This is written with help from Hinote and Annalea. There may be more that happens, but this is the last planned piece of this particular story.
Previous posts in this series include Coming forth by Day, The Magical Rogue,Demonology 101, Intellect Reason and the Self, Trailing off (Part1 and Part 2), Bail, Searching Outland, and A Needle in the Netherstorm.
It wasn’t like any of the reports had been good. Hinote and Shaila had said they were pretty sure he was in Outland. Lore confirmed that he wasn’t on Kalimdor, but that he had probably tried there too. And then Kyraine came back, saying that some sort of epic fel battle had happened at one of the summoning altars in Shadowmoon, and that something … wrong… had gone on there. Not that anything good happened at the Altar of Shadows anyway, but…
There was only one place to go now.
After a moment’s hesitation, she picked up her buzzbox. Hinote? Are ye there?
The warlock responded after only a few moments. Yeah. Something happen?
I jus’ spoke wi’ Kyraine an’ her crew. They tracked him ta Shadowmoon, ta th’ Altar o’ Shadows. Found a big fel mess, came back quick. I think … Aely paused, weighing her words. I think I’d better go see it. An’ I wis hopin’ ye’d come wi’ me. Th’ shard may help there.
The next response didn’t come immediately either, but when Hinote spoke again, she did so with a determined resolve that was audible even over the box. Yeah…alright. Where should I meet you?
Shattrath. I’ll meet ye by th’ gryphon master.
There was no reply, but Aely didn’t really need one. Hinote wasn’t a woman of additional words, and she’d proved herself to be trustworthy over the last few weeks. She would be there.
Aely had one stop to make before heading for the Dark Portal, however. There was a good chance this would end poorly, and Tarquin had promised the Riders help. She didn’t think they’d need backup – things were probably already well decided, with as faint as all the trails had been – but heading into Shadowmoon Valley was never a sure thing. Outland was notoriously unstable, and Shadowmoon was about as bad as it got. While the remnants of the Ashtongue Deathsworn were trying to clean out the remains of Illidan’s fouled temple, there were still loose demons in the area they were headed. Someone needed to know where she was headed, in case …. well, she didn’t want to think about in case.
The Pig and Whistle was fairly quiet for midafternoon, in between the lunch and dinner crowds, but it was as good a place as any to try to find Tarquin. Aely blinked several times, her eyes adjusting to the dim light inside. Other than two elves in a side table, the bar’s only visible occupant was not, in fact, Tarquin. Annalea sat at the main table, letters and missives stacked into piles in front of her.
Aely slid into a chair at the table. “‘lo, Annie.”
Annalea glanced up and set her current letter — from the tiny, packed scrawl, likely a Merchant’s Guild squabble given print — atop the pile to her right. “Evenin’, Aely.” She peered at the paladin a moment before asking cautiously, “What’s the news?”
“Not good. Kyr’s back fra Outland. She an’ Rhett an’ Gervas found something. Everything else’s turned up loose ends air old trails. He’s likely gone that way, an’ I need ta go an’ see about it. Hinote’s gonna bring th’ soulshard she used ta track him in th’ Blasted Lands an’ we’ll see what it turns up. I was jus’ gonna leave word so people knew where I’d gone.”
“That’s a hell of a place to be on your own. Even with Kirase.” Annalea stacked the piles atop one another, creating one big heap that, presumably, she’d be able to sort again later. “Let me get my coat.”
Aely paused a moment. “I dinna think ye need ta put yirself inta danger fir this. I’ve no idea what we’ll find, an’ I…” she trailed off, thought for a moment, and sighed. “An’ yir probably right. I told Hinote I’d meet her in Shattrath.”
“First point: we’re Riders. Letting you do this on your own isn’t even on the table.” She looked down at the papers. “Or if it was, it’s under the pile and that’s where it stays.” The grin she flashed Aely faded. “Second: another set of eyes out there can’t hurt. And if those two aren’t enough, Tarq asked if I’d go. Likely as much to keep an eye on Hinote as anything, but I’ll feel better even if I’m just standing guard while she does… whatever it is she’s planning.”
“Tarq figured oan me goin’ out there by myself?”
“Not in the haring-off-foolishly sort of sense. He wanted to make sure you had backup in case you needed to get out there on short notice.”
