give you a letter to take with you in which I’ll give my authorization for your quest. Not even Isillien will dare to rise against the man who carries the seal of the Dathrohan.” The sickening uncertainty of the depth of Isillien’s betrayal lurked deep within the Grand Crusader’s mind as there was a small chance Isillien could start an open rebellion if things had gone far enough. However, that was a risk he’d have to take. Malor could see the flicker of doubt in his superior’s eyes but he trusted Dathrohan deeply. He bowed before the Grand Crusader before he answered in a dry but clearly revering voice to him.

“Very well, Saidan. I will leave tomorrow and I’ll leave no stone unturned before I find what you want. I swear this in my life and honor.” Malor said as Galford replicated the other crusader’s gesture. The scholar also answered and confirmed his acceptance of the mission.

“Consider the mission done, Grand Crusader. I’ll make sure that I’ll do my all to repel this threat.” The chronicler said as Dathrohan crossed his arms and nodded to them approvingly.

“I expected nothing less from you two. I’ll give you two companions to go with you, Malor, and you are freed from all other tasks, archivist. I trust you’ll serve me well.” The two saluted quickly before they turned around and left to prepare for their new tasks, leaving Dathrohan to once more reflect the situation.

The prospect of this treachery chilled the lord of the Crusade deeply as he looked at a tapestry hanging high from the ceiling. Dathrohan couldn’t even begin to consider the possibility that Isillien had usurped most of the Legion from the Grand Crusader’s control. Certainly, he couldn’t have been that blind? No matter what, Dathrohan resolved to get to the very bottom of this and to ensure that his serious oversight wouldn’t compromise the fate of the order. Dathrohan turned around and headed back towards his room. He couldn’t do more to reveal Isillien’s treachery for now but he could begin the preparations for the day when his doubts would be confirmed.

The offensive towards Stratholme is about to begin but will Dathrohan's new plans to cleanse the Crusade of Isillien's treason be successful? And will Osran be able to overcome the lowest point of his entire life or will the Legion end up being his own undoing? As always, i hope you enjoyed this offering and see you next time! :)


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #25 on: December 16, 2017, 12:55:40 PM »
Raising the Scarlet Banner

The loud banging of the city’s cathedral’s bells told without mercy that the day’s operation was about to begin. Each and every man and woman in Tyr’s Hand worked their absolute hardest to prepare their armor, steeds and weapons as they headed to join the ever-growing mass of soldiers gathering near the city’s protective gates. Today the first major offensive of the Crusade since the disaster at Northrend would begin and no one who had ever taken the oath of a paladin would withdraw from it without an excellent reason.

And despite his deep self-pity, neither would Osran. The paladin hadn’t slept well due to the images of his past flowing before his eyes but that couldn’t be helped. Even if in the inside the Crimson Legionary was completely broken in the inside, he’d never let it hinder his efforts in a battle. He had fought dozens of serious battles and he wouldn’t have survived them if he’d let his personal feelings get the best of him. However, the post he was assigned to didn’t appeal to him at all. Osran took a slight sigh as he cast a glance at Carethas and Iren standing next to the main horde.

Carlin Redpath, one of the last honorable officers in the city, had asked him to oversee the two paladins in the battle as a gesture of respect to the duo. However, the mere thought of that fought against Osran’s experience as each and every paladin earned his experience alone and no other soldier could help them in it. However, Osran had accepted that request because, after his fight with Zverenhoff, he was the last old comrade who still trusted the paladin completely due to his obliviousness to what had happened between him, Abbendis and Valdemar. He was one friend the knight was still determined to keep. Osran rode near the two cadets and spoke to hem in a harsh voice to hide his own internal torment.

“I hope you two are ready. I cannot even begin to imagine why the Scarlet Protector thinks I can help you in the coming fight, but for his sake, I accepted the request. However, I do apologize for leaving yesterday but I had different… matters to attend to.” Osran’s voice dropped at his last comments but he hoped it wouldn’t raise any suspicions from the duo. Not that it mattered as a cadet’s word wouldn’t weight too much. Carethas looked at the knight with some puzzlement but he could see Osran wasn’t lying. He took a moment to reflect on the situation before he answered.

“We understand, crusader Lowriver. We will do our best in the coming battle. I assure you we won’t be a hindrance to you in any way.” The younger man said to Osran whose mind was filled with bitterness to his own situation. Without thinking, he answered in a way he would have never done consciously.

“That’s a lot for a cadet to promise. I have absolutely no reason to believe you’ll survive even the initial charge but I guess we’ll see. At least you can’t do much worse than some other recruits I’ve seen in my day.” Osran cringed at his own words but he wouldn’t take them back in front of his words in front of the cadets. Carethas frowned at Osran while Iren turned his gaze at the main group of the knights, remembering his brief talk with Eneath on the preceding day. With some hesitation, he spoke to Osran as the Crusader Lord slowly rode to the front of the group, apparently preparing to announce today’s strategy.

“Your nephew, Eneath, said that the mere trust in the Light and ourselves will bring us the victory. I plan to follow his advice and to prove that I have what it takes to serve the good in this world. That’s all I can give and I hope that’s enough for you.” There was a small but distinct tone of condemnation to the older knight’s words but it was clear that Iren meant no offense to his superior. Osran looked at him in surprise, not expecting Eneath to have met the two. Even then, he was slightly disturbed by his nephew’s words as they were so similar to those he’d have said himself not too long ago. However, he didn’t allow his emotions to show themselves.

“Eneath is a good paladin surely but he is also inexperienced enough to say something like that. But do whatever you think helps you most in surviving the coming horrors. Just remember the things I showed you yesterday and you might just live.” The knight said in a slightly silent voice as Valdemar raised his blade to the air to demand attention. Of course, the outline of the strategy was already clear to everyone but no operation was merely a reflection of the last one and Valdemar had to be prepared for any surprises. The already- silent chatter died down altogether as their lord’s voice started to thunder over the horde of knights.

“Today we start writing the noblest chapter in the history of our blessed order and the legendary tale of Lordaeron’s rebirth! As all of you already know, we will feast in Corin’s Crossing before the sun sets in the east! We will slaughter each and every slave of the Lich King in our old, beloved town and it will once again shine as a beacon of peace and prosperity all around these lands! Corin’s Crossing was once a bastion of honor and it will be once again! Of this I, as a lord of the Scarlet Crusade, wow to you!” Loud cheers rang across the city as the knight greeted their leader’s announcement. Every even slightly more experienced knight remembered the city’s markets filled with exotic delicacies and finest cloths all the way from the enchanted woodlands of Kalimdor as well as the ever-hopeful and cheerful lanes of that beloved town. However, the cheers ended soon enough as Valdemar continued.

“But we cannot simply charge to the streets. For all we know, there might be hordes of necromancers in the buildings, just waiting to rot our flesh at first sight. Because of this, our first objective is to secure the city’s surroundings which will be made more challenging due to the lakes surrounding its western approaches. However, once the city is under siege, we will begin our push to the streets but no matter what you face, always keep your defenses up against any attack from a necromancer. If we lose any parts of our army to the Scourge, it seriously compromises our entire operation! We must always take the widest streets first and the narrowest lanes will be the last areas we’ll liberate. The main objective is not to kill as many undead as we can but to minimize our own casualties!” Valdemar’s speech was greeted with a revering silence as each of the knights knew this battle would reveal the Crusade’s true chances of
ever winning this war. Each of the paladins present knew a lot was depending on their ability to execute the strategy flawlessly. The silence was broken by one final call from the Crusader Lord.

“Open the gates! Today, we begin our march to Stratholme or join our old comrades in the afterlife! Charge, my comrades, to Corin’s Crossing!” The massive gates started to open agonizingly slowly. Osran felt sick even listening to Valdemar like this but right now, he didn’t have a real choice. Despite his lost self-respect, Osran hoped beyond hope that this offensive would be a success. After all he had given to the Crusade, he could only hope something good would come out of it. With a forced sigh, Osran spoke to the two cadets.

“Well, good luck for your first battle. It is always the most difficult one but whatever you do, don’t let your guard down. Let’s go.” The two cadets nodded silently towards Osran as they joined the main horde of the paladins. It was immensely rare for a fresh recruit to be accepted among them but Osran wanted to believe that Redpath knew what he was doing. And should the duo survive, they’d be forced to learn invaluable skills and soon enough, they’d be a regular part of the group. Osran himself, however, didn’t care about anything but victory. In the middle of the lowest point in his life, the last thing he cared about was to look after two novices.

The gate loomed as a menacing portal to another world as the mass of crusaders quickly poured out into the wide stone path surrounded by the never-ending sickly mist. However, none of those present paid any attention to it anymore and the army begun its advance towards the lost gem of southern Darrowmere, preparing to clear the entire city and its surrounding lands of the Lich King’s corruption for good.

“Something feels off. This has been too easy.” Eneath said frowning as he looked at his surroundings. Corin’s Crossing couldn’t be any further than ten minutes’ ride but the crusaders hadn’t met any real resistance on their march. Keril looked at his comrade briefly before he realized what the other young knight meant.

“You’re right. The Scourge hasn’t been too active in these lands lately but they shouldn’t be allowing us to ride all the way to their stronghold without any resistance! But certainly they can’t be expecting us… can they?” Keril asked with clear concern and Eneath’s expression echoed that of his companion’s clearly. He didn’t know any more than Keril did but Eneath had found himself more sharp-eyed than most of his comrades.

“I pray to the Light they aren’t. But remember that we aren’t fighting against a foe we can understand. Dead corpses and fanatic madmen can be up in arms even if they don’t know we’re coming. In other words, they may have laid a trap many weeks ago already.” The young man bit his lip as he answered. He knew the disturbing implications of his own words but on the other hand, he was more than confident their leaders were more than aware of these details. He had seen Valdemar in action many times before and the younger Abbendis’ name wasn’t unknown to him either. These two knew the situation better than most of the other leaders and Eneath was ready to follow them into this battle. Keril, on the other hand, wasn’t as confident.

“T… then should we tell of it to the others? I’m not willing to fall into the Lich King’s trap.” The man said with a wavering voice, one that finally made Eneath to raise his voice.

“Snap out of it, Keril! They are much more thoughtful than we are and if you claim to know better than Valdemar, why haven’t you shown it before?!” Eneath cast an angry glance at his companion whose expression darkened immediately. The former regretted his words slightly but sometimes Keril’s even slow mind got to his nerves. To his relief and concern, it was at this moment that Valdemar’s voice could be heard under the beating of the horses’ hoofs.

“We’re approaching the city! The first group, come with me! The second follows Abbendis and the third begins assaulting the city to keep at least part of the Scourge’s forces busy! Let’s surround the city, quickly!” Eneath immediately turned his steed to the right and started to follow the general to the village’s northern side. The old, ruined houses started to slowly appear in the distance, the ghastly reminders of the city that had once been Corin’s Crossing. Eneath had never seen it himself before but the mere tales of it brought slight melancholy to his mind. However, his thoughts were soon interrupted by a terrifying screech from high above him. Many gazes turned immediately to the sky but it was already too late for some of the knights. Large, grey creatures were quickly falling from the sky, darting against the crusaders with a terrifyingly vicious way. Before many of the knights could even begin to defend themselves, their throats were either torn to pieces or their stomachs eviscerated through their armor. The attack was terrifying in its brutality before the defenders could contain the new threat. One voice called to the others, trying to tell how to best fight against the attackers.

“They’re the creatures from the northern wastes of Northrend! Defend each other as they’re too stupid to fight against multiple foes at once! These bastards were the end of many good men in that frozen hell but how can they be here, too?” His words were interrupted by another surprised voice but it wasn’t particularly friendly.

“Think about that only after you’ve slaughtered each and every one of them, fool! Give no quarter to these monsters!” The voice belonged to Valdemar who was just removing his sword from one gargoyle’s entrails, preparing to strike another one of them down before it had the time attack him. Osran, who was riding only a few ranks behind the Crusader Lord, cringed in pain as one of the servants of the Lich King dealt a swift blow to his back but the knight managed to turn around and impale the attacker. The flurry of claws and screeches slowly wore off as the creatures started to disengage from the fight but Valdemar wasn’t ready to let them go. With a loud cry, he yelled to his followers in rage.

“Priests, strike them out of the sky, now! Don’t let them to have another chance to attack ever again!”” Many torrents of Light filled the sky as the priests brought many of the gargoyles down with holy fire. Valdemar frowned as he saw that most of the herd would escape but he knew better than to waste any time. He looked at Nicholas Zverenhoff who was riding on his side and the latter gave the next order.

“Continue the advance and if the gargoyles try to attack us again, bring them down immediately! And burn the fallen, for their own sake.” The last sentence was spoken in an almost normal, if melancholic voice, and some of the riders immediately lighted torches they were carrying on their belts. Osran looked with complete indifference as the burning corpses were left behind him, the fallen knights’ endless war against the Scourge finally brought to an end. However, there was no time for such thoughts the lake on the city’s western approach grew ever closer to the advancing host of crusaders. The other group led by Abbendis was also charging at the same pace but the gargoyle attack hadn’t hit them as severely as Valdemar’s group. Osran could see the undead finally beginning to man the city’s surroundings and the main streets in anticipation of the offensive. And Osran knew that meant only one thing. So they have a leader
in there. I can’t wait to find out whether it’s a death knight or a necromancer. We’ll see soon enough.

The moment of collision grew closer as small groups of the advancing crusaders confronted the undead at the mouth of the streets while the others moved towards the mighty bridge that had for many travelers served as a symbol of Corin’s Crossing. It was a rather traditional bridge, not unlike the others in Lordaeron, but it matched the relaxed yet happy mood inside the town and it would now serve as the final springboard for the crusaders into the city. Osran took a deep sigh as he took his sword from his scabbard, preparing for a violent collision.

The entire situation felt surreal to Carethas. Here he was, standing as one of the fabled knights of the Scarlet Crusade, on the side of the very paladin who had inspired him for so long. Even if the knight in question resembled very little the man who had defended Barrowhome, Carethas knew he had a blessed luck to stand by his side on this day. Maybe Osran would acknowledge him once he’d shown his bravery in this coming fight? Even if he knew his skill with the sword was questionable at best, Carethas would give his all in the fight for the city. Each second that brought the two hosts closer made Carethas cringe ever deeper until the moment his sword finally sliced through the rotting flesh.
In a matter of few moments, the entire bridge turned into a site of slaughter as the armored steeds rode over the undead. The blades cut through them like they were nothing but it was clear they were only hindrances to slow the attack force down to buy the Scourge time to execute whatever vile plan they were preparing for. In his moment of initial excitement, Carethas couldn’t even begin to suspect the battle at the bridge was an integral part of that very plan. Suddenly, to each of the crusaders’ horror, two deafening booms emanated from the lake’s depths, causing violent waves of contaminated water to fly to every direction. Carethas looked in fear as the mass of water from both sides of the bridge fall down upon him, the very essence of the Plague reeking from the lake’s wretched waters. He could see many of the paladins suddenly covering themselves with the impenetrable shield which served as one of the paladins most trusted abilities. The cadet, however, wasn’t capable of creating such a defense himself and he was already preparing for a premature end to his life in the Crusade… until he felt the sacred hope being reborn in his body. In amazement, Carethas looked around himself to see who had provided him with salvation and soon, a voce spoke to him in slight annoyance.

“Don’t waste time wondering about life and continue to advance! I didn’t shield you to simply stare around!” The cadet’s eyes spotted the imposing form of Nicholas Zverenhoff who was near him looking in fear as a few of the paladins, who were slow enough to save themselves, fell to the ground. Their flesh had already started melting away and it wasn’t many seconds until their earthly remains were being spread to the winds by the releasing fire. However, Carethas knew Zverenhoff was right and he immediately nodded to him and headed after him towards the city’s main street.

“My deepest thanks, duke Zverenhoff. I won’t forget this.”

The situation only earned a few curses from Osran as he looked at a knight fall beside him. This had been a most unsavory surprise but one that couldn’t be helped. He quickly lighted his torch but burning his comrade’s corpse didn’t seem to spark any regrets in Osran. It was as if he was just sending a stranger away instead of parting with a trusted comrade for the very last time. In a way, Osran acknowledged the change in his way of thinking but the recent events still dominated his mind. It was much easier to accept his part in life if he simply stopped caring about his old comrades. Those emotions had just brought him pain with Valdemar and there was no telling who would be the next one to earn the Grand Crusader’s retribution.

Still, the tiniest ripple of relief waved through Osran’s face as he saw Carethas surviving the wave. Despite everything that had happened since that day, the mere courage and faith the young man had shown on that day still awed the aging knight to this day. Maybe Carethas could one day find his place among the Crusade and Osran, despite his situation, was happy to tell he had been his trainer on his first steps to becoming a paladin. But all of that could wait. After getting over the initial shock, Valdemar ordered his troops to restart their advance immediately. Osran, with weary and routine-like gestures, ordered his steed to return to gallop while healing his own slight hits of the water. The offensive was ready to continue in full swing. However, the bridge had served as a deadly trap and even if nobody voiced the thought, everybody knew there was no telling where the next one would be waiting for them.

There was something in the atmosphere of the street that worried Keril greatly. On the outside, nothing in the outlook of the ruined, blackened houses seemed unusual for the Plaguelands nor did the hordes of ghouls swarming all around him and the rest of his squad. However, the air itself seemed increasingly heavy, even suffocating the deeper he and his comrades went inside the city. Initially the clashed didn’t seem too unlike those he had fought in the past but now it really seemed to weigh down upon him and he could see similar weariness creeping into his comrades’ movements. The whole city seemed to slowly grow more blurred. Still, Keril could see clearly enough to strike down the next attacker but after that, he cried to Eneath in a surprisingly tired-sounding voice.

“Can you feel that something is wrong with this place? It’s becoming ever more taxing to strike these devils down!” Keril said as he parried a rather large skeleton’s hit against him. Eneath impaled a ghoul to his left before he answered.

“How couldn’t I!? This must be the Scourge’s doing! Only a man capable of dark magic can taint the air itself! I’ll have to ask Abbendis if she has any idea on how we deal with this. If we cannot get rid of this nightmare soon, none of us are going to live to tell of this!” The general was standing near Eneath leading her troops ever forward and for some reason, her fighting didn’t seem to be bothered by the vile spell at work. The paladin figured it her burning desire and zeal to kill each and every undead in this land that gave her the strength to go on but he imagined that under her tough exterior she felt the same way as the others. Eneath fought his way to her and shouted to her amid the heavy melee.

“We have to get rid of this spell that is weighing down on us! You can feel it also, don’t you?” Eneath knew Abbendis wasn’t the most easily approachable of the Crusade’s leaders but her answer still surprised the young man.

“Of course I do and we aren’t going to rest until we take down its source! The casters have to be inside these houses and you are going to help me in slaughtering each of the villains casting this curse upon us. So stop complaining and continue the fight! The quicker we kill these devils the faster we can breathe easily again!” Abbendis was just about to cast a powerful judgement of light but to her utmost shock, it died down in her hand. She frowned deeply and tried to do it again but with the same result. No matter what she tried, she could no longer summon the Light to her side and one by one, the other paladins fell victim to the same fate. The loss of her strength general brought an extremely rare moment of hesitance to Abbendis’ mind but with a loud cry, she tightened her grip on her sword and resumed the advance.

“To hell with the Light! Use whatever weapons you can and continue the attack! Take no one step back until the city is ours!”

The same feeling of powerlessness had completely taken over Osran as he faced a rather hastily-built abomination. The monster’s viscera drooped even further away from its stomach than usual and it had no real recognizable face. However, it was every inch as powerful as others of its kind and the loss of his strength almost cost Osran everything. He was just charging against the undead with all of his might, ready to infuse his sword with the holy power needed to kill the monstrosity with one blow. However, the usual glow never appeared into the weapon. The paladin’s hit caused another, deep cut to the abomination’s abdomen but it wasn’t enough to kill it once and for all. Osran rolled away as the massive chain hit the ground where he had just stood. When he had stopped, Osran looked at his hand and he saw that no matter what he did, it had no effect. Immediately, the fearful thought flowed into the paladin’s mind.

Has the Light abandoned me? Have I really drifted that far from the right path?

However, those thoughts were swept away when he saw Zverenhoff and Valdemar face the same problem. In many ways, the former duke was the kind of paladin who Osran would still have wanted to be, a true champion of pureness still faithful to the code of honor they both had shared for decades. Seeing him face the same problem as the Crimson Legionary swept Osran’s personal fears away as he knew that the former duke wouldn’t be abandoned by the Light because of straying from its pure teachings.

Even then, it opened another possibility that wasn’t in anyway more appetizing. Osran had seen too many battles in his time to understand that this was some kind spell used to drain the magical energies from the enemy, some kind of enormous, long-term counterspell. The knight panted with concern as he faced the massive undead ready to crush him like a tiny insect under the chain it used as a weapon. With or without the Light’s help, Osran knew he had to take down this disgusting aberration or everything else would be for nothing. The monster’s weapon hit the ground on his side and Osran knew his time had come. With a loud cry, he reached for the creature’s throat and with a mighty thrust, his blade sank into the abomination’s unbeating heart and after a moment of wavering, it fell to the ground with a loud thud. Just in time for Osran to hear the next command from Valdemar.

“Don’t waver! We will regain the Light’s favor once we’ve taken out the villains holding it back! Attack now, in the name of king Terenas!” Those words bothered Osran immensely as everything in the Crusader Lord’s gestures, voice and his inspiration had survived the yesterday’s attack intact. It seemed like Valdemar had more or less forgotten his relationship with Osran and that thought chilled the paladin. It pained Osran to know that he could just walk to Valdemar and start their long comradeship from a clean table if he really was the same man Osran had known. But even then, such an option was monstrous beyond measure for the paladin. Simply acting like one’s friend while actually being the one who had ruined his life would simply be too cruel and twisted. With a heavy heart, Osran knew it would be better for both of them if Valdemar only deemed him as another officer of the Crusade and nothing more.

“We have to separate to two different groups. The left wing…” That voice belonged to Zverenhoff but it was interrupted by a sudden, chilly cloud which suddenly formed in the middle of the city. The paladins looked at the aberration in fear which only intensified by a laughing voice which sounded as cold as the chill of the northern land itself.

“Forget those plans, brave defender of the Light. This city belongs to king Arthas and to his glory I will destroy your pitiful army here and now. The Scourge is rising again and no one in your pitiful “Crusade” can prevent it anymore.” The knights looked in fear as a vague form appeared inside the icy cloud and the forming creature was a thing stripped of every knight’s worst nightmares. It was a long, blue skeletal ghost whose purple garment covered its white, immaterial body. The ghost’s head carried a crown and other decorations of purple. Even if only few of the knights had been unfortunate enough to actually meet such a monster, each and every one of the crusaders knew what kind of being stood before them. It was one of the mightiest servants of the Scourge, a master of undeath, a remnant of a power-hungry mage’s passed mortal life. The ghastly mage’s kind’s mere name brought fear to most human’s spine: a lich.

“Lay down your defense, you despicable monster. I will make sure you never hurt another being ever again. I had hoped we’d never meet again but I was wrong, weren’t I, Araj?” There were a few surprised looks as Valdemar spoke the lich’s real name. They hadn’t expected him to know this particular slave of the Lich King but in the end, it mattered very little. Whether nor now the two had once known each other, the coming battle would be an extremely dangerous one and it would likely be the last fight for too many of them. However, all those thoughts were swept away as the terrifying voice spoke again, this time filled with mockery.

“So you still remember me, foolish lord. It feels like it’s been millennia since I served under your command against the orcs but it matters little. You and your pitiful followers sealed your own fates the moment you assaulted this city. Can you feel your powers being slowly drained from you? Before long, you’ll be too weak to even hold your weapons attack and even now, all the exits are being blocked by the faithful servants of the Scourge. You fell into this strap all too easily, Valdemar.” The lich’s face was incapable of expressing any human emotions but his voice told everything the knights needed to know. The Crusader Lord took a hateful grin as he thought about the situation. For all he knew, Abbendis’ group could be on their way here right now. Araj wasn’t in an enviable position but there was a chance his powers more than made up for that fault. At least the paladin understood that the suffocating spell had to be dealt with if the crusaders were to have any chance of beating him.

“The ones closest to the houses, break into them and kill whatever devils are casting the spell! We have to keep the lich in bay until we have our full powers back! We don’t have a second to waste!” Valdemar said as a dozen knights from both flanks attacked the buildings’ doors and it didn’t take a lot of effort before the completely rotten wood broke down under the intense hits. To everyone’s puzzlement, Araj didn’t seem to be moved by this development in the least.

“That plan is doomed from the beginning. But don’t worry, I will teach you to respect the might of the Lich King before you’ll join his invincible army and sweep over Azeroth as a pure wind! Together, we will purge this world of the blight of the living! And I’ll begin with this pathetic army!” The lich suddenly raised his hands towards the sky and immediately huge chunks of ice started falling down upon the defenders who were only further slowed down by the immense cold. Furthermore, Araj cast a massive barrage of darkness force upon the crusaders, dealing terrifying injuries upon many of them. Valdemar knew what was at stake as his shield took the battering from the incoming attacks. He waited until it finally halted and then cried to his followers.

“Take the fight to the lich! We have to keep him busy until our comrades have finished their task! Hold on to the Light inside your hearts and the day will still be ours! In the name of the Grand Crusader!”

The decayed chairs and blackened walls brought deep anxiety and sorrow to Osran as he headed towards the house’s basement where the villains were likely to be. It still saddened the paladin to imagine that this had been some family’s home, these very rooms the sights of all the joys of that beautiful time. However, very little remained of that time as most of the furniture was long gone. Only the haunting, long-lost memories of those times lingered inside these cursed walls.

The entrance to the basement was, as was the custom in Lordaeron, near the kitchen. The hatch seemed completely untouched but Osran knew better than to be fooled by such appearances. The magi were likely waiting for them and the moment when the hatch would be opened was likely to be followed by a furious and unrelenting attack. Osran turned to his followers, among them Carethas as he laid his hand on the lever, ready to open the gate to the stronghold of the Scourge.

“Be ready for anything, my comrades. There’s no telling what we’ll face but keep your guard up! Take them out quickly before any of us fall victim to their evil!” Osran said as his followers merely nodded to him. Osran took a long sigh as he tightened his grip on the hatch. After a few seconds, he pulled it opened with one, quick movement and led the charge into the basement.

What followed was even worse than he had even expected initially. He was met with countless bolts of shadows and fire and… small imps? Through the flux of different lights and smoke, the tiny demons seemed to rush towards him, preparing to tear him to pieces before he’d have the chance to defend himself. However, the aging paladin wasn’t about to let that happen. His comrades ran to his side and together, the crusaders pushed deeper into the basement, finally receiving a good look on their enemies.

There was a small ring of black-robed acolytes, probably from the Cult of the Damned, casting a part of the vile spell over the city. There were a few more of them defending the others and there seemed to dance scores of small demons around them, ready to attack the infiltrating knights. Osran frowned as he looked at them and sickened feelings started to creep into his mind. The Scourge had once worked with demons but they hadn’t been seen since the end of the War. What were they doing here, obeying the commands of these acolytes? One of the robed figures spoke silently as the rest of his comrades chanted after him.
“Don’t take another step, servants of the curse. You will not break the sacred circle of death over this city. Leave now and embrace your role among us. Whatever you do, you cannot stop us.” The man’s words were unclear splutter and the others humming only deepened the unclear atmosphere over the group. Osran, however, knew that these acolytes were mere novices when compared to the master necromancer Diodor who he had faced in the Scarlet Monastery during that battle which seemed like it happened so long ago…

“You won’t get a chance to finish that spell, cowards. Your disgusting tricks will pale under the grace of pure hope which will redeem this city soon enough! Death to the Scourge!” The paladin called as he and his comrades charged towards the group of dark magi but they seemed like they weren’t going to give up easily. Suddenly, many of the black, formless demons seemed to grow in size, blocking the knights from threatening their masters. Carethas cringed as the terrifying, dark ghost bowed over him, almost blending into the house’s shadows themselves but the cadet knew the threat was very concrete. He tried to take a defensive stance but before he managed to dodge, part of the demon suddenly seemed to drift towards him and stroke him with a great power.

However, it was at that moment when Osran’s teachings returned to his mind. Even under the looming presence of the demon, Carethas closed his eyes and even surprisingly easily, he managed to let the holy warmth flow through him again. But the rest wouldn’t be as easy as fighting against Iren in the empty barrack room. The power was far harder to control and the demon did its best in trying to bypass his sharpened defenses. No matter where the young man tried to attack, the shadow seemed to have drifted away and he received more hits than he managed to inflict himself. Still, he was doing far better than some others of his companions. Three of them had already fallen and two more were slowly being overpowered by the seemingly invincible demons. In additions to them, the imps were doing a good job in causing mayhem across the basement and harassing the crusaders defenses with their fiery attacks.
However, many of the older knights seemed to be slowly pushing forward, their long experience in controlling the Light allowing them to hold on to their inner Light even in this hellish situation. Carethas himself managed to keep the demon on the defensive until a large exorcism casted by one of the other paladins finally took the large voidwalker down. However, that hit had a major drawback. Just as the demon returned to the void it had come from, a bolt of black energy casted by one of the acolytes flew towards Carethas, ready to destroy his chest completely. However, instinctually Carethas managed to call a minor shield on its path, completely negating its effect. None of the knights managed to get a glimpse of the stunning display of tranquility except for the young man’s long-term trainer.

He had many difficulties trying to continue his advance through the enemy but Osran had managed to see Carethas’ effort from the corner of his eye and he slowly started to see the wisdom in Carlin Redpath’s advice to let the young man join the knights in this battle. What Carethas lacked in pure skill he made up with his calm and extremely mature way of fighting. He made no real mistakes and the fact that he had managed to create even a flicker of divine shield
proved he’d become a great paladin in his day. Osran nodded to him in approval as he separated one imp’s head from its shoulders.

The acolytes were slowly coming to the realization that their work was going to soon be interrupted. However, none of them had expected to be allowed to work in peace and with annoyed gestures, they ended casting the spell and instead created a barrier at the place the hatch had been. The cultist who appeared to be the small group’s leader spoke again with his chanting voice.

“You may have interrupted our service to Kel’Thuzad but it’ll resume soon enough. We’ve made sure none of you are going to escape from this trap. Our barrier ensures that this basement will serve as your grave until our master deems you worthy of being allowed to serve him! Prepare to be cleansed, followers of the false Light!” The man cried as the room’s air suddenly turned dense with a mysterious, dark mist which only served to make the room look even darker. This wasn’t the aura the group had casted over the city, this was more intense and it concretely seemed to eat away at the crusaders’ flesh. Osran cringed in pain as he prepared for the final confrontation with the group. Most of the demons had already been vanquished and from now on, it was only the knights and the acolytes against each other. The tension was tangible in the air and Osran knew there were no more words that needed to be exchanged. The aging paladin merely raised his sword and when he took the first step, it took less than a second until the battle had resumed in full swing.

Carethas looked at the servants of the Scourge before him, knowing that even one well-aimed bolt of shadow could end his fight against the Lich King forever. The aura of death wasn’t an immediate threat just yet as the paladins could heal it away but the mere presence of a group of fanatically zealous magi was more than enough threat at this point. The young man charged along with the rest of the knights, twisting in pain as additional dose of toxic gas made its way under his skin, only worsening his physical foes. However, Carethas thought he had enough time to take the extremely short and thin man down but it proved to be a terrible mistake.

The cadet approached the caster quickly, determined to take him out with one swing. Everything went just as he had envisioned: his advance was practically unchallenged and the mage backed down from the fight… only to surprise Carethas completely. The short acolyte, stepped out of the cadet’s path, making him lose his balance. It was at this moment that he took a small dagger from his pocket and kicked Carethas’ leg, causing him to waver even further. A manic smile formed to the acolyte’s sickly lips as he sank his dagger again and again to the cadet’s chest, knowing that his attacks were beyond lethal. Carethas’ unusually white face became momentarily petrified and his light-colored hair flushed as he stopped his charge. With a crazed grin, the acolyte moved his dagger over the cadet’s heart and prepared to carve the still-beating organ out of its fleshy prison.

Those thoughts, however, were ended by a sudden hit to his back. A massive bolt of Light resembling a shield hit the robed man to his back, immediately felling him to the ground. Osran looked in deep apology as Carethas’ lifeblood dropped to the ground in mass. The knight was more than sorry that the young man’s promising life in the Crusade had to end like this but it was a part of a soldier’s life. With a heavy pull, the critically-injured paladin took his sword from the ground and just as the acolyte rose back from the ground and put his sword through the servant of the Lich King. Carethas’ attack immediately stopped the fanatic’s attack and the black-clothed man fell upon the cadet, leaving both of them lie unmoving in the increasingly bloody floor.

No matter how distasteful it seemed to an outsider, that sight was quickly swept away from Osran’s mind as he turned to face the leader of the acolytes once again. He’d have to beat him here and now for the sake of all those who had given up their lives in the war against the Lich King’s tyranny. However, there was one thing that seemed to work against him in this battle. One thing seemed to cry with its absence and that was his internal sense of companionship with the paladins around him. In the previous battles he could have felt their trust and appreciation which would give Osran courage. That feeling was till there but the knowledge of them being terribly misplaced brought deep shame into Osran’s mind. The spirit of companionship had been replaced by the disheartening feeling of guilt. However, those thoughts were ended as the lead acolyte’s greyish, decayed face turned into a horrifying grin. The mage pulled his hand forward in order to cast a spell but to his shock, his attack was stopped in its heels and he was instead beaten back by a weak but potent judgement.

The fallen mage looked around himself frantically, looking for the source of the interruption. However, none could be seen and by the time he regained his focus, it was too late. One paladin alongside Osran reached him first and with a weapon powered by a sacred blessing of the Light, he lowered his weapon upon the acolyte. However, that attack was countered by a shield which was obviously derived from the classic mage spell called ice block but it was severely weakened by the corruption within the former student of arcane magic. And that proved to be his downfall.

Seeing how the acolyte was preoccupied with dodging his comrade, Osran knew his time had come. He ran towards the other man but he knew he didn’t have a chance to safely strike the killing blow as there were three other fanatic cult members around him. Instead, Osran knew the situation called for clearing first. In deep concentration, Osran formed a whirlwind of bright power around him which swept the assisting casters away from him, leaving and the leading acolyte alone. The aging paladin knew his window of opportunity wasn’t a long one and he did the first thing that came to his mind.

A sudden force of Light concentrated around the former mage’s chest but it wasn’t the blessed power the Light was most often used for. Rather, it was the violent, judging image of how a paladin’s strength could be used to inflict pain. After a moment of increasingly immense pressure, the acolyte’s chest was crushed internally and his struggles ended without even the slightest hiss of pain. He stayed completely loyal to his master until the end, completely overlooking his own injuries. However, Osran knew this was but a tiny step towards victory in the battle for the control of the city as it was highly questionable whether the other groups of acolyte had been dealt with. Still, Osran wished to make sure that no seriously injured fighters would remain unhealed.

“Is everyone alright? We’ve got to help Valdemar as quickly as we can and try to recover your strength as quickly as you can. Leave the dead here.” Osran looked at his followers in sadness but he knew there was no use mourning for those who had left this hellish war for good. No nods came from his followers but just as the paladin was starting to make his way back to the central square, one of the other knights bowed to look at one of the corpses on the ground. Carethas’ corpse.

“I ordered you to leave the dead, Wanil. I saw him fall: he’s no longer within our ability to help.” Osran said sadly as it had been just a minute when he had deemed the cadet unusually gifted and now he lied among the rest of the dead, his promise gone before he hardly even started his life in the Crusade. However, before he could dwell further in his bitter thoughts, a completely unbelievable announcement reached the knight’s ears.

“No, Osran, he’s alive! He still breathes ever so weakly but he’s still alive!” The white-haired man yelled as he put his hand before Carethas’ mouth. Osran frowned in surprise and bowed next to his comrade and to the paladin’s amazement, he could see that his comrade had been right. Carethas was still alive.

« Last Edit: December 16, 2017, 12:58:57 PM by Sovereign »


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« Reply #26 on: December 16, 2017, 12:58:22 PM »

The lich’s initially confident composure wore out slowly as he slowly felt the spell’s strength wear out as the groups of acolytes fell one by one. He had expected those fools to buy him at least twice as time as this but here the paladins were, encroaching ever more forcefully around him, overwhelming his minions slowly but ever so surely. Sure, dozens of knights had fallen but his own position grew increasingly dangerous. It wasn’t a situation he had been prepared for when he had been ordered to safeguard this village from the rumored attack of the Scarlet Crusade.

Yet, here he was, fighting for survival as more and more of his followers fell around him. The spell had almost worn out by now and Araj knew his chances were beginning to thin out rather quickly. This knowledge pained the lich without end as the Lich King had shown him a rare favor by purging him of life and granting him the gift of eternal life and power undreamt by any mortal. And this was how he was going to repay him? By falling in the hands of weaklings like these ones? No, that surely couldn’t be his destiny. The lich prepared for his last defenses when a taunt by Zverenhoff reminded him of what was at stake here.

“It’s over, monster! The Light’s justice will purge you from this land!” The former duke yelled as he cut down another of the countless ghouls swarming around the square. It was clear that the crusaders would be upon the skeletal sorcerer very soon and Nicholas’ taunt seemed to finally tell Araj his situation and it certainly wasn’t one he’d ever accept. With a flash of final determination, Araj called upon the power of the cold dark of the depths of Northrend and with a roaring voice, he yelled upon the gathered group of paladins around him.

“You’ll never capture this city, not as long as I can serve my master and repay him for his never-ending grace! Now, fall you cursed beasts! Fall before the might of the Scourge!” Araj raised his hands towards the sky and immediately the tempest of hail intensified and the earth itself turned to ice. At the same time, the ice begun to glow with dark energy and each one of the paladins knew the lich was giving his all to the battle with this attack. Most the paladins lost their composure completely as they faced at the coming onslaught and even Nicholas’ advance halted at the sight of this brutal, unspeakable power. The Crusade was facing total annihilation at this moment… but their leader wouldn’t hear any of it.

The Crusader Lord looked at his sword which seemed to hunger for the lich’s life. Valdemar was slowly beginning to understand that many things in his life seemed off, as if there were some events of which he simply had no memories of and there seemed to be many parts in his life that didn’t seem to make much sense, as if a part of it had been snapped away. However, there was one thing that would never change, not as long as he breathed. He was the master of Tyr’s Hand and he would serve his followers best by serving the Crusade with all his heart. And this villain was only but one obstacle he’d have to conquer if he was able to fulfill his great charge. The Crusader Lord would find out what had happened to him later but for now, he’d take down this monster.

With a loud cry, Valdemar impaled another skeleton and crushed its bones with a mighty blow. After that strike, he begun to run, determined to do what was needed of him. This battle would be decided here and now and it wouldn’t end in the victory of the Scourge.

Feverish thoughts flowed in the lich’s mind as he struggled to maintain his crushing spell. None of the living would be able to resist it and if he were lucky, Kel’Thuzad would never know of his near failure. A slight wave of relief was beginning to form within Araj, maybe he would be able to save his face in the eyes of his lord. However, that hope took a heavy blow as he saw Valdemar running towards him with a determined look, telling the lich that he was only after one thing.

Araj knew he couldn’t fight the Crusader Lord and cast his spell of death at the same time but letting go of the spell would only doom his slaves and by extension, himself. Even then, Araj knew he had no chance. It would be mere seconds before the crusader would reach him and at that point it would be too late. With a sickened grin, the lich ended his most potent spell and quickly, turned his left hand towards Valdemar and launched a massive bolt of ice towards him. However, to Araj’s ultimate shock, Valdemar merely dodged his attack as if it were nothing. Araj cast another chunk of ice but with the same result. The duo’s distance from each other was nearly spent and with one, desperate effort he tried to freeze the crusader’s legs to the ground with a powerful aura but to no success. Araj could only watch in fear as Valdemar’s sword fell down upon him, ever closer and closer…

Gaps of shock left Valdemar’s mouth as he looked at the lich emanating a terrified scream as he suddenly disappeared before him. The lich was gone, as if he had been devoured by the ground he had been floating above. The adrenaline begun to slowly wear off as Valdemar realized that his followers were surrounding and finishing the last remnants of the Scourge’s resistance. No matter what the Scourge would do from now on, the battle was won. Corin’s Crossing was under human rule once again and for the first time since Arthas’ betrayal, the defenders of Lordaeron had managed to retake a major town from the Lich King’s dominion. With a triumphant cry, Valdemar cried to his followers.

“Corin’s Crossing is ours, a testament to the fact that the Scourge can be beaten! Come, let Lordaeron’s gracious emblem fly over this city once again!”

The darkness hindered Osran’s efforts to rush to his comrade’s side as quickly as he could as the stairs back to the house were in far worse condition than he had thought at first. His efforts to save Carethas had already taken far too long and he dreaded the possibility that he had wasted the precious moments needed to save the battle by saving Carethas but helping the needy was his duty as a paladin. Furthermore, Carethas’ courage had made a good impression on Osran and he felt it was his charge to try to help him survive this fight. The knight only dreaded what price he’d have to pay for his decision. Osran’s eyes were fixed on the still-open door, hearing that there was still fighting but the primary roar of the battle had subsided. That only deepened Osran’s dear but what waited him outside wasn’t what he had expected.

“…and now, my brave comrades. lay your eyes on the blessed emblem of our holy order! In the eyes of the Lightbringer and every brave and noble paladin who came before us, I declare this city liberated from the blight of the Scourge! In the name of the Scarlet Crusade!” Valdemar cried in a triumphant voice as the flag of the scarlet Crusade reached the top of the city’s central pole, the Lordaeron’s ancient symbol being spread wide by the rising wind. That sight nearly made Osran collapse from deep relief, not believing such a great victory could be true. The Crusade had achieved its greatest victory yet which would serve as an ultimate reminder of what the order could do as long as it stayed together. After all these painful sacrifices he had made for the Crusade, Osran was more than moved that he had made the right decision after all. With emotional and overjoyed gestures, Osran raised his sword towards the sky and cried along all the others.

“In the name of the Scarlet Crusade!”

It was at this moment that Osran knew this would be his destiny. Despite the initial pain, he now wanted to believe Isillien had been right all along. All the sacrifices would ultimately lead to the rebirth of the lost kingdom and its symbol flying over Corin’s Crossing was a testament to that. No matter what would happen from now on, Osran knew he’d live and die under the scarlet banner.

But not all of the assembled crusaders were pleased with the outcome of the battle. Iren, who had followed Osran in the course of the battle, was disgusted to see the celebrating crowds in the middle of the town that should have belonged to the Cult of the Damned and its master. Today had been a major disaster but these crusaders were pathetic fools if they thought this would mark the beginning of the end of the Scourge. Oh no, this was but an unfortunate loss of a few worthless ghouls and Araj was the only servant of the Scourge in the city whose survival mattered. And thankfully, his rebirth was what the treacherous cadet was going to ensure.

Iren followed the rest of his “comrades” into the celebrating crowd but he had something completely different in mind. Those fools might believe Araj was gone but they had no idea that a lich didn’t fall simply by striking him down. A lich’s spirit lived in phylacteries which were left to the ground once they fell and with proper skill, they could be resurrected to heed the call of the Lich King once more. With any luck, it would be somewhere around… there it is!
The young man could see the small decorated box lying in the ground, completely unnoticed by the jubilant knights. Making sure he’d remain unseen, Iren took the phylactery from the ground and put it under his cloak, knowing nobody would suspect him of anything at this point. He had slain two of the acolytes in cold blood and his presence in the city had already made the others see him as their comrade. What gullible morons they were. With the box in his hands, he used the fuzz of the moment to quickly run behind the nearby houses to deliver the phylactery to someone who’d be able to restore the lich to life. Someone from the Cult would usually be nearby just to observe the progression of the battles…

“This mission was a complete failure, Iren. I thought you knew Kel’Thuzad doesn’t approve of setbacks caused by the failings of lowly pawns such as yourselves.” The young man twitched in surprise and shock as a voice suddenly spoke to him from a nearby door. He quickly turned to look at the speaker and answered after a moment of stuttering.

“M… my apologies, honored Diesalven. W… we could never had expected the fury the crusaders slaughtered our comrades with. T… there was nothing I could have done but at least I brought you this!” Iren said in anxiety as he pulled the phylactery from his bag. Diesalven’s face didn’t communicate any emotion as he took the box but his words brought a chilly grip to Iren’s heart.

“Do you think delivering another failure to me will make me forget about your own uselessness and lack of benefit to Kel’Thuzad? Do you think Araj’s survival is enough to save you?” The necromancer’s words were chilly with loathing as Iren realized how bad his hand actually was. He had joined the Crusade to sabotage the order’s capabilities but instead he had been completely preoccupied by meeting Eneath and Keril. He hadn’t actually done anything for the Scourge during the battle… but he had to gain the other knights’ trust to be able to do anything! Iren tried one last time to make the necromancer listen to him.

“I’ll do better in the future, I swear! I just tried to gain the others’ trust and I got it! From now on, the Crusade will feel like everything is falling down upon them!” Diesalven listened to the lowly traitor with a weary look but sudden sounds of shouting and running steps interrupted his thoughts. He had expected as much: the mages among the crusaders had sensed the presence of his necrotic magic. The robed man whispered to Iren as the voices grew quickly louder.

“Show now what this trust of yours is worth. In the service of the Lich King, power and usefulness are the only things that matter. I’ve got the feeling this is the last time we’ll meet.” Diesalven’s mouth formed a smile as a few of the knights appeared at the door, immediately crying loudly at the duo.

“What is the meaning of this?! In the name of the Grand Crusader, surrender immediately!” The man’s voice rang across the small room but Diesalven didn’t have too much to say. He only addressed the paladin briefly and with an indifferent voice.

“Not this time, good paladin. Farewell.” And with those words, a black cloud seemed to swallow the necromancer, leaving Iren alone to face the five crusaders who surrounded him within a few seconds. Iren dropped his sword to the ground, full well knowing that he had no chance of fighting himself out of this one. One of the knights raised his blade to Iren’s throat and softly touched the bottom of his chin with it.

“It’s a shame that your boss got away but trust me, you won’t. We’ll have a lot of questioning with you, traitor.”

The Crusade has earned its greatest victory yet and the road towards Stratholme is clear. However, this was only the first step in this most crucial of campaigns and Iren's betrayal surely casts a shadow on Osran soon enough. What does the treacherous cadet know and will the Crusade's momentum last? I hope you enjoyed this chapter and Merry Christmas to everyone! :)


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« Reply #27 on: December 26, 2017, 12:17:25 PM »
A Traitor’s Due

The last sounds of the battle still raged around him as Eneath looked at the moving ceremony in the center of the city. All his and his comrades’ sacrifices had yielded fruit as they had given their own blood to vanquish the hordes of acolytes and demons in the buildings. The moment he felt the terrifying spell being vanquished was one of the sweetest ones he could remember, even if it had been bought at the cost of his comrades’ lives. The young man still didn’t know how heavy their casualties had been but he would learn it in due time. For now, however, it was time to revel in the glory of their victory as there wouldn’t be a long time until the offensive would begin pouring ever further into the north, to the once-green woodlands around Stratholme. However, just as he was about to join his comrades in their celebrations, he saw someone quickly appearing from the crowd. It was his uncle and at least he hadn’t sustained any serious injuries.

“Hail, Eneath! I’m glad to see you made it through all of this. It was quite a fight.” The older paladin said as he reached his nephew who looked at him in similar relief. The thrill of the battle still lingered in both of them but Eneath could see some kind of change in his uncle. He seemed less tense and he seemed to have regained at least a part of his earlier composure. Eneath could only guess his reasons but at least the change was in the right direction. He didn’t really care for the reasons, though.

“It was. For a time I thought I wouldn’t survive but thank the Light I was wrong. This is an amazing day uncle. I’m happy to be here now.” Eneath said as he looked at the, town around him, already imagining it rebuild to serve as a new stronghold of the Crusade. For Osran, however, that prospect was even more precious as he had seen the town as it used to be and for the confirmation that his path had been the right one. Even if his situation was still a precarious one, the knight had received the courage to face it again.

“Likewise, nephew. I’ve had a rough time lately but this day makes up for all that. Corin’s Crossing was a beautiful city in its day but this was only the first step of our campaign. These are the days of our glory, Eneath. If we are victorious, songs will be sung about our Crusade for centuries. We will lose more comrades but they will still guide us through the Light’s grace. I’m honored to share these times with you.” Osran said as his nephew’s presence made him feel like himself again. Even if his incidents with Valdemar and Zverenhoff still weighed on his mind, he felt more relieved than at any time since before his journey to Scarlet Monastery. Eneath returned his uncle’s smile, understanding what he meant. He was too young to care about his legacy just yet but he understood the older paladin’s sentiment fully.

“So am I. We’ll celebrate in Stratholme before long and then we can finally return home. At… at least we can begin restoring at our family from a clean table.” Eneath said as he realized that all other members of his family were gone, save for Osran’s mother. Despite that, the name of the Lowriver would once again stand as the pride of reborn Northdale. He was sure about that. Osran was about to answer when he heard another call from behind him.

“Crusader Lowriver. You are needed urgently!” The man yelled as he rushed towards Osran who was far from amused by this interruption. He exchanged glances with Eneath before he turned to look at the newcomer. The knight answered with a grim voice.

“What is it? Who needs my help this time?” He sounded impatient but the previous desperate, weary voice was gone. The rather long and heavily built courier looked at the equally long paladin and his voice was rather humble as he answered.

“I cannot tell the reason but go to the town hall. You should learn more there.” He said to Osran who shrugged slightly, knowing that this “invitation” would most likely concern his duties in the Crimson Legion. He turned around and looked at Eneath who suspected the very same thing.

“I’m sorry, Eneath. I hope we’ll see again before we march north by the Menethil road. Be safe.” And after those words, he walked beside the courier, heading towards the town hall which, if he remembered correct, would lie only a few streets from his current position.

The building was just as badly damaged and gloomy as any house in the city. However, unlike most of the buildings, the town hall was built of stone and the pungent smell of mildew glowed with its absence. On a side note, the door was still in its place and it creaked loudly as Osran stepped into the house. It didn’t take long for him to see something that immediately stunned him. Near the opposing wall of the room stood a familiar-looking priest and Landgren, the latter’s sword hanging over some poor man who was on his knees. However, the situation grew more concerning after Osran recognized the prisoner, He quickly turned to the other priest and after a moment, he remembered who he was. He was Valroth, the priest who he had used to interrogate Thalnos and Doan back at the Monastery. What was he doing here and what was wrong with Iren?

“What is going on here? Why is the cadet tied up like this? Speak!” The paladin said as he looked Valroth starting to walk towards him, his face bearing a somewhat threatening expression.

“I was sent here to reinforce the sway the Legion has on this army and I am not exactly impressed, Lowriver. This cadet, who I heard trained under your supervision, has been found dealing with one of the Cult’s leading necromancers under our very noses.” Landgren said in an uneasy voice, prompting Osran to cast a disturbed glance at Iren who carefully turned to look at his former trainer. Osran quickly walked towards him, clearly disappointed by this development but no look of compassion or regret could be read from his face. He walked near Iren and looked down at him in condemnation and growing outrage.

“Is it true, Highfield? Have you done the worst crime any human can do? Have you given up your life and dignity to surrender yourself to the Lich King’s service?” The paladin asked, not willing to believe the clerics’ words as he had seen Landgren helping Abbendis in wiping out Valdemar’s mind and despite his loathing at the priest, the paladin knew both of them served the same master now. There was no reason to get to fight with him now and to be honest, it wasn’t hard for Osran to imagine Valroth being associated with Isillien in some way either.

Iren, on the other hand, fully felt the full misery of his life as he looked at Osran’s condemning eyes. At this point, he couldn’t have explained his motivations if his life depended on it, as it did at this moment. For some reason, the promised power and salvation from the fate that had awaited his village had clouded his vision and in the hopes of avoiding the most terrible of deaths, he had searched for the acolytes who could provide him with orders on how to achieve that. However, he had seemed to forget his goal in Tyr’s Hand under Osran’s guidance and his comrades’ support but now his original purpose had been exposed. He had chosen wrong and due to his mental weakness, he couldn’t even start walking his dark path. And now any kind of path for him would likely be cut for him forever. He quickly looked at Osran and answered to him with a pleading voice.

“It is, master Lowriver but I was ready to abandon that allegiance! I searched help from the Cult, it’s true, but only to save myself from… from becoming one of those terrible creatures! You have no reason to trust me but you showed me a different way to take and I’d still like to take it! Please give me that chance! I swear you won’t regret it.” Iren looked at the paladin’s unmoving face, not sure what to make of it. Was he only toying with him or was he actually considering his words? However, those ponderings were promptly ended by a powerful kick from Osran to his face which sent the cadet flying to the wall and the hit crushed his nose immediately. That kick was followed by a judgement spoken with a thundering voice.

“You’re right, I certainly won’t regret my decision! The fact that you even speak of my “guidance” only shames me and only proves that you’re one of the most spineless snails I’ve ever met! Believing you could ever trust the Lich King will always be the last mistake a man can make in his life and you will be no different!” Osran’s hand yearned for a quick retribution but Landgren and Valroth’s presence bothered him somewhat. With a quick sigh, he put his sword back into the scabbard and turned to the duo and asked them impatiently.

“Why did you invite me here? You know what happens to traitors and you could have executed him completely fine without my help! And if this is another “test”, I’m growing sick of them! Explain yourselves and don’t even try to lie!” Osran said, gritting his teeth together. The cadet’s betrayal infuriated him greatly and neither did the priests’ presence ease his disappointment. To his slight relief, Landgren walked towards him and there was no sound or look of superiority on his face. Even if Osran couldn’t help but feel hate towards the priest due to his past actions, he seemed like a sensible, honest man.

“This isn’t a test, Osran. This traitor must know quite a bit of the ways the Scourge infiltrates our ranks and we have to learn everything we can. We two are here to do the real work but you know him better than we do. You know the best questions and if you still hold even a modicum of authority in his eyes, you might find the answers more easily than we could.” The tall, black-bearded bishop said in a calm voice, earning a slight shrug from Valroth who would have preferred more direct action. Osran frowned at the answer but no matter how he looked at, Landgren’s reasoning was rather sound. The knight was deeply ashamed by his failure to see Iren’s true self immediately but it couldn’t be helped anymore. He was about to answer when Valroth crossed his hands and spoke in a low voice.

“But we won’t use the Light today, Lowriver. Its efficiency depends on the vigilance of the priest but there can already be things that can escape his notice. No, we have far better methods this time which will make our prisoners speak out of their own, free will.” Valroth’s lips turned into a grin which would have brought deep anxiety to Osran if the situation was less inflamed. Iren’s silent whimpers could be heard from the corner of the room as Valroth pulled a long, board-like object from the next hall of the large building, the terrifying table brought to the city in a large, secretive wagon just in case something like this would happen. It had never been used before in an actual situation but there was the first time for everything. Osran quickly moved to help him but the object didn’t really raise good feelings within him. The paladin’s voice was wary as he asked the obvious question.

“What in the name of sanity is this thing? How does this work better than the Light?” Following this mighty victory, Osran decided to overlook these kinds of cruelties if the successes kept piling on and he absolutely felt no compassion for the young man. The priest stopped pulling the table-like structure and answered.

