Strangers in a Strange Land
The Vector Coil of the Exodar - Tempest Keep, Outland
"I still don't like this place."
There was a sigh, as the Sin'dorei working on the Vector Coil's maintenance, what little the elves yet understood of it, turned to glare at his haughty, crimson haired companion. He was a mage, and a son of one of the noble houses that had guarded the Sunwell. The last alive, after Arthas' razing of Quel'thalas. "You don't like anything, Anarion. This 'place' gives us mana. Which, as you know, is invaluable to us."
The jade green eyes of the pale skinned mage turned to return the glare, and lock with his companion's. "Yes, but now that we have it, it is not as popular as consuming Fel. Capturing that...creature...was wrong, and you know that Kvo'thei. Every time we abandon our moral principles out of 'necessity' we are losing something. Something important. Our priests no longer call the Light. Our paladins are powerless, last we heard of them. We've allied ourselves with the bloody Horde! None of these choices have worked out for us so far...Illidan is using us as fodder for his...experiments...consuming the Fel is warping our kin in the Netherstorm, and the Naga are hoarding the water supply. These alliances are going to get us all killed."
Kvo'the simply rolled his eyes, for while some elves under the Prince of the Blood Elves might've branded Anarion a traitor for his views, he knew that at his core, the mage was scared, and hated ingesting Fel to survive. He had forcibly primed his mind to react with nausea instead of pleasure or hunger whenever he had to consume it, and since they had acquired a source of mana, he had switched to crystalizing, and consuming it as needed. Even then, the hard-minded mage, once a respected teacher of a far more racially tolerant Dalaran, had worked his consumption down to a more reasonable amount, after sating his initial thirst, of course.
He had not been alone in cutting off Fel consumption, and it was that fact which Kvo'thei pressed. "You're spending too much time with those book worms. You're starting to imitate them. You sound like Voren'thal."
"I sound sane, my friend. And you know it." Anarion said, turning now, arms crossed as he faced his companion.
"I'm just a mechanic. I have a knack for these machines...the nimble fingers help. I try not to think above my station. It's a good way to have your brain fried by a Magister." Kvo'thei muttered the last sentence in a low whisper, as he finished the last repairs, connecting a series of wires to their color-corresponding crystals. A simple enough task, for a fledgling mechanic.
"I resent that. I am a Magister. We're not all like that. Don't try to pretend you wouldn't rather be wooing the women of Silvermoon with your 'magic fingers', playing on your Lu-"
The swiftness with which the mechanic cut him off surprised the mage, and he blinked, as the other elf's face was suddenly very much in his own. His Fel green eyes almost seemed to flare like a twin pair of Felstorms as he stared Anarion down. "Do not...bring that up...we need to focus on surviving, not pretty concepts like morality and goodness. They did nothing against the Scourge. Or did you forget."
Before Anarion had a chance to give his own retort, both men twitched their sharp ears, as they heard the door to the Vector Coil's maintenance chamber slide open with a crystalline whir. By the time Matis saw them, Anarion was tuning crystals via telekinesis around the top of the structure, while Kvo'thei pretended to do the same task he'd just finished. Hunched over and faced away as he was, it certainly seemed like he was working hard.
"Magister Sunrune. Thank you for your assistance. Prince Sunstrider has requested the presence of all the magi, in the Eye." Matis focused on Kvo'thei then, who pretended to just be finishing his work. He turned and stood in one swift, fluid motion as one of the few still-living Blood Knights in their section of Tempest Keep approached him, and sneered. "As for you, the Botanica is acting up again. The flora has turned hostile. You are to fix it, posthaste."
Kvo'thei blanched, as he'd been down this road before, "Am...am I to accomplish this alone?"
Matis, who appeared to have, once concluding his dispensation of orders, turned to leave and do more important things, stopped, and gave the mechanic a side eye glare. "Yes. We have no one to spare as a guard for you. Illidan Stormrage is calling on us to dispose of the Draenei lingering in Shattrath City. Now get to your tasks, novice." He walked off then, nose held high, as he traveled further into the Exodar, to give out more commands, and generally abuse his authority for personal gain.
Anarion sighed, and teleported to the Eye. About ten minutes into the Prince's speech about honoring their alliance with Illidan Stormrage, while seizing more Draenei artifacts in Shattrath City, the entirety of the Tempest Keep began shaking, as the Exodar portion began powering up. Recognizing vaguely what was happening, the Prince gave an order to all those with engineering prowess, battle smarts, and minor levels of magical knowledge to stop the infiltrators that appeared to be stealing part of the Keep.
As Anarion would later learn, Kvo'thei had eventually found a mage acolyte who could guard him in the Botanica, and after completing their maintenance, was able to bamf directly to the Exodar, to carry out the Prince's command of sabotage. The elves who remained in Outland would not know what became of their brethren for quite a long time.
Voren'thal later used the imagery of the Exodar's escape as an accurate metaphor for how their Prince's plans were coming apart, and as he led the coalition of armed magi to attack Shattrath, Anarion was among those who became the first Scryers, and pledged his loyalty to the Light, and A'dal, for as long as he remained trapped in Outland, at least.
Those elves trapped on the Exodar as it warped time and space to enter the Twisting Nether had their mechanics sabotage the Vector Coil, causing the entire wing of the Tempest Keep to materialize out of the Nether, and crash straight into Azeroth.
Nestlewood Hills - Azuremyst Isle
Laronar Stormclaw returned to his makeshift hideaway, dragging a stag carcass by the neck with his massive saber-fangs as he dropped it before the female he was currently sharing all aspects of said camp with. After facing down an overwhelmingly powerful manifestation of Shadow together, the former High Commander of the Might of Kalimdor had traveled to the untouched isles for a well-earned rest away from society.
He felt her eyes looking over his cat form with approval, though she frowned as they fell on the dead animal. "Must we eat meat?"
