WORLD OF WARCRAFT: RISE OF THE HORDE
Copyright, 2006 by Blizzard Entertainment Incorporated
The power the stranger radiated swirled in glorious hues and vibrations, flowing like a cape behind him, encircling his mighty head with light like a crown. The voice was audible in both the ears and in the mind, and raced along the blood like a sweet song long forgotten and now suddenly recalled.
What he offered was tempting, was exciting, and made the heart ache with yearning. But still, but still....there was something....
When he had gone, the leaders of the eredar turned to one another and spoke softly, the words intended for their minds alone.
“It is little enough to ask, for what he offers us,” said the first. He stretched, in the physical world and in the metaphysical one, sending forth echoes of his strength.
“Such power,” murmured the second, lost in thought. He was the elegant one, the beautiful one, and his essence was glorious and radiant. “And he speaks the truth. What he showed us will come to pass. No one can lie in such a telling.”
The third was silent. What the second had said was true. The method by which this powerful being had demonstrated the truth of what he offered could not be falsified, they all knew that. Still, this entity, this...Sargeras...there was something about him that Velen misliked.
Velen’s fellow leaders were also his friends. He was particularly close to Kil’jaeden, the most powerful and decisive of the three. Friends they had been down the years that had slipped by unnoticed by beings beyond its reach. That Kil’jaeden was inclined to accept the offer carried more weight with Velen than Archimonde’s opinion, which, though usually sound, could occasionally be swayed by appeals to his vanity.
Velen thought again of the image shown to them by Sargeras. Worlds for them to conquer, and more importantly, to explore and investigate; for above all, the eredar were curious. For beings so powerful, knowledge was what meat and drink was to lesser beings, and Sargeras offered them a tantalizing glimpse into what could be theirs if they would only....
Only swear their loyalty to him.
Only pledge the same for their people.
“As usual, our Velen is the cautious one,” said Archimonde. The words could have been compliment; instead they struck Velen as condescending. He knew what Archimonde wanted, and Velen knew the other viewed his hesitancy as nothing more than an obstacle to what he, Archimonde, craved at this moment. Velen smiled.
“Yes, I am the cautious one, and sometimes, my caution has saved us as much as your decisiveness, Kil’jaeden, and your instinctive impetuosity, Archimonde.”
Both of them laughed, and for a moment, Velen was warmed by their affection. Then they quieted, and he sensed that they, at least, had already made up their minds. Velen felt his heart sink as he watched them go, hoping that he would make the right decision.
The three of them had always worked well together, their diverse personalities serving to balance one another. The result was harmony and peace for their people. He knew that Kil’jaeden and Archimonde truly wanted what was best for not only themselves, but for those they led. He shared that sentiment, and always before, they had reached agreement on such things.
Velen frowned. Why did the confident, appealing Sargeras unsettle him so? The others were obviously inclined to accept the offer. Sargeras had told them that the eredar were exactly what he had been searching for. A strong, passionate, proud people, who would serve him and advance a cause that would bring all worlds, everywhere, together. He would enhance them, he said. He would change them, make them better, give them gifts that the universe had never before seen, for indeed, the universe had never before brought together the powers that Sargeras claimed and the uniqueness that was the eredar. And what Sargeras had told them would indeed come to pass.
And yet, and yet....
Velen went to the temple, where he had often gone before when troubled. Others were there this night, sitting in a circle around the single pillar in the room that bore the precious ata’mal crystal. The artifact was ancient, so ancient that none among the eredar could remember its origins, any more than they could remember their own. Legend had it that it was a gift bestowed upon them long ago. The crystal had enabled them to expand both their mental abilities and their knowledge of the universe’s mysteries. It had been used in the past for healing, for conjuration, and, as Velen hoped to use it tonight, for visions. Respectfully, he went forward and touched the triangular crystal. The warmth of it, like a small animal nestled in his hand, calmed him. He breathed deeply, letting the familiar power penetrate him, then dropped his hand and returned to the circle.