Aely nodded. “I dinna ken exactly what ta expect goin’ out there. Hinote’s got a soulshard she charged at Arrens’ summonin’ circle ay th’ University, so she’s got a way ta tell if he’s been there, but I think it’s just magical resonance ay some sort. Kyr found some kinda fel-looking chaos ay th’ Altar of Shadows. Whate’er is there, it’s likely not going ta be pretty. I’ll be glad t’ have ye with me.”
“Good. I promise not to instigate, either. Don’t tell Threnny, but Mama always said I was the better-behaved.” The priestess might have been lying, but her smile was damn near angelic.
Three women met near the gryphon master in Shattrath, but exchanged few words before setting out towards Shadowmoon Valley. The atmosphere was generally grim, and the fel-green ambience of the demon tainted valley only added to the sickly feeling of the entire endeavor. Kyraine’s directions said to head out to the eastern edge of the Valley, to the Altar of Shadows – that they would know what they were looking for once they got anywhere near it. After a quick stop at Wildhammer Stronghold, they set out on horseback. Hinote kept Arrens’ charged soulstone out, reading some sort of signal out of it’s mysterious flickers.
“Can ye read anythin’ out here?”
“Yes and no. There’s still too much interference, but if we can get to where he was trying to cast it, that should work.” Hinote turned back to guide her dreadsteed around a group of elementals that was passing off to the north, leaving the other two women to follow behind her.
They picked their way around the various lava pits and fel pools of the Valley, staying away from Eclipse Point and the Sanctum of the Stars, and following a lava river out towards the edge of Shadowmoon, where the altar should be. It didn’t take long before the soulshard’s erratic flickering became a soft glow, and then a steady pulse.
Hinote reigned in her dreadsteed as they approached the Altar, the earth all around it blasted with fresh scorch marks and fel ooze. Annalea was close behind. “Well, something’s been here, and whatever it was appears to have exploded.”
The warlock’s voice was constrained in response. “There was a fight here, and…judging by the marks, somebody had a bad time of things.” She took the soul shard – now glowing brightly – and began to walk it around the perimeter of the Altar, the remains of summoning circles etched into the ashen earth all around the two great pillars. “I think…it’s strong enough here that I should be able to show what happened. Or at least…some of it.” Hinote muttered a soft incantation, and the shard began to float in front of her, emitting little pulses of light and small purple bolts of energy.
Aely watched from the back of her charger, unwilling or unable to get down. “Is it… him?”
Hinote merely nodded, floating the soulstone up above the grimly stained surface of the altar. “Can you see it?”
“No. ‘s just purple flashes t’ me.”
“I can read them though. Hold on a minute.” Annalea dismounted as well, moving to stand between the Paladin and the glowing soul shard. She too muttered an incantation, and Aely felt Annalea’s presence inside her mind for a moment, before her vision snapped forward several yards. “Steady now. I think you can see it through my eyes this way. You should be able to read what it’s saying if you don’t think too hard about how you’re looking through someone else’s vision.”
Hinote began another incantation, this one channeled into the soulstone, and it bounced around above the altar for a moment, before flying over towards where Aely and her charger were standing. Aely watched as Arrens walked down the pathway, almost as though he was made of shadows instead of flesh and blood. Shaaroon wasn’t with him, which was unusual – the felguard nearly always accompanied Arrens when he was out working on things. He looked almost starved, his face gaunt and lined with years that hadn’t been there when she had seen him last, and in his arms was a large, leather bound book.
Then he vanished, and the shard danced around again, this time flying to settle in front of the altar.
Arrens appeared again, pouring something out of a vial onto the surface of the tainted altar. It bubbled and fizzed, and then seemed to absorb into the stone itself. He then lay down a chalk line in what was perhaps the most complex summoning circle Aely had ever seen, drawing directly on the altar itself. He placed several crystals at intersections on the stone, building a grid on top of the circle, and faintly, above the stone, the image of a Pit Lord wavered into view, as if through a Draenei communicator. After a few moments, he referred back to the book, and then began to chant – his voice coming through the shard with a hollow buzz. The words were not discernable, but the intent was plain. Then again, he vanished and the shard danced away.
After flitting about the two stone pillars several times, it settled on the far ledge of Shadowmoon, where the fel ooze spilled off into the nether. Well behind where Arrens was summoning, a hand reached up to grip the rock, and slowly, a great being heaved itself into view. It was covered in spikes, it’s head deformed with crests and ridges, it’s body gargantuan and muscled. It bared its teeth in a deformed, twisted mockery of a grin, stretched out one hand, and blasted a jet of fel energy directly at where Arrens’ image had been standing. Then it too disappeared.