Laronar shifted back to his regular, shirtless self. His armor was tucked away, as were his pauldrons and bark gauntlets. All he had on now was his kilt, and that was rather easy to remove with gravity's help. "Venison...is not merely 'meat'." He said, sitting beside the women who had been in the midst of enjoying yet another toke on his pipe. She'd become quite the Herb Head over the weeks they'd been 'recuperating'. The local Moonkin had directed them to this unoccupied spot in the Nestlewood Hills, from which they were still close enough to the village to socialize, and share whatever Laronar cooked. The bear-owls also enjoyed venison, but his last stew had gone entirely to them, as a gift, leaving Lynore without a chance to sample the druid's evidently masterful cooking. "Venison is the tastiest of meats. Soft, delicious, and it works best, I have found, in a stew. Don't think too much about where it came from. I've already honored this one's spirit. Just focus on the taste."
She nodded, as she took another deep toke on the smoking instrument. The carved head of Ashamane on the bowl had her eyes flare orange as the slow burn turned the ground up plant remnants into smoke and ash. She looked away, as Laronar shifted a single finger into a claw, and began skinning and carving the meat beside the fire. In about thirty minutes, he was done, the broth was suitably brothy, and he was ready to begin the slow process of cooking. Venison didn't take nearly as long as some other meats, but he usually preferred his a bit tougher than melt-in-your-mouth. This time though, he would leave it tender, as he knew his latest romantic interest preferred the softer things. Sometimes.
The smoking continued as the two elves passed the pipe, and waited for dinner. Once the stew was bubbling, Laronar left the remnants, viscera, and other organs far from their camp, near a wolf den that he knew had cubs. He had done this once before, and Goldrinn had sent him a rare feeling of appreciation. Thus, whenever he cooked now, he left the remnants for the family. He felt the mother's eyes upon him, but unlike last time, she did not snarl from the bushes, and neither did her mate and the rest of her pack.
Being a rather large specimen of stag, there had been more than enough to feed two elves, and most of the wolves, and while a few tried following him back to his own camp, he shifted again into a Nightsaber, and easily lost them in the woods, before circling back to the stew. At that point it was finished, and the pair had several bowls of it, as once Lynore tasted it, even the staunchly vegetarian elf was forced to agree; it was delicious. Almost no chewing was required, as the meat did indeed almost 'melt' in one's mouth, and the taste was worth experiencing.
Laronar felt her eyes upon him as he munched on his third bowl, and lamented not being able to find a carrot or two. The Azuremyst Isles were an untouched paradise for those like him, but that unfortunately meant some root vegetables were simply unavailable. He swallowed, as he heard her speak, "Have you always eaten meat?"
The druid thought back, for the first time in a long while, to his early days as a novice. "Since Ashamane took me for herself, I've enjoyed the taste. The hunt. The simple beauty in furthering nature's cycle."
A grimace crossed Lynore's face. "I did not find gutting a son of Malorne to be beautiful."
Laronar chuckled, and gave her a knowing look. "The beauty is in the act of the hunt. Stags are a good representation of life. Nature. The Druids of the Antler in Val'sharah use Malorne's power to heal, and their skill is on par with any Restoration Druid on the mainland. But where their domain is life, and mending it, Ashamane's is death, and dealing it. Predators are also part of nature's cycle, as is death. This is why most predators in our lands only go after solo, or aged prey animals. This is the way it has been for thousands of years. Long before our empire rose. The weak of the herds are culled, and the strong remain alive."
Lynore looked at their dinner, then. "And this stag. Was he a weak one?"
Laronar made a noise somewhere between a grumble, and a growl. "No. He fought bravely, and accepted his fate in the end. His spirit will return from the Dream eventually, but for now, he keeps us alive by his sacrifice."
Lynore shrugged. "I don't think I'll ever enjoy eating meat. I don't like killing aspects of nature."
Laronar chuckled again. "And do you not think the same of plants? They too are alive. I have spoken with them. They too understand that some humanoids and animals must eat them to live. It does hurt, to be plucked, or to have 'limbs' cut away from them. The only real exception is fruit, as that is meant to be eaten so the seeds might be scattered by whatever eats it."
Lynore seemed slightly concerned as she processed his words. "You mean...the plants also feel pain?"
Laronar's well-defined muscular arm went around her then, pulling her close. "They do...but most I have spoken with are willing to bear it...the plants of our world are not strangers to sacrifice, to giving their power that the planet might live. At least, that is what Shan'do Stormrage said of them. Life needs other life to keep living, Lynore. Plant, animal, it matters not. Some druids might enjoy a lifestyle of complete non-harm, eating only fruit and nuts, but I cannot. It takes quite a bit of energy to keep my body, and my forms, functioning. You have seen my Cat Form. Do you think such a creature could reasonably subsist on berries and plants?"
Her eyes had narrowed, but not in a bad way, and he had a feeling his natural musk was once again working on her, judging by the other smells that were starting to permeate their camp. There was a well-recognized tone to her words that made the druid's heart start to race a bit faster than normal. "No...all of your forms seem like they'd require a lot of food to keep alive."
He watched her eyes fall to the heavily muscled and similarly well-defined pectoral and abdominal muscles he regularly left on display. Before he could respond, and likely start yet another mating session, the sky broke open.
Both elves jerked suddenly, and looked upwards, at the loud boom. A massive, seemingly crystalline object began falling from the sky, heading west of them, as it lost altitude. Laronar swore quietly, and Lynore simply stared, unable to quite process what she was seeing in the sky. It was no illusion though, for as the trail of crystal tore through the sky, millions of fragments, and one very large, very red fragment, went hurtling away from the object.
Then, the entirety of both islands shook, as the object crashed. There had been lighter tremors, likely from other bits of debris, but the main piece had likely just crashed as well. The horizon took on a slightly greenish purple hue, and electricity sparked through the clouds where, moments before, there had been none.