Velen closed his eyes. He opened every part of him that could receive, body and mind and magical intuition. At first, what he saw seemed only to confirm what Sargeras had promised. He saw himself standing with Archimonde and Kil’jaeden, lords not only of their own noble and proud people but of countless other worlds. Power shimmered around them, power that Velen knew would be as intoxicating as any liquor he might sip. Shining cities were theirs, along with the inhabitants of those cities, prostrating themselves before the three with cheers and cries of adoration and loyalty. Technology such as Velen had never dreamed of awaited his exploration. Tomes in strange tongues were translated for him, revealing magic hitherto unimagined and untold.
It was glorious, and his heart swelled.
He turned to look at Kil’jaeden, and his old friend smiled. Archimonde put a friendly hand on his shoulder.
Then Velen looked down at himself.
And cried out in horror.
His body was now gargantuan, but twisted and distorted. Smooth blue skin was now black and brown and gnarled, like some once-noble tree disfigured by disease. Light radiated from him, true, but not the pure light of powerful, positive energy, but a sickly. Frantically he turned to behold his friends, his fellow leaders of the eredar. They too had been transformed. They too were nothing of what they had been but were now—
The eredar word for something horrifically wrong, something twisted and unnatural and defiled slammed into his mind with the force of a shining sword. He cried out again and his knees buckled. Velen pulled his gaze away from his tormented body, searching for the peace and prosperity and knowledge Sargeras had promised him. He beheld only atrocities. Where before him had been an adoring crowd, now he saw only mutilated corpses or bodies that, like his, like Kil’jaeden’s, like Archimonde’s, had been transformed into monsters. Among the dead and the distorted capered beings that Velen had never before seen. Strange dogs with tentacles sprouting from their backs. Tiny, twisted figures that danced and capered and laughed at the carnage. Deceptively beautiful creatures, their wings outstretched behind them, who surveyed what had been wrought with delight and pride. Where their cloven hooves fell, the earth died. Not just the grass, but the soil itself; all that gave life was obliterated, sucked dry.
This, then was what Sargeras planned to do to the eredar. This was the “enhancement” he had spoken of so glowingly. If Velen’s people allied with Sargeras, they would become these monstrous things...these man’ari. And somehow Velen understood that what he was witnessing was not a single incident. It was not just this one world that would fall. It was not even a dozen, or a hundred, or a thousand.
If he threw his support behind Sargeras, everything would be destroyed. This legion of man’ari would keep moving forward, aided by Kil’jaeden and Archimonde and--may all that was good and pure help him--Velen. They would not stop until everything in existence was as scoured and blackened as this patch of ground that Velen viewed through blurred vision. Was Sargeras insane, or worse...did he understand this and still crave it?
Blood and liquid fire poured over everything, rained down upon him, burning him and spattering him until he fell to the earth and wept.
The vision mercifully cleared, and Velen blinked, trembling. He was now alone in the temple, and the crystal glowed comfortingly. He was grateful for that balm.
It had not happened. Not yet.
What Sargeras had told them was indeed true. The eredar would be transformed, and their three leaders would be offered power, knowledge, domination...near-godhood.
And they would lose everything they held dear—would betray those they had vowed to protect—to do it.
Velen ran a hand across his face, relieved to find it damp only with sweat and tears and not the fire and blood of his vision. Not yet, anyway. Was it even possible to halt this, or to mitigate the destruction the legion wrought in any way?
The answer floated back to him, as reviving and sweet as a draft of clear water in a desert: Yes.
They came at once, responding to the emotion in his mental plea. It was but the matter of a few moments to brush their minds and let them see what had seen, feel what he had felt. For a brief instant, he knew they shared his sentiments, and hope swelled within him. There was yet a chance—
Archimonde frowned. “This is not a glimpse into the future that we can verify. It is only your hunch.”
Velen stared at his old friend, then turned his eyes to Kil’jaeden. Kil’jaeden was not bound by his vanity as Archimonde was. He was decisive, and wise....
“Archimonde is right,” Kil’jaeden said smoothly. “There is no veracity here, only an image in your own mind.”
Velen looked at him, pain welling inside him. Gently, sorrowfully, he detached his thoughts from theirs. Now, what was in his mind and heart stayed there. He would never again share it with these two who had once been like extensions of his own soul.