“Because this will leave no piece of information uncovered. There’s no point telling everything about how it works as you’ll see soon enough… But by all means, let us try to ask him nicely at first. Let’s see how far he wishes to cooperate with us.” The inquisitor said to the knight who looked at him in acceptance and moved back near the weeping man and nearly immediately, he asked the first question that had started to bother him. It wasn’t perhaps the question the clerics had hoped him to ask but as a paladin, it was a one he felt obliged to present.

“I don’t know what is waiting for you if you stay silent but I doubt it’s something any of us want to go through even if you deserve whatever is going to happen. But to start with, how were you able to use the Light if you never held the love for our cause or to the truth inside your heart? The Light answers only to those who are pure of mind and that hardly includes you.” Osran almost wished Iren to go through everything the priests had planned but he still remembered that he shouldn’t want to bring pain upon others without a good reason. Iren slithered on the ground, asking the paladin in despair.

“If I speak, will you let me live? Please, master…” Another, more powerful kick hit the prisoner’s head as another, disgusted hiss escaped from Osran’s lips.

“Speak!” Osran’s patience was being tested already and these kinds of pleadings only served to raise even more disgust within him. Iren could feel that his face was badly bruised but no matter what, he’d have to try to make this situation as easy from himself as possible. However, there was also another thing swirling in his mind. If he told everything and he was somehow allowed to live, what kind of punishment would the Scourge bring to him? The mere thought of Diesalven’s powers chilled him to the bone and with a silent resolution, he decided to keep the worst revelations to himself for now.

“I… I’m not sure. I never intended to be trained as a paladin…. it just… happened. I never thought the Light would protect me against the hounds! And when you threatened me, it just came to me… all I wanted at that point was to live!” His words sounded genuine but it still made little sense to Osran. One’s own selfish thoughts would never serve as an incitement for the Light’s guidance yet this traitor seemed honest enough. A distinct thought woke up within him as the thought about Iren’s words.

“You’re lying. The only way that could be true would be if you believed in my teachings and in the hope promised by our sacred order. However, one whose soul has been tainted by the Lich King can never be pure again. The Scourge is the antithesis of all we stand for.” Osran knew some paladins had told about the redemption of the soul but Osran had never believed in such things and he certainly didn’t now. And as a final straw, this kind of weakling could never show the kind of strength needed to redeem one’s very spirit. Likely it was just some kind of aberration in the way the Light worked and nothing more than a mistake. Iren tried to calm down but it proved to be more difficult than he had thought.

“That’s all there is to it! My plans changed so many times already and I would do anything if I could take my alliance with the undead! Why did I ever seek them out…” Those words suddenly raised Osran’s interest as it was the first reference to his association with Kel’Thuzad. He quickly interrupted about it and spoke in an angered voice.

“Tell me everything about it! Tell me how you joined the Scourge and who initiated you to it! Tell me how their vile recruitment works!” The paladin said, seeing that Valroth and Landgren were ready with their machine. Iren’s time to speak willingly was growing short. The cadet had reached the point he feared the most: to be forced to try to sate his interrogator’s curiosity and to avoid the wrath of the Scourge.

“M… my village was razed out by the undead, that much was true. But unlike I originally told, I searched for the Cult in the hopes of saving myself from the Scourge’s worst curses. I… I searched for them for days and finally, they noticed me. I didn’t find them myself but one acolyte once approached me when I was trying to reach Stratholme in search for them. He told me that I’d have to work in cover for them and if I was successful in sabotaging you, I’d be allowed to join them and they’d spare my life. That’s all there is to it.” The former cadet said, earning a swift rebuke from Osran. Even if he believed the younger man was stupid enough to search for Stratholme alone, it was impossible that Iren wouldn’t know anything more about the Cult.

“You, seeking for Strathome? Do you take me for a fool?” Osran said threateningly, finally earning an answer from Valroth. All of them could see Iren was still internally conflicted about how to answer.

“There’s no use questioning about those things like this. Never trust a prisoner’s tale headlong, Lowriver. They become slightly honest once they’re slightly persuaded at first and once you really start the questioning, you’ll soon be far closer than brothers. Put him on the table and let us start!” The inquisitor said and while Iren shuddered clearly, it seemed he still feared the Scourge more than the Crusade. Osran was slowly getting over the breaches of the original code of honor and to tell the truth, he didn’t pity the traitor at all. He nodded to Landgren who quickly moved to ensure the prisoner wouldn’t try anything funny. The priest quickly nodded to Iren and said silently, almost with a whisper. Iren would have wanted to run but he knew he wouldn’t get far. In resignation and fear, he rose up and with fearful steps, walked towards the table and under the watchful eyes of his torturers, did as was required of him. Iren gritted his teeth together in fear as his hands were locked to chains to prevent his escape later on. However, he didn’t realize that the chains also served as the actual ways of torture that would be used against him. However, it begun to quickly dawn on him as Valroth slowly started to pull on the lever next to him.

Suddenly, the chains tightened and the weights under the table were pulled together at the center of the board’s bottom. Quickly, Iren’s hands and legs were pulled in opposite directions, causing an unimaginable pain as his muscles were pushed to their absolute limits. One inch at a time, his body stretched but just as his limbs were starting to internally rip themselves apart, Valroth released the terrifying machine, allowing Landgren to give him one more chance to cooperate.

“I ask again, Highfield. Where did you find this “acolyte”, where did he take you and what was your business with the necromancer just before you were caught? The Light may still show you mercy if you choose the right thing now.” The priest’s beard blocked a proper line of sight between Iren and his face but the man could imagine that his expression wasn’t as hateful as it could have been. Still, Iren knew feared without measure the revenge of the cold dark and in panic, looked at the building’s damaged ceiling swallowed audibly but saying nothing. Landgren glanced at him in disappointment and gave one, brief gesture to Valroth.

“Do what you have to. It seems this poor fool doesn’t know when to give up.” To Osran’s surprise, it didn’t seem like Landgren enjoyed this in the least. He seemed genuinely sorry for Iren but not once did the priest question his charge. In some way, a certain respect towards him rose within Osran as it seemed like there still was goodness and valor within him. Valroth, however, didn’t look disappointed at the cadet’s decision in the least. He seemed almost amused by Iren’s disaster as he again pulled the lever, this time further than before. Also, he put a thick billet to the young man’s mouth in order to prevent him from screaming and alarming the still-celebrating crowd outside. Tears formed in the young man’s eyes as the weights pulled his limbs ever further. After many, long seconds, the inevitable seemed to happen. Each one of those present cringed in disgust as a silent and ripping sound emanated from Iren’s left hand and the limb was completely painted black with the internal bleeding. The sound continued as it would take some more time for the muscle to completely be ripped apart but it seemed like the traitor had had enough. At this point, the unintelligible mumbling seemed to be twisting into something that tried to be something meaningful. Determining to show him mercy, Osran pulled the billet from his lips and as soon as it had been removed, Iren screamed under his breath and begun to talk.

“Please, don’t do it again! I’ll talk! The acolyte who I met was one of necromancer Diesalven’s apprentices who took me to his master! Diesalven often sees the value in having new servants who are still new to the ways of this conflict! He kept his secret stronghold within the ruined village of Darrowshire but I was never let inside! They only told me that more knowledge would come with success. They sent me to you and that’s all I know! The Cult seems to search for new members all around the Plaguelands but I don’t know their ordinary measures!” Osran approached him, knowing those words were the truth. The blackened hand turned his stomach upside down but to be fair, Iren deserved all of it. Still, there was one more to ask.

“And what was this Diesalven’s business here? Why did he in essence reveal you to us?” The knight asked in a weary voice, prompting one last hesitating look from the cadet. This was the only real way he had harmed the Crusade and the secrets about the lichs’ rebirth were ones he was sure weren’t something the Scourge would like to spread. Valroth looked at him and as a clear threat, spoke to him in a hissing tone.

“If you won’t tell, we can tear each of your limbs to pieces one by one and after that we’ve still got plenty of options left. Trust me, you have nothing to win here.” The torturer said as Iren realized Valroth was right. He didn’t have the strength to go through that pain through even once more. He looked at Valroth in fear as he started to speak, knowing he’d seal his own fate with this decision. He’d regret this moment for sure but he simply wouldn’t stand by as his body was slowly shred to pieces.

“I… I delivered something to him. I… it was of Araj’s, something that…” However, at that moment, something happened that none of those present could have foreseen and even less hoped. Iren’s body quickly started to twitch as if it was being thrown around by some mysterious force and then it happened. The poor if misguided man suddenly exploded, his entrails having been turned green by the curse. Unknown to everyone, Diesalven had planted the plague into Iren just before he had left, knowing that he would talk. The secret of the lich wasn’t something the Crusade would be allowed to know and Diesalven had not only decided to eliminate this failure of a servant while simultaneously attempting to turn him into a weapon.

The sickly remains of the one Osran had seen as his apprentice flew around the room and it was only the trio’s reflexes which allowed them to shield themselves against the incoming blood stains which would certainly would certain to infect anyone it hit. However, Diesalven’s plan had failed for now as the explosion didn’t manage to hit anyone directly, without the victims being able to protect themselves. Still, Osran panted in fear as he looked at the ghastly man slowly drop to the floor, looking at his hands to make sure he had made it. Landgren retained his unmoved but respectable posture as he moved towards the disfigured corpse, knowing that the plague wouldn’t spread anymore as this dose had been created to use its whole potential in the initial shock. He seemed to pray for a moment before he turned around and spoke to his two companions.

“Apparently there is more to the lich than we know. It’s a real shame that he couldn’t finish his tale. It would have been of immense value to the Crusade. However, this whole case proved one thing we had feared all along. The Scourge is trying to infiltrate our ranks using our cadets which means we cannot trust in their purity anymore.” Landgren said sadly as he walked towards the two. Osran raised his hand to his chin as he thought about what Landgren had said. Was there a chance Carethas could have collaborated with Iren behind his back, only waiting for the moment to assassinate him? No matter what, he wouldn’t be taken a fool anymore. The time for understanding and trust in the outsiders had passed. If overseeing and interrogating everyone really was the price of victory, there was no options on this issue. Osran stepped forward and started to speak, his face a mask of righteous rage.

“Then we must make sure of it! We can’t continue the war without more recruits and if they’re genuinely interested in fighting the Scourge, they’ll do anything to achieve the goal of fighting the Scourge. I propose that we will force the whole and complete truth from each and every recruit with whatever means necessary! Even if it takes more of these kinds of inventions!” Osran lowered his hand atop the machine, knowing that the Crusade’s safety was at stake here. The cadets wouldn’t have to be truly harmed but they’d speak about their true motives if they were interrogated long enough with these tables and even with some new contrivances later on. Osram’s words earned an accepting nod from Valroth who turned to look at Landgren.

“He’s right. We can’t afford to let any other traitors within our ranks. We’ve got to change our earlier reasoning on the issue of recruitment to the direction where our comrades’ true allegiances won’t be up for guessing.” This comment was answered by Osran as he knew, despite the importance of new recruits, that these kinds of things would have to be shielded from the eyes of the ordinary Crusaders. If they knew everything about the actions of the Crimson Legion, there could be some unsavory repercussions.

“Yes, but for now, our main focus is this campaign. If some villagers seek us out before we reach Stratholme, we’ll have to discuss this in more detail but we’ll also have to plan our next moves. Kel’Thuzad won’t rest until he has beaten us back and because of that, we mustn’t give him any quarter. We must continue the campaign before the evening as was our plan!” The knight said as his companions nodded. The former’s confidence had started to return because despite their differing methods, these clerics seemed to be willing to listen to Osran’s ideas unlike Abbendis. Landgren looked at him in understanding as he lighted Iren’s remains to fire. The room was made out of stone so there was no possibility of a larger fire.

“Indeed. Our next major operation is to reach the border of Stratholme’s old forest which has been given a more appropriate name these days: the Plaguewood. Valdemar will most likely require the Legion’s presence at any moment. Light’s blessings to you, my comrades. We’ll all need it in the days to come.”

However, despite those dire warnings, the nightmarish confrontation and the Scourge’s counterattack never came. Days passed slowly and ever larger stretches of the Menethil road fell under the Crusade’s dominion. The knights left most of the former countryside untouched, choosing to hold on only to the major arteries and towns of the land, knowing that the countless, ruined villages were of very little help to their war effort. The crusaders established small outposts along the road to ensure its safety and their supply line’s integrity. Only small groups of undead appeared here and there and as long as they approached the advancing army of knights, they were obliterated.
Those days seemed like a dream come true: the unstoppable army of the Light marching over the wicked army of the dead as if the holy power’s hand sweeping the evil away. The ruins and spoiled lakes were left behind the knights and before they even realized it, the imposing forms of the unnatural, ghastly fungi appeared in the horizon. That marked only one thing: the dreaded Plaguewood would start here.

The mere sight of that cursed land made Nicholas Zverenhoff cringe in worry. He had never entered that cursed place himself but the small groups of brave paladins who had braved the shadow of the mushroom-like monstrous vegetation had told terrifying stories about horribly twisted creatures, endless groups of crazed necromancers as well as aberrations of flesh created from the poor victims of the Lich King’s evil. Also, it was rumored that the entrance to Naxxramas itself was hidden somewhere deep within the woods. The cursed necropolis itself could be seen floating high above the land in the far distance, also revealing the location of Stratholme itself.

“Halt! We’ve already covered more than enough ground today! We’ll rest before we enter the Scourge’s stronghold itself!” Valdemar yelled as he stopped his steed’s advance. The former duke looked at the Crusader Lord wearily, slowly coming to accept the fact that the old Valdemar wasn’t going to return. In a way, he seemed like the man Zverenhoff had known but the characteristic pride and honor were gone. As he looked at his changed leader, the duke couldn’t
help but curse Osran in his mind.

The fact that the knight had pretended to be Valdemar’s friend for so long and now commit the terrible crimes against him made something fume within the noble’s mind. There had been a time when he had looked up to Osran skill and strict code of honor but these days he wanted nothing more than to reveal his despicable deeds to everyone and to bring him to justice before the Light’s graceful gaze. However, if even half of the things the knight said were true, the situation was even grimmer than he had initially thought. Would it be true that the Crusade was that badly corrupted from the inside or was Osran a mere zealous aberration within the Crimson Legion?

No matter the answer, the former duke knew confronting the paladin again would only worsen his own situation while accomplishing nothing for the restoration of justice. For now, the best he could hope for was the success of their campaign. Nicholas knew there were many good people within the Crusade and in its higher echelons of power but he couldn’t say whether they or the corrupt men were the more powerful group at this point. The noble could only hope for the best and pray that Valdemar would receive justice for the wrongs committed against him and that the guilty would pay in due time. He was just about to dismount when he heard a familiar voice behind him.

“It truly looks as disgusting as they say. I can’t wait until we can purge that abomination from the face of Lordaeron, lord Zverenhoff.” The speaker was Thomas Thomson, a veteran knight from the Silver Hand and one of the most eager but also honorable paladins Nicholas knew. The latter turned towards the other knight but didn’t stop to address him as he walked past him to help his comrades unloading the tents from the carriages.

“Remember that the forest isn’t our primary objective just yet, Thomson. We’ll wipe it out in due time but before that, we have to take Stratholme and find that damned entrance to Naxxramas. But you’re right, it’ll be a spectacle I have to agree I look forward to, no matter what monstrosities come our way.” The noble knew his words would be seen immature, even childish in their obliviousness to the war’s horrors but this was a moment the people of Lordaeron, and indeed all untainted peoples of Azeroth, had waited for years. Each and every member of the Crusade would gladly spill their blood for this noblest of causes.

“I just hope we’ll find that damned door to the necropolis. Our scouts have never found it, no matter how they’ve tried to search for it. Without that portal, Naxxramas is impenetrable as any gryphons would be shot down a long time in advance. That search won’t be an easy one.” The knight said as he pulled the heavy fabric of the tent to the ground. He knew his words didn’t contribute to the situation too much but he wanted to relieve his own impatience with this small talk. Nicholas, however, asked him a question that surprised him somewhat.

“Without a doubt. The Scourge must have hidden it well but we’ll find it before long. Also, I heard you were considering sending your family to safety. Did you go on with that plan?” Zverenhoff wasn’t completely interested as his own family had fallen under the Scourge’s onslaught during the original invasion of Lordaeron. Thomas was slightly taken aback by this personal question as it had been weeks since he had told about his idea to the duke. He stuttered for a few times before he regained his confidence.

“Why, I did. Suzannah, Joel and Gina are long gone. Their ship left the port of Southshore over two weeks ago. I… I wish they’d still be here beside me but I know it’s for the best. They should be arriving at the waters surrounding the colony of Theramore in the next few days… At least it gives me some relief to know that they live on in the case I meet my end here.” Clear melancholy filled the man’s eyes as his eyes were locked at the distant fungi-resembling aberrations. A clear look of longing and melancholy radiated from the paladin’s eyes as the faces of his wife and children flowed before his eyes. Zverenhoff looked at the lower-ranked knight with understanding but he chuckled slightly as he answered. The noble put his leg on a nearby rock near Thomas and started to speak to him in a thoughtful voice.

“You’ll see them before the end, trust me. None of you will depart this world without your family reuniting at least once more in a moment overflowing with happiness. They are lucky to have you as their husband and father, Thomas. Your children will grow up feeling pride for the right to call you their father. You’ll have many great stories to tell them when you meet them again.” Zverenhoff tried to build hope inside his comrade and Thomas seemed slightly surprised be the duke’s words. Still, he shook his head and continued his gaze.

"I hope so but all of it seems so final… they took off from our ancestral homeland to start a new life in that newly-found, magical land while I’m left in this hell fighting these monsters! It’s like we are in two different worlds… what if they decide to stay in their new one? What if I’m fighting for nothing?” Thomas was surprised by those words himself as he hadn’t actually thought about it before. Zverenhoff frowned deeply as he looked at the other paladin, surprised by these kinds f thoughts. He scratched his neck briefly before answering.

“Do you think fighting for Lordaeron is futile? Even if your family decides to stay in Kalimdor, don’t you want to honor your house’s memory by removing the undead filth from your ancestral home? Doesn’t Arthas’ betrayal raise any emotions within you? We’re not fighting for nothing, Thomas, and you know it. But I’m sure they’ll return before you know it. I’m sure of it.” Zverenhoff said as he nailed the peg into the hard ground. Thomas sighed slightly as he heard the other man’s answer, hoping dearly he was right. He simply stared at Zverenhoff and said to him in a silent, worried voice.

“I hope you’re right, Nicholas. The last thing I want is that all I do will go to waste before the end.” The former duke looked at the other paladin and simply nodded to him as a signal that he had said everything he had to say. The latter turned away from him and moved to get additional pegs from the wagon. He wanted to get over this part as quickly as possible.

This brief conversation had another beholder, however. Osran was standing on a slight higher ground not near from the duo, likewise preparing for the brief rest. He, too, had known Thomas for a long time but he had most often been quite a solitary man, most often preferring to stay on his own within Tyr’s Hand. It was quite surprising to see him this open about his thoughts to another paladin but Osran wasn’t surprised he had chosen the noble to talk to due to his friendly and respected insight into a variety of things. But those thoughts were quickly overshadowed by his own personal issues which had quickly escalated since Iren’s untimely betrayal and death. The paladin was still torn whether or not to trust Carethas but deep down, there were some regrets within his mind whether or not he had done the right things with the surviving cadet.

Osran looked around himself, waiting for Eneath to come help him as the duo’s tents would be located side by side and they’d often help each other with erecting the temporary shelters. As his nephew was nowhere to be seen, Osran’s mind wandered to the day evening following the treacherous recruit’s gruesome end when he had paid Carethas a visit in the city’s former church the priests had made their headquarters immediately. The cadet had been intensely healed following his injury and his own confusion about the whole situation had made him do something which still lingered in his, despite knowing his reasoning and the numerous argument behind that decision. Osran looked at the sky as he returned to that hazy afternoon four days ago…

The paladin felt a mixture of suspicion and appreciation within his mind as he looked at the cadet still lying in the ground in absence of any better facilities for the wounded. Osran had met Carethas earlier than Iren, that was true, but that meant little in the disgusting manipulations of the Scourge. In his eyes, Carethas was guilty until proven otherwise. He wouldn’t likely know the absolute truth about the recruit just yet but he’d have to investigate the remaining cadet’s behavior closely. Luckily he was already awake after the intense efforts of the priests and Osran headed straight to the room he was being held. The paladin looked at the bandages around his chest, surprised that they didn’t seem to hold even a drop of blood. He broke the silence shortly after he entered the room.

“It’s good to see you already in this good shape, Yrendel. You took quite a beating out there.” The paladin sounded completely neutral, even laconic as he spoke but he didn’t want to reveal his real business for being here. He wouldn’t have visited most of his other comrades but this time he had a real reason to be here: to investigate if his doubts had been misplaced in the first place. The younger man seemed surprised by his former trainer’s appearance like this but he knew he owed his life to the aging knight. He took a moment to find the right words to say before he answered.

“I… I’m grateful for saving me. I… I failed everyone when I underestimated the acolyte’s abilities. I would have died if it weren’t for your and the others’ healing. I’m sorry, master Lowriver.” The recruit said as he felt humbled by his failure. He had trained under Osran for only one day but he still would have wanted to repay his inspiration better than by making these kinds of blunders before his eyes. Osran glanced away from a broken window, taking a deep breath as if he was announcing some bad news, which he from Carethas’ perspective was actually doing.

“Don’t worry about that. You did much better than many others as you at least survived. That’s more than some others can say. Iren, for example, didn’t make it. He fell shortly after your injury.” Osran shook his head as he spoke, trying to reinforce the impression of his sadness. He couldn’t tell the truth as this tale determined much better whether Carethas deemed Iren as a rival or a friend or as a despicable and failed collaborator. Also, if the young man was completely oblivious to Iren’s treachery, it was better to not tell him about the Crusade’s more unsavory deeds. Carethas was about to gasp as his gaze dropped. Hearing that his only peer had already met his end shocked him greatly as Iren had seemed in many ways more gifted than him. The recruit took a moment before he answered.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I often saw him as someone who I would have to compete against to prove my worth and I always felt like he would make a better paladin than me. H… how did he die?” Carethas had lost enough loved ones and friends in the long years of struggle in Barrowhome to be overwhelmed by these news but he still wished to know what had become the bane of his comrade. Osran stared at him without a clear expression, seeing that Carethas’ restrained reaction seemed like a genuine one. If he was a pawn of the Lich King, he at least was good at faking his gestures alongside with his words. Osran decided to push his test a little further, seeing if Carethas would react in any way if he mentioned the necromancer’s name.

“Shortly after we took out the remaining acolytes and broke the spell, we headed back to help Valdemar against the lich. Iren was very eager to decide the battle once and for all and it was this youthful impatience that became his downfall. The Scourge had set up a new trap for us in the house above the basement and Iren and a few others took the first blow. They were infused with the Plague and we cut them down immediately to save their souls from the cold dark. This ambush was led by a necromancer one of us seemed to recognize: his name is rumored to be Diesalven. Sadly he managed to escape before he paid for his crimes.” The knight concluded, ending his highly altered version of the events with a heavy, faraway tone. To his slight surprise and relief, there was nothing suspicious in Carethas’ reaction as in his eyes lived the disbelief and shock that he had seen so many times in the cadets after their first battle and personal loss. Osran was gladdened by the young man’s reactions, slowly realizing that there was a chance his doubts had been misplaced.

“Well, may the Light smile upon his soul. The most important thing is that we won the battle, right? It just feels so wrong that Iren proudly stood by my side in Tyr’s Hand and now he’s dead. Just like my brother so many years ago.” Carethas thought mournfully, not willing to remember those terrible days. A careful thought begun to form in the knight’s mind, however. Even if Carethas hadn’t been Kel’Thuzad’s pawn, that didn’t mean some other of the later recruits wouldn’t be. Carethas couldn’t officially join the Crusade for months but maybe, considering their long if distant acquittance, he could offer Carethas a shortcut on his career. That idea seemed to bother Osran somewhat but it was something he knew would benefit them both.

“I’m sorry about his fate but it’s better that we fall fighting for something worth fighting for than live in fear all our days. But Carethas, I have another thing I came to talk about. To our utmost concern and disappointment, there have been rumors that the Scourge has sent spies and saboteurs among our new cadets. I’m sure you have nothing to do with them and I’m not asking you to try to judge now if any of your peers did something suspicious as the servants of the Scourge are unbelievably cunning. However, I’d ask you to keep an eye on the other cadets from now on.” The paladin said in a strong voice which still failed to soften the shock on the cadet. The Crusade infected with the Scourge? First he had lost his closest comrade and now he was being told that the Crusade was rotten inside? He cringed heavily as he answered.

“I… I never knew that. I thought that the days of fast and interrogations would drop out any of those bastards! B… but I guess trying to help you in finding them is my duty as a paladin. But… but what can I do if they are as wry as you say? The younger man said in confusion, earning a slight sad look from Osran. He hated to lie about Iren still but he couldn’t be too careful here. Carethas would learn the truth in the future if he proved to be worth the older paladin’s trust but for now, Osran figured he’d keep all the cards to himself. He answered to the recruit and spoke to him, trying to sound as trustworthy as he simply could.

“It’s easier for those infiltrators to keep their cover if they know they’re being watched but even they cannot stay alert every second of their existence. I simply ask you to keep your eyes and ears open but remember that no one must suspect you of working for us. If you prove to be of use to the Crusade, I’ll promise you that I’ll help you to become a true knight faster than most of your peers. It is your reward for doing your best to keep our sacred order safe. Do we have a deal?” The paladin knew that asking a young cadet to spy on his comrades in exchange of favors wasn’t exactly the most honorable way of serving the Light but at this point, the Crusade’s sanctity was the most important thing of all. His own concerns were further dampened by the surprised and interested smile-resembling expression that crept to Carethas’ face. It was clear Osran had just presented him with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“We do, master Lowriver. I’ll do everything within my power to bring those traitors to justice. You have my word of it.” His earlier melancholy clearly lingered within the cadet’s eyes but the promise of such a meteoric rise in the Crusade brought great hope to him. Osran took a brief smile as he headed back towards the door before he briefly turned his head towards the recruit as he lowered his hand on the door handle.

“Very well, Yrendel. I’ll look forward to the fruits of our cooperation but for now, rest for a bit more. We’ll begin moving in a few hours and I advise you to be ready by then.” The crusader said before he left the room, leaving Carethas with many conflicted feelings. He had lost a comrade and a piece of his early, unreserved hope in the Crusade’s purity but suddenly, he had been offered a clear path forward in his life, one that offered great promise for him. With his head a complete flux, Carethas decided to comply with Osran’s request before the continuation of the battle and fell asleep on the cold, rocky floor, his injuries still weighing on him heavily.

Since that day, Carethas hadn’t offered him any major clues but he expressed his doubts about some of his comrades’ antics and seemingly unchivalrous behavior but nothing that would require serious investigations. It was clear that the cadet wanted to find out something of worth to redeem his prize but even he knew he couldn’t find traitors where there weren’t any. Osran sighed as he looked towards Plaguewood, wondering if he was pushing the young man too far this quickly on his career. Still, he wanted to think that this plan wouldn’t go waste in the long run and with a short sigh, entered his tent preparing for the coming battle.

He dreaded what the Crusade would face in the cursed forest but he had a bad feeling Kel’Thuzad had spared his most powerful minions for the defense of his own stronghold and if those fears would prove to be correct, there was no telling what horrors he would have to face under the damned canopy of the mutated trees. The aging paladin trusted the Crusade’s strength and its ability to head towards the final, decisive victory but the following day would most likely be a subject of horror stories for many years to come.

Against all odds, the Crusade has put the Scourge on the defensive. The living are even readying for the final attack against Stratholme itself but first they have to take its surroundings and the dreaded Plaguewood. Will they continue to push forward as a force of righteous reckoning or will the Lich King's forces regain the upper hand? Hopefully you enjoyed this offering and see you again in the next one!
« Last Edit: December 26, 2017, 12:19:01 PM by Sovereign »


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #28 on: January 08, 2018, 12:19:41 PM »
The Perils of Plaguewood

A brief yawn escaped from the Grand Crusader’s mouth even if he was more than eager to know the contents of the letter he was opening. Dathrohan had awoken only a few minutes earlier but the knowledge about this day’s importance more than made up for the lingering drowsiness within his mind. Today would be the day the siege of Stratholme would be broken and the Scarlet Bastion’s safety would be secure once and for all. However, to his slight worry, this new message didn’t seem to concern the Crusade’s campaign at all. Rather, it was a message from Malor who had reported far less from his progress than Dathrohan would have liked. The crusader put the letter on his table in a small room near the Crimson Throne, deciding to read this message in his private quarters before preparing for the coming battle.

To my honored superior I send my greetings.

I’ve continued to make progress on my mission and I’ve gathered a great amount of important information. It seems like the Grand Inquisitor has indeed tried to control the flow of the information within the Crusade but I cannot say whether he is using this ability to strengthen his position or simply to try to limit the spread of useless messages, thus trying to spare our couriers’ capabilities. However, it is difficult for me to believe that he has gone to these lengths without trying to manipulate our view about some issues. If I were forced to guess, I’d guess your concerns were justified.

However, there’s another, far more grave, issue I’d like to report. Our honored Grand Inquisitor seems to be spreading alarming influences on our comrades. Many of his associates seem to possess new kinds of magic and tools that seem to be developed only to cause pain to the others. This is not the way Alonsus Faol taught us even if I can see the wisdom in spreading fear upon the wicked. However, it is not  my right to evaluate the necessity of his actions. In any case, I’ll continue my investigations and may the Light continue to shield me from Isillien’s gaze.


Dathrohan finished the letter, scratching the corner of his eye in disappointment and fear. Even if he had dearly hoped otherwise, it seemed like his original concerns about Isillien had proven to be correct and that the Crusade’s spiritual leader had truly strayed from the righteous path. Even if Isillien wasn’t actively undermining his position, the mere fact that he had tried to prevent the reports from reaching him and that he was developing new ways of bringing pain to others without his knowledge more than justified revoking the cleric from his charge. It would cause great upheavals within his followers but safeguarding the order’s purity was his charge as the Grand Crusader.

But that would have to wait. Right now, all that mattered was beginning the liberation of Stratholme and that operation demanded all of his attention and the sight of the Grand Crusader leading the charge would certainly inspire his followers to give their all to the battle. He planned to meet Valdemar and his knights somewhere within the forest after their two armies had crushed the undead in Plaguewood under their merciless heel. A serious but confident expression crept to Dathrohan’s face as he finished equipping his battle armor and headed towards the corridors. In a few hours, this holy place would finally be free of the Scourge’s siege or he would fall trying. This he promised to all the paladins who had walked these holy halls in the past.

Carethas looked around himself in worry as his steed marched slowly but surely towards the horrifying aberration of a forest. Even around it, the ground looked brown and sickly, the green grass that had once covered the ground long since gone and replaced by complete emptiness and sickly lichen. His earlier injury had largely healed and he had learned far more of fighting during the last days’ offensive but he still didn’t feel like he was ready for this battle. The sight of Naxxramas in the distance and the knowledge that the Lich Lord of the Plaguelands was there, waiting for him and his comrades was a horrifying one for the young man.

Kel’Thuzad’s evil was legendary throughout the lands that had once been provinces of Lordaeron. This was the same fallen mage who had first introduced the Plague to the kingdom and the one who had accompanied and advised Arthas on his conquest of the previously invincible kingdom of Quel’Thalas and the one that had reportedly first ascended as a lich. And there was no telling what else lived inside Naxxramas’ cursed walls, welcoming the crusaders into their stronghold like a spider would welcome a fly into its web. However, Osran’s offer managed to stray him away from those fearful thoughts as he wanted nothing more to follow I his master’s footsteps and one day becoming another champion of the Light, perhaps even continuing his fight against the Scourge in Northrend itself.

Still, none of that would happen if he couldn’t fight his way through this nightmarish day. Even Valdemar himself was seemingly nervous as the massive tree-like fungi slowly engulfed the troops, their canopy forming a surreal and sickly sight whenever a paladin would look towards the sky. This fight would be a long one and the defiled environment only added to the fear the young cadet and many other crusaders felt at this dark hour.

The stench of sickness made Osran cringe in disgust as the fungi slowly pumped their poisons to the air. The paladin could easily imagine the odd mist filling the forest carrying the dreaded Plague but the carriers who had delivered the messages and supplies to the besieged part of Stratholme had proved that a brief passage though the forest would only cause severe nausea and breathing difficulties. Osran could only hope this battle wouldn’t linger for too long.
At first he had wondered why there were no undead to be seen but after a few moments, he could see rotting hands rising from the ground and distant shadows lingering under the massive forms of the terribly mutated trees. Even to his own surprise, however, his mind only drifted to his previous ride through the Menethil road to Stratholme. The old beauty of this once-tranquil forest still resonated in the old soldier’s mind as he drew his sword from its sheath, his fingers yearning to strike the defiled corpses of the long-since deceased humans back to the soil and to rest. However, he couldn’t help but feel melancholic as he thought that these rotting piles of flesh were actually the former residents of this land.

The scent of the early spring’s wind and all the newly-born life’s sweetness mixed with the smell of freshly baked bread as Osran remembered how it had felt to ride this road back in the old days of peace and stability. The edges of the road were filled with booming villages inhabited by kind and industrious people. The birds would sing as the still-cool wind of the fleeting winter swept through the woods, making an occasional traveler eagerly wonder what the next turn of the road towards the legendary city of Stratholme would hold. However, Osran was soon forced to prepare for conflict as Nicholas Zverenhoff’s voice ran through the forest.

“Give no quarter and whatever you do, don’t allow them to surround us! The last regiments, keep them away from the road and the rest of you, push on! Secure the road and remember that the Grand Crusader himself is on his way here! This is the hour of our glory, now make your fallen comrades and leaders proud! Strike for the memory of our beloved king!” Zverenhoff yelled as Valdemar turned to his followers and yelled only one, resolute cry.

“In the name of Lordaeron!” And with those words, the lord headed for battle, prompting the massive front of the crusaders advance quickly. If the last days had been any kind of inclination of the Scourge’s power, this battle was already done for. However, each of the crusaders knew better than to put their trust on that possibility as none of them wanted to throw away the chance of fighting in the cursed streets of Stratholme in the days to come. Osran gritted his teeth together as he once again prepared for the initial clash, beginning the battle in full swing. The knight didn’t know what monstrosities were waiting him and his comrades in this fight but at this point, he didn’t care. Right now, all he wanted was to taste the taste of victory once more.

The hordes of ghouls weren’t a match for the advancing host but the knights were careful not to leave the road for a second. None of them knew what was lurking in the depths of the sick forest and no one was interested in finding out at this point. They’d have to eventually enter it to find the entrance to the floating dread necropolis but that objective would have to wait. Right now, reaching the headquarters of their order was the more important goal.

“Halt! Do not chase them any further! Remember the orders!” Valdemar yelled as he looked at a few knights trying to cut the fleeing undead down into the forest but his sharp cry stopped them immediately. The knights stopped as soon as they heard the command in slight shame, rejoined the rest of the crusaders. They still weren’t anywhere near the crossroads to Stratholme but nobody had expected this battle to be an easy one in the first place.

The cadet looked with some embarrassment as he returned from the brief chase, once again blaming himself for forgetting his orders. Carethas’ earlier injuries in Corin’s Crossing had been caused by his lack of focus and the fact that he had readily abandoned caution to achieve a quick victory. Such things would very quickly become his end if he couldn’t snap out of this dangerous fault. However, he didn’t have a lot of time to dwell in those thoughts as one of the skeletal warriors quickly approached him. Seeing that the others had no time to aid him, the young cadet quickly drew his sword and ordered his steed to gallop towards the undead soldier. Carethas made sure to maintain his patience and he prepared thoroughly for the clash of their swords.

To the cadet’s surprise and shock, however, the skeleton’s hit was unusually powerful but it quickly disengaged from the impact, only to strike again in the next second. The young man cringed in pain as he felt his arm being hit by the rusting blade. However, seeing that the undead had charged him too quickly to efficiently flee, Carethas suddenly hit the skeleton in its head, crushing its skull to a thousand pieces and felling it to the ground for good. The cadet, however, didn’t have time to revel in his small, even petty victory as he suddenly saw a powerful flash of light in the sky further in the forest. The eyes of the knights turned to this great sight, knowing that the other army was advancing with a terrifying force.

The bearded paladin looked at the fallen monster in disgust as he pulled Ashbringer from its decayed entrails. Alexandros Mograine had seen many of these odd monsters of the swamps during his journeys in the dwarven lands of Khaz Modan but this was the first time he had seen them forced to fight for the Scourge. He and Dathrohan rode side by side, leading the charge towards the depths of the woods but these disgusting beasts hindered their efforts greatly. Alexandros snorted in anger as he suddenly asked from his old comrade, not really expecting an actual answer.

“How did the Scourge recruit these monsters? They live far away from here so there should be no ways they could have brought them to Lordaeron!” The Ashbringer cried as he looked once again to the sight around him. Had the Scourge actually transformed this forest into this hell to spawn some kind of sick abominations of these lonely creepers of the distant marshes of the world? Had Kel’Thuzad actually fallen this low?

“Then we must make sure they don’t get any older here! We will cut down every one of those aberrations, is that clear?” Dathrohan cried as he hit another of the huge, brownish beasts with his mighty hammer. The beast was hit back by the blow but the beast didn’t fall, it’s red, gleaming eyes burning with ever-increasing fury. The Grand Crusader looked with disgust at the vegetation literally growing from the being’s body, those plants just as plagued and sickly as any other part of the cursed bog monster. It quickly ran back towards the paladin, trying to strike him down with its huge, powerful hand until Dathrohan ended such plans once and for all. He released an immense force of the Light, completely engulfing the ruined being in burning Light. Many of his followers looked in awe at this power and their leader’s complete control over the Light. The undead giant fell to the ground but Dathrohan knew that there was no time waste. He raised his sword to the air and pointed towards the enemy.

“Fight on, my comrades! Today is the day of our ultimate victory! Make your Grand Crusader proud!” Dathrohan cried as he and Alexandros continued to lead the charge. However, just as he was engaging the next monster, something completely unexpected happened. A wall of dark fire rose between the Grand Crusader and his followers, separating him from the rest of the crusaders. Alexandros looked at the scene in concern but he knew Dathrohan would survive long enough against any opponent he would face behind that wall until he and the rest of the knights could move to help him. However, the Ashbringer didn’t want to take any risks and cried to his comrades urgently.

“We must help the Grand Crusader immediately! Fight your way around the wall and soon! We don’t have a second to waste!” Alexandros yelled as he looked at the masses of bog monsters and other disgusting aberrations swarm between him and Dathrohan. The Highlord looked in slight fear at the sight but Dathrohan was one of the first knights of the Silver Hand and a living legend. He raised his mighty sword as he charged into the mass of undead, safe in the knowledge that dozens of brave crusaders were at his heels.

Shocked gasps escaped from the Grand Crusader as the heavy, black smoke engulfed his senses. At first he could see nothing but complete darkness before him. Slowly but surely, he regained his composure and prepared to fight back the next ghoul trying to surprise him. However, it never came. He could feel the wall of fire growing thicker by the second and just as he was preparing to sprint and try to rejoin his comrades, a cold laugh could be heard from somewhere around him. The Grand Crusader turned to look at that voice’s source promptly, his eyes scouring the smoke-covered sights around him.

“So you are Grand Crusader Saidan Dathrohan, human. I hadn’t expected you were this easy to fool but know that you sealed your fate the moment you allowed me to face you in this fight.” Dathrohan’s breaths grew heavy as his eyes finally caught the sight of movement. The paladin tightened his grip on his hammer a form of a death knight appeared from the dark smoke, his head covered by a large, black helmet of his order. Dathrohan looked at the newcomer in rage, answering to his taunt in a powerful, demanding voice.

“I won’t cover under the words of someone who won’t face me fairly in a field of battle and instead relies on these kinds of cheap tricks! Prepare to face your end, despicable slave of the Lich King!” Dathrohan hissed, following the other knight’s movements carefully. Something in the stranger’s movements seemed off as if he was evaluating him like a living, thinking being would. The duo’s eyes met as the death knight once again started to speak.

“There’s very little you understand about what I am doing here or who I am but that’s something that matters little at this point. Let’s just say I have my uses for you. In any case, prepare to fall, fool!” Suddenly, the undead knight raised his hand towards Dathrohan and to the paladin’s shock, more dark clouds formed around him and out of them swirled reddish, horribly deformed dog-like creatures which had no identifiable eyes. And to make matters even worse, Dathrohan felt like his very energy was being drained from him by some unspeakable force.

However, he decided to do his all to prevent the element of surprise from the enemy and despite the ever-increasing pain, managed to gain the early initiative. His hammer met the dearth knight’s sword and the latter weapon was sent flying towards a nearby tree. However, the horrifying hound-like beasts prevented Saidan from fully utilizing his advantage. One by one, he cut them down but to his surprise, huge splashes of green, burning blood were sent flying on him, causing extremely painful injuries upon him. But the most remarkable thing about this development wasn’t the effects of the blood but the fact that the monsters bled at all. The undead didn’t shed blood, at least not like a living being would, but these deformed dogs bled like a normal hound. Saidan frowned as he realized the beasts weren’t undead at all and that left only option: that there were demonic acts in play here.

“I thought that the Scourge rose against the Burning Legion long ago! It should be impossible for them to use demons anymore! What are you?” The Grand Crusader asked in slight disbelief, not knowing what to make of this development. Why would a death knight serve the Legion… unless… Another worrying thought rose to Saidan’s mind as he investigated his opponent. What if he wasn’t a death knight in the first place? They couldn’t create walls of black fire and that would explain the mysterious opponent’s odd behavior. The stranger’s true form had to be revealed and there was only one way to do that. Suddenly, bright lights begun to swirl around Dathrohan as he prepared for a sacred storm, intended to force the death knight to his limits.

However, the stranger merely smirked under his helm as he suddenly begun to waive his hand as if to start a dark ritual. Dathrohan looked in surprise as he saw greenish rock from the sky towards him. The Grand Crusader quickly started to advance towards his enemy, preparing to take him down before he could go on with his vile schemes. The apparent undead knight replicated his enemy’s idea and the two ran towards each other, knowing no mercy would be given in this fight.

The young man’s hands trembled with shock and pain as he looked at his right thigh being painted red by a deep wound one of the ghouls had inflicted upon him. The vicious attack had torn off his leg’s armor and the injury radiated pain throughout his body. Eneath, however, didn’t have any time to heal it as masses upon masses of the servants of the Lich King swarmed around him. The inexperienced paladin was holding off the undead from the outskirts of the road, not far from Valdemar and the most important leaders of this campaign. The defenders’ line held strong as each of the knights secured each others’ flanks but injuries like that of Eneath’s were growing increasingly common among the crusaders.

However, as long as the Crusade advanced towards their goal, Eneath would take any injury and he’d even offer his life without second thoughts. Still, the sight of the endless stream of the undead arriving from the forest made him grow increasingly alarmed. Keril, who was standing on his left side, was slowly being overwhelmed by the attackers but the line would stand as another knight could always take his place. Even then, Eneath didn’t want to see his close comrade fall like this and despite his own woes, Eneath quickly took down two skeletons who were giving Keril a tough time. The young man tried to heal Keril’s wounds but soon it became clear to him that it had been mistake.
As if lighting from the sky, a gargoyle dashed towards the young paladin but Eneath had just enough time to prevent a deadly attack towards his head. He managed the imminent threat from gargoyle’s sharp claws just in time but the monster recovered from this setback quickly and soon enough, its fangs tore into Eneath’s cheek and throat. He nearly lost his composure doe to the savage attack and unimaginable agony but he managed to retain his sense and with one, mighty sting he impaled the flying monster, immediately ending its assault on him. However, the massive injury in his face clouded his entire sight and more and more undead were coming his way. The young paladin could hear a fearful cry from his side.

“Eneath, for the Light’s sake, defend yourself! The undead aren’t relenting in their assault!” The voice belonged to Keril who looked in fear as his closest comrade defended himself with massive struggles, the blood flowing from his face dropping to the ground. Keril knew Eneath had been wounded only because he had tried to help him and that thought only worsened his regrets. Eneath, on the other hand, knew that his duty as a paladin was to hold the line as long as he was able to, no matter the cost. He knew he would go down soon enough but despite that, he answered surprisingly calmly to his friend.

“Don’t worry about me, Keril. Both of us know what we have to do so fight and handle your own enemies!” Eneath said as he received another cut to his side. He regretted that every paladin around him seemed to be too preoccupied to heal him but he knew he couldn’t blame anyone but himself. He had broken his orders when he had moved to help Keril and now he was playing the price. The young man cringed in pain as kicked another ghoul to the ground and then beheaded the foul creature in disgust.

The situation in the frontline wasn’t much easier as the Scourge’s resistance surpassed the Crusade’s expectations greatly. However, none of that mattered to Osran who looked at a massive skeleton before him and all the lesser undead which swarmed around it. The paladin knew there was no time to waste in this duel and he quickly ran nearer the monster and simultaneously as he hit its leg with his sword, Landgren cast a massive bolt of Light which immediately felled the skeleton, its bones breaking as they heavily hit the ground. Osran looked at the cleric, happy that she was here in the heat of battle as his will to fight and skills in battle were extremely impressive for a priest. However, there was no time for words of gratitude as the Crusade had to push on without a pause. Osran knew that time was off the essence in attack as delays could prove to be fatal.

At least he knew that until he saw something that took him off guard immediately. As he quickly cast a glance behind him, he could see that some spot in the humans’ lines were struggling to hold the line. In the worst spot of all stood his nephew who seemed to be viciously wounded and in a clear risk of being overwhelmed by the masses of invading undead. The aging knight realized Eneath couldn’t hold his position for much longer and he knew the younger paladin would never step back against his orders.

Osran cut down another ghoul as he looked at the disgusting fungi around him, cursing this terrifying place in every way possible. He couldn’t betray his orders and move in to help Eneath as it would threaten the offensive’s effectiveness. But neither could he simply watch his nephew being gutted before his eyes when he could save him. Eneath was the only family he had in addition to his mother and he remembered fondly all their common times ever since Eneath’s childhood and he knew there was only one right thing to do. He quickly stepped back from the frontline and spoke briefly to Landgren who was standing behind him.

“Hold the line, good priest. I’ll try to return as soon as I can.” The paladin knew that there was a good chance Isillien wouldn’t forgive this decision but that was a risk he was willing to take. If he would be judged for defending his nephew, then so be it. Landgren looked at the paladin in shock and just as he was about to answer, Osran ran away, leaving the priest look at the paladin in confusion and to handle the next wave of three ghouls.

Drops of cold sweat flowed across Saidan’s forehead as he and the mysterious stranger crossed weapons and fought to overpower each other. With a horrified realization, Dathrohan realized he was being severely overpowered by his opponent, as if his strength seemed completely superhuman. The Grand Crusader glanced around himself in growing concern, seeing that there was no help in its way. Dathrohan had always managed to hide his fear under a cover of bravery and nobleness but that didn’t change the fact that he was losing this most important of battles.

The worst thing of all was that he didn’t have the slightest of ideas that was as, despite their great power, he had previously been able to face any of the undead warriors in at least a dead-even manner but this time he was slowly been grinded to death. Saidan knew he didn’t have any hopes of winning his mysterious enemy by prolonging the fight. The first objective was to reveal what he was actually up against before he stood any chance of victory. This was the moment when he was forced to show the whole power of the master of the Scarlet Crusade. Suddenly Dathrohan engulfed himself with blinding light and let out an ear-piercing cry.

The death knight looked in momentary shock as Dathrohan’s massive display of power built up before his eyes. Most the power the Grand Crusader mustered seemed to flow into his legendary hammer. The paladin’s eyes turned golden with the holy strength as he suddenly cried and ran towards the death knight.

“Begone from these lands, you devil! Soon, I will teach you to respect the house of Dathrohan and the sacred order of the Scarlet Crusade!” The paladin yelled as he ran towards the death knight with a great speed. The latter wasted no time in taking a defensive position and prepared for the attack. Saidan noticed that the defender’s gestures were surprisingly calm given his position but he didn’t plan to stop his attack for a moment.
The death knight twitched heavily as Dathrohan’s glowing hammer hit his sword but to the human’s shock, he managed to hold his ground. However, the continued power unleashed by the paladin slowly forced the undead back, his
position growing more dangerous by the minute. Under his helmet, however, an ever wider grin formed. Now was the right time to end this charade.

Suddenly, streams of darkness started to surround the Grand Crusader’s glow, growing ever more profound as the death knight started to slowly change. Dathrohan’s eyes widened in fear as his opponent started to grow in size, soon towering clearly over him. The creature’s armor started to change, becoming wider and less detailed, the black plates surrounded by yellow edges. Large wings stuck out from the monster’s backs, opening wide behind him, their red color gleaming weakly in the dim forest. And most shockingly, the former death knight’s skin turned even more pale, the disappeared helmet revealing a human-like face but accompanied by sharp fangs, long horns and hellish green eyes. The demon’s power seemed to grow along with his side and with one, powerful nudge, he sent Dathrohan away from him but the knight managed to stay on his feet. Dathrohan gasped with a disbelieving noble voice as he spoke to the monster, panting heavily from the shock and exhaustion.

“Y… you’re a dreadlord! B… but how can you be here? Your entire cursed kind was slaughtered by your former allies during the War!” The knight gasped in disbelief, looking in despair as the demon slowly seemed to flow towards him, the creature’s voice hissing in the wind as Dathrohan felt his powers fail him. Suddenly all of his power seemed to be spent as he looked helplessly as the villain spoke his last words to his pray.

“Some were, yes, but as you can see, the nathrezim are all but beaten, old man. But don’t worry, neither your body nor your work will go to waste. Soon, the Crusade will be born anew under Balnazzar’s and the Grand Inquisitor’s command.” The pale monster said as he prepared to finish his opponent off. Saidan gasped on his knees, alarmed beyond words by the incoming end. However, he still managed to ask one last thing before Balnazzar’s magic engulfed him under its dark power.

“So this is Isillien’s doing? It was my blindness that doomed us all! But don’t even think you’ve won, demon. The Light will prevail in the end even if I, it’s humble servant, fall on this field of honor. Remember this when the brave heroes bring you and your vile schemes down once and for all!” The last words were little more than a whisper as the paladin’s last strength was drained from his body. The last thing Dathrohan heard before his consciousness failed him was the vile, triumphant words of the demon that seemed to drip with poison and malice.

“The Grand Inquisitor certainly helped me with planning this change of order but he was driven to me only by your attempts to bring him down. But sleep now, Grand Crusader. Soon your eyes will see the birth of a better and stronger order, one that you could never even have dreamt about.” And after those words, Saidan Dathrohan was fully engulfed by the dreadlord’s spell while the brave knight’s consciousness died down for the very last time.

Eneath’s hands felt increasingly heavy and his movements forced as he did his best to keep up his defenses against the increasingly violent offensive and his mounting injuries. Keril was once again being overrun but Eneath knew there was nothing he could do to help his comrade at this point. Apparently the duo’s fate would be to fall on this wretched battlefield, under the never-ending onslaught of the Scourge. That impression grew only more concrete as he saw a large, odd-looking abomination running towards him. Its body was covered with large vials containing some green ooze and it had some odd needles for arms. As he looked at this monster’s arrival, Eneath knew his end had finally come.

The young paladin tried to make his last stand by casting a powerful exorcism, attempting to halt the abomination’s advance at least for a short, fleeting moment. When he saw that his efforts were far from successful, Eneath let out a brief sigh of resignation, regretting that these were probably the last moments of his fight. At least he was glad that he hadn’t sold his life with a low price and he had fulfilled his charge as a paladin. The young knight prepared to strike at the aberration’s leg when he suddenly felt his wounds heal up and the monster suddenly twitched under great power when a massive bolt of Light hit its head. Eneath quickly turned around and he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Osran! What are you doing here? Weren’t you supposed to fight at the frontline? Each of us have to keep our position! You know it!” The younger knight asked with deep frown, stunned to see his uncle here at this time. However, Osran didn’t waste any time before he moved to engage the monster and he answered only after he had moved to safeguard the line.

“Am I supposed to watch my only nephew being grinded to death under these monsters? I may have done terrible things during my years or service but leaving you to die isn’t something I’m going to do! Besides, the whole situation here looks pretty worrying so I figured you’d need some backup!” Osran said as he turned his sword golden with his sacred powers and cut a gaping wound to the abomination’s leg. Feeling his powers return, Eneath quickly moved to join his uncle in his efforts to bring the monster down. He couldn’t decide whether he’d approve of Osran’s decisions as a paladin but he certainly didn’t regret being alive. He simply nodded to Osran before he hit the abomination’s other leg, the two relatives then looking at each other before casting a simultaneous barrage of Light upon the aberration, causing it to slowly begin disintegrating.

However, the construct of rotting flesh wasn’t going to fall this easily. It locked its eyes on Osran, willing to lay waste on the aging paladin’s power before its own damned existence would come to an end. It quickly approached Osran, concentrating every inch of its strength to overpowering the knight while its own entrails were spilled to the ground with an increasing speed. To the monster’s frustration, however, Osran managed to repel its attacks with fast movements and flawless maneuvers. Somehow realizing that its time was quickly running out, the abomination started its last attempt to crush the human Osran but the paladin noticed it just in time. However, it was not enough. The monster managed to grab Osran’s leg and with its last strength, threw the knight into the forest, far from the frontline while falling to the ground with a loud thud.

Osran twitched at the ground in shock as he slowly rose up, not realizing where he was until he saw two ghouls approaching him with merciless speed. Despite the impact’s great force, the aging paladin realized that he didn’t have the luxury of a calm recovery and quickly impaled the two attackers while glancing around himself in fear. He saw that he was alone behind the thickest ranks of the undead, separated from his comrades by seemingly endless rows of the servants of the Scourge. Osran frowned with alarm as he realized that he couldn’t fight his way back to his comrades in the thick of the raging battle. He would never survive the onslaught that was happening between him and the rest of the crusaders.’

But what else could he do? Certainly he couldn’t try to escape into the forest? He would certainly be slaughtered by the undead and there was even a chance he’d join these monsters before the end. However, what else could he do? If he tried to return to Eneath and the others, he’d have absolutely no chance of survival. In a sickening and terrifying moment, he realized he had only one option to survive this battle and even that was highly unlikely to yield success. However, it was the only way but Osran regretted in his mind that there was no other way. With a saddened look, the knight searched Eneath from the thick of the battle and for a brief moment, the uncle and nephew’s eyes met once again. Osran nodded one brief time to the younger Lowriver before he quickly turned on his heels and headed into the nightmarish forest.

The bearded knight fought forward in desperation as he finally managed to get around the seemingly endless wall of black fire. Alexandros blamed himself from the fact that it had taken many precious moments before the knights had managed to get past the wave of undead and he couldn’t help but fear he was too late. No matter how powerful Dathrohan was, even he couldn’t match the might of dozens of undead. Soon, he and his followers would reach their Grand Crusader but Alexandros feared greatly what he would find behind the next ranks of the Scourge. It’s leader’s loss would be a massive blow to the order and the thought that he’d very probably be his successor didn’t comfort the Ashbringer. Dathrohan had served as the Crusade’s leader for the entire length of its existence and despite Alexandros’ own legendary reputation, he knew he couldn’t replace Saidan’s authority and his natural gift of leadership.
Disgusting sounds of dismembered flesh could be hear all along the Ashbringer as he cut down the ghouls one by one. Two other members of the Crimson Legion fought by his side, allowing the elder Mograine to concentrate all of his forces to advancing as quickly as he could. Surely, soon he would meet his old fried once again… Among the great horde of enemies, Alexandros suddenly saw the familiar colors of the Scarlet Crusade flashing between the rows of ghouls. Suddenly, the Ashbringer’s efforts only multiplied as he saw that the hope of saving his superior still lived.