It did not feel like natural lightning, and as it was usually purple, Laronar figured correctly that it was a byproduct of whatever the object was. He stood, as did Lynore, and the two locked gazes again. "Looks like the daughter of the Dreamer was correct. We should investigate the area, structures like that do not form naturally."
Lynore shook her head, however. "I need to report this to General Windrunner. As quickly as possible." She gave him a meaningful look, but Laronar had better ideas than to once more act as a taxi. He closed his eyes, inhaled for almost thirty straight seconds, put his fingers to his mouth, and whistled. Several moments later, a black and greenish-cerulean colored hippogryph descended through the canopy above their hideaway, exposing it to the outside world as he crashed through the trees, and landed.
Laronar said several very old, very unfamiliar words in what Lynore recognized as ancient elvish, as he approached the creature, and gave it scritches, and several Moonberries. "This one will bear you to Feathermoon Stronghold. Tell Shandris that I am already investigating these events...I'll have more for her when she arrives."
Lynore arched a brow, the casualness with which the druid referred to one of the most famous and influential elves in their society did not go unnoticed. "Shandris? Do you know the General, Laronar?"
The druid wisely stayed focused on the hippogryph as he answered. "We go way back, she and I. To the War of the Ancients, in fact. But that is a tale for another time." He turned, and met her gaze, his face a mask of passiveness. "By the time she sends scouts, I will have seen what I need to see. Be careful. Debris might still be falling around here."
As Lynore mounted the hippogryph and took to the sky, Laronar saw it was indeed filled with debris. Tiny crystalline objects were hurtling down over this area of the isles, though none seemed large enough to deal damage. Presuming the Moonkin were safe enough, he returned to his cat form, and began prowling towards the massive wreck in the west.
The first piece of the structure he came across was swarming with blue-skinned humanoids, many of whom had horns, hooves, and tails. They bustled around the crash site in a panic, speaking a language that seemed to be Common. Nightsaber brows furrowed, and the druid spied upon the settlement for several hours, eventually discovering that a Pandaren traveler, one he'd been unaware was also on the isles, had already met and parlayed with the strange creatures. Laronar stalked closer, ignoring the weaker creatures that moved through the fields around him.
In only a short few hours, the land had become twisted by the arrival of these creatures, but from what the druid saw, their actions seemed intent on mitigating, or removing, the taint their landing had caused. This was all that kept his fangs from them, but he refused to take lives when, from what he was hearing, these creatures intended to aid the wilds, rather than ignore what they'd done to them. Not knowing the circumstance of the crash, Laronar assumed it had not been intended as the blue creatures, that upon closer examination disturbingly resembled the Eredar of the Burning Legion, appeared to have shaman in their ranks, as well as priests using magic that he recognized from his time in Stormwind as the Light.
The druid continued his silent prowling, moving not even a blade of grass as he moved towards the main crash site. He stopped halfway, as he saw another rapidly formed settlement made from debris, and surrounded by blue skinned figures. Most of these, spoke in a tongue his ears did not recognize, and among them, with the injured, he saw a fellow Kaldorei woman, lying unconscious, as her healer tasked one of the menial blue-skins with fetching what turned out to be herbs he knew would aid in the healing process.
Deciding these new arrivals to Azeroth had seemingly good intentions, he continued to travel north, that is, until his sharp nose caught the scent of unwashed human, and goblin stink. Moving towards Kalimdor, the druid eventually came upon an Alliance ship, that appeared to have encountered some trouble, and among them, was a Priestess of the Moon. With an inward sigh of relief, Laronar approached the crew's makeshift camp, appeared from the shadows before the guards, and after calming the emotions of their initial reaction, was brought before the Priestess. To her, he spoke in Darnassian.
"Priestess. I'm sure you saw the object in the sky a few hours ago...it has crashed into the isles, and is warping nature around it. Those within seem to be more focused on mitigating the damage, and saving their survivors than causing more harm to the land. They look like Eredar...but are not. That much, I am certain of. They appeal to spirits as the Tauren shaman do, and wield the Light as well as any Alliance priest. They may have a relationship with the Legion similar to our own...and the Satyrs."
The Priestess pondered for a long moment, and then met the druid's gaze evenly. "If what you say is true, we shall welcome them, when and if they arrive. We have our own issues to deal with, however...the Captain believes we were sabotaged...he may have a task or two for you, if you're willing to help."
Laronar chuckled humorlessly at the idea of walking into a hostile group of enemies to retrieve some random object for a human he owed nothing, and knew nothing about. "I would, but General Feathermoon is expecting a report from me, and I've yet to see the main crash site. I will leave informing the High Priestess to you."
She nodded again. "I will send an owl, and mention that the General is on her way. Go with Elune's blessing, druid." She raised a hand to give one, and then her brows furrowed. "Odd...apologies...I cannot seem to...cast one upon you."
Laronar sighed, as he turned to face the northeast. "It is no fault of yours, Priestess. Good luck with your mutineers." With that, he leapt into the air, landed as a Nightsaber, and dashed off into the shadows of the forest their makeshift camp was bordering.
As he came upon the main crash site, he winced at how damaged the massive structure had made the surrounding landscape. Mountains now existed where once there had been none, and they curved over the crashed structure ominously. Below and around it, he spied much stronger looking blue-skins, and kept well away from their sight as he prowled closer. Eventually, he found a pair of guards clad in almost crystalline armor, conversing in Common, to each other and those who passed by. As he sat patiently and listened, he learned much.
The new arrivals were known as the Draenei, their leader was a prophet of some sort, and while the guard's bearing was as stern as every other city patrol member Laronar had encountered, there was genuine kindness below it, and within those who passed by them. These Draenei, he soon learned, were largely peaceful minded, and seemed to have little desire to conquer all around them, like the last planetary invaders Azeroth had to contend with. In these, he sensed the potential for rather strong allies, as the damage to nature their landing caused was among their first concerns, but their methods of stopping the contamination were strange, if effective. Some of what the druid saw was not entirely magic, and it reminded him of a gnomish invention or two. These were much more advanced by comparison, and he soon realized the Draenei were using some kind of crystal based magic to establish themselves around their crashed ship with rapid efficiency.
