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The Sun-Seeking Void

Kornuk stood a little ways off from the teleport pad, eyeing the platoon of Horde forces assembled nearby. Mathair paced behind him. Petrus, as always, appeared unperturbed.

“What are we waiting for?” Mathair asked, passing behind the orc. On the next pass: “We’ve got all those guys.” A moment later, pacing by again, “We should just go.”

The teleport pad flickered, and Redshield stepped off. The orc blinked in surprise and strode over. “Boss? What’re you doing here?” His tone was disapproving.

Redshield lifted one eyebrow eloquently. “My rank is not honorary, Kornuk. I do occasionally go into the field.” He looked around at the assembled platoon and nodded with satisfaction.

Mathair paced up. “So we can go, right?”

“Not quite.” Redshield was pulling on his gloves. “General Stonewood is sending us a guide. She’ll show us the way and speak to the Alliance for us, to prevent misunderstandings.”

Not one, but in fact two figures appeared on the teleport pad. The form in front was heavily armored, with a greatsword slung to her back. Armor and weapon made no effort to conceal the fact that she was a death knight, honestly it seemed that they were chosen to heighten the impact of that realization. Glowing eyes scanned the group as she approached, the focused on Redshield. “You are General Redshield? I am Anna Alveren.” She gestured to the undead woman behind her, “And this is Marjolaine LaVey.”

“Charmed! Wow, a blood elf general up close and personal who isn’t swinging at us. This is a rare treat!” Marjolaine grinned, scanning the rest of the scowling faces. “The rest of you are handsome-ish too. Pleasure.”

Redshield stepped forward to meet them, extending a hand. “Jerean Redshield. Thank you for your assistance… Miss Alveren? Please forgive me, General Stonewood didn’t tell me your rank.” If he found her likeness to Mayanna disconcerting, he gave no sign. He nodded towards Marjolaine. “Miss LaVey.”

She gripped his hand in return. “Commander. It sounded like things are urgent, should we get going?”

“Yes,” agreed Redshield, ignoring Mathair’s simultaneous response from behind him. “We may have spare mounts if you need them. We’ll want to move quickly.” He strode to a hawkstrider nearby, swinging easily onto its back. Kornuk and company had likewise mounted up; the platoon was ready to go.

“I sent our mounts here ahead of us. Most living ones shy away from us.” She turned just as her dreadcharger stepped to her side and waited patiently for her.

Marjolaine smirked at that, climbing onto Bag of Bones’ back as she scanned the group. Zantoris was at the forefront of her thoughts but she did her best to pay attention to the talk going on around her lest she get sucked down into that pounding, wild fear gnawing at the back of her mind.

“Thanks for thinking of us, though,” the ghoul piped up at last, her eyes snapping towards Kornuk.

Redshield guided his mount alongside Anna’s; Kornuk’s team and the platoon followed behind. “We won’t be able to stay more than half a day,” Redshield remarked as they rode. “The forces are obviously needed elsewhere. And we won’t be able to go looking for him; all we can do is hold the portal and hope he gets to it.”

Anna was already leading the way and glanced towards Marjolaine. “My friend fortunately has some news on that.”

“That’s all you need to do! Here,” Marjolaine answered, withdrawing the gnomish contraption from her belt. She depressed the button and let the message play, extending her arm towards the pair so the elven general could hear it without issue.

Redshield listened to the entire message before commenting. “That should make our job easier. The pit lord adds a wrinkle, but I think the platoon should be sufficient.”

“With us and them flanking the thing, it should be possible to deal with it.” Anna’s voice was steady, she was trying to keep calm to help Marjolaine. The nervousness from the ghoul was a constant buzz in her head.

The group set a quick pace, reaching the Alliance portal in no time. Redshield halted the Horde forces a polite, non-threatening distance away to allow his Alliance liaison to talk to the army units encamped on this side of the gateway.

Anna removed her helm and rode up to the army surrounding the gateway. She took a few moments to explain and gestured back towards the waiting Horde forces. The Alliance troops seemed a bit uncertain, shifting and watching the Horde, but making no other moves. The Ebon Knight finally turned and rode back. “Alright, I explained the situation. I think they’re actually glad to have more support now that they know what’s on the other side. What’s your plan, General?”

“Nicely done, Master,” Marjolaine mouthed to Anna, making an ‘okay’ symbol with her fingers. Her bravado certainly wasn’t fooling the death knight, but there was no sense in compounding the feral impulses with sober silence.