“We’re coming, Grand Crusader! Thank the Light you’re alive!” The Highlord of the Crusade yelled as he and Dathrohan cut the last enemies, finally allowing Saidan to rejoin his comrades. Alexandros was astonished to see his old friend being relatively unscathed and there were no serious injuries within him to be seen. The Highlord was the first one to speak as the two highest-ranked leaders of the order met in the heat of the battle.

“I was already certain that you didn’t make it! I’m sorry it took us this long to reach you!” Alexandros said, soon regaining his usual proud expression and calm composure. However, his optimism would have faded very quickly if he knew what had come to pass only moments before. Little did Mograine know that Grand Crusader Saidan Dathrohan was no more. Instead, before him stood dreadlord Balnazzar who held little appreciation for this reunion nor the
“rescue”. However, his voice and manners were completely unchanged due to the masterful manipulative abilities of the demon’s kind. Dathrohan’s voice sounded just as steady and noble as could be expected from the knight of legend.

“I appreciate your help, Mograine but we have a battle to win! So let us not waste more precious time jabbering!” The Grand Crusader cried, earning an approving nod from the Highlord. It was clear from the higher-ranked knight’s tone that he wished to hear no more of this issue and Alexandros understood his friend wouldn’t want to make any further fuss from this small incident. After all, both of the two had made much more deeds of merit than surviving against a handful of ghouls. Alexandros nodded as the two leaders of the Crusade turned to face the rest of the undead. He knew today would become a day that would be sung of through the centuries to come. Mograine’s confidence would have fallen greatly if he knew that this battle did indeed mark an important day in Lordaeron’s future but in a far different way than he could have ever imagined.

Eneath’s eyes were locked towards the edge of the forest in fear, not able to believe what had just come to pass. It had been mere seconds when Osran had disappeared into the woods and the young man knew what that would more than likely mean. But it just couldn’t be true: his uncle, who had been his inspiration and closest friend for years couldn’t be gone! Eneath knew more than well that his uncle would have close to know chance of survival if he became lost in that hellish woods, as it was probable that it would hold even more hordes of undead that would probably obliterate the older paladin before he could even start his journey back to his comrades. However, his momentary mental stasis was quickly stopped by Keril who, despite his great debt to his comrade, knew that these simply was no time for grief. The other paladin cried loudly to Eneath who suddenly snapped back into the reality.

“I’m sorry for your uncle, Lowriver, but continue the battle, dammit! Don’t let his efforts go to waste like this!” The other paladin cried as he brought down another slave of the Lich King. Eneath frowned in deep concern as he realized his friend was right. He suddenly attacked another skeleton and brought it down swiftly. He quickly answered to Keril in a voice that sounded angrier and more enraged than he had expected.

“I certainly won’t, Keril. This kind of end is a pure disgrace to a paladin like my uncle! They will regret their actions before long!” The shock and overwhelming sense of loss flooded into Eneath’s mind but the thrill of the battle managed to hold it in bay right now. He prayed to the Light his uncle would survive this day but in the case he wouldn’t, Eneath swore one thing to himself. He would take on Osran’s dream of restoring the of the Lowriver family and preventing their family’s end. More than likely, he was the last hope for their respected family and Eneath would gladly take that responsibility if he was ever forced to that situation. However, one thought lingered in his mind.

I know you can survive through this, Osran. I trust on it.

To the paladin’s growing concern, the toxin in the air seemed to grow ever more powerful the deeper he went deeper into the diseased woodland. The aging man’s coughs grew ever more violent and Osran knew he couldn’t take it for many more hours. However, to his slight reprieve, most of the undead in the Plaguewood seemed to be engaged in the battle and only an occasional servant of the Lich King still wandered under the terrifying canopy of the fungi-like vegetation. Still, Osran knew that this state of matters wouldn’t last for very long as it was highly likely that someone would sense his presence sooner than later. No matter what, he’d have to escape from this forest as soon as he was simply able to.

Osran stumbled over a small mound of dirt, first making sure that there weren’t any more dangerous enemies near him. The paladin had realized, to his growing alarm, that most of the enemies had been packed around the battlefield and thus cutting the possibility of trying to flee towards Light’s Hope. That left only one option: he’d have to head for west and towards Stratholme’s southern outskirts.

The fact that there weren’t any major escape routes through the mountains surrounding the forest alarmed the Crimson Legionary greatly but he’d have to take the small chance he had of survival. He had to live through this nightmare to uphold his dream and to see the coming glories of the Crusade’s campaign. But most importantly, he’d have to survive for his nephew and mother. Eneath didn’t deserve to face the future’s horrors alone and Osran had resolved on guiding him as long as he was just able. Still, the sick feeling in stomach grew more profound as Osran saw another wide field filled with the sickening gas before him. The knight suddenly fell to his knees, determined to surprise one ghoul walking on the other side of the giant mushroom he was standing on. Even one undead could alarm the others and finally ending his last hopes of ever escaping Plaguewood alive.

With one, fast sweep Osran attacked the ghoul and before it could even twitch its hands, the paladin severed the monster’s head from its shoulders. The knight panted for a moment at some relief for accomplishing this small feat that served as a minor springboard on his quest to escape this nightmare.

Utilizing every inch of knowledge and skill he had gathered during his long years of service, Osran fought his way through the land that had once been a charming farmland surrounding the pride of Lordaeron, the mighty Stratholme. Along with the fungi and undead, the paladin saw many ziggurats of the Cult of the Damned nestled between the hills of the land surrounding the mountains south of the central parts of the forest. Osran could only guess what kind of disgusting purposes those places were used to but he knew better than to try to find out. Even if he found the truth, nobody would ever hear it. Still, it pained the paladin to know that it was more than likely that one of those places was the entrance to Naxxramas, a piece of information of unspeakable value to the Crusade. Still, he had to leave those dreams be for now.

It had been almost an hour since his separation from his comrades and Osran felt like his entrails were being slowly burned by the forest when he finally caught a glimpse of a ruined building in the distance. However, that told very little about his exact location as there were probably several different ruined hamlets dotting this land. The sight of that lonely house did little to raise Osran’s hopes until he saw that the mountains were slowly appearing behind the ruined home, signaling that he had reached the western end of the Plaguewood. But if that was the case, this had to be the long-lost village of Cinderhome! But it was thought to have been destroyed by the Scourge years ago as no one had seen it since the arrival of the Plague. However, as Osran approached the house, he could see more of the village’s remains in the distance, proving that there indeed was something left of the old village.

But the thing that really caught Osran’s eyes was the sight behind the lost hamlet. At the foot of the mountains opened a large mouth of a cave which, after a moment of thinking, nearly overwhelmed Osran with hope. It was the old
Thondrodil Tunnel which had once served as an additional path from Stratholme to Hearthglen but due to its constant darkness and remote location, it had never served as a major artery for Lordaeron’s trade. However, it could possibly
safe the paladin from this nightmarish situation he now found himself in. However, just as he was beginning to run towards the cave’s mouth from among the twisted forest, he saw something that immediately shocked him beyond measure.

Among the ruined buildings walked a massive and hairy spider, its pale body shimmering between the houses. Osran followed the arachnoid, not willing to believe what he was seeing. The spider was clearly undead so was this another kind of curse the Scourge had brought with it from the Cold North. Suddenly Harthal’s stories from Northrend returned to his mind and a fearful thought came to Osran’s mind. Were these the same monstrous spiders the Lord Paladin and Orman had faced in the frigid glacier of Icecrown? If that was the case, the knight knew he had to be prepared for anything.
Yet, Osran knew he had no choice in this matter. He couldn’t turn back as the Thondrodil Tunnel gave him his only chance of survival. The aging paladin took a long, fearful sigh as he begun moving towards the village and the cave. No matter what, he’d fight his way through these spiders and rejoin the Crusaders main force for the final assault on Stratholme. This he swore to himself as he prepared himself for one of the toughest and most terrifying challenges of his life.

With Dathrohan’s death, the Crusade’s future has been irrevocably altered. With the dreadlord at its helm, is there any chance for the order’s founding ideals to survive the coming days? And will Osran be able to survive the nightmare he now finds himself and join his comrades and avoid being overwhelmed by the enemy? This chapter differs somewhat from the original lore in regards to Dathrohan’s fate but I hope you still like it! As always, any feedback is welcomed!


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #29 on: January 26, 2018, 10:24:43 AM »
On the Path of Horror

The wind blew weakly through the fungal forest as Osran counted the slow, painful seconds and listened for the ever-strengthening footsteps behind the house’s corner. Osran was leaning against the ruined home’s wall, listening how the massive spider-like monster walked towards him. He had already taken two of them down but with each kill the odds of the enemy spotting him grew ever greater and he wasn’t even near the mouth of the tunnel which would lead to his salvation. The paladin tried to keep the creeping despair out of his mind as he quickly grabbed his sword and heard that the undead monstrosity was approaching him quickly. Osran closed his eyes and imagined his incoming strike in his mind. After he heard that the threat was soon upon him, the paladin jumped out of his cover and before the spider could even move one of its legs, Osran sank his sword deep into the creature’s head while burning its chest with his holy power. With pained squeaks, the spider fell to the ground, leaving Osran to pant in momentary relief.

However, it was only a fleeting moment before Osran once again regained his vigilance. He had won a tiny victory but he’d have to keep his advance up or the remaining arachnoids would find their fallen comrades or whatever these beasts regarded each other. The knight raised his gaze to the empty, ruined street and was more than happy to see that he was now alone and there were no other immediate threats to him. Still, there was a chance that another one of the villains would show up. With fearful movements, Osran started to jog towards the direction where the tunnel lied, knowing that each second mattered at this point.

Still, he couldn’t help but wonder why this particular village had been forgotten so utterly. No one had ever uttered a word of it since its fall and no adventurer or courier had ever seen it again until now. Yet, apart from its disgusting new occupants, there was nothing out of the ordinary in this village. The all too familiar sights of ruined homes and blackened walls greeted his sight but it wasn’t too different from what Corin’s Crossing had been only a few days earlier. However, there was one thing that caught Osran’s eyes on one, narrow alley as he passed it. It was a drooping plaque that had once belonged to a certain place that had served the town and the strangers passing through it. It was the small hamlet’s inn and another sad reminder of what Cinderhome had once been.

Osran frowned slightly as he saw the plague and for a moment, he was about to turn back towards his destination but suddenly, one thought came to his mind. If the monstrous arachnoids had made the Thondrodil Tunnel their home, he’d have to fight his way through masses of the enemies and there was a real chance of physical and mental exhaustion before he’d reach the other end of the dark road. The paladin knew it was a long shot but maybe there would still be some potions or anything else useful that would help him on this risky journey? Many inns in Lordaeron had prided themselves with their wide selection of different enchanted drinks or potions from distant lands and maybe, just maybe, there was a chance there was something that would help him on this long and dangerous journey back home.

The paladin carefully moved to the street and the sight of the old inn’s destroyed door didn’t raise the aging knight’s hopes any. If there had been a large battle in that place, it was more than likely that everything of worth had been destroyed many years ago. Osran quickly moved inside the building, just in time to avoid the gaze of another one of the monstrous spiders which was just moving pas the larger street. Osran panted for a few seconds before he raised his gaze to look at the main room of the ruined inn, the sight greeting him making him feel ill. There was a large hole at the back of the room, most likely caused by some magical attack and all of the former tables were lying on the floors in pieces, decaying slowly but carefully and filling the whole room with the disgusting reek. And to make matters even worse, there were huge splashes of blood everywhere and there were even some remains of the village’s defenders here and there, with half-rotten bits of human flesh and bones lying here and there.

The sight wasn’t so unlike most of the other places destroyed by the Scourge but they still pained Osran every time he was being forced to face one of these hellholes. However, the knight remembered his duty and got on the move. Every moment he wasted here his comrades were giving up their lives in the battlefield, all because of his failure to follow the orders. Osran cringed as he thought about his situation and whether he would even be allowed to rejoin the army without any punishments in the case he ever found his way out of this lonely, remote place. Isillien had made it more clear that he wouldn’t allow any more mistakes from him but there was always a chance he would ever lean of this unfortunate occasion. Osran had grown to respect Landgren and he wanted to think that the bishop would keep his departure from the frontlines as a secret and Eneath would never tell of his misdeeds. In any case, all of that would have to wait as his whole fate was in the hands of the Light now.

It was clear to the knight from the mere outlook of the room that there wasn’t anything to be founded in the main hall as it had been completely ruined which meant only one thing: he’d have to move to the basement and try to see whether there was still something of value within the inn’s storages. Osran cringed as he looked at the stairs leading to the basement, the lower floor filled with seemingly impenetrable darkness. Osran quickly took a torch from his belt which he had carried with him in order to quickly release the souls of his fallen comrades in battle but it would be more than useful here as well. Seeing that there weren’t any immediate threats lurking in the basement, Osran started to slowly head downstairs, his other hand firmly held on his sword’s hilt in case he’d face any hostile being down there.

Even with the help of the torch, it was impossible to see even one’s own hands in the lowest floor of the inn. Osran looked in disbelief as the torch seemed to merely float in darkness, its light being devoured by the darkness almost as soon as it emanated from the small flame. Osran moved slowly by the wall, starting to slowly question the whole wisdom of his quest. No potion or enchanted water to temporarily regain his strength was worth the danger he had surrendered himself. Maybe it would be just better for him to turn around and…

During the next second happened many different things simultaneously. Osran suddenly heard a slight creak behind him which was immediately followed by a silent scream. Instinctually, Osran turned around and quickly jumped away from the ghoul’s path. The undead tried to then turn around to resume its attack but Osran didn’t allow his enemy such luxuries. Before it could even manage begin to think about attacking the paladin again, Osran cut it down with savage vigor, hate the only emption his expression communicated. He looked with some satisfaction at the pile of rotten flesh before him but this attack had only underlined his earlier fears: it was far too dangerous down here and it was more than probable that anything he could find was infected by the Plague. Osran was about to head back for the stairs when he was suddenly interrupted by a high-pitched, chuckling voice from somewhere in the darkness.

“A living wandering in the realm of the dead?! Hehee… I haven’t such things in a while but… I wonder if this brave adventuring wishes to take a look at my INSANE PRICES?!” The sickly chuckling continued for a while and Osran lamented the fact that he couldn’t see the speaker but he was more than prepared to strike him down. The voice certainly belonged to an undead but Osran didn’t yet know whether it was a danger to him. After a dew seconds, the paladin answered to the mysterious speaker.

“Whatever you are, show yourself now and I’ll let Light’s grace take you to its embrace quickly! This I swear on my honor as a paladin!” The knight yelled, not expecting the undead to obey him but no matter what, he was prepared to deliver justice to the wretched beast. Moments passed and suddenly, the maddened laughter resumed and it was much closer this time.

“But if you send me away, then who is going to sell all these beautiful, powerful fungi to you, hmm? You wouldn’t hurt your only helper here, would you?” Osran looked with repulsion as the decayed and pale face of an undead suddenly appeared from the darkness, its walking clearly forced and its back disgustingly bent. However, the detail that stole Osran’s attention was the undead’s face as it was cut up by thick, black strings that met each other around the spots where his eyes had long before been. Osran quickly walked towards the wretched being and rose his sword to point at his counterpart’s chest.

“What are you doing here and why aren’t you trying to kill me as every other undead? And where did those spiders come from? Speak!” Osran hated the fact that he was being forced to speak to this abomination but as distasteful as it was to accept, this insane undead was the only one who could shed some light to the questions swirling within the knight’s mind.

“Augustus doesn’t care about such things! He only wants to do business with anyone who…” The rotting corpse’s banter got quickly to Osran nerves and the paladin slowly poked Augustus’ throat with the tip of his blade to and whispered in a silent, cold voice.

“Stop the banter and answer me, fiend! I have little patience for this.” For a moment, the undead seemed to realize the seriousness of his situation but just as Osran was beginning to hope he’d receive an answer, the situation turned completely. With one, hateful pull, Augustus took one of the many fungi from his pouch and threw it to the ground. Everything happened too quickly for Osran to realize what was going on and the next thing he noticed were green, sickly clouds engulfing him in the middle of the darkness. The paladin then tried to cut the vendor down but for some reason, his hand felt too tired to do it. Osran begun to cough ever more violently as he heard the undead’s crazed, creepy voice all along him.

“I tried to help the paladin but all it earned me was stupid threats! Now, you will see what happens to those who turn down help when is being offered! Hahahaa!” Augustus guffawed as he looked at Osran struggling to breath and his eyes to turn red because of the poison. Osran knew he had to get away as quickly as he could and he begun to head towards the stairs, concentrating all his strength to avoid dropping his sword or torch to the ground. However, he soon realized the dangers of the burning torch and even through his agony, the paladin extinguished the burning torch and threw it to the floor to ease his burden. However, his consciousness was beginning to fail him as he reached the stairs and without truly realizing it, the knight fell to the ground, forcing him to pull himself up the stairs with his hands.

For a few times, Osran felt like he was done for but after what felt like an eternity, the smell of the decaying wood and sickly air once again greeted his senses. It felt unbelievable that the normally disgusting smell would now feel heavenly after the deathtrap the basement had turned into. Osran gasped for air as the earlier suffocating feeling slowly gave way to a clearer yet still sickened feeling. The paladin looked behind himself, seeing that he whole storage had been filled with the green, poisonous smoke. He dearly lamented that he had let the undead escape but it simply couldn’t be helped. There was something odd about him, as if he was free from the Lich King’s command but what would a Forsaken do here? And more importantly, what did it matter at this point? The only thing that mattered here was his survival and a chance to bask in the glory of the hour of Stratholme’s liberation.

Soon enough, the paladin felt like his breath was slowly returning to normal even if the dizziness within his head still remained. Osran sighed deeply as he rose to his feet, knowing that he would have to resume his escape without further waiting. Even if he regretted the fact that he hadn’t found anything useful, Osran was prepared to overlook that fact as long as he’d learn how the battle had ended. The aging man felt sick at the knowledge that the Crusade could have very possibly lost the battle but he decided to shake those thoughts away for now. Giving in to despair or doubts would serve no purpose here whatsoever. Osran walked slowly back towards the place where the door had once been and quickly moved to the street after making sure there weren’t any of the spiders nearby.

After a few, fearful minutes Osran had fought his way nearer to the cave’s opening but he would still have to take final leap of faith to reach its dark shelter. It would be nearly certain that his run would draw some of the arachnoids towards him as there were at least eight of them stalking the streets and surroundings of the ruined village. However, that was something he would have to accept if he were going to start his flight. Osran was just about to start his sprint… until he saw it.

A massive, purple-haired spider slowly appeared from the cave, its mere size filling Osran with disgust and fear. This particular monster was far larger than the others and its legs and fangs seemed far more powerful than the smaller creatures’. Even worse, it seemed to command some sort of authority over the rest of the monsters as the ordinary arachnoids clearly gave way to their apparent leader. Osran’s eyes were wide with horror as he looked at the spider slowly headed towards the village that had once been the cozy village of Cinderhome. The sight was a revolting one for the knight and several thoughts flowed within his mind.

Damn you, Arthas! We all know the depth of your betrayal but why did you have to bring these monsters to Lordaeron also? Weren’t the pathetic weaklings not enough? How am I supposed to defend myself if I face one of those in the tunnel? This plan seems to be getting worse by the second.

Osran breathed with some relief as he saw the purple spider disappear behind the houses, dearly hoping he’d never have to see the creature again. There was a chance it would be alerted to search for him later but right now, the paladin didn’t have a real choice. Osran took one, long, breath before he rose up from the ground and jumped over the boulder he had been hiding behind. Osran felt his heart beating in his ears as the tunnel quickly grew closer and closer, its dark entrance looking like gate towards salvation in the middle of the ruined land.

However, even if he would have wanted to close his eyes from that reality, Osran soon noticed that his flight had indeed drawn unwanted attention towards himself. Two of the monstrous spiders were running towards him from the village’s outskirts but Osran knew there was no point in turning back at this point. Maybe, just maybe, there would be some spot in the caves where he could hide and shake off his chasers. Osran took one, brief breath before he dived into the darkness of the cave, hoping that he’d live long enough to see the light shining at its other end.

The sight that greeted the veteran paladin’s eyes wasn’t the one he would have wanted to see. The fungi-like growth had spread into the cave even if they were far smaller than the ones outside. These ones, too, were spreading the disgusting poisons into the air but Osran knew that couldn’t be helped. What was even worse, the darkness seemed to be complete in the deeper parts of the cave and it was at this moment the knight cursed himself for throwing away his only torch back at the inn. Blood started to flow from Osran’s lips as he bit them in deep fear. Still, he didn’t have a real time thinking about those things as the spiders were slowly closing the gap between them and the paladin. Osran turned quickly around to face the villains and it took all his courage not to back down before their monstrous faces and threatening fangs. He had managed to take a few them down with ambushes and quick assassinations but now he was facing two of them simultaneously.

The knight tried to quickly come up with the best way to proceed and soon enough, he noticed a few things that could be of use to him. The spider attacking him from the left was at least two meters ahead of its companion while the other one seemed slightly weaker and slower than the left one. Perhaps he could try to take the more eager one down first and hope the slower was wouldn’t be able to help its companion before it would be too late. The tunnel’s mouth was too narrow for the two undead arachnoids to fight too effectively anyway.

After the tunnel’s shadow fell upon the two slaves of the Scourge, Osran knew it was the time to take the initiative. He suddenly formed a judgement with his hands but held it for a moment so that he had the chance to cause some fear within the enemy. To Osran’s surprise, the foremost arachnoid actually seemed to hesitate for a moment, but as the paladin had expected, the other undead didn’t twitch to any direction as both of the spiders seemed to think the knight was attacking the left attacker. Osran frowned deep in thought as he released the judgement on the weaker attacker. Did these beasts actually try to foresee his moves? But these were merely brainless animals… they had to be…
In any case, the paladin wasted no time in countering the charging spider. Once again, his sword turned golden by the grace of the Light and even if the humongous arachnoid tried to defend itself from the attack, Osran’ blade sank into the beast’s chest, sending it to take a few steps back, a horrifying screech accompanying those seconds. However, neither did the knight have any time to celebrate his small-time victory. One moment Osran was preparing to take the wounded spider down, the next he was screaming as he felt parts of his back seemingly corroding away. The man gasped in astonishment before he turned around to face yet another of the spiders running towards him. To his shock, Osran saw that his back was covered with some disgusting, green liquid which more than probably was the spider’s poison. The paladin’s mind swirled with different ideas on how to defend himself from the enemy while attempting to get away from the acid which was slowly melting his entire back away.

With one, desperate tug, Osran pulled his armor away as it was completely covered with the poison and then jumped forward to finish off the spider he had already wounded. It couldn’t provide any real resistance as its wound had been a deep one and it seemed to incapacitate the creature completely. After that one low, Osran turned around to face his remaining opponent, the acid still causing unspeakable pain to the paladin. Osran knew he’d take the abomination down easily in normal circumstances but this was far from one. Osran could only hope he’d be able to take the arachnoid down quickly.

The knight did his best to keep the pain at bearable levels and started slowly started to walk towards the monstrous spider, knowing that even the slightest of mistakes at this point could very probably prove to be his end. He took a few steps to his left, trying to see whether the spider was in any imminent plans to attack him. To the paladin’s chagrin, that wasn’t the case. It was as if his opponent was doing the same things as he was: trying to investigate its opponent and try to find his weakest point. The more Osran was forced to see these creatures, the more he got the feeling that these monstrous beings weren’t mere brainless animals. It was as if they were also capable of planning and even thinking. But Osran cringed as he realized this fact would only make his job more difficult.

After many, long seconds, the silence was finally broken as the arachnoid started its attack. But unlike the other ones Osran had met before, this spider seemed much more reserved and prepared for his counters. It quickly charged towards Osran but unlike the paladin had expected, it didn’t attack him headlong. Rather, it used it’s charge as a distraction to block Osran’s escape route from the cave and to pin him towards the wall, ridding him of any hopes of running from this battle. However, the human had a trick in his sleeve the spider hadn’t expected.

With immense efforts, the air itself started to swirl with holy power around Osran as he used his powers to call forth a maelstrom-like concentration of the Light, destroying anything impure on its path. For a moment, the spider tried to stand its ground and to stab Osran with its fangs but soon enough, the monster realized such attempts were unrealistic at this point. The arachnoid twitched in pain as it fled further into the cave, its legs completely burned by Osran’s attack. The knight used this moment to attack the undead but to his surprise, his opponent wasn’t left unprepared for his attack. The spider waited for Osran’s attack and when he was about to end the fight, the black arachnoid turned around and pushed Osran against the wall with its back. The knight was sent flying against the rocks with a violent force and Osran spent many moments fighting for breath. However, immediately after that, the arachnoid made its final mistake.

Thinking Osran’s powers were close to spent, the monster attacked Osran to finish its job. However, just as it was preparing to stab Osran with its fangs, the paladin suddenly drew his sword which was lying beside him and sank it into the monster’s abdomen. It didn’t have time for a scream and a sickened gurgle was the only sound the spider managed to emit before it collapsed upon Osran.

Even through his injuries, the human cringed in disgust as he saw the spider’s faded eyes stare into his own and the arachnoid’s body lying on top of him. With enraged whispers, Osran quickly pulled himself from under the dead monstrosity, only now having time to take a proper look at his back. The poison still did damage into his back and the paladin cursed internally at his disability to do anything about it. He had heard the druids of Kalimdor and the shamans of the orcish Horde being able to cleanse toxic liquids but it wasn’t a power any paladin had ever been able to master. The best Osran could hope for at this point was to try to mitigate the damage caused by the liquid with his healing. With any luck, he wouldn’t have suffer any permanent injuries because of this one, small mistake.

However, those thoughts were suddenly interrupted by one, silent flush of a wind which swirled into the depths of the tunnel. It seemed like a sinister omen and it made the small mushroom-like plants quiver under its breeze. Osran gazed into the darkness, knowing that he didn’t have the slightest of reasons to believe it wouldn’t be filled with the same monstrous spiders he had been forced to fight on his way here. However, the thought of Thondrodil River’s waves waiting for him somewhere in that direction gave him courage. He had already survived the dangers of Plaguewood and managed to enter the tunnel without any major problems. Now, all he had to do…

Suddenly, those thoughts were interrupted by a slight thud somewhere deeper into the cave and immediately, Osran noticed a rather deep-looking crevice in the wall and quickly, entered it in the hopes of being able to avoid the threatening encounter. Osran crouched in an effort to minimize the chance of him being spotted by the enemy. After a moment, the all-too familiar form of an undead arachnoid appeared to his view. To Osran’s horror, it stopped momentarily and turned to look around the empty cave as if to check if there were any intruders out there. However, it soon seemed to calm down and resumed its slow walk through the dark tunnel.

Osran breathed in deep relief, willing to just sit down and imagine this to be a mere bad dream. The knowledge that he’d been through far worse situations didn’t seem to provide him with any relief but Osran knew he had to make it out of here alive, in the name of the Lowriver house and the honored Grand Crusader. The paladin was just about to rise up when he felt something that immediately seemed to freeze his heart still.

It was something moist, something that gave in under his fearful touch. Osran immediately rose up in shock and stared into the darkness, his heart beating in his ears. It took a short while for his eyes to see clearly what it was and it didn’t surprise the paladin in the least. Inside the utter blackness lied something that had once been a living being, most likely a dwarf, whose life had been snuffed out long ago. Osran cringed in disgust as he saw the state his flesh had decayed into and there were no recognizable features left of his face. Osran crossed his arms before he raised his gaze upwards and spoke a brief blessing to the Light on the fallen dwarf’s behalf. Even if his kind seldom was of any worth to Lordaeron, it was in these moments of threat and fear that Osran remembered that the dwarf, too, had once been in his situation, lost and alone.

“In the name of every messenger and beacon of the good in this world, I grant you the sanctity of becoming one with the eternal grace of the Holy Light. Rest well, brother.” Those words were the briefest prayer a paladin could give on a fallen comrade and it was most often used in situations where the speaker didn’t know the poor fool who had passed on. But on this moment, those words seemed to finally make Osran realize his situation fully. If he failed in his escape, he, too, would forever lie within this cursed tunnel, his body slowly rotting away while the knowledge that he ever lived in the first place would slowly decay and before long, disappear from this world. Osran cast one, apologizing nod to the fallen dwarf before he finally rose up. He was just about to leave when he suddenly noticed one, rather small crate lying beside the fallen dwarf.

The paladin frowned as he slowly bowed to look at the box and with careful movements, he opened it to see what the dwarf had carried with him on his last journey. The paladin was surprised to find that it wasn’t locked in any way but it was only the box’s contents that provided the real shock to the paladin. It contained two, long red tube-like objects and it took a short moment for him to realize what he held in his hands. He hadn’t seen things like these in years and even then, he hadn’t been too excited about them. These were goblin explosives, a fact that puzzled Osran greatly. Things like these hadn’t been for sale in Lordaeron in years so the dwarf had to have been some kind of
adventurer as the closest goblin merchants these days were many weeks’ journeys away.

At first, Osran was thinking about simply putting the tubes back into the box and leave them here as he had always seen them as honorless and dangerous tools best left for those without understanding of higher ways of combat. However, those thoughts turned into hesitation as he remembered his situation. Did he really have the right to turn any help away, no matter how unappetizing it seemed at first glance? These explosives could allow him to take out a few of the spiders before they even saw him and without any danger to the paladin himself. There was only one thing that made the knight cringe heavily: what if these bombs were powerful enough to bring the whole tunnel down, potentially burying him under the falling rocks? Osran thought for it for a moment and then decided that it was simply a risk he’d have to take. He quickly took the tubes and put them to his small pouch that was hanging from his belt.
This short moment of rest was suddenly interrupted by a long, distant screech from the outside of the cave. it was most likely some kind of plagued bat but it served to remind Osran that he’s have to restart his advance right away. The knight moved to look at the main corridor and to his relief, no more of the undead arachnoids could be seen for now. With slow, careful movements, Osran resumed his journey through the utter darkness.

« Last Edit: January 26, 2018, 10:31:01 AM by Sovereign »


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« Reply #30 on: January 26, 2018, 10:28:01 AM »

The long minutes passed agonizingly slowly as Osran did his absolute best to ensure that he would be the first one to see his enemies and to be the one who finishes the combat before it truly even started. Every time he heard some surprising or ominous creak before him, he immediately moved behind the sickly fungi or crouched into the darkness, waiting for the correct time to strike his enemies down. To his luck, it didn’t seem like the arachnoids had a hard time spotting him if he only stayed completely still in the darkness. In the easiest of situations, he could simply ambush his enemies and strike them down with one, mighty strike that severed their heads from their shoulders.

However, not all of the mysterious spiders were that easy to beat. One of them seemed to be far more vigilant than the others and it seemed to even foresee Osran’s attack. The paladin was taken aback when he noticed that his opponent seemed to be waiting for him to strike as it immediately countered his assault by raising its front legs to defend itself and to catch Osran off balance. However, neither was the paladin completely unprepared for surprising developments. Even if he hadn’t expected this sharp rebuke, he managed to regain his balance and composure with all the experience he had gathered during his years as a paladin of the Light. He decided not to give his opponent the slightest time to continue to make most of its initiative and immediately threw a bright, ethereal hammer at the monster, stunning it for a few, decisive seconds, Osran didn’t waste time in sinking his blade into the aberration’s face, earning him another victory.

The paladin had a hard time trying to realize his luck. In the journey which he had almost deemed a lost cause was actually nearing its end. Even if Osran couldn’t say how much longer the tunnel would continue, he knew without a doubt that he was well over the halfway in his path of despair and fear. He was glad that the tunnel was completely straight without any chance for him to get lost in its corridors. Osran could tell why this place had never really become a popular route even in better times, though. There were significant rises and falls inside it and it took all of his concentration trying to stay on his feet in this seemingly endless rocky ground. Also, it became extremely narrow in places, making it impossible for anyone but a single courier move through it at once.

Even then, Osran knew that this was the time to avoid any major risks as despite all odds, his hopes of survival had increased exponentially with every step he had taken in this tunnel. Now, all it would take for him to survive was to avoid any novice-like mistakes and everything would end well. Only a short while more and he would be able to start his efforts to find his way…

It was at this moment that Osran once again stopped and slipped into the darkness. In front of him stood three of the mysterious arachnoids looking at each other which in itself was more than odd for Osran. However, it was only what came next that truly took Osran off guard. One of the three spiders suddenly started to emanate a low, screeching voice that ended in a creepy rasping sound. To Osran’s ever-growing shock, however, that sound was soon answered to by one of the other ones which in turn prompted another noise from the first monster. Osran frowned deep in thought as he looked at the three abominations, not knowing what to think of this discovery.

]Are… are they really speaking with each other? But… but that’s impossible! No spider has ever shown capability of doing something like that except… that creature Harthal met in Icecrown! Could these really be the same kind that the mighty beetle-like creature in the heart of the cold north?[/i

Osran’s mind was a flux after those revelations as the mere thought of communicating, intelligent spiders truly wasn’t something that raised positive thoughts within him. It would make them all the more dangerous and unpredictable but even then, that didn’t change the fact that they were blocking his escape route and he’d have to clear them out quickly. The knight’s back was still in extreme pain from the last time he had to fight three of the spiders at once and, as he had feared in the first place, his strength felt like it had been heavily drained by his ordeals on this terrible day. That couldn’t be helped and Osran knew that there was only one realistic solution to this problem.

With a heavy sigh, Osran took one of the goblin explosives from his pouch, examining it carefully before utilizing one of his most powerful tools on this quest. If he remembered correctly, these kinds of devices had to be turned on from some kind of switch a short while before using. It took a short moment for him to find it at first but after a moment, he found the switch and a small clock-resembling object on the bomb. Osran breathed heavily, truly hoping using one of his two tubes like this was worth it and even more fearfully, that the cave wouldn’t collapse under the power of the explosion. With a heavy heart, Osran pulled the switch and looked in concern as the clock started to tick. The paladin realized that the explosion would occur in about ten seconds but even that was too long a wait.

The sudden, ticking voice alerted the spiders immediately and they headed without any delay to search for its source. The paladin looked in deep fear as the monsters approached him with a quick pace and knew that his time to act had come. He suddenly threw the bomb over the mushrooms and to his horror, he could hear the clank as the tube fell into the ground, for a moment fearing it wouldn’t work at all. However, the next thing he knew was a loud, violent blast wave that sent him flying towards the wall in a powerful force. However, he recovered from it quickly as he saw the impact the explosive had had on the arachnoids. They, too, had been hit by blast wave but in addition it had killed the last one of the trio and wounded the second one heinously.

Despite his own injuries, Osran wasted no time in attempting to finish the injured arachnoid up quickly but to his chagrin, it managed to beat back his initial attack. The paladin’s sword met the spider’s leg of which remained nothing but the rock-hard bone. However, Osran didn’t let the monster the slightest of reprieves as he concentrated all his strength into an attempt to outpower the undead. The knight’s already weary muscled were pulled to their absolute limits as he concentrated every last inch of his willpower into this one effort. After a few seconds, the spider’s defense finally failed but not before it had bought its companion precious time.

The second spider fell to the ground for the last time as Osran sword cut its legs and throat with decisive, precise strikes but as he delivered his last blow, he felt an unimaginable pain in his left side. He turned to look at his new wound in horror before he realized what had just happened. The third servant of the lich Kind had stabbed his unprotected side with its fangs, its poison circulating through his veins already. He almost lost his composure at the terrifying surprise but soon realized that he would be able to heal himself through this horrifying fight if he only kept his…

At this point, those thoughts were completely swept away by one, powerful footstep from behind him. Osran had a sickening, horrified inkling about what was coming and with slow, unbelieving movements, Osran turned to look at the ever-strengthening sound’s direction. At first, there was nothing but darkness there but after a short while, the aging knight’s eyes were able to spot slight movement within the darkness before the gleam of many eyes slowly came to view from the blackness. Osran nearly froze as the monstrous arachnoid slowly emerged from the corridor.

This was the same creature Osran had seen walking towards Cinderhome when he had first entered the cave. He could remember that purple hair and massive size anywhere and the fact that its eyes gleamed with malice only worsened his horror. The only thing that kept him from running was the fact that his battle with the remaining smaller creature was still in progress and it wouldn’t give him the luxury of a breather. However, Osran knew more than well that he couldn’t stand against the power of the massive arachnoid and his mind searched vigorously a way to escape from this nightmare. It helped his situation none that it was at this moment that the purple monster suddenly raised its head and made a loud, ear-piercing screech that echoed through the halls of the tunnel. Osran knew more than well what that meant: each and every spider in the cave was now after him.

That knowledge alone prompted the knight to give his all to escape from the extremely dangerous situation he now found himself from. With renewed fury, he hit the smaller arachnoid near him again and again, the spider’s struggles ending almost immediately. Osran panted with exhaustion and despair but his mind was set on giving his everything on his last stand. Even if he hadn’t yet accepted it consciously, Osran knew at this point that he was going down. He would never be able to take the apparent leader of the spider horde while also fighting his way out of this perfect deathtrap. However, he had one idea on how to sell his life with the highest possible price.

With a brief sigh, Osran pulled the second red tube from his pouch and without seconds thoughts, started the timer. He’d have to throw it behind himself to force himself from being surrounded and try to take the largest spider down as a service from all those brave heroes who would brave this path of dead after him. Osran only lamented that his story would end like this, just when it seemed like Lordaeron had hope for a better future again. Well, a soldier never had a choice on how to end his service and Osran had already resigned to that fact. He merely whispered to the wind before he threw the explosive towards the charging spiders.

I’m sorry, Eneath and Orotha. I’m sorry I couldn’t see this through with you two. May the Light shine upon you when I am gone.

And after those thoughts, the paladin straightened his hand and threw the bomb at the charging arachnoids, stopping their advance immediately. Osran quickly turned around and prepared to face the last challenge of his life. The massive spider was charging right towards him and Osran knew there was a real risk he’d be crushed under the monster’s mere mass if he weren’t careful. Osran put on a defensive posture, trying to find the best spot to escape to. The leader of the undead seemed to know the depth of its advantage and it was clear it was not going to give Osran any reprieve in this fight.

The knight’s eyes stood still as he looked at the massive creature growing ever closer to him and just as it’s front legs were about to crush him, Osran suddenly crouched and jumped forward, attempting to catch his opponent by surprise. However, the arachnoid didn’t seem to be startled in any way, rather it seemed to be only irritated by the struggles of its prey. Osran tried to direct his blow towards the monster’s underbelly but to his momentary horror, the spider proved to be surprisingly agile considering its size. It managed to flee from the paladin’s striking range and Osran’s sword hit only empty air, further interrupting his attempts to get any kind of early advantage.
Seeing that it’s opponent’s plan had clearly failed, the undead creature wasted no time on capitalizing on his misfortune. It quickly hit Osran with its legs, attempting to pin him towards the wall and to then sink its fangs into Osran, ending the fight immediately. Osran knew that his position was extremely dangerous and he needed to get the situation under his control once again or face an immediate threat to his life. He tried to rise back to his feet but the spider was making it impossible. Osran suddenly cast a powerful judgement of the Light at the arachnoid’s face while simultaneously hitting one of its front legs with all his might.

The spider took a few steps back and shook its head as the burning vengeance of the Light caused terrifying injuries on its forehead and one of its eyes. However, it was more than experienced enough to know that these kinds of things simply couldn’t stand in the way of its victory and to Osran’s shock, it managed to turn its leg into a position where it repelled his desperate strike. Osran looked in fear as his sword and arm were sent into the wrong direction, opening
another chance for the monster to deliver the killing blow. At this point, Osran knew it was all over… unless he’d be able to shield himself from the incoming attack!

A bright shield-like aura suddenly formed around Osran, just in time to repel the spider’s fangs which were aimed directly at Osran’s throat. The paladin gasped briefly in relief before he suddenly put his hands on the wall, knowing he had but a few moments to regain his footing before his sacred protection wore off. The paladin managed to grab his sword just in time to repel another of his opponent’s legs trying to get him off guard. Seeing that its opponent wouldn’t go down easily, the spider decided to give its strongest attack to finally end this charade once and for all.

Osran’s eyes widened in fear as he saw that the arachnoid was preparing to spit its poison upon him, still remembering the unimaginable agony caused by the smaller arachnoid’s toxins and he could only believe this one’s natural weapon would only prove even more deadly. Osran knew that this was an attack he would have to stop in its tracks or face total annihilation and he realized this was the time to give his all for an attack that could potentially end this fight once and for all.

Using each and every inch of strength he had left, Osran released another wave of Light upon his enemy while also infusing his every muscle with the sacred essence of his gift. The spider looked completely taken aback as Osran’s power seemed to increase considerable and he quickly hit the monster’s legs from protecting its head and just as he was preparing to deliver a serious blow to the monster, it did something that caught him completely off guard. It suddenly fled with extreme speed while also trying to spit its toxins upon Osran. an effort which largely failed due to the unsavory position the arachnoid was forced to.

However, any thoughts Osran had of victory were soon swept away as he looked around himself. He suddenly saw that he was completely surrounded by the arachnoids, and their leader was quickly fleeing behind its underlings. For a short while, Osran was thinking about trying to fight his way to the massive arachnoid but just as he was trying to gather enough strength for the final hit, he suddenly noticed something that dispirited him greatly. His hands were once again starting to glow with the familiar golden light but after a few seconds, it extinguished completely. And before Osran could really ask why from himself, he knew the answer. His strength was close to completely spent and he couldn’t create a true communion with the Light through his fatigue. Osran looked in growing horror as the spiders moved towards him, preparing to finish the foolish journey that Osran shouldn’t have been forced to in the first place.
Osran was almost prepared to lay down his weapon and resign his life in this desperate situation as he looked at the devilish forms of the undead arachnoids. After all of his years of service, he had finally faced an unwinnable situation, a dark place from which there was no escape from. With heavy thoughts, the paladin raised his sword in what he already assumed would be the last time… before something unexpected happened.

Two torches suddenly flew from the darkness, inflaming two of the spiders immediately. That attack was immediately followed by the flash of a large sword, splitting the one of the other spiders into two. After those few, miraculous moments, a silent whisper rang through the cave with the level of authority and hope Osran had heard very rarely.

“Escape, now! It’s your only chance!” To Osran’s astonishment, the voice sounded even somewhat familiar but he couldn’t quite tell whom it belonged to. What he knew was that he had heard it many, long years ago but the newcomer’s appearance didn’t give him any hints. He was dressed in a simple, brown vest and a deep brown hood which hid his face completely. Only short, grey beard could be seen from under his coverage. However, the knight wasted no time in complying with the newcomer’s order as, no matter who he was, the aging paladin didn’t have a real choice. He quickly headed towards the direction of the Thondrodil River, first affirming that the old man would follow him. After seeing that this was the case, Osran ran into the darkness, hoping that the newcomer’s intervention would be enough for him to make his escape.

He observed at the hooded man with deep interest, keenly wondering who he was. To his knowledge, there shouldn’t have been any civilians left in these lands and the mysterious newcomer certainly wasn’t a crusader. Furthermore, why did his voice feel so familiar? Osran tried to speak his mind as the two started their flight.

“Who are you and what are…” At this point, that question was interrupted by the other human’s loud hiss as he tried to silence his companion.

“Ask the questions later! We are still in grave danger!” He said as he quickly looked behind him, affirming that the arachnoids had given chase on the duo. Still, the newcomer’s gestures didn’t communicate any kind of nervousness or fear. Osran also saw the incoming threat but his running was hindered by the extreme pain from his injuries and from the poison still circulating inside him. Osran felt fainter and feinter by the second and he knew he wouldn’t be able to go on for much longer.

The mysterious newcomer could also see that his companion was growing weak but he knew Osran well enough to trust that he’d see this escape through. However, he also knew he’d have to stop the spider’s chase now as it wasn’t long until they’d reach the western mouth of the winding tunnel. The hooded man suddenly turned around, preparing to end this danger and quickly spoke to Osran.

“Watch my side and try to beat at least a few of them back. We’ll end this threat together!” Osran frowned at those words, his suspicion and confusion growing all the time. Who was this hermit and could he possibly believe he was worthy to command a knight of the Scarlet Crusade around like this? However, the commanding tone within his was more than enough to make Osran believe in the other man’s ability to fulfill his promise and so he stopped to stand by his side, willing to give his all to this fight.

The Crimson Legionary cringed as he prepared to once again engage the undead monsters in a battle as it still took his all to even start the fight. However, to his immense surprise, his companion seemed to simply cut through the enemies like they were mere ghouls. He didn’t seem to be using any kind of magic but that proved almost impossible for Osran to believe as mere skill and determination didn’t explain his immense powers. Still, he was more than willing to guard his savior’s side if that was all that was all he asked in return.

The fight continued for many minutes but it was more than clear what the result would be. The brown-hooded man’s attacks continued to cut the arachnoids down and it took all of Osran’s faith to simply believe what he was seeing. After a while, the battle was decided and the newcomer raised his hand and cried at the spiders in an echoing, fierce voice that Osran knew he’d remember for a long time.

“Fall back, monsters! Kel’Thuzad’s slaves won’t prevail here today! Fall back!” He cried and as if driven by some powerful force, the arachnoids suddenly started to flee, slowly beginning to disappear back into the shadows of the Thondrodil Tunnel. Osran panted from astonishment and disbelief as he and the newcomer resumed their flight. At this moment, it was more than clear that the two were saved.

The early afternoon’s wind blew strongly from the direction of one of Lordaeron’s mightiest rivers, slowly swaying the long-dead grass in the blighted ground. The sun’s rays were blocked by heavy clouds which further dimmed the already dark lighting of the Plaguelands but that mattered little to the weary paladin who couldn’t believe his luck when he watched at the wide fields opening up before him. He had already resigned to his fate in the cave but here he was, one of the few living people who could claim to have survived from being completely lost inside the strongholds of the Scourge. And there was only one person he could thank for it.

“You have my deepest gratitude for coming to my aid on this darkest hours, good man. But now, answer me: who are you? Only very few people can ever possess the power to stand against those monsters.” Osran made sure to express his gratitude but his deep frown told that he was expecting a definitive answer to this question. The hooded man looked at his companion absentmindedly but he made sure not to reveal his face to the knight. To Osran’s great disappointment, his voice was extremely cryptic once he answered.

“My name is not important you, brave knight. My part in the grand stage of things was completed a long time ago but you, on the other hand, still have a role to play. That is all that matters.” The man looked into the distance in apparent melancholy but his hesitation to reveal his name started to irritate the knight more with every passing moment. He didn’t like to be played with and when he asked a question, he expected an answer to it.
“Of that I have to disagree. A man of your fortitude could be an asset to the Crusade so I ask you again, who are you? I assure you, it’s in your best interest to cooperate. I’m grateful for saving my life so I’d hate things to get ugly at this point.” Osran said, knowing that his superiors would never forgive him for just letting someone of this man’s skill to simply leave and rob the Crusade of his help. The hooded man waved his head in apparent sadness but after a moment, he took something from his pocket and held it in his hand for a moment before he spoke sadly.

“You’ve really changed, Osran. You always were an understanding and noble paladin but it seems like those days are over. In any case, I owe you the favor of telling you who I am. But I ask of you: open this small pouch only once you are on your way and don’t seek me out again.” The mysterious man said as he offered the small bag to Osran. The latter knew it would have been his duty to open it immediately but something in the other man’s words haunted him greatly. Still, he kept on his interrogative stance and spoke in a cold voice.

“Whoever you are, you haven’t seen what I have and no old hermit has the right to criticize an agent of the Crimson Legion. Tell me old man: why would I keep your secret? Why would I break my word to the Grand Crusader because of you?” Osran asked, earning an annoyed grin from his counterpart in an effort to settle his thoughts about this whole meeting. He received an answer in a moment but it wasn’t the he had expected or even hoped for.

“Because I ask you to make this one, small favor to an aged comrade. I know you are a man of the Light, Osran, and I want to believe you are still able to see that you’d win nothing by attacking me. I only ask of you: keep your head high and do what is necessary to keep Faol’s dream alive. That’s something I was never able to do. But that’s enough talk. You need to reach your comrades quickly. You may borrow my steed for this journey, it’ll find its way back to me.” The man said as a horse suddenly galloped from the woods, stopping beside the two and emanating a hoarse cry. It was at this moment that Osran finally realized who he was talking to. The nobleness and valor that emanated from his counterpart’s every word and gesture were something Osran had remembered seeing only once before in his life. He took a slight smile as he suddenly offered the small pouch back to the hooded man.

“Thank you for saving me, good man, but I don’t need this, your house’s sigil anymore. Don’t worry, I’ll keep our meeting a secret. You deserve this one favor, master Fordring.” Osran said as he slowly mounted the steed, relieved to find that it didn’t object to his presence at all. He and the other paladin had known each other long ago and even if their relationship had been that of a master and a novice, Osran had regarded Tirion an honored comrade even after his exile. He was glad to have this brief reunion with him even for this brief moment but his duty called. This meeting would have to be kept brief.

The other paladin’s eyes opened wide but not with surprise alone. Rather, the astonishment was accompanied by relief and joy. He was more than happy to see that the man who had been a mere novice during his exile still remembered him. The hooded man was more than disappointed by the changes in Osran after those days but it seemed like some honor and love for the Light still remained under his hardened shell. He merely answered briefly, willing to get over this meeting quickly.

 “I’m honored that you still remember me, knight Lowriver. But we’ve wasted more than enough time already. Head back towards Plaguewood and save our beloved Stratholme. Make Uther proud.” Tirion said with a slight smile which was greeted by a respecting salute from the slightly younger knight. The hooded paladin was left looking in slight melancholy as he looked Osran disappear into the woods, once again leaving him to his longstanding loneliness. However, it was the role he had brought upon himself so long ago and he knew it would be his fate for the rest of his days. With a deep sigh, he turned around and slowly walked into the forest, determined to stay hidden from any hostile eyes until his last breath in this life.

With the long-exiled paladin’s unexpected appearance, Osran has survived from his near-desperate situation and is now on his way back towards the Crusade’s main army. However, the battle’s resolution is still a mystery and the knight can only hope that the worst didn’t come to pass in that fight… I know this chapter deviates from this story’s usual narrative somewhat but I wanted to reinvigorate my (and hopefully yours as well) memories of one of my favorite places in the actual game. I hope it still fit the story well enough and I look forward to your thoughts about this installment!


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Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #31 on: March 13, 2018, 04:05:47 PM »
On Victory’s Doorstep

Only a small, almost inaudible noise could be heard as a small fungus-like growth was crushed under the feet of the Grand Crusader. Or the being’s that inhabited the paladin’s body anyway. Dathrohan’s eyes investigated the massive necropolis flying high above him in the sky but the demon who registered that sight saw a far different picture of Naxxramas than Saidan would have. Where the Grand Crusader would have seen the embodiment of all evil in his beloved homeland and the symbol of Arthas’ treachery, Balnazzar saw only one, small step on his long way to realize his revenge against the one who had humiliated him in the eyes of the masters of the Burning Legion.

He would have wanted nothing more than to attack the domain of the hated lich immediately but to his immense shame, the Scourge had proven to be a far superior power to the Legion’s forces on Azeroth and the pathetic and weak band of humans was even worse than his inadequate group of felhounds, infernals or doomguards. But neither was the Lich King’s army the unbeatable juggernaut of destruction it used to be and that was the demon’s hope of ever destroying the cursed citadel and the treacherous pawn himself for good. But his observations were suddenly interrupted by a voice behind him, a voice the demon had learned to despise during the day since his ascension to the Crusade’s highest position.

“The road is safe for now, Grand Crusader. There are constant attacks against our positions but we should be able to hold them at bay. However, we lost almost one fifth of our forces on the way, far more than we had hoped.” The voice belonged to High General Abbendis whose face communicated deep respect to his counterpart. Dathrohan turned slowly to look at him, willing nothing more than to teach him a lesson or two about executing missions in a more adequate way but he knew any major change of behavior compared to the actual paladin would very soon raise suspicions. Instead, he took a grim but thoughtful look as he answered.

“One fifth? The initial ambush turned into the disaster we feared back then after all… But that cannot be changed at this point. We must make sure their sacrifice won’t be in vain and take Stratholme before the undead can get a chance to regroup!” That proposition didn’t twitch one muscle in the general’s face as that was exactly how the plan was supposed to proceed. However, there was one problem that he simply couldn’t ignore at this point.

“I’m afraid that is impossible under these circumstances, Saidan. Most of our troops are fatigued and wounded by the long battle and it’s more than clear they’re in no condition to storm Stratholme right now. If you’d heed my advice, I’d say we wait until the evening and allow our men to recover their strength and courage. Our position is the most secure it has been in days and it seems we can afford this short delay at this point. Besides, some of our reinforcements are still on their way.” Abbendis said in an honoring but matter-of-factly voice. He was relieved that the Crusade had gone this far in this offensive but he knew his proposition was the only realistic way to proceed.

Those words, however, nearly caused Balnazzar to attack the lower-ranked crusader as anyone who questioned their superiors’ orders in the Legion would have been silenced immediately. Additionally, the fact that these humans whined for a moment of rest was only another issue that deepened the demon’s disgust at his followers and served as another reason why this race had no future in Archimonde’s plans. Still, he knew better than to question Abbendis’ words as, no matter how difficult it was for the dreadlord to admit, he still knew more about how to lead a human army than he did.

“Very well. I’m willing to wait until the early evening but after that, we must begin our push. One of the most important things to remember in battle is to push your advantage as far as you can, whenever you have the chance.” The bearded man said to Abbendis who was relieved to hear that Dathrohan saw things his way. He bowed to the Grand Crusader and started to speak.

“Thank you, Saidan. I’ll give an order for our troops to prepare for an attack in six eight. But before that, we must…” The general’s call for one, final strategy meeting was cut short by the sound of the hooves of a few horses approaching the two at a quick pace. Abbendis turned his gaze to look at the direction of the sound and to his puzzlement and growing expectations, he saw that the riders’ leader was none other than the Crusade’s Highlord followed by two other men, one who was seriously wounded and severely affected by the forests’ toxic atmosphere. To his puzzlement, the trio weren’t coming from the army’s main body’s direction but from some other part of the woods. The man seemed like this could well have been his last battle but apparently he and Mograine still had something to tell their leader.

“Grand Crusader! Thank the Light we found you this quickly! This paladin has discovered a major breakthrough! He and his comrades claim to have been close to finding the entrance to Naxxramas itself!” Alexandros cried as he stopped his steed in front of Dathrohan and Abbendis whose eyes had opened wide in surprise. Finding the rumored portal to the dread necropolis would be a massive development indeed but how could the undead possible let the knights find one of the most important places in the entire Plaguelands? Was the Scourge truly that weak?

“Are you sure, Mograine? It’s hard to believe they’d let us just stumble there. How do you know this?” Dathrohan narrowed his eyes as he thought about these new developments. He knew his last question was more than apparent as Alexandros wouldn’t otherwise had brought any mortally injured row knights, whose breaths grew more forced by the second, to this meeting. The Highlord answered immediately as it was clear that he was extremely interested at these news himself.