When one of the guards casually pointed out an owl flying above them, Laronar followed their gaze, and his sharp eyes recognized the bird as one belonging to Feathermoon Isle. He was being signaled. He reached out to the bird, and bid it to lead him to its owner. For one who defended the wilds, this was a small favor, and the silent creature guided him as he ran along below it, still hidden, and still utterly silent.
Elune shone down upon the squad Shandris had chosen to bring with her, and the Shadowleaves' heads turned as one as the druid reappeared under the moonlight atop a slight cliff overlooking the area they'd chosen to wait within. Nature magic shifted him from a Nightsaber to a Kaldorei, and he bowed in the elven style towards the only female that was truly holding his gaze, in that moment. "General."
Shandris and her mount prowled forward, and he winced, as he noted that it was not the one she'd had in the Shifting Sands. Time was harsh on everyone, it seemed. Laronar was glad Storm was safely living in Val'sharah, as being that close to Cenarius was a good place to be, for an apex predator. "Archdruid. What have you learned?"
"I assume the Commander mentioned what we saw. It turns out, it was a...ship of sorts, that travels something called the 'Nether', or maybe 'Outland', I'm not...sure. Much of their talk is in their tongue. I do know they are led by someone called Velen, one they see as a prophet, and evidently their leader. I overheard one of his direct commands, to contain the damage their crash caused to the environment. I think these...new arrivals are definitely Alliance material. Their devotion to the Light exceeds many of the humans in Stormwind."
Shandris nodded, eyes on the ground, as she listened to the druid's monotone ramble. "Interesting...your aid is appreciated, Archdruid. My squad shall inform the High Priestess. If they are indeed potential allies, it will be our High Priestess who confirms their quality." She made a gesture then, and the Sentinels rode on from the clearing, towards the shore, not one of them sparing him a second glance as they did.
Lynore's stony gaze had not gone unnoticed by him, and he could only imagine what rumors or lies the gossips of Feathermoon Stronghold had spewed in her time with them. Her knowledge of his history with Shandris was bound to have been acquired eventually. With a heavy sigh, he shifted into his owl form, and began heading for the Feralas portal to the Dreamway.
The Black Temple - Outland, Four and a Half Years Before the Fall
Vehlar Stormclaw drew his Satyr soul blades as he faced down Illidan Stormrage. They had just taken the Black Temple, and their allies were spreading through Outland to establish the Illidari's rule over it. Once settled in the Broken's precious Black Temple, Illidan had summoned the worthy Demon Hunters among them, less than twenty in total, to witness the techniques that he intended to pass on, and make an organized regimen out of their fighting style. Vehlar, was honored with being the practice dummy Illidan performed them upon, but his role was not merely that of punching bag. He too had several tricks to share with their leader, and had agreed with Illidan, when he'd claimed that they needed to combine ten thousand years of hard-won knowledge, with the prowess that came naturally to those who embraced and mastered their Fel gifts.
The two elves bowed, as the duel began, and Illidan gestured to Vehlar. "I hear you have learned to use the eyes as a weapon...I would have you show us this first, Stormclaw."
Vehlar nodded. "Prepare your defenses...this is one of my strongest techniques. I would not risk it in sparring matches."
Illidan waved a clawed hand. He had definitely changed since absorbing the Skull of Gul'dan, but how much madness was the warlock's influence, and how much was just the result of being caged for ten millennia, was impossible for the grizzled Highborne to determine with any accuracy. "The weak will fall in the initial stages of what is required to become a Demon Hunter. The strongest will survive, and it is the strongest that we must cultivate, Vehlar. Hold nothing back."
Vehlar nodded, and then did as Illidan asked. He dashed forward, leapt twice, and then flared his stolen wings as he locked his eyes on Illidan Stormrage. The sorcerous Demon Hunter's warding tattoos flared in expectation. Twin beams of bright green Fel energy burned into him, and Illidan snarled, taking the hit on his forearm as Vehlar channeled them. When the attack ended, twin black holes were left on the tattooed arm, smoking from the intensity of the magic used to damage it. The skin all along it was charred, but regrowing even as the first Demon Hunter examined the damage.
"Fascinating…" Illidan said, staring at the wound. "Had I not prepared, you would've burnt right through my arm...potent indeed."
Vehlar bowed, with his swords still drawn. "As promised. Perhaps we should practice that one on boulders, or something. Our progress will be slow, if we constantly injure ourselves."
Illidan chuckled in a manner Vehlar could only describe as 'cracked', and his eyes flared under the worn amber runescarf that covered his unsettling orbs. "If we're teaching this to everyone, it's going to be used in the heat of combat, and they're not going to be able to hold back. Almost every Sin'dorei candidate we've tried so far has failed, gone mad, or just exploded. Some, even let the Demons take them over. Only one survived..."
Illidan paced, as he monologued and let the aura of both shielding and damaging Fel green flame fade with the lack of combat. "We need someone to help aid those Kaldorei displaced by the latest conflict find their way to us. If we practice on them, with some successes, we can perfect the method for the Sin'dorei. Who wants to sneak back to Kalimdor, once we return to Azeroth?" Illidan turned, as he finished and flared his wings slightly, grinning at the small crowd of Demon Hunters. None came forward, as going back likely meant facing the undead, and the Wardens, who would kill them on sight and were able to track their Fel essence. Illidan did not seem concerned about the suicidal survival rate of such a mission.