“Thank you.” Redshield signalled the troops behind him to approach. “The portal has been up for a while, so it’s bound to have attracted attention. I propose we bring the entire force through as quickly as possible, leading with the most heavily armored.”

“Sounds like we’re up!” the ghoul trilled enthusiastically to Anna, waiting for the death knight to guide her steed forward before following suit.

The Ebon Knight grinned in response to Marjolaine, and nodded to Redshield. “Pitlords are tough, but follow the same rules as fighting a dragon and you’ll be fine. Avoid being in front or behind, don’t get caught underfoot, hit it in the sides and belly.”

The platoon moved toward the portal, heavily-armored fighters in front as ordered. Redshield and Kornuk’s team moved to follow. “Follow Commander Alveren,” Redshield ordered them. “Stay together.”

Anna took a moment to be sure that they were ready, then nodded once to Redshield and started forward at a quick pace. Not so fast as to risk getting caught alone out front, but she certainly wasn’t ready to wait around any longer. It took only moments to cross the distance to the portal, then an instant later to be through and on an entirely different world.

***

The troll squad made their stand atop the corpse of pit lord that had guarded the portal. Rejinanju still couldn’t believe they’d managed to kill the thing. Kazsora sat gasping on the creature’s shoulder, exhausted from the all-out effort he’d given to keep them all healed and fighting.

The remaining demons had grouped up between the trolls and the portal, carefully out of range of the spellcasters. They knew the other pit lord was on its way with reinforcements. All they had to do was keep the trolls from escaping.

The warrior heard the gargantuan creature approach. A mob of smaller demons swarmed out of the crimson forest ahead of it, racing for the beleaguered trolls. From the other side, the demons guarding the portal roared triumphantly and charged from the other side. Beside him, the crazy human laughed in exultation. The darkness tumbled and churned around him like a storm. Sometimes the warrior thought he could glimpse things through the shadow, stars and comets and strange void shapes.

Rejinanju readied his axes and grinned at the crazy human. “I’m glad you’re on our side, Zan’kai!” he shouted over the clamor of approaching demons.

“Bring me more demons!” responded the shadowcaster jubilantly. No longer enervated by their flight, he was invigorated, manic on the high of void energy. As the demons came in range he began his own assault, sowing chaos in their ranks. They staggered, dazed, to mind bombs; they stumbled and fell under mind spikes and blasts and flays. He sent horrific little fiends among them, and shadowy copies of himself, and masses of Shadow that detonated in their midst. Around him, the hunter and the other spellcasters were doling out damage. Rejinanju grouped up the melee fighters, ready to stand against the demons that made it past the onslaught.

The pit lord crashed out of the forest, grinning in anticipation when it saw them.

On the other side, the portal flashed, and armored forces began pouring through. The demons guarding the portal were all swarming the trolls. None of them noticed the new players on the field.

Anna was still in the lead, and reached out with necromantic power to pull one demon away from a spellcaster. Her runeblade was ready for startled doomguard, disemboweling it as soon as it was in reach. “FOR AZEROTH!” She roared and charged on into the battle.

“Zan!” Marjolaine cried before snarling, her eyes flickering as she responded to Anna’s unspoken will, leaping from demon to demon with deft sweeps of her sword to dispatch the smaller, massing fiends. Her blade passed through shadowy coils of Void energy that seemed to slither throughout the battlefield, the hair on the back of her neck rising at being nigh-immersed in the awful, inky madness.

The platoon charged alongside the pair, roaring in answer to Anna’s battle cry. The mass of demons nearest the portal were thrown into confusion, many still disoriented by the mind-rending spells. The heavily-armored forces waded in, swinging swords and axes and staves; the spellcasters and ranged attackers hung back by the portal, dealing out damage from a distance. Kornuk’s great black wolf ranged through the mass, ripping and tearing.

Atop the pit demon corpse, Rejinanju saw the reinforcements join the fray. He bellowed his own warcry as they charged. “Focus on the others!” he ordered his group. They turned their attention to the pit lord bearing down on them, picking off the demons who outraced him to arrive first.

Zantoris didn’t spot his friends among the new crowd. He was already hurling more mind-rending spells against the other mob of demons, thundering taunts and exhortations as they fell. He was no longer sure if he was speaking in Common, Zandali, or Shath’yar. It didn’t seem important.

“General! They are in no shape to take the brunt of that pit lord!” Anna’s voice somehow carried over the din. Even as she shouted, she whirled to cut down more enemies. Her particular skills became clear as the demons near her each begun growing diseased pustules as rot spread across their skin.

