Alexstrasza's flight took her over the rest of the continent. She could see evidence of the Sha infestation in the land and plants as she flew. It could be tasted in the very air in some places. Finally she came to the edge of the continent and flew northwards over choppy seas and growing rain. She considered flying above the clouds but there was something cleansing about the rain hitting her scales and the storms indicated her target was close by.
The island appeared as the mists and rain cleared for a moment, the winds allowing her to see. Dark and ominous, the trees and rocks loomed out of the choppy sea, ugly and unwelcoming. She flew lower and saw the glowing sigil of an eye with three marks under it; the sigil of the Kirin Tor. The beacon appeared harsh rather than welcoming in the stark surroundings. She'd come upon the alliance side of the island it seemed. Flying lower, the sea crashing on the rocks was loud enough to rival the occasional claps of thunder. Alexstrasza alighted on land, paws squishing unpleasantly on the soggy ground. She could head to the Kirin Tor settlement or she could press further inland. The spires of a massive palace rose through the trees and shrouding rain, now imposing from this perspective. Highkeeper Ra had been imprisoned under the palace. She lifted into the rain and winds again, flying low over the trees.
There were mogu as well as trolls here, she was surprised to see. The latter were mounted on great saurian beasts and walked patrols despite the rain. Not wishing to become a target, she sped onwards, hoping to avoid notice by passing through swiftly.
She found a spot in a courtyard and transformed into her human form, still wearing the clothing she'd worn as part of the archeological team in Uldum. The rain and mist began to immediately plaster her hair and clothing to her body. She picked at her shirt with an expression of distaste but remained as she was; something the size of a human would attract less notice. Hopefully she would be leaving the rain soon.
The evidence of battle was all over the courtyard in craters and divots in the ground, broken arrows and shell casings. The largest of which was the impressively sized carcass of some three-horned saurian beast. It showed signs of having been brought down by a combination of blade, arrow and spellfire. Parts of the body had been cut apart with cleaner slices so she guessed some sort of research team had come by to take samples. It wasn't decaying and closer inspection revealed that a preservation spell had been set some time ago and had yet to expire. The rain appeared to be keeping everyone away for the moment, but the spell had been maintained so someone was close.
She continued into the palace finding further evidence of battle in more recent scorch marks and blasted masonry in the halls and additional courtyards. How recent the battles had been was muddled; any clear indications had been washed away by the rains that covered the island. She paused at the edge of a broken bridge. The masonry shards were still quite sharp and a replacement bridge of great bamboo poles lashed together had been set up as a replacement crossing. Touching the makeshift bridge she judged they were recently felled trees. Alexstrasza looked across the expanse. While there was no one in sight on the far side she did see the a flicker of flame deeper in the palace. She crossed the bridge quickly.
On the other side were the remains of a small camp. The flames she'd seen were from a brazer which had been knocked over, spilling it's contents on the floor. Away from the constant rain, the flames continued to burn in a heap of fuel. The table and chairs had been knocked over, one of the seats broken. Every container had been opened and upended, the contents strewn about. Kneeling, Alexstrasza looked at the papers left. The writing was in Common. The second page made her double take - she knew this letter. She'd seen it before. Brann Bronzebeard had written to Dr. Harrison Jones informing him of Lady Vermillion's possible visit. She looked around, alarmed. This letter was only a few days old but given the fire this place had not been abandoned long. There were no bodies she was relieved to find. Sharp eyes spotted a dark patch against the fallen table. She crouched beside that and sniffed. Blood. Lifting the table she found more. Alexstrasza let the table down and continued to search.
The blood on the table had been human but there was another scent in the area. Creeping beyond the pool of light created by the brazier coals she found a much larger pool of blood and a long streak leading away and further into the palace. Mogu blood and mogu footprints dragging something heavy - possibly their fallen brethren or perhaps an unconscious human with a taste for flirting with danger and ladies alike.
Alexstrasza looked up abruptly as she thought she heard something in the distance. Thunder rumbled, concealing anything she might hear. Setting her jaw and rolling her shoulders back, she stalked further into the palace of the Thunder King, looking for her missing archaeologists
She decided to avoid patrols she came across. Parties of Mogu and Zandalari trolls, well armed and alert, were looking for someone; these weren't security patrols. She waited for a trio of mogu soldiers and their animated construct to pass before she slipped from her latest hiding place. There were more the further in she went and it was slowing her search considerably. At least she wasn't being rained on. Alexstrasza turned a corner and was grabbed from behind.
She cried out in surprise and a hand covered her mouth. Serious Tauren eyes bore into hers and a woman's voice said "shh" very quietly. Alexstrasza relaxed and was silent. The tauren, a female with snow-white fur looked over her shoulder then pulled Alex further into the shadows.
The ground shook and Alexstrasza caught the scent of devilsaur. The creature wasn't as large as some specimens she had seen but the halls of Lei Shen's palace we large enough the beast could walk through unhindered. It wore battle barding and light armor and on its back were a pair of Zandalari trolls. The group waited in silence as the patrol passed by and the massive footsteps no longer shook the ground. The tauren's hand left Alexstrasza's mouth.
"Thank you," she said to the woman. The tauren inclined her head slightly.
