OOC: Ahem. Time for me to get back to work. I will be rushing along events in the so-called-present, to make way to continue the Fenris Isle scene. You will see. Things that would have been decided anyway I will summarise now, rather than stretch along. It's time we got to the good stuff. The big war is coming. Fenris is the future. Minor rebellions are the past.
Marshal Sherman and lieutenant Pureblood rendezvouzed with their legions just west of the city of Tyr's Hand. It had been a ride with all haste behind it, for Sherman knew that there was no time to waste if the last army of the Maroon Cult was to be stopped.
The legions of Lordaeron were already in formation when Sherman sped from the cobble highway into the midst of his men. His subordinate officers had prepared for his coming, so that they could launch their attack immediately. "Pureblood. To me." Sherman called, as final preparations were being made. The young Witch Hunter galloped to his master's side. "Milord?" Sherman's expression was as bold as ever. He would have to put a measure of trust in this young man if his plan was to work accordingly. "Pureblood, I have been informed that Tyr's Hand was breached an hour ago. The Maroon Cult is on the verge of achieving victory."
Pureblood paled at these words. "What would you have me do?" Sherman nodded, pleased at his lieutenant's eagerness to follow orders. "Push through the Maroon army, straight through the city. I need you to reach the town hall. You must regroup the city guard and wedge the Maroons between two legions. Go now. Take the vanguard, and don't stop ploughing a wedge through the enemy. Saving Tyr's Hand is our priority."
With a salute, the lieutenant made off and led the iron-clad shield and sword that was the Lordaeron vanguard. Sherman watched him go, a soldier who had served him well since Stratholme, through Corin's Crossing and now to the final battle to retake Strattania. King Alford would be proud of his men.
Sherman donned his helmet and led his men in a slow advance towards the city gates. They would move in after Pureblood and retake the walls. The tension was high. In the distance, the city stretched out, fires beginning to rage from behind its walls. The gates had been smashed open, as if with horrific force. Pureblood and the vanguard met little resistance at the gates, and vanished into the streets.
The battle for Tyr's Hand was to be known as one of the bloodiest of the Maroon insurrection. Sherman held the line at the city gates, but no word returned of Pureblood's endeavour. It became gradually clear that the young lieutenant may not have successfully completed his task. With this knowledge in hand, Sherman threw his tactic to the wind, and commanded a full assault through the city. If the Maroon Cult could not be wedged, then it would simply have to be rooted out.
Sherman fought ferociously, the memory of his victory at Stratholme spurring him on, until finally his soldiers broke into the central square. There, much to Sherman's surprise, was a large barricade, cutting the entire area in half. A last pathetic defense was being conducted by a row of soldiers bearing the colours of the Tyr's Hand city watch.
Though they were rescued in time, their numbers were pitifully few. Their captain fell before Sherman, bleeding and exhausted. Sherman hoisted him to his feet. "What happened to the men I sent inside?" Sherman barked, his eyes wild. "If they are still alive, we must find them!" The captain coughed, but steadied himself. "A man calling himself Lieutenant Pureblood rallied us, liege. He broke rank to chase down what he said was the enemy leadership, fleeing the city."
Sherman suddenly realised why his vanguard was nowhere in sight. It was not even within the city walls anymore. "Escaping? The Maroon leadership is escaping?" Sherman yelled. "Aye, lord. That's what the lieutenant said. Said he had to stop them, or the rebellion would never die... they left by the east gate into the Avalon countryside."
Soon, the city was secure. Wasting no time, Sherman mounted his next offensive, leading his fastest soldiers on horseback through the eastern gate, and up into the countryside of Avalon. They followed a clear trail of corpses, both Maroon and imperial. Sherman found that the trail led away from Avalon, and turned south instead, towards the mountains. Finally, Sherman found what he was looking for. The last remnants of his vanguard lay scattered across a battlefield at the foot of the hills. "Search for survivors." Sherman commanded. "Damn you, Pureblood, for your recklessness."