Vehlar looked around, sighed, and stepped forward. "None here can go unnoticed as I can in the Warden's jurisdiction. I can...find my way back to Kalimdor." He waved his hand then, and the visage of the Highborne Sorcerer he used to be reappeared from the depths of his many memorable hours admiring himself in the height of Kaldorei fashion. "If I roll in some mud, stick some leaves in my hair, I'll fit right in with our adventuring kin." He thought for a moment, tilted his head, and smirked. "Maybe I'll go as a priest. Males can be priests now, apparently. What do you think, Illidan? Perhaps our traditional gender roles kept you from your true calling."
Illidan gave a rare smirk, and his head tilted slightly, as he tried to imagine himself in Moon Priestess attire, but male, praying and kneeling to the Mother Moon every night. He went quiet for a moment, and the smirk faded as he pondered if perhaps that might not have been a better way of reaching Tyrande's heart before Malfurion. At the very least his chances would've been higher, due to proximity. He shook his head then, as he put the nonsensical 'what ifs' from his mind. "The Well of Eternity had its claws in me from the beginning. Once Rhonin showed me how to project my mind at the source to empower spells, I was hooked on it. At least, until I discovered how to wield the Fel."
One of the other Demon Hunters spoke then, one of the few females they had with them. She was new, as Vehlar hadn't trained her, and sadly, only a few of his ancient students had survived to see Illidan's return, and lived through the battle of Hyjal thereafter.
"How did you learn to wield it, Lord Illidan?" The female known only as Painkiller asked.
Illidan chuckled. "A Felhound happened upon me while I was...in a dark mood. Instead of letting it drain me, I tried draining it instead, once it attached its appendages. I took its magic into me, and from there, managed to learn quite a bit more." He nodded at Vehlar then. "Stormclaw has been accruing knowledge of the Fel and how to wield it, master it, and not succumb to it, for over ten thousand years. The initiates who reach the same level as all of you, shall learn from this repository, as we train them. Now, enough talk. There is more to demonstrate."
Illidan leapt then, and Vehlar went from feeling the eyes of the group, to being on the defensive, as one of his oldest allies began trying, very believably, to disembowel him. His form became shadow, and Vehlar knew what came next. Illidan slid across the broken ground of Outland in several directions as Vehlar barely managed to so much as parry his strikes. They were far too fast for dodging. Finally, Illidan came down with an overhead slash that caused their locked blades to screech in protest. They spent several hours after that display drilling the forms of blade and glaive usage. By the end of the 'day' Illidan had selected Alandien, Netharel, and Theras to be among their best teachers. Over time, they were instructed to train the others in the methods of teaching as well, and from this small group, would come an army of well-trained demon killing machines, bent solely on defeating the Legion.
Illidan called Vehlar and Vehlar alone to his newly crafted and refurbished Chamber of Command once the training finally ended, and waved away the pretentious Blood Elves occupying it before they had so much as a chance to squawk. Once alone, he waved a hand at the map table's carved depiction of Outland, and projected an image of Azeroth above it. "If we are going to recruit more Kaldorei in any significant number, we must have a plan. A route. A method of getting them to the Temple alive and unsavaged. Any ideas?"
Vehlar nodded, and pointed at a small cluster of rocks relatively close to the Black Temple. "I'm told the Dragonmaw Clan of Orcs resides here...taming Nether Dragons. If we had a few of those, we could ferry the trainees across the Nether between the Hellfire Peninsula, and Shadowmoon Valley. Once in the valley, I can guide them back easily."
Illidan nodded as well. "Not a bad idea...and once I employ Magtheridon to his full use, it's one we could use to great effect. The Orcs will obey once I am done with them...a team will be formed to ferry your group back. You're on your own for figuring out how to sneak through the Dark Portal from Azeroth. Dalaran has its eye upon it."
Vehlar stroked his unkempt beard, a mix of deep blue and hints of silver. "I imagine I'll use the same methods as you my 'lord'." Vehlar said, smirking lightly as he bowed genuinely. "Kil'jaeden will torture your very soul to the brink of existence if you fail to slay the Lich King. The Death Knight Arthas Menethil guards his Frozen Throne with Frostmourne. Even your blades will be hard pressed against that one. I've seen what it wrought. It wields Death Magic with unusual effectiveness."
Illidan let out a powerful snort, but his shifting hooves gave away the slight tremor of what might have been fear, but Vehlar assumed was anticipation. Illidan Stormrage was not the kind of person to give in to fear. "I have met the human princeling. I was not impressed then, and from what I am told, lately, he has become even less impressive. My brother may have thwarted our attempt at eradicating his patron the easy way, but this time, Northrend will feel the might of the Illidari, and all our new allies. While we handle Northrend, I want you and Sindweller to scour Kalimdor, and lead the dregs with the most potential to our base of operations. Between your efforts and Kael'thas' donations to our cause, we will have an army yet."
Vehlar gave Illidan a skeptical look. "Didn't all the latest Sin'dorei recruits die?"
Illidan grinned maliciously, and even Vehlar felt a chill up his spine as he watched it dominate the narrow wolf-esque features of the Lord of the Illidari. "All but one...but one is all we need. He shows great potential. I would have you be his final test, if he manages to survive everything else."
Vehlar nodded absently, already not caring about the runt-like offspring of the Highborne who had shattered Azeroth in their bid for power. He'd seen their fighting styles, their architecture, and their culture, what little remained. He was not impressed, and did not expect to be. In his mind, the reason Illidan wanted more Kaldorei was obvious. They were, by far, superior specimens to the addiction-addled, power hungry Blood Elves. The desire for revenge was potent among those who suffered through two of the Legion's invasion of Azeroth, and it was that rage that made them quite a bit stronger. Only the final product of their spells and tattoos would deliver an example of what the blood elves could become.
"When are we departing again for Azeroth?" He asked, glancing at Illidan.
His contemporary waved a clawed hand, and dispelled the magic over the map, leaving naught but a carved representation. "Soon. Demons lack patience. Your mission will take far longer than I expect ours to. You will have to return on your own power."