"Who are you and what are you doing here?" asked an imperious voice.
Alexstrasza turned to the speaker. He was a tall blood elf with short dark hair and a suit which had once been fancy and white and which was now neither of those things. He stood beside a small group. One was a nervous looking blood elf many decades younger than the speaker with bright blonde hair so pale it was nearly white. Another was an orc with a bandaged arm stained red with blood. He held a mogu halberd in a way which indicated he knew how to use it. There was another blood elf man with dirty, mussed hair which might have been golden at one point. he wore robes as mussed and dirty as his hair. The final member of the party was a dark-haired blood elf female who looked enough like the obvious leader she was a relation of some sort. A quick sniff and their scents confirmed they were close blood relations.
"Belloc Brightblade I presume?" she asked.
Belloc frowned. "Did you escape?"
"No, I came looking for Dr. Jones."
"He's dead, come on," he said, gesturing for the group to follow. The blonde in robes did immediately. As he turned Alexstrasza saw the side of his head was matted with blood but he moved well and did not appear concussed.
Alexstrasza blinked and stared. Dead?
"Father you know he isn't!" the woman who would only be Cymre Brightblade, hissed as she scrambled after him. The Tauren tugged her and the nervous elf along. The huge orc fell into guard the rear, lips curled up in a sneer as his eyes searched for threats.
"What happened?" Alexstrasza asked as she followed. Belloc ignored her but Cymre answered.
"We were attacked. Mogu and Zandalari together. We heard them talking about taking a group of humans and dwarves. We managed to fight them off and escape."
"Why are they here?" Alexstrasza asked.
"Shh!" Belloc hissed.
The party fell silent for a moment but then Cymre scowled at her father and bent her head close to Alexstrasza. "They're doing something in one of the inner courtyards. Some sort of ritual. Jones and his people tried to get us to come help stop it but someone didn't want to help!" she hissed and jerked her chin at her father. Belloc reacted with a quick stiffening of his shoulders.
"Do you believe they are alive?"
"I do," Cymre said.
"Shh!" the orc hissed and this time everyone remained silent. They ducked into an alcove and the elf in robes murmured a small spell. They waited as many feet marched by with heavy steps.
Mogu constructs, each one moving with precision and a disturbing lack of life and liveliness. The constructs of stone were interspersed every so often with living mogu. In the center of the procession were captives. First Alexstrasza saw a limp dwarf woman slumped at the bottom of a tall cell meant for a pandaren. Next was a dwarf male who'd been gagged and bound. He still kicked at the bars of his prison and his muffled cursing was just audible over the marching. Next was Dr. Harrison Jones, also bound and gagged. He swayed on his feet as the cart carrying his prison rolled over the stone floor. The side of his head was covered in dried blood, his hat was missing and his hair stuck up at odd angles where it had dried. The last member of the procession was a gnome male and he was by far the worst of the group. Alexs could feel his life flickering as he lay on the bottom of his too-large cage.
"See!" Cymre hissed to her father when the procession had passed.
"Too late for him now. Let's get going. Edias, can you make a portal to the sunreaver encampment? Our guest can come and rot in whatever passes for a brig there," Belloc said.
"Father!" Cymre hissed.
"Fine, we can leave the human here."
"We do not even know who this human is," the orc said from the rear, his voice was low and soft and surprising as he looked quite fierce. "While the situation in orgrimmar is in flux it might be best if we treated her well, Belloc. Best not to aggravate things until we know the end result and she is likely one of Bronzebeard's people. Brann's been fair with us."
Alexstrasza felt a stab of guilt for thinking him merely the muscle in this group when the orc was clearly well spoken as well. It was entirely likely he was also a member of the reliquary but even so she could not have made assumptions.
"Who are you?" Cymre asked.
"Lady Alexis Vermillion," she said, giving them the name Jones and his people knew.
Cymre reached out and fetched her father a blow against his side with the back of her hand. "She's one of Bronzebeard's. She's been working with Edneth."
Belloc's scowl deepened. "Another matter in which we will have words."
Pfffa!" Cymre scoffed. "Edneth wasn't safe in Orgrimmar and you know it."
"So you sent him to Jones"
"You and he don't like one another but Jones isn't a monster." Cymre turned her bright green eyes back to Alexstrasza. "He is okay isn't he?"
"Last I saw him, yes," Alexstrasza confirmed. "He's quite a brilliant archeologist. Just needs to remember to do simple things like eat and sleep sometimes. That was one of my duties. I rather liked him and I was glad he was able to find sanctuary where he could continue to learn." She gives Cymre a small smile.
The tauren woman huffed a laugh and Cymre snickerd.
"That is Edneth." She looked at her father. "See?"
Cymre was undeterred. "Father, wouldn't it just rankle Jones more if you were the one to ride in an rescue him from certain doom?"
"And likely sacrifice," the nervous looking elf said. He'd tucked himself beside the massive orc and spoke from over his shoulder.
Belloc's scowl deepened even further as thought. "Fine," he said. "We'll go free the Alliance. Suppose it's fair since Bronzebeard's treated one of our own well."
Cymre smiled and made a smug little noise then followed after the procession without further sound. Her father rolled his eyes and followed with the rest of the group.
