Disclaimer: I f*cking finally finished! I own all!

A/N: Woooooot!

Chapter 12: A Light in the Darkness

"What haunts your mind, Priestess?" Thrall asked casually, giving the night elf riding at his side a cursory glance. She was a sight to be sure, almost as tall as him, even though her tiger was a good hand span lower than Gnasher, straight as a birch-tree and glittering with all the magic of night and the silvery moon. And she was tense, so high strung it was a wonder she did not break in the harsh wind.

"What doesn't?" she hissed, her annoyance clearly not directed at him, but at the situation at large. Then she let out a short, sharp laughter, and glared at him with those unfathomable, phosphorescent eyes.

"Stop trying to goad me, Son of Durotan. It does you little honor, and you will gain even less." Her tiger cut suddenly to the left, away from the narrow path to dart in and out between the darkened trunks like a dragonfly on a pond.

"Elements whip you, Whisperwind!" Thrall roared after her, making no effort to hide his feelings. He did not detest the night elf, truly, but she still refused to tell the truth about Saih'Arihasoh and this "prize of blood" she muttered about, and he was nearly at the end of his rope. Just now - if she had not moved out of the way, he would have wrung her like a rag until she coughed up some answers, High Priestess or not.

"We can do without her, Warchief," a deep voice spoke to his right. Thrall turned to see Nazgrel and Lacktooth gaining on him, and with a grimace he made room for his second-in-command.

"This must be a stroll in the woods, since you think us safe enough to abandon your post," he grumbled.

Nazgrel lowered his head momentarily, but only repeated his words.

"Sing me another song, Nazgrel," Thrall snapped. "You know as well as I that victory relies on the three of us. Three!" He kicked Gnasher hard, driving the alpha into a frenzied run that put Lacktooth into a lather.

"You are only two left, and that Priestess does nothing to aid our victory!" Nazgrel yelled at him. Thrall suddenly felt like the ground had been yanked away under Gnasher's paws. He swallowed, trying to regain control of his insides.

"Don't say that," he muttered hoarsely. "She is still alive. I know that she is!" The crystal beacon was at his belt, still carrying a star of light in its center the last time he looked. Calm yourself, he thought. She had felt his distress through the stone. It had to work both ways. It had to.

"If you say so, my lord," Nazgrel conceded tactfully, and Thrall was glad to let the subject fall. He was not even allowing himself the mention of her name lately.

"What's going on down in the rear?" he asked, letting Gnasher fall back into a more manageable pace.

"One of the scouts reported. At this speed, we will reach Irontrees in less than an hour. He has found a clearing close by that will be perfect for regrouping."

"Good. And the enemy?"

"The numbers seems to be steady. A small influx from the south, but no more than twenty or so, undead mostly."

Thrall nodded. Whisperwind's reason seemed to hold true. Now that the Hollow One was as good as assured of their pursuit, it had relinquished its control of the remnant demons, letting many get away. Those that remained seemed to have been warped into total submission, serving a purpose that could be nothing more than providing a steady flow of pain and misery.

Sensing that he had calmed down, Whisperwind rejoined him on the path, and Nazgrel slunk away. One female he might grudgingly accept, but not two, and never this one.

**************************

On the map, the entrance to the cave was only a black dot on the browns and greens of the forest, colors of another time when this place had been as verdant as the rest of Ashenvale. The circumference of the surrounding valley was marked with delicate shading. In comparison to this intricate diagram, the maps he had been shown during his imprisonment seemed like a child's crude doodles.

"Before," Whisperwind said softly, "Irontree Woods was a wild place, ripe with elemental energies and home to many tree elementals - treants - that herded the giant Irontrees for which the place is named. It cannot be chance that the enemy has chosen this place as its base. I have not spoken of this before," - Thrall snapped the branch he had been idly spinning between his fingers in two - "but this place holds a reservoir of ini and if the Hollow One has found it, there is no telling how it can have fouled and exploited it."

"Eeniey?" Merrehen Gildhaft said with a raised eyebrow. The word had not been translated by the spell that made it possible for the leaders to communicate.

Whisperwind shook her head. "It is such a simple term, and so difficult if one is not at peace with the world. Maybe "milk" will suffice. Ini nourishes." She fell silent. They pondered her words for a moment, and then Thrall spoke.

"It heals?" he questioned. "Can it make the Hollow One impossible to kill?"

Whisperwind gave them a despairing look - clearly she thought them all ignorant.

"Ini is not a healing draught, Warchief. Ah, I said it wrong. Ini is better explained as the womb of the mother, protecting, nourishing and shaping. There is no telling what our enemy will become if immersed in ini."