Redshield looked, saw what she meant. “Rangers! Get ahead of them, draw them off!” His voice carried as well, trained to project above the noise of combat. A dozen sin’dorei, and Kornuk, galloped past the brawl, past the towering corpse, firing on the oncoming monster. From the troll group, Reginanju called his spellcasters to focus on the demons, allowing the mounted rangers to draw the gargantuan thing’s attention.

“Melee, move south, draw them to the head!” Redshield was moving the spellcasters as he called the order, bringing them toward the head of the fallen pit lord. The rangers saw what he was doing and began leading the remaining creature in that direction, dodging in and out of the swarming demons, working together to hold its attention on one, then another, so it could never quite catch up and obliterate any single target.

The Ebon Knight moved with the rest of the melee, though still cutting down demons as she went. They risked being surrounded if they weren’t careful. Her ghoul leapt to her defense, skittering across the massive demon’s side while madly slashing and stabbing, sensing Anna’s commands to move when she was in danger of being swiped away by the monster’s claws or tail.

Redshield had his spellcasters focus on the swarming mob, picking them off as the heavily-armored fighters took on the pit lord. The rangers darted nimbly back and forth throughout the fray, focusing their attention wherever their forces appeared hard-pressed. The trolls vaulted down from their bulwark atop the other pit lord, dispersing into the rest of the fighting force as their own talents dictated--Rejinanju rushed the pit lord with the others fighting alongside Anna, an enormous axe in each hand, chanting a trollish battle cry.

Anna nodded once in greeting to the troll, then focused on the pit lord. She found herself rather wishing that she still held a shield as in her memories of her time among the living. Instead, she focused all of her powers on attacking. She infected the creature with plague, then focused her energy through her runeblade. It had been empowered with some of the essence of Apocalypse, then carefully built up again. She knew where the long since dead of the demon’s wars here were. Anna called to them to join the battle again and unleashed the risen against the demon.

Marjolaine moved onto the pit lord’s back, zig-zagging back and forth to avoid whizzing arrows, magical blasts, and falling blades, Anna’s focus serving to hone her own. Still, there was that niggling worry in the back of her mind about the Void’s power cascading out of her boyfriend. There was far too much of it - the air was heavy with the oppression of encroaching oblivion - and surely Zantoris was suffering for it, even if it didn’t seem so in the heat of battle.

Zantoris had joined the spellcasters surrounding Redshield, assisting the exhausted shaman. He left Kazsora near the sin’dorei general, where he would be well defended, and returned his attention to the ever-diminishing number of demons. A young sin’dorei mage greeted him enthusiastically--he felt it was someone he should know, but it didn’t seem important. He was more interested in the twist and play of Shadow, weaving it into the minds and bodies of the demonic forces, feeling their bloodlust turn to fear and pain.

Silently urging her ghoul to focus on the immediate problem for the time being, Anna continued the attack. Already she could see green demonic blood flowing from the pit lord’s hide, but there was still a long way to go if they were going to get out of this. She urged the others to strike with all they had, her own blade glowing with power as she did.

Marjolaine heeded her master’s unspoken command, pushing her growing unease aside to plunge the claws of her gauntlet into the lord’s flesh, using it as a handhold to repeatedly stab and hack into the base of the demon’s spine. It was an immense effort to penetrate so deeply into the leathery flesh, but the gushing chartreuse blood was reward enough; they were whittling him down. It’d only be a matter of time before he succumbed.

Some of the remaining demons were attempting to flee; others grouped up on the pit lord, desperately trying to fight off this unexpected assault. The mounted rangers made sure none of the fleeing demons got far. No longer threatened by the mob, the spellcasters were free to focus entirely on the pit lord. It raged back and forth, trying to trample them, impale them with its enormous double-bladed sword. The powerful tail thrashed. The force was too well-trained, too experienced; they knew how to work with each other and avoid the worst attacks.

The troll squad joined in with Rejinanju’s war chant. A couple of trolls that had come with Redshield’s force chimed in as well. Zantoris added his own resonant baritone to the battle song. They closed in, tearing down the remaining demons, ripping and burning the behemoth until it staggered under the onslaught.

Marjolaine sprang away as the colossal creature began to fall, landing briefly at her master’s side before she lifted her head, her attention closing in on the shadowmancer. She leapt at him, thinking to issue a warning call of his name so he wouldn’t mistake her for a hostile.