Sherman found Pureblood himself, a disfigured form heaped across the body of a gnoll. Much to Sherman's surprise, Pureblood was alive. Getting on his knees, Sherman lifted the man into his arms. "Pureblood?" The young man's blood cacked eyes flickered open. "Marshal... I am sorry..." "You took liberty in your orders, son. This would not have happened if not for your-"
Then Sherman realised he was talking to a corpse. Pureblood had died in his arms. For a moment, Sherman wished that his last words to the man had been kinder. Then he lay Pureblood to rest and drew his sword. He called one of his officers to his side. "Take Pureblood's sword. It is yours now, lieutenant." The humbled man did as he was asked. Sherman continued. "Ride to Lordaeron City. Report to King Alford Menethil that the rebellion in Strattania has been crushed. The army will do what it can to help the populace, and I will not be far behind. I will pass through Andorhal, and take it if it has fallen to the People's Front."
As Sherman prepared to depart the grizzly scene, he spared one look into the southern mountains.
Andol was still out there. The Maroon Cult may have been defeated, but somewhere, hearts was still beating that threatened the kingdom.
Sherman realised that he had two choices. One; to return to the kingdom and rejoin his master's side. Or option two; to pursue Andol. To seek revenge for Pureblood, for Strattania. To dismantle the Maroon Cult before it could escape into the Hinterlands.
Several weeks later, in the royal court of Lordaeron, an armed retinue arrived in the palace. They bore a series of letters, reports, and one captive. A captive whom King Alford recognized. She was brought before him in chains, and forced to her knees. Reportedly, she had been captured near Corin's Crossing. Pretending to ignore her, Alford read through the letters, buying himself time to think.
He read the report by Adaen Melrache, on how he had stopped Canbrad and saved Andorhal. Alford flicked through the summary of the battle of Stratholme once more, before reading of the slaughter at Tyr's Hand. Casualties had been expected, and all in all, it was safe to say that Sherman had done an outstanding job.
Focusing his attention back on the woman in chains, Alford realised that he had a decision to make.
He could not be certain, but this golden haired and angry cultist looked like none other than Tileot's mother; the noble he had charmed in his youth. How she had ended up in the service of Brux was a mystery. Either way, he would have to be careful how to handle her. She clearly had not divulged her secret yet. How Alford handled the situation would decide a lot. He could execute her, keep his secret safe. Either way, none could know the truth. For some reason, she had not yet spoken it.
Faldren attempted his usual hollow smile, but did not succeed to pull it off very convincingly, as always. He was left with his thugs staring down both Caxagord and Van Dam. "Why would I hurt little Caxagord?" Faldren said, throwing his hands into the air. "If I wanted Caxagord dead, I'd have cut his throat the minute we saw him!"
Van Dam cleared his throat. "That is what you were going to do, before I stopped you."
Angrily, Faldren rolled his eyes. "It's not often my crew is attacked by a crazy person in rags! Now listen, here, assassin-thief. I love Caxagord. Why, that man was kind enough to deprive me of part of my inheritance and take up residence in my family mansion! Did I ever mention that? Or that, as one of the Chancellors, he's really one of the people who grounds Alterac into the dust to fund his lifestyle?"
Caxagord's maddened eyes spun wildly, and he groaned in fear, clutching at Van Dam's leg in fear. "Lies, all lies!" Faldren shrugged. "Really, Caxagord. You're going to have to do better than that. But I'm no fool. You're more useful to us alive than dead! Now, I can guess rather well how you ended up here. Did Drace finally get tired of you?" This seemed to send a ripple of maniacal laughter through Caxagord; or perhaps it was desperate laughter. "Drace? Are you stupid, Darafel? How far behind on the times are you?"
Clearly offended, Faldren threw a scowl at Caxagord. "I sail my ship and I plunder villages. Forgive me for not caring about court politics." Caxagord slammed his fist into the soil, squirming like a worm. "Drace is in the dungeons! Gabranth replaced her! And damnit, Admiral! Bergan is back!" This made Faldren's complexion pale somewhat.