Vehlar nodded. "We will manage."
Illidan nodded as well, and then turned, heading into a deeper chamber, that nobody was allowed to pass, not even his Demon Hunters. "Good. I will await your return, after our victory in Icecrown."
With that, the doors of the alien temple slid closed, and Vehlar teleported himself from the room, and back to the staging area for the upcoming assault on Icecrown.
Four Years Later, Present Day - The Black Temple, Outland
While the Icecrown assault had gone poorly, Vehlar's mission had been far more successful. He and Feronas had managed to stalk the wilds of Kalimdor, and gather quite a few Kaldorei displaced by the Legion's rampage. Most were eager to wreak havoc upon the Legion in any way possible, but just as many sought vengeance, for all that had been taken. In their travels, Vehlar had learned that the isles home to the Alliance's newest allies also had several Sin'dorei upon them, and he had managed to recruit an entire group of the promising candidates, with one that easily matched Vardeis' affinity for combat from the estranged elves. Even with their Prince's rumored betrayal of Illidan, from what they had heard from Outland, they decided Illidan would be a much more powerful master than Kael'thas, who was rapidly proving to be little more than a puppet for Kil'jaeden.
One of those Sin'dorei recruits became an apprentice of Vehlar himself, as he had opted to train those who still retained their minds, and their intelligence, himself. He left the eccentric offshoots to Varedis' methods of training. The sole survivor of the initial Sin'dorei recruits had proven to be a prodigy, and he had even managed to best Vehlar in his final combat trial, earning him the rank of instructor among the Illidari. From him, aspirants were sent to the other instructors, to hone the skills the individual was best suited for.
Vehlar's own apprentices were a smaller group, and one he usually kept separated from the general masses of the small legion of Demon Hunters. Veras Darkshadow had also eventually joined his recruiting missions while coordinating several others at the same time, as he found the ideal Kaldorei candidates upon Azeroth, and then left it to the Demon Hunters on recruitment duty to invite them into the fold. The process of becoming a Demon Hunter had eventually been perfected, and while Vehlar had initially disliked Illidan's subtle methods of brainwashing their trainees with the visions and emotions he himself had felt at the mercy of Sargeras, the results spoke for themselves.
Vehlar looked out across the training grounds of the Illidari, and saw an army. He knew Illidan was concocting something big, but over the years in Outland, Vehlar had stopped being someone he confided in. Illidan had never mentioned why, and Vehlar had not cared to ask. Illidan's sense of self-importance had almost seemed to eclipse their larger goals, especially after his loss to Arthas, but lately, he had become focused on personal training sessions with the Illidari who ascended through the ritual, and the days following it, as they transitioned from elf to demon.
Vehlar's ears twitched, as he heard someone drop in next to him. "Kvo'thei. Welcome back. Did you find the camp?"
The mutated Sin'dorei nodded, speaking in a hoarse whisper that he'd had since becoming a Demon Hunter. "The Forge Camp is active...the Legion's assault on Outland continues to grow larger…"
Vehlar waved a hand. "Illidan will send someone to clear it. Worry not. Focus instead on our newest mission...we are preparing for something big...but the specifics are unknown to me, at least. Illidan has been training the 'newbies' for months now."
Kvo'thei nodded, and his eyes seemed to flare under his hood. His attire was similar to his mentor's, in that he too had not bothered with an eye covering that would burn up over time as he unleashed his eye beams. His hood, and entire outfit, was more of a faded crimson set of leathers. Several near-perfectly carved glyphs of Fel protection were embedded into his armor, and as a result he was as agile as every other Demon Hunter.
Like Vehlar, he too had opted for elven swords instead of a warglaive. The crimson and black blades formed one blade, when put together, and they sat as one when hilted, on his back. The blade's runes were customized in ways that Vehlar could barely follow, but their effects were tangible, and could not be denied. Illidan had paired them himself, when the Sin'dorei had asked to consume a satyr instead of a Fel Hound in the middle of his trial, and their Lord had acquiesced.
Illidan Stormrage's voice echoed in both of their heads, causing the pair to flinch when they heard it's authoritative command. "Come to me. We must speak of the coming mission."
Vehlar glanced at his apprentice, who nodded, and the two leapt down from the parapets surrounding the well-guarded Demon Hunter training grounds. Vehlar glided on his stolen Dreadlord wings, tailing shadow through the air as he drew a number of eyes from the newly ascended Hunters. He smirked, as he was enjoying the memory of how he'd acquired them, as he did every time he brought them out. It was a memory that both he and his satyric souls found deeply amusing, and it seemed the Highborne of old had not been overly fond of the scheming Dreadlords.
They made their way to the Chamber of Command, and found their Lord perched upon the railing edge that surrounded the chamber's focal point, the map of Outland that displayed the Illidari's holdings. "Come to me, my Demon Hunters." Illidan said, smirking with obvious pride as he watched the gathered group arrive. They were, in his mind, the best, and most suited for the opportunity their journey to Nathreza would provide.
Illidan turned then, and pored over the map as he waited for them to obey. Those gathered were not the kind to jostle or rush the ramps leading up to the map, and they had enough iron control of their demonic natures to resist lashing out or snarling like many of their 'younger siblings' did when in close proximity to other demons. They had far to go, but every day more of them learned to control their power, or let it consume them. Explosively.
"Those of you I have summoned have demonstrated enough skill to be worthy of my strongest technique. Vehlar...you've already begun to experiment with this kind of attack, but I have developed it into my own personal style, which I will teach you, all of you, once you have your own wings." Illidan's face curved slowly into a sinister grin of anticipation as he finished speaking, and paused for the questions that would no doubt follow.
Allari the Soulrender was the one who spoke up first. Surprising nobody within the chamber. "How are we to acquire these wings, my Lord?"