The stone returned to it’s original floating place, above the altar, and several images appeared in rapid succession – Arrens flinging some kind of barrier spell. The Eredar laughing in his face as it blasted through the barrier and blew up part of the rock wall behind them. Another barrage of spells from Arrens, one of which hit the Eredar in the shoulder. The Eredar lunging for the book on the altar; Arrens chasing after him.
Then Arrens’ visage twisted, great wings sprouting from his back, and he transformed into the demon that Aely knew he had once fought so hard to control. The Eredar stopped, mid stride, turned, and lunged for Arrens instead, his claws raking through Arrens’ now exposed flesh. Two impossible seconds and he was in the Eredar’s grasp. And then Arrens disappeared.
The Eredar turned, as though he could hear her. The sick, twisted grin flashed across his face again, and with another incantation, he, too, vanished.
The soul shard exploded.
Hinote stood there for a moment, stunned, though it was unclear whether it was because of the soulstone shattering or because of the scene it had played back for them. Perhaps both. She lowered her hands to her sides slowly, as if in defeat. So, she thought to herself, this is how it ends…for now, at least. The warlock let out a tiny sigh, inaudible to anyone save herself. She’d known from the start that things were likely to turn out like this, but that didn’t make it any better to see it happen. It never did.
“I’m…sorry it had to end this way,” she said somberly, not turning to face either of the other women. “I know that doesn’t help. Nothing…really helps with things like this.”
Aely slid off her charger and walked unsteadily over to the now-silent altar. “So that’s it then. Just gone?”
Hinote sighed again, more audibly this time. “Yeah…looks that way.” She looked up to the pitch-black sky for a moment, thoughtful. “And…in this case, ‘gone’ might be the worst case scenario. Even if he’s alive…nobody stays the same after being the prisoner of an Eredar.” There was a slight pause as the warlock seemed to consider that. “Who was that, anyway? Eredar don’t usually show themselves so openly without a good reason.”
Aely leaned heavily on the altar, her hands sticking in the thin layer of fel-ash that coated everything out here. “Arrens made an enemy, some years ago, ay an Eredar named Kro’thar. Said he’d bound him, an’ tossed him back where he’d ne’er be seen again. I… think he may ha’ found a way ta set himself loose. I canna think ay anyin it’d be otherwise.”
“Prisons never hold forever…” Hinote trailed off quietly. “So…somehow he got loose, and came back for revenge?”
“Seems’at way. I’d na put it past an Eredar ta have orchestrated th’ whole event, down ta findin’ that bloody book.”
The warlock pondered the idea for a moment. “I doubt it was entirely by chance that Kro’thar showed up when he did, but…I’m not sure he planned the entire thing out. It’s equally likely that he just saw an opportunity and took it.” She shook her head slowly. “Doesn’t really matter, I suppose…the end result’s the same.”
“Gone. An’… th’ soul link isn’a workin’. He’s either dead, air beyond where I can feel him. Th’ link wis supposed ta keep us both fra bein’ lost in th’ Nether. Brought him back th’ last time Kro’thar thought ta meddle. But there’s nothin’ – I’ve felt nothin’.” Aely stopped for a moment, thinking. “Gone.”
“It’s possible it was broken. Someone as powerful as an Eredar could reverse the spell without much effort.”
“Especially as it’s what thwarted him th’ last time.” Aely sighed and turned away.
Hinote looked over her shoulder at her for a moment. So this is what that looks like, she thought. A wave of guilt suddenly washed over her. How many times had she done something like this now? Was this how it looked every time? She thought of her sisters, her parents, her foster daughter, the other Roses; did they suffer like this every time she disappeared somewhere? The warlock liked to think she’d built up something of a track record of coming back whenever she abruptly vanished like that, but inwardly she couldn’t help but wonder how much comfort, if any, that really was. “There’s…nothing left for you here,” she said finally. “Whenever you’re ready to leave…we should go.”
Annalea came over then, offering a hand to Aely. She brushed it off and turned back to where her charger stood waiting. “Nothing left here. I suppose yir right.” She swung up into the saddle, and after one last look, turned and rode back up the path.
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