Van Dam paid close attention to the exchange. Whatever was happening, he could twist it to Ravenholdt's benefit. To say the least, it seemed that Hellen had some rather troublesome family members and friends back home.
Caxagord continued, rising to his feet. He pointed a fist on the scar at his chest. "Yes! You heard me right! Bergan! Bergan; the very same Chancellor that was disposed of a generation ago. The most corrupt, malign politician to set foot in our homeland! He took the reins from me. He's at Xie's side, Faldren! The kingdom is in peril!"
Faldren Darafel shrugged. "What do I care about which Chancellor is in charge? I thought Xie killed most of you in a fit of rage years ago." Caxagord barked a laugh. "Yes, I manipulated him into getting rid of Bergan and his cronies. Can you remember what life was like under Bergan?"
Even this seemed to hit something inside Faldren. "Yes. I recall. Well, Caxagord. I won't help you. But I won't kill you, either. I think we're done here."
Van Dam reached out a hand to halt Faldren. "Wait. He might be useful to us."
Faldren shrugged. "Get him onboard then. But keep him away from me, and if he burns down the ship, you're going to have to pay for it."
By the next day, Caxagord had already convinced Faldren of his intent. They both agreed that Drace was far too attractive to be allowed to die, and for that matter, Bergan was far too evil to be allowed to reign behind the scenes. Something had to be done.
Inevitably, they approached Van Dam. "What do you say, thief-knife-assassin-man?" Faldren asked with a gleaming smile. "Scratch Caxagord's back, so that he scratches mine, so I scratch yours, and then you scratch mine?"
Caxagord had cleaned himself up, and was wearing new clothes. He was far more rational now than the previous day. "Let me make myself clear, assassin." he said. "While I don't know about Gabranth, I can assure you that if Bergan is allowed to manipulate the kingdom, it is against your best interests. If you need to finish off the Admiral of Kul Tiras, it is none of my business. But we will need to act, and act soon. I don't know how we can remove Bergan. I don't. Perhaps through infiltration of Alterac itself, or perhaps by direct assault. But if you help us, then you can help us conduct some kind of plan. I was Court Wizard. Any ideas you get, I'll probably be able to help carry them out for us all. If you want to know what's in it for you, then you have only to ask for your heart's desire. State your terms. But right now, I need allies."
Hellen and her Nightstalkers found their path blocked by a magical field. The archmage they were dealing with must have some ferocious skill at sorcery, Hellen thought. Her mind calculated, and she looked around for other options. The guards were drawing near. She saw the window, and then hesitated no longer. She smashed through it, leaping down into the courtyard below. A haycart raced towards her vision.
Yet, she was unlucky enough to miss it and hit the hard flagstones. Fortunately, she had not been very high up. Her comrades copied her example, but landed in the haycart. "Terribly convenient, how those end up under windows." she mumbled to herself, dashing to her feet. A shame it had not saved her a few bruises anyway.
The Nightstalkers were soon away, regrouping under a bridge in town. Hellen realised that she had been reckless to practically parade through the town hall, but nonetheless, her mission had come closer to being accomplished. It had been a wild guess what the magi of Dalaran were going to do with the mayor, but a guess that had been proven right. Somewhere in Dalaran, Juntridge's corpse had just spoiled someone's day.
"What do we do now?" Robere de Changee asked, panting to recover from the sprinting. His crimson locks curled around his pretty face. Hellen regained her composture and stared him in the eye. "We finish what we started."
They evaded the guards till morning, and managed to search the town disguised until they came across a grim realisation. One of the stablehands informed them that the 'gentlemen' from Alterac had hastily departed back towards his home. Of course, nobody in town had realised that their mayor's corpse had been kidnapped yet. Or that their mayor was even dead, for that matter.