“This paladin here, Wacin Greywood, claim to have seen a group of death knights heading towards some well-hidden part of the forest but he and his comrades were annihilated before they could find the portal itself. While the knowledge of its location would indeed be of great worth to us, he and his companions broke against all our orders and rules as they decided to wander into the woods by themselves to find this entrance. All of his companions fell and because of him, Kel’Thuzad’s armies are more powerful.” Mograine’s tone turned into a more bitter one as the injured man looked at Dathrohan pleadingly, clearly devastated by everything that had happened. To his shock and fear, there was no compassion or approval in the Grad Crusader’s eyes but he continued to speak where Alexandros left off. He held his hands on his abdomen which was bleeding massively. The fact that even Alexandros hadn’t been able to stop the bleeding pointed only one conclusion for the knight.

“I… it’s true, Grand Crusader. I know it was foolish but I and four others thought that the closing moments of the battle offered us a way to penetrate the Scourge’s ranks and find their weakness. I… I am the only one left but please, make our sacrifice worthwhile. The death knights were talking about the entrance to Naxxramas and they were walking towards a remote part of the Plaguewood, apparently heading to their headquarters. But then… then we were suddenly ambushed and all of them fell immediately back there. But… but if you were able o finish our quest… it would offer us a chance to strike at heart of the beast.” The wounded man said as he suddenly started to gasp even more violently. The gazes that had already been targeted towards him became more concerned but the moment he begun to cough blood and all of his wounds opened wide open again, all of the paladins present run towards him and grabbed him away from the saddle and put him in the ground to do whatever healing they could. However, it was all too late. After a few moments, Wacin’s struggles ended and silence once again settled upon the small group of knights.

However, this small pause was soon ended by a concerned but ultimately unmoved voice of the Grand Crusader. To many of his followers’ surprise, he hadn’t lifted a finger to help the dying man. Even now, any compassion or sadness at the knight’s passing was gone as the demon possessing Dathrohan gave his command.

“Burn the body and if someone asks about him, tell them that he fell in the battle. We don’t need to honor traitors or those who decide to feed the enemy’s forces because they cannot follow our direct orders.” The paladin said, earning a deep frown from the Highlord even if he seemed to understand his superior’s reasoning. However, what he couldn’t understand was the way he acted. Dathrohan had often been a firm, even cold leader, but he had always honored his followers and their sacrifices for the common good. Simply disowning the fallen knight didn’t seem like the Grand Crusader he knew but even then, maybe the situation was getting even on his strong-willed comrade’s nerves. Alexandros nodded at his other assistant to proceed with Dathrohan’s command before he spoke to the Grand Crusader.

“Saidan? I think we all agree we must make use of this information as it opens us with a way to win the war in this land for all. We must find this portal immediately and take control over it. I know it sounds reckless but I say we storm the dread citadel itself simultaneously with Stratholme.” Those words would have been met with laughter had the situation been any less tense or dangerous. The three highest-ranking leaders’ eyes were fixed on Wacin’s corpse which slowly caught fire and started to turn to ash. Even then, Abbendis’ completely unbelieving, even mocking tone was apparent as he spoke to the Highlord.

“Storm Naxxramas headlong? Didn’t you hear what the poor man said? His comrade was torn apart mere seconds after entering those cursed halls! We don’t know what horrors lurk within Kel’Thuzad’s fortress and even if we did, we cannot divide our forces into two groups! We need everyone to even stand a chance at liberating Stratholme!” The general said as he looked at Alexandros while narrowing his eyes. He had always looked at things from the most realistic and objective point of view, one which would guarantee the best result with minimum risk and Mograine’s proposal waged war against all the rules he had learned to follow in his years of service. The bearded man took a few steps towards the other knight and spoke to him in an authoritative hiss.

“It’s unlikely that Kel’Thuzad will just sit idly and watch as Stratholme falls literally under his gaze! If we don’t take the fight to him, we could easily find ourselves surrounded by those monstrosities you mentioned! We don’t have to win in Naxxramas just yet but if we could even get a threshold there, we could use it to divert forces from Stratholme and ease the pressure in there!” Alexandros’ frown twitched as he spoke. He realized the massive risk he was advocating for but, according to his lifelong experience and faith, he wanted to believe this was the best way to go. He glanced at Dathrohan briefly but to his disappointment and puzzlement, the Grand Crusader seemed to be deep in thought.
Saidan’s eyes were closed as the demon inside him thought about the next way to proceed. Alexandros’ idea was indeed a brave one but the demon found only distaste towards such courage. The way he saw it, concentrating all of the attackers’ forces on Stratholme would offer the Crusade its best chance at victory. However, the nathrezim’s mind also registered another way to proceed. But it would require Alexandros to propose it himself if he wanted to avoid any second thoughts about his “noble” cause. For now, silence and listening to the duo’s argument further served his interests better than any kind of intervention.

“And what if the group in Naxxramas gets overrun? We have to send our very best troops there for them to even stand a chance of them staying alive but if they fall, our elite troops have been practically delivered to the hands of the Lich King! The risk is simply too large for us to ignore! Grand Crusader, you cannot seriously be considering this kind of plan!” This was the first time Abbendis had voiced his complete opposition to the Highlord’s plans but he knew it was the only way a major disaster could be avoided. To the general’s great concern, there was still no answer from the Grand Crusader. The waiting silence was soon ended by Alexandros’ rebuttal of the other officer’s comments.

“And if we get surrounded, we will all fall! You have always been a man of caution, Abbendis, but this is a moment when we have to take a stand. I’ll lead the group to Naxxramas myself if I have to.” Alexandros ended with a sigh, finally receiving some kind of reaction from Dathrohan. The brown-haired man opened his eyes to look at the Highlord and spoke to him after a moment of waiting.

“You’d be walking into the heart of evil, my old friend. That’s something I cannot give you a permission to do. The danger is simply too large.” Saidan said in a calm voice but inside he knew Alexandros wouldn’t simply give up now. The Ashbringer was a faithful man and he was nothing but a trustworthy comrade. However, there were times when he simply believed in something too deeply to turn away without a major confrontation. The dreadlord had observed the conflict in Lordaeron long enough to know the most legendary knight in the land well enough. Balnazzar fought away the urge to smile when he heard Mograine’s answer.

“I have to beg you to reconsider, Dathrohan! Kel’Thuzad will leave no stone unturned to crush us in Stratholme and an attack on Naxxramas would take away that possibility! Yes, we might fall, but not before we let ourselves be purged by the merciful fire. But I, and many others, are ready to give up our lives for you to take Stratholme!” The Highlord panted deeply as he spoke, fully realizing that this could very well be his last day. He had fought against countless odds in his life and there was a chance he could survive even this mission but he knew that chance was more than a fleeting one. Still, he was more than ready to face that fate if it ever came to that. Balnazzar knew already that he had won but still he took a deep, serious breath before he answered to the second most powerful man in the Crusade.

“Are you sure, Alexandros? Your courage is as admirable as always but this time your plan seems even too daring. Don’t you understand that you are, besides me, the symbol and head of the whole Crusade? The news of the Ashbringer’s fall would be a massive hit on our troops’ morale and could well turn the tide of this entire war. Is that a risk you are willing to take?” Saidan to his comrade, stopping only half a meter before him and looked into his eyes
with a serious glance. It was clear that this moment would have massive implications for the whole Crusade.

Alexandros, on the other hand, suddenly felt his words get stuck in his throat. All his life he had fought for himself and his homeland but never had he been forced to think about others than himself and his comrades in arms when thinking about an upcoming battle. He had always thought about how to best serve the kingdom and he had never shied away from battles which most others would have given up, slowly giving birth to the legend of the Ashbringer. He suddenly felt the weight of his own past deeds on his shoulders but in his heart, he knew there was only one way to proceed. If he now turned into a backseat leader who didn’t have the will or courage to face the enemy in fight himself, what would become of himself and all the ideals and goals he had risked his life for in the past? The Ashbringer returned the Grand Crusader’s gaze and with a low but steady voice, he gave his answer.

“It is, my lord. I have always done what I’ve had to and changing my ways now would be an antithesis to who I am and an insult to those who gave their lives to buy us this chance. There is no turning away anymore.” After those words, complete calmness reigned among the three men as they thought about the implications of what had been said. Abbendis looked like he’d want nothing more than to turn away and leave as a protest at what he saw a massive mistake and a complete folly. However, out of mere respect to his two old comrades, he stayed silent and let the meeting end the way his two superiors saw best. Dathrohan nodded at Alexandros slightly before speaking to him, his voice wavering with respect and hope for the future.

“Very well. You may choose three dozen of our best knights to give Kel’Thuzad something to think about. Make the whole of Lordaeron proud.” Saidan said in as revering voice as he could, prompting Alexandros to answer to him in a similar tone.

“Of course, Grand Crusader. I will spare no expense at buying you all the time you need. Stratholme will fall on this day.” The longer knight said as the two looked at each other with looks of respect. Dathrohan soon turned to look at Abbendis and finished the meeting with one last command.

“High General, begin the preparations for the invasion immediately. Alexandros, make sure to pick your group as well as you only can, ones you are willing to trust your life with and locate the entrance to Naxxramas without delay. Best of luck to you both.” Dathrohan looked as the two left the scene with varying levels of satisfaction. He had expected persuading Alexandros to this kind of reckless effort to be much more difficult but it seemed like fate was on his side on this day. Once the famed Ashbringer was out of the way, there would be no one to ever notice something was wrong with the Grand Crusader and even less challenge his grip on power.

The possessed human’s eyes narrowed as he already thought about the day when he could finally make up for his failure during the invasion of Azeroth and to once again rejoin the Legion’s leadership. No matter what, the renegade Lich King would fall but before that, he’d have to make sure his plans would be advanced without any flaws. And to make sure Alexandros would never stand on his path, he’d need help for that. And how lucky it was that he already had someone who was going to make his dirty work for him if everything else failed…

A powerful gust of wind greeted the paladin’s face as he saw another of the watchtowers appear from the hazy distance. He cringed as he realized it was only the second one, the same place that had been the Crusade’s first prize during its first offensive on these lands, just before his invitation to the Scarlet Monastery. That battle seemed like it had happened years, even decades ago even if it was barely two months since that day. A careful smile would have appeared to Osran’s face as he saw the old tower being restored to its former majesty, just as Corin’s Crossing which he had rode through barely an hour ago, if the situation wasn’t so serious.

He still hadn’t learned how the battle of Plaguewood had ended and the fearful visions of Eneath being disemboweled and raised to serve the Curse of Undeath flowed through his eyes. He was making good distance but every second that passed by seemed to stretch on forever as the grip of horror only tightened its grip on the paladin’s heart. He would never forgive himself if Eneath had fallen because of his own mistakes just before his separation from the main body of the army.

Osran’s thoughts were momentarily interrupted as his steed jumped over a large hole in the road, catching its rider completely off guard. However, as the ordinary gallop continued, Osran forced his thoughts to a slightly stressful issue. His meeting with the legendary paladin who he had thought to be dead for decades still caused deep conflict within him. Tirion had been one of the most noble and kind of the leaders of the Silver Hand and he had preserved the fond memories of the duo’s few old meetings. Back then, he had been but a lousy and unsure novice but for some reason, Tirion had always wanted to help him find the problem in his techniques. His speeches and lessons to the younger paladins were always beyond inspiring and despite Tirion serving as the lord of Mardenholde, he still visited Tyr’s Hand quite often. Osran was glad to see that the old friendliness and authority still hadn’t left the now-old paladin.

However, he dearly hoped his meeting would be kept as a secret. Fordring’s trial had been one of the largest and most publicized scandals back in the day and he was still a hated and despised outcast. Any association with him would still be condemned by even more than mere words, something Osran no longer approved of in the least. He had fought the damned orcs for years himself and lost many comrades to them but at this point, orcs or their helpers were the least of worries in his mind. Whereas Doomhammer had been a mere murderous savage, the Scourge not only killed and defiled the people, it would also spell the end of the world as the living knew it. No matter what, Osran had forgiven Tirion for his “crime” a long time ago and despite the potential backlash, Osran was more than happy to have met his old master one more time.

The weather grew slightly warmer the closer he got to the Plaguewood and the sickly mist grew less tangible but in the eyes of any outsider, the apocalyptic landscape would have seemed just the same as always. Osran took another sigh before he suddenly heard a loud cry from behind him.

“In the name of the Grand Crusader, halt your gallop immediately!” Osran didn’t even look behind him as he had learned during his years of service that immediate and faithful following of these kinds of orders paid off more often than not. All of a sudden, Osran could hear more sounds of horses’ hooves behind him, something which started to cause the paladin more worry. He looked at the group of knights slowly surround him and he knew better than to try to fight back as he had very little to hide. He looked at the apparent leader of the group ride towards him.

“Very few lonely men have any business in the Plaguewood. Who are you and on whose orders are you here? Speak but remember that lies will hardly improve your situation.” The knight said as he moved to face Osran at a closer range. Osran was trying to force his voice to calm down when he suddenly realized something important. He had seen that powerful face and yellow beard before but where? However, it wasn’t long before the sudden realization came to Osran.

“Harthal? Harthal Truesight? I always wondered when we’d meet again.” Osran said dryly, trying to even the odds at this conversation by not revealing his identity just yet. It remained to be seen whether Harthal remembered him as well. The other paladin frowned oddly, taken aback that this stranger knew him. And to tell the truth, there was something familiar about him…

“You didn’t answer my question. Tell me your name, now!” The leader of the small group, in a strict voice. It was clear he wouldn’t yield an inch in this battle of minds. Osran shook his head downwards and sighed before he answered. It seemed like the duo’s meeting at the Monastery hadn’t been meaningful enough to the other knight to remember him.

“Very well. My name is Osran Lowriver and in case you don’t remember it, we met back at the Monastery on the night following your return from Northrend. I was among your listeners and we exchanged a few words at that meeting.” The paladin said quickly, willing to ease the menacing situation as soon as he only could. Harthal looked at Osran for a while before his gaze finally brightened somewhat. This time his voice was an almost friendly one as he answered.

“Oh, I do remember. It wasn’t a long meeting indeed but it’s good to see you being alive and well as well, Osran. But that still doesn’t explain why you’re riding towards Stratholme alone.” Harthal said briefly, also glad that the situation seemed to be calming down.

Osran, however, was given his first opportunity to look around himself and see who the Lord Paladin’s followers were. His gaze wandered from one knight to another and there were some he could have swear to have seen back in the Monastery. But there were two figures among the group whose sight really caught Osran’s attention. Not far to his left was Renault Mograine, the rough but potent paladin and son of the Highlord he had met back at the Monastery. The duo’s eyes met briefly and it was immediately clear to Osran that very little had changed within the young knight.

The other paladin who he noticed among the group was someone whose absence had bothered him more often than he would have wanted to admit. He hadn’t heard a word of Veria Longlea since she had been ordered to reinforce the
Crusade’s forces in Andorhal. There would be a lot for the two discuss once this unexpected reunion would be allowed to start in full swing. For now, however, he’d have to answer the question he had been presented.

“Believe it or not, I was separated from the main army in the Plaguewood and I was presented with no other choice but to escape through the Thondrodil Tunnel. I’m now on my way to find them again and to prove them I didn’t fall in the battle.” Osran knew there were many detail in his story that could be hard to believe but he kept his face as neutral as he could to reinforce his honesty. Harthal’s gaze turned into an unbelieving one as Osran finished his brief story. He immediately rebuked the other knight’s story with the most obvious questions.

“Do you honestly claim you managed to escape from the heart of the Scourge’s stronghold here alone only to being forced to ride through this entire land when you could have just turned around and fight your way back to the others? Not to mention there aren’t many that well-kept horses anywhere near Thondrodil Tunnel.” The paladin’s voice neared a mocking one as more and more questions rose to his mind. However, Osran was quickly growing frustrated by this delay as every second he spent arguing here was another possibility for Eneath to meet his end. The Crimson Legionary’s voice rose considerably as he answered.

“I don’t know about you but I’d like to reach the army before the night falls! I doubt the Grand Crusader would like to hear of any unnecessary delays because of any unneeded interrogations, am I right, Truesight?” Osran knew there was only explanation for the group’s presence this far north on the Menethil Road and it was that they were heading to the same place that he was. This was probably another regiment of reinforcements from the west Dathrohan had asked to accompany him. Harthal looked taken aback by the other knight’s words ad his conflict-seeking expression turned into a thoughtful one. It was his duty to make sure the lonely traveler wasn’t up to anything that was against the Crusade’s plans but it was also true that the Grand Crusader wouldn’t want to hear that his losses had grown because of interrogating one paladin he had already met and found to be a man of honor. With a brief sigh, he answered to Osran while turning around to the direction of the Plaguewoods.

“We will get to the bottom of this in time, Lowriver. But for now, you may join us but if you try to do anything unexpected, we won’t hesitate to take you down. Is that clear?” The Lord Paladin said, not even expecting an answer from the other man. He quickly raised his voice and called to the rest of his followers.

“We must ride faster the rest of the journey! We have to reach the Grand Crusader before the evening!” He cried and the entire regiment of knights resumed their advance immediately. Osran looked at Harthal wearily while joining the second line of knights in the group. With any luck, there would be no more interruptions before he would be able to see that his nephew was alive and well. Osran briefly gazed at Veria and it was also clear that she had noted him as well. It was clear that both of them would be willing to share a brief moment if they’d ever be able to have one in this life again.

Pained twitches radiated through Eneath’s body as another flash of Light was being directed on his back. The young man was covered in deep, still-bleeding wounds that had by no means stopped threatening his life. There were four other men trying to cause his bleeding to stop but even their efforts struggled to contain the gaping wounds in his head, back and chest. The young man’s whole world was covered by the extreme agony but he hadn’t trained for years to give in to it. Eneath could feel his teeth being near to splitting apart as he gritted them together when he saw the Holy Light engulfing him again and again. Even in this terrible moment, the warm, sacred power gave him the strength he needed to go through one of the most terrible moments in his life. After a time which felt like an eternity, he finally heard the words he had prayed for in his mind.

“Very well, Lowriver. Your life is no longer under threat even if you lost massive amounts of blood.” One of the priests said in a matter-of-factly voice. The battle of Plaguewood had created countless seriously wounded knights and the priests and volunteering knights simply had no time to show any kind of sympathy or special treatment to those whose lives had been saved. Eneath breathed a gasp of great relief as he laid his head back to the woody stretcher which provided little real comfort. He was about to answer when quick, fleeting images begun to flow before his eyes.

The sight of countless of undead streaming towards him and Keril and the horror of slow but certain defeat once again rose to his mind. Even if his sword was nowhere to be seen, his fingers unconsciously searched for the scabbard in order to fight the devils off again. And the sight of the towering abomination looming over him and his comrades and the sudden, unexpected intervention from Osran… Suddenly Eneath shot up from his lying position and cringed in returning pain from the leaving group of priests.

“I thank the Light that you managed to save me in time but… where are Keril Strongstone and my uncle, Osran? They… they were standing on my side when… when this happened.” Eneath said carefully while gesturing on his badly wounded body. It hadn’t been many minutes after Osran’s disappearing before another of the skeletons had caused him the stab in his abdomen which finally caused him to lose his consciousness. H… had Keril made it through the battle? Had there been any sightings about his uncle or had he disappeared into the woods for good? Eneath felt like his heart stopped completely when one of the priests, an old grey-bearded man, turned towards him in a saddened look on his wrinkled face. He whispered something to one of the paladins who seemed to answer to the old cleric after a moment of thinking. After that brief exchange, the priest walked back towards Eneath and stopped near him.

“Strongstone, too, was badly injured in the battle but he’ll live. As for your uncle, I’m afraid he hasn’t been since he foolishly abandoned his position to help you, my child. I only pray he’ll find peace with the Light. But rest now, Lowriver. You took quite a beating.” The priest then turned around to treat the next wounded knight, leaving Eneath lying alone on the stretchers which had been laid on a rocky ground near the road. However, even the monstrous fungi rising around him no longer seemed mean anything to the young paladin whose world seemed to freeze immediately. Could it be true? Could it be that Osran had met his end in the forest, because he had been incapable of standing his ground in the first place?

Ever since their arrival in Tyr’s Hand during the War, it had been his dream to defend his homeland against the Scourge but it had always been his uncle who had served as his mentor and the model who he should strive to become. He had always seen Osran’s power as something only a select few possessed and he still wasn’t half the paladin his uncle was. To think he’d fall alone in this cursed forest was something that no one, especially not a paladin of his status, should suffer. Something that he simply couldn’t suffer. Eneath had heard the stories of the older Lowriver’s deeds in the Monastery and Osran had always been a resourceful and decisive man. No matter how unlikely it seemed, Eneath knew Osran simply wouldn’t allow his years of service end like this. Not after all he had gone through. Eneath turned into the now-calm forest and slowly but surely, he had to admit that it was more than likely he wouldn’t meet Osran again in this life.


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« Reply #32 on: March 13, 2018, 04:09:04 PM »

The knight’s breaths grew easier by the second as the group of around fifty paladins went ever deeper into the Plaguewood. To his immense surprise and relief, there were small squads of paladins stationed here and there along the road, apparently to ensure the vital supply line’s safety in the coming days. There were burning bodies here and there which were only a small part of the terrifying losses the Crusade had suffered to secure this one road. Even then, the presence of these knights meant only one thing: the order had won the battle and were now truly laying siege to Stratholme itself! He could see similar hopeful sentiments among his companions as they finally approached their destination.

None of these hopeful signs were lost on Harthal as he looked at the road before him. It seemed like riding night and day for two days from the Monastery was the right decision after all, despite his followers’ doubts about his plan. The knight commander was beyond fatigued but it was nothing to the five days of nightmare during his flight from Northrend. The visions of that expedition still haunted him during his every waking and sleeping moment but he been forced to learn to not give in to his inner fears. Whitemane had made that more than clear in the weeks following his return.

Even through his haunted and fearful mind, however, he was more than honored to be allowed to lead this group of reinforcements in the imminent battle of Stratholme. He had never visited the city itself but he, like any citizen of Lordaeron, had heard of its splendor and mighty walls but also of its eventual downfall and about the apocalyptic horrors that lurked within its walls these days. No matter what, he’d serve the High Inquisitor with all his heart and give his last breath to accomplish this mission of which would be spoken with venerating words for centuries to come.

Suddenly, a certain sight before him snapped him out of his thoughts once and for all. A small group of knights suddenly blocked the road before him and one of the men shouted to the Lord paladin in a surprisingly grim tone.

“Stop right there! Who are you and where are you and your followers coming from?” The man said, prompting Harthal to raise his hand as a gesture for his followers to stop immediately. The paladin wasted no time giving his answer.
“We are the regiment honored Inquisitor Whitemane promised to send from the Scarlet Monastery. We’re not too late, I assume?” Harthal said in a neutral tone, expecting this meeting to be finished very soon. However, to his surprise and slight annoyance, the guard wasn’t done with him.

“If you truly claim to be that group’s leader Harthal Truesight, I trust you have the High Inquisitor’s letter and seal with you as well. Without it, you aren’t going anywhere.” The man said, prompting a highly annoyed frown from the other paladin. Yes, Whitemane had given him such a letter but they hadn’t been really needed before as any help from a fellow crusader had previously been welcomed with open arms. With a deep sigh, the knight took one of his packs which were hanging on his steed’s sides and after a few seconds of searching, he handed the piece of paper to the guard.

“Here it is. Her seal is on the bottom part of the paper as you can see.” Harthal said in frustration but it still took a few moments before he received an answer from the guard.

“Everything seems to be in order, commander Truesight. You may pass but report to the High General immediately so he may order you to your posts without delay. May the Light smile upon us all.” The leader of the small band of guards said as he and his followers moved to the sides of the road, allowing the newcomers to reach the main part of the army. Harthal nodded to the man in approval before he ordered his steed to a calm gait. It wasn’t long before the first groups of wounded soldiers begun to appear on the sides of the road, surrounded by vigilant paladins who guarded their comrades on this anxious, waiting hour.

If he could tell anything from his experience, Harthal assumed that Abbendis was waiting somewhere near the frontline or if the timing was bad enough, he could be in a planning session right now with his fellow masters of the Crusade, However, he knew there was no point in bringing his whole regiment to this meeting so he suddenly turned around to look at his followers and spoke to them in a calm voice.

“You may rest a moment when I talk to the High General. Do what you wish but you must move to your posts we decided back at the Monastery whenever you are commanded to do so. It has been a long ride but I’m happy we made it in time.” The Lord Paladin looked at Osran slightly longer than the others as he still wasn’t completely convinced of his true motives. However, he had showed no questionable intents during the ride and even then, there was little to win by wasting time on him any more than he already had done. He waited until his followers honored him with salutes before he begun to move on the road towards Stratholme and the final frontline once again.

The entire situation seemed to suddenly come crashing down upon Osran as he realized he had made it. He had survived his stroll into the Plaguewood and was now back in the army he had been separated in that now seemingly faraway battle. He knew he’d have to report his survival to some of the other commanders here but at this point, there was only one person he’d want to meet. While he looked forward to meeting Veria again, he prayed in his mind that Eneath wasn’t among those who lied burning under the monstrous fungi along the road. Most of the newly arrived knights begun to dismount as soon as they could after countless hours of constant riding and Osran didn’t waste any more time than they did. He quickly approached one of the guards along the road who was facing the woods in case something suspicious would appear from its cursed depths. The man flinched noticeably as he heard the voice speak to him.

“I beg your pardon, good knight, but would you happen to know where I could find Eneath Lowriver? I haven’t been able to find him since the battle.” Osran decided revealing his identity would help little in this situation but to his disappointment, the guard’s answer wasn’t what he had wished for.

“I don’t know anyone of such name. But if you haven’t seen him since we drove the Scourge back to its damned lair, I’d say it’s more than clear he didn’t make it. Even then, the wounded are often tended in the places where they fought and fell. Where did your comrade serve in the battle?” It was clear that the man would have wanted to be left in peace but he seemed to be willing to speak out of mere respect to a fellow crusader. This answer was an unexpected one for Osran and he immediately turned to investigate his surroundings. At first, he didn’t quite remember this stretch of the forest but after a moment, he started to recall in which parts he had seen the massive mushroom to his far left and where the northern woods stuck closer to the Menethil road. This had been the place where the middle part of the army had taken their stand in the fight, meaning Eneath should be a bit further down the road if he had survived. He answered to the guard quickly before he prepared to begin searching for Eneath.

“In that case, he should be even further that way. You have my gratitude.” The paladin said as the guard turned around to continue his long watch. Osran was ready to finally conclude his worries and he was beginning to walk towards Eneath probable location when he heard another voice, to his great disappointment, behind him.

“What are you doing, Osran? Are you in too much hurry to even greet me after this past month?” The speaker was Veria who apparently had wanted to exchange a few words with the other paladin when they’d reach their destination. Osran welcomed her presence but he didn’t want to delay his reunion with Eneath so he just waved to Veria to follow him.

“Come with me, Veria. I’ll explain on the way.” Every feature in the aging paladin’s reflected his inner fears and extreme worry which Veria noticed immediately. The atmosphere was somewhat warm but extremely worried as the two old comrades headed west on the heavily guarded road. Osran didn’t want to show any more of his concerns and he looked forward as he spoke.

“It’s good to see you again, Veria. The last weeks have been quite hard without you or Tareth and I’m more than happy that you’re here. However, right now the only thing I want is to find Eneath. As I told Truesight, I was separated from him during a battle yesterday and I still don’t know whether he survived or not. If he did, he should be found around there.” Osran felt terrible for practically ignoring his companion’s presence like this but he wanted to shake this massive burden from his shoulders as soon as possible. To his slight relief, Veria didn’t seem upset by his behavior as she answered.

“I can’t imagine what happened but I expect to hear from it soon enough. This battle was a bloody one but all that matters is that were victorious here, just like in Andorhal. Let’s just hope Eneath didn’t pay for it with his life.” Veria seemed genuinely understanding of Osran’s words but the news she shared immediately caught the other paladin’s interest. Had the Crusade taken Andorhal alongside Corin’s Crossing? Things seemed more promising by the day for the living in this horrifying campaign.

“Indeed. However, I never heard Andorhal has been retaken for Lordaeron. I’m happy that your mission wasn’t for nothing.” Osran tried to force a weak smile to his face but it was from a believable one. Veria sighed briefly before she answered.

“I guess so even if there were many times when I hoped I would be released from that hell. The Scourge managed to surround us in the lands south of the city and many of us fell under onslaught of the abominations and necromancers. In the end, we broke their ranks and managed to retake Andorhal and it truly seems like Scourge’s grip on that area has been broken for good. I also noticed that the Crusade has managed to make major gains in old Darrowmere, most importantly in Corin’s Crossing. And also, I noticed that Isillien accepted you to the Crimson Legion. Congratulations.” She said as she noticed Osran’s blood and poison stained tabard. Osran glanced at Veria in slight approval but he knew that any briefings of his time in the Legion wouldn’t be allowed to be told to any outsiders. He answered to the other knight briefly as he investigated the wounded knights lying everywhere around him but none of them looked familiar, at least to any remarkable degree.

“Yes, I did. The Grand Inquisitor made it seem like an important occasion and I guess it has given me some more say in planning the offensives but most of the change has been mostly symbolic. It’s nothing to be proud about.” The Crimson Legionary said, the situation making it more than easy for him to lie without any fears of extra gestures. Veria found Osran’s answer somewhat odd but she decided against trying to push the issue further. Both of them had gone through a lot and clearly Osran wasn’t in his best state of mind. It was good to see that both of the two had made it through the last battles without any major injuries and to be honest, she felt great pride in the fact that she could fight in Stratholme alongside one of the knights who had always been one of the most noble fighters of Tyr’s Hand. She knew both of them would do their best to make Tareth proud.

“That doesn’t sound like what I’ve heard about the Legion. I…” Veria was about to continue relaying her news to Osran when the latter suddenly begun a sprint towards the edge of the forest where there still lied many wounded. It didn’t take long before she realized what had caught her companion’s attention still quickly. Osran stopped near her nephew and put his hands on his knees and begun to pant heavily as the massive fear of losing his beloved nephew finally left him.

“Eneath! Th… thank the Light you are alive! I’ve been so worried about… about everything.” Osran said as the younger man suddenly shot up from his stretchers to a sitting position, not able to believe his own eyes as he looked into the bearded and increasingly wrinkled face of his uncle. The last hours had seemed like a fearful dream but it ended the moment Osran had once again proved everyone wrong with his miraculous return. He nearly started to laugh in joy as he answered to his uncle’s words.

“Osran!? B… but how? Y... you really made it, didn’t you?!” Eneath merely stuttered as he couldn’t find the words to describe his astonishment and happiness at this development. Osran returned the wide smile as he slowly offered his hand to his nephew, a gesture the younger man immediately accepted.

“It’s a long story but all that matters is that we are both still here today. You’ve already made me more than proud but it’s even better that you can still continue to do so. It’s good to see you again, nephew.” Osran said as the two shook hands in mutual respect and affection. Eneath looked extremely moved by his uncle’s words and he answered a few seconds later, as their handshake had already broken up.

“Likewise, uncle. I already feared the worst but you’ve never let me down before, Osran. Neither was my survival far from guaranteed but it seems like the Lowrivers won’t be taken down easily.” Eneath said as he reflected on the situation. For both of the paladins, this day had already went far better than either of them ever had the right to hope for.

Veria looked at the display with a slight smile, happy to see her comrade alive and well but the prevalence of death and tragedy around her prevented her from reveling in the duo’s reprieve. This was a moment she’d allow them to share together but before long, all of the paladins located in this cursed forest would have to face death before long. And for now, she’d put all of her efforts to preparing for that upcoming onslaught.

As was to be expected from him, the High General was in the center of all the preparations for the coming fight. Barricades were erected, new offensive groups were being formed and more siege weapons were being constructed in an effort to grant the Crusade the advantage it needed to break the city’s defenses. He never engaged in a major battle without ensuring that all of the possible advantages were at his disposal. Even now, he’d make sure that the Crusade could enter the city’s streets without a major bottleneck forming at its broken gates by relentlessly bombarding the undead most likely swarming behind them with burning boulders. He would normally have enjoyed the preparation for his major triumph but Alexandros’ decision weighed down on him heavily. He suddenly turned to his side and looked at his daughter who was returning to him from a patrol around the army.

“How many of the wounded will be ready to fight by evening, Brigitte? We need nearly all of them if we want to stand a chance at overcoming Rivendare’s defenses.” The casualties at the first stage of this operation had been far more severe than he had expected but such things happened all too often in these kinds of campaigns. The younger general walked close to her father and it was clear she was far from happy with the way things were developing.

“They will fight no matter their condition! No true crusader will stay out of the fight as long as they can take another breath. Even then, things are moving on far too slowly! Doesn’t Dathrohan realize that we should have pushed our advantage when we had the perfect chance to do so? If we had moved on right after the battle, we would have been victorious by now!” The younger Abbendis had fumed ever since the securing of the Menethil road as she would never turn down a fight, no matter her fatigue. Her determination ever shadowed it completely and she wanted nothing more than to finish things just as quickly as she only could. The older officer frowned as he answered, not approving of this youthful recklessness.

“We are waiting because it only increases our odds of success! First of all, our soldiers need a moment of rest after all that has happened and this short reprieve allows us to investigate our enemy better and to break their leaders’ will before we even engage them. Attacking them headlong would have made it easier for them to lay traps on us and we would then be easy prey to them! Patience is a virtue a leader must learn before sacrificing his troops’ lives!” The man said in a loud voice, his nerves increasingly stretched by the dangerous situation he was in which could very easily decide the final fate of Lordaeron and by extension, the whole of Azeroth. Additionally, he was more than annoyed by his daughter’s lack of respect to the coming battle and the fact that she had nerve to come ordering him around. However, it was clear that his words did little to end the argument.

“And simply wasting time here makes it harder for them to repel our attack? They are mindless pawns who don’t care how many of them fall! You know better than that but if you are that scared, then perhaps it’s time for me…” She nearly shouted but she didn’t have the time to finish before her father cut her rant short. It was clear that the elder Abbendis’ patience was reaching its limits.

“Your time to lead this army won’t come as long as you see people as pawns to be sacrificed without a very good reason! I want nothing more than to see every last of these monsters annihilated but it is you who don’t know what we’re up against! You weren’t in the heart of hell itself to see your comrades torn to pieces before your eyes! Orman was a fool to ever believe in that strategy as he was another young, overly optimistic man who believed he was somehow destined to conquer Icecrown! And to make matters worse, that damned Mograine seems more than determined to replicate that fool’s folly, probably dooming this whole battle before it even began! I could even accept such decision from you but how can the Ashbringer be that blind?” Abbendis’ voice fell and he brought his hand to his face as he looked at another burning boulder drop beyond Stratholme’s looming walls. His mind was a complete flux and he felt more than betrayed by his two fellow leaders’ decision. He was trying to do what he did best, prepare his troop for victory, but it was increasingly difficult if everybody around him acted like they wanted to lose. Seeing her father’s growing despair, she decided against escalating the situation further but neither did her voice communicate any compassion to the older Abbendis.

“We cannot always do what is the safest way forward. If I had counted only the odds, I would never have saved Havenshire from the undead back then. Alexandros is only doing what he thinks offers us a chance to finish this nightmare. As should we all.” Brigitte was turning around when she saw another man approaching the two quickly. Brigitte glanced at him in slight annoyance but didn’t speak anything to the man. They bypassed each other coldly but it wasn’t many seconds before the newcomer saluted to the High General who was still looking at the burning city with a pained expression.

“Lord Paladin Harthal Truesight reporting for duty, High General. I apologize for any delays, Abbendis, but I came as quickly as I could.” He said in a revering voice as he looked at Abbendis who looked far more fragile and worried than usually. He was known as a calm, encouraging man who would never let the situation get the better of him. Harthal couldn’t help but notice that the change in him was more than profound. It was a moment before Abbendis turned around and answered to the other man’s greetings.

“And not a moment too soon, Truesight. I was already beginning to wonder whether you’d make it here at all. Even then, I’m glad to see you here. We need all the help we can get.” Abbendis said as he made another effort to calm himself down. He raised his chin upwards and forced a decisive and commanding expression to his face. Harthal was somewhat encouraged by this change and he answered shortly to his words.

“I understand that an assault to Stratholme will commence on this day. What will be mine and my regiment’s role in this battle? Our blades are yours to command, Abbendis.” The Lord Paladin said, willing to lend all the support he could to the clearly embattled officer. Abbendis had of course expected this question and gave his answer immediately, willing to get rid of the other officer as quickly as he only could.

“Your troops will help our main force storm the King’s Square and then to head for the Festival Lane while the rest of our troops will strive to secure the Bastion itself. I told Whitemane in the letter that the Alonsus chapel and the Eternal Flame will be your primary objective. is that clear?” Abbendis asked, his eyes resonating with the yearn for victory. Harthal nodded slightly before affirming the order However, he then frowned slightly and presented another question.

“It is but… if I don’t remember completely wrong, the chapel was located near another, smaller gate to the east. Shouldn’t we storm that one if we are heading for the Flame?” The red-haired man said as he thought about that question himself. Abbendis snorted briefly before explaining this one detail.

“The side gate is far too small for us to even dream of breaking the Lich King’s defenses there. The Grand Crusader told me that he fought a massive dog-like abomination a few days ago, reportedly large enough to nearly block that entrance by itself, turning that platform into a perfect deathtrap. Also, that gate is still in place and there’s no reason to spend the whole day trying to break through just for that outcome.” The General sighed as he spoke, that very question having brought severe headaches to him earlier. Harthal decided that answer to be sufficient but there was one last thing he wanted to know.

“There’s one more thing I’d like to mention while I’m here. On the way here I found a paladin by the name of Osran Lowriver and he claims to have been separated from this army during yesterday’s battle. He bears the tabard of the Crimson Legion so I decided to ask whether his name is a familiar one to you. He came with us so he’s here if you want to question him.” The paladin wanted to get his responsibility about this odd reunification off his shoulders. Abbendis’ eyes widened slightly as he heard that name again but his voice didn’t communicate much interest.

“Lowriver, eh? I don’t know him personally but I’ve heard about him due to his membership in the Legion. We thought he fell in the battle but it’s good to hear we were wrong. He has served us well thus far but his whereabouts in the past days have to be investigated sooner than later. Thank you for your report, Lord Paladin. You may now go prepare your regiment for the battle. May the past heroes of Lordaeron watch over us to prevent today from turning into another Northrend.” Abbendis said as he turned around again. The lower-ranked officer repeated the General’s words before he turned around to do as he was told. No matter what, he’d make sure to serve the Crusade better than on that Light-forsaken day in the distant, Cold North.

Now that the Crusade’s reinforcements have reached the gates of Stratholme, the final countdown for the most important battle of the Plaguelands can begin. There are still a few preparations to make but plots and unseen forces are beginning to move forwards even before the storming of the city’s gates… I apologize for the long delay but I had some serious trouble with my other story. Also, from now on there will be some minor changes to the original lore in order to enable me to utilize more opportunities in the coming chapters. Most of these changes will concern the Mograines and I truly hope you’ll like the slightly altered storyline. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this chapter after the long wait!


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« Reply #33 on: April 13, 2018, 02:45:09 PM »
Road to the Necropolis

The balding, black-haired man looked at the rows of soldiers around him, able to feel only deep respect to each of them for being able to even go on with this offensive for this long. Yet, the biggest test was still before them and he, as one of the Crusade’s High Inquisitors, would be more than honored to guide them forward on this most gallant of paths. He silently spoke to his companion, who had been his lord and friend for as long as he could only remember.

“We still need a few more knights to accompany us, Alexandros. Even then, I must say I’m more than honored by the group we have already managed to gather. We couldn’t ask for a better group of comrades on our mission.” He said, the excitement of the coming battle flowing into his limbs. He would make sure their attack on Naxxramas itself wouldn’t fail, if it only could be avoided. Alexandros looked unusually tense but his voice was still as noble and encouraging as always.

“Aye, I would lay down my life in the hands of each of those knights and I know nothing will stop them from spreading the Light’s justice upon the Scourge. Even then, I’m not going to lie to you, Fairbanks. It’ll take a miracle for us to be successful on this attack. Yet, I’d be cursed if I let Kel’Thuzad get away for this because I’m afraid to risk my life for it!” Alexandros was annoyed as he couldn’t get Abbendis’ words away from his mind as for the first time in a long time, he questioned his own motives for some reason. He, as the Highlord of the Crusade, served as one of the whole order’s heads and symbols and Dathrohan’s words had for the first time made him realize his value. However, Fairbanks seemed to be more confident about this quest and he had often served as his right hand and respected friend for a long time. The Ashbringer was prepared to serve alongside with him at any time.

“As would any of us be. This indeed is a dangerous plan but by the Light’s grace, we cannot fall. When I witnessed the birth of the Ashbringer, I knew that this would be the blade that would spell the end of the Scourge. It has made you the embodiment of the Light, Highlord. We cannot fail with you by our side.” The cleric said with a serious look on his face, meaning each and every one of his words. That journey to Ironforge had changed everything: yes, Alexandros had been a man of legend even before that but the birth of his famed weapon had immediately turned him into the unofficial head of the Silver Hand, second only to the Lightbringer himself. The Inquisitor had always been at his shadow but that was a role he was very content in. The only thing he yearned was to witness the fall of the Scourge and to see his old friend’s ascendancy into the eternal memory of humanity. Mograine gave the driest of laughs, not exactly amused by the comment his friend had meant as a compliment.

“So thought those who followed, Uther, too. Yet, I wouldn’t have signed up for this mission if I hadn’t believed in our chance for success. And for that, we need one more paladin who I know will stand nobly at our side. The Ashbringer said as he walked along the ruined Menethil Road, looking at the rows of knights around him. His mere presence raised countless honoring and approving glances but he had seen them long enough to pay them any heed. Fairbanks was just about to ask his superior what he meant when Alexandros suddenly raised his voice and called a heavily-bearded commander who was giving commands to his followers.

“Greetings, duke Zverenhoff! I thought I’d find you here.” He said somewhat informally as Nicholas had been another member of the Crusade he had known for a long time. However, his voice was enough to cause a notable twitch within the other man who immediately turned around to greet the higher-ranked crusader.

“Highlord Mograine! I… it’s an honor to see you here! What business do you have with me?” He asked nervously, not having the slightest of guesses about Alexandros’ intentions. The duke himself had survived the earlier fight unharmed and because of that, he had been more than busy reorganizing the surviving forces into effective groups under Abbendis’ command. He looked in surprise at the two newcomers but put his early surprise behind himself almost immediately. The Ashbringer answered after a slight moment of silence during which the only sound to be heard was the wind’s silent whistling among the massive fungi surrounding the three men.

“Usually I wouldn’t be this blunt but yes, I have one favor I’d like to ask you, Nicholas, if you only are able. One that I hope you have within yourself to accept.” The Highlord said, knowing that there was no time to waste if he was going to find the way to Naxxramas. Time was of the essence and if he was going to do this, it would have to happen now. Nicholas took an intrigued look and raised his hand to his followers to signal them to stay still for a moment. He then answered to his superior in a friendly yet honoring voice.

“Of course, my lord, if it within my power. What do you ask, Alexandros?” He asked, willing to hear what the other man wanted of him. Fairbanks looked at the noble for a moment and decided to answer in his friend’s stead.

“We are here to ask you to join us in finding the way to Naxxramas and storm the citadel while the others move on Stratholme. You are the last one we are going to ask to join this most important of missions. The Grand Crusader has authorized our quest and we hope you would honor us by joining us on this mission.” The inquisitor asked, keeping his voice as matter-of-factly and respecting as he simply could. His announcement had the expected effect on the duke whose eyes opened wide immediately. Clearly at a loss of words, he once again turned towards his followers and with a loud voice, he gave his order.

“Report to the younger Abbendis for further instructions. It seems I have other things to attend to.” He said and looked at the troops dispersing, knowing better than to question their superior’s words. This brief distraction had managed to calm Nicholas down for a moment before he prepared to answer to Fairbank’s announcement.

“Are you serious? Do you seriously expect us to be able to accomplish such a thing?” He asked, refraining from voicing his full disbelief as he knew more than well this was likely an issue the two had discussed earlier, especially if Dathrohan had accepted the plan. The Ashbringer moved closer to the slightly shorter man as he gave his answer.

“Only the Light knows the answer to that question but few would have expected a year ago us to lay siege to Stratholme either. We don’t have much time, Zverenhoff. No matter what, we need your answer quickly. Are you with us?” The Ashbringer asked, more than ready to embark on his gallant quest. Even if he wanted the noble to accompany him, he’d respect whatever answer he’d give him. Nicholas couldn’t come up with any explanation to Mograine’s plan but if the Ashbringer wanted his help, there was only possible answer. He was just about to open his mouth when another voice suddenly joined the conversation.

“As willing as always to face danger, aren’t you, father? I should have expected no less from the Ashbringer himself.” The three men’s heads turned to look at the speaker whom all of them knew immediately. The young man’s golden hair and strong facial features were easily recognizable and he very soon received an answer from the Highlord himself.

“So they sent you along with the latest reinforcements from the Monastery, didn’t they, Renault?” Alexandros asked, surprised to meet his older son for the first time in about two years. He had hoped to see him learn more about the way of the paladin at that sacred place of learning but his brash, even arrogant greeting hadn’t exactly raised Alexandros’ hopes. The young man stopped near the other three, his face turning into a more neutral look than before.

“They did and I’m more than honored to serve in the coming battle. It should be quite a spectacle, eh, father? However, I’ve been wondering about Darion’s whereabouts I haven’t seen him anywhere.” Renault asked in a voice which sounded genuinely curious about the issue. However, his appearance, despite the slight relief of seeing his son after a long time, wasted more precious time Alexandros simply couldn’t afford. Despite that, he decided to give Renault a fair answer.

“Your brother was left to Light’s Hope as a member of its garrison against the Scourge. And about the coming fight, don’t underestimate the enemy. It has cost many young paladins their lives.” He said grimly, not approving of the younger knight’s words in the least. Renault looked at him in slight disappointment but answered to him shortly.

“That may be but I happened to hear what the good inquisitor Fairbanks said. Are you sure this is wise?” He asked in a slightly worried look. The question started to slightly irritate the three knights and Alexandros gave him answer which he hoped would end this discussion once and for all.

“It is what is best for the Crusade and the kingdom. I don’t ask you to understand it but I hope you understand we have to go.” The Highlord turned his gaze before him, starting to go rally his followers into the coming battle. However, what he heard next nearly froze him in his place.

“I do more than well, father. And that’s why I beg to accompany you on this most important of missions.” He asked before earning a swift and even hostile look from the cleric. His face penetrated into the younger paladin as he gave his answer.

“Shake it off, boy! Each and every member of our group has been hand-picked by the Ashbringer himself, each of them having proven their worth on battlefields like which you’ve only heard in stories. You have no room on this group.” He, said, hoping that the conversation would be over after those words. However, his son’s words raised a deep conflict within the elder Mograine. In his heart, he knew his old friend was right and that Renault wouldn’t most likely live through what was to come. However, encouraging bravery and heroism and giving each one their time to prove their worth was an integral part of the Crusade’s creed as long as it wouldn’t hurt the order’s chances on the fields of battle. And even now, he couldn’t deny that more help would only increase his odds of success. No matter his own misgivings about the issue, he knew there was only one thing he could do. He didn’t even turn to look at the younger man as he spoke, only continuing his walk forward.

“Then follow us. I dearly hope you are ready for this.” Fairbanks and Zverenhoff glanced at their superior in surprise but they knew they weren’t in a position to question his decisions. Renault, on the other hand, did as he was told and soon headed after the older knights towards the fight which could probably be his toughest ones yet.

“…and that is how we finally managed to break the Scourge’s hold there. It was a surprise that most of the undead had gathered at the edges of the city, apparently trying to lock us in that cursed town. It was rather clever really as Andorhal is surrounded by the Thondrodil river to the south, which makes surrounding us that much easier for them. It seems the enemy’s tactics are becoming ever more sophisticated.” Veria said as she drank a mouthful of water, looking into the distance as she recited her story to Osran. The two wished to exchange their last weeks in an effort to ease the anxious wait for the battle to begin. The man felt slightly awkward as he was forced to once again lie about so many things but even Veria couldn’t know about the secrets of the Legion.

“Just like in Corin’s Crossing. Those cursed beasts are becoming an ever larger threat by the day. We’ve outsmarted them thus far but I dearly hope Dathrohan and Mograine will be able to plan better than Kel’Thuzad. I just hope Tareth were here: he always understood the tactical choices far better than I did.” He meant every word but he also couldn’t deny the fact that he missed the noble yet humble personality of the long-departed knight captain. He still hoped every day he hadn’t met the grisly end that became his part. He had seen worse fates during his days but Tareth was one comrade he missed more often than the others: of course excluding Valdemar. Suddenly, after a moment of peace since his reunion with Eneath ended as he remembered his old friend and what had happened to him. It was one day he’d never forgive himself for. Veria looked at him as a distant cry of a massive bat could be heard from somewhere afar.

“You’re right. After Gavinrad, he was the best captain I’ve had the honor to serve under. I’m sure the Light smiles upon him even now as few have served the goodness in this world better than he did. But I know he would have wanted to be here on this day. He really would have deserved it but we never get the privilege to choose where we fall. I only hope I’ll be half as honorable as he was until the end.” She suddenly realized how morbid the discussion ad become but what else could be expected on a day like this? Probably very soon, both of the paladins would have to prepare to fall in battle and while both of them would pay the price gladly, they wanted it to happen with honor and with a chance to serve the Light one, final time. Osran looked at the sun slowly heading towards the west, knowing the duo’s time of rest was up when it would touch the fungi in the distance. He was about to answer to his old comrade when he suddenly heard the steps of a horse right behind him.

“A message to Crimson Legionary Lowriver. Please follow the instructions detailed in the letter.” The courier said as he handed the message to Osran who felt a wave of concern flow through him. He already knew what the message was about and he had never actually expected his journey to escape the notice of the Crusade’s leadership. He took the letter and it immediately confirmed his fears and with a glum expression, looked at Veria.

“I am required elsewhere, Veria. I apologize for leaving like this but it isn’t in my power to decide.” He said with a sigh, already preparing for what was to come. The other knight turned to look at him and answered neutrally while looking into the depths of the forest.

“Of course not. Fare well, Osran. I look forward to standing at your side today.” She said, earning a brief nod from Osran who then turned to the courier and spoke to him briefly.

“Very well, good man. Your message has been delivered. May the Light guide your path.” After those words, the younger man saluted the higher-ranked knight and returned the path he had come from. The aging paladin headed for the Crusade’s lords’ tents as he was told, dearly hoping he’d be able to speak himself out of this mess as he knew Isillien and Abbendis’ patience with him had already worn thin.

The former duke felt the outrage and depression that had accompanied him for the last days cracking slightly as he looked at the men who accompanied him on this day. The constant and seemingly never-ceasing plotting of the Crusade suddenly felt like a distant prospect as the damned traitors he had been forced to call his comrades were nowhere to be seen. For too many times, the noble had been forced to question whether the Crusade still had a place for him but the fact that Alexandros was still ready to lead them with the wisdom he had always shown gave him new courage. Gone were the spineless plotters like that cursed Lowriver, Abbendis or Demetria and now he knew he was accompanied only by men of true honor. He felt his earlier pride and trust at his comrades return as his eyes wandered on the other knights.

Maxwell Tyrosus, Carlin Redpath, High Inquisitor Fairbanks and Ferelyn Bloodscorn, among the few dozen other knights who were less familiar to Nicholas. These were only some knights of whom he had never heard a word that wasn’t honorable and true and Tyrosus, for example, was known among one of the most capable and honest men the Crusade had ever known. He wasn’t widely regarded as one of the order’s heads but among those who knew him, he was outskilled only by the very leaders of the Crusade.

And Redpath had made a name for himself, alongside with his valiant stand in the final battle of Darrowshire, as a kind but strong-willed trainer of new recruits and as a constant defender of his comrades. And leading them was the famed Ashbringer whose very presence seemed to purify the air of any doubts or distrust that had clouded his mind earlier. These were the kind of men he had decided to serve under when he answered the call of the Light. Not to even mention their most noble of goals on this day. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a call from Alexandros.

“Move as silently as you can from now on. We don’t know where the entrance to Naxxramas lies but it shouldn’t be too far. We cannot give the enemy a chance to get the initiative at any time!” The Highlord said as he and the rest of the first rank of knights moved between two massive fungi towards the place Wacin had told him before his tragic passing. Somewhere around here, there should lie a hidden ziggurat inside which the portal to Naxxramas should be hidden. The path had been far too silent until now and every one of the knights knew that was more than a little suspicious. Yet, there was no choice about it that this point.

None was more aware of that fact than Alexandros whose eyes scoured the shadows of the horribly mutated woodland, searching for any clues about the presence of the undead. Even if he knew the chance of that possibility was slim, he wanted to believe the Scourge was actually running out of forces to control this area and they’d be forced to flee inside the protective walls of Stratholme for good. Yet, he’d never have become the leader he was now if he let himself drift into hopeful thoughts about the most vicious foe Lordaeron had ever met. As far as he was concerned, the whole forest around him was filled with monsters who were only waiting for the right chance to ambush him and his followers.

Yet, the minutes passed slowly and no such attack seemed to come. Alexandros was becoming increasingly concerned about the situation as he realized that they’d reach the right part of the forest at any moment. Here and there had lied ruins of long-destroyed villages and even some constructs of the Cult but none of them were even close to the point the fallen paladin had described. The Highlord was already beginning to hope for an attack when a thicker, heavily protected area of the forest appeared in the horizon. The paladin’s head had already turned into a frown out of ever-increasing disbelief when the sound he had waited for a long time finally reached his ears. The sound of a cracking branch near him. The knight immediately drew his legendary sword from its sheath and pointed it towards the sound.

“Show yourselves, slaves of the Scourge! Know that neither you or your damned lord will live to see the end of this war!” The Highlord cried as he looked in hate as the shadow of an extremely long man slowly emerged from the woods. At first, there was nothing extraordinary about him as he was dressed in a long and blue robe, not unlike most of the members of the Cult of the Damned. However, Alexandros’ expression darkened even further as he saw the necromancer’s head which was mostly covered by a massive beard and something which looked like a skull of a horned horse. The necromancer gave his answer quickly as he stopped near the host of knights.

“I see your fear, oh Highlord. I see that you know all of your words are for nothing and all that made you what you are will become undone today.” The necromancer’s expression was hidden under the skull but it mattered very little to Alexandros. He was just about to give the order to slaughter the necromancer before he heard another voice on his other side.

“No one can stand against our master. The Lich King’s power grows by the day and no matter what you think or do, this wretched kingdom’s despicable remains are only heading towards its final sunset.” The other newcomer was a shorter man whose face, unlike his companion’s, was completely within the sight of the crusaders. It was covered with some kind of paintings and his hair was, as was usual for members of the Cult, turned to white. And this was another cultist whose identity wasn’t a mystery to one of the knights.

“I should have known I’d find you here, Noth. After all, you never cared about anything else than the powers Kel’Thuzad offered.” Fairbanks said in clear hate, remembering to have met this man a few times during his many visits to Dalaran. He had been one of the most loyal of Kel’Thuzad’s disciples back in that legendary city of the magi and it seemed like his antics had changed none since those days. The necromancer looked at the inquisitor with contempt as he gave his answer to the older man.