Kil’jaeden took the withdrawal as surrender, which was as Velen intended, and smiled as he placed a hand on Velen’s shoulder.
“I will not give up what I know to be positive and good and true for what I fear might be unpleasant,” he said, “Nor, I think, do you.”
Velen could not risk a lie. He merely looked down and sighed. Once, Kil’jaeden and even Archimonde would have seen through such a feeble façade. But now, their thoughts were not on him. They were thinking about the apparently limitless power about to be bestowed upon them. It was too late to sway them. These two once-great beings were Sargeras’s playthings; they were on their way to becoming man’ari. Velen knew with terrifying certainty that if they guessed that he was not with them, they would turn upon him with deadly consequences. He had to survive, if only to do what precious little he could to save his people from damnation and destruction.
So he nodded, but spoke nothing, and it was decided that the three leaders of the eredar would ally with the great Sargeras. Archimonde and Kil’jaeden departed quickly, to make the preparations necessary to welcome their new lord.
Velen grieved his impotence. He wanted to save all of his people, as he had sworn to do, but he knew that was impossible. Most would trust in Kil’jaeden and Archimonde, and follow them to their doom. But there were a few who thought as he did, who would forsake everything merely upon his word. They would need to; their home world of Argus would shortly be destroyed, devoured by the madness of the demonic legion. Those who would survive would have to flee.
Velen stared at the ata’mal crystal, despair flooding through him. Sargeras was coming. There was no place on this world to hide from such a being. How, then would he escape?
Tears blurred his vision as he gazed at the crystal. Surely it was that which made it seem to shimmer and pulse. Velen blinked. No...it was no trick of the light seen through tears. The crystal was glowing, and before his shocked gaze, it rose slowly from the pedestal and floated until it was directly before him.
Touch it, a voice in his head said softly. Trembling, awe-struck, Velen reached out a strong blue hand, expecting to feel the familiar warmth of the quiescent prism.
Energy raced through him and he gasped. In intensity, it was almost as powerful as the dark energy that had surged through him in the vision. But this was as pure as that had been foul, as light as that had been dark, and Velen suddenly felt hope and strength well inside him.
The strange, glowing field about the ata’mal crystal grew, stretched upward, assumed a shape. Velen blinked, almost blinded by the radiance but not wanting to look away.
You are not alone, Velen of the eredar, the voice whispered to him. It was soothing, sweet, like the sound of flowing water and the rush of a summer wind. The radiance faded slightly and hovering before Velen was a being unlike any he had ever seen. It seemed to be comprised of living light. Its center was a soft golden hue, the outer radius a glowing, soothing violet. Strange metallic-looking glyphs swirled around the center, soothing and hypnotic, in a spiral dance of color and light. It continued to speak inside his mind, a sound that seemed to Velen to be light itself given voice.
We, too, have sensed the impending horrors about to befall this and other worlds. We strive to keep the balance, and what Sargeras is planning will rip apart everything. Utter chaos and ruination will descend, and the things that are good and true and pure and holy will be lost beyond recovery.
Who...what.... Velen could not even form the question in his mind, so swept away was he by this being’s glory.
We are the Naaru, the radiant entity said. You may call me...K’ure.
Velen’s lips curved around the words, and as he whispered them aloud: “Naaru...K’ure...” he tasted the sweetness of them, as if speaking the names granted him some of their very essence.
This is where it all begins, K’ure continued. We cannot stop it, for your friends have free will. But you have reached out with an anguished heart, to save what you can. And therefore, we will do what we can. We will save those of you whose hearts reject the horror of what Sargeras offers.
What do I do? Again tears filled Velen’s eyes, tears of relief and joy this time.
Gather those who will listen to your wisdom. Go to the highest mountain in the land on the longest day of the year. Take the ata’mal crystal with you. Long, long ago, did we give it to you; it is how we will find you again. We will come and bear you away.