Following the marching Mogu was a simple matter as the living ones were making a large ruckus ahead. Then the orc looked around then gestured to the side, revealing stairs behind a false wall. They were narrow and likely intended for servants of the Mogu emperor to use and not be seen. They exited on a narrow walkway halfway up in a vast room. On the ground were assembled piles of treasure and artifacts. The archeologists muttered over the fortune of history and wealth being laid out by enslaved saurok. Alexstrasza was focused on the men and women being held in cages.
"Well I don't see a good way of doing anything," Bello said, muttering.
"Saurok are disobedient, chaotic and greedy," the tauren woman mused, casting a cool blue gaze over the group.
The tauren woman flicked an ear. "Possibly. Incite the slaves to riot. The masters will have to handle them. It leaves us free to act."
"How do we do that?"
"We do have a mage," she said, eyeing the bloodied Edias.
"I can teleport short distances and I can be invisible for brief periods but I am nearing the end of my resources," Edias said as he too scanned the ground.
"I know some nature magics," Alexstrasza offered. "I might be able to influence one or two. If they are as greedy, disobedient and chaotic you say that might be enough to incite the rest." If it looked serious for Jones and his people she could transform and destroy everything in the room, but there was potential to harm her allies and even if the Saurok were opponents here, she was loathe to simple murder slaves.
"Can you take someone down there with you?" Cymre asked the mage.
"Yes," Edias said in the same moment Belloc said "No!"
"A few of us should go down," Alexstrasza said. One for each captive. I will need to be closer for my magic to work," she said. The latter wasn't necessarily true, but then she was just a human and most humans lacked in nature magics at all.
"Two dwarves, Jones and a gnome. The gnome doesn't look like he's doing well," the nervous blood elf said.
Alexstrasza focused on the final cage and reached out...
"Oh," she said, her heart breaking a little. "He is gone."
"He's not breathing," the tauren agreed. "One less to save."
Belloc growled. "Fine. The Lady will distract them. Edias, Ro'gahri and I will free the captives."
"Cymre," Belloc said, fixing her with a hard stare, "You, Dagrha and Aefias are going to make sure we have an escape route clear once the chaos breaks out. Understood?"
Cymre scowled. "Fine."
The party went back down and Alexstrasza closed her eyes and focused. "I'll need a moment. When I say go, hurry."
"Just do whatever it is," Belloc said, his voice a growl.
She no longer had her mantle but Alexstrasza had learned much in her long lifetime. She was certain she could influence a few more primal creatures. They were all males and it was far from their usual breeding season but she could see it wouldn't take much to send them in a frenzy - acquire and conquer to impress the females elsewhere. Not perhaps the nicest thing but once she and her companions were gone a few might even have a pleasant evening with their mates. And while she was at it, perhaps she could influence the Mogu overseers to be elsewhere as well. Alexstrasza reached out to the lives in the room, each one a little flame which burned with vitality and-
"Wait!" she hissed.
"There are more coming," she said. There was indeed a large party of Mogu coming in their direction from the opposite side, thankfully. "Opposite door," she informed the others.
They retreated back further out of sight and watched from the shadows as another, smaller, troupe of Mogu deposited additional bound and gagged members of the Explorer's league on the ground. In the end there were twelve, mostly dwarves and humans but Alexstrasza could see at least two night elves and one pandaren in dark colors with a red sash.
"Damn," Belloc said, echoed by Cymre.
"Well. New plan," Belloc said. "Lady Vermillion will incite the Saurok then we'll free one each and then the alliance is on their own. Go for the ones which look most lively."
Cymre grinned and pulled out her knives. Her father look far less pleased. "Jones is going to owe me so much," he muttered.
Alexstrasza began trying to reach the Mogu - wasn't it time to be away? To be outside? To feel the winds and rain in their manes? The Mogu began to shift restlessly. She pushed at them as hard as she could and they began to leave in twos and threes, speaking in loud, excited voices, full of cheer and confidence. Good. She couldn't get all of them but once a few of them were gone she found the Saurok. Here she grinned mischievously and pushed at the Sarok hard. She used her magic stimulate their hormonal state and thus their sex drives. The change ripped across the room as Saurok males began to eye one another more as threats or rivals...and in a few cases potential mates. Correcting the lagging sex drives of injured, old or ailing dragons was something she had been doing for millenia and she had provided these same skills to other races on many occasions; doing so for a room of healthy Saurok was easy in comparison.
Cymre made a sputtering laugh as she watched two younger males, with already raging hormones, dropped what they were doing and begin to rut in the center of the room.
"What." Belloc said, his voice flat.
"Let her work," Dagrah Grimtotem said with amusement equal to Cymre's.
The Mogu overseers noticed and tried to pull the two youngsters off one another which started a brawl in the center of the room. Alexstrasza continued to push her magic. A huge male displayed his frill and... other parts, then launched himself at a particularly shiny vase. He grabbed it and a handful of jewels and sprinted away warbling some sort of mating call. She tracked his progress for a moment and it seemed he was heading someplace with speed and determination - possibly where an existing or potential mate was. His theft set off the others who began to steal, bellow and warble. They flexed their frills and made loud hissing noises as they dropped to all fours and did pushup motions. Some strutted in circles their chests puffed, frills extended. A few fought over the same trinkets. The sound was immediate and cacophonous.