“Kel’Thuzad was only the one who showed me the true path. I’d lay down my life for the Lich King at any moment but right now, I doubt it’ll be me who’ll fall on this day. We’ll never let you enter our master’s sanctum.” The necromancer said, earning a quick rebuke from Alexandros. He suddenly cried to his followers, clearly decided that there was nothing to be gained from talking with these villains.

“We’ll see about that, traitor. Give the wicked no quarter, my comrades! Cut these monsters down!” He knew more than well the depth of his comrades’ skill and he knew none of them would take unnecessary risks even if they faced only two enemies against the two dozen knights. These paladins, priests and magi would never charge the enemy headlong and fall into their cheap tricks. However, the two necromancers’ response to the Ashbringer’s call to battle surprised the attackers completely. Both of them cast their own spells simultaneously even if it took the knights a few moments before they could even feel what was happening. And even then, only one of them saved the others from total annihilation.

“It’s a curse! Mages, remove them before we’re all lost!” The voice belonged to Renault Mograine who had walked in the last ranks of the host due to his limited experience on the battle. The four mages in the group wasted no time trying to do as they had been told but it was at this moment they realized what was the effect of the other necromancer’s spell. As they tried to counter the power of the enemy’s curse, the magic seemed only to linger and linger in their hands, as if releasing it was something they couldn’t even attempt to execute. The casters nearly started to panic before they finally felt the familiar sensation of finishing their spell. Apparently this was some kind of mere delay to their magic, not a counterspell as they had initially feared. Even then, even this slower spellcasting was enough to delay their efficiency.

Suddenly, the dark power around the paladins seemed to suddenly sink inside them, the darkness making its way inside their bodies. For a moment, it seemed nothing was happening but that sweet illusion was shattered in mere moments. A terrifying cry could be heard from most of the knights as parts of their skins suddenly split open, a terrifying pain accompanying the monstrous curse. Smaller bones broke, muscles were torn apart and blood spilled around as Noth’s curse hit the knights in full swing. Alexandros panted in shock as he suddenly put his other hand on his chest, concentrating his power to try to mend the effects of the necromancer’s spell. As long as it was up to the Ashbringer, this battle wouldn’t end in the Scourge’s triumph.

Osran took one, final breath as he prepared to enter the tent he had been ordered into. It was one of the few ones that had been erected on this day of anxious waiting but it mattered little to the knight. At this point, he had no remorse about anything he did in the last battle. He had saved his nephew and if that was the crime he would end up paying for with his life, so be it. Osran’s life had lately been filled with countless honorless acts he regretted but this certainly wasn’t one of them. The paladin lowered his head in acceptance as he raised the fabric covering the entrance into the large tent. Waiting for him were too men, one of them whose face was familiar to him and one whose wasn’t. Osran was slightly relieved to see Landgren’s face again as, despite his methods, he had proven himself to be a reasonable man. Osran looked and him and spoke in a steady and confident voice.

“Hail again, good bishop. I am glad to see you safe and sound. A courier brought me a message calling me to arrive here. What is it?” There was no reason to bring up any of his guesses about this meeting as it wasn’t he who had called this gathering in the first place. However, Landgren’s voice was far from friendly as he gave his answer.

“Crimson Legionary Lowriver, according to reliable sources, you were separated from our main army during yesterday’s battle yet here you are. The Legion wants you to explain yourself.” The cleric’s face was cold but otherwise refrained from any kind of emotion as was custom in any kinds of interrogations. Osran was slightly worried by Landgren’s eerie words but it had been more than clear since the beginning this had been the reason for the meeting. Yet, he had nothing to hide in this questioning which eased his worries a bit.

“All that you told is true. I indeed got separated from the army but I managed to fight my way to the Thondrodil tunnel and escape the Plaguewood before I got overwhelmed. I even found the sad remains of old Cinderhome which was still a better condition than we had expected.” Osran said briefly, earning a somewhat annoyed nod from Landgren’s companion. He quickly stepped forward and asked Osran in a hostile, even outraged voice.

“You know as well as I do that no one could survive out there on their own, not against all of those undead roaming out there! The Tunnel is far away from here and you would have had a hard reaching it even with a steed. Do you seriously expect us to believe such a story?” The balding, black-haired man said as he looked Osran in his eyes. The paladin frowned deeply and raised his voice sharply as he gave his answer.

“I don’t care what you believe or what you don’t! It’s likely that most of the undead had been drawn into the battle and that’s why I wasn’t attacked! I met a few ghouls here and there but the first real resistance I met was a host of giant spiders in Cinderhome and in the Tunnel. It was practically swarming with those monsters but I eventually managed to fight my way through! Also, I’d appreciate if you would tell me your name, good man.” Osran asked, realizing his need to counter any immediate counter questions about the tunnel as he wanted to do his all to save Tirion from his failures. The other crusader seemed somewhat taken aback by that question but he knew he’d have to answer to Osran’s question as a sign of respect to a fellow knight.

“I am cannon master Derios Willey of the Scarlet Bastion but that knowledge does little good for you, Lowriver. As for your claim, there has been no reports about any giant spiders in Lordaeron and it’s not likely they’d just be living in one cave in the middle of this land. Your tale is becoming less believable by the second.” Willey said as he began to circle around the room which only heightened Osran’s growing frustration about this investigation. He was just about to rebuke the other man’s words when Landgren asked the question Osran had feared the most.

“In addition to that, I’d really like to know, if you truly managed to fight your way through the tunnel and reach the river, how did you exactly find your way back here in a matter of mere hours? You would have required a well-trained horse for that but they aren’t exactly bountiful in Darrowmere anymore. We haven’t received a word about anyone borrowing, nor stealing, a steed from any of our outposts in that area.” The cleric asked Osran who tried to hide his worries behind his annoyed composure. This was a question where he hadn’t been able to come up with a believable explanation but now he was put against a wall with the failure to explain himself not being an option. He forced his face to a normal expression as he started to speak.

“Believe it or not, I found my horse wandering near the river. At first I thought it had escaped from one of our garrisons but then I noticed it was circling around one corpse which had been torn to pieces by the bats and worms in that area. He had been a long and muscular man but he didn’t carry our tabard or armor. He had to be an outsider but that’s all I can say. In any case, the horse didn’t object to me trying to mount it and here I am.” The paladin said in a loud voice, looking at the other crusaders’ faces as he spoke. To his growing chagrin, neither of them let out any kind of emotions about his defense. After a moment, Landgren scratched the corner of his eye for a moment before he broke the increasingly tense silence.

“I dearly hope you speak the truth, Lowriver. In the light of your disappearance into the lands of the Scourge and unbelievable survival, you are suspected of collusion with Kel’Thuzad and possibly treachery against all of humanity. It is far more possible that you headed into Stratholme or Naxxramas to inform Kel’Thuzad or Rivendare about our plans instead of all of the things you claimed here.” The priest said which immediately triggered a furious rebuke from Osran who couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Shake it off, Landgren! You should know that true members of the Cult wouldn’t make their absence known the way I did! Besides, I’d be a terrible spy if I had let the Scourge lose to us like this! I’ve given my all to the Legion and I won’t stand for these accusations!” Osran raged as he tried to make his interrogators see the foolishness in their own actions. However, Willey’s composure did little to implicate any turn for the better in this discussion.

“Attacking us certainly doesn’t make you see less guilty, Osran. Yet, I think we all know what is the next part of this interrogation, don’t we?” He turned to look at Landgren who nodded to him in acceptance. Willey regretted not being able to help the priest in what was to come next but he would do his all to ensure Osran’s cooperation and to serve as additional witness to his possible confession.

Osran’s hand instinctually moved towards his sword not trusting in the justice of the two men but once he realized it would only spell his final fall from grace in the Crusade, he eased his grip somewhat. He still remembered the terrifying structure used to interrogate Iren but to his relief, nothing like it could be seen here. However, that didn’t mean he would have an easy time with the two sadistic crusaders but he knew this was something he’d have to go through for preserving even the slightest of hopes of breaking free of those ludicrous accusations.

“I assure you, you’re only wasting precious time here with me you should use to prepare for the coming battle. But I know more than well you’ll never believe me so please, let’s start this. I’d like to get ready to storm Stratholme as soon as possible.” He said dryly, earning a brief, annoyed snort from Willey. Landgren took his rod which had been hanging from his back and spoke to the knight one more time before he began.

“Very well, crusader Lowriver. We’ll see very soon if you’ve lied to us the whole time. Willey, tie his hands to the table.” The knight’s eyes flinched wide open as he heard those words. It seemed like his interrogators had a few new tricks on their sleeve after all. For a moment, he thought about finally attacking his torturers but the cold grip of reality returned to him once again. He merely took a deep breath as he saw Willey grab a long rope from the ground and looked in disgust as he moved closer to him. Landgren spoke to Osran who seemed to hesitate on this horrible moment.

“Follow the orders. Your status saved you from a worse fate and believe me, anything you do from now on will only make this harder. You could indeed take us out but you see, there are a dozen guards outside this tent who are more than eager to see you cooperate.” The cleric said and even if Osran knew he’d regret this in less than a minute, he put his hands on the table and let Willey tie them tightly to it. For the slightest of moments, Osran wondered what was to come but when he saw Willey take a long splinter of a wood and pliers and headed towards Osran who immediately growled at the two others.

“I’ll make sure you’ll regret this later. There’s no way Dathrohan or Mograine could have ever approved this.” He said as he looked at Landgren in deep hate. The cleric merely shrugged before he cast a spell at the knight.

“You can go tell that to the younger Abbendis later if you wish to but I doubt she’d pay your whining any heed! Prepare yourself!” The cleric said as a flash of pale light appeared from his hand. Osran cringed immediately as a violent, painful grip seemed to suddenly take a grip of his brain, searching for some kinds of answers about his memory. And all the while, Willey approached him with some infernal plan, more than happy to try breaking the paladin’s will.

The duke panted heavily as the terrifying wounds on his body closed at last. The long minutes following the terrifying spell had been characterized with an unspeakable mess as some of the knights seemed to lose their cool completely. Yet, it was clear that Alexandros had chosen his followers wisely. Eventually each of them managed to regain their composure in the face of total defeat and even if some of them had been gravely injured by the massive spell, each and every one of them were willing to continue the fight. The two necromancers continued their attacks but thus far, nothing they did was even close to rivalling the brute efficiency of the initial curse.

Nicholas looked at the other caster’s bearded face and something in his grim features made him shiver. It was clear that he had to be a total madman but that meant little when dealing with the insane zealots who wished for nothing more than to die at their master’s service and to rise as another one of those horrible monstrosities. It seemed like he was waiting for something and Zverenhoff soon came to the conclusion that it would be best if his plans were thwarted as soon as possible. He turned around and called at Alexandros.

“We have to take that madman out! We haven’t yet seen his attack and we can’t afford to be surprised now!” He cried to the Ashbringer whose eyes were locked into the tall wizard’s eyes. He had had similar thoughts to those of the other man’s and with a loud voice, he called to his followers.

“Surround the bearded necromancer and don’t let him try anything surprises! The last ranks, keep the other bastard at bay while we take the other one out!” The Ashbringer said as his eyes met briefly with those of the bearded caster’s. He said nothing but even this glance told Alexandros that he had some vile plans in his mind. Still, he wouldn’t be able to escape the Light’s justice no matter what.

The necromancer looked at his attackers carefully even if it was clear he despised them heartily. No matter who these arrogant blasphemers were, none of them would ever get near his master. Kel’Thuzad had ordered him and Noth to check this group’s advance by the Lich King’s name, that was what he would do. None of these self-righteous crusaders would survive what was to come.

Still, he waited one second after another as the crusaders approached him quickly. It was only when they were only a few meters away from him when he snapped two of his fingers together. No one could have seen the subtle gesture inside his long sleeve and it was clear that all of his opponents were completely taken aback by his sudden attack. In less than a second, the air around him was filled with the green cloud of death that was all too familiar to all enemies of the Scourge. However, it wasn’t the true trick he had aimed for. He suddenly hit rod into the earth and the crusaders around him looked in fear as the ground around them began to gleam with an eerie light. Most of them were in apparent loss of what to do by this turn of events. All of them in fact but one.

“Move to your left, now, or we’ll all be lost! Do it!” The Ashbringer cried as he felt the ground below him turn hotter by the second. He had never seen such a spell before but he could already tell its effect. It was a spell which slowly turned the ground below the enemies’ feet into a blazing inferno which would spell a brief end to a slow-witted enemy. The Highlord hated fleeing in the face of the enemy’s power but even more he hated the thought of actually losing to this mindless pawn of the Lich King. He’d pay for his actions soon enough.

None of the knights lingered for a moment as they heard their respected leader’s call. When they reached the one spot that did not gleam with the sickening glow, everything around them seemed to explode to pieces. The Highlord himself was impressed by this how of brute force as the dust fell back to the ground but only to reveal a ghastly sight. Out of the terrifying explosion appeared a massive axe which was carried by enormous skeletal hands. However, this was one fight Alexandros knew he could win headlong. Instinctually, he jumped forward and just as the huge weapon was falling to the ground, the legendary knight raised his word upwards and cut the attacker’s hands from its arms, the weapon itself dropping to the ground.

Alexandros wasted no time jumping towards the monstrous skeleton’s chest and it could only growl in agony as the Ashbringer sank deep into its chest. Despite the monster’s horrifying size, the battle was over before it could even fully begin. The bearded necromancer then looked at the knights and spoke briefly.

“You were lucky to have managed to escape my spell that fast, knights of the Scarlet Crusade. Yet, if you think it was of some consequence, you’re wrong. The night will fall upon this cursed land at last… I, Heigan the Unclean, will make sure of it!” He said as he cast another wave of his horrifying spell but this time, he also cast his previous, slowing magic. To make matters worse, they could suddenly feel the same sensation fall upon them as during the first part of this most taxing of battles. The Plaguebringer’s wrath once again descended upon them, this time accompanied by a large host of other massive skeletons. Alexandros looked in worry at the flurry of these attacks but his resolve didn’t fall for the briefest of moments. This was nothing compared to braving the fierce onslaught of dozens of massive orcs in the narrow, darkened halls of Blacrock Spire.

“Mages, do your best! The others, head towards the area which is free from the spell! And after that, regardless of what happens, attack Heigan! We have to take him out the next time we get the chance!” This time, three of the knights fell as the horrifying crunch of Noth’s spell penetrated their flesh, their bodies obliterated as they were left to lie in the fires of Heigan’s magic. Yet, this time the magi could remove over half of the spells before their true power manifested itself, enabling the knights to continue the fight far quicker.

Fairbanks panted as he released another powerful smite of the Light on another of the massive skeletal monsters, bringing it down quickly. Before him, the necromancer looked at his opponents in an annoyed look, apparently preparing
for his next trick. However, Fairbanks wasted no time beginning his own assault towards him. A massive pillar of the holy power appeared from the sky which seemed to penetrate Heigan before he even managed to flinch his fingers. The crusaders looked in renewed hope as Heigan seemed to falter under the inquisitor’s purging fire. The cleric was the first one to charge towards the wizard as he cried to his comrades.

“The way to the villain is clear! The time has come, my comrades! Take him down!”

« Last Edit: April 13, 2018, 02:45:25 PM by Sovereign »


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« Reply #34 on: April 13, 2018, 02:47:26 PM »

The priest frowned deeply as he concentrated all of his powers to see into the paladin’s mind. He could see countless flashes here and there but his pained screams made it hard for him to make perfect sense of them. The first and foremost feeling inside him was… regret? Landgren looked in confusion as he saw a man being crushed to pieces by an abomination, an unarmed prisoner was being executed for his crimes and the scene of Valdemar’s mind being crushed into a thousand pieces. Those visions were worthless to him right now and he released another wave of holy power to burn Osran’s cowardly mind.

All the while, the paladin tried to contain himself as the dual pain of the priest’s spell and Willey’s sadistic practice circled inside him. The cannon master slowly but surely put the stick ever deeper under Osran’s right hand’s thumb’s nail. It was clear to the paladin that it was already bleeding heavily and it only grew worse by the minute. The sensation was truly hellish as Willey’s pliers simultaneously stretched the nail upwards. The feeling itself and the pain caused by it were close, but not necessarily the most terrifying, pain Osran had felt in his life. His whole body twitched in pain but his hands stood still due to Willey’s knots. The stick was digging ever deeper into his flesh and it was only a matter of time before the inevitable would happen. And that would be only the first of ten. The paladin suddenly turned to Landgren and once again cried loudly towards him. No matter what would happen, he wouldn’t begin giving wrong confessions or beg for mercy but this whole situation rebelled against everything he had once thought to be.

“I hope you’ll burn in hell for this, Landgren! Can’t you already see you’ll find nothing of worth? Are you truly that blind?” Osran cried as he once again tried to pull his hand away from the terrifying grip of the cannon master. The cleric was becoming increasingly annoyed about Osran’s words and partly also about the truth in them. There were no wicked thoughts nor any kind of pledges to the Lich King. As much as he wanted to believe it wasn’t true, maybe…
At this moment, Landgren suddenly saw something that caught his attention. It was only a flash, some kind of brief memory from the past, but certainly something that Osran was hiding from him. It had happened a short while ago, possibly on his journey and if there was something the paladin was trying to prevent him from seeing, things would get grim for him very fast. He merely bypassed Osran’s remark as he nodded to Willey.

“Increase your efforts, Derios. He is trying to prevent us of seeing something of worth. Osran, I advise you to answer me now. Who did you meet on your journey? Your whole life is hanging in the balance right now.” The priest crossed his hands and his eyes met those of the tortured paladin’s. A terrible weight suddenly seemed to fall upon Osran as he realized he had already failed. In some brief, fleeting moment he had apparently thought about how much better things were if he had never met the old paladin and now he was put back against the wall. Realizing that he might slip his final failure very easily here, he put all of his concentration to thinking about the story Harthal had told about the lands of Northrend back at the Monastery. That memory had made a large enough impression on him while also serving as something which couldn’t reveal anything personal about him. Yet, to the cleric and the torturer, that wasn’t a welcome development. Willey intensified his efforts while Landgren cast another, violent smite upon the paladin.

“Stop wasting our time! I know the person you met is someone you respect greatly but I can also see he is someone you hadn’t met in a long time. Why do you want to preserve this man’s secret? None of this should mean anything to you!” He cried as he cast another bolt of Light at Osran whose agony was only growing worse by the moment. Still, he only intensified his efforts to concentrate on that terrible carnage on those distant, frigid lands. However, the amount of pain he got grew only worse and worse and Landgren’s manipulative words reached his ears.

“Your way out of here goes through that one answer, Lowriver. I know you met someone after you escaped the Tunnel, someone we both know more than well. I guess it was him who gave you your steed, wasn’t he?” Landgren asked as he suddenly saw something of interest. It was a brief glimpse if an old, roughly-dressed man but the vision was far too brief for him to even begin guessing who it was. Yet, the priest only continued to increase the intensity of his purging fire.

“Tell me who that old fool is. He certainly isn’t one of us and there shouldn’t be any civilians on that area. Was he some kind of agent of the Scourge? Tell me who he is and we can go make sure he’ll never spy on us again!” Landgren asked once again and at this point, the situation slowly begun to creep deep into Osran and, while unknown to him at first, that would be his failure. It was true that he could get away from this nightmare very easily. If he only told about who the man had been, he could save himself from worse curses. But that would be an antithesis to his honor as a knight and even through all that had happened, his old mentor was someone who had never seen what he had lately become. Additionally, Tirion had suffered enough injustice for him to reveal the location of his home. Yet, as long as Osran had thought those words, he realized his failure was complete.

“Tirion? Tirion Fordring? Is that old fool still alive? I had thought him to have died many years ago.” The priest said to Osran’s complete humiliation. The paladin felt relief as the stick left his hand, his ruined nail hanging disgustingly from the finger which lied in an increasingly large pool of blood. However, that brief moment of returning serenity was soon cut short as Osran realized how much he had changed in the last months. Before he could have been able to resist torture for far longer if it had been for someone he deemed to be worthy of defending. Yet, it seemed that the ordeals of the last months had taken an even greater toll on him than he knew. Now, his resolve had failed after a few minutes and even then, he felt only relief it in the fact that it was all over. Knowing his mind had been defeated, he decided he had nothing to save anymore. He raised his gaze and Landgren and cringed as he felt his nail finally dropping off completely.

“S… so did I but it was him. I defended him only because I gave him my word of keeping his survival as a secret. He deserves that much.” Osran said as his eyes fell back into the bloodied floor, just wondering how little his word mattered anymore. Even Tirion had noticed that he was so very different from the Osran who had first joined the Silver Hand. How long could this nightmare go on?

To his surprise, he didn’t hear any immediate response from neither Landgren nor Willey as the two walked near each other and exchanged some words with each other. The paladin looked at their conversation in a resigned look, not really caring about their decision anymore. After a while which seemed to stretch on for hours, Willey finally walked nearer to Osran, his face seeming completely neutral.

“Crusader Lowriver, your failure to rely this information to us in the first place was highly disappointing. The survival of the only surviving founder of the Silver Hand in addition to the Grand Crusader himself is something that a faithful member of our order should have certainly told us without even a need for a real interrogation. The High General was right to doubt your “disappearance” in the first place, even if you didn’t join together with the Scourge.” Willey took a brief pause during which Osran countered with a question of his own.

“The High General? Did he order this interrogation?” He asked in puzzlement, not knowing the older Abbendis to also actively command the Legion’s agents. Yet, it would have been highly surprising if only his daughter had been giving these commands. Willey looked at Landgren who nodded at him as a sigh to continue to his speech.

“He did after the good commander Truesight told him of your return. However, he also gave us the right to decided about what to do with you as all of our superiors are too busy to prepare for the attack.” The cannon master said to Osran who merely snorted at those words. Even if what they said were true, he wouldn’t give them any more edges in this conversation. If they wanted him to slither further before them, that wouldn’t happen. However, to his slight relief, Landgren’s composure turned back into the one he had seen earlier, into the trustworthy, honorable if fanatic one as he continued from the other Legionary’s announcement.

“That is right. And as he said, we would have certainly been more trustful of your motives had you been more cooperative. Tirion is a criminal, Osran, who should have fled forever from our beloved kingdom’s lands. His failure to do so is a clear breach of Lordaeron’s laws and in trying to cover his presence here, you, too, have tried your best to become a fugitive. And I truly cannot see why. It just seems like a total waste.

However, even if it should actually be my duty to order your imprisonment or even execution, you have time and time again served Lordaeron faithfully and it has become clear you are not aligned with the Scourge. We simply cannot lay down your help in the coming battle because of this deed as today will decided our land’s future for centuries to come. I know Abbendis might disagree with me about this but I cannot find it in myself to cast away your service in the streets of Stratholme. I won’t lie to the High General about what you did but I will defend you before him in the coming days if you prove to be worth it. If we all survive the battle, that is.” The cleric said as he moved closer to Osran.
The paladin was initially taken aback by what he was hearing but he very soon realized what Landgren was saying. In essence, the priest was giving him a chance to die with honor in battle rather than meet his end in the claws of the Crusade’s command. That was a slight relief to the beaten knight but at least he wouldn’t be judged immediately. He took a brief sigh before he acknowledged that he understood what he had just heard.

“Very well, Landgren. That’s all I ever hoped for.” Osran said even if he still raged inside. Despite his judgement, this was a day he wouldn’t forget easily. Willey looked at Landgren in apparent uncertainty but decided against questioning his judgement. He took slowly a knife from his belt and with a swift movement, cut the knots tying Osran’s hands to the table. The cannon master looked at the paladin grimly as he walked past him towards the tent’s door.

“Thank your luck Landgren let you go this time, Lowriver. Had it been up to me, this day would surely have been your last. Don’t waste this chance.” Willey said as he moved into the road, clearly disappointed by the conclusion to this meeting. Landgren was apparently about to continue from his companion’s words when the scene was completely interrupted by a loud horn from nearby and its meaning was clear to both of them. The brief moment of rest to the troops was over and the final preparations for the attack were about to begin. The priest them nodded to Osran one time before following Willey into the battlefield.

“Good luck, Lowriver. May the Light guide your path.” And after those words, the still shaken paladin was left alone but for the first time since his moment with Veria, he was free to have a brief moment to calm down. He would certainly give his all today but if Landgren though he’d give up his life willingly, he was terribly mistaken. He’d fight his way through the night and he’d make sure the actions of the Legion would be made known to Dathrohan and Mograine and bring the High General and his daughter to justice. Osran knew that both of them were highly honorable men and there was no way either of them could have accepted what happened to Valdemar or the ever-worsening methods of torture. He couldn’t come up with a realization how they could be ignorant about what the Legion was becoming but he’d make sure they’d know about it soon enough.

Yet, as the noise around him grew ever louder, the aging knight put his sword which had dropped to the ground back to his belt and raised his gaze upwards. At least his story hadn’t yet come to an end and he still had a chance to make into something he could be proud of. As he took his leave from the tent, he looked into the hazy-orange sky and let his heart make one last apology before he’d finally join his regiment in which he would serve this night.

I’m sorry, master Fordring. I was too weak to hide your secret no matter how I tried. But I promise I’ll do better in the battle to come. I pray to the Light I’ll make you proud, Tirion.

The necromancer looked in growing annoyance as the host of knights got ever closer to him. They had managed to survive his destructive spell far better than he had anticipated and at this point, he knew he couldn’t cast another one before they’d reach him with probably lethal consequences. Yet, the future Kel’Thuzad had promised him wouldn’t be denied by these weaklings. Thankfully, that wouldn’t be up to him soon enough. Only a few more seconds and he and Heigan could take their leave from this fight, after which it would be up to the others to take lead. The pale-faced wizard suddenly cast a simple bolt of shadow around him which soon surrounded him completely. It wasn’t part of his usual repertoire of spells but even the simpler spells would prove their worth in fights like these.

Heigan looked in satisfaction as his companion suddenly cast a massive cloud of plague and death upon the duo’s enemies. Simultaneously, another wave of the dead suddenly surrounded the brave knights who were taken aback by Heigan’s sudden defensive spell. The necromancer smiled in anticipation as he heard the horn call in the far distance, realizing that the time of reckoning was at hand. He was more than impressed by the Crusade’s resistance but none of that mattered when the power the Lich King had promised was so close to being his. He understood very well Kel’Thuzad’s eagerness to get rid of the leader of this group of knights as he certainly was one of the most skillful and powerful fighters he had ever met. Too powerful, in fact, for the two necromancers to actually stand a chance against him and his crew of loyal followers. Glad that he could finally take his leave, Heigan took his rod to cast the required spell… only to return to the present only a few seconds later.

Just as his portal was about to be completed, he noticed something that made his blood run cold. Out of the smoking wall of fire suddenly appeared another paladin who was able to penetrate his defenses using his invincible shield of blessed Light. Before he could even begin to cast another spell to repel him, it was already too late.

Renault Mograine grinned triumphantly as he saw his sword meet Noth’s right hand, the cold steel quickly sending the limb flying into the dead, sickly ground. The necromancer panted in slight shock as he looked at his missing hand, the pain quickly coursing through his whole body. However, the initial shock subsided very quickly as the manic faith of a member of the Cult of the Damned quickly manifested itself in the man’s mind. What did one hand matter when the eternal glory of undeath was waiting for him very near? What did another piece of his cursed, fleeting body matter when many of his own colleagues had earned the unbelievable glory of serving their beloved king as one of the invincible lich? Noth merely grinned with a maddened look at the paladin who prepared for a second attack.

“Your victory will be a brief one, defender of righteousness. At the end of the day, the Scourge will be victorious and your despicable order will fall at very last. You have Noth the Plaguebringer’s word about this.” And before Renault could say another word, Noth stepped into his portal which immediately closed behind him. The young man attempted to follow him but just as soon as they reached the spot, the swirling circle of pure magic vanished into thin air. The paladin looked around himself amid the song of battle which still circled in his veins. However, as he looked around himself, his emotions told him the same thing his mind had known already. Noth was gone and so was Heigan while the final servants of the Scourge were quickly being cut down in the middle of the field. In disappointment, Renault put his hands on his thighs while he attempted to regain his breath but his moment of rest was quickly interrupted by his father.

“Move forwards! Secure the gateway to Naxxramas!” The golden-haired knight had almost forgotten the goal of this battle but once he had heard the order, he didn’t waste a second trying to realize it. All of the surviving knights were covered in severe wounds and all of them were still coughing sickeningly from the seemingly never-ending clouds of the Plague. However, all resistance seemed to have disappeared with the two necromancers and only an occasional ghoul stood against the Crusaders at this point.

The Ashbringer himself was more than surprised by his son’s display of courage as he had before ben far too hesitant to put his own life on the line. He’d have to thank him later but for now, he’d have to finish the first step of their mission which would very soon reach its zenith.

The Highlord narrowed his eyes as another, another larger ghoul blocked his path once again but to the paladin of legend, it was nothing more than a mere worthless obstacle. Alexandros ran towards the monster and with one pull, penetrated the unlucky undead with the might Ashbringer. It was after this brief clash when he saw something which immediately caught his attention. It wasn’t a normal ziggurat, it resembled more like one room only partly covered by protective walls. At first, he was about to dismiss the unimpressive building between the looking fungi as something of little interest but as he soon saw a group of ghouls appear from the mystical entrance, the man immediately realized this was what he had come looking for.

“Surround that ziggurat and cut it off from the rest of the forest! Do it now!” Alexandros cried as his followrrs did as told. One by one, the remaining troops of the Scourge were cut down by the knights and to their immense astonishment, no further reinforcements arrived for the enemy. As soon as the paladins had completed the circling of the cursed gateway, the fighting stopped completely. The Ashbringer panted heavily as he realized the first step of his plan had been a success and the only known entrance to Naxxramas was under the Crusade’s control. His brief moment of respite was soon stopped by a very familiar voice near him.

“W… we did it, Alexandros! The undead are pushed back into their damned lair and the way in is clear!” Fairbanks said as he walked closer to his friend, still recovering from the morbid wounds caused by Noth’s spell but he seemed more than ready to continue the fight. The Highlord immediately turned his gaze to his followers, knowing there was no real time to linger at this point. He was more than encouraged by Fairbanks’ words but he decided it was for the best if he addressed all of the surviving knights at once. He looked above himself to look at the dark form of the necropolis around him, yearning for a chance to sink the Ashbringer into the traitor who had started this hell. He then waved his weapon towards his followers before he yelled loudly, his voice thundering over the sick forest, the diseased wind carrying his mighty voice forward.

“This is the end of the road for all of us, soldiers of the Scarlet Crusade! This is a day which will decide the fate of our beloved homeland! We all remember the day when the Plague first appeared in Andorhal, when the ashes of our last king were scattered into the winds by his own son and the hour of the arrival of the Burning Legion into this world! We remember all those who died in the hands of Mal’Ganis, who were betrayed by Arthas and crushed to nothingness by the demons who laid waste to all we hold dear! While all of this was caused by innumerable villains, it was all started by the lich lord Kel’Thuzad!  Ever since Arthas’ final departure to that wicked northern land, it has been this man who has fought against us for years and vigorously murdered our families, comrades and children! Only the traitor prince has committed more sins than the being who lurks in the citadel above us!

Never forget, my respected commanders, any of the things we fight for. The people of Andorhal, Quel’Thalas and the heroes of the distant Mount Hyjal are with us on this day! Let us make Kel’Thuzad pay for all the crimes he has committed against our very world, against Azeroth himself! Let us bring the Lich King’s general down and return peace into Lordaeron once and for all! In the names of king Terenas and Uther the Lightbringer, I ask you to follow me one last time into battle!  The time of final reckoning against Kel’Thuzad has come!” And after those words, Alexandros sprinted towards the portal, the battlecries of his comrades and the distant horns of the Crusade ringing in his ears, knowing that this would be the day that would irrevocably alter the history of all of Azeroth.

With the Crusade securing the doorway to Naxxramas and the assault beginning on Stratholme, the stage is set for the decisive showdown over the old center of eastern Lordaeron. The brave defenders of humanity are prepared to give their all in an effort to save their homeland but it is doubtful the Scourge hasn’t prepared for their attack beforehand… I truly hope you’ll find my take on the Crusade’s greatest hour enjoyable and the few changes to the lore in this part justified. Let me know what you think and see you again in a few weeks!


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« Reply #35 on: May 05, 2018, 10:01:59 AM »
Into the Heart of Evil, Part 1

”Fire! Rain justice upon the cursed servants of the dark! Give them no rest!” Dathrohan cried as he looked at another volley of arrows fall around the main gate of the mighty city of the Stratholme. An expectant smile rose to the Grand Crusader’s face as he looked at the darkened and broken yet still imposing walls which could be seen standing in the haze of the darkening evening. Hundreds of crusaders were quickly gathering around the bridge leading into the city itself, waiting for their lord to give the final word to begin storming the fabled city in full swing. The time of waiting and planning was over: all that remained was to crush the Scourge once and for all. The demon turned at Abbendis who stood alongside him on this momentous moment.

“This will be a glorious day indeed, High General. I hope the Lightbringer will stand with us in the hours to come.” Balnazzar said with some hesitancy as he despised all the defenders of the Light with all his soul but he knew he’d have to make sure Abbendis would fulfill all his orders without any further questions. He looked at the banners of scarlet filling the air above the bridge to Stratholme but all he saw was a group of worthless weaklings that would serve best as mere pawns to be sacrificed in the name of his personal glory. However, what Abbendis saw was a juggernaut of the Light’s justice preparing to create a tiny flicker of hope in this dark world.

“And king Terenas too. He didn’t deserve to be murdered by his own son but at least he’ll rest in peace after we’ll restore his kingdom. I already yearn to feel the cursed monsters fall under my sword!” He said as he tightened the grip around his blade, already hoping to partake in the upcoming slaughter. Dathrohan nodded at him in approval as a small cloud momentarily darkened the cliff overlooking the lake in front of Stratholme the two were standing on.

“In that case, you may join the attackers now, High General. The moment the battle begins is a question of mere seconds now.” Balnazzar said silently, raising his hand as a sign that he was about give his order. Dozens of undead fell under the merciless arrows of the defenders of humanity but their inevitable return to their undeath was a secret to no one. It would serve as a momentary stun, at most. Abbendis saluted as he answered, close to getting moved by the implications of the upcoming victory.

“As you command, Grand Crusader! Everyone will soon be in position and our first push can begin in full swing.” He said as he put his hand on his scabbard, already waiting for the battle’s beginning. Even if it wasn’t necessary for a leader to lead his troops because of moral reasons, Abbendis was a man who wouldn’t give up a chance to fight against the darkness for any price. Dathrohan glanced at him briefly before crossing his hands behind his back.

“Very well, Abbendis. Remember: your target is the Chapel and Alonsus’ flame, all others issues are completely optional. This is the day we all have shed blood for years and none of us will hesitate to shed more of it. Go now and make sure the Scourge will fall.” The bearded man said in a loud voice and right after Abbendis had left to lead his forces, the Grand Crusader cried with all his might.

“Go, now! Start your march towards Stratholme, warriors of the Scarlet Crusade! Show no mercy for the wicked!”

The man’s heart beat in his ears as he heard Dathrohan’s cry, immediately joining his comrades’ charge. Osran’s hands grabbed his sword, looking in deep expectation as the walls of Stratholme grew ever higher as his feet struggled to retain their balance in the battered and broken bridge below him. It felt like an eternity since he had last walked this road but back then, the sight of Stratholme had been a welcome symbol of relief after a long and taxing ride. So unlike the ghastly, defiled ruins which now greeted his eyes.

Suddenly, hordes of undead appeared from the sides of the massive gate-like building which led to the actual entrance into the city. This was to be expected of course but Osran dreaded what he would find inside the old center of these lands. It was likely the Scourge had many more secret weapons in store, only waiting for the attackers to step in their trap like a spider waiting for a fly to fly into its web.

The moments following the call of the Grand Crusader’s horn had been filled with utter fuss as the leaders of the order seemed to suddenly be in a desperate rush to start the attack. Many of the soldiers in the last ranks of the attackers
were still yawning heavily even if the flickers of sleep were quickly being drained from them. Osran had been ordered into the main force of the army which would fight its way to the Alonsus Chapel through the King’s Square and Festival Lane. It was the same group of knights he had served in the previous day’s army and at least among them, Osran’s survival had been welcomed heartily. With a group of comrades like this, Osran knew each of them would serve with honor until the end. The fight would be long but with Light’s guidance, the Crusade could yet prevail. It would have to.

Veria cringed as her sword cut through the first ghoul of today’s battle. She had barely managed to reach the gate building itself but already the whole lane before her was swarming completely with the enemy. Yet, this would be her chance to avenge her own commander and to engrave her name forever into the history of Lordaeron. All her life, Veria had devoted all of her time to honing her skills as a paladin and to prove she could one day stand as one of the order’s champions. Yet, as the years had slowly piled on her, she had slowly started to realize she never had planned what would happen once this terrible struggle was over. Yet, in the end, she knew she’d be lucky if she even made it through this war and until then, she knew where her loyalties lied.

She gasped briefly as she barely managed to stop one skeleton’s surprising strike which nearly sent her sword flying from her hand. However, with a herculean effort, she managed to overpower the undead and take it out. However, it was at this point that she realized what was happening. As fast as the servants of Kel’Thuzad fell, they rose up almost immediately. Usually it took minutes for the necromancers to bring them back but now, that effect was almost immediate. Too fast for the crusaders to have the time to cleanse them with purging fire which meant only one thing: there had to be dozens of necromancers waiting for the knights just behind the gate. Many of the knights seemed more than horrified by this turn of events but almost immediately, the High General’s command rang through the ranks of crusaders.

“Push them back slowly and if possible, surround them against the walls and then obliterate the enemy!” A young female voice called sharply, each of the crusaders knowing it belonged to the younger general Abbendis. She was fighting in the very first line, her terrifying rage cutting through the endless ranks of the Scourge. However, her example was enough for many of the other paladins to realize that even if there was no immediate victory in sight, isolating and then burning the undead could open them the way into the city. The casualties would most likely be horrifying but very few of the crusaders had expected to live through this decisive battle. Veria nodded at her general’s words and along with the rest of her regiment, started to drive the enemy against the walls, one step at a time. With any luck, the first hurdle of this fight would soon be cleared once and for all.

The rather familiar, dizzy feeling filled Fairbanks’ mind as he stepped into the portal in the middle of the dark ziggurat. It resembled those of the ordinary magi which wasn’t a surprise to the High Inquisitor as at least yet, the Scourge hadn’t managed to develop a new teleportation technique. As he stepped into the light, the world suddenly seemed to disappear around him, a wide emptiness taking its place. Fairbanks had gone through this same phenomenon countless times during his life, far too many to give it any thought as had practically all of his comrades. All that remained was to prepare for what waited on the other end of the magical gate way. As the seemingly endless darkness started to fade, the balding man cast a wide barrage of bright radiation forward… just in time to stop the massive axe falling at his face.

The group of knights were greeted by a terrifying barrage of death, a deadly arsenal of steel and dark magic greeted their arrival into the citadel of Naxxramas. All of them had prepared for his onslaught of course as none of the crusaders had expected the Scourge to give them an easy time. However, the most ferocious attack was directed towards Fairbanks and the flurry of death soon seemed to grow too much for his defense. For the slightest of moments, the man seemed to be completely overwhelmed by the Kel’Thuzad’s forces’ attack to the degree that the paladin on his right was forced to intervene. Fairbanks looked in shock as a shield of Light formed before him but he was quickly brought back to the reality as the red-haired man cried to him in clear frustration.

“Get your act together, inquisitor, and fight! The Light must prevail!” He cried right at the priest who wasted no time doing as told. If there was one knight in addition to the Highlord he honored with all his soul, it was Maxwell Tyrosus who was ready to sacrifice his very last breath in the defense of his comrades. Far younger than Fairbanks, Tyrosus had made quite a name as a righteous and highly gifted warrior of righteousness. However, there was no time for expressions of gratitude as the priest had the chance to take his good look at the enemy.

Before him stood countless rows off different monstrosities of flesh, each one of them more disgusting than the next one. Some of them resembled ordinary abominations whereas some were mere blobs of flesh that seemed to overflow with a plethora of deadly toxins. Behind them stood another group of acolytes who were leading the efforts of the Scourge’s first line of defense inside their very stronghold. She stood in one of the small pathways leading deeper into the necropolis whereas the others were blocked by the swarming enemy. Fairbanks immediately turned to Alexandros and cried to him with all his might.

“We have to secure the pathways into the citadel! That’s the only way we can ever stop this onslaught!” He cried but before he received an answer, a loud, hollow laugh could be heard nearly directly behind him.

“Tae think ye came all the way here… Well, show us what ye’re made of, lads!” The voice was clearly that of a dwarf’s which prompted many unbelieving glances but sure enough, a heavily bearded human-like creature stood on the top of his golden horse.

“Don’t listen to him! The Crusade can still be saved if you only turn back now! You won’t stand a chance against the chosen of Kel’Thuzad!” The next voice was a fearful and clearly tortured one and it belonged to another horseman whose perfect white horse and armor seemed to create an unbelievable contrast with the morbid background of the cursed citadel. His veiled face and exquisite helm caught the attention of many of the crusaders but the small moment of hesitation by his words was quickly shattered by a third voice, this one clearly a female one.

“Be silent for once, Zeliek! These weaklings offer us a way to enjoy this day of the Lich King’s glory… as well as prove our worth to the master once again!” She cried, her face also covered by a large veil. Her steed carried an armor of brilliant blue and she took a menacing pose as she faced the crusaders. However, the fourth pathway to Naxrramas stayed empty to some of the knights’ worry but they didn’t let such a detail bother them any. Carlin Redpath, who had mostly took the role of a supporting aid thus far, had finally had enough and he cried to the three horsemen with a voice that thundered through the cursed halls.

“Then just come here and fight! We don’t have time to listen to the empty threats of each of Kel’Thuzad’s slaves! Come here and fight us, if you dare, cowards!” He cried even if the sight of the three undead knights and their skeletal steeds seemed to worry him more than he even managed to admit to himself. It was clear these really were Kel’Thuzad’s champions who were prepared to face each and any foe their master wanted to get rid of. However, he was quickly answered by the dwarf whose words seemed to worsen many of the crusaders’ worries.

“In time, lads, in time. The lich lord will want to follow yer deeds first and if Kel’Thuzad sees it fit, one of you will serve as his next champion! If ye prove yerself worthy, that is!” He said and just as quickly as the three had arrived, the darkness suddenly seemed to swallow them as if a wind extinguishing a flutter candle in the dark nights of fall. The dwarf’s words would have puzzled many of the crusaders if they weren’t engaged in a close combat with the undead. Yet, Redpath couldn’t put the dwarf’s words away from his mind. What had he meant with Kel’Thuzad searching for a new champion? Certainly he hadn’t planned for this attack to commence? If that were true…

The heavily-built man grinned in satisfaction as he looked at his sword sever one necromancer’s head from his shoulders. Even if Kel’Thuzad had foreseen all this, it would be up to him and his comrades to prove him wrong. As long as the Light was with them, they would be able to take on any enemy the traitor prince would throw their way. He hadn’t managed to break Lordaeron completely during the War and he wouldn’t do so now.

The Scarlet Protector’s heart swelled as a certain sight suddenly flashed before his eyes. The entrance to Naxxramas was a largely uncovered room practically hanging below the citadel proper, opening a great view over the Plaguewood and Stratholme. And from one of the openings, he suddenly saw the bridge of Stratholme and the fact that the battle in the city had also started in full swing. It was a magical sight as the torches and banners of the Crusade cast a small refuge of Light under the burning city and the darkening, cursed forest. Under there, his comrades were giving their all to keep the legacy of Lordaeron alive and ending the campaign in the Eastern Plaguelands. Redpath smiled as he thought about the mighty time he was living in. With renewed encouragement, he quickly took down another of the ghouls. No matter what, Naxxramas would fall on this day, this he promised in the name of all the brave paladins who had come before him.

“Now! Send the bastards to the next world for good!” Brigitte Abbendis cried as she and the crusaders around her had finally managed to surround a group of ghouls against the wall, disabling them from putting up any kind of relevant defense. At this point, all that remained of this pocket defense was a constantly crumbling pile of bones and flesh that tried to reform into some kind of relevant enemy but it was too late for them. Suddenly, a torch was thrown from the later ranks of knights, nearly immediately illuminating the group of undead. A powerful glow was cast on Abbendis’ triumphant face as she looked at the group of undead slowly turn to ash for good. She knew this was but a small victory, one that would have no clear effect on the battle’s outcome. Yet, one by one the groups of undead dwindles as the other crusaders managed to isolate them into mere pockets of resistance which couldn’t keep the crusaders back longer than a few seconds.

The initial, swarm-like attack of the Scourge had turned into a fight with roughly equal numbers, spelling the beginning of the end for the forces of the undead horde. The younger Abbendis was about to order a push for the gates when she saw her father suddenly rush towards her. He panted slightly but he was more than encouraged by how the fight had begun.

“We’ve managed to breach the gate, Brigitte! It’s time to push for the King’s Square!” He said as he kicked another skeleton and then pushed his sword into its ribcage, splinters of bone flying here and there as he broke the undead’s body with one, mighty strike. Brigitte looked at her father in slight frustration and didn’t stop for a second to answer to his words.

“I was just about to give that command! The Scourge is crumbling under the Crusade’s heels! Make sure our advance won’t halt once you take the command!” She said, still disappointed that Dathrohan had named her father the officer who would lead the Crusade towards the Chapel and letting her to only break the siege of the Scarlet Bastion for good. However, she was far too loyal to the order to question his commands. The older Abbendis took a joyless smile as he looked at his daughter and gave his command to the horde of crusaders around him.

“Bet on it. Crusaders, the way in is clear! Take the fight into the streets! He cried and his troops immediately obeyed his command. There were still masses of undead here and there but they would be cut down soon enough. Unbelievably quickly, the knights returned to their original formation and restarted their advance. Shield beside shield and sword beside sword, the juggernaut of death closed around the servants of the Lich King. The fight for the bridge was over but it would only be the first of many in this gauntlet of death and horror.

The barely middle-aged man breathed deeply as he slowly healed the wounds that he had suffered during the first fight in Naxxramas. One of the undead had created a long cut on his cheeks, stretching from his ear to his jaw and his arm also bled heavily. However, it was nothing compared to many of his earlier injuries and all things considered, the small group had survived with relatively little casualties. Two men lied on the floor, their bodies getting cold quickly but it was nothing compared to the disaster that could have come to pass if the attackers had been a bit more careless. Tyrosus looked around himself with a despising look as he glanced at the walls around him.

All of Naxxramas seemed to be built of the same, dark stone with very little other features but long halls and symbols of skulls here and there. It was an extremely morbid sight but he hadn’t expected anything more from a group like the Scourge. He only dreaded what kind of monster lurked these sickening halls…

“We have to head into one of these tunnels and fight whatever we will meet in them. That’s the only way.” He said angrily, stepping on a giant beetle in the floor in frustration. Kel’Thuzad was here somewhere but apparently the cowards was willing to let his minions do the dirty work for him. Another reason to hate that most despicable of fiends. Tyrosus looked in slight disappointment as it was Renault Mograine who answered first, Tyrosus being another paladin who wasn’t too amused by an unskilled, young boy’s inclusion on this mission.

“It is. That another platform will most likely lead to the bastard once he deems us worthy of his time. That bastard!” He said as he looked at a similar room over the entrance to Naxxramas, that one lacking a similar portal but its purpose was rather clear to the crusaders. However, that brief comment meant little to Tyrosus who merely glanced at Renault in slight anger.

“Then let’s get moving! We won’t have long before the monsters…”

"Meowww!" His words were quickly interrupted by a loud voice from the darkness.  The crusaders turned to look at the darkness and soon enough, two orbs of yellow seemed to form in the corridor. Tyrosus was just about to grab his sword again in defense before the newcomer suddenly leapt forward but its target wasn’t any of the knights. Rather, it went for the prey it had hunted for the last few years.

In a matter of mere seconds, the cat’s jaws closed around a giant worm-like creature, the creature’s claws finishing the job just as quickly. The predator then shook its prey heavily in its jaws before casting a defensive look at the crusaders. It then turned around and with a triumphant scurry, disappeared back into the depths of Naxxramas. Briefly, Tyrosus started to form a barrage of Light in his hand, ready to strike down anything they’d find in this place. However, he stopped it when he felt Carlin’s hand on his shoulder.

“Let it go, Maxwell. I’ve heard of that creature and it wishes us no harm.” He said when Fairbanks suddenly presented the obvious question.

“What do you know about some ordinary cat here in Naxxramas, Carlin?” The cleric asked before the Scarlet Protector frowned slightly before he answered.

“That creature is called Mr. Bigglesworth and it is the last thing that still connects Kel’Thuzad to his human life. When he cast his mortality and humanity away from good, that cat was one thing he wanted to preserve like it always was. Unlike everything else in these halls, that cat is still a living creature. While killing it would certainly hurt Kel’Thuzad greatly, I’m not ready to go around and kill innocent creatures without a good reason.” He told, having heard that story years ago himself. He had found it a hardly amusing detail in Kel’Thuzad’s otherwise disgusting tale. However, that story was soon followed by a loud comment from Alexandros.

“We didn’t come here to look for cats, Redpath. I’m afraid Renault was right about our way to proceed but remember: this whole attack is almost certainly one, large trap carefully set for us. Don’t make one gesture that isn’t completely foolproof. It will prove to be the line between life and death. Let’s go that way first. We must force our way to Kel’Thuzad as soon as possible.” He said as he pointed the Ashbringer at the hallway left from the direction Mr. Bigglesworth had disappeared to. All of his comrades seemed to agree to his comment but a certain fear circled in the Highlord’s mind.

Had the dwarf merely tried to taunt him with his threats or did he actually reveal a small detail from Kel’Thuzad’s plan? His words seemed despicable enough to mirror Kel’Thuzad’s words but if the lich thought he could simply see the crusaders as future champions or servants, he was badly mistaken. The former necromancer might have been clever enough to fool Arthas but now that his manipulative nature was well known to all, he would never again get away with such treachery. No matter what lied in the tunnels before the crusaders, the Ashbringer would guide the way through those sickly, plagued halls.

Carethas couldn’t remember feeling such a symphony of glory and fear before in his life. Defending his beloved Barrowhome or liberating Corin’s Crossing had been occasions of great honor and pride to him before but despite not seeing any areas of the kingdom in addition to his home in their former kingdom, he could sense what was happening. Even more, the sight of the mighty street leading to the famed King’s Square was truly an impressive one as it beat even Tyr’s Hand in its grandeur. The mighty rows of houses and the massive walls had made a deep impression on him and he could merely have imagined how this place must have looked once.

Yet, every memory of this city had been plagued by its downfall in the eyes of each one of the knights. Even if only a handful of them had been present here during the Culling, the story of how Arthas murdered the tens of thousands of people once living here had become a warning example of where forgetting one’s principles could eventually lead. Even to Carethas, even the smallest details of that terrifying day had been made well known.

The still-inexperienced cadet cringed heavily as he was suddenly forced to shield himself from a mighty bolt of shadow. The young man was more than content about the mighty leaps with which his skills as a paladin were moving forward. His shield managed to block only a part of the bolt’s power but it was enough to save him from a serious injury. However, his small moment of triumph was close to ending abruptly as he saw a sword suddenly falling upon him. Instinctually, he blocked the incoming attack and then used the skeleton’s unsophisticated, overly ambitious to take the creature off guard before he took it down for good. However, it was at this moment when he suddenly heard a distant, cold voice in the distance.

“You may have broken into the Lich King’s sanctum but that is all for nothing! I know what you are after but I promise you, no crusader will ever lay their hands on Alonsus’ flame! Turn back now and some of you may live to see the rise of the new Scourge!” The cadet shuddered as he heard that voice, the chill creeping its way into his spine. In the middle of the mass of undead, he could see glimpses of a blue-armored horse and of a pale man who was riding it. This had to be Baron Rivendare who had occasionally been rumored to lead the Scourge in the city. However, to the former peasant his name still held a far different connotation as this was the man who had led the collection of taxes in Darrowmere before the outbreak of the War. Rivendare had been a hated name among the poor villagers but after the fall of Stratholme, his name had fallen into distant memory… until now.

To Osran, however, the appearance of the death knight mattered something completely different. Rivendare had been nothing but another noble in these lands before the Scourge’s arrival but the paladin had heard many stories of his cruelty in undeath. Getting rid of him once and for all would certainly be a major victory to the Crusade as the death knights, as Rivendare’s kind was called, were rather rare and few commanded such intellect in their malevolent plans as the former baron. Still, there was another thing that caught his attention.

The death knight had announced that he knew about Alonsus’ fire and its importance to the Crusade but he didn’t have any idea how. Had Iren actually been able to find out the Crusade’s entire plan and successfully report it to the Scourge? No, there had to be another explanation to that. No cadet could have found out the details only informed to the actual members of the Crusade. That thought only deepened Osran’s disappointment at the Legion as it seemed they considered him a greater threat than the actual spies of the undead. But it opened more disheartening thoughts as there was an actual chance that there could be an actual betrayal within the ranks of the Crusade in the middle of this fuss.

Yet, he had no doubt the two Abbendises as well as the Grand Crusader himself were considering that exact same issue at the moment. They were most likely preparing for the unfolding of the Scourge’s plot but that didn’t mean it wasn’t his charge as well. Despite everything that had happened lately, he was still a member of the Crimson Legion and it was up to him to oversee the Crusade’s overall stability. Yet, right now he’d have to help his comrades reach the fallen noble and return him into the rest of the grave.

The paladin cringed heavily as a massive chain of a nearby abomination hit the steely figure of a nearby streetlight, the sound ringing in his ears for a few seconds before he suddenly saw three arrows sinking into the monster’s head, allowing him just enough time to cast a massive judgement which brought the monster down. Yet, his small moment of triumph was quickly cut short as an arrow from one of the many terraces overlooking the street. For a brief moment, Osran felt his blood run cold as he heard a loud whiff of an arrow approach him but to the aging paladin’s luck, it didn’t hit him but rather a younger woman on his right. Stunned from this new threat, he suddenly turned to look at a nearby elf and cried to him quickly.

“Take the enemy archers down, now! We can’t afford to lose any more comrades for nothing!” He cried as the elf nodded, looking at the direction the paladin pointed. It didn’t take long before the archer had rallied all of his comrades to answer to this new, cowardly threat and Osran looked in slight relief as the skeletal creatures began to fall in the terraces and rooftops of the houses. For now at least, the knights’ sides were safe and they could once again concentrate into moving forward towards the King’s Square and to their final goal.

“Carefully! We must make sure our location remains a secret!” The bearded man said as he and two of his comrades moved through the tiny alley not far from the Crusade’s main force. Despite his hesitancy to engage in the fight directly, the demon possessing Dathrohan knew he’d have to partake in the fight directly or risk losing his cover. And with luck, this was a way in which he could retain his cover without risking the loss of his temporary body in this battle.  He frowned deeply as he heard one of his followers answer to his statement.

“Of course, Grand Crusader. That cursed death knight won’t stand a chance once we ambush him.” Willey whispered, rather encouraged by his leader’s courageous plan. With any luck, the mere appearance of the Grand Crusader could make Rivendare flee or at least divert his defense decisively, aiding the rest of the Crusaders’ advance tremendously. This was just the kind of leadership he had learned to expect from Dathrohan over the years. However, the higher-ranked crusader answered to him in a rather unimpressed voice, wiping out Willey’s ungrounded optimism.