Illidan let out a rare chuckle. "Our first serious assault on the Burning Legion will give us an opportunity to steal the power of demonic flight from Dreadlords. I have chosen you, to be the ones to rise to this challenge. If you succeed, the tales of your slaying will be legendary. If you fail, then die well. Do not be captured by those we are about to face, under any circumstance."
Allari looked down then, as she pondered, and Vehlar had a feeling that he knew exactly what they were going to try assaulting. His mind was racing. How had Illidan found Dreadlords? DreadlordS. Plural. Where had he discovered so many? Was this linked to the arcane and Fel power he'd been gathering over the past years? Vehlar concluded their leader had found some sort of Dreadlord stronghold, which meant he was after Legion knowledge. Knowing Illidan, he would go to the largest source of such a thing, and Vehlar quietly fought down his bound satyric soul's terror of jumping into a Dreadlord stronghold, or planet, as some of them claimed had to be the plan.
Vehlar calmed himself, as he assumed if Illidan thought they were ready, and that those here were strong enough to claim the power that came with such wings, he would help them reach the heights he thought he had, only to learn that apparently there was much more to aerial fighting than he'd thought.
Illidan spoke again, and the softly murmuring crowd of Demon Hunters quieted. "Those here will make up a platoon's worth of our forces, as you accomplish this task. I am forming you into our Shock Troops if this mission succeeds, you will be the ones we send in from above, when we need an area reinforced with overwhelming strength. In the coming days I expect you all to find others you think would be worthy, and capable, of handling this kind of power. Many here have trained worthy candidates, but you know the new Hunters much better than I. Find the best, and practice your killing combinations as a unit. You will need them."
Illidan turned, and leapt, striding out of the Chamber of Command as he went to do some other no doubt important task that consumed most of his time. Vehlar and Kvo'thei were quieter, but the group adopted a democratic style of rule, as they agreed there had to be a method to their madness, and the madness that would come from working together with those who were not as in control as their elders.
They did not have long to gather new potential winged Hunters, for Illidan called them, all of them, only a few weeks later. They emerged, somewhat clueless, to the summit of the Hand of Gul'dan, where Illidan had crafted his masterful portal. Vehlar eyed it with appreciation rather than the hunger some of his fellow Hunters were displaying. Illidan's spellwork had always been impressive, if a bit crude, but this demonstrated just how good he was when he could focus his mind without interruption or imprisonment.
Some of the gathered Demon Hunters knew better than others what was coming. The rumor of an assault had spread like Fel fire, but only a few groups, namely those leading, had specific goals or tasks given by their Lord for the attack. Illidan gestured, and without fear, his well-trained army of Demon Hunters began their first real assault on the Burning Legion.
The portal trip was brief, despite the distance they had to have crossed to reach a place like this. Vehlar's eyes took in the unique structure of the planetoid, admiring with some degree of awe how easily the Dreadlords had molded a substance upon which to base their world's operations. Judging by the amount of Dreadlords in the demonic ranks that had come to greet their magical intrusion, this had to be the Nathreza that several of his gibbering satyr souls were so scared of. As they stayed in the shadows, Illidan strode out to glare menacingly at the oncoming forces. They were outnumbered, but given the average Demon Hunter's kill count, that kind of force would not be enough to win the day.
Any apprehension Vehlar had burned away in fury and hurt satyric pride as the Dreadlords laughed at the force that had come to greet them. Vehlar knew well that their eyes, if not the eyes of their troops, could see they were hiding, and at least, make out their size. Illidan's scowl intensified, and it was moments before battle was joined. The Fel Hounds at the forefront were the first to feel the rune-empowered blades of the younger Illidari in the vanguard. Many, had been chosen for their bulkier physique, and unrelenting attack style.
Vehlar, for his part, followed along with his own group, that did not decloak themselves. The Dreadlords would assume such a small force would attack with all they had just to win, and it was that arrogance that would make them easy targets for their platoon's goals. They split off into groups of five, and decided as they ran who would be gaining the wings first. Only a few began arguing, with the calmer heads eventually emphasizing that they would be killing more than enough Dreadlords for everyone to acquire them.
Vehlar's group did not bicker, and Vehlar decloaked himself with a roar as he summoned his own wings and leapt, hammering the ground as he landed in front of their quarry. The seemingly obese Dreadlord guffawed at the lean, raggedy elven swordsman flexing stolen, and rather impressive, Dreadlord wings that challenged it, only to soon find that not one, but five such enemies were now hassling it. Kvo'thei had stuck with his mentor, but the rest of their group had warglaives, gleaming with Fel runes and the Illidari insignia as they whirled and slashed the much taller demon.
Kvo'thei dashed, and then uppercut the obese Dreadlord, which was when Vehlar leapt, soaring upwards and taking advantage of the titanic figure's temporary lack of balance. Both satyric soul blades sank deep into the Dreadlord's neck, though such an injury would barely slow it, and only kill it if Vehlar could cut through the thick skin enough for a beheading. Anything less, the demons could recover from.
He snarled, and shouted "Now!" and their chosen candidate dashed behind the demon, slashed off the wings, and began consuming pieces of them with unleashed eagerness. It was a macabre sight, but after a few bites the wings faded into shadow, and then with a flex of his shoulders, the Kaldorei Demon Hunter flared his new, stolen wings. They had been a bit stubby on their owner, but had reformed to suit their new owner's aesthetic as if by magic or something. Like Vehlar's shadow trailed from them, in a steady flow to the ground.
They repeated the process three more times, and then scattered amidst the chaos of the battle to aid the groups faring less well, usually by jumping, and then gliding in from above with an Eye Beam. The tide turned as Illidan watched his forces go to work, and the proud smirk had returned. Only a few of their newer members had died, as expected, but the losses were less than twenty, once the first battle finally ended. None lost their control and started consuming relentlessly. Nobody exploded. The Demon Hunters grinned, as they found they enjoyed the taste of victory, and their cocksure leader led them onwards, towards one of the Dreadlord's spires, that seemed to contain whatever it was Illidan was after.