Redshield was already giving orders in Orcish, calling the forces to return to the portal, singling out individuals to help the trolls from Squad 23 and give them rides. Mathair had returned to the spellcaster group, excited to see his friend in one piece. “Zantoris, we knew you weren’t dead!”

Zantoris barely took notice of the forces swarming around him, or the young mage approaching, or the redheaded ghoul leaping towards him from the other side. He focused on Redshield, shadow swirling tumultuously over and around him. “Where’s Sunflare?” His tone was ominous. Rejinanju joined them as well, asking the same question in Orcish.

Redshield addressed the troll in Orcish, then the human in Common. “We will be investigating Sunflare’s activities. Right now, retreat to the portal so we can get the hell off this world.”

Anna was watching the horizon while the others assisted the injured and exhausted. “There are more coming. We need to move.”

Redshield nodded. “Yes.” He was watching his group reassemble and move efficiently towards the portal. Rejinanju accepted a ride from one of the trolls in the platoon, pausing to do a quick head count to make sure his squad was all accounted for.

Zantoris turned to look toward the horizon as well, with some eagerness. Turbulent darkness churned around him. Mathair stopped uncertainly a few feet away, hesitant to approach his friend.

“Zan, you need to be heading for the portal. You’ve done enough fighting.” Anna watched the priest warily, wondering if she was going to have to carry him from the field.

Marjolaine looked from her master to her love, frowning slightly. The aura of existential doom whirlpooling around Zantoris made her hesitant to approach him, her steps soft and her teeth exposed like a threatened animal. “Come on, Zan. We can kill him later.”

The shadow-wreathed man heard them remotely, as if they were underwater. On a detached level he was aware that he knew these people. It didn’t seem important.

In the distance he heard more demonic forces approaching. More targets. More fuel for this exhilarating sense of rage and jubilation. No more pain, or fear, or exhaustion. This didn’t have to stop. This never had to stop.

But what he wanted even more was to get his hands on the man who had sent his team into a suicide mission, and closed their escape hatch. He accepted Petrus’ extended hand, swinging up behind him on the felsteed. The demonic steed was unfazed by the shadows. They followed Redshield back through the portal.

Anna’s shoulders relaxed some and she returned to her own saddle. We need to stop him as soon as it’s safe. The Ebon turned to give her ghoul a serious look as she projected the thought. This was a problem.

Marjolaine was in silent, overwhelming agreement as her eyes met Anna’s, the snarl finally vanishing from her lips as she mounted her own skeletal horse. The Void had ruined her life once; she wasn’t about to let it ruin her love’s. Being of a single mind with her master did much to calm her overwhelming sense of dread, thankfully, and she spurred her reanimated steed on, her sense of purpose renewed.

Safely through the portal, Redshield was performing his own head count, comparing it to the platoon commander’s to make sure everyone had gotten back. Zantoris dropped from the felsteed and stalked across to the sin’dorei general.

“Sunflare,” he repeated, almost snarling the name.

Redshield felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up at proximity of so much Void energy, but he maintained his composure. “Sunflare will be investigated. He will be dealt with according to military law.”

Shadow swirled and stormed around the Northrend veteran. “Not good enough.” He took little notice of the trolls around him; some had come over to issue a similar complaint, but had stopped a short distance away from the growing confrontation.

This is going to be a problem, thought Redshield. “I’d rather not have to arrest you, Zantoris,” he said mildly.

The shadowcaster grinned without humor. “Think you can?” The boiling darkness around him seemed to grow even deeper.

Anna stepped up with the sound of clanging metal. The situation was a powder keg with so many troops of Horde and Alliance eyeing each other warily. “Zan, your friends need rest and healing. Let them focus on that for now.” Her voice was low, but she positioned herself close, steadied her balance just right as she reached across to his far shoulder and tried to turn him away.

Everything in the ghoul’s body was demanding that she stay as far away from Zantoris as possible, but she fought the primal fear back with each step closer. She forced her hand onto his opposite shoulder, recoiling as if she feared the Void would immediately coalesce and drag her out of existence, but she tightened her hold nonetheless.

“Come on, babe,” she urged, a reflexive mimicry of a smile propping the corners of her mouth up. “A Horde prison would be a real ghoul-ag.”

The crimson faction around them would either laugh or bristle. Either way, it might provide a decent distraction.

Zantoris was distantly aware that people around him were speaking to him, touching his shoulders. One of them sounded terrified. That… seemed important.

The shadowcaster paused, looking around uncertainly. “Marj?”