For a moment, a flicker of doubt, like a shadow flame, burned in Velen’s heart. He had never even heard of such beings of light such as the Naaru, and now this entity, this K’ure, was asking him to steal his people’s most sacred object. They even claimed that it was they who had given it to the eredar in the first place! Perhaps Kil’jaeden and Archimonde had the right of it. Perhaps Velen’s vision was nothing more than his fear manifesting.
But even as the twisting thoughts raced through his mind, he knew them to be the last vestiges of a broken-hearted yearning for everything to be as it once had, before things had changed so horribly...before Sargeras.
He knew what he had to do, and bowed his head before the glorious, dancing being of light.
The first and most trusted ally that Velen summoned was Talgath, an old friend and one who had aided him in the past. All rested upon this friend, who would be able to move unwatched where Velen could not. Talgath was skeptical at first, but when Velen linked their minds and showed him the dark vision he had been granted, Talgath quickly agreed. Velen said nothing of the Naaru and their offer of aid, as he himself did not know what form that aid would take. He only assured Talgath that there was a way to escape that destiny, if Talgath trusted him.
The longest day of the year was drawing close. With all the discretion he could muster, while Archimonde and Kil’jaeden were obsessing over Sargeras, Velen sent out tendrils of thought to those he trusted. Others were gathered by Talgath, coming to Velen’s side in defense of themselves and their people. Velen then turned his attention to weaving the subtlest of magic webs about the two traitors he once held as dear friends, so that their attention was not caught by the frantic activity occurring just beyond their vision.
With startling speed and yet an agonizing slowness, an intricate web was created. When at last the day came, and the eredar who had chosen to follow Velen assembled atop the tallest mountain of their ancient world, Velen saw that their number was sickeningly small. They numbered only in the hundreds, these who were the only ones Velen truly trusted. He did not dare risk all by contacting those he thought would possibly turn against him.
Only a short time ago, Velen had taken the ata’mal crystal from its place. He had spent the last few days fabricating a false one, so that no alarm would be sounded when it was discovered missing. He had carved it from simple rock crystal with the utmost care, casting a glamour upon it so that it would glow. But it remained dead to the touch. If someone brushed this false crystal with his or her fingers, the theft would be revealed.
The true ata’mal crystal he now held close to his heart as he watched his people climbing the mountain, their strong legs and sure hooves finding easy purchase. Many had already arrived and looked at him expectantly, the questions clear in their eyes if not on their lips. How, they were wondering, would they escape?
How indeed, Velen thought. For a moment, he despaired, but then he recalled the radiant being who had linked its thoughts with his. They would come. He knew it.
In the meantime, every moment that passed meant they were closer to being discovered. And so many were not yet here, not even Talgath.
Restalaan, another old and trusted friend, smiled at Velen. “They will be here soon,” he said reassuringly.
Velen nodded. More than likely, Restalaan was right. There had been no sign that his old friends and now enemies Kil’jaeden and Archimonde had been alerted to this outrageously bold plan. They had been far too consumed with anticipating their future power.
And yet, and yet....
The same deep instinct that had warned him to mistrust Sargeras now nagged at his mind. Something was not right. He realized he was pacing.
And there they were.
Talgath and several others had cleared a rise, smiling and waving, and Velen exhaled in relief. He started down to meet them when the crystal he held sent a powerful surge through his body. His blue fingers clenched tightly around the gem as his mind opened to its warning. Velen’s knees buckled as the mental stench assaulted him.
Sargeras had already begun. He had already started creating his hideous legion, taking eredar who had been foolish or trusting enough to listen to Kil’jaeden and Archimonde and distorting them into the man’ari Velen had seen in his vision. There were thousands of man’ari of every physical description and ability, lying just beyond his sight and sensing. They were disguised, somehow. If he had not been holding the ata’mal crystal, he never would have sensed them until it was far, far too late.
It might already be too late.
He turned a shocked gaze to Talgath, suddenly aware that the taint was emanating from his old friend as well as from the multitude—the Legion—of monsters who lurked beyond his sight. A prayer, wrenched from the utter depths of his despairing soul, shivered up in his mind:
K’ure! Help us!