Vehlar's report that everyone, who had survived, in their unit had acquired wings seemed to put Illidan in a brighter mood, as they dashed towards what Vehlar eventually realized was a library of some sort. A repository of knowledge. He and the other Demon Hunters held the door, as their Lord searched within for whatever the goal of this assault was. Everyone, Vehlar included, trusted Illidan's plan to guide them out alive, probably.
They made short work of the Doomguard and Fel Hounds that came to test their fortified position, and it was there in that corridor of death that the Shock Troops made full and effective use of their tag-team strikes. They lost no one, while other units, again usually of fresher Hunters, fared far worse against the Legion's forces.
Finally, Illidan emerged from the room he alone had entered, a single disk orbiting behind his head as he dashed wordlessly past all of them. "To the portal!"
They didn't need to be told twice, but it was as they were leaving that more demons came to test them. Once more they took losses, and Vehlar had stared, several times, as he saw Illidan end his own Hunters, that he seemed to think were too wounded to carry on. Vehlar would have argued that a few could've probably lived, but the escaping to survival part of their assault was not the time to argue the worth of a life with a mad elf.
Illidan did as he pleased, and always would, but Vehlar noticed that like him, Kvo'thei watched their leader's mercy in action with the same discontent frown. Neither's frown disappeared as they worked in tandem to cut a path through all kinds of rank and file demons, now that the alarms were well and truly triggered. Vehlar was impressed that rank and file Kaldorei had been able to survive against such foes, for while he survived the attacks, many left him wounded, until he drank in the essence of the fallen, and healed his wounds.
It was these shards of demonic souls that largely kept the Demon Hunters alive. Those in Vehlar's unit were capable enough to avoid them, when there were others who needed them more, and the spoils their rune-engraved weapons gave them were shared almost equally among the Hunters Illidan seemed determined to train in aerial combat.
Vehlar platoon was one of the first back to the portal, and without commands, they backtracked into the frenzied fray of Demon Hunters and their favored quarry, freeing up those having trouble with timely arrivals. Before long, the majority of the Demon Hunters were through. Vehlar's unit, and about three others like his, were the last to go through, with Illidan himself lighting the fuse on the explosive gift they left for Nathreza on their way out.
Once on the other side, Illidan revealed their prize: the key to finding Argus, the supposed homeworld of the Legion, or at least, a very strong central point for it. With what Illidan had taken, reaching it was now far more possible. Vehlar had no idea how he'd managed to find Nathreza, but with that disk, he could certainly find Argus.
It was later, when they had retired to the Demon Hunter's wing of the Den of Mortal Delights, that Kvo'thei finally spoke. "What do you know of Argus, Vehlar?"
Vehlar passed his bottle of some sort of wine to Illysanna, who was being affected by it far more than he. "I know it is a demonic stronghold...the satyrs within feared going there, for only Kil'jaedan and Archimonde have cause to do so. Most of the Legion has no cause to return to Argus, so long as the Burning Crusade continues." He paused, then tilted his head. "Interesting. Apparently, it was once their home."
"Archimonde and Kil'jaedan's?" Kvo'thei asked, seemingly with disbelief, but Vehlar nodded. "The homeworld of the Eredar...surely Illidan can't think we're ready to assault such a target...a snatch and grab on Nathreza was risky enough, and half a hundred of our fellows are now dead. The demons will know what he is doing, once they examine, or even revive one of the corpses we left behind."
Vehlar gave a dark chuckle. "You went through too quickly. I saw Illidan unravel the portal. He left the Dreadlords a...memorable parting gift." At his words, Illysanna let out a soft giggle.
Kvo'thei tilted his head. "What kind of gift?"
This time, the rather tipsy female Demon Hunter answered with an excited "Boooom!" Before she laid back, still giggling at the idea of the smug, overconfident Dreadlords having their planet infiltrated and then blasted to pieces by a being they considered so very much lesser than themselves.
Vehlar nodded, smirking at his lover as he watched her antics. His macabre sockets shifted back to Kvo'thei then. "Indeed. Boom. The way he unraveled the spell, the energy likely blew apart most, if not all of Nathreza...though, they will likely rebuild it in time. That was not a natural world we assaulted."
Kvo'thei's tone was less excited. "And so, the Legion will repair, rebuild, and grow...they are relentless."
Illysanna's face fell, as did Vehlar's, as neither could deny the truth of their situation. Vehlar stood then, and offered a hand to Illysanna, helping the tipsy Demon Huntress achieve the goal of standing up. "We are relentless as well, my student. Now that you have your wings, we will be all the more skilled at killing the Demons. The future has hope. Trust in Illidan's plan."
Vehlar tossed the wine to Kvo'thei, who caught it, as he watched the pair of Kaldorei leave, presumably to do what they always did after enjoying the Den's delights for a time. He chugged the entire bottle, tossed it behind him without looking, or caring that he almost hit a fellow Sin'dorei attendant, and then retired to a parapet to brood over the Fel green landscape of Shadowmoon Valley.
His eyes turned to the gates of the temple, where his own people had been led by Illidan and his people's mad Prince to their untimely, and futile deaths in disturbingly large numbers. How many blood elves had died, just to take this monument to demonic hedonism and torture? He briefly considered leaving, as he did not trust in Illidan, or his plan, after what he'd seen on Nathreza. It had gone unnoticed by Vehlar, but Kvo'thei was painfully aware that most of their Lord's victims had been Sin'dorei. The Kaldorei had been pulled onto their feet, or dispatched if wounded grievously. Illidan was mad, or simply cruel by his nature. He did trust Vehlar though, and he knew his teacher would endeavor to keep him alive, as he had with all those he'd trained.
Even with his mentor's projected confidence, Kvo'thei was simply not convinced that the future was as bright as Vehlar seemed to think it would be.