"Go!" Alexstrasza said as she maintained the spell.
The others left under the cover of the mage's invisibility and crossed the room to the captives, only then revealing themselves. Belloc struck off the lock from Harrison Jones' cage ripped away his bindings, smirked and did the same to the dwarf in the next cage over. Then he sprinted back to where Alexstrasza, Cymre and escape awaited him. The others followed suit while the Alliance lost no time in breaking free the other captives.
"Go!" Belloc ordered as he ran past, the others on his heels.
Alexstrasza left her spell working but stopped the active cast - the effects would last for some time yet. She thought perhaps she might stay with Jones, but then she was already being pulled down the hall by Cymre. She would have to meet up with Jones and the rest later.
"Hey! Stop dem!" shouted a voice to their side.
There was a great deal of cursing as the party swerved to avoid the sudden appearance of Zandalari trolls.
"Do you know where we're going?" Cymre asked.
"Yes of course- Shit!" Belloc began to curse as he grabbed his daughter's arm and yanked her into a different corridor. A thrown spear crashing into the wall where they'd been. "This way!" Belloc called as he adjusted for the sudden appearance of more trolls and mogu. That was merely the first such adjustment. Alexstrasza had to admit she had no sense of where they were after the party had to turn away from a group of armored mogu and their animated stone guardians.
"We're being herded!" Cymre suddenly realized aloud.
"What?" Her father asked, angry and surprised.
"We're being-" her words were cut off into a surprised yelp as a devilsaur jumped in front of them. It roared and the trolls on the beast's back let out war cries of their own.
There was a flash of light and someone screamed. Alexstrasza felt a life end somewhere to her side, as brief as a candle being snuffed, their light winking out. She had a moment to think that it was good whoever had died hadn't suffered before her world went black.
Alexstrasza came to sputtering as rainwater flowed into her nose and mouth. Coughing she tried to wipe at her face but she was bound hand and foot. Feeling oddly woozy she took stock of the situation.
She was held and bound inside an iron cage, on her side. She tried her bonds. They were metal of some sort and while it would hurt briefly she felt certain she could break them and the cage around her. The metal would be a minor hindrance at best. Alexstrasza blinked rainwater out of her eyes and managed to sit up. The tauren was in the cage to her side and appeared to be unconscious. There was a growing pool of blood by her head. Alexstrasza reached out to her. She was alive but likely concussed - given tauren were hardy whatever it was that had hit them both had been significant. The nervous elf was curled into a ball on the bottom of his cage and the orc beyond him was barely breathing. Alexstrasza reached out to him with what healing energy she could call to him at a distance. He twitched and gasped as she rapidly repaired the head trauma he'd suffered. It was a wonder he hadn't died already! When she was certain he was no longer in danger she looked to her other side. Cymre was likewise bound at the bottom of her cage. She also had a gag around her mouth and she was glaring across the way.
Belloc had been stripped to his smalls and suspended between two metal poles in the center of a courtyard. His back was a bloody mess. Blood ran down his legs and feet to collect in a ceremonial bowl at his feet. A troll in an ornate mask watched as the blood dripped down. He was alive and cursing out his captors, though weakly.
Of the mage Edias, there was no sign.
There was a heap of something on the other side of Belloc but Alexstrasza could not see details from this vantage point; the only bit she could determine was that it appeared to be covered by some sort of ritual cloth. There was a great deal of activity around the heap with Zandalari casters conducting some sort of ritual while teams of Mogu assisted to hauled spars of metal and crystal. The air smelled of blood and wet rot. The chanting increased as the troll tool the bowl of blood from under the suspended elf's feet and carried it to the activity ahead.
Alexstrasza was contemplating what to do when there was an explosion on the far side of the open court yard. One of the Mogu casters fell to his knees, clutching his chest where bright blood bloomed.
"Get the cages!" called the familiar voice of Harrison Jones.
Cymre screamed through her gag in apparent triumph as the archeologists and guards they'd saved came to their rescue.
"I guess this means we're even!" Jones said as he cut Belloc down from the poles. Beside Alexstrasza one of the dwarves smashed the lock on Cymre's cage and helped her out of her bonds. A dour looking shado-pan opened Alexstrasza's cage and freed her. She thanked him then ran to help Jones carry Brightblade away.
"Stop the ritual you damn fool!" Belloc shouted over the thunder and general noise.
"What?" Jones asked as Alexstrasza reached them and slid an arm under Belloc's other shoulder.
The blood elf bit back a scream then looked at the heap of ritual fabric where Alexstrasza could now see bits of dull blue and spars at odd intervals. "The ritual! stop it, damn you Jones!"
Jones cursed and shoved the elf at Alexstrasza. "Nice to see you Red! Hang on to him for a bit!"
He turned and drew a whip in one hand and pistol in the other and began to fire at the trolls who were rapidly trying to continue their cast. Their efforts were being hindered by more Pandaren and members of the Alliance. Alexstrasza turned her healing to Belloc's back. He would need to be better if they were going to run out of here or defend themselves. The cuts were intended to bleed but were not especially bad and they were recent. They closed easily into pink tissue under her hands.