"I would have preferred the healing potion an' immortality!" Ennon Gemeye muttered. "Demons are seeds of evil, and seeds grow." They all looked away from the dwarf, as if to deny the truth of what he said. Thrall threw the broken bits of branch on the ground, stepped forward, and poked a large finger down on the map.

"It changes nothing. The Hollow One will have to die, and as we have already discussed, there is only one way to make it dead. We go in after it."

"Not we. You, Warchief, only you." Arms crossed, the sword on his back so big that the hilt rose over one shoulder and the blade tapered to an end below the opposite knee, Ye'trag Hearttickler stepped into the circle of leaders.

Thrall regarded the former Wolfrider Captain warily. Ye'trag had withdrawn from the chain of command lately, and to Thrall it looked like he was preparing to take up the lonely wanderings of a Bladesmaster again, and he could not help but resent him for this. He trusted - needed - Ye'trag and his cool head, but in anger, he had simply turned his back on the Bladesmaster.

"Explain yourself, Ye'trag," he said tersely.

"Simple, my Lord. It is no longer the death of many demons that we seek - it is the death of one - and only you honored three can end it. The Sorceress is already there, and in a manner of speaking, so is the Priestess. Only you are missing, my lord. Please, I beg of you. Go, and end this nightmare." Ye'trag's face was like an open wound, suddenly, so far removed from his normal, stony facade that Thrall for a moment feared the Bladesmaster had lost his mind. Then he realized the truth. Ye'trag did not carry the wound. It was in himself.

"Get up, Ye'trag, and run. Far, far away, where I cannot strike you down. NOW!!" The Bladesmaster was on his feet and running for the forest before the last word had left Thrall's mouth. Tagar, hovering at the edge of the war-council, looked of a mind to intercept Ye'trag, but thought better of it, and sidestepped to allow the orc his escape. As the Bladesmaster disappeared into the forest like a shadow, Thrall held up his shaking hands. He had been about to do it, so strong was the surge of envy that it had taken every ounce of his discipline to keep from smashing in Ye'trag's skull. At least that explained why he had kept his distance. To be unaffected in this place... He had a sudden chill. Might it be worse than the hell the rest of them injured?

With heavy heart, he turned and gazed in turn at each of his follow leaders: Human, dwarf, night elf - was this to be the last gathering, or the first? Their expressions were apprehensive, frayed, allowing all the hurts and blemishes underneath to poke through like the stuffing in an old rag-doll. He thought is was like looking into a three-fold mirror, and again, he had to remind himself that if he broke a mirror, all that he shattered was a mere reflection.

"You who have stood and fought with me for so long, held out against dangers and temptations neither of us could have imagined," he began, going to great length to keep his voice even, and his words civilized. If Whisperwind was ice, the dwarf was stone, his artificial eye gleaming warmer than his living one, and the paladin was returning his gaze with a loathing that was quite impressive. There would be trouble from that one, Thrall realized, provided that they survived. He uttered a silent prayer, not to the Elements, but to his long-dead parents, and the love that had created him, and he thought that he felt the haze lift for a moment, and he was able to speak freely.

"The Bladesmaster spoke the truth, and we all know it. We have fought the Hollow One with iron and spell, and it has brought us naught but death and despair. Yes, we have culled the ranks of our foes, but to what avail? Much more of this, and we will be no better than the demons." He paused and swallowed to wet his mouth, dry from the long speech, when Gildhaft held up his hand.

"That we all know, Warchief. The Light does not shine easily in these woods. We see the path ahead, and to save Lady Proudmoore in her foolishness, I am willing to lay down my life." Slowly, they all nodded.

"Me, then," he said.

"You," they agreed.

************************************************************

The valley was as dismal a sight as anywhere in the Felwood. Great craters pock-marked the valley floor, and the misshapen remains of enormous trees rose to the sky like broken towers from a central body of greenish water. The terrain was rocky, but open enough for a mounted charge. To the north, the land sloped up into broad, stony plateaus, and it was up there he had to go. Straining his keen eyes, he thought he spotted a dark cavity to the north, but it might also be shadows. The demons and undead, mere pinpricks from this distance, filled the valley floor, and overhead, dark shapes wheeled and screamed on the wind.

He turned to Whisperwind, once more riding at his side, and asked her straight out.

"Is Saih'Arihasoh your daughter?"

The Priestess smiled, her smile full of the enigma of womanhood.

"No, but she might as well be. You orcs are perceptive." Her lips tightened. "How else could she take my place? Her blood bought my freedom, so to speak. Ah! Aryai'dahalh, if all goes well, you will see her soon. Tell her that I do not hate her."

"I will. Can I know her name?"