Hellen realised she was at a crossroads. Robere and her men looked to her for guidance. "Well, it seems like we have two choices, my friends." she said grimly. "We remain in town, wrap up affairs here and head home, or we pursue the agents of Alterac and finish what we started."
Robere cleared this throat. "The choice is yours, mistress." "I know." Hellen replied grimly.
The voice of Mueh'zala only intensified. "I knew this, troll. And yet, it has no true meaning to such as I."
Jin'thek tried to make sense of what this strange deity was saying, and continued to listen intently.
"Mine is a timeless world. Though the spirits of my fallen children have greeted me joyously, I know very well that in a memory of the past they breathe still. It may make little sense to one such as you, but when time is but a road that can be traversed in both directions, then you would see it clearer. Just as the dragons of bronze hue swim through time, so too do souls maintain a connection to the world. That which is Astral is never fully disconnected."
Jin'thek dared interrupt the god. "But tell me, oh mighty Mueh'zala. What of Shadra?"
The tone of Mueh'zala darkened. "She sleeps. She hunts. She sees and she loathes. I can say no more. Leave me now, to my solace."
Mueh'zala began to recede, but one final whisper reached Jin'thek. "You, traveller of the mind, may return to me when you feel the need. Remember me."
Seeking to continue his quest, a determined Jin'thek continued to step through space and time. Only then was he greeted by yet another voice, one which was serpentine and lustrous.
"What do you seek in the domain of the gods?" it hissed. "I seek Shadra, the spider goddess." Jin'thek replied defiantly. "Speak instead to me, delicious precious." the voice spoke. Jin'thek braced himself, and sought to widen his eyes to this creature. In his mind it was as a crimson serpent, bearing wings and claws. "What do you want from me?" Jin'thek asked. "I know you, tasty troll. Your lifeblood sings to me." the creature spoke. "I who am the Blood God."
A warning flared inside Jin'thek, but he dared speak on. "You have not answered me." The Blood God smiled, it's mouth spreading to reveal yellow fangs. "Do you wish to know why you can so easily converse with us gods? It is because you carry a mighty sword... a sword that we gave to your kind a long time ago."
Jin'thek remembered Jin'rokh, the sacred blade. "Why do you tell me this, Blood God?" "Because I wish to make a pact." it answered. "A pact to strengthen you and your people. I can give you the key to eternal victory..."
Not easily tempted, Jin'thek shied away, feeling for Jin'rokh to protect him. The Blood God laughed. "My blood is in that sword, troll. You cannot use it against me. Now I will tell you this - I can give you Zin'rokh, the twin of your sword. Would that please you?"
Jin'rokh knew of Zin'rokh. Thousands of years ago, both blades had been used as the chosen weapons of trollkind, gifts of the Loa to stop their enemies. With both swords, Zul'Aman would be unstoppable.
The Blood God's smile intensified. "Yes, Zin'rokh. Does it tempt you? The key to your ultimate success. Come closer. Let me smell your blood. Let me taste it."
Jin'thek shied further away. The Blood God roared. "Do not run. I ask only this. Return worship of me. Respect me. I will send you a message. You will get Zin'rokh. I only ask this of you."
Javali and his esteemed guest, Magus Rimtori, lounged in one of the open courtyards of Dalaran, their feet propped up on tables. All around them were delegates and representatives of the towns of Hesperia, including Andriano and Tarren Mill. They were having a pleasant conversation, and all seemed to be going as well as it could. The pesky Tirasian Admiral was left to his own business in the countryside, hunting at his leisure, while the annoying dwarf was busy at the city's inns.
"And that's when Kariel Winthalus fell off of a bridge in front of the Convocation!" Rimtori said. Javali forced a laugh, but then realised that Rimtori was not making a joke. "He was very badly hurt."
Suddenly, an explosion of light blinded the group. A few of the women screamed, and a few of the men as well. They all rose to face the centre of the courtyard. Two Hareveim stood there, both clutching a ragged clump between them.