The blood elf turned and frowned at her as his wounds healed. "Druid?" he asked. He turned his attention to his daughter as Cymre caught up to them, the rest of the Reliquary members now freed.
"Fools!" thundered a deep voice. "The ritual is complete and you are too late!" the speaker was a Mogu in ornate armor. Beside him was a Zandalari troll with an equally ornate mask- the same troll who had been collecting blood. A shot rang out and hit the spell barrier around the pair. Jones cursed as he fell back to their position. The others began to fire on the thing in the center of the courtyard but the spell shield turned away their bullets.
"What do you think they're doing?" one of the gnomes asked.
"Nothin' good," a dwarf replied.
"Arise!" The mogu commanded, stretching forth his hand. The casters directed their energy to him and to the troll and together they send it into the pile of dead meat, ritual dressings and metal. "Arise once more, Nalak the reborn!" Lightning lanced down from the sky and thunder crashed overhead.
"Nalak?" Belloc and Jones said at once.
"I take it that is bad?" Alexstrasza asked.
In answer there was a shuddering breath from the pile, a sound not unlike a death rattle as the flesh began to stir. The ritual dressings began to move and shift as a long, sinuous body uncurled. A line of crystal-tipped metal spikes had been driven into the creature's back. The thin remains of a mane crackled and burned as the lightning arched from one spire to the next. The wrappings hung off the body in places as the creature stirred to unlife revealing pale scales clining to dessicated flesh and exposed bone. The cloud serpent's head lifted as it screamed at the sky, the lower jaw hanging grotesquely before reanimated flesh pulled it into alignment. It wore an ornate helm of gold and obsidian, ritual markings glowed on the edges of the fan-like crown which had been bolted directly onto his skull.
Nalak the reborn rose into the air and turned empty eye-sockets towards his new masters. Twin sparks appeared in their depths.
"That's not good," the nervous blood elf said.
His orc companion held out a hand and one of the dwarves, her eyes never leaving the undead cloud serpent, handed him an axe.
Before them the casters grinned and turned their attention to the outsiders, adding to the already dangerous proposition of fighting the undead thundering cloud serpent.
"Well, I guess this is it then," Harrison Jones said.
"It might be," Belloc admitted. "For the record I still think you're an ass, Jones, but shall we take as many with us as we can?"
"Yep. S'cuse me If I'm gonna die there' something I'm gonna do first."
"What?" Belloc asked.
Jones reached over, grabbed Cymre and kissed her hard. While she was startled at first the kiss was reciprocated. Jones grinned at her, at everyone else then took a pot shot at the cloud serpent now above the shield. The beast howled and a chunk of bone exploded on the creature's rear leg.
"Kill them!" the Mogu and troll commanded as one, pointing at the Alliance and Horde archeologists.
The rods along his back pulsed in a line as serpent reared back. Eeryone scattered just ahead of the torrent of lightning death. The trolls and mogu began to fling weapons or spells at the trapped archeologists who sought to find cover amid the rubble of fallen walls and toppled statues.
Alexstrasza grabbed Jones's shoulder in one hand and Belloc's in the other. "Take care of the mogu and the trolls!"
"What?" Jones asked for them both.
"I can handle Nalak!"
"You might be a druid but even you cannot handle that!" Belloc said. Cymre slid into place beside them and pressed a sword into her father's hand and and tried to hand Alexstrasza a pistol.
"Druid?" Jones questioned, his brows drawing together.
Alexstrasza pushed the pistol back at Cymre. "Handle the trolls and the mogu," she repeated before looking over the boulder to quickly asses the field.
Alexstrasza vaulted over the boulder and ran for Nalak as he reared to cast death down upon another group pinned behind the broken statue of an ancient mogu emperor. Once she was clear enough she shed her human form for that of her true body and launched herself at the undead cloud serpent with a defiant roar.
She'd never fought a cloud serpent before and certainly never an undead one. Her claws did not sink into meat and flesh but scraped across metal supports and bone. Nalak was still as twisted and lith as he had been in life - perhaps moreso as he no longer needed to care for such trifling things as worry for his own body. He twisted on her with the piercing scream so unlike a living roar and tried to rip out her throat. Alexstrasza twisted in the air and bodily hauled Nalak with brute force. His fangs sank into her shoulder and she roared in pain as she brought up her rear feet to kick and slash at his belly. Her claws shredded decayed flesh and ribbons of mummification wrappings.
There was a pulsing flash and Alexstrasza had a moment to recognize the pulse that preceded his deadly breath before she was hit at point blank range. She thrust her paws under his head, pointing the deadly maw away just in time. The pads of her feet burned under the arching energy. When it was done his body twisted and she felt talons sink into her sides as another leg tried to slash at her wings. Pumping those wings and tightening the grip of her forepaws she flew straight up, dragging Nalak with her. The serpent twisted and struck, dragging his claws over her sensitive muzzle and ripping away one of the gems from her horns. It was a miracle he hadn't managed to rip out her eye. He slithered away into the sky as she roared in pain but she grabbed him again. Alexstrasza rose with the cloud serpent further, taking them both above the spires. Then she folded her wings and dropped straight down, the body of the cloud serpent under her full weight. They crashed into the center of the courtyard, creating a crater. The impact jarred her bones, but it broke several of the spires which had been attached to Nalak's back.