“Hi,” she responded with a softer, more genuine smile. “Are you okay? Seemed like you were…” getting sucked down into the shadowy undertow, Light damn it didn’t you say someone was teaching you how to keep this from getting out of control? “...out to lunch for a little bit there.”

He turned towards her, Redshield forgotten. “Aye, darlin, just been a rough couple of days. Are you okay?” He felt vastly disoriented. The shadows around him were still tumultuous, but no longer held the thrum of malice.

Marjolaine nodded, instant relief spreading through her body as the shadowmancer returned to himself. She hugged his arm instead of shakily grasping his shoulder to reassure both him and herself.

The sin’dorei general surreptitiously moved back a few paces, not wanting to trigger another episode of hostility. He glanced at Anna and nodded his thanks.

She nodded in response. “You should probably get your troops home. I think Marjolaine would like to keep Zan company for now.”

“Agreed.” Redshield turned back to thank the platoon, told them to report to their own commanders for debriefing, and dismissed them. The troll squad he sent to the infirmary in Sunreaver Square to be looked over.

Kornuk turned to round up his own team. Mathair was watching the spectacle anxiously; the young mage was actually wringing his hands. Even Petrus looked dismayed. Kornuk spoke quietly to them, and they hearthed out with a few more worried looks at Zantoris.

The ghoul looked towards Anna, then back to Zantoris. As much as she wanted to bask in the brief respite with him, there were more pressing matters at hand.

“Zan … I’m really worried about you. About what happened just now,” Marjolaine began, her expression turning somber. “I think the Void was wearing a Zan-skin suit.”

“Aye?” Zan rubbed his face, trying to clear the cobwebs out of his mind. The last twelve hours or so were a confusing blur--they’d been fighting a crypt lord. No, a pit lord. He had a feeling he’d made an ass of himself. Again. Shadow tumbled and churned around him.

“Yeah…” Marjolaine’s gaze fell to the coils of darkness wreathing her ankles. “Do you need to go to the infirmary? See a healer or anything while we talk about this?”

He smiled at her. “I am a healer, love. Me and Kazsora kept the squad patched up.” The smile faded a bit. “‘Cept for Kojian. Neither of us could resurrect him.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, giving his arm a squeeze. “I know, but you need a rest and a nice, hot bath.”

He managed a tired grin. “Is that an offer?” It was mostly reflex; as the exertions of the day caught up with him, he wasn’t sure he could live up to the suggestion.

“I think that you need to get away from the fighting and schedule an appointment with Priestess Na’shaile,” Anna muttered bluntly.

Zantoris looked around, registering Anna’s presence for the first time. “Hey, Anna.” He smiled tiredly at her. “Maybe that can wait till tomorrow, aye? I think I’m done in for the day.” Despite his amiable tone, and obvious weariness, the shadows continued to swirl and surge around him.

“Then let’s get back to Dalaran. I will even foot the bill for your room.”

“Oh, hey, that’s not necessary. Now that I’m gainfully employed I’ve got a room at Hero’s Welcome.” He looked back at Marjolaine. “No bath, though. Just a little room with a bed and a couple of drawers.”

Anna frowned. “Alright, just get off Argus.”

“You’re almost respectable now,” Marjolaine joked, though her usual effervescence had yet to return. “I’d be happy to escort you, milord.”

“Living the high life, that’s me.” He looked around, still trying to shake the dazed feeling. “Should we ask a mage for a portal?”

The Ebon Knight gestured towards the nearby Alliance soldiers, though she still seemed rather concerned about the whole situation. “This way. Let’s get back to Dalaran.” I will take rooms at the Hero’s Welcome to be close, she silently informed the ghoul.

Marjolaine lowered her head in a brief, respectful nod. Thank you, Master. The unspoken, insistent worry remained, but Anna’s reassurance was enough to take the edge off. She followed after the death knight, flashing the shadow weaver a gentle smile.

Zantoris walked slowly along with them, feeling the stiffness in his legs. I’m going to have trouble walking tomorrow, he thought. He followed the ladies through a portal provided by a helpful mage, pretending not to notice the way the man kept his distance.

Anna continued to lead the way as they walked through the city streets, she kept her awareness on the two people following her though. She made a mental note to reach out to Torriah as soon as she had the opportunity.
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Marjolaine LaVey
(( Written with Zan and Anna! heart ))
  • December 6, 2017
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Kartanian
(( So much great story and character and suspense and more! Thank you! ))
  • December 12, 2017
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