Javali raised his hands for silence. "Please, calm yourselves. This is nothing out of the ordinary." He would have to speak to Zinizar about orderly conduct later. "What have we here?"
Then he realised it was the body of Juntridge, the mayor of Tarren Mill.
"By the gods!" the emissary from Tarren Mill cried out. "Father!" A wave of shock rippled through the crowd, and muttering and crying ensued. An outraged representative from Nevezia curled his fists. "I knew it! I knew it! You're a no good scoundrel, Javali! When Count Dorian hears of this murder-"
Javali clapped his hands for silence. Suddenly, the emissaries could no longer talk. Their mouths were shut with a spell of silence. Rimtori rose to her feet, gently, and procceeded to examine the body. "My, this is quite a mess you've fallen into." she muttered.
"Nothing I can't handle." Javali said with a sigh. "Though now word will spread. It will be hard to explain this away - speaking of which. I want to know what happened."
One of the Hareveim inclined her head. "Archmage Franek Snowburn ordered that Mayor Juntridge be teleported to Dalaran for interrogation. He was suspected of being in contact with Alterac."
"Oh, Franek." Javali muttered. "Well, why is he dead?"
"Assassins and bad timing, milord." one of the Hareveim explained hesitantly.
Rimtori folded her arms under her chest. "Yes, word will spread. May I make a suggestion?" "What is it, dear?" Javali asked. "Kill the witnesses." she said, turning to the stunned emissaries. They began to cower and cry even more furiously. "Nobody will ever know."
Javali waved her suggestion away. "How barbaric. Though it would save me a lot of political tension." he considered.
Juntridge's son was at his father's body, cradling it.
Rimtori sighed. "Don't let morality get in the way of administration. I've had to kill countless nobles back home in Quel'Thalas to ensure that we Benefactors maintain our secrecy."
Javali had quite a problem on his hands.
Miles away, the reinforcements under Count Dorian were just arriving. General Marius had greeted the Count with the highest honours, and the trumpets had sounded his arrival without any leniency. The militia that had arrived were not as well armed as the soldiers of Dalaran, but they would be useful nonetheless. This put the army back to numbers that mirrored the original count at the beginning of the battle. The Kirin Mora in Ambermill were likely cowering behind their walls.
A scout arrived with news, and General Marius received him in his tent. "General!" the scout said with a salute. "Speak." Marius commanded. "Word has arrived that the Perinany Legion is camped within a few miles of Ambermill. We are uncertain as to whom they serve."
This was certainly a problem. If Mattheus Perinany and his veterans were taking a side in this war, it had to be the right one.
Marius knew that the struggle would have to be decided quickly. He could strike at Ambermill now, to try and take it. If he could capture the city, he could use it against a possible Perinany incursion. If he hesitated, the town could receive reinforcements. On the other hand, Marius had the option of consulting the Legion. If he could convince them to side with Dalaran, or even to just ignore this struggle at Ambermill, victory was certain.
On the other hand, Mattheus was a hard-headed general. Marius knew as much. Negotiations were certain to fail, though buying time was still possible. Either way, a failed attack on Ambermill would mean that a Perinany Legion assault at the wrong time would crush the battalions of Dalaran between two enemies.
If an attack on Ambermill failed and the Perinany struck, Marius would be finished.
Perhpas there were other options not yet considered. Marius pondered. "Send me Archmage Augusta. She can help me deliberate."
General Leo stood in his camp, overseeing the daily drills of the Eastern Legion, when a messenger arrived on horseback in camp. "You have something to report?" Leo asked, waving away one of his captains.
The messenger was sweating and had clearly ridden hard. "Milord, an army from Stromgarde has just passed into Hesperia! They show no signs of aggression thus far, but we are not yet sure of their intentions."
Leo remembered his encounter with King Eralas Trollbane a week or so prior. The king had been on his way to Fenris Isle. Whatever this army was up to, Leo could not guess.
OOC: Will add the last updates tomorrow.