And yet the beast persisted in mad unlife. It writhed and twisted under her, trying to slash as much as right itself. The teeth had been reinforced by metal or replaced entirely and these snapped at her neck with mad determination. Alexstrasza grasped the serpent's jaws, growling as the teeth bit into her flesh. She roared and wrenched Nalak's mouth open. Then Alexstrasza blew her hottest flame down his gullet.
The serpent's flesh hissed and sizzled as it caught fire in the rain. The body twisted and writhed under her for a few seconds and she continued to breathe purifying fire into the offensive monstrosity. Nalak began to burn from the inside out. The struggling ceased and the cloud serpent's body went limp under her talons as the ritual bindings burst into flames and the metal spars and casings began to melt and warp under the heat. She tossed the husk away from the rest of the battle.. The body struck a wall then fell to the ground where it continued to burn.
Then Alexstrasza turned her attention to the rest of the fight, her lips peeled back in a snarl. Aefias the nervous blood elf was defending the dazed looking Orc with swings of his pole arm, his warcry lost to the thunder. A pair of gnomes from the Explorer's league shot down two with recovered pistols and the elf was able to nearly decapitate the third. The Orc got back to his feet and the two made their way over to the pair from the Alliance who were now facing a stone quilen guardian and not faring well.
Alexstrasza looked for the pair apparently leading this insane enterprise and was just in time to see Cymre Brightblade pistolwhip the troll who'd been attempting to kill her. She fired two rounds into the chest of the Mogu leader who roared in pain and anger. Her gun empty, Cymre tossed it away and drew the sword of the Mogu as he lifted his spear above his head. She thrust the sword into his chest and took a step back holding the weapon in a guard position. The mogu toppled to his knees then fell. Cymre threw her sword at the face of an incoming troll and dove for the discarded spear as the troll leader did. They struggled for the spear, rolling around on the ground in a heap. Cymre rolled away with the spear in hand and got to her feet. With a cry of rage the spear discharged a bolt of energy into the chest of the troll leader, leading a hole the size of a cannon ball in the center.
Alexstrasza caught movement out of the corner of her eye and used a wing to smack the oncoming group of rallying trolls into the air. They sailed of into a confused heap with more than a few broken bones; they would no trouble her anytime soon. She turned her attention back to Cymre.
The elf swayed and fell to her knees, using the spear as a support. She touched her side and bright read covered her hands. More blood had begun to seep into her already soggy shirt turning the material pink. The spear fell from her hand as she topped to the ground. Her father sprinted for her side as did Jones. The survivors of the Explorer's League and the Reliquary fell into a wary circle around the fallen leaders and the injured Elf.
Alexstrasza sent a gout of flame at the nearest enemy forces. They turned and ran, unwilling to face an angry dragon when their leaders and their reanimated monster were all dead. Turning back to the circle of allies Alexstrasza hurried forward, shedding her true form from one step to the next and instead wore her more commonly used guise as a High Elf.
"This is your fault!" Belloc snarled at Jones as he held his daughter. Blood covered her from a knife wound in her side. It was deep and the weapon wasn't there. Alexstrasza looked and found it in the hand of the troll Cymre had killed.
"I would never wish death on her," Jones said. He was busy ripping apart his shirt while Grimtotem attempted to staunch the bleeding with the makeshift bandages.
Belloc slapped away Jones' helping hands. "You keep away from her!" He slapped at Dagrah Grimtotem's as well. Surprised, the tauren woman dropped what she was doing before gritting her teeth and going in again, snarling wordlessly at Belloc.
"Let me see her," Alexstrasza commanded. She pushed the burly shoulder of a dwarf archeologist aside as she stepped into the ring of onlookers.
Grimtotem's ears flicked back in surprise but she got out of the way. Jones gaped at her as Alexstrasza knelt by the wounded elf.
"Let me see," Alexstrasza said far more gently to Belloc Brightblade. His fel-green eyes were wide and his hands and chest shook. The rain was not the only reason his face was wet. However arrogant he was, whatever strains he had in his relationship with his child, he cares for his daughter. Alexstrasza smiled kindly and touched his shoulder, projecting calm and warmth. Then she turned her attention to Cymre.
The woman was a born fighter. She was clinging to life with an admirable tenacity but the knife wound was deep and the blade had been coated in a corrosive poison that stopped the blood from clotting. Her sister's flight had long been the masters of both the deadly and healing aspects of Nature and as a healer and guardian, Alexstrasza had long ago learned to handle such things. She determined it was a noxious combination of spider venom and plant extract. The combination was especially deadly to a young woman caught in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by escapees with no supplies. Alexstrasza reached in with her magic and neutralized the poison before it could do more damage. A healing glow spread over Cymre's body from the wound and followed the path of her major veins and arteries, chasing down the lingering poison in her bloodstream and rendering it inert. Cymre's heart faltered and Alexstrasza murmured a soothing noise and brushed back her hair as she extended her power to the woman's heart as well, encouraging it to keep its steady beat. The blood loss would be an issue for her vital organs soon. She felt a touch of someone else's power..
