Eyes torn open
With the burning remains of Andorhal setting the sky aflame behind her, Sylvanas Windrunner made truth of her name. She rode like an inbound storm, ripping the night to shreds as she dashed trough the still landscape, the hoofbeats of her skeletal steed resonating in the mountains, chilling the blood of all living things present as though they'd been hell's bells. As she crossed the Bulwark, its forsaken inhabitants rushed forward to pay their respects, but she didn't offer her subjects as much as a glance. Her face was dark beneath the hood that shrouded it, and those who watched her reckless chase into Tirisfal were not entirely able to prevent a streak of fear from coursing along their spines.
Cold were her fingers around the reins; more like marble than flesh, and yet inside Sylvanas was seething with sustained rage, this feeling that had been the sole driving force behind her existence for so long. As the downwind pushed against her back, sending her mantle sweeping along her frame, it was as alive in her as it had ever been, feeding greedily from its new source. The victory at Andorhal had been bittersweet at most, but any contentment she might have derived from it was completely snuffed out when considering what it had cost her. Aradne was gone; decimating her cohort of battlemaidens to merely four, edging her yet closer to that place of outermost darkness from where she could never return… all because of a single death knight. Thassarian.
The crimson depths of the undead high elf's eyes flashed at the mere thought of him. Granted, Aradne's death had not been by his hand. Instead of facing the val'kyr himself, he had whipped up hodges and farmhands to fight for him, somehow gathering a force among them strong enough to defeat her. The idea itself had been laughable if it hadn't proved to be so successful. When Sylvanas learned of it, she had torn through the abused piece of land in pursuit of him, but the slithering worm had already made himself scarce. She had dispatched the lesser val'kyrs among the ruins to harvest any remaining humans, and their ghostly glow made the night unnaturally bright even now as she left the place behind. From time to time, the shrill notes of human screams came to her, carried like flakes of ash on the wind. Fools. Alone harmless, but clearly dangerous with an even bigger fool at their miserable backs.
Sylvanas shouted a short command, forcing her steed to climb a nearby hill. Thassarian had been an annoying rock in her boot for some time, but with the events at Andorhal he had signed his death sentence once and for all. Sinking into herself, Sylvanas pushed her lips together in something that resembled a sneer. Yes. So many of her problems would seize to exist once he did…
The hill was steep, and once at the top, allowed for a complete panorama view of Tirisfal Glades and the surrounding areas. Halting for the first time in a long while, Sylvanas pushed her hood back, ignoring the heaving animal beneath her. With her face devoid of expression, she let her gaze roam across the treetops, the black lakes and distant mountains. To the south, Silverpine Forest ran vast and dark all they way up to the Greymane Wall. The wall was as solid and unmoving as it had been before the cataclysm hit, and only a few tiny flickers of yellow light revealed that there was some matter of activity going on behind it. The dogs were in the pen, as it fit them.
Sylvanas gaze turned into a stare. Alone she had cleared that mess up, just as she had singlehandedly overthrown all other obstacles in her path. She trusted no one. Even the val'kyrs, former servants of Arthas as they were, were unworthy of her trust. That being said, she was in urgent need of skilled commanders now that her queendom was expanding. Most forsaken were too feebleminded for the task, and her search had only yielded results just recently, upon her acquirement of Koltira Deathweaver. Or so she had thought.
Sylvanas moved her gaze to the Lordaeron ruins with the Undercity brewing beneath it. She briefly wondered how Koltira was handling his chains. With vigor, no doubt. The death knight had her positively confounded; a state she was neither used to nor approved of being in. His mind was sharp, his power immense, and yet he had displayed such an unforgivable weakness. He had nearly allowed Andorhal to slip away, and had it not been for her ingrained suspicion, he probably would have. By all logic means, she should dispose of him. She wasn't going to, though. The obsessive trait that had accompanied Sylvanas in her mortal life was still with her, and it had locked itself around Koltira like a vice. She was not as obsessed with his power as she was with the fact that Thassarian, out of all the forces in the world, could somehow prevent her from utilizing it. She was going to rid him of his weakness, but watching him through the shadows at the battlefield had convinced her that conventional methods would not suffice. The matter was too complex. No, breaking Koltira would require an… unorthodox approach indeed.
As Sylvanas thought this, Dísa and Arnora descended from their patrol route above Lordaeron, moving towards their mistress swiftly on silent wings. She had been communing with the battlemaidens ever since she'd left Andorhal, their ethereal voices echoing at the back of her mind as she had laid out her plan for them. Bathing Sylvanas in their chilling radiance, the val'kyrs soared close, spooking her horse slightly even though their close presence had become frequent by now. They remained quiet just above her by the hill, awaiting her demand.