“He won’t but our objective isn’t to take him on directly, only divide the attention of our enemies. So stay silent and follow.” He said impatiently, his mind wandering in far greater things than in some lowly pawn’s concerns. Thus far, things were moving forward as he had planned as the city’s defenses had been breached and his worth threat was just where he wanted him. Entering Stratholme had been far easier than he had anticipated and his troops were advancing with a good speed. However, he knew it wouldn’t most likely be this easy. As long as Kel’Thuzad and Rivendare were still in this world, they could easily surprise the most vigilant of generals and turn the tide of any battle with a surprising move that he couldn’t predict. As long as they lived, he couldn’t breath in peace.

The sounds of the battle ringed in his ears as the Grand Crusader moved through the darkened lane, knowing the larger street it joined soon would lead back to the King’s Square, in effect opening another front against the undead. However, it was the other front of this same battle that amused Balnazzar the most. Soon, Alexandros would be gone for good and the one to wield the Ashbringer would be one that would follow him without further questions. And at that point, there would be no one left in the Crusade with the authority to challenge him even if there would be setbacks in the future…

A slight smile crept to Renault’s face as he gazed at the Ashbringer which his father held in his hands. That magnificently crafted blade with its perfect balance and swiftness as well as its perfect blessing of Light was one of the most legendary weapons ever made and he simply couldn’t wait until it would finally be his. Ever since his childhood, he had dreamt of inheriting it one day but why should he wait until his foolish father would retire and pass on his sword to him, especially when there was a really good chance Alexandros would even choose Darion as his heir before him?

No, the time to embrace his destiny as the true hair to the Ashbringer would be today. For many months, he had heard odd whispers in his dreams which called for him to join his plan and in return, he would become one of the Crusade’s greatest leaders, a Highlord like his father before him. Renault had never quite met his benefactor but he knew he or it would keep his word once the time came. And it would come very soon. The young man’s thoughts were suddenly cut short his father suddenly raised his hand as a sign to stay still for a moment.

Each of the crusaders stood still as a massive footstep suddenly echoed in the dark hallway. There was light nowhere to be seen and the black space around them suddenly grew far tenser than before. After the massive footstep followed another one, this one far closer than before. A waiting expression appeared on Alexandros’ face as he looked at the voice’s direction, the darkness nearly dense enough to be touched. Inside, the firm grip of fear had taken control of his mind but his heart shined as bright as during all the times he had stood against the darkness before. No matter what was coming, he wouldn’t run in the face of the Scourge. Not now, not ever.
However, not all of the knights shared their leader’s bravery and confidence. Carlin held his outer calm but inside the thought of being crushed in this darkness by an invincible monster was a terrifying one for him. As another step rumbled through the black hall, he whispered silently, the fear more than apparent in his voice.

“Highlord? Should we fall back?” He asked, knowing an uncontrolled escape would only make him a traitor to the Crusade, even if he would have wanted nothing more than to leave the hellish necropolis once and for all. Yet, no answer ever came and the seconds only passed slowly but at the very second of another footstep, Alexandros cried with all his might.

“We won’t take a step back anymore, my comrades! Strike the enemy down, for the king and for Lordaeron! Attack!” He cried as he released a judgement nearly in time to repel a massive blade which suddenly fell towards him from the darkness. Yet, the attacker didn’t stop its advance and the mighty swing of the massive blade continued its way towards Alexandros who realized his slight oversight and suddenly dodged to his right while concentrating all of his holy power to stabilize the situation somewhat. Suddenly, a warm light engulfed Alexandros completely as the Ashbringer burned with righteous fury as it met the massive yet unblessed weapon.

At this point, the Highlord and the Ashbringer seemed to once again fuse into the same being with Alexandros’ internal dedication and the sword’s grace and power fed each other. All of the other knights looked in awe as their lord stopped an attack by a weapon thrice his entire length. Yet, that sight paled quickly in comparison to what Alexandros’ bravery revealed. Holding the sword was a mountain of rotting flesh, at least twenty times longer than an average man. Its face was disgustingly deformed, it’s eyes nothing more than slowly decaying orbs which most likely saw nothing. Here and there, it’s skull was revealed by the quickly disappearing pieces of skin around it and the monster’s teeth looked like it had escaped from a living nightmare. The rest of the creature’s body was equally deformed but unlike some of the other massive abominations, it had all the limbs a human had and judging by its movements, the Scourge had spent a lot of effort in trying to get this monster work better than its previous experiments. Even worse, the light revealed another swarm of lesser undead charging towards the knight under the massive monstrosity. The Highlord, however, was too deeply drawn into the battle to feel any kind of fear. However, he didn’t forget his charge for a moment and cried to his followers in a loud voice.

“Keep the horde of undead at bay and I’ll take this monster down! They won’t stand a chance against us!” He said as he looked in expectation as his opponent slowly prepared for another attack. Alexandros took this brief moment to deliver his first counterattack and with a quick leap, he impaled the rotting stub of a leg, the Ashbringer seeming to nearly melt it with its power. For a moment, the Highlord already thought whether the monster was about to fall but to his surprise, it seemed like the loss of part of its leg mattered none to the abomination as it seemed to be able balance itself just as well without it. This sight made the paladin cringe slightly but unknown to him, the fight would soon take a different turn.

The brown-haired man smiled as he looked at another ghoul crumble to the ground. He looked at the wave of undead close upon him but the line of crusaders was wide enough to be able to block the corridor just barely, thus ridding the enemy of their numerical advantage. The massive monstrosity and Alexandros’ fight as well as the lingering darkness made fighting a real challenge but none of the knights had been chosen to this mission for nothing. Lacking his usual keen sight, Tyrosus let the Light guide his movements and his lifelong experience allowed him guess the enemy’s next movements to a large degree. However, he suddenly heard something which nearly made him drop his sword in shock. Sounds of another charge could be heard behind him but he didn’t have time to turn to check that he had been right. He saw that many others had noticed the same thing and with a loud cry, he made their only way of survival known to the others.

“Push these bastards back or all we’ll be surrounded! Go now, we don’t have a lot of time!” He said as he cast a massive divine storm which cut down nearly a dozen enemies and maimed many others. Many of the others seemed increasingly desperate but all of them kept their calm. They immediately started to push forward with a great risk, the sound of the other wave of enemies intensifying by the minute. The Light revealed the dwindling numbers of enemies many times and sure enough, the knights were heavily advantaged as long as they worked as one. However, time was running out very quickly.

That development wasn’t lost on Alexandros, either. He was heartened by the courage shown by his comrades but unlike the others, he had managed to get a glimpse of the other group of enemies and it wouldn’t be even a minute until they’d reach the backs of the crusaders. Despite his fight with the massive abomination, he knew he’d have to help his comrades break the enemy’s defense. He took a quick breath and just as his enemy had missed one, heavy blow, he suddenly started to run quickly and ran towards the mass of ghouls and skeletons and cut down dozens of the enemies in a matter of seconds.  His intervention seemed to suddenly break the enemy in half and it allowed his followers to take the advantage of his attack. He then cried to the others, realizing there was one more way to buy a few more seconds of time.

“Throw your torches at the charging undead and it will stop their attack for some time! Do it, now!” He looked as three of the knights suddenly threw the fires towards them and it didn’t take long until the first of them caught fire. Alexandros would have treasured the chance to look at them turn to ash but there was no time for that. In fact, it was only a matter of seconds that he wasn’t crushed under the massive abomination’s foot. However, there was no time to think about how close his death had been. He then gave another order to the others.

“Follow me, now! We must face our enemy with our backs against the wall as that’s the only way we won’t be surrounded! Go, go, go!” He cried as he looked at the undead getting crushed under the feet of the charging knights. However, among them was one whose main concern wasn’t trying to escape from the undead.
For a fleeting moment, Renault had thought about seizing his opportunity and attack his father while he had fought against the abomination but even then, he had to accomplish his deed in secret as that was the only way he could ever seize his father’s position within the order. For now, that was the only thing that mattered to him and he would make sure that the story of the house of Mograine would turn a new page on this day.

The southern approach to the King’s Square was nothing but a sea of rotting flesh and fallen crusaders as the attackers pushed ever more vigorously towards Rivendare’s position. The crusaders’ casualties were mounting on a terrifying pace but it was nothing compared to the burning piles of undead that were flaming at the both sides of the road. The dark, ever-flaming fires of the city were slowly becoming one with the new pyres of burning corpses which was only a small addition to the terrifying look of the once-mighty city and one that very few of the crusaders noticed.

One of those men was Carethas who had never visited this nightmarish place before. He looked in expectation as the death knight gave increasingly desperate orders, apparently realizing his weakening position. Perhaps the Scourge’s downfall was happening between his eyes after all. He cast a surprisingly potent judgement at a nearby enemy before realizing that his inexperience was still a terrible fault. He had been too closely drawn into the fight to pay heed to his surroundings and he suddenly felt a terrible pain fill his entire right side. He was immediately thrown to the ground and almost crushed under the feet of his comrades when one of the knights behind suddenly grabbed his hand and pulled him up while also healing his terrible injury. He then nodded and spoke to the cadet in a stern yet encouraging voice.

“Don’t make that mistake again, boy. Now, go on!” He said and Carethas wasted no time obeying the older paladin’s order. Yet, he looked in interest at the place where he had received his hit. Apparently one of the necromancers had taken refuge in the burning houses, thinking nobody would be able to attack him in there. Immediately, a thought of easy glory and praise rose to his mind as he weighed the possible threat of the necromancer. Apparently his or her spells were rather potent but with enough wit and effort, maybe he could take him out quickly enough. He gritted his teeth as he suddenly sprinted towards a nearby doorway. Surely none of the others would be able to notice his small sidestep with their minds locked at the battle…

And he was almost right but not completely. Osran’s eyes initially noticed movement in the corner of his eye and he was more than surprised to see his former apprentice rush inside the ruined building. What in the name of the Light was the cadet doing? Was he actually thinking of forgetting his duties and attack some of the undead archers or necromancers on his own or even escape from the battle? Or something even more sinister? No matter what, he was breaking the rules of the Crusade and thus, his actions would have to be investigated as soon as possible. After all, he and Iren had joined the Crusade simultaneously and even if he had acted like he was completely innocent, there was always the chance that he simply been a far better liar than Iren had ever been.

As he had done so often in the past weeks, Osran cursed that it had to be him who had to bring potential traitors into line but that was the pledge he had given Isillien without any hesitation. He cut down the ghoul before him before quickly heading for the house next to the one Carethas had entered. It was nearly certain that the two houses would be connected to each other as most houses of Stratholme were in case of times of siege. The knight frowned as he thought about what he’d find in those rooms. Would Carethas follow in Iren’s footsteps or was he only another cadet who had to be brought to obey the orders of the Crusade? The next minutes would determine whether the younger man’s life would end on this day.


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« Reply #36 on: May 05, 2018, 10:08:07 AM »

Carethas looked in fear at the decaying walls around him. The house seemed even surprisingly similar to those of his beloved Barrowhome but the interior worried him greatly. All that remained of the furniture were broken pieces of wood here and there and the ground seemed to be creeping inside from the many cracks in the floor, signaling the eventual reclamation of the building by the ill nature around it. Yet, his eyes were locked on the stairs which seemed to be located in the neighboring room. He’d have to move noiselessly or al advantage of surprise would be thrown away completely. He walked slowly, careful not to cause even the smallest of squeaks in the rotting floor, moving a meter at a time towards the necromancer who was lurking somewhere in the rooms above him.

The thought of the evil mage lurking behind him and be the one to open the battle crept to the back of his mind, fully knowing that such a scenario would have only one outcome. One moment at a time, he realized the many dangers he had so willingly put himself in. For him to even stand a chance of beating the necromancer, nearly all of the chances would have to go just as he had planned. Maybe he should just turn around and… Suddenly, he heard a slight whisper in the rooms above him which cut his thoughts short.

“We’ll keep them long enough at bay, Diesalven. We only have to buy enough time for the master to take those fools out.” The voice sounded extremely low and shady and it brought shivers to Carethas’ mind. What was the man talking about?  The cadet realized he was hearing something of great importance for the course of the battle. He froze still and crouched against the wall to listen to the conversation.

“You and your subordinates certainly have to do better if you hope to accomplish that task. You were one of the first lines of defense yet you crumbled at the first sight of enemy.” This voice sounded even lower than the first one but judging how the battle was going, he sounded surprisingly calm and trustful. The cadet’s heart beat heavily in his ears as he heard the next comment.

“No matter what, those fools are only running headlong into our trap. Once their beloved lord will fall, they’ll run away like the scared children they are! The Cult may be at ease, Diesalven. I and the others will give our everything in order to buy the time our masters need.” This time Carethas managed to make more out of the necromancer’s voice and it sounded like a terribly sick man trying to act like everything was alright. That certainly didn’t raise his spirits any.

“I certainly hope so for your sake. But that’s enough for now. Remember that when we’ll be victorious, all of us will…


An ever so silent voice emanated from the floor as Carethas fearfully turned his weight to rest on his other leg, a mistake which changed everything in a matter of seconds. The conversation stopped immediately and the cadet made the necessary decisions in a matter of a split second. This Diesalven certainly like a high-ranked necromancer and Carethas knew he’d never stand a chance against him and the other caster. He quickly turned around in fear and headed for the stairs only to be stopped by a horrifying surprise. Almost immediately, he saw flames engulf the stairs which blocked any hopes he had of an escape. At this point, he could come up with only one additional way of escape: the numerous windows overlooking the street.  The fall would be a painful one but it would be better than to stay here and be killed by the enemy or probably even worse.

The young man was just about to jump out of the window when he suddenly felt something that horrified him beyond measure. Just like that, his movements seemed to slow down even if he did his all to try to force his muscles to move forward. However, his efforts were completely futile as he soon stopped completely, just before he had taken the final leap to escape from this nightmare. All the while, he heard a voice behind him which stunned him completely.
“Are you this eager to serve the Lich King, fool? Are you ready to acknowledge the master’s superiority over your fleeting mortal coil? He asked in a hissing voice while commanding Carethas turn around. The taller necromancer approached him slowly, as if to merely address him closer. The cadet’s head dropped merely as he managed to only say one thing. He knew he was done for anyway and there was nothing of to speak with this necromancer anyway. Diesalven, however, didn’t deliver the decisive blow just yet, instead recognizing the recruit to his slight surprise. This opened another intriguing possibility that was all too convenient to simply pass away.

“You are the one Highfield mentioned to me. You were the only one who could master the Light in addition to my pawn. What a coincidence that we meet here like this.” He said, remembering Iren’s descriptions about the Crusade including his closest comrade. Carethas was slightly taken aback by Carethas’ words but he shook them off as mere lies and manipulation. He stayed silent, deciding not to give any additional advantages to this monster. He looked in despair as the other necromancer approached them and spoke to his superior quickly.

“Just kill that fool, High Necromancer! Time is off the essence!” He said, always somewhat skeptical of Diesalven’s notoriously slow and careful moves. He would have wanted nothing more than to gather the ranks of the casters again and join the battle but Diesalven, who was leading the defense efforts of the necromancers, seemed to have completely different priorities. He merely waved the lower- ranked cultist silent while he returned his focus on Carethas. Diesalven’s bearded face suddenly turned into a dead serious one as he suddenly continued completely bluntly.

“I’ll make this very clear to you, Yrendel, was it? I offer you one chance to take your old comrade’s place and serve as my eyes and ears within the Crusade. I offer you a chance to escape the eternal darkness and agony the victims of the Scourge will go through once they finally realize their mistake of opposing our king.” He said silently, all the while looking at Carethas’ eyes with a slight smile, his wrinkled cheeks and long but sickly hair creating a ghastly sight that haunted the cadet greatly. For a moment, he was just about to give the answer any crusader should but even then, the memories of the hundreds of lowly undead he’d seen returned to his mind. Did he truly want to become one of them, forever roaming these cursed lands searching for some poor simply to tear him or her apart? Did he truly want that to come to pass? He listened in fear as Diesalven continued his speech.

“Pledge loyalty to the Lich King now and you will live to see even tomorrow and if you’ll serve us well, you might even have some role in the world to come. You’d certainly make a useful addition to our ranks, Carethas Yrendel.” He said slowly, hoping to turn yet another crusader into a traitor. The more turncoats there were, the easier it would be to rot the order from the inside.

This offer would certainly save the cadet from the worst fate but even then, the other option was even more unacceptable. To think he’d betray everyone who had helped him to commune with the Light and to serve this monster who tried to blackmail Iren’s memory with his filthy lies. And most of all, he didn’t want to betray the paladin who had guided him on his first steps as a paladin, Osran. In his heart he knew his decision had already been made as he raised his head to look at the necromancer but to unknown to him, he would never be able to give that answer.

Osran scratched the corner of his eye as he listened to those words. “You’d certainly make a useful addition to our ranks, Carethas Yrendel.” Even if he had hoped he had been mistaken, it seemed like his worst fears were quickly being realized. Even after his other student’s betrayal, he had hoped to be able to trust Carethas but it seemed like he had been betrayed once again. The young man had seemed so eager and hungry to learn more of the Light Osran hadn’t even considered the possibility he, too, had only searched for a possibility to turn against the Crusade.

Slowly, the paladin’s hand became tied ever more tightly around his sword’s hilt as his mind darkened ever further. First, the order had torn his nails off after he against all odds had saved himself from certain death and shamed his pride in more ways than one in the process. And now, both of his closest students had both dared to betray his trust? Was there truly no one he could trust anymore? No matter what, this betrayal wouldn’t go unpunished. The paladin took a deep sigh as he drew his blade completely from its scabbard and with quick, decisive steps, moved against the two men and spoke to the cadet in a voice that dipped with hate and disgust.

“So you indeed were in league with Iren all the time, weren’t you Carethas? I had hoped you to be different from him but it seems I was pitifully mistaken.” Osran cast a quick glance at the necromancer, fully well understanding the threat he posed but he was confident he’d be able to contain him long enough to finish his matter with the treacherous cadet. To his surprise, however, Diesalven didn’t make one move to attack the paladin, rather deciding to merely look at how things would develop. In the end, sowing seeds of doubt in the hearts and minds of the knights was also an extremely valuable thing for the Scourge.

Carethas, on the other hand, was momentarily relieved to see the Crimson Legionary’s face but it soon faded as he saw the cold and merciless look on Osran’s face. What was he doing? Did he mean that he thought that…? Suddenly he realized how this meeting must have looked from his perspective and with a fearful look, tried to stutter an answer to his former mentor.

“B… but I was just about to decline his request! H… he tried to force me to join him but you know me, Osran! I’d never betray you or the Crusade!” He cried in desperation, looking Diesalven’s face turning sourer by the minute. He could see that the cadet had made up his mind which disappointed him somewhat. As for Osran, there was no reason to engage him directly. His great skill with the Light was very apparent and any kind of fight against him could very easily turn against the necromancer. Knowing there was no longer any reason for him to linger here after Carethas’ cowardice, he decided to cast his last curse upon the poor cadet.

“Stop jabbering, acolyte, and prove your worth to us! Kill the knight and eternal glory will be yours!” He cried as the familiar pool of shadow suddenly swallowed him, knowing it would also serve as a warning to followers in the surrounding rooms. There would be no escape for Carethas from this situation anymore. With any luck, one of the knights would meet their end here completely without his intervention. There were far more important matters that needed his attention after all, informing Rivendare of the necromancers’ efforts first of all. His departure was also a sign for the other necromancers to flee further to the city to utilize their powers more effectively. Carethas was left looking at the necromancer’s departure in shock, trying to cast a pleading glance at Osran. His voice was low as he attempted to plead to the other man’s trust.

“Don’t listen to him, Osran! I came here only to take out one of those bastards but… but he was here sharing orders to the others who left earlier! Diesalven was only…” Carethas said in fear as Osran suddenly resumed his advance and answered in a stern voice which could have probably scared even himself had the situation been any easier.

“Do you now see why your friend fell before the Light’s justice, Yrendel? Do you now have the slightest of inklings who you made your worst mistake by seeking allegiance with a necromancer? No matter what, I’ve had enough with lying cadets who seem to want nothing more than eternal death and darkness!” Osran cried, suddenly slamming a bright hammer right towards the cadet. It was supposed to stun him just enough for Osran to finish the fight for good. However, something highly unexpected happened which stunned both men completely. With a quick, even panicked move, Carethas formed a flicker of holy shield around himself which blocked Osran’s attack. Yet, not a muscle twitched in Osran’s outraged face as he continued his advance, this time releasing a huge wave of gold at the cadet who was forced to acknowledge the fact that he wouldn’t stand a chance at this fight.

For a while, he was able to drain Osran’s strength but slowly, the older crusader merely intensified his efforts, knowing the full difference between the duo’s skills. Finally, Carethas fell to the floor, panting while slowly raising his glance at Osran. Not a flicker of sympathy or doubt could be seen in his eyes when he lowered his blade towards the cadet’s throat. Knowing all was lost, he pleaded one last time Osran to see reason.

“Please… You must believe me…” He said while preparing to feel his head severed from his shoulders. He was resigned to his fate already, only regretting deeply the level of distrust Osran was showing at him. The two had known themselves for months already and they had trained together back at Tyr’s Hand. Had those times meant nothing to him or was he simply overzealous because of Iren’s supposed treachery? In any case, Carethas couldn’t come up with any answer on how to forgive Osran for what he was about to do. The knight took a completely joyless cringe as he gave his answer.

“That’s the last thing I’d do, traitor. Your dark road will be cut short before it even truly began.” He said before he raised his sword to strike the final blow. Carethas swallowed deep and closed his eyes to take whatever was coming. He regretted deeply it had to end like this, regretting that he’d never again meet his old friends in Barrowhome nor ever grieve at the grave of his father and sister, long since taken by the Scourge. And all of this happened because his long-admired mentor couldn’t believe any of the words he had just said. Any second now, he expected Osran’s sword to end his struggles in this world forever… until he heard a loud cry at the door.

“What is the meaning of this? What is going on, Osran?” Carethas suddenly opened his eyes and turned to see the officer he, too, recognized as Harthal Truesight. His gaze was highly shocked by the scene, not able to comprehend why Osran was about to kill one of his own comrades. The aging crusader briefly glanced at Harthal, letting his blade wait for a brief moment before he would let it claim its prize.

“Don’t intervene, Harthal. This man tried to join the forces of the Scourge and who knows what secrets he has already told to his dark masters. I have to end this madness right here.” He said, cursing in his mind Harthal’s intervention. He knew that with a witness he would need some indisputable evidence for his deed, something he lacked at this point. He could only hope Harthal would see the wisdom in what he was going to do. Even if Osran was a member of the Legion, an officer like Harthal still would have a hard time accepting this kind of oversight of his authority. In the end, Osran knew he couldn’t win this argument in the eyes of the Crusade’s leaders as his image was already wavering in their eyes. This would have to end here and now. He only cringed further as Carethas spoke to the newcomer.

“That’s a lie! I was trying to attack the necromancer, not join him! I admit that I acted against my orders and I’m willing to pay for my failure to do as I was told! But even then, I never once turned my back to the Crusade! You have to believe me!” He cried, fully well knowing his life was hanging in the balance. With any luck, Harthal could save him even now but he knew his situation was extremely dangerous. He looked in a hopeful expression as Harthal walked further into the room and addressed Osran.

“I was alerted to come here because two warriors of the Light fighting each other is always an ill omen, Lowriver. Yet, not every man who can wield the Light is fighting for its glory as Arthas proved to us. But even then, you should have very convincing proof so that I’d give you the authority to kill one of our own in the middle of this battle, Osran.” The Lord Paladin said, his mind revolting against arguing here when the destiny-shaping battle was happening only meters from him. And it was clear that Osran was none the happier with the other paladin’s appearance.

“I heard the necromancer offer him a place in the Scourge! I saw him kneeling before the fiend, clearly offering his life for the glory of the Lich King! Hell, the bastard even ordered Carethas to begin his first mission in the service of the Lich King!” Osran cried in pure rage, shouting straight at Harthal’s face. It didn’t take long before the cadet rebuked his claim.

“Can’t you see you’re being deceived, Osran? He only said it to try to break the trust within our order? He offered me the place within the Cult but I immediately declined that offer! Don’t give the Scourge what they want, Osran. You’re better than this.” He nearly whispered the last words, finally prompting Harthal to speak to Osran again. His face was a serious as he could full well see Carethas was being honest. He had conducted numerous interrogations himself and Carethas’ expression was that of an innocent man. He could see the other experienced paladin to begin breathing more heavily as he began to speak to him.

“Let him go, Osran! Can’t you see he is speaking the truth? I could see the Light guiding him with all its love in battle and I’ve seen many traitors in my life and he isn’t one of them! Crusader Lowriver, I order you to step back from your murderous intent!” He cried, willing to get this issue dealt with. However, what followed surprised him completely. Osran knew he had lost this argument the moment the overly trustful Lord Paladin had entered the room, not willing to listen to any reason. He couldn’t merely kill Carethas anymore but there was something he could still do. He suddenly directed a heavy gust of Light to the tip of his sword and released it with a massive force. The cadet hadn’t fully recovered from his injury back at Corin’s Crossing and with any luck, he could simply wave any lethal injury as an accident, as something he hadn’t truly meant.

After all the bullshit he had been going through recently, Osran couldn’t help but feel slight feeling of fulfillment flow through him as he watched his former student suffer. Even a slightly younger version of himself would have been appalled by what he was doing but now, only the images of Iren, Arlos and Diodor were flowing before his eyes, all of their faces forcing him to hope that he could make the cursed traitor pay with his life. However, his moment of triumph was soon interrupted by a cry from his left.

“What are you doing! Stop at once!” Harthal cried as he saw the look on Osran’s face. It bordered between bitterness, hate and righteous retribution. Carethas’ massive injuries were only growing closer to lethal by the second and Harthal looked in disgust as he realized Osran wasn’t about to stop the torture. With a quick gesture, he raised his hand and hit the other knight with a mighty barrage of Light which immediately sent Osran flying to the floor, sliding for a few meters before he finally stopped. He didn’t even try to fight against Harthal’s attack, knowing he’d be interrupted before he could kill Carethas. He tried to immediately return to his feet but Harthal’s companions pinned him to the ground before he managed to make a gesture to defend himself. The Lord Paladin crouched to heal Carethas’s worst wounds, making sure he’d live through this horrendous day. After most of the bleeding had seemed to stop, he rose back to his feet and walked towards Osran with heavy feet.

“What has gotten to you, Osran? We met only briefly at the Monastery but I could already see you were a man of honor. But a paladin worthy of the name would never torture someone who cannot defend himself while taking pleasure of it!” He cried to Osran who seemed to be finally beginning to calm down. His breathing grew easier and his struggles weakened by the second. His gaze faced Carethas who looked at him in confusion, disappointment and even fear. Had he really done what he thought? Had he really liked the feeling of the agony he had put the cadet through? Slowly but surely, the implications sank into his mind but even then, he felt nothing. No remorse nor regret. Even after all this, he had heard the conclusion to Carethas and Diesalven’s conversation. His voice was resigned and bitter as he answered.

“That isn’t the way it should be, at least. But I’ve gone through enough to show mercy to traitors.” He said as he glanced at Carethas. At the back of his mind, Tirion’s face and words lingered which ordered him to take back his words and to make amends with the idealistic young knight he had been when they had last met. But that was over now: he would never be able to trust blindly at the knights he had once seen as close comrades. Harthal sighed as he looked at the bearded paladin, feeling sorry for him most of all. He had been told of Osran’s deeds during the defense of the Monastery and eve now, he looked up to his decisive acts and courageous defense of righteousness. Still, his words shocked him deeply.

“It is up to our superiors to decide who is a traitor, Osran. You of all of us should know that. Can’t you see that the Lightbringer’s vision is the one that guides our order forward? There have been far too many examples of what happens when one loses their sight of what is right and what is wrong.” He tried to reason, bringing bitter thoughts to Osran’s mind. Those mirrored almost perfectly the words he had told the younger Abbendis when she had told him of the Legion’s freed and his answer to her. Back then, Uther’s teachings had been as dear to him as they were to Harthal but so much had changed since then. Now, it truly seemed like the path of goodness and forgiveness wasn’t leading anything forward. Harthal was apparently blind to the amount of traitors within the order’s ranks. Despite her sickening methods, it seemed like the Legion’s methods of defending the Crusade’s core from corruption was the right way to go, after all.

“I only hope it were like that, Harthal. I’m sorry about my attack but please, heed my warning. We cannot trust anyone and the chance that Carethas speaks the truth is too low for us to trust him! The Crusade is filled with the agents of the Lich King, only waiting to betray us! That is one thing I’ve been forced to face during my years of service and you’d do well to understand it also, Harthal.” Osran cringed as he looked at the crumbling ceiling, knowing there was little else he could as long as the two younger paladin held him against the floor. Harthal looked at Osran with an extremely bothered look, only wondering what Osran had went through to say things like that. He had always himself to trust in his comrades but he wouldn’t question Osran’s words now. The only thing he had to do was to try to get this argument over with as quickly as possible. He walked closer to Osran and offered him his hand as a gesture of trust and comradeship as he spoke.

“The Scourge may try to infiltrate our ranks but believe me, Osran, each of us will do our all to keep those traitors out and if we begin to turn on each other, the darkness has already prevailed. I saw his innocence in this issue in Carethas’ eyes and believe me, he wishes us no arm. I know you are a man of reason, Lowriver, and I was honored to have you to accompany us on our long ride here even through my suspicions about your intent. But the thing I’d like to ask is whether you will accompany me into the heart of evil itself? The battle is still ongoing and my blade already yearns for undead flesh.” He said as nodded at his followers to release Osran’s hands finally.

The slightly older knight looked at Harthal with a suspicious look, once again regretting how naÔve the Lord Paladin still was after his failed journey into Northrend but apparently back then, the silent, unspeakable shadow hadn’t yet descended upon the order. Osran trusted Harthal greatly but his blindness and gullibility saddened him without measure. His encouraging expression made Osran want to give his hand but how could he when Harthal would lead him to further treacheries and defeats? Even if he knew the implications, he was about to start rising up on his own but to both of the duo’s luck, a cry rand from the street at that very moment and both of them knew it belonged to the High General.

“The King’s Square is ours! The right wing, follow me and take down Rivendare! The others, head for the Bastion! Victory will soon be ours!” Abbendis cried and even at this moment, both of the knights couldn’t help but feel the triumph singing in their veins. The tension between them was as strong as ever but they knew it could be resolved later. Harthal nodded at Osran even if the other paladin’s antics worried him without measure.

“Let’s join them before anything worse happens. We’ve wasted enough time already.” He said simply, looking with regret at Carethas who seemed like he wouldn’t rise again in days. However, just as he was about to leave, the cadet began to twitch and with herculean efforts, rose to his feet to face the two knights. He spoke to them with a forced voice, giving Osran an extremely bitter look.

“My fight isn’t done as long as I’ll breath! I will make it through this and prove I’m worthy of your trust.” He said to Osran even if his heart wasn’t anymore in his words. Osran had changed completely since the first time they’d met and he nowhere seemed to serve the Light but rather the Scourge’s efforts to divide the Crusade. His disappointment was only worsened by Osran’s answer before he headed out from the building altogether.

“It’s over for that, Yrendel. Make no mistake, I’ll make sure you’ll pay for your treachery soon enough. No servant of the Scourge will escape the final judgement of the Light.” He said, fully understanding Isillien’s vision now. If the others used all their energy to protect the wicked, the righteous would have to act decisively and without remorse. It would be the only way to preserve the Crusade as it was supposed to be: a juggernaut of righteousness bound to eradicate each and every trace of evil from the beautiful lands of Lordaeron.

Fairbanks panted in disbelief as he watched at the Highlord and Tyrosus cause horrifying hits to the giant abomination’s legs. The swarm of the undead still hadn’t dissipated any but the knights were able to contain their advance in the small hall. Everywhere around the knights could be seen bright lights of sickly green, the color emanating from massive vials of some sickening liquid. The inquisitor cringed as he looked at the pipes circling the ceiling, one even dropping its disgusting contents on the floor below it. This clearly was the center of Scourge’s research on how to best utilize their horrifying skills on creating ever deadlier monsters. And it was slowly becoming clear their enemy was the crowning achievement of these halls and the greatest insult to life yet created. Yet, that mattered little as the massive creature continued its onslaught against the crusaders. The cleric cut another ghoul done when he heard the Highlord’s cry.

“Fairbanks, cast all that you got on its head when we try to bring this Light-forsaken monster to its knees!” He cried, exchanging glances of mutual understanding with Tyrosus. The other paladin was as ready as him to cut the creature’s leg out completely, causing the mere gravity to fell the massive monster. Fairbanks wasted no time answering to his old friend and master.

“It shall be done, Highlord! The Light will turn this monster into ash!” He cried, looking as his comrades took another waves of undead down. Seeing that everything was alright on that front, he concentrated all of his attention at the monster. Suddenly the two mighty paladins hit the creature’s legs simultaneously while it was recovering from another attack. The two cringed as their blades sank ever deeper into the monstrosity’s legs, severing the two parts of rotting flesh from each other. Slowly, the creature began to waver, its massive body starting to sway ever more menacingly. Slowly but surely, it started to fall ever further forward, unable to keep its balance with its terribly mutilated legs. Fairbanks looked with a waiting position as its misshapen eyes and the countless sickly abscesses coloring its face became ever closer to him, ready to fulfill his part of the plan.

A loud voice could be heard as the creature fell to its knees, immediately attempting to again rise back to its feet. However, the High Inquisitor wasn’t planning to let that happen as he released all of his holy strength upon it. Endless torrents of gold and pure Light left his hands, hitting the creature at its face. Fairbanks looked as his strength slowly turned the monstrous face to a mere burning skull which slowly but surely began to crumble to nothingness. This was only a small payback of all the horrors he had been forced to go through because of these cursed beasts. Even then, something happened he hadn’t quite foreseen. Even in the throes of defeat, the monster realized there was one more curse it could cast.

Maxwell Tyrosus cursed in pain as a ghoul jumped towards him and closed its jaws around his arm, rending its way through to his bone. However, that didn’t stop him from mounting a counterattack and immediately, he raised his blade and pulled it through the ghoul’s skull. However, it was at this moment he heard something that returned him to the moment immediately.

“Tyrosus! Look out!” The voice belonged to Redpath but it was all too late. The massive abomination’s weapon hit his back with a violent force, immediately sending him flying to the ground. His entire world turned completely blurred as the shock filled his injured body, the pain starting to reach his brain slowly in tiny flickers. His armor was completely crushed, revealing parts of the horrifying wound he had suffered. Judging from its depth, Maxwell’s lower back was almost completely crushed, something which could very easily prove to be a lethal injury.

However, his comrades cries only made Fairbanks double his efforts to take the undead construct down. Already battered terribly, it was at this point all of its offensive capabilities were taken away from it. After a short while, the rest of the monstrosity’s corpse fell to the ground, leaving him to look at his handiwork in shock. In the back of his mind, he realized the first mighty creature defending Naxxramas had been dealt with but at a heavy cost. And there was no telling how many more of them were lurking in these cursed halls. However, those thoughts were immediately cut short by a distant, hollow cry that seemed to dance around the group of crusaders.

Putrideye’s fall is only the first of your trials, intruders. I can already see you won’t be a match to the Scourge but by all means, continue your doomed quest! The Lich King has given me the strength to rid you of any hopes you had of taking Naxxramas!

Alexandros looked into the gaping corridors which loomed at two walls of the hall. The flow of the lesser undead had all but stopped, calming the situation down momentarily. Even if he would have wanted to bring the fight to Kel’Thuzad immediately, he owned it to the wounded and the fallen to deliver them away from this nightmare. He turned to his followers before he gave them his order.

“Deliver Tyrosus and the others to our camp and try to save those who can be saved and then report back to me. You, too Renault.” He said to his son, looking in slight surprise as his son had survived without considerable injuries from the thick of the battle. Yet, that would be bound to change the moment the young paladin would run out of luck and it would best if Renault was given an easier task for a while. To his relief, the young man bowed to his father and answered silently.

“It shall be done, Highlord. The Crusade won’t abandon its wounded heroes. Come, let’s get them to safety while we still can.” Renault said in an apparent stoic voice but inside, he liked how things were turning out. His father was making his way through the massive necropolis but there had been heavy losses thus far. And now this task opened a new, intriguing possibility for him to move forward, something which would make him the Highlord before the sun rose again.

Alexandros, on the other hand, looked at the fallen monstrosity, wondering how many more horrors he’d have to beat to force Kel’Thuzad to finally meet him on the field of battle. The first real step had been taken but he knew it would only take one, unexpected turn of events and all would fall apart. He took a deep sigh as he looked at the dark halls around himself, preparing for the trials yet to come.

And with the abomination's fall, the battle for the Construct Quarter has concluded in the Crusade’s victory. However, many plots are moving steadily forward behind the scenes which will eventually decide the order’s whole fate… This chapter will come in two or three parts as this point of the story corresponds with the high point of the Crusade and the zenith of its efforts to win back Lordaeron. On another note, I won’t be able to write in the next two weeks so the next chapters will come with a slight delay. Regardless of that, I hope you enjoyed this chapter!


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Re: Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #37 on: July 02, 2018, 12:23:59 PM »
Into the Heart of Evil, Part 2

A light breeze flew through the pitch-black corridor as the small group of crusaders headed back towards the entrance into the evil necropolis. The only voice in addition to their own footsteps were the knights’ heavy breathing as they carried three of their injured comrades back towards safety of their camp. Each of them knew that this noble endeavor was far from safe, however, as despite the Crusade’s victory in the first wing of the citadel, Naxxramas was still squirming with the filth of the undead. The paladins could only hope that Alexandros and his followers would be able to hold the bulk of the undead busy.

Of course, there was one certain man among the small group who didn’t share his comrades’ sentiments in the least. Renault Mograine grinned slightly in the darkness as he carried the heavily wounded Maxwell Tyrosus, knowing that his moment would soon be at hand. His father was doing just as he wanted: exhausting his troops with his folly of an operation, truly thinking he’d be able to stand against the might of the Scourge. Well, such arrogance would end up being his undoing and very soon, Renault knew he’d be able to take his next step. But until then, he’d have to act like one of the noble knights he had always been meant to be. The young man was suddenly awakened from his thoughts as one of the other knights broke the silence.

“We’re almost there. We have to hurry and return to the Highlord before any of us are ambushed.” He said, anxiety more than apparent in his fearful tone. Renault turned to look towards the voice and snapped back at him in a voice that sounded like a silent cry.

“Then you’d do more than well to not waste your breath only to increase the chance that we’ll be found prematurely! We are in bad enough situation as it is!” Renault said, waiting for the slightest of lights appear from the impenetrable darkness. The other man looked at the younger Mograine and voiced his chagrin at his words very quickly.

“I know we are all afraid but don’t begin to attack us here, Mograine. We’re…” He started but almost immediately, another of the knights cut him short with a fearful voice.

“Stay silent, all of you!” He said extremely sharply, interrupting both of the other men immediately. Renault narrowed his eyes and tried to see what had shocked his comrade that badly. Seconds passed as the small group stood still, all of them wondering the same thing. And soon enough, they realized what the young paladin had meant. A small battalion of ghouls were walking through the central chamber of the floating citadel, blocking their attempt to escape from the stronghold of the Scourge. But even worse, each of them could notice the small group of knights, possibly heralding their end. Most of the crusaders looked with growing hope as row after row of the undead moved by, apparently not noticing the living standing less than twenty meters away from them. However, Renault saw an opportunity when he saw one to make his own position as comfortable as possible.
Suddenly, he took one step back as if in fear and stepped upon a small stone and almost fell to his back. However, his “struggles” forced him to fall against the wall which caused a thud loud enough to be heard through the whole corridor.

The small group froze immediately in place, knowing what Renault’s clumsiness had done. Each of the other knights stared at the ghouls and skeletons with wide eyes, looking in
disbelief and fear as the first ones of them turned to face them, noticing them immediately. The crusaders realized that the time for hiding was well over but another morbid question rose to most of their minds immediately. Should they attempt to flee and avoid this battle or stand their ground? The former option seemed tempting to some of them but that would mean leaving Tyrosus and their two other comrades to their certain deaths. At first, one of the men thought about calling for a retreat but as his gaze met Tyrosus’ closed eyes, the words died down in his throat almost immediately. The sharp-featured, brown-haired man had always been one of the most honorable, most faithful and most courageous knights in the entire order, always ready to stand up for those struggling to find their inner strength and heart to move on. Time and time again, it had been Maxwell who had been the difference between certain defeat and eventual victory. He would have fought for his comrades until his last breath and none of the knights could leave him behind like this. Each of them owed the injured paladin at least this much.

“Block the entire corridor! Don’t let the ghouls through!” One of the older knights cried, each of his followers doing as ordered almost immediately. The swarming mass of rotting flesh hit the defenders’ line almost immediately and the initial shock almost broke their defense at first impact. However, the knights had lived their whole lives by the sword and they hadn’t come this far to simply lose these kinds of fights against the monstrous undead. Even then, the relief bought by their momentary victory was quickly spent and once again, almost all of those present knew they would slowly be overpowered by the Scourge.

Yet, that was far from something the younger Mograine had in mind. He knew it was time to make his move and embrace his momentary alliance with the undead. The first time his mysterious benefactor had informed him of Kel’Thuzad’s cooperation in making him the Highlord had been a confusing one and it had taken a long time for him to believe that he truly could one day stand in the middle of an undead horde. Now was the time for that step and the zealous knight didn’t question for a moment whether Kel’Thuzad would keep his end of the bargain. With a seemingly desperate voice, he called to the other crusaders.

“We have to stay strong and fight them back! The Highlord trusts that we…” At that moment, Renault’s cry was interrupted as a skeleton suddenly thrust its sword into the young man’s abdomen. However, the hit wasn’t delivered properly and at that moment, Renault knew that Kel’Thuzad had joined the plot completely. With wavering steps, he slowly moved forward, as if ready to fall into the ground at any second. The treacherous paladin heard a familiar voice of one of his comrades in his ears.

“Try to fight them back, Renault! We’ll clear them off in a few seconds!” He cried eagerly, cursing in his mind that he couldn’t do anything to help the Highlord’s son immediately. He hit another group of ghouls with a massive concentration of holy energy but just as he was about to start his final push to save the younger man, he saw something that immediately drained most of his hopes. Another of the ghouls had attacked Renault and it was tearing his upper back into shreds, his blood dropping into the floor in steady streams. He immediately turned the ghoul into pure ash but immediately afterwards, Renault fell into the ground and new groups of undead immediately stepped over him, closing their apparent victim behind their endless ranks. The older paladin panted in shock, looking at the direction where Renault had fell, knowing that it was all over for him. Just like that, the Highlord’s son had fell under the onslaught of the Scourge, the first of many casualties in this battle. However, he wasn’t ready to give everything up just yet as the Ashbringer had entrusted them with this mission and by the Light, he’d give everything to not let the legendary paladin down. He raised his sword and cried to the others.

“Don’t hold anything back! We have to forge our way forward because the Ashbringer commands it! The Highlord has always had our uttermost trust and I’m willing to prove he can trust as well! For Renault! For Alexandros!” He cried as he sank his sword into the skull of another dead, his comrades also fighting with renewed vigor. The Scarlet Crusade had been forced to do the previously unthinkable and the knights were more than willing to do their own part in redeeming that promise. The small group of knights moved deeper
into the horde of undead, all of them knowing this was a battle they’d be able to win.

A mocking smile rose to the younger Mograine’s face as he moved his hand to his back, attempting to stop as much of the bleeding as he simply could. If he wanted to make the others believe he had fallen in battle, he had to make the scene look as believable as possible. As the terrible pain slowly started to ease, Renault slowly rose to his feet and started to move away from the line of battle, knowing what he’d have to do next. Before long, his father would begin exhausting his forces in full force and only then he’d face the full might of the Scourge. And after that… Renault’s face turned into a deep grin as he disappeared into the darkness of Naxxramas.

The poisonous smoke of the ever-burning houses of Stratholme made any fighting in those cursed streets a true struggle but that was momentarily lost to Veria as she heard Abbendis’ call. The King’s Square, the famous entrance into Stratholme and the largest marketplace in all of Lordaeron, was theirs! In the middle of the merciless struggle, she had paid little heed to how the larger battle was progressing but sure enough, the last pockets of resistance in the Square were quickly dying down. Evening’s slowly forming shadows danced among the flurry of flames but the eerie sight did very little to sway any of the joyous crusaders from their first victory. The King’s Square was a place of fond memories for all of them and even in this situation, the Square radiated with its past grandeur. Veria smiled carefully as she stroke down the last undead near her, ending her part in this initial part of the long battle. Her momentary reprieve was soon ended as she heard Valdemar’s voice near the street which would lead towards the Crusader’s Square and her next objective in this battle.

The Crusader Lord looked expectantly as he investigated the street beside him and most of all, the knight who had made this momentary victory possible. He had done his absolute best in trying to lead his troops as valiantly as he could but not once in the past few days had he managed to shed away the disgusting feeling of constant headache and emptiness. He recalled joining the Crusade and pledging his life for the service of the man before him but… then nothing. He simply couldn’t remember what had happened earlier in the war or anything about his meetings with his officers since then. But as always during this critical campaign, he did his best to pull his fears firmly out of his consciousness and he addressed the Grand crusader with the same respect as always before.

“Thank you for your timely intervention, Grand Crusader. You saved many lives by crushing the Scourge from behind!” He said nervously even if his words were completely genuine. Dathrohan looked at him, his gaze telling of slight annoyance but his words were something that could be expected from the legendary crusader.

“Of course, good lord. The quicker we’ll achieve our victory here, the sooner we get to drag Kel’Thuzad out of his fortress and get rid of him once and for all! But enough rambling! We have to…” He was about to say until he was interrupted by a chilling voice from his left. Both of the officers turned to look at the direction immediately at the newcomer but the mere sound of that voice brought chills coming down Valdemar’s spine. That was a voice he hadn’t heard in a long, long time.

“Saidan! What a surprise it is to meet you here, leading your misguided group of thieves against the Lich King! As far as I remember, you were far better than this, my old friend!” The low, rumbling voice called as the form of a long, bearded man appeared from, between the burning smoke of the city, his body slowly stepping out from the hellish haze. The first thing that could be seen from his face were his strong features and a thick but rather short beard as he approached the duo. He held his massive hammer in his right hand, carrying its mighty weight as if it were nothing more than a small stick. However, his skin was pale as a wraith and his eyes burned with the same cold light that possessed every poor soul who had been forced into the same destiny as he. Dathrohan narrowed his eyes, the demon inside him more than thankful the paladin’s memories were still intact. He raised his own hammer as he prepared for the upcoming fight.

“So you weren’t spared from this fate, were you brother? I’ve always respected the stand you took against Arthas, brother. Just lay down your weapon and I’ll let your memory remain untainted… Gavinrad.”

Those words immediately hit Veria like a thousand spells. Had she truly heard what she thought? Could such a monstrous coincidence be true? The endless days when she had given her all in the service of the one commander, besides the Lightbringer himself, who gave his all for his cause and his comrades suddenly awakened in her mind as she looked at his direction. The dawn of every battle against the orcs and undead had been a dawn filled with hope and trust as Gavinrad never passed an opportunity to inspire his followers which had earned him Veria’s loyalty forever. To think he’d be forced to return to the terrifying undeath like this…

The paladin immediately put her sword in her scabbard and began to move towards the street, cursing the slowness of the process as the troops orderly gathered behind their leaders in order to prevent any kind of chaos from forming in the midst of the surviving crusaders. She frowned deeply as she made her way through the ranks of knights, her heart beating terribly in her chest. It didn’t help any that the seemingly endless ranks of crusaders blocked most of her sight forward. After a while that seemed to take for years, however, Veria saw something that confirmed her worst fears. Among the flurry of heads and flags, she suddenly caught a glimpse of the Scourge’s commander in the Crusader’s Square.

The hair and the unyielding gaze in the death knight’s eyes and his simple but perfectly balanced hammer: this couldn’t be anyone else but Gavinrad the Dire himself. Suddenly, the entire scene around her seemed to freeze still as her eyes briefly met those of the deceased founder of the Order of the Silver Hand. Yet, that moment didn’t last long as Veria realized what she’d have to do. The monster in front of her was a mockery of her beloved leader and for his sake, for the whole of the Silver Hand’s sake, he’d have to be put down before his name would be stained forever. The knight suddenly started to walk forward and pass her comrades one by one, readying to take down the despicable creature before her at any cost.

A deep frown penetrated Osran’s forehead as he looked at Abbendis finish his speech. Even if he would never pass this victory as one with no value, his meeting with Harthal continued to haunt his already taxed mind. Was there any chance that Carethas had spoken the truth? Could it be that he was beginning to lose his mind himself or at least lose his faith in the Light he had treasured for so long? Carethas had been a good man and eager cadet in the past days and there had never been a trace of treachery in his eyes. But even then… neither had he detected Iren’s betrayal in time and he had heard what he had regarding Carethas as well. There had been no mistake: everything Carethas had claimed simply couldn’t be true as it would be a coincidence of epic proportions.

But in the end, what did it all mean? Had Harthal been too naïve to believe he was being deceived? Or, even worse, had he knowingly saved a traitor’s hide with his intervention? Such a possibility made Osran feel even more miserable as the implications of such a possibility were true distasteful to comprehend. Osran shook his head a few times before he once again turned his eyes at Abbendis, trying to concentrate on the battle at hand. Yet, no matter how much he tried to forget his encounter, one thought simply lingered within the back of his mind. If even a flicker of his fears were true, he couldn’t trust anyone anymore. From this day on, his way of fighting for the Light was the only one the aging paladin knew he could trust.

Deep gasps escaped from Eneath’s mouth as he did his best in trying to keep himself on his feet. His earlier injury was still weighing on him heavily and the new wounds and trials of merciless battle did very little to ease him in this battle. That pain and fatigue, however, was slowly becoming mixed with triumph as he listened to the High General’s next orders. He had never expected to see the liberation of Stratholme but here he was. He could only pray that he was one of the lucky ones to survive this onslaught until the end.

“…but don’t think for a moment that the Scourge’s back is broken just yet! We knew the endless swarm Kel’Thuzad used to sweep over our land and that hasn’t changed in the least. Remember: our left wing will form a defensive line north from the Elders’ Square and barricade it! Our best and only hope is to defend our lines there until we know how we can use the sacred flame! Only then… only then will our victory be complete.” He concluded his speech and turned to look at the wide, flaming streets and wondered what kind of monstrosities he and his troops would find out there. Thus far, the fight had been a complete bloodbath but he couldn’t believe the Scourge would simply agree to a simple fight to the end. There had to be something out there that Kel’Thuzad hoped would turn the tide of the fight to his advantage. Yet, as long as the Crusade had the momentum, the High General decided to put his fears into the back of his mind. He briefly raised his sword and called to his followers loudly.

“Follow me, warriors of the light! Into the Alonsus Chapel!”

With herculean efforts, Eneath stopped his panting and rose back to his full length, knowing this wasn’t the time to rest or give up to the pain within his viscera. Many of the knights around him had fought for hours on end with most of their bodies completely crushed by orc brutes and he wasn’t about to prove weaker than them. For better or worse, he’d fight on until the hour of victory or until the last muscle in his body failed forever. The young man wasted no time in joining his comrades’ battlecry as thy headed towards the Elders’ Square.

“For Lordaeron!”

The cry rang through the ruined buildings and one by one, the few ghouls on the knights’ way fell before the coming onslaught. It all felt like a dream: the undead had seemingly ran out of stream and it was only a matter of finishing the job. Yet, even Eneath knew it would be foolish to expect such a miracle, especially as he had heard Abbendis’ warning. All that would have to be ensured was that the undead would be walled off from the southern city. Yet, he could feel the triumphant feeling around him as the paladins, priests and mages headed towards their goal. Each of them hoped they were running towards victory and an inexperienced knight Eneath struggled not to join in their hopes just yet.

Osran, on the other hand, took this brief moment to look at the floating necropolis far above him. The thought that Kel’Thuzad was up there, observing the knights’ every move was a frightening one for Osran and he dreaded what new curses the lich still had in store for the living. The sight of the dread citadel floating over the sickly flames and black smoke was already a frightening one but the mere knowledge of all the horrors the scourge was capable of worried Osran further. No matter what, taking Stratholme would only be the first part of the massive operation to evict…

“The cursed beasts are trying to block us out of the Elders’ Square! Everyone, give your all so that we can achieve a quick breakthrough!” Abbendis suddenly cried, catching everybody’s attention immediately. The gate into the Elders’ Square opened before them and sure enough, the narrow passage was blocked by a row of abominations and most like different spells that would make entering the Square extremely difficult. However, this wasn’t a moment to start to spare one’s blood or breath. However, to every knights’ surprise and astonishment, Abbendis seemed intent to be the first one to enter that hellish series of traps and to lead his troops into glory himself.

For a moment, Osran thought about asking Abbendis whether he was sure about this but he knew the full extent of the High General’s abilities and he decided against acting like he knew better than the revered and beloved general of Lordaeron. Abbendis gritted his teeth together as he ran towards the sea of undead, knowing his life laid at the hands of his followers. However, he trusted them more than enough and if it spared the lives of his troops, he would willingly sacrifice his own life.

Immediately as the gate’s arch rose above him, Abbendis felt like a thousand swords hit his body simultaneously. After that, he felt some untold power drain his strength completely which for a moment made him feel like his end had finally come. He already spoke his last prayers of the Light as he saw the chains of a massive abomination fall down upon him. However, just before the crushing force crushed him, he felt his powers return thousand fold. The blessings of every one of his troops fell down on the general, giving him the strength he needed to parry the hit that would have obliterated him in a normal situation.

However, this was far from one. Immediately, Abbendis sent the chain flying backwards and with one hit, he felled another abomination near him and it crushed dozens of skeletons as it fell upon the lesser undead. Abbendis felt the countless spells tearing his very body to pieces but his many allies lessened their impact just enough so he could take the many hits and buy his followers just enough time to arrive to his side and start the final push into the Square itself. And after a short moment, Abbendis caught the sight of the Crusade’s final prize among the sea of undead.

As brilliant as the day it was built, the holy birth place of the Silver Hand stood defiant in the middle of the burning city, its light lifting the eternal shadow and smoke at least to some degree, its flicker of grace surviving the swarm of shadow that had consumed the very land around it. But to the paladins, the Alonsus Chapel meant even more than it did to their leader. Many of them had known the passed archbishop himself and the famed meeting inside that chapel was only spoken in whispers of utter respect and reverence. This place had been by the grace of Light and the eternal flame inside it was a testament that only a hallowed force could easily stand against the deepest shadow. As he realized that the frontline had been secured, Abbendis gave the order he had waited for so long.

“March forwards, soldiers of the Scarlet Crusade! Our victory lies at hand! Push through the wicked and remember that no sacrifice is too great for us now! Recover Alonsus’ flame or die trying!”

The fallen knight tightened the reins of his horse as he ordered it to turn its side towards the attacking force of crusaders. They pushed on like they were driven forward by some unknown force which bothered him slightly but in the end, none of that mattered. As long as his soldiers stood in their way, the enemy would have no hope a swift victory and without it… a slight smile crept to the former paladin’s face. The Crusade would very soon learn to respect the power of the Cold North as he had.