Alexstrasza looked up in surprise as the Grimtotem women stretched forth a hand and extended her own powers, calling on the spirit of Life to aid. The Dragon smiled and gently guided her efforts. Dagrah's ear's flicked up in surprise but she took the correction and was soon the one keeping the steady beat of Cymre's heart going. Alexstrasza then turned her full attention to the other issues at play. She tried to stimulate the woman's production of blood and clotting cells, feeding her energy to make up for the loss and weakness of her injuries. Then she swept over her from the heart outwards, looking for any remaining traces of the poison and eradicating them where she found it so it could not spread and create further damage. When she was certain she had gotten everything she turned her attention to the gash in her side. The anticoagulant was no longer hindering her body and had begun to clot against the makeshift bandages and pressure still being applied by both Belloc and Harrison Jones. She touched the skin around the wound and coaxes it to knit closed while she cured any beginnings of infection in the area. The skin was soon whole, if a bit pink.
Alexstrasza gently pushed aside Dagrah's power then peeled back one of her patient's eyelids. It reacted well even to the dim light and her life energy had stabilized. She was still weak and needed a few days rest to continue to heal, but she would live.
"She'll be fine," Alexstrasza told Belloc. The elf shuddered in relief and grabbed her upper arm.
"Anyone else gravely hurt?" She asked, even as she cast out to the lives around her, evaluating their strength. There were a few injured Mogu and Trolls but these were furtively being pulled from the battlefield. She could tell there were some broken bones and gashes but no one was as badly injured as Cymre had been. "We should get going then," she suggested, looking between Brightblade and Jones.
Brightblade nodded. Jones gaped.
"You're a dragon," he accused.
"An astute observation, Jones," Cymre wheezed. Instantly drawing attention to her. "More correctly she's the queen of the dragons. Let's leave," she suggested before her head fell back against her father's shoulder.
"Can anyone create a portal?" Alexstrasza asked.
"Edias died in the blast that knocked you and I out," Daghra said, her tone far more subdued, her brow furrowed. Alexstrasza could sympathize; the loss of her friend had to have been sudden then.
"We found some flares but they're useless," one of the gnomes said. "The explosives are wet."
"I wouldn't want to hold out against another attack," Belloc said. "Even if we have a dragon on our side. No offense."
"None taken. I'd rather her everyone out of here, personally," Alexstrasza said tapping her fingers as she thought. She looked around and did a quick headcount. "If we have enough able-bodied people to help the wounded, I can fly us out of here."
"I'm not being taken to an Alliance base and neither is my daughter."
"Well there are more of us than you, Laddie," one of the dwarves said. "I'm not gonnae rot in a prison until Sunreaver decides to let me out." She crossed her arms.
"We just fought together," one of the gnomes said, glaring. She set her hands on her hips. "I think we'd be treated a teeny bit better. Especially if her majesty is with us."
Alexstrasza sighed and closed her eyes. "The mainland isn't too far. There was a Pandaren encampment there. Would that be acceptable?"
There was some grumbling but no dissent. "Good," she said before someone could complain. Alexstrasza walked clear and transformed. She knelt onto the wet stone and extended one of her forelegs and her wing. "I'll fly us out."
The two groups hurriedly climbed onto her back, holding the wounded and digging their fingers into her backplates like a flight of whelps. As serious as the situation was, the mental image of these explorers as whelps amused her. When everyone was secure, she took off as gently as she could to keep her allies from falling off. It was a bit awkward but she was soon airborne.
"Ye might wannae hurry!" one of the dwarves called. "Pterrorwings!"
Alexstrasza turned her head and saw that there were perhaps thirty flapping shapes mounted by trolls gaining on her position. "Hang on!" she called and sped onwards, flying low over the twisted and lightning burns trees of the island. She drove through the rain and winds leaving the sparse cover of the island behind and lifting off to ride a swift landward current.
"They're still following, Red!" Jones called out.
Alexstrasza glances to see they had caught the same air current she had and doubled her speed over the tumultuous sea. Land suddenly loomed out of the distance and the cloudcover evaporated as whatever storm magics that plagues the Isle of Thunder lost their grip. Her wings ached because twenty some grown adults were heavy when she'd had to do so much healing after fighting an undead monstrosity.
And, she reflected, she was without her mantle.
But she could save these people. She put on a burst of speed and the pterrorwings receded into the distance. She knew they'd broken off the chase when those on her back cheered, their cries broken and tired but no less jubilant and relieved.
She flew higher to match the elevation of the steep cliffs on this part of the continent and soon she could see the small cluster of tents on the edge of the cliff. On one side were the banners of the Kirin Tor and on the other the sigil of Sunreaver's company. Horde, Alliance and Pandaren stopped what they were doing as she came into view and was identified as neither pterrorwing nor cloud serpent. Slowing her flight she found a clear area and attempted to land as gently as she could.
The outpost rushed forward when it was clear there were people on her back and the injured were handed down into hastily gathered stretchers. Alexstrasza watched Belloc rush off with his daughter in the direction of a Sunreaver mage who was already creating a portal. Alexstrasza made a mental note to learn the shape of the Vale so she could create a portal there in the future. When the last of her companions had disembarked she resumed her high elf form.
"Lady," Daghra called as she approached, bowing.