"Can it be done?" Sylvanas said.
Arnora, the most affluential of the remaining battlemaidens, was the one who spoke first.
"We will need ten of them, at the very least… perhaps more." she whispered.
"You will have them." Sylvanas replied sharply.
The val'kyrs turned very slightly towards each other, filling the air with the uncanny murmurs that meant that they were conversing amongst themselves. Sylvanas hated when they did that. Only moments later though, Arnora turned to her again.
"Then yes, my lady… it can be done."
A rush of something washed through the undead high elf, something resembling enthusiasm but not quite. As always, all of her feelings save for anger were rather desultory. Nevertheless, her mind immediately began filling in the necessary blanks.
Dísas whisper was weaker than that of her sister and yet it had the power to completely halt Sylvanas thoughts. Observing her minion closely, she waited for her to continue.
"There is no telling… whether his mind can withstand the pressure." the val'kyr murmured. "It might… shatter beneath it. If so, he will become little more than a ghoul…"
A short silence fell over the hill, only broken by the call of a distant owl.
"It's a risk," Sylvanas answered, "that I am willing to take."
She roused her steed, pulling at the reins.
The battlemaidens watched as their mistress charged down the hill and disappeared between the trees. As silently as they had come, they rose into the night sky again, rushing through the clouds back towards the forsaken capital.
Dashing through Lordaerons once grand courtyard, Sylvanas stirred up a range of activities beneath and before her, her presence inciting slacking lookouts and putting the entire area in a state of preparation. Down the dwindling corridors she rode, blind to anything and anyone as the entirety of her scheme came together. As she closed in towards the elevators, it was almost complete.
"Bring word to Bauhaus immediately." she barked to the nearest guard. "I have a favor to ask of him."
Had Sylvanas been any less hellbent on the tasks at hand, she might have spotted the lone figure advancing through the woods by foot, his eerie blue eyes glowing faintly in the darkness as he drew steadily closer to the Undercity. As it were though, she did not.
Royal Overseer Bauhaus twisted the leather bookmark between his bony fingers, choosing his words. The Dark Lady, his queen, was standing in the center of the nightclad bawn above the city, facing away from him. Although she had sought his council before on occasion, he was not entirely comfortable sharing a confined space with her. He had the curious sense of being dressed in freshly cut meat inside of a tiger enclosure. It would have been a lie to suggest that her current request hadn't left him completely bewildered, and he had indeed heard of strange things in his day. Then again, he could not deny that it appealed to his morbid side, perhaps a little bit more than he'd like to account for.
"The veterans should be lined up shortly, my lady." he said.
Sylvanas voice drifted to him like a stream of black water.
"No less than twenty," he said, "all of them eager to participate."
The queen did not move, and had she not spoken a lazy eye might have taken her for a part of the stonework. She seemed lost in deep thought, detached from the present as she had often appeared ever since she had returned from Northrend with those silent, ghastly cohorts of hers. Bauhaus was both frightened and fascinated by her.
"I must say, my lady… I am amazed." he said, trailing off as he envisioned the ritual as she had presented it to him. "It is as genius as it is cogent, and yet I had never dared my thoughts to venture there. This magic… the altering of the mind, the twisting of the thoughts… it's Lich King magic."
A heightened, almost physical tension in the air told him that he had gone too far.
"You are beginning to sound an awful lot like Garrosh Hellscream, Overseer," Sylvanas said slowly, "a habit I strongly suggest that you refrain from exercising any further."
"Of course, your highness." Bauhaus mumbled, lowering his gaze. "I was a fool to suggest…-"
Before he could finish his sentence, Sylvanas turned to face him, her expression freezing his words in his throat. The queen's features were the same as always, dead bluish skin framed by pale blonde hair, but her eyes had darkness in them that seemed to tug at his very core, sending a violent shiver through him.
"I do not understand..." she said, her voice suddenly deep with rage. "Why this aversion towards measures that only serve to strengthen us? If it's the way of the Lich King, then so be it! What is this curse that he has put upon us all, if we cannot use his powers to our advantage?"
Bauhaus said nothing, he did not dare speak. A frustrated grunt escaping her, Sylvanas turned away from him again and strode towards the cracked gate to their left. Behind it was the portal to Silvermoon, its glow nearly completely consumed by the night, and also one of the dwindling passageways that led to the old prison. Bauhaus all but winced when he thought of the current inhabitant's impending fate.
"I shall be expecting you within the hour to witness the ritual." Sylvanas called over her shoulder.
"Yes, my lady."
A/N: This story was meant to be my submission to Blizzard's fanfic contest a while back, but I didn't complete it in time. I have it planned out and was thinking of taking it up again, competition aside. Thanks for reading!