Title:  Warcraft – Rebirth

Author:  Rowan Seven

Teaser:  In the shadow of Ner'zhul's triumph, a dark power long thought dead returns.

Spoilers:  Warcraft history in general, the Frozen Throne in particular.

Disclaimer:  Warcraft belongs to Blizzard Entertainment.  I wrote this story for entertainment purposes and am not making any money or profit off it.

Author's Notes:  ^ ^ indicates thoughts. 

******

The Past…

"Ha ha ha…Whahahaha…Wahahahahohoho!  BWHAHAHAHA!"

Laughter.

"MWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  HAHAHAHA!  HOHO!"

Merciless, pitiless laughter.

"BWHAHA…MWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

The sound of it reverberating throughout the ancient halls and passages of the Tomb of Sargeras sent a chill through even the blackest hearts of the demons who heard it.  This was not the crazed laughter of the insane or those who in their last moments of life discovered the entire world and their actions in it to be absurd.

"Bwhahahaha!"

No…this was the victorious laughter of the heartless finding a way to escape certain death and continue the mad quest for absolute power.

"Ha…ha…ha."

From where he had propped himself up against a wall the orcish warlock known and feared as Gul'dan smirked as his body's vital fluids leaked and poured themselves onto the ground.  Cold, sinister eyes looked down at his dying frame and couldn't conceal the mirth he felt.

^Do you think you've won, Sargeras?  Ner'zhul…do you honestly think this is the end of me, your _best_ student?  Fools, the both of you.  For I am Gul'dan…the greatest of all Warlocks and Initiate of the Seventh Circle of the Shadow Council!^

Chanting arcane words of dark power, Gul'dan gathered what little strength he still had and withdrew a serrated sacrificial dagger from his voluminous robes.  Glaring at it balefully, he took a deep breath and rested the blade against the left side of his neck.

"And I will…not die…this day!"

With these words said and his spell complete, Gul'dan unhesitatingly decapitated himself with one clean stroke.  His now lifeless body collapsed and the knife clattered to the ground as his head landed and rolled a few yards away, the arrogant, superior smirk still fixed on his features even in death. 

For a moment, there was only silence.

All too soon, though, the runes he'd left to mark his trail simultaneously flashed a brilliant crimson and Gul'dan's skull rose high into the air.  Swirls of darkness coalesced around it as the haunted screams of the wind filled the chamber.  From this maelstrom of necromantic power and death a figure clothed in a cloak blacker than the darkest night and riding a pale, skeletal horse slowly came into being.  Raising a blackened, triumphant fist into the air, the new creature carefully examined the appendage as he clenched it, noting with no real surprise that it lacked any substance at all.  He was merely a phantom now.

"But not for long," Gul'dan promised himself, raising his head in defiance and focusing his smoldering eyes on the path ahead.  "I may no longer be able to claim your power in my current state, Sargeras, but mark my words.  One day I _will_ return and make your eye mine!  Mwhahaha…Bwhahahaha!"

Turning around with an almost dismissive nonchalance, Gul'dan rode his ghostly steed out of the ruined Kaldorei temple and into the future, his cruel, fear-inducing laughter echoing in his passing.

******

Sheer chaos reigned on the Broken Isles.  Orcs waged desperate battles against each other as demons awakened from their slumber and slew all those in their sights.  The smell of blood and death permeated everything as the shouts of pain and terror drowned out all other noise.

Only one shadowy creature was unaffected by this horrific battle as he silently observed everything happening around him.  Not a flicker of remorse passed through his being as he watched his followers and race horribly slaughtered by the consequences of his betrayal.  Sympathy and compassion had no place in the darkened soul of this warlock.

"GUL'DAN!!!"

Turning, the figure spotted an armored orc, battle-ax held high and eyes glowing red with demonic taint, leap off the ledge he was standing on and swing his ax downward in a powerful arc designed to rend Gul'dan in two.  Not even bothering to move out of the way, Gul'dan waited for what seemed like a short eternity for the blow to land.

It did and passed right through him.

With an expression of horror the orc grunt turned around and saw the seemingly amused countenance of Gul'dan gazing down at him.  The captain of the Bonechewer Clan muttered an oath and prepared himself for death only to be surprised when, a moment later, Gul'dan released a short, barking laugh and his form broke apart into countless shards of darkness which quickly turned to smoke and disappeared.  All that was left behind was Gul'dan's decapitated and contemptuous head.

Recovering himself, the orc grunt slowly stood back up and carefully prodded the head with his foot.  When he was certain that it was safe, the captain picked it up and laughed, believing himself to have vanquished the hated warlock.  Deep in the recesses of his mind, though, the orc knew better and silently dreaded whatever Gul'dan had planned.

******

And so I hid my soul and my power in my skull.  The captain of the Bonechewer Clan, ignorant of his trophy's true purpose, foolishly wore it as a prize around his neck and was later murdered by Ner'zhul's slayer for it.  My former master Ner'zhul, having severed his link to me before my death to avoid the psychic backlash, was also thankfully unaware of my attempt to cheat death and paid my skull scant attention after he'd used its magics to reopen the Dark Portal and began his fearful and doomed attempt to escape from Kil'jaeden's wrath.  Khadgar, Medivh's apprentice and murderer, also failed to detect my presence when he frantically channeled my skull's powers to destroy the Dark Portal once and for all.  The foolish human even sent my skull across to Azeroth along with the Book of Medivh before Draenor blew itself apart and whatever design fate had in store for him overtook him and his comrades.