"Alexstrasza, please," she said holding out a hand which the tauren grasped.
"Alexstrasza." She frowned as she released the dragon's hand and folded her hand together before her. "Thank you. I believe I would have been killed like Edias was if you hadn't taken the brunt of the witch doctor's attack."
"I am sorry for your friend. Inside the palace I could do more in a smaller shape-"
The tauren waved a hand. "We were intent on escaping and a large dragon wouldn't have helped until we were outside and there you took out that mummified monster. Edias was a decent sort. His husband is a minor lord in Quel'thalas. Brightblade's going to have to deal with his wrath when word reaches him."
Alexstrasza bowed her head in regret.
"But I'm alive. Cymre's alive. Others are because you helped us. Others were dead before you showed up."
Alexstrasza accepted that with a nod. Daghra's eyes splayed as her frown deepened.
Alexstrasza stepped closer. "Something you wish to ask about?" She queries, keeping her voice low so it would not carry.
"I have not used my abilities to call spirits in a very long time," the tauren admitted. "I was never able to heal."
Alexstrasza squeezed her shoulder. "I am glad they answered your call. It took some of the burden off of me."
"It was as if I held her heart," she said, cupping her hands together as if carrying one. There was a mystified wonder in her voice and expression as the frown eased.
"Healing is a burden but also a mighty gift."
"What- How- I don't-"
Alexstrasza stopped her with another gentle squeeze. "Do what is right for you. Do what your heart tells you.. The rest will work out."
The tauren frowned thoughtfully and bowed. "Thank you," she said, then walked off deep in thought.
Alexstrasza watched her go until her attention was drawn by by the sound of shuffling feet. She smiled as the person she'd expected stood before her, soggy hat held in both hands.
"Dr. Jones I presume?" she quipped, trying to keep things light.
"You're a dragon."
His eyes grew wide. "You're the queen of the dragons."
"I was named such, yes." She inclined her head.
If anything his expression grew more alarmed. "Ma'am if I said or did anything to, uh, insult you-"
"Why would I be insulted?"
"I- Uh, have this habit of flirting, you maybe have noticed-"
She laughed. "I did. It was charming!"
"It was?" he blinked then grinned tentatively. "It was?"
She snorted a laugh. "Ravistrasz was less impressed."
His eyes grew wide again. "Oh. Right. I bet he is your actual son then. And also a dragon. A large, red . Flames."
Alexstrasza laughed and resumed her human form. Jones relaxed marginally then frowned suddenly. "He's not here?"
"He's gone to assist the Siege of Orgrimmar."
Jones let out a puff of air. "Yeah. That."
"Mmm," she murmured agreement.
"Uh, not to be rude after you saved my life and Cymre's and, well, all of us, but why are you pretending to be a human?"
"I'm looking for Highkeeper Ra," she admitted. "As I told Brann I didn't want to unduly influence your findings. Ra hasn't been seen in millennia."
"Independent verification," Jones said, nodding. "Well you're in luck! He was kept there," he said, jerking a thumb in the direction of Thunder Isle. "He's gone though. After he was freed her moped about the island for maybe a week, just... sitting there. Then he disappeared in a flash."
"So I was told." She frowned at the island, now hidden by distance and storm. "I was trying to be a bit circumspect in my search but of the Isle is still in conflict that might not be possible."
"Well we've been getting weird weather from an Island off the coast, here-" he patted at his pockets and finally pulled out a damp map. He crouched down and opened it up, holding it down with a couple rocks and his hand. "We're here. Thunder Isle is here," he said pointing out the feature. "There's an isle of Direhorns and Devilsaurs and more Zandalari than I care to see right now over here," he said, pointing out another island. "We have a team over there and they've been getting weird storms from this direction about the same time we've been getting them." He pointed at a blank spot on the map north of the continent. "Wind doesn't move like that and storms don't either. They sort of pick a direction and go unless they're being stirred up by something, right? Might not have seemed like it but the storms on the Icle today are a lot less crazy than they were when we landed with Archmage Proudmoore."
"And they lessened once Highkeeper Ra left?"
"Well, Lei Shien was also killed around the same time," Jones said, rubbing his chin. "So it could be something else but it's something to act on at least."
"It is. Thank you, Dr. Jones," Alexstrasza said, straightening and Dr. Jones got to his feet and carefully re-folded the map.
"Thank you. For saving us from almost certain death." His smile fell, expression becoming more serious. "We'd have died. Cymre would have died. I don't care for her father but she's not so bad." He swept his hat and the folded map into a bow. "A pleasure to assist you, your majesty."
"Please, call me Alexstrasza," she said. "Or Red?"
He ginned. "And anytime you decide you want to freelance as a translator, we would be more than happy to have you back, ma'am."
She chuckled. "I will keep that in mind." she paused then her smiled deepened into one that wasn't just politely on the surface. "Perhaps when my current task has concluded I'll drop by. Until then," she stepped away and resumed her natural shape, shaking out her aching wings, "I would suggest avoiding being kidnapped and nearly sacrificed, Dr. Jones."
Jones saluted her then held onto his hat as she leapt into the air, her wings creating a gust. She circled the area once in goodbye then angles for the north and the direction of her only clue, tenuous as it was.