Even now, Gavinrad remembered the endless devotion to stand against the darkness at any cost to himself: the hope that his death would have some meaning in the grand scheme of things. That his ideals would leave their mark in those who had truly believed in him and that in the end, each act of nobility would in the end bear fruit. What a fool he had been! To think that anyone could stand against the Lich King was pure madness but he had been right in thinking that no victory came without a price. Every one of his thoughts tied around the single motive of protecting the Crusaders’ Square with everything he got in order to buy Kel’Thuzad the time he needed to turn the tables once and for all.
The former founder of the Silver Hand frowned as he saw a massive whirlwind of Light cut through his soldiers, an attack which seemed to shake the ranks of his troops heavily. At this rate, his efforts to hold back the enemy could turn out to be far punier than he had thought but neither was the death knight completely devoid of new tricks in his sleeve. Gavinrad suddenly raised his hammer and pointed it towards one of the attackers and immediately released many streams of dark that seemed to sink into the poor knight and with horrifying screams, he collapsed into the ground, his entire body penetrated by the vile force of the fallen crusader. However, the latter wasn’t done yet and with one wave of his defiled weapon, exploded the corpse and to the others’ shock and dismay, the initial shock was followed by countless of ghouls appearing from the ruined body. That surprising display of the dark powers of the Scourge robbed the attackers from every last trace of momentum they had received but to Gavinrad’s surprise, one paladin didn’t seem to be held back by his efforts in the least. At first, he frowned slightly until his memories slowly started to gather after all these years.

Veria? Is it really her? It… it’s been so long and to meet her like this… But what does it matter? She’s an enemy of the Lich King as are all those around her!

The brief moment of hesitation ended very quickly as Gavinrad put his feelings far into the background. His miserable life as a misguided warrior of Lordaeron was past him and so were all his connections with those who had once served him. Veria was only one of those fools who had been of no help when he had faced the mightiest being on Azeroth as well as the one who would be its eventual lord and savior. However, the normal confidence in himself didn’t seem to return no matter how hard he tried to concentrate on the task at hand but despite that, his loyalties were clear. He was a servant of the Lich King and no mere shadow of his past change that fact anymore. With a determined wave of his hand, Gavinrad launched a heavy bolt of ice towards his former comrade and looked with slight satisfaction as he noticed Veria’s feet being frozen into the ground by his attack. Now, all he’d have to do would be to finish this unsavory reunion once and for all…

Veria cursed as she felt her legs rebelling against her will. She had never heard that the death knights could also master the art of ice and to see her dear friend and leader being the first one to accomplish that… However, Veria realized immediately that she had no time to waste if she wanted to avoid being frozen to death by her adversary. The main force of the knights were busy driving the Scourge back and none of them had any time to spare to save one overly-zealous paladin. The world around her seemed to freeze still as Gavrinrad raised his weapon again and the blue, frigid energy began to gather at its end. Soon enough, he would release that dark power and end this fight once and for all as the ice shell around Veria seemed to prevent her from calling upon the power of the Light. In a moment of desperate frenzy, she grabbed her sword and hit the wall of ice to her left and to her utter surprise, a large crack seemed to form at its side. Emboldened by this development, she hit it again and again and it was more seconds after she escaped from her
prison when Gavinrad’s bolt of ice would have hit her hadn’t she escaped in time.

For a few seconds, Veria gathered her strength as she raised her head to once again face the fallen knight. Gavinrad seemed most displeased by her survival but he also knew he couldn’t concentrate all his efforts on one enemy. Seeing that his troops were beginning to grow thin, he called upon a cold wind to immediately extinguish any torches his enemies were using to burn the broken bodies of the undead. After that momentary reprieve, Gavinrad raised his hammer into the air and directed it towards the carnage that was going on before his eyes and with one, massive concentration of power, directed his spell towards any undead or dead paladins in the ground, starting to raise them to fight once more for the glory of the Lich King!

However, that plan wasn’t about to be successful as far as one general of the Crusade was concerned. The younger Abbendis was far from willing the knight to call upon any more enemies and with a spell of such power, he wouldn’t be a threat anytime soon. She cut three of her enemies down with one sweep and immediately directed a spell of her own towards the death knight. It was a spell used to purge the wicked which was originally used to bring back the demons aiding the orcs but they worked just as well against any undead. She raised her hand quickly and targeted it towards Gavinrad, hoping the mere brutality of her attack would interrupt the hellish spell he was attempting to cast.
The former paladin looked expectantly as the countless corpses in the ground began to rise once more, first their hands and legs starting to twitch slightly. As they regained their ability to direct their movements, they slowly rose to their legs and very soon, they’d rejoin the fight again and slowly but surely, turn the tide against the damned crusaders! Very soon, they’d realize that their cause was hopeless and then…

And then Gavinrad suddenly fell from the back of his horse, his head hitting the paved road with a violent force soon after. At first he didn’t have the slightest of ideas what had just happened but soon he noticed the massive wound within his chest. Cursing his lack of vigilance, the death knight rose to his feet and without any hesitation, rose his arm towards one of the ghouls and cast a simple spell that completely dismembered the poor undead and with a flash of black magic, its essence was merged with that of Gavinrad’s but he didn’t twitch a muscle as the gaping, possibly lethal wound within his chest disappeared. Once again, he stood whole but his efforts to stall the crusaders had failed for now. But very soon, they’d understand that this momentary setback would hardly turn the tides any.

It was at this moment that Veria realized her opportunity had come. With Gavinrad dismounted, she could fight him without any great disadvantages and despite his far more impressive skills, this hour would offer her her best chance of any succeed. The short-haired paladin started to run towards her former leader, eager to see this struggle end here and now.

She ran through the endless ranks of undead with stunning ease, not even understanding the implications of her deed as her whole attention was locked on the death knight. For the briefest of moments, she even dared to hope that Gavinrad was again too closely concentrated on his spell. If she could only wave her sword only once, this horrifying debacle would be over once and for all. With endless hopes and massive force, Veria raised he sword and directed it towards her opponent’s face… only for it to be blocked by the fallen knight’s hammer. Gavinrad turned to face Veria and gritted his teeth together as he faced his former comrade and friend.

“So you truly wanted to seek me out, didn’t you, Veria? I’ll make sure this is the last time you cross the path of the Scourge…”

High General Abbendis looked around himself with some regret as he looked at the swarms of undead. Even if masses upon masses of them fell under the onslaught of the Crusade, the Chapel didn’t seem to be inching any closer. Many of the crusaders were bearing increasingly serious wounds but their casualties were thus far limited. However, that would change very soon if the battle would continue like this. The aging general smiled as he contemplated about how Rivendare thought this battle would move forward. Whatever the cursed noble was expecting to come to pass would soon be doomed to failure as he looked at a few ranks of knights enter the buildings surrounding the Square. He would never engage in a battle until he fully and truly believed that his cards were better than the enemy’s.

Slowly but surely, the Crusade’s lines grew wider as they attempted to head towards the northern entrance into the Elder’s Square. That was the point where they’d have to stop the Scourge’s reinforcements and that was all they’d need to secure the Chapel and the Flame once and for all. However, there was another issue that would have to be taken care off. There were several necromancers behind the ranks of undead who would certainly prolong the battle for a long time, given a chance. A wider smile formed to the High General’s lips as he thought about what was to happen next.

Not far to his right stood Osran, who, like so many of his comrades, was slowly beginning to wonder whether this battle was a lost cause. Each inch that the Scarlet Crusade advanced was bought with blood and their goal seemed to be still so very far. The enemy’s leaders were completely safe behind the wall of flesh and as long as they were invulnerable, victory was impossible. Had Abbendis miscalculated? Was all of this just a complete…

“Fire! Don’t let any of those bastards to survive!” Abbendis suddenly cried as he dropped his hand which he had slowly raised up. Many of those around looked at him with confused looks but almost immediately, both the undead and the living heard the loud voice of a volley of arrows released above them. Osran stared with a mesmerized look as the sky was suddenly filled with the dark forms of them and glanced in surprise as they quickly fell towards the backlines of the enemy. Most of the necromancers were utterly penetrated by the arrows and their painful cries could be heard over the thunder of the fight. Immediately, the horde of dead meat started to waver as their ability to be reborn disappeared completely. Abbendis’ plan to spread some of the knights into the houses to take care of the necromancers had been a grand success. The dark wizards themselves would be brought to life soon enough but the archers would fell them once more each time they’d attempt to spread their taint into this world again.

However, that wasn’t where Abbendis’ plan ended. Almost immediately afterwards, another group of paladins felled cauldrons of burning pitch on the undead near the gate, blocking any reinforcements for the Scourge in a while. Without their necromancers and reinforcements, this battle was as good as over. Osran pushed forwards with returning vigor, finally willing to believe this battle would have a happy end.

The Ashbringer glowed with a bright light as it sank inside a massive, skeletal spider. Alexandros grinned as he attempted to find enough support for himself from the massive web but the legendary sword seemed more than eager to ignore such issues. It seemed to dive deeper into the arachnoid by itself and after a few, short moments, the monster lied in the feet of the Highlord of the Scarlet Crusade. Slowly, as the shock of the battle began to wear off, the elder Mograine drew his sword away from the spider’s skull and tried to catch his weary breath. The dimly-lighted hall was as grisly a sight as any other in this monstrous wing of arachnoids but to each of the knights’ relief, no more movement could be seen around them. For the first time of in almost an hour, everything was silent. Alexandros stared at the walls around him as Carlin Redpath finally spoke to him.

“That was the third quarter of this cursed citadel! We must have slain most of the filth down here already!” The usually calm man said, his voice dipping with hate. This battle had been an exhausting one and many knights had already been forced to pay with their lives so that their comrades could fight their way even this far. And surely enough, this was already much more than Alexandros had hoped for and he couldn’t help but begin to believe that this whole assault could be a success in the end. Maybe… just maybe his choice had been a succe…

“Highlord! Thank the Light you’re alive!” Alexandros suddenly turned to look to his right into the darkness as a small group of knights stepped forward from the dark corridor. This had been the same group which he had commanded to take Tyrosus to safety and to his relief, the brown-haired paladin was nowhere to be seen. However, there was another detail which immediately caught his attention.

“Where’s Renault? Speak!” He snapped sharply, feeling his heart drop terribly. His son couldn’t have fallen out there but… what other explanation could there be other than his untimely death? The Highlord’s face turned into a grave one as he followed his comrades’ reactions and after a short moment, one of them finally opened his mouth.

“We… we lost him soon after we departed. He got separated from us and even if we tried to save him… we were too late.” He said, hating to break such news to his respected superior. For the briefest of moments, Alexandros merely stared forward, trying to accept what he had just heard. Renault, his oldest son, was gone, fallen to a group of petty undead? On a suicide mission he had allowed him to join? The legendary warrior’s hand tightened around his sword, willing to strike down the knights around him but in the end, the older Mograine remembered who he was. He was the Highlord of the Scarlet Crusade and he was supposed to be above such personal qualms. He closed his eyes and knew there was only one to move forward. He inhaled deeply as he heard Fairbanks’ familiar voice on his side.

“May the Light guide his soul. He will earn his place among the martyrs of Lordaeron. But for now, we have to move forward and remember that we fight also for the memory of our loved ones. You know that, Alexandros.” The cleric said while glancing at the Highlord, his voice carrying clear sympathy for his old comrade and master. He hadn’t known Renault too closely but as far as he was concerned, he had clear potential to one day bask in the Light’s favor. But that dream was over now and his soul had joined the chorus of the paladins of the past. Alexandros looked before him for a moment before answering.

“Wisely spoken, Fairbanks. In the end, we will all get what we deserve and I’m sure all our comrades are in a better place now. Let’s go.” He said simply, not looking at any of his comrades directly as he passed them on his way back towards the center of the necropolis. The sooner this nightmare would end, the better. Somewhere out there, Kel’Thuzad was waiting and before he’d meet his end, no living being would ever feel safe again. For his son and for all the…

“Watch out, Highlord!” He suddenly heard Carlin Redpath’s urgent voice which sounded as fearful as if his own head was being torn from his shoulders. Alexandros turned immediately around and to his endless shock, he saw another entrance open from the floor right next to him and dozens upon dozens of soldiers of the Scourge emerged from the foreboding darkness. The Ashbringer realized that the new horde was attempting to split the defenders in the aftermath of their leader’s rare moment of hesitation. However, Fairbanks immediately burned a gaping hole into their ranks and cried to those around him.

“Go through, now, or you won’t get another chance! Then we’ll turn these monsters into ash!”

Increasingly painful gasps escaped from Veria’s lips as her opponent battered her with a merciless hit after another. Gavinrad’s skill was as admirable as ever and the Scourge’s horrifying strength only worsened things more. All the fight, it had been her who had been on the defense and not once had she been able to land a blow on her former master. The overall battle was static as the crusaders’ attempts to advance were time and time again hindered by their enemies’ resiliency. Even if she had hoped it to be otherwise, it was she and the former paladin alone who’d decide the outcome of this battle. Noticing that she was increasingly at a disadvantage, Veria suddenly disengaged from the fight to catch her breath but Gavinrad didn’t allow her any rest.

 “The Light won’t help you in this world, Veria. Its hope is but a mirage! I once saw it a savior of everything just like you do, as the noblest path a man can take! However, it is only its false claim of justice that really makes it a force to be loathed and hated: it only serves you when it suits this mystic, unknown being but the power of the Scourge lives among us and it will never abandon you at your moment of need!” Gavinrad said with a loud voice Veria had heard so many times before. If she could overlook the former knight’s pale skin and words, she could have been forgiven for listening to his many sacred preaches at the churches of the Silver Hand. Gavinrad had always been a devoted servant of the Light and all who had known him remembered his inspiring voice and uplifting words which would double the will to fight of any fighter. However, to see him twisted like this… Veria shook her head as she answered.

“It is true that the Light won’t always heed our calls like we’d like but at least it’s a power for something right! The arcane magic only sows destruction and death everywhere if its wielder cannot wield it properly whereas the shamans and druids do very little else but worship their little deities in some forsaken woods! And not to even mention the strength of the Scourge… I know you understood it once, too, Gavrinrad, but I also know you simply are far beyond questioning your lord now. While the Light might seem weaker than most other magic, it at least strives for something good, something worth fighting for! Think, my old friend. What were your last thoughts before Arthas mercilessly slaughtered you?” She cried, knowing the conversation was completely futile as even if the hollow memory of her old friend could remembered his past, he would have no way of voicing any kind of real remembrance to his opponent. And sure enough, not a muscle twitched in the death knight’s face as he spoke.

“That matters little, Veria. I deserved every last bit of pain I went through for standing against the one real king of this land! I dwelled in my misguided thoughts as long as I could but all of that changed when I woke to this new reality! It’s a shame really. I would have wanted you to join me once but now I see you’re little more than another nuisance trying to draw me away from the one true path!” He said, immediately creating an aura of sickly light around himself which seemed to increasingly draw power from Veria as well as reinforce his own strength. Gavinrad then walked forward and used another bolt of shadow to hold Veria still while he started to drain her strength in an increasingly fast pace. Veria gasped for air as she felt herself unable to escape from the knight’s death trap. Each second that passed seemed like another step towards a trap of which there would no rescue: even now, she felt her strength fail her ever faster. But this couldn’t be the end… it just couldn’t! Such a fate wasn’t one she was about to answer and it would also be the final blow to the brave paladin’s memory. Concentrating all her holy power into her sword, she quickly stabbed the fallen knight into his hand, buying just enough time to earn a small moment for her to begin mounting some kind of counterattack. However, her eyes caught a glance of something which stole her attention completely.

Is that… is that a flicker of the Light? But it shouldn’t be possible…

She thought as she noticed a weak glow emanating from Gavinrad’s right leg. It seemed as if some kind of golden sphere was glowing but it seemed to come right from his leg itself! Had the founding member of the Silver Hand managed to turn a part of his very body into something that carried a piece of the Light itself? She had never heard of such a thing but on the other hand, if there was someone who could become that close to the holy power itself, it would be Gavinrad. And if she could utilize that remainder of purity even Arthas himself hadn’t been able to drain, perhaps her opponent’s body would practically turn against itself in an attempt to purify the tainted, cursed flesh around it. Immediately, Veria raised her hand and released her power towards the remainder of Gavinrad’s purity and hoped her opponent wouldn’t realize what she was doing quickly enough.

The younger fighter’s sudden counterattack took Gavrinrad briefly off-guard as he had expected her to at least fight more conservatively after his dangerous attack but she had not only waited for a chance to strike but she had also found his cursed weakness, that one flicker of Light none in the Scourge had managed to remove even in undeath.  But it would do little good for Veria at this point. She wouldn’t be able to utilize this weakness and never again would she even get a chance to strike again. Gavinrad took a step back and with a gracious wave, absorbed his former comrade’s attack completely. He decided against wasting more time and immediately created a massive vortex of purple and dark around himself, a twisted remainder of his past skills. Many had feared Gavrinrad for the mere brute force of his attacks and for the onslaught of the Light which followed in his wake. For a brief moment, Veria feared this would be it but suddenly she remembered something of great importance.

One orc had managed to catch Gavinrad off-guard by mere brute force and complete disregard for his own health. Even if the paladin created havoc and death around himself, the attacker himself was far from invulnerable. With a sickening feeling, she restarted her advance towards Gavinrad and before long, the endless flurry of dark power started ripping her body apart. Each second felt like her very soul was being torn from her living body but at this point, there was no turning back. In the middle of the raging storm, Gavinrad’s defiled features could be seen and Veria knew this was her moment to act. With a desperate leap, she jumped forward and simultaneously cast a brief judgement towards his leg. In a moment of shock and surprise, Gavinrad looked in disbelief as Veria’s blade sank into his stomach and his leg suddenly started to burn with the familiar yet torturing holy power. However, the fallen knight was far from done. The reinforced hold of the Light in him and his terrible injury could very well prove to be his end but Veria would pay very dearly for it.

“You did well, my old comrade, but each victory has its cost! Perhaps now you’ll see that my power is superior to yours!” The knight cried as he suddenly drew his hammer and pulled Veria closer with a hand of darkness and with a terrifying strength, the former paladin’s weapon collided with Veria’s head before she could even raise her finger to try to prevent his hit. The only thing she could do anymore was to feel the mass of iron crush every last bit of her teeth and the rest of her lower skull. Veria tried to take a few steps back in shock but Gavinrad had her in his grip. The fight was over and the warrior of the Scourge was victorious. The death knight smiled slightly as he raised his hammer again and this time directed it towards Veria’s chest, willing to end this charade once and for all.

“This is the end of the road, Veria. Maybe we’ll serve side by side soon enough again.” He said as he looked at his hammer obliterate his opponent’s ribs and also crush her heart like it was nothing more than a rotten apple. However, the ecstasy of his victory also made Gavinrad commit his final mistake: less than one second before the final hit, Veria managed to do a last, desperate effort to make this duel end at least in a duel. She looked with fading appreciation as she looked at Gavinrad glance at his own chest in disbelief, knowing she had completed her duty in full. She would have said a few final words if her destroyed mouth had only allowed it. With one, last gulp of her own blood, Veria fell into the ground, soon to be followed by the remains of the man who had once been Gavinrad the Dire.

Another of Osran’s closest comrades have fallen in the fields of glory but Veria’s sacrifice cleared the way for a breakthrough towards the Scarlet Bastion. Elsewhere, the fight for Stratholme is reaching its critical point and the hour of the final reckoning is coming very quickly… In fact, this and the next chapter were supposed to be a one installment but their massive length made me cut this part in two. Because of that, I have much of the next chapter already finished. I apologize for the delay but I had a really rough June and even now, my pace of writing might not be as consistent as usual. I apologize for this inconvenience but I hope you all have a great week and see you next time!


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Re: Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #38 on: August 02, 2018, 09:17:13 AM »
Into the Heart of Evil, Part 3

“Their numbers are endless! We have to get away from here!” Fairbanks cried in fear as he looked at the thousands upon thousands of undead swarm all around him. This ambush had been a complete surprise but even more shocking were the mere numbers of the attackers. The Scourge had apparently hidden most of their forces in order to cause their enemies to drop at least some of their vigilance. The Highlord frowned as he looked at the approaching enemies and he knew his friend was correct. But all avenues of escape were blocked by dozens of enemy lines and not he could attempt such a feat without getting gutted by the enemy. And what was worse, his troops apparently fought with all their vigor to reach him but that attempt would certainly end in a failure. With a sickened feeling, he cried to the rest of the crusaders.

“Escape from Naxxramas! We’ll find our way out of here somehow!” He cried to them hoping they’d listen to him. At first, they seemed to hesitate and one of them even called back to their leader.

“We’ll never leave without you, Highlord Mograine! We’ll get…” He started but the Ashbringer cried with a far sterner voice to the younger knight.

“Go, now! The Crusade’s future is our greatest concern and we cannot let the Light’s banner fall because you cannot follow simple orders!” He cried and nodded in approval as Carlin Redpath and the others slowly moved to leave for the fearsome battleground below them. Fairbanks burned another enemy and then whispered to his old friend, clear sorrow apparent in his weary voice.

“You did well, Alexandros. It has truly been an honor to stand by your side all these years.” The cleric sighed as he prepared for the inevitable. He had stood by the Ashbringer’s side through many desperate situations but this truly seemed like a nightmare without any escape. Surrounded in one of Naxxramas’ endless corridors, faced with a practically endless stream of undead. This mission had been a desperate one from the beginning but what seemed like the most distasteful think of all was that he and his comrades had been so blind. None of them had ever questioned why Kel’Thuzad had allowed his enemy this far into his very stronghold. It was all so very simple… but in the end, what other choices did the Crusaders have? The cleric’s thoughts were interrupted quickly as Alexandros cried to him.

“We’ll make it through all this, Fairbanks! Now, give these monsters h…” And immediately after he said those words, he heard a brief yelp as the slightly younger man received a wide, gaping wound to his side. Fairbanks panted as he raised his hand to summon dancing pillars of pure Light which cleared the area near him, preparing to restore his wounds before anything worse would happen. For the briefest of moments, he thought his situation was safe for but that made him all the more shocked as he felt the Light’s embrace leave his body. In a matter of a heartbeat, his sense of security turned into a mask of pure horror as he realized his ability to defend himself was stolen by some fallen mage near him. This situation wouldn’t last longer than a few seconds… but it was well long enough for Fairbanks to feel one skeleton’s sword sink into his abdomen.

The Highlord cursed as he looked at his friend and realized just how unable he was to assist Fairbanks in his hour of need. He couldn’t afford a slightest of deviations from his never-ending defense or he’d face the same fate very soon. He could only listen as Fairbanks’ breaths grew weaker and as he heard the cleric’s fight come to an early end. The situation momentarily hit Mograine like a thousand hammers: he was alone, all those he had fought for dead or running for their lives. And soon enough, the Ashbringer would fall into the hands of the Scourge because of his hubris. However, those thoughts faded as Alexandros realized something. He had come here only to buy Saidan and Abbendis the time they needed and by Uther’s beard, he’d buy them that time no matter what!

Suddenly, the Ashbringer’s glow seemed to intensify as the memory of what he stood returned to his mind. Gavinrad, Uther, Turalyon, Renault, Fairbanks… all of those brave heroes knew what they had stood for and the legendary arm of the Silver Hand wouldn’t let their cause down. He’d take these monsters down one by one and only the Light knew how this struggle would end.

The fight stretched on and on as the long, bearded man taking down hundreds if not thousands of enemies, burning their unholy remains into oblivion. Not once did the lone crusader make a mistake or even thought of faltering in his quest. Minutes upon minutes passed with the Ashbringer holding his ground with very minor injuries. To any observer, the paladin would have resembled a cliff of righteousness which was constantly battered by waves of a dark, insidious sea. Any second it seemed like he would be overcome by the waves of ghouls but… he didn’t. One after another, he fought off any who tried to attack him as he had done for many decades. Be it orcs, demons, furbolgs or these cursed undead, his duty was only to the Light and king. After Elena and Renault had gone to their final prize, he’d make this world slightly more worthy for his last son, even if he’d have to pay for it with his blood.

Slowly but surely, weariness fought its way into the lone warrior’s limbs, slowing his efforts more and more as the numbers of the enemy also started to dwindle. From the corner of his exhausted eyes, Alexandros noticed to his amazement that he was facing only five more of the monstrosities. Certainly… he’d be able to beat them after… after all this. The elder Mograine struggled to stay on his feet as he did his best to direct his sword towards the remaining ghouls, the Ashbringer doing its best to give its holy strength to its wielder. Guided only by his many years of experience and faith, the Highlord sliced the head of last of the ghouls from the monster’s shoulders. He was alone, surrounded by a vast sea of fallen undead. Kel’Thuzad had sent his all to take Alexandros down… and failed.

The paladin suddenly collapsed to the ground, completely fatigued by the display of heroism that would the subject of legends for years to come. Now, all that remained was to find Fairbanks and see if there was anything he…

“Bravo, father. I never expected you to beat all of them on your own but here we are.” A voice suddenly called from the darkness, a voice that the Highlord knew more than well. Chills crept down his spine as the form of a young crusader appeared from the shadows of the corridor. As he slowly approached, the paladin’s eyes confirmed what his ears had told him. A symphony of hope and despair rose within Alexandros’ chest as he answered to his son.

“I… I heard you fell against the Scourge, Renault! H… how?” He asked as he slowly rose back to his feet, willing to preserve his authority even now. Yet, his wavering composure and fatigued movements ended those attempts completely and Renault didn’t even slow down as he answered.

“Because I’m twice the knight any of the others will ever be! At least I’ll soon be. You taught me well, father, about the ways of the Light but you did one, bad mistakes. Your will to always favor Darion over me, no matter how much powerful I was is going to be your downfall! You tried to lock me in that Monastery while paving the way for Darion to become a Highlord after you. Luckily, that won’t happen now.” He said as he picked Ashbringer up from the ground, his father too stunned and exhausted to oppose him. Had Renault really harbored this hatred for him all his life? It was true he had often seen Darion as his heir but in the end, Renault’s lust for power had always been far superior to that of his older brother’s but he had never just realized the depth of his mistake. And now it was too late to help it anymore: he briefly tried to cast a quick judgement against Renault but his pitiful effort was easily repelled by the young man.

All the most famed fighter in Azeroth could do was watch as his son grabbed him from his chest and slowly pulled him to a straight position and after a few seconds, he prepared to sink the Ashbringer into its own master’s heart. The father and son’s eye contact remained unbroken as streams of blood slowly started to flow from Alexandros’ mouth, his eyes pleading a question to only one question: “why”? And the only answer he received was a simple one, only highlighting the overall disdain his eldest son carried towards him.
“Because the Grand Crusader demands it. Sleep well, father, and know that the next Highlord will be one worthy of his title!” He said when his father cried in pain as his heart was impaled by the holiest of blades, its sacred anger biting deeply into him. The Highlord’s cries would have horrified anyone who heard them but the treacherous paladin had something even more urgent to think. The second the Ashbringer penetrated its master’s heart, it began to twitch and shudder as if the weapon itself was revulsed by its wielder’s deed.

After a moment, the shudder eased which brought Renault some relief but immediately afterwards, something happened that caught him completely off-guard. The weapon’s perfectly bright light started to suddenly crack, as if its rays had been cut in half by a knife. However, those new tears were far from empty as green and dark clouds started to rise from them. Slowly but surely, they spread further into the areas of the weapon that were still unaffected by the terrifying light that seemed to be stemming from the very depths of the legendary sword. However, Renault wasn’t about to let his prize, not after dreaming of it all his life.

Still, he could do little more than watch as the Ashbringer slowly turned black, some lines of green the only patches of color still left in the ruined blade. As the sinister transformation, a smile appeared quickly on Renault’s face. He had done it! He had managed to win the Ashbringer for himself and he had been strong enough to withstand its final test! The young man barely managed to control his excitement as he raised the blade and prepared to channel his strength into it, expecting a ray of brilliant radiance light the dark corridor. To Renault’s shock, none ever came. He looked at the sword with an asking look but decided to shrug it away as some kind of temporary problem.

Again, the younger Mograine attempted to replicate the many great techniques his father had mastered but no matter what he did, the Ashbringer stayed silent. As time passed, Renault grew increasingly annoyed by his new prize, not understanding in the least why it didn’t heed his calls.

Obey me, you worthless piece of shit! I won you fairly and it is your duty to act as an extension of my own arm! Do it!

Renault thought in deep anger and tried to at least wave the sword properly but to his shock, the sword didn’t seem to respond to the movement of his muscles in any way. Rather, it quickly turned around and before Renault managed to do anything, it hit his side with a terrifying force, finally prompting the young paladin to drop the weapon into the ground. What was happening? It was as if the weapon he had been born to carry was turning against him and there was nothing he could do with the mightiest weapon in all of Azeroth. The dream of his life lied before him but because of some sick twist of fate, his prize had been robbed from him! His benefactor had promised him the Ashbringer and…

Suddenly, Renault noticed a corpse of one of the countless ghouls fall down the mountain of fallen undead, immediately stealing the paladin’s attention. He narrowed his eyes and started to head towards that spot to check what was going on… until he saw a huge force of energy fly from the corridor right towards him! Or rather, the spot where his father had fallen! Renault looked in fear as it started to whirl around the corpse of the his father and at that moment, Renault knew his time was up. He looked at the Ashbringer for the last time but even if he knew he couldn’t wield it, being forced to abandon his dream like this hurt him without an end but he had no choice. He’d rejoin the Crusade and find a way to claim the Ashbringer for himself even in its current state. The young man quickly left the scene as the paladin who had once been the Highlord of the Scarlet Crusade once again rose to his feet.

“Don’t let the bastards any closer! We won’t allow them steal the Elder’s Square from us!” The worried voice of Baron Rivendare called as he looked at the mass of the crusaders close in on his troops. Not in his worst fears had he thought that the living would ever again stand on the brink of winning back Stratholme from the forces of the Lich King. They had advanced far too quickly for the Scourge to be able to even have a chance of using their numerical advantage in this fight. If he wouldn’t receive any help from Kel’Thuzad soon enough, he and the Scourge in the entire eastern Stratholme would be done for.

Osran, on the other hand, felt younger than he had in years. The chapel’s blessed form loomed over the advancing crusaders and at this point, nothing would rob victory from the Crusade. The attackers fought like one, each of them subconsciously protecting each other while forever marching forward towards their victory. After the necromancers had been dealt with, the Scourge were doomed to a slow but sure defeat and each and every one of the knights knew the hour of their greatest victory was at hand.

None of the glory of this jour was lost on the High General either as took pride in the fact that, once again, his plan had been a grand success and that he had managed to lead his faithful soldiers to victory. The Flame of Alonsus was the key to the final victory over the Scourge and in a sense, this was only the stepping stone for a greater prize. Baron Rivendare’s clear fear only underlined the thing everyone present could see: the Scourge was on the verge of its final collapse. Abbendis hit an attacking gargoyle with his sword, sending it drop to the ground with a crushing force. Immediately after it, he raised his voice and pointed his sword towards the Chapel.

“Tear down the door and take what is ours! Do it and…” Abbendis’ cry was cut short as a loud horn suddenly called from the King’s Square. It was a horn of the Crusade but it was supposed to be used only in times of utmost alarm. What could have prompted them to sound it now, especially as the Square had been cleared a long time ago? None of it seemed to make sense and the High General was about to shake it off as some kind of mistake or overreaction. Surely, it was of little consequence in relation…

“Flee, all of you! We have to get out of here before we’re all crushed under their shadow!” A voice called far from the gate into the Square, about a dozen other knights on his trail. Immediately, they headed towards the high General who everybody could recognize due to his exquisite armor and position at the army’s head. Abbendis looked at the newcomers in annoyance but decided to allow them an audience even in this situation. He took a stern look and immediately asked the first speaker in a serious voice.

“Do you have some kind of backing for your ludicrous demand, crusader? Nothing would justify aband…” He spoke but immediately one of the terrified knights spoke to him, fear dipping from his very voice. Even the High General was slight taken aback by his expression but he let none of it show. There were very few things that shocked him and he despised any of his comrades who let themselves become completely overrun by unreasonable emotions like fear. However, what he heard next immediately brought up one of the very few concerns he had had in this battle.

“It… it’s the Ashbringer, my lord! It has been reborn and it is going to destroy us all!” An old man called and immediately one of the others whispered in a horrified voice.

“It… it drains anyone it hits dry, it is only a harbinger of pain and death anymore!”
Additional murmurs escaped from the lips of the other knights but before the situation could descend into a total chaos, Abbendis raised his voice and drew his sword to ensure total silence among the knights.

“Where did this all happen? Where is the Highlord and how is the group headed for the Bastion? Speak quickly and clearly or I’ll make sure this is the last time you’ll ever speak!” This wasn’t the kind of language he’d usually use but he wanted quick and definitive answers in this tense and important situation. Most of the knights were too stunned to even mind this threat but finally one of them managed to force his voice down enough to sate the High General’s curiosity.

“It… it was the Highlord but… he has fallen… fallen to the Scourge.” He said, knowing that Abbendis would immediately understand the implications. Abbendis looked at him in shock, his worst fears being realized under his very eyes. However, he wasn’t about to accept the tale just yet. He grabbed the other man’s shoulders and stared at him in a nearly manic fashion.

“Are you sure it was him and not one of Kel’Thuzad’s tricks? Mograine is far too powerful to be killed by rabble such as the Scourge!” He cried, cursing in his mind both the fallen Ashbringer for his stupidity and Dathrohan for his acceptance for such a ridiculous quest. He had already resigned to the obvious truth when he finally received an answer.

“Yes, my lord. But his sword has turned black and green and the perfect sphere is now a skull… the Ashbringer itself is tainted by the Scourge!” The man nearly cried as he spoke, the legendary sword meaning as much to him as it did to everybody else and the thought that it had been turned against him was a terrifying one. Abbendis turned his gaze towards the gate, knowing that time was off the essence. Alexandros wouldn’t turn the tide of the battle by himself but the Crusade’s failure at Naxxramas as well as the collapse of the knights’ morale very well might. Yet, there was only one thing left for him to do. He turned to his followers and cried to them loudly.

“Then head for the Flame, all of you! Time is off the essence!” He cried in rising fear, not even willing to consider this development’s implications just yet. Not to even mention that the general himself had respected, even liked the Highlord during their common years of service. His loss was a massive loss for the entire order, without a doubt. Abbendis looked at his comrades beginning their attack but he was immediately interrupted again by the horrified knights.

“There’s no time, my lord! They’re heading here right now and when they do, they’ll…” He started when a low, rasping voice called behind them with a voice that dipped with mockery.

“Me guess ye lads really thought ye really thought we we’re on the run, didn’t ye? Well, the show’s o’er now, ye living bastards!” The paladins turned to look at the speaker and to their immediate fear, a group of riders were entering the Square from the Festival Lane, each of them reeking with the Lich King’s taint. The speaker was clearly a dwarf and behind him rode a white-armored knight who nearly resembled the paladin he had most likely been in life. Behind him was a hooded woman and… and behind him was a form that stole everybody’s attention fully. Gone was his noble steed and Light-infused armor as well as his strong features but it was clear to everyone who stood before them. Each of them felt their hearts drop as he prepared to put his hand on his scabbard but before that, he answered to the dwarf, his voice a cold, emotionless shadow of his old one.

“Stop the jabbering and act, Korth’azz! We must surround and crush the enemy, now! They’re searching for the Flame of Alonsus which is too powerful for even us to stand against!” He cried, looking in deep hate at the knights who had only a short while ago been his comrades. For some reason, he had himself believed the Scourge should and could be stopped but one by one, the armies of the Lich King would purge this world of the living once and for all. He smirked slightly as he looked at his foes cower as the Ashbringer slowly appeared from its prison, its newfound greenish light breaking their spirits completely. And soon it’d grow only worse: even in death, he was the Ashbringer and the Ashbringer was him and no power in the world could stand against them in this world or the next. Another of the knights spoke to him immediately while preparing for the inevitable charge.

“Of course, lord Mograine! Let us prove Kel’Thuzad our full worth here and now! Death to the living!” She cried as she ordered her steed to begin its gallop. The skeletal steed moved faster than any of its living counterparts and none of the arrows seemed to hinder neither it nor its rider. Alexandros immediately followed her example and headed straight towards the Chapel’s entrance. Once he could ensure that none of the crusaders reached the Flame, the fight was as good as over. And he knew just the right minion to do his bidding during these few, decisive seconds…

Suddenly, Baron Rivendare’s head seemed to explode as a stream of urgent commands reached his consciousness. He was already battered and broken but he was needed for one, final confrontation that would be the difference between victory and defeat. The death knight crushed another ghoul near him to heal at least some of his wounds and immediately afterwards headed towards the Chapel, all the while hiding behind his countless underlings. If he was quick enough, he could save himself from Kel’Thuzad’s wrath. The fallen noble looked at the knights barraging forward like a rabid horde of dogs but even faster were approaching the forms of four riders, the mere sight of their forms instilling their cold grip into the hearts of those men and women who were laying down their very lives to keep their dream alive. Rivendare looked at the door to the Chapel, hoping beyond hope he could reach it before the first human could. Maybe, just maybe, he could save the Scourge from a crushing defeat.

A frenzied glare was forming into the High General’s face as he frantically cut down one enemy after another. Whether it was a ghoul, abomination or even one of the countless swarming gargoyles, they fell before the despairing general like they were mere furbolg cubs. Surely, he would reach the Flame and then, everything would be well again. it would only take a few seconds, a few, pathetic seconds… He looked in anticipation as his foot stepped on first of the steps of the chapel. In his moment of triumph, he waved his sword towards a massive abomination, expecting to hear the sweet sound of slicing flesh but in its stead, he heard a surprising clank as his own blade met another one, saving the undead for a moment. Abbendis looked around himself in bewilderment, looking who had prevented his kill and when he did, his muscles only tensed further as he saw the face of Baron Rivendare once again before him.

“You again? Get out of my way or fall! I’ll beat any slave of the Scourge into a thousand cursed bits if I have to!” He said, immediately beginning to batter the fallen noble with his full strength and skill. He knew Rivendare was a skilled swordsman but he’d have to win this fight quickly or else the battle was all but lost.

Rivendare, on the other hand, cowered before his opponent but he took deep relief in the knowledge that his enemy’s struggle only underlined his desperation further. And sure enough, his efforts to outpower the baron certainly weren’t working as hurried attacks like those always left a vigilant fighter room to flee to. The death knight decided to stop the fight further and locked Abbendis’ sword against his own while putting on a grin and whispering to the High General in a soft voice.

“Can’t you see it’s already over, Abbendis? A leader of your stature should know when a battle is truly lost.” He said before Abbendis forced the brief confrontation to end. In the back of his mind, he knew his opponent was right but he simply couldn’t be! If he gave up here, all would have been nothing and the Crusade would never get another chance to mount this offensive. He merely shrugged those thoughts of and once again, resumed his offensive against the death knight who symbolized everything that had gone wrong for
the Crusade in these few minutes. He immediately moved forward and landed another crushing blow.
“You’ll burn in hell for this, Rivendare! I’ll make sure of it!” He said while suddenly grabbing Rivendare’s head with a quick move. However, just before the High General was about finish the fight, the fallen noble blocked the attack and once again locked the fight and looked expectantly at the development of the fight as a whole.

Osran wasn’t a knight to be overwhelmed easily but right now, it took all of his willpower to avoid turning around and running for his life. The sight of the massive burning steed before it and its maddened eyes seemed to bore into his very soul and even if he could catch only glimpses of its rider, the knight’s knew that all was lost. With the very same vigor he had shown in life, the former Highlord Mograine crushed his enemies one by one. An aura of cursed flame seemed to surround the death knight which burned into the very flesh of those trying to against him. Whenever anyone tried to land a hit on the undead knight, the Ashbringer was there to steal the life of anyone foolish enough to attempt to stand against the man who had only this very morning been the greatest champion of the Light.

Even the aging paladin looked in fear as Alexandros and his new comrades rode forward like a wave of death, the Horsemen running over each and every one of the defenders.
Their powers were beyond any comprehension and even the Grand Crusader would have struggled to hold his ground against these knights. Osran suddenly formed a mighty hammer in his hand, hoping to use it to deter the former paladin at least for a short while. To his utmost surprise, it did land just under Alexandros’ chest and at that moment, everything seemed to stop. The crusaders stopped their attacks as they looked at the death knight turning his look on the one who had been the first one to truly land an attack on him. Only then did Osran realize the depth of his mistake as he saw the flaming, skeletal horse slowly approach him. He couldn’t attack, he couldn’t run: it was as if the paladin was completely petrified, completely unable to end for the reckoning that was about to fall upon him.

However, the sudden coup de grace never came. Alexandros stopped just before Osran and spoke to the paladin, none of the others daring to earn the wrath of the Ashbringer. The knight stared in horror as Alexandros’ dim, dead eyes looked at him and as the twisted voice of the noble defender of Lordaeron flowed from Mograine’s throat.

“I see your faith and your zeal, Osran Lowriver. I always took great interest in your actions even if we never had the privilege to meet before. I can see you continue to surprise me even now.” Alexandros said which prompted a look of surprise from Osran. Had the Highlord really noticed him during the past months? It mattered little anymore but the aging man was relieved to hear many had taken note of his selfless acts. However, no death knight wouldn’t only come to congratulate his enemy. Osran knew the danger he was in and knew what he’d have to do.

“Unfortunately, it’s all too late for you now. You were always the best of us and I ask of you Alexandros, show us you’re stronger than those bastards’ spell! If any…” He began but Alexandros quickly took a sad smile and answered to the younger man in an almost apologizing voice.

“The lesser me would have done so too but I will not pass from this world until I’ll achieve the one thing I fight for. If I need the Scourge’s help for it, I’ll get it but until the greatest injustice of all has been repaid, I will not rest.” He said as he slowly to Osran’s side. The knight knew he shouldn’t have bothered to waste his time with a servant of the Lich King but something in the fallen Highlord’s voice bothered him greatly. Still, he answered sternly.

“That’s complete nonsense and you know it! No outrage can ever be worse than Arthas impaling his father and bringing this kingdom to ruin! You…” Osran tried to speak but the death knight quickly cut his comment short. The rides dead eyes seemed to see straight into Osran’s eyes whose entire line of vision seemed to slowly be filled by the former Highlord’s visage which haunted the paladin without end. When he spoke, Osran could only listen as if his own will had been drained from his mind, Alexandros’ cold and bitter voice only making the situation more terrifying.

“You know very little of it all, Lowriver. Arthas’ attack was a betrayal but he served at least someone who could forge a way into the future whereas the entire resistance to the Lich King is built upon a lie.  A lie I didn’t see myself until it was all too late! The Crusade is pure no longer, Osran, if it ever was. And I’ll make sure you’ll learn the truth before it is too late for all of us…” Osran struggled in horror as he looked the death knight draw his legendary sword from its scabbard. The crusader did his best to resist but suddenly the flames dancing around the horrifying steed before him seemed to engulf the Crimson Legionary fully. Just as he was seeing the Ashbringer fall upon himself, Osran’s mental prison was suddenly ended by a mighty flash of light as well as a loud cry.

“Step back, fiend! You won’t win here!” A young voice said and Osran was completely flabbergasted as he heard a voice he’d knew anywhere. As he felt his hands once again close around his faithful sword, he turned to look as Eneath hit the fallen Highlord with full force, staring in awe as his nephew sent Alexandros’ hand flying towards the ground, ending each and any hopes he had of finishing Osran here and now. All of the crusaders looked in awe as the Ashbringer hit the ground, the clinging sound sounding above all the sounds of battle. The elder Mograine stared in shock at this surprising development, not expecting this kind of turn events anymore. Not only had his attack been halted but his beloved weapon had also been taken from him! Knowing that each of his enemies would want to claim the sword back for the Light, the death knight did the only thing he could in this chaotic situation.

Eneath suddenly headed for the Ashbringer, hoping to use it to end this once and for all. Its transformation horrified him greatly but even then, there was no choice. The famed blade’s powers were still unsurpassed by anyone in this battle and if he could turn it against its wielder, his victory would be absolute. He quickly formed an impenetrable armor of Light around himself to nullify any of Alexandros’ tricks and with a frantic leap, leaped towards the Ashbringer that lay in the ground.

However, that proved to be a terrible mistake. A whirlpool of shadow suddenly formed around him but Eneath knew his shield would protect him from the mysterious attack. But it took only a second to realize that that knowledge had been false. So very quickly, he felt his shield slowly being ripped apart by the shadows, as if the fallen Highlord was literally demolishing it. Even worse, the blackness prevented him from seeing forward even half a meter. Almost instantly, Eneath realized he had been tricked but he concentrated all of his power of trying to contain his body together through this ordeal. On the last second before the fatigue would have grown through large for him, the young man jumped from the dark cloud, just in time to see the death knight raise his sword again, ready to once again sow death and destruction around him.

It was at this moment that Osran knew that everything was lost. Alexandros was far from invincible but his comrades and the regrouping horde of the undead were something against which there was no victory. After seeing that Eneath was alright, the knight suddenly turned around and started to run towards Abbendis, knowing that if he’d listen to listen to anyone in this hour, it would be him despite his hostility before the battle. The fate of these knight were now in Abbendis’ hands: they’d live or die only according to the whims of this one man.

A feverish despair guided Abbendis’ thoughts as he tried to break the deadlock his duel against the former noble had become. Rivendare had proven to be every last bit worthy of his reputation as a swordsman which caused Abbendis to frown in utter fear. His opponent fought with the same vigor he did and he made no mistakes, being equally committed to keep the High General out of the Chapel as Abbendis was to enter it. The latter attempted to once again gain the initiative when he heard a cry behind him.

“The High General! Give us the order to retreat or we’ll all be crushed!” The knight cried to his superior, hoping against hope that he’d see reason and listen to his advice. Abbendis quickly parried another hit from his opponent before shouting to the lower-ranked crusader.

“Rejoin the fight, fool, or I’ll make sure you’ll face the consequences later!” He cried, completely resigned to the thought that he’d fight to his last breath if it meant keeping the hope of winning the battle alive. Osran, however, moved closer to the General and tried again, looking in horror as the Horsemen cut down the knights with a horrifying speed.

“Can’t you see it, Abbendis? This fight is already lost! Any moment we hesitate here only kills more of our own and only you can end the carnage! I beg you, High General and give us the order to flee!” Osran cried while joining Abbendis in his fight against Rivendare. Even the two of them weren’t enough to crush the fallen noble but at least he’d have an easier time getting to the General this way. However, the latter seemed to pay little heed to Osran’s warnings and his answer was only more annoyed than last time.

“Never! This is our chance to earn the decisive victory and this is an opportunity that’ll never repeat itself! Help me get through or leave this instant!” Abbendis cried, his entire mind fixed on the one thought of crushing his opponent once and for all. However, it was at this moment that Osran knew that it was his time to act.

With a quick move, the knight prevented Rivendare from attacking with a field of pure Light and used this time to finally make his move. Suddenly, he turned around and kicked Abbendis in his leg, taking the officer completely by surprise. Before he could do anything to stop it, Abbendis fell to the ground into the Chapel’s stairs, rolling all the way down them. He panted in shock and outrage before he rose up and faced the onslaught of the Horsemen, only now being forced to witness the death and destruction that was so prevalent around him. The sight of the powerful servants of the Lich King sowing their horrifying power everywhere around them and his paladins’ inability to stop them made something change within the High General and he couldn’t help but admit to himself that this battle had been lost once and for all. Immediately, he forgot everything about Osran and with a shudder of shock, the General rose to his feet and cried with a loud roar.

“Quickly, move to the Main Gate! We have to run, now, if we are to survive through this!” He called with all might while beginning to slowly back down from Rivendare with Osran. The former noble, however, wasn’t about to let his opponents leave like this, knowing the initiative had been given to him. He raised his famed runeblade upwards and he then sent a large bolt of power towards Abbendis. The High General managed to mitigate the damage caused by the spell but Rivendare had managed to re-engage him in a frenzied melee.
“It’s all over, High General! None of you will leave this place without carrying the glorious mark of the Lich King! Lay down your arms and I’ll even now make your death mostly painless!” He cried, reveling in the Scourge’s triumph. However, Abbendis knew time was off the essence and he suddenly cast mighty storm of light around himself and then hit his opponent with a bolt of holy strength which resembled a powerful hammer. Abbendis answered to the death knight’s words briefly before utilizing the few seconds his hammer had bought.

“You will go down one day, Rivendare! Don’t think of this as anything more than a temporary victory!” He said while quickly running down the stairs to join his comrades who were struggling to stay orderly while trying to back down towards the gate. All of them were completely shaken by the Horsemen’s attack and Abbendis knew this escape would require all his forces’ concentration. The crusaders had barely half of those paladins left who had entered the city and even those numbers were quickly getting worse by the minute. He cursed that the Southern Gate had been locked but it was no use complaining about the things you couldn’t change, especially on times like these.

A despair like he hadn’t known in years was making itself known in Osran’s mind as he continued the fight, hoping beyond hope that he’d live through this nightmarish battle. He had survived from a confrontation with Alexandros but most of his comrades weren’t so lucky. Even now, the four death knights attempted to block the way back to the Festival Lane and it would take the lives of many crusaders if the rest were planning to ever fight their way out of this cursed city. Osran once again cut down another ghoul but the magic of the Scourge brought them into life immediately. The paladin’s eyes locked onto the white-armored Horseman as his hesitancy to fight was more than clear. It was as if he had preserved his old mind through the Lich King’s hellish schemes which truly signified that this man could be none other than Sir Zeliek, one of the paladins who had accompanied Arthas on his way to Northrend and back to Lordaeron. He had made a name for himself with his unbreakable faith and hopeful and reassuring approach to whatever battle he was preparing for. His fate had been a mystery for years and Osran now hoped Zeliek’s whereabouts would have stayed that way. He had never met the knight himself but the word had circled quickly in the Silver Hand about those who had done something worth remembering.

And if Zeliek truly was as strong a mind as he had been told, maybe he could be made to help the crusaders even for a brief moment. He turned to face the white-armored knight and cried to him with a loud voice.

“Zeliek, you can fight it in the Light’s name! Don’t you remember how you stood against a horde of abominations with your legs buried in snow to save your comrades from certain deaths? Don’t you remember how you helped repel the Scourge’s attack on Brill? I’ve heard many times about you, Zeliek, and I know how powerful a paladin you used to be! And even now, I see you can resist Arthas’ evil! Fight him off from your mind, for the memory of king Terenas!” Osran cried with a pleading voice, catching Zeliek’s attention immediately. A mournful expression formed under the knight’s helmet as he looked at the paladin who had called him by his name. Of course, he remembered those fights but it mattered little as he couldn’t bring his mind to relive them properly. He knew that what he was doing was wrong but the magic of the Scourge prevented him from doing anything about it. The looked at Osran pleadingly before giving his answer.

“The Scourge’s power is far greater than you know, brave knight! The only way to be spared from it is to escape as far as you can!” He cried, the torment and anguish more than apparent in his voice. However, he continued his fight as Alexandros cried to him, his voice dipping with anger.

“Stop the whining, fool! Our king’s order is supreme and we have to crush our enemies here! So save us from your rubbish, Zeliek!” The former Highlord called, making Zeliek turn back to his task at hand. Osran, however, decided against giving up just yet.

“I know you want to fight it! Few were ever as strong in their trust in the Light and even now,…” He began but quickly, another voice cut the paladin short.

“Spare it, Lowriver! While he may have once been a man of the Light, we both know no one is able to break the hold of undeath! No matter what, he has to be returned to his grave, now!” The speaker was Harthal who used Zeliek’s confusion to his advantage and sent another judgement upon the death knight before he got the chance to do anything about it. That spell caught the fallen paladin off-guard and he was quickly pulled off from his saddle and a loud voice could be heard as he hit the cobblestoned street. The lord paladin wasted no time heading towards the white-colored undead knight and used all his power to prevent him from rising up again. However, once again, he underestimated the strength of a death knight of the Scourge.

Even if he would have preferred to die at the hands of these brave knights, sir Zeliek’s mind wasted no time preparing his counterattack. He nearly pitied the Lord Paladin’s efforts to keep him down as the dark power of the Scourge suddenly filled the air around him. Harthal’s light seemed to be completely eaten by the dark, greenish cloud which formed around the death knight, making his armor look like a distant light surrounded by a misty night. The paladin looked at the sight in utter horror, astonished by how easily and totally his efforts had been nullified. Slowly, Zeliek walked towards him and Harthal was already preparing for his inevitable end. However, it wasn’t about to be his lot in this battle.
Even in the middle of this hell, Abbendis saw the death knight’s horrific display of power and the lord paladin’s efforts to stop it. The High General was taken aback by that sight but he decided this was his chance to give his troops the courage they needed to get out of this slaughterhouse. He suddenly started to run towards the death knight, looking at Harthal’s desperate efforts to give his foe in bay. Zeliek paid no real attention to the fight around him as he knew few would ever dare to challenge him directly. However, he still wasn’t careless enough to allow the Crusade’s general rush him down as amateurishly as he attempted to. The death knight only raised his right hand and cat a wall of shadow to keep him at bay for long enough. But it was after that mistake when Zeliek realized he had overlooked a clear threat to him.

Abbendis’ face hardly twitched as the burning shadow engulfed him, dedication to win far overshadowing the pain. The injuries added on his previous ones but yet, Abbendis knew this attack was essential to rebuilding the crusaders’ trust in themselves. Zeliek had time to only turn around before Abbendis sank his sword into the knight’s chest, making nearly all those around him gasp in astonishment. Yet, the High General’s victory wasn’t nearly as complete as he had initially believed. He had no way of reading his expression but inside his white helmet, only a lack of expression could be seen. Suddenly, streams of red energy emerged from Zeliek’s hands which then moved towards Abbendis, turning his victory into a horrific realization. The death knight was using his power to make up for his mortal wound, in effect making Abbendis stab himself. But he couldn’t even back down as in that case, Zeliek would hold the decisive advantage. But to his luck, one paladin wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

Osran cursed internally as he saw Zeliek turning the tables on Abbendis and he knew he had but one option now. He wasn’t near enough to hit the death knight but he a massive exorcism upon the fallen knight, knowing it would be powerful enough to interrupt the fiend’s spell for at least a brief moment. Zeliek took a brief look at the paladin and even now, attempted to keep his spell intact. However, neither did Osran give up his attack and after a short while, Zeliek felt his grip on his counterattack failing. The knight gritted his teeth in complete annoyance but his injury prevented him from fighting back with all his might.

The High General panted in utter surprise but he also knew that he’d have to act before anything worse happened. He immediately thrust his sword towards his opponent and avoided Zeliek’s attempt to strike him back with ease. The knight had been a powerful paladin in his day but his command of the Light had been his forte rather than pure mastery of the sword which was something Abbendis truly excelled at. Zeliek could only watch as Abbendis made another, even more terrifying wound to his upper chest. After a few moments of wavering, Zeliek fell backwards, his temporary fall freezing the battleground completely. There was one less death knight blocking the crusaders’ escape now and most importantly, they had been shown that their death were not inevitable.

That display of courage was one that astonished Eneath without an end. He knew the stories of Abbendis’ deeds but it was a completely different thing to witness a man of legend this near to him. However, he knew there was no time to waste if he ever wanted to get out of her alive. The rest of the horsemen did their all to kill as many of the living as possible but the three of them were not able to stop hundreds of paladins from escaping. But even then, Eneath didn’t have any illusions about what this battle meant. The Crusade had failed to secure the Flame and along with it, all hopes of securing either Stratholme or Naxxramas were in shambles. And worst of all, the Highlord and countless other brave knights of the Light were gone, their strength instead serving the Scourge now. Even if the remaining paladins managed to escape from here, even the young paladin knew this was the turning point of the entire war.