Years passed, and I endured them patiently in the sealed archives of Dalaran.  Forced to keep my awareness of the outside world to a bare minimum to avoid detection by the Kirin Tor, I consoled myself with the knowledge that, sooner or later, some dark and power hungry soul would come seeking my power and inadvertently grant me my freedom.  There was even an archmage among my unknowing captors who came close to doing so.  Kel'Thuzad was his name, and his hunger for power and knowledge of the hidden world of shadows led him to me.  As he probed my skull I covertly scanned his mind and learned of the many events that had transpired after my death.  With the Alliance torn apart and the Horde defeated, I believed that there were none left who could stop me and that the world was ripe for my rebirth.  I eagerly anticipated the day that Kel'Thuzad would foolishly try to claim my power as his own, but it was not to be. 

Much to my surprise and vexation, Ner'zhul yet lived and was present in this world.  Kel'Thuzad departed to answer his dark summons, and I was once again left to my own devices.  In the dark I waited for what would come and raged against my impotence.  Still, in retrospect, it was fortunate that the opportunity to possess Kel'Thuzad never presented itself for soon I would have the chance to control a much more powerful host.

Regardless, the Burning Legion came and, either unaware or not caring about me, seized my skull from the ruins of Dalaran and used its power to open portals for demon reinforcements to travel through.  Not long after I finally met the fool who would free me, the fallen Night Elf Illidan Stormrage.

******

Gul'dan's eyes saw only darkness.  Suffering a moment of panic at the thought that something had gone wrong, he instinctively tried to take a breath only to find that nothing happened.  With growing horror as he tried and failed to move any part of his recently gained body, the resurrected warlock realized that he had no control over his new host. 

^What's going on?  Why is this body not obeying my commands?!^ Gul'dan thought angrily.  As he expanded his consciousness and touched the mind of another who, overwhelmed by the potent magic flowing through his veins didn't notice the mental contact, the warlock found his answer.

^The original soul was not displaced!  I am still a…prisoner,^ Gul'dan thought distastefully.  A brief surge of anger at the world in general flared up within him but long years of self-control and sinister self-assurance enabled him to quickly suppress it.  ^This setback will be dealt with in due time.  I will triumph over all obstacles fate tries to put in my path.  After all, am I not Gul'dan, the last great warlock of the Horde?  Death itself was not able to stop me, and this new creature I'm now bonded with won't either!  So swears Gul'dan!^

Had the equal parts painful and ecstatic metamorphosis not deafened Illidan Stormrage to everything but the dark magic pulsing throughout and transforming his entire being, he might have heard the sound of insulting, haughty laughter uttered in the dark recesses of his mind.

******

Because of the manner in which the power hungry Illidan Stormrage claimed my power, my superior mind was never given the chance to cast out the accursed Night Elf's soul and claim his body as my own.  With no other recourse but to wait, I hid myself deep within Illidan's subconscious and blocked my last moments of life from him so that the fool would never realize that I still existed until it was far too late for him.  Observing firsthand his pathetic sentimentality and enervating emotions I knew that it would be only a matter of time before I had my chance.

Till then, though, I explored the weakling's memories and history, gleaning everything of use I could find in them.  My knowledge of magic grew even greater as did my understanding of the Burning Legion and its goals.  The contempt I held for my unwitting host also increased.  So much power and potential…wasted.  There was so little that was not in reach of Illidan Stormrage that his reservations and restraint disgusted me.  Waiting for a reward from the world is pointless.  If he truly wanted Tyrande Whisperwind's heart he should've seized her and forced her to love him.  Only the strong survive in the end, and the only way to get what you want is to take it yourself.  Such is the way of the things.

Still, even a fool has his uses.  Though he agreed to serve Kil'jaeden far too easily, the elf did show laudable initiative in summoning the Naga.  Even I couldn't help but feel smug and pleased by his progress when he captured the Eye of Sargeras and vindicated me.  Better yet, however, he was accommodating enough to kill himself in such a way as to make my rebirth child's play.

******

The Present…

Illidan Stormrage was dead, but his body lived on.  Preserved by the icy waters of Northrend and resuscitated by dark magic, the elven form marred and twisted by demonic corruption crouched on the seabed floor and, extending its wings, surged upwards and broke through the thin sheet of ice that had already begun to reform around Icecrown Glacier.  Landing with cold, lethal grace, the figure slowly stood up straight and, with one rapid motion, tore off the blindfold covering his eyes.

The very earth itself seemed to pause as two baleful, terrifying crimson orbs that had born witness to the death and corruption of innumerable souls opened and gazed out at the world for the first time in nearly two decades.  Smirking in fiendish pleasure, the figure let loose a horrifying sound that chilled all those who heard it to the very core of their being.

"Hahahahahaha!"

Laughter.

"Bwhahahahahaha!!!"

Triumphant, malicious laughter.

"MWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

The laughter of the unrepentant exulting in continued existence and the chance to inflict even more pain and sorrow upon the world in pursuit of the mad quest for power.

"Ha…Ha…Ha."

The laughter of Gul'dan.

******

Lo, I have passed through the valley of the shadow of death and been reborn.  Between the departed Illidan Stormrage's raw, chaotic magic and sheer potential and my knowledge and mastery of forces, I have reached a new pinnacle of power.  It is still not enough.

I will never be content until I wield the fury of ethereal storms and stand unscathed within the dying hearts of burning suns.  All those who stand in my way will be destroyed, whether they be my former masters Ner'zhul and Kil'jaeden or some arrogant hero from this world who has the impudence to challenge me.  And though the Eye of Sargeras is no longer usable, there are other paths to omnipotence that I can pursue.  My ascension is only a matter of time, and I will not…cannot…be stopped.

For I am Gul'dan…

I am darkness incarnate.

I will not be denied.