The man’ari were scrambling up the mountains now, sensing that they had been exposed and closing in like hungry predators for the kill. Except Velen knew that death would be preferable to what these distorted eredar would do to him and those who followed him. At his wit’s end, Velen gripped the ata’mal crystal and thrust it upward to the sky.
As if the heavens themselves were cracking open, a pure shaft of radiant white light appeared. Its glory shone directly onto the crystalline prism, and before Velen’s stunned gaze, splintered the white light into seven distinct rays of various hues. Pain stung Velen as the crystal he held shattered. The sharp edges sliced his fingers. He gasped and instinctively released the fractured crystal, watching enraptured as the pieces hovered in the air, each a perfect sphere, and took on the seven radiant hues of the light that had once been a single, perfect shaft of pure white radiance. The seven crystals—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet—shot upwards, then sped to form an enclosure of light around the frightened forms of the gathered eredar.
At that precise instant, Talgath raced toward him, naked loathing in his gaze. He slammed into the circle of multicolored lights as if into a stone wall and tumbled backward. Velen whirled and saw the man’ari descend, snarling, drooling, their claws scrabbling on a wall made only of light which yet protected Velen and his people.
A deep, thrumming sound raced along Velen’s nerves, more felt than heard. He looked upward and on this day of wonders saw something that surpassed even the miracle of the seven stones of light. He beheld what looked at first like a descending star, so bright he almost could not bear looking upon it. As it drew closer, he saw that it was nothing so elusive as a star in the night skies, but a solid structure, its center as soft and round as the orbs, adorned with jutting, crystalline triangles. Velen wept openly as a mental touch brushed his mind:
I am here, as I promised I would be. Prepare to abandon this world, prophet Velen.
Velen extended his arms upward, almost like a child begging a loving parent to be swept up into an affectionate embrace. The orb above him pulsed, and then Velen felt himself being lifted gently into the air. He floated upward, and saw that the others too were rising toward the—vessel? For such Velen now understood it to be, though it also vibrated with a living essence that he could not yet comprehend. In the midst of the quiet joy, Velen heard the shrieks and screams and bellows of the man’ari as their prey escaped. The base of the ship opened and a few seconds later, Velen found himself standing on something solid. He knelt on the floor, if such it could be called, and watched as the rest of his people floated toward safety. When the last one had arrived, Velen expected the door to close and this ship, this ship that was made of metal that was not metal, flesh that was not flesh, and what Velen suspected was the very essence of K’ure, to depart.
Instead, he felt a whisper in his mind: The crystals—where there was one, there are seven. Recover them, for you will need them.
Velen leaned over the opening and extended his hands. With shocking speed, the seven crystals surged upward toward him, striking his palms so hard he gasped. He gathered them close, ignoring the incredible heat they emanated, and threw himself backward. At once, the door disappeared as if it had never been present. Clutching the seven ata’mal crystals, his mind stretched so far he felt he was brushing the edge of madness, Velen hung suspended for an endless instant between hope and despair.
Had they done it? Had they escaped?
From his position at the head of the army, Kil’jaeden had an unobstructed view as the mountain was swarmed by his slaves. For a glorious moment, he tasted victory, almost as sweet as the hunger Sargeras had planted in his mind. Talgath had done his job well. It had only been pure luck that Velen had been holding the crystal at the moment of the onslaught; had he not, his body would be lying on the ground, torn into a handful of fleshy bits.
But Velen had been holding the ata’mal crystal, and he had been warned. Something had happened—some strange lights had sprung up protectively around the traitor, and something had come for them. Now as Kil’jaeden watched, the peculiar vessel shimmered and...disappeared.
He had escaped! Curse him, damn him, Velen had escaped!
The man’ari, whose delight had filled Kil’jaeden just seconds earlier, were now full of consternation and disappointment. He touched all of their minds; they knew nothing. What was this thing that had come to snatch Velen from Kil’jaeden’s very grasp? Fear now shuddered through Kil’jaeden. His master would not be pleased with these developments.
“What now?” asked Archimonde. Kil’jaeden turned to look at his ally.
“We find them,” growled Kil’jaeden. “We find them and destroy them. Even if it takes a thousand years.”