That thought both saddened and infuriated him as he fought his way towards the Festival Lane, cursing in his mind that it would end like this. So many hopes had been placed on this one battle… which was a complete disaster. All that remained was a fight to try to stem the advance of the Scourge and hope that one day, the crusade could again be powerful enough to take its revenge. However, soon enough the young paladin’s thoughts were interrupted by the Horsemen’s effort to buy them the complete, total victory in this cursed city. A massive wall of solid energy blocked the knights’ escape and the troops’ confusion nearly turned into an all-out panic. Eneath turned around in fear as he heard Alexandros’ voice call to the enemies of the Scourge.

“Fight your battles to the end, you sorry excuses for paladins! The eyes of Kel’Thuzad are upon us and he deserves better than to know he has fought against spineless cowards all these years!” The former Highlord called to those he had only a short while earlier called his comrades. Rivendare had joined the side of the three death knights and in due time, a complete annihilation would be the only thing that waited the knights in this cursed place. Abbendis, however, wasn’t in any ways taken aback by this development as he knew the Crusade’s survival was within his hands. He cried with all his might, before rallying his soldiers to his side.

“All of the magi, destroy that cursed wall! The rest of you, protect them with your lives! The Crusade lives as long as we still believe in the victory in our hearts!” He cried, happy to see that most of the magi were still alive. The Crusade didn’t take too many of them to their ranks but they were completely invaluable in fighting against the enemy’s spells. The surviving paladins also did as they were told and formed a ring around the spellcasters, knowing this is where they’d make their stand. Yet, only few of them how difficult it was for the magi to fight against a spell this powerful which was most likely a blessing for them at this point.

The sight the Horsemen was a horrifying one for any of the living but they also knew there was no escape from this hell. Either they’d fall valiantly in battle of they’d be crushed to death like a herd of crazed animals. The Horsemen’s charge was a brutal one but still the crusaders’ lines didn’t seem to waver in the least. A knight upon knight fell but also the wall was growing weaker by the second. Abbendis fought like never before as he attempted to buy as much time for the magi and soon enough, he could see the wall crumbling altogether. He then cried to his troops as loudly as he could.

“Run for the gates as soon as you can! I and Lord Paladin Truesight will secure your rear! Now, go!” Abbendis cried as the crusaders began their escape in full swing. None of the paladins wasted time trying to get away from Stratholme as quickly as possible. Osran looked at the High General in concern, knowing that keeping the undead and Horsemen at bay on their own was a terrifying challenge. Still, the High General had chosen to rely on himself and Harthal to keep the enemy at bay and Osran knew as a soldier that he’d have to respect his commands. He breathed deeply as he ran through the Festival Lane, knowing that there were hundreds of undead right on his heels. All of the knights yearned for nothing more than the safety of Tyr’s Hand or Light’s Hope but still all of them knew that an orderly retreat was the only one that could offer them a way to escape. A second after second, the crusaders knew their salvation was closer but as long as the ever-burning houses loomed over them, none of the knights dared to even dream of the eventual salvation.

The Lord Paladin looked at the approaching enemies keenly, his eyes narrowing noticeably. Most men would have covered in fear in the face of the army of the undead but Harthal knew no trace of horror in his heart. He had faced more unlikely odds in Northrend and if he was to die in the defense of his dear homeland, so be it. It would be a sweet fate as opposed to dying in the icy wastes of Icecrown, especially as he checked his torch to know that he was ready to set himself in flames whenever necessary. True, he was only covering his comrades’ flight but no one could be blamed for such thoughts in the face of an enemy like this.

Yet, Harthal knew this wouldn’t be the end. The Light told him that much and as long as he’d keep his faith in himself and the High General, this battle wouldn’t end in the Crusade’s total annihilation. Just before the enemy was about to overwhelm the two, Harthal created a massive round of holy ground which would prevent the enemy from moving through it for a short while. Abbendis nodded at him in approval and simultaneously cut down a small group of skeletons attempting to overwhelm him with sheer numbers. The Crusade’s main force was already far behind the duo and they quickly retreated further towards them, hoping beyond hope the enemy wouldn’t crush their spirit before that.

One of the death knights, however, was growing increasingly restless. The dwarf turned to Alexandros and cried to him loudly, unwilling to believe these pathetic fools had resisted the might of the Scourge as long as they had.

“Stop yer hesitating, lad! We have to cut those bastards down before they get away! So lead us to the victory Kel’Thuzad promised!” The dwarf cried, earning an angered look from Alexandros. If this fool thought he knew better than him how to win this battle, he’d have to ask the lich himself why he hadn’t been chosen as the leader of the Four Horsemen. The former Highlord was beyond frustrated himself but he knew Abbendis and Harthal better than any of his new comrades. The call of Kel’Thuzad told him to crush the enemy and by the name of the Lich King, he would in due time. However, he had wanted to learn about Abbendis’ precautions before then and he cried at Korth’azz in fury as he gave his answer.

“And I will, dwarf! But only a foolish general would attack headlong without knowing his enemy’s plans at first! But the time for that has come to end now! Show them the might of the Icy North!” The elder Mograine cried as he suddenly cast forth a massive ray of the defiled, greenish Light at Harthal as he knew that without the paladin’s help, Abbendis would be easier to overwhelm. Harthal raised his hand in an effort to drain the incoming attack but he soon realized his mistake. The power of the Ashbringer was still intact and for the first time, he knew the power which had in times past left only piles and piles of burned orcs and undead behind him. The legendary sword’s might pulled him back several meters but still the Lord Paladin kept his balance.

He pulled every last inch of his strength to withstand the Ashbringer’s onslaught but he soon realized his mistake. No matter what he did, his power seemed to be drained at ever faster rates and soon enough, the Ashbringer would crush his defense completely. Abbendis was too drawn into fighting the swarming undead to help his comrade in his struggle. Harthal knew he was in a completely desperate situation but in the name of the Light, he wouldn’t give up before this mockery of Alexandros’ memory. The Highlord wouldn’t have deserved to be forced to fight against the order he and his most trusted comrades had built all their lives. Suddenly, Harthal felt his powers return and he felt like he could withstand this onslaught for a little more. However, it wasn’t even necessary.

“We have bought enough time, Truesight! Block this street and flee!” Abbendis cried as he noticed his troops closing in of the Elders’ Square. They would escape which meant that despite today’s catastrophe, the Crusade would live on. Harthal immediately cast a massive consecration in the ground before turning around and starting his flight.

The Grand Crusader looked around himself in outrage, not willing to believe his own eyes. The battle that had started so promisingly had turned into an all-out defeat and there was nothing even he could do about it anymore. His troops were dead or on the run and even worse, he was cut away from the Scarlet Bastion and its safety. Slowly, he had to accept he couldn’t fight his way back there and he gave his order after he knew all was lost.

“Head to the main gate, now! We have to get away from here!” He would have wanted to torture each of his followers to their deaths but once again, Balnazzar had to accept that such a deed would blow his cover in a matter of seconds. His own forces’ weakness and cowardliness had robbed him of his triumph which was something none of his kind could ever accept.

“We cannot flee now, Grand Crusader! We must slaughter these fiends here or now!” He heard the younger Abbendis call and it took all his willpower not to slaughter the paladin here and now. This puny human thought she could tell him what do? She was ready to question his direct orders? Balnazzar hated himself as he answered but he would have to stand these weaklings’ idiocy if he wanted to take down the Lich King once and for all.

“We have no chance, general! I would want nothing more than to finish it all here and now but we have to keep the Lightbringer and Alonsus’ dream alive! We have to make sure not to waste everything they strived for because of our inability to admit defeat! Get away from here, now!” He cried, earning a hateful look from the lower-ranked officer but Abbendis knew she had no way of trying to overlook his highest superior’s orders like this. With a deep sigh, she turned around and complied to Dathrohan’s order.

The demon felt only hate and bitterness as he ran towards the Elders’ Square, swearing that Kel’Thuzad would pay for this before this campaign was over. Another defeat had been added to his already-shameful record and he had to get his revenge in full if he ever wanted to regain his status in the Legion. After a few seconds, he saw another group of knights heading towards the Plaguewood from his left.

“The Grand Crusader! Thank the Light you’re al…” One of them started but Balnazzar had little patience for such comments anymore. He silenced the man immediately before checking that the retreat was advancing in an acceptable manner.

“Just save it, good knight! Now, head for our former camp, hurry now!” He cried as he saw first knights heading for the bridge leading out of Stratholme. He, the younger Abbendis and Valdemar moved to the main group’s rear to oversee the operation’s proceeding. It wouldn’t take long until all the crusaders had escaped to safety…
Suddenly, a massive pool of darkness appeared in the middle of the escaping knight, immediately swallowing dozens of them and preventing the rest of them from escaping. It had to be created by all four of the Horsemen as it was far more powerful and potent than any of the spells that had been seen thus far. The younger Abbendis looked at it in worry as he cried to his comrades.

“We have to get rid of it, now! But most of our magi have fallen already!” She shouted, trying to find a way to demolish this horrifying spell. Her father, who had just joined his fellow commanders, answered to his daughter, his voice starting to dip with deep fear.

“Not to even mention some of the survivors have already escaped! We should fight the Horsemen but… we can never beat them with our numbers!”
Do I really have to do all of this alone? I can’t believe Archimonde was ever beaten by these useless weaklings! It will be a blessed day when I can wipe this damned “Crusade” from the face of this world, in the name of Kil’jaeden!

Slowly and making sure that nobody saw what he was doing, small spheres of shadow appeared in the Grand Crusader’s hands and with one, small movement, Balnazzar released his spell which immediately destroyed the whole blackness blocking the street without even making a muscle twitch in its caster’s face. With a voice that was completely faked to be surprised, Balnazzar suddenly raised his hammer and cried to his troops.

“The enemy’s magic is too weak to even stay stable for one minute! Use this moment to escape, brave knights of the Scarlet Crusade!” The older Abbendis looked at Dathrohan in astonishment, momentarily wondering how calm he seemed after this miraculous salvation. However, he decided against questioning his superior now and he used this moment to escape into the defiled forest, leaving this cursed city for good. Dathrohan was the last one to leave the city as he knew that no undead, not even the Horsemen, could beat him in a place like this. He gave his command once he reached the bridge leading into the city, knowing the battle was all but over now.

“Man the barricades we created earlier! Prevent any of the monsters from leaving Stratholme!” He cried but that command was mostly unneeded. Dozens upon dozens of crusaders had already surrounded the Menethil Road leading into the city, knowing that not even their former Highlord could fight his way through this spot. Hundreds of undead were still swarming out of the city’s gates but they were quickly cut down by the knights emboldened by their miraculous survival. The Horsemen had apparently given up the chase which was the final proof that they had survived the slaughter.

However, the highest-ranking generals knew there was very little to celebrate. Alexandros was gone along with a massive slice of the order’s most valiant knights, the Scarlet Bastion itself was under a complete siege again and the Crusade’s ability to mount any new offensives had been severely hampered. In fact, in the face of what they had seen in the city, it was very unlikely that the knights could even hold the Scourge at bay for long.

Yet, the Grand Crusader himself watched in expectation as the fallen undead formed a massive pyre in the stone bridge even if he knew the situation just as well as his fellow
leaders. He may have lost the battle but the Highlord, the closest threat to his power, was gone and his control over the Crusade was complete. It would take months, if not years, to rebuild the Crusade’s might but eventually, he would take the lich lord down and deliver this world to Sargeras. That he would make sure of.

And so the battle for Stratholme and the story of Highlord Mograine as a warrior of the Light have come to an end. The Crusade’s offensive was a disaster and now the defenders of Lordaeron are perhaps irrevocably on the defensive. Will the brave knights be able to regain the initiative or did this one gamble cost them the whole war? I hope you liked this chapter and I hope to get the next one completed this month!


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Re: Under the Scarlet Banner
« Reply #39 on: August 25, 2018, 10:45:10 AM »
Flight from the Jaws of Annihilation

A gentle wind blew through the sick forest as gently as it had done in happier times in the years past. However, it smelled like an approaching death as the Plague itself seemed to have become one with the nature of this lost land. However, none of the crusaders paid it any heed as most of them were forced to concentrate all their efforts to keeping the gate to Stratholme under their control. The stream of undead never seemed to stop and the defenders had no time to even dream of burning the fallen ghouls. The necromancers inside the city could work without any danger and any of the paladins could see that this battle was a hopeless one.

That reality wasn’t lost on Crusader Lord Valdemar either but he attempted to hide those dark thoughts under his current task. He looked at the rows after rows of wounded knights, some of whom were clearly taking their last breaths on this defiled land. Valdemar frowned deeply as he eyed at the wounded and the still-fighting defenders, noticing immediately that far over a half of the Crusade’s knights had fallen within the cursed city, among them many of their greatest champions.

Of the mighty army that had only a few hours earlier marched on Stratholme, only about five hundred remained and even many of those would succumb to their horrifying injuries soon enough. The commander’s mutilated mind prevented him from remembering most of his own knights which spared him from most of the emotional anguish but even then, he knew fully what this meant. The officer cringed deeply as he forced his steed to turn around and head to report his findings to the Grand Crusader himself. However, he didn’t get far before he heard someone call for him.

“My lord Valdemar! Might I have a moment of your time!” One knight appeared from the crowd with a deeply concerned look. Valdemar frowned at his appearance but his eyes then widened as he saw who the speaker was. He had forgotten all his recent meetings with Osran but he still remembered the knight from the distant times of the Second War. Yet, something in his mind prevented him from being surprised by this seemingly surprising reunion. Instead, he decided that he had simply forgotten something important and spoke briefly to the other paladin.

“Speak briefly, Lowriver! None of us have any time to spare here!” Valdemar said as he looked at the fighting before him, full well knowing that the battle of Stratholme wasn’t nearly at an end yet. He had to get his task done quickly but on the other hand, Osran’s position in the Crimson Legion forced him to listen to his old friend’s concerns.

Osran hated being forced to speak to the man he had hurt so much but there was one thing that bothered him. He had tried to search for Veria everywhere after the battle but to no avail. He knew that the chance she had fallen was a high one but he didn’t want to let his thoughts wander that far just yet. Maybe… just maybe she could still be alive.

“Crusader Lord, have you seen crusader Longlea anywhere after the battle? I can see that your job was to check the survivors so you if anyone must know about her whereabouts!” Osran said in a steady voice, taking deep breaths to calm himself down. Valdemar frowned at the bearded paladin and snapped back at him rather quickly, willing to move on.

“I haven’t seen her anywhere, Osran. Over half of us have fallen and we have to do everything in our power for those who we know are still alive. Lady Longlea might have searched refuge within the Bastion but…”

“Crusader Longlea is dead. I saw her fight Gavinrad valiantly and she gave her life to take that cursed death knight out, like any crusader should. She has my respect but as the Crusader Lord said, we have to leave mourning for the dead later, Lowriver!” Osran turned to look and saw the younger Abbendis had heard the duo’s conversation and decided to share what she knew. Osran could only stare at her after her words after which his gaze fell to the ground slowly. To think his comrade had fought against a death knight alone and beaten him… few paladins could ever pride themselves with such a feat. He had never heard of Gavinrad’s return but he could only voice his gratitude to the Light the righteous paladin’s soul was at an ease. He could feel his hands shuddering with the shock but even then, Osran knew his charge after all his years of service. After a few seconds, he returned his eyes to the general and spoke to her in his normal voice.

“I understand, general Abbendis. Thank you for telling me this.” He said, feeling sick beyond words. The Crusade had not only lost one of its greatest heroes and legends but Veria, too, had gone to join Tareth in humanity’s hall of precious memories. Osran felt himself squeeze the hilt of his sword hard enough for his knuckles to hurt but his face remained unchanged. However, Valdemar interrupted the knight’s moment of remembrance and spoke to him quickly.

“But now, Osran, join the others in preparing to leave this cursed place! We must go or we’ll be overrun. The Grand Crusader orders this.” Valdemar cried as Abbendis rode away to tend to her own duties. Osran frowned slightly but prepared to answer Valdemar quickly, knowing he didn’t have the luxury of mourning Veria just yet.

However, Valdemar’s mention of the Grand Crusader raised some thoughts to Osran’s mind, something he had wanted to ask the order’s highest-ranking leader for a long time. This might not be the best time but in the middle of a war like this, when would he have this opportunity again? As a member of the Crimson Legion, he had the right to demand an audience with any of the Crusade’s leaders and this was the right time for him to use that right Isillien had given to him on that rainy day which Osran felt had happened years in the past. But to Valdemar, he merely nodded and spoke firmly.

“Of course, Crusader Lord. May the Light safeguard your steps.” Osran said as Valdemar returned the gesture and ordered his steed to a gallop. Osran took a deep sigh before turning around and headed towards the direction he had heard the Grand Crusader to be in. Soon enough, certain things would be made clear once and for all.

A careful smile rose to Abbendis’ face as he followed the filling of the many wagons the Crusade had brought along for situations like these. There was just enough space for the wounded and most of the other survivors still had their steeds reserved for them. However, the crusaders weren’t ready to depart just yet and he suddenly turned around to address Dathrohan who took his first breather in hours. He had spared no effort in getting the evacuation started or leading his knights in the battle against the Scourge.

“Two-thirds of the wounded have been loaded into the carriages, Grand Crusader. With any luck, we’ll be ready to go in less than an hour. However, we have to leave some of our weapons and catapults here. There simply is no room for them.” Abbendis said as Dathrohan followed the battle at the bridge to Stratholme. Inch by inch, his forces were being pushed back but with Light’s guidance, they would be able to hold the enemy at bay just long enough for their comrades to make way for their escape. Still, Dathrohan put his hand on his forehead and shook his head.

“We should have been able to get out of this mess already. But the worst thing is that we have to let the Scourge overwhelm many of our gains. If we’re lucky, we may be hold them off at our first watchtower and the hills around it but if we cannot, only the Light knows where we can put a stop to the Scourge’s advance. Our losses are simply too great.” Dathrohan said in a tone which made Abbendis frown deeply. He had never seen Dathrohan act like this and right now, he knew there was no place for such behavior in the highest echelon of the Crusade. In times like these, the order couldn’t afford to get consumed by fear or despair. He quickly moved to Dathrohan’s side and spoke to him in a firm voice which almost sounded angry.

“With the blessing of all that is still holy in this world, we will withstand those monsters’ advance as we have always done, Dathrohan! Our troops are giving their all to enable our flight and whether we are driven simply out of this wood or besieged in our cities, we will never be defeated!”

Of course we won’t, you fool! You would realize it yourself if you were ready to open your mind to larger things than simply the next day! Dathrohan quickly returned Abbendis’ look and it grew quickly firmer than before. Inwardly, the master of the Scarlet Crusade held nothing but disgust at his comrade but he managed to almost sound respecting and even friendly.

“I know, High General. But we’ll have to start nearly from the beginning. I would have liked to…” He started to answer before a new voice cut his comment short.

“Grand Crusader! I beg your pardon but I have to exchange a few words with you!” Dathrohan’s eyes grew wide as he turned to look who dared to waste his time on a like this. At first, he prepared to simply tell the newcomer to get away immediately but as his eyes caught the sight of the speaker, his face fell slightly. It was one of the Crimson Legionaries who, to the demon’s slight amusement, were handpicked by Isillien to serve the Crusade faithfully. The demon took a brief sigh but in the end, perhaps this pathetic human would deserve to have his say after all.

“What is it, Crimson Legionary Lowriver? Can’t you see that we don’t have time for useless jabbering here?” Dathrohan cried, looking at Osran with a clearly displeased look on his face. Osran felt his initial decisiveness fall a bit as his eyes met those of Dathrohan’s, only now remembering just how much he respected the Grand Crusader. He had met Saidan only a few times in his life but those moments had been just enough for him to grow to respect the tireless efforts to advance the Light’s cause and limitless wisdom Dathrohan had become known for. He truly was a living paragon of all the righteous in this world but even then, Osran didn’t falter. He forced the words out of his mouth even if the Grand Crusader’s face made him extremely uncomfortable.

“Lord Dathrohan, I’ve learned to listen and respect your wisdom during my years as a knight and I know that all you’ve done have been for the greater good of our order or Lordaeron. But in the past months, I’ve seen things that have worried me greatly. Things… that I don’t think serve the Light in the way they should.” Osran started, earning an angered look from Abbendis who still stood near the duo, not approving in the least about this interruption. He stepped towards Osran and attempted to end this discussion here and now.

“Can’t you see that we don’t have time for complaining right now? Those thoughts may have their pl…” The High General began but Dathrohan quickly raised his hand in front of him, stopping the lower-ranked officer’s sentence right there. After that, he looked at Abbendis and spoke to him in a firm voice.

“We’ll finish this conversation alone, High General. You may attempt to strengthen our defenses for now.” Dathrohan said, earning an extremely confused gaze from Abbendis. Did the Grand Crusader actually deem this knight’s concerns more important than the battle that was raging around them? Abbendis respected his leader even more than many others but this was a decision he didn’t understand in the least. Yet, he knew better than to question Dathrohan’s orders and he simply saluted as he answered.

“Very well, Grand Crusader. But please, don’t linger here too long. Our time for withdrawal draws near.” The general said as he turned around and headed towards the bridge to Stratholme. Dathrohan narrowed his eyes slightly but he didn’t waste much time answering to Osran himself.

“Indeed, your timing for such issues is a highly curious one. Our knights have worked night and day to buy us our victory but you seem to imply that our good commanders are leading us astray, is that it?” Dathrohan said while raising his right brow somewhat. He wanted to cause Osran to begin hesitating so that he’d receive the full control of the conversation. Osran, on the other hand, realized that his audience hadn’t started well at all. He knew the Grand Crusader wouldn’t approve of such sentiments in the least, especially from a member of his own inner circle. Osran gave his answer immediately, not willing to allow such thoughts to linger within his superior’s head any longer than necessary.

“No, my lord. The Legion has done what it had to do… except in a few cases. Grand Crusader, I know the Crimson Legion is yours to command but for example, what we did to the Crusader Lord… I have to ask you, do you know what really happened to him when we had to quell his attempts to rebel against us?” Osran gulped, knowing that such questions held many implications that probably wouldn’t sit well with the Grand Crusader. In essence, he was questioning his hold over the Crusade and at least indirectly, accusing Isillien of treachery. Yet, this question had bothered him without an end and he had wanted an answer to it ever since that sickening day. Dathrohan looked slightly taken aback by that question as of course, those implications weren’t lost on him either. He soon stepped a few step further towards Osran and his voice took a more threatening tone as he answered.

“Such questions hardly advance your cause among our holy Crusade, Lowriver. I can’t help but understand that you’re saying that I’m not capable of leading our order firmly and with wisdom. The Crimson Legion was my creation and it is mine to lead and mine alone. The Grand Inquisitor has been a good friend and ally for many years and he, too, has my utmost trust and he would never turn his back to our ideals. To even suspect such a thing is a disgrace for our cause, Lowriver. I knew about Valdemar and his betrayal all the time and I gave the order to wipe away his mind of suck treasonous thoughts. As always, Isillien works as my right hand and no thing that the Crimson Legion does happens without my order, Lowriver. Is that clear?” He said, the Grand Crusader’s voice rising while he spoke, his anger building as he dwelled within Osran’s outrageous words. Inside, however, the demon was laughing as it was true that the real Dathrohan had known nothing of what had happened in Tyr’s Hand and Isillien hadn’t answered to him in months. To have a chance to humiliate the paladin like this was another opportunity for Balnazzar to shed away any doubts among his followers.

The knight, on the other hand, looked at his superior almost pleadingly, only now understanding just how misguided his doubts had been. Dathrohan had proved himself a strong-willed, capable man and it was small wonder he was this upset by some of his followers’ doubts about his leadership. Osran’s face turned to a frown as he again returned to that horrifying day and even now, he hated himself for what he had done back then. To see Valdemar walking around like he wasn’t even truly alive, only doing his masters’ bidding… it ached Osran’s heart greatly. But… if it had truly been an order of the Grand Crusader himself… how could he question it? Saidan would never do something like it without a reason but even then, Osran wasn’t quite done with this issue even now.

“It is, Grand Crusader but… I know Valdemar better than most and we could have most likely brought him to our side even without such things. And besides, I don’t really think that making torture a common practice is going to work to our advantage. Dathrohan, I’ve seen many good men being terribly mutilated because of simple doubts or claims. Only a few of those cases have gotten anywhere and… and even I have had my share of those practices simply for being separated from our main force for a while.” Osran said as he pulled his left glove from his hand, revealing the bloody spots where his nails used to be. He hoped Saidan would listen to him but it seemed like he was hardly making a good impression on the other knight. Dathrohan took a deep sigh and put his hand on his forehead before he answered in a loud voice.

“Crusader Lowriver, your claims of me overlooking possibilities of saving the mind of one of our allies hardly tells much about your trust towards our beloved order. You might be a friend of the Crusader Lord but you have to realize we don’t have the luxury of leaving anything to chance. We might have failed today but just think what could have come to pass if we had been forced to attack Tyr’s hand, first? The Scourge would have crushed us simply because of one man’s pride.

About the rest of your claims, I’m sure the younger general Abbendis has already told you about the traitors in our midst and thus, I don’t have to remind you while all methods, even torture, are necessary. We don’t need some cultists to backstab us in our sleep or some infected poor soul spreading the Plague among us. As for you, I hope you aren’t implying any of us should be above the security we have built with so many efforts.” Dathrohan almost shouted his last words but he ensured that others couldn’t hear his voice couldn’t be heard over the battle’s sounds.

Osran frowned deeply as he looked at the looming walls of Stratholme, slowly realizing that inside, he didn’t feel nearly as disgusted as he had expected. In the end, Dathrohan had only confirmed that he had done the right thing all along, a thing he had wondered so many times in the past weeks. Osran returned to look at the Grand Crusader and beside his firm expression could be seen nothing except decisiveness and honor. Even after all what had happened, Saidan had stayed faithful to his own ideals all along. And now that he was in the higher-ranked knight’s presence, he remembered once again that this was a man he had decided to follow when he had read the original letter of invitation into the order. This was a champion of the Light and if he had decided to do everything in his power to make the Crusade as strong as possible, he had no option but to accept his position. Osran’s voice sounded relieved, even thankful as he answered.

“I understand, Dathrohan. We can win nothing if we play by the old rules that failed us during the Great War. I apologize for my doubts, Grand Crusader. I see I was a fool to question your commands from the very beginning.” Osran said as he felt his superior’s eyes suddenly overwhelm him completely. However, Saidan’s gaze suddenly softened slightly as he answered to Osran.

“We all have our moments of hesitation, Lowriver, but know this: we are not beaten, we are merely pushed back for now. If we continue to work tirelessly, we will rebuild the Crusade and we will eventually take back what is rightfully ours! But to reach that goal, you know we cannot rest for a moment in the coming days. Do what must be done and I promise that all who stand with me until the end will earn a reward beyond their wildest dreams and an eternal place in Lordaeron’s hall of heroes. Remember to believe in the Crusade’s cause, always.” Dathrohan said with a steady voice, looking at Osran without blinking even once. Osran tried to return a revering look but he feared immensely that he failed in that cause miserably. Yet, he answered to the Grand Crusader after a briefest of moments.

“Of course, my lord. Thank you for your time. Your answers mean a lot…” Osran started before he was suddenly interrupted by a massive blast near him. He turned his head immediately at the source, seeing that dozens of paladins and mages being obliterated by some incredibly powerful spell at the bridge to Stratholme. Osran could only watch in disbelief as he saw his comrades being literally torn apart by the whirlwind of darkness, their viscera being sent flying into the dark waters of the small lake. The defenders’ ranks fell immediately after this onslaught which only shocked the paladin further. However, Dathrohan didn’t allow himself to be incapacitated by a sight such as this and he didn’t hesitate for a moment to give his order. This battle was lost but with any luck, there would be another one in the future if the knights managed to flee in time.

“Abandon your positions! Everyone capable of it, get to your steeds! The rest of you, run to the wagons! We are leaving now and there is not one second we can waste here!” Dathrohan cried as he headed towards his own steed which was waiting for him nearby. Immediately, a terrible stir swept over the army but every one of the crusaders knew that no matter the situation, they couldn’t forget the necessity of order and discipline. Even through the near-panic and deep fear within the countless men and women, the mess didn’t seem to descend into a total chaos. Slowly but surely, the knights found their steeds and the caravan carrying the wounded and the necessary supplies started to move on the Menethil road towards safety.

However, not all had the luxury of an imminent escape. The spell had been only the first step by the Scourge to break the siege at last and it was followed by a newfound push by the undead to drown the living under their numbers. As before, the crusaders defended themselves valiantly but step by step, the immortal soldiers never faltered and it was clear to all of the defenders that it was completely senseless to continue this battle until the very end. They would flee in due time but only when the rest of the army was completely safe.

All the while, a new plan rose within Dathrohan’s mind. He knew the Scarlet Bastion still stood proud and defiant in the heart of Stratholme and it was the seat and pride of their entire order. Even if the demon didn’t care about the old headquarters of the Knights of the Silver Hand, he knew what it meant to his followers and it would forever be a thorn on the Scourge’s side. Maybe, just maybe, this new attack would allow him to find a way back into the city and save the heart of his power. As the other crusaders quickly prepared for their own departure, Dathrohan suddenly saw the High General prepare for his own flight. the Grand Crusader ordered his own steed for a gallop towards him as he’d need top relay his plans forward.

“Abbendis, lead our forces forward! I’m going back to the Bastion with a dozen other knights!” He said as the lower-ranked commander turned to look at him, seemingly stunned by these news. He frowned deeply and spoke to his commander in disbelief.

“Are you joking, Grand Crusader? Stratholme is lost and we have to…” He tried to reason but Dathrohan wasn’t willing to listen his concerns until the end. Time was off the essence and he wasn’t going to waste any time here.

“This isn’t the time to argue, High General! Just go and relay the reason for my absence to the others! I must save the Bastion, for the sake of our order!” Dathrohan cried, more than happy that the rows of knights around the two hid them from the sight of any potential enemies. Abbendis would have wanted to argue further but he decided against it, knowing that he had no way or even right to fight with his superior. He merely took a dark expression as he spoke.

“Very well, Grand Crusader. I just beg you to remember what happened the last time when I warned against engaging on such quests. But no matter what, do what you have to.” The general said, remembering his last conversation with Alexandros with utmost fear. Saidan prepared for his final answer but it was at this moment when a massive crack could be heard all over the horrifyingly malformed forest. An enormous abomination had broken the Crusade’s largest barricade, allowing the undead to flood into their inner camp, telling the two leaders their time was up once and for all. The Grand Crusader saluted other officer before turning around, preparing for his own task.

“May the Light watch over us all. Have a safe journey, High General, and stop their advance whenever you can. You have my trust.” Dathrohan said before he turned his steed around and waved at a few of his comrades. Abbendis frowned slightly but again, he was forced to overlook his personal misgivings. He quickly moved aside a small number of still fighting knights and cried to them and the rest of the army with all his might.

“Get on the move, everyone! Head for the safety of Light’s Hope and Tyr’s Hand and let nothing stop you! Go, now!” He cried as the last of the knights quickly turned around from the fight and ran towards the last of the wagons as its wheels started to slowly roll on the old road of cobblestone. Each of them held the desperate hope of joining their comrades again and hope for better days but many of the knights were torn to pieces the moment they started their run. Abbendis cursed the situation but he quickly joined the mass of riders around the wagons, preparing to defend their wounded comrades until the very end.

Osran glanced behind himself, looking in disgust as he saw the ghouls tearing a few mortally wounded crusaders who had been left behind to pieces. He cursed that the Crusade had to leave behind all their siege weapons and a part of their spare sword and arrows. Yet, that would matter little if the rest of the army survived from this debacle. The paladin ordered nervously his steed into an ever-faster gallop along with his companions. Even getting out of this horrifying forest would be a major relief for the crusaders. The Plaguewood had always been a stronghold of the Scourge and there was no telling…

“Take the flames out, now! The rest of you, take the fiends out!” Valdemar cried as Osran quickly turned to look at what was happening. Dozens of burning arrows suddenly flew from the forest into the wagons and into the crusaders, causing the former to catch fires almost immediately. Osran knew the magi could take the fires out almost instantly but he shivered as he looked into the darkness of the woods, wondering what kind of beasts were roaming there now. Yet, there was only one way to repel this attack, the same one all the knights had in mind. The mass of knights cast their own areas on consecration on both sides of the road, knowing it would take shooting arrows impossible. The spells caused distorted cries of agony from the woods, the sounds being more than familiar to the paladins.

The paladin frowned as he thought that it was only ordinary skeletons who had caused this small incident which had only caused some of the horses to panic and fall into the ground. However, this attack had had very little impact on the group as a whole, filling the escaping paladins with newfound hope. However, the following undead didn’t seem to be ready to give up just yet. Suddenly, the entire forest seemed to be filled with the monsters, pouring out from nearly every possible spot from the forest.

One of the younger escaping knights had already harbored hopes of salvation but Eneath’s heart skipped a beat when he suddenly saw a dark form to his side. From the blackness of the forest, one of the ghouls jumped towards him with a terrifying speed. Eneath cried as the monster started to tear his shoulder and side to pieces, his steed suddenly screaming in horror and trying to force both of its riders from its back. Eneath cursed under his breath as he turned around to face the ghoul himself. The undead beast revealed its teeth and it took all of Eneath’s willpower not to vomit at the monster’s scent. After a short moment, he raised his hand and hit the ghoul at its moth, sending the rotten remains of teeth flying into the darkened forest. The paladin, however, spent all his efforts to retrieving his sword but the ghoul had managed to get in a position where Eneath couldn’t safely divert even the slightest of efforts away from keeping the monster at bay.

In the end, there was only one thing left for him to do, no matter how much he had avoided it. With a deep breath, he hit his head towards the ghoul, feeling as it sank into the decayed flesh, the bloody stains of the long-since passed corpse quickly flowing down his face. Yet, that maneuver caught the beast off-guard, allowing Eneath to grab another one of its arms and close the monster against his steed. With a quick move, Eneath finally grabbed his sword and finally impaled the creature and before he even noticed it, the ghoul was sent flying into the dark forest, what remaining of its ruined body falling to pieces as the rotten limbs were torn apart by the impact. This small victory came at the last possible moment as the horrified horse was just about to crash into the other steeds, possibly starting a chaos in the retreating army.

Eneath took a brief sigh as he turned to look forward, his eyes widening at the sight. Not far before him, the cursed forest seemed to finally end and give way to the winding, just as sick plains of the Eastern Plaguelands. Yet, each of the paladins knew that the worst was now behind them: from this on, any hopes of a sudden ambush from the Scourge were now over. Eneath wholeheartedly welcomed even the cold, fetid wind after the countless hours spent in the symphony of plague and fire of Stratholme.

However, the young paladin was not nearly the most relieved knight of the army. High General Abbendis could simply stare before him in thankfulness, happy beyond measure by his success of leading his troops away from Plaguewood. From this point on, he had a clear vision about what was going on and he could begin to search for a new frontline against the Scourge. The undead were still on their tail and Abbendis bet his life that the Horsemen were not going to rest when they knew they had the Crusade on the run. The general knew he’d have to try to balance his desire to save the Crusade’s earlier gains and suitable terrain as well as optimally short supply lines. Now, the only thing that mattered was to stabilize the front line and to save the areas that really mattered to their cause.

Yet, that last realization suddenly made Abbendis sick beyond measure. There were very few areas out here that were of utmost value to the Crusade and to be completely honest, there was no reason to spend resources trying to defend any of the countryside or the small villages that were still standing. Corin’s Crossing was strategically vital but really, there was very little there to actually defend. In the end, preserving it would be a great asset to the Crusade in the future but if it seemed even for a moment that defending it would be foolish, Abbendis knew it had to be evacuated too. But for now, securing Light’s Hope and Tyr’s Hand were the most important issues, ones that could ensure or finally end the Crusade’s future. The general turned to look at his left and cried to Harthal who was riding on his side.

“Harthal, take our left wing to Light’s Hope and save it from the coming storm! I will take the rest to Tyr’s Hand!” He cried, knowing that Harthal would do his all to that cause. He lower-ranked officer answered immediately to Abbendis, understanding his point immediately.

“Yes, High General! I will defend it to my dying breath!” He then turned to face the group riding after him and he pointed with his sword to the rightmost rank he was addressing.

“You will accompany me to Light’s Hope! We have to get its defenses ready before the Scourge reaches it!” He cried, seeing all the knights he was talking to salute briefly before continuing to order their steeds into an ever-faster gallop. Abbendis nodded at the Lord Paladin approvingly, happy that he had at least one commander besides himself who could lead the crusaders with decisiveness and wisdom. He frowned as he thought about Dathrohan’s departure, dearly praying that the Grand Crusader knew this time what he was doing. His oversight had cost Alexandros his life and if Dathrohan had headed into his own death with this another folly… it brought Abbendis no relief to know he’d most likely be the next Grand Crusader as the second-highest ranked living member of the order. No one, not him nor anyone else, could take Saidan or Alexandros’ places as the paragons of valor they were and Abbendis knew his authority or wisdom could never come even close to those two legends. He shook his head in fear as he rode forward.

The Lord Paladin’s words surprised Osran somewhat as he had been one of the troops he had commanded to follow him. The paladin had already dreamt of sleeping in his beloved Tyr’s Hand but in the end, he had visited Light’s Hope more times than he could remember and he had grown very fond of the sense of sanctity hanging upon the ancient chapel and the small camp that had grown around it. If defending it was what was expected of him, he would do it with utmost valor. Osran breathed easier by the second as he saw the numerous watchtowers on the sides of the road roll by, knowing that each of them meant that he and his comrades were closer to salvation. The undead had been left behind a long time ago and most of the army was still intact. Suddenly, he heard Harthal cry again to his group as he forced his steed to turn left suddenly.

“Now, follow me! This is the place from where we’ll head towards Light’s Hope!” The Lord Paladin shouted as his steed left the Menethil Road and headed into a dead woods, beyond which could be seen the mountains surrounding Havenshire and New Avalon. Osran lamented the fact that there were no road leading to the Chapel but in the end, the terrain around it was far from difficult. All of the troops that had been placed under Harthal’s command followed him immediately and it wasn’t long until the main force of the Crusade heading to Tyr’s Hand disappeared into the distance. Osran eyed at the forest around himself, more than thankful that at least these were real trees and not the fungal monstrosities of Plaguewood. This land might be dead but it wasn’t the horrific, twisted nightmare of the Scourge, not yet anyway.

Minutes passed without major incidents and no words were exchanged between the crusaders as each of them prayed that this horrifying journey would finally come to an end. The sun was still hanging high in the sky when Harthal saw a familiar sight rising from among the woods, soon to be followed by the sight of the Light’s Hope Chapel and the group of tens surrounding it. There were only a few actual buildings around it but this place had earned an immortal place within the hearts of the servants of the Light as many the greatest heroes of Lordaeron were buried under its very stones. There were also memorials to legends whose remains couldn’t be brought there, starting from Uther the Lightbringer himself to the gallant Turalyon, who had so valiantly sacrificed his life to save Azeroth from the destruction occurring on the orc homeworld of Draenor roughly fifteen years ago.

Harthal finally raised his hand to order his followers to slow down as he saw a small number of guards beginning to run towards him even if it was clear they didn’t consider the newcomers a threat. Leading them was a man Harthal knew immediately and the Lord Paladin greeted him heartily, deciding to hide his news at least for a moment.

“Hail, crusader Eligor Dawnbringer! It has been too long since I visited Light’s Hope!” Harthal cried, earning a nod from the man towards his comrades. The paladin called Dawnbringer then turned back to the newcomer and spoke to him almost in a careful voice.

“Indeed it has, Lord Paladin. But that is of little importance right now. I take it that your presence here means that Stratholme is finally ours. Has that blessed moment finally come to pass?” The brown-haired man asked, the hope more than clear in his and the rest of the Chapel’s garrison’s eyes. Harthal frowned at the question and his heavy and forced breathing quickly started to dissipate their hopes. After a brief moment, he answered in a voice that sounded like it belonged to someone decades older than the Lord Paladin.

“No, it hasn’t. The battle is completely lost and we were forced to abandon our positions out there. We rode all the way here to help you defend the Chapel in the hours and days to come!” Harthal knew his answer left countless of questions unanswered and immediately, the scene around him seemed to explode into a chorus of desperate cries and confused stutters. For a brief moment, Eligor merely stared forward, trying to come to terms with the news. The offensive which everyone had waited for weeks had turned into a disaster?
Any dreams of retaking Stratholme were over? Those thoughts almost swallowed Eligor in their darkness but after a moment, he raised his voice as he ordered his own garrison to calm down.

“Silence, everyone! Let us hear what else the Lord Paladin has to say!” He said before turning back to Harthal. The commander’s voice was grave but it still carried a revering tone towards the Lord Paladin.

“What happened out there? Nearly all our forces were marched on Stratholme and victory was all but assured! And what about the Grand Crusader? Is he alright?” He asked in deep confusion, looking as a haunted look appeared to Harthal’s eyes. Never since his return from Northrend had the higher-ranked paladin felt this miserable, this hopeless. It felt like another catastrophe from which there was no coming back. Still, he took a deep sigh as he jumped away from his steed’s back and walked towards the commander of Light’s Hope.

“We were overwhelmed by Kel’Thuzad’s plans and magic. That is all there is to it. The last time I saw him, Dathrohan was alive and Light willing, he made it through the battle.” He said, only now realizing the mental toll the horrifying battle had taken on him. He suddenly felt his hands shake and his eyes simply stare mindlessly forward as his mind tried to form at least some coherent thoughts. Eligor took a more hopeful look after the other man’s words but suddenly, another, younger voice joined the conversation.

“H… how’s my father? Certainly you know what happened to him?” Harthal turned slowly to face Darion Mograine, the younger of Alexandros’ two sons. Darion was barely even a man yet but his skills as a paladin weren’t matched even by many of the more experienced ones. Suddenly, Harthal felt his mouth freezing still, the mere thought of his last encounter with the fallen Highlord horrifying him without an end. The burning madness and cold will to serve the Lich King still lingered before his eyes, wondering what kind of fate would have waited for him had he and Abbendis been unable to hold the death knight at bay. The Lord Paladin’s wasn’t lost on Osran and he decided to make his superior a favor and spoke to Darion in a low, mournful voice.

“He’s gone, Darion. In his stead now stands a death knight who wants nothing more than to deliver all of Azeroth into the Lich King’s hands. None of us saw how he fell but we all saw what he has become. I’m sorry.” Osran said, knowing that his words were likely to make Darion more upset than necessary but the older paladin himself was completely swallowed by his own sorrow. Only now did his loss begin to fully manifest itself in his heart. Veria’s face haunted his thoughts and Osran was disgusted by the thought that he and Veria had reunited like that, only to be forever torn apart by the merciless hand of death. A pain he hadn’t felt in years manifested itself within Osran’s heart as he heard Darion starting to stutter.

“B… b… but that’s impossible! No servant of the Lich King is a match for the Ashbringer! You must have seen someone else!” Darion said as his gaze fell towards the ground, the young man starting to take deep and horrified gasps as Harthal walked towards him. He had a somewhat grim but also understanding look on his face as he addressed the mourning knight.

“He speaks the truth, crusader Mograine. We will all mourn him in the years to come but none of us can change the fact that his time with us is up. You have my deepest condolences, Darion.” Harthal said as he slowly turned around to face Eligor again. He took a tired, even angry look as he spoke to his fellow officer.

“But Alexandros’ loss is only part of the menace which we now face! The Scourge has been unleashed, Dawnbringer, and we must be ready when the time to take our stand finally comes. Surround the Chapel with barricades! Build catapults with which we can hold the undead at bay! Let no man, woman or child stay still while the time for stopping the Lich King is at hand!” Harthal cried, knowing he was overstepping his authority by giving orders to the knights who weren’t his to command. Yet, he knew Eligor well enough to realize that he wasn’t one to blame a fellow crusader for such petty things. Instead, he turned to his troops and cried to them with all might.

“You heard him! If the Highlord is leading the undead, we have to be ready when he attacks us! Every able-bodied crusader, get on the move! As for the wounded, we will allow them the time to recover until the attack itself!” The commander cried, the dozens of Light’s Hope’s garrison members joining the survivors of Stratholme in emptying the storages of lumber and the blacksmith’s house of any spare armor.

Osran, too, got on the move but he kept on eye for the Crusaders around him, there were still many comrades he hadn’t seen since the battle and even if they were most likely in Tyr’s Hand, there was a chance that they could… Suddenly, he felt some of his anxiety ease as he saw Eneath standing among the paladins but Osran immediately noticed something that made him frown deeply. His nephew seemed to limp badly and only now did he remember the injuries Eneath had suffered in the battle of Plaguewood. Osran quickly moved towards him and spoke to him softly.

“Thank the Light you’re alive, Eneath! I worried you wouldn’t be able to fight to fight your way from that slaughterhouse!” He said, wanting to begin this brief reunion on a positive note. Eneath looked surprised by his uncle’s appearance but he soon took a similar smile to the older knight’s.

“I could say the same about you, uncle. In fact, I’m surprised any of us are still alive, considering what happened out there.” He said, shuddering from what he had seen. The shame and outrage of defeat lingered at the back of his mind but for now, survival was the only thing that mattered. Osran nodded to his nephew and then spoke to him in a silent voice.

“You’ve done your share of today’s fights. You deserve a chance to begin healing your injuries so you can do your best in the days to come. There are many knights with less injuries trying to simply get a moment of rest.” Osran said, looking with some chagrin at the groups of wounded who were being carried into the chapel. Eneath’s eyes widened and he immediately answered to Osran, clearly disapproving of his words.

“I am in a good enough condition to help the others…” He began but Osran could see from his walking that his legs were seriously wounded and that each step was a painful one for his nephew. He suddenly snapped back at the younger man in a voice which brokered no disagreement.

“Eneath, I see that you’re in in condition to work right now. I’m proud that you want to give your all to help us out here but you also have to think about the future. If you exhaust yourself here and prevent your wounds from healing, who does that help in the coming battle? You have to always think of the best way to serve the Crusade, Eneath.” He said while laying his hand on Eneath’s shoulder, nodding at him encouragingly. Eneath looked at his uncle for a long time, willing to answer something to his proposition but he could see that Osran really meant what he said. And as he twitched his torso slightly forward, he could feel his body struggling to halt the bleeding from his countless wounds. In the end, he had to admit his uncle had a point and he took a deep sigh as he answered.

“Very well, Osran, but only for today. I don’t want the others to fight my battles for me as long as I can still breath!” He answered, cursing his earlier carelessness. He was about to turn around and head back inside when he heard Osran speak to him again.

“And please, keep your eyes and ears open. I saw in Stratholme that Carethas is a traitor. I was about to stop him but the Lord Paladin prevented me from doing my duty. I’m not sure about him but we cannot trust anyone who defends an agent of the Scourge. And after today, we have to be more vigilant than ever. Do you understand?” Osran said, regretting that he hadn’t told of his encounter with them to Dathrohan but in the end, the Grand Crusader was over such things. The Crimson Legion had to prove itself to be completely capable of handling treacherous cadets on its own and as for Harthal, Osran didn’t really have proof against him. Eneath frowned further, not willing to hear that another of his comrades had failed the Crusade but… Osran’s expression told he believed in that wholeheartedly and he didn’t have real reason to question his uncle. He nodded awkwardly before heading towards the chapel itself.

“I will. But for now, I won’t take any more of your time, uncle. Be safe.” Eneath said as he turned around and prepared for a well-earned rest after the battle. Osran was somewhat disappointed by his nephew’s answer but it couldn’t be helped now. The older knight, too, turned on his heels and joined the other knights in preparing Light’s Hope for the coming battles.

As the evening’s shadows grew longer, barricades twice higher than any of the knights had risen to surround the chapel, siege equipment dotting the surroundings of the chapel heavily. The crusaders spared no effort in attempting to spare their village from the Scourge but to their surprise, only small groups of ghouls and gargoyles attempted to breach through the wooden walls. It was hardly what had been expected but in the end, that could only mean the Scourge was either cleaning the countryside of any crusader outposts or charging into Tyr’s Hand right now. In any case, the atmosphere among the defenders was heavier than in ages as all of them waited for the final end of their precious dream.

However, it never seemed to come. An hour after hour passed and nothing out of the ordinary seemed to happen. The mood slowly turned into a confused one as this grand battle Harthal had promised failed to materialize. The Lord Paladin saw to the defenses personally, knowing he’d know the enemy forces better than any of his comrades but no matter how intensely he stared into the darkened woods, not one shadow of an undead seemed to dwell beneath the dead trees. The longer this fearful silence went on, the more concerned he grew as he could have bet his very life that the Scourge would have attacked Light’s Hope as soon as they could. And as the evening grew older, the Lord Paladin’s concern grew into a fear. There was certainly something going on and he would have to know what.

Harthal crossed his arms and gritted his teeth as he thought about what he was going to do. He needed a small group to search Light’s Hope’s surroundings and to see if there was anything suspicious going on. Harthal knew it was a dangerous gamble on his knights’ lives but there was no alternative. If the Scourge was on the move nearby, they couldn’t be allowed to see their plans through without any efforts from the Crusade to stop them. Harthal snorted in annoyance as he turned around, preparing to amass this small group he’d need to safeguard the order in this dangerous situation.

Only the silent steps of the steeds could be heard in the pitch-black night as the small group of knights treaded forward through the decayed forest. Osran cursed the fact that he was ordered on this mission as he had barely slept a minute after the start of the offensive on Plaguewood and he could hardly force himself to stay on his steed’s back without falling into the ground. Yet, as always, it was his duty to answer the call of the Crusade and he knew just how important this mission was. If there were any threats nearby, the knights would find them before it would be too late.

“Commander Dawnbringer? Did you find anything?” Osran heard Darion ask as the officer of the group reunited with the main force after a short search of his own. The aging knight could see no features of the officer of Tyr’s Hand but his voice confirmed his identity without any doubts.

“Only one abomination who tried to ambush me in a small glade not far from here. Luckily I could repel it before it was too late.” He said, seemingly willing to just forget that incident and move on. Osran, however, answered to him next, more than honored to have been named the second officer of this investigating party.

“That hardly qualifies as a harbinger of any incoming attack, commander. Neither have we found anything of note, despite searching these woods for hours.” Osran said, knowing that many of his comrades were already questioning this whole quest. Darion especially had been of little help as he was still completely broken by the loss of his father. Osran could relate to his pain after his own loss but he had done a far better job hiding his sorrow from his comrades. Eligor ordered his steed closer to his comrades and answered to Osran in a low voice, knowing that there was no reason to keep any more noise than what was absolutely necessary.

“There are still regions further towards Northdale where the Scourge could try to launch a surprise attack against Light’s Hope. Even then, I must say I’m astonished that we’ve found nothing thus far.” Eligor said as he forced his steed to turn around again to move to the direction he had spoken of. However, Darion’s voice interrupted him immediately as the young man’s pained wail reached his ears.

“But that area is far hillier than the lands around here! The Scourge would be crazy to attack us from there!” Darion cried, not able to hide his overall reluctance to simply go on with this mission from his superiors. Many of his comrades looked at Darion in annoyance and it wasn’t long until Osran rode past him, giving his answer to the young man briefly.

“Then that makes it a great option for them to attack against us, Mograine. We cannot overlook even the slightest of possibilities when we are facing a threat like this! So quit whining and ride forward, everyone!” Osran said before following Eligor into the darkness. Darion frowned deeply but he knew there were no options other than completing his duty.

Yet, the hills north of Light’s Hope were no more interesting than the plains to the south. Even from the higher mounds which overlooked much of the surrounding land, no major movement of the undead could be seen. The night was nearly completely still which disturbed Eligor even more than an army of the Scourge would have. The Light’s Hope was safe for now but these developments most likely implied that a massive offensive against Tyr’s Hand was under way. Yet, there was nothing to be done about it as sending reinforcements there could open Light’s hope for a potential attack. For now, the commander knew there was only one thing to do: to return to Light’s Hope and try to get a contact to Tyr’s Hand and, if possible, to the Grand Crusader himself too. He turned wearily to look at his comrades and spoke to them with a beaten voice.

“We won’t find anything in this night. Let us return to Light’s Hope. Maybe morning will bring some news about our situation.” He said, earning many nods of agreement from the other knights. Osran rode towards him slowly, answering to his superior’s proposition readily.

“I have to agree, commander Dawnbringer. We are just wasting time around here. Let us just hope that things stay…” Suddenly, a loud thud and a horse’s low wail pierced the night, immediately alerting the crusaders to full readiness. They turned to the direction of the voice which had come from an unusually lush thicket to their left. Eligor and Osran dismounted immediately and started to walk towards the bush, their blades in full readiness. The Crimson Legionary cried with a loud voice, dreading what they might find. If this was some trick of the Horsemen, the knights’ survival would become unlikely beyond any measure but they just couldn’t leave this matter uninvestigated.

“Identify yourself or prepare to be eliminated, whoever you are! Show yourself, now!” He ordered as slight movement could again be seen in the bush. Osran’s heart beat in his ears terribly as he knew the danger he was in. The tension was tangible in the air… until the stranger finally crouched from the bush, his voice wheezing horribly.

“I thought that… that I wouldn’t need introduction. Please… help me reach Light’s Hope.” High Inquisitor Fairbanks seemed utterly confused and weak and his body was covered with deep wounds. It was clear that he would be on death’s door soon without help. Osran, however, wasn’t completely satisfied with the answer and no mercy could be seen in his eyes.

“The High Inquisitor was told to have fallen at Stratholme along with the Highlord. If you are not some servant of Kel’Thuzad, I’d advise you to prove it and explain how you could have reached this place alone from Naxxramas.” Osran said, earning some confused looks from the other knights, even Eligor, but none objected to his order. The cleric took another deep breath and struggled to rise to his knees as he answered.

“I… I found one of the steeds that escaped during the first battle in Plaguewood and… and it was her cry you heard. It’s a shame that this is to be her final resting place. As for how I’m here… the battle was tough but most of the undead were drawn out of Naxxramas which allowed me to escape. I… I saw all of it, Crimson Legionary. I’ll tell all of it once we reach Light’s Hope.” He spoke as Eligor walked beside him and put his hand on the inquisitor’s head, closing his eyes for a moment. After a few seconds, he rose up addressed Osran and the rest of his followers.

“I sense no Plague within him. It is our duty to take him to Light’s Hope but then it will be his job to prove he is who he claims to be.” Eligor said, earning a deep frown from Osran. The latter knew his commander was right but he didn’t like this one bit. Osran simply had too many experiences of betrayal to accept Fairbanks’ words but with a forced sigh, he gave his answer.

“It certainly will be, Dawnbringer! Well, raise him on one of the horses so we can get going!” He said as the inquisitor took a brief smile. Against all odds, he had managed to rejoin the crusaders and soon, so very soon, he’d have the chance to tell the story which would change the fate of the Scarlet Crusade forever. Silence reigned over the small group of knights as they started their way back to the Light’s Hope under the pale light of the stars.

The crusaders have managed to escape from the most terrifying of deaths but the order’s woes are only beginning. With the threat of the undead hanging over the brave knights, will Fairbanks’ return and his story spell the final end of the Scarlet Crusade? If any of you have thoughts concerning this story, please let me know of them. Other than that, see you next time!