"No. That, she has not yet earned." Thrall's elite Wolfriders approached, and Whisperwind fell silent. They formed a protective spear-head around the Warchief, and true to his word, Merrehen Gildhaft had abandoned his soldiers to ride with them. Around this central hub, the rest of the army shaped itself into the strangest battle-formation Thrall had ever seen - something like a fork with two, curved prongs - one point to be led by Nazgrel, the other by Tyrande Whisperwind. It was all meant to clear the way for him, and see him safely inside the cave. Thereafter - he would be on his own.

"Elune be with you, Warchief," Whisperwind said earnestly, and steered her tiger to her assigned position. On his right, Nazgrel beat a fist against his chest once, in salute. For a moment, there was silence, then Tyrande raised her fair voice to let it ring like a trumpet over the forest.

"For the honor of Elune! Attack, and remember! Protect the Warchief at all costs!" She loosed a flaming arrow faster that the eye could follow. The projectile cut a magnificent arch over the valley, searing against the dark, roiling clouds.

The answering calls of the Sentinels rose high and sweet above the coarser battle cries of humans and orcs, but not less fierce.

For him. All for him.

The army descended into the valley and crashed into the waiting demons, undead and satyrs, but hemmed in on all sides by allies as he was, Thrall did hardly catch a glimpse of enemy flesh. Under him, Gnasher trembled and snarled in protest of being denied a fight, but the alpha kept running and appeased his thirst for blood by snapping right and left, tearing limbs and heads from any fallen foe they passed. And how he understood the wolf! He wanted nothing more than to break free of the sheltering formation and lead the charge, lightnings blazing from his hand, protecting instead of being protected. He gritted his teeth and dug his fingers deeper into Gnasher's fur. With Gildhaft on the left, dealing death and healing in equal measures, and his own elite guard on the right, fighting like possessed for their chieftain, and further out, the two prongs of the army scything through the enemies, not a single demon got through to him.

They were racing along the greenish lake, halfway across the valley, when Thrall felt a surge of corrupted energy all around them, and he barely had time to yell a warning before the lake boiled upwards and spewed forth vaguely humanoid shapes composed of water and wood and all fury.

"Elementals!" he gasped. In horror, he watched the twisted elementals attack everything in their vicinity, smashing and smothering with quiet satisfaction. This was no trick of the Hollow One's; rather, it was a primeval reaction from the forest, convulsing to expel the intruders. He heard the desperate yells and horns being sounded as commanders fought to keep their forces under control, but knew that it would hardly matter. The Felwood itself had risen against them. He turned Gnasher around.

"NO! Keep going!" Gildhaft veered his stallion around and blocked Thrall's path. "I have to try and calm the forest," he shouted back. "Out of my way, or I will kill you, human!"

"Then she will be lost!" Thrall stiffened, and stared at Gildhaft, who glared back with open disgust. "You -" the paladin began, but his words were lost in the sudden thunder of wings overhead. They looked up, and Thrall felt his heart stop in his chest. Corrupted elementals he could comprehend, but this...!

A dragon rode the wind above them, and it was huge; no, gargantuan, filling the whole sky with its bulk. Once it must have been magnificent, a sky-king of fierce intellect and magic, with bright scales and sweeping wings. Now all that was left was a horrifying hulk of tattered, brown-mottled skin and brittle bones clothed in translucent flesh, and it hung over them like a harbinger of death, the ultimate perversion of life. It dwarfed the frost-breathing specimens they had killed before, like a whale dwarfs an eel. And it would doom them all.

The undead dragon beat its wings, climbing rapidly, and the battle turned to chaos as some fighters ran, while others stood immobilized with supernatural fear. Gildhaft's horse whinnied in fear, and bolted. Even Gnasher backed down, covering like a pup. The dragon dived.

"Seek cover! Get away!" he bellowed, even as his rational mind fought to accept the reality of the threat. A dragon. They had not prepared for a dragon. How can one ever prepare for a dragon?

The dragon dived, shrugging through desperately loosed arrows and spells like it was summer rain. Blue frost radiated from its jaws, engulfing and shattering elementals and the living alike. The sweep of the dragon's wings cut over Thrall's head like the blade of an axe, sending his braids flying and had him taste metallic fear on the back of his tongue. This was the Hollow One's answer to the Felwood, and as soon as the dragon had dealt with the elementals, it would turn on the puny mortals.

He yanked at Gnasher's fur, forcing the great wolf around, and called upon ice to encase the dragon's wings. If they could force it to the ground... A thin sheet of ice did form, but he was not himself, and the ice cracked and fell away. The dragon opened its jaws in silent mockery, and beat its wings in preparation for another devastating flight over the valley. Snarling a curse that could crack stones, Thrall looked around for Whisperwind, a magic-used, anyone that could help bring down the dragon. He spotted the Priestess' white tiger on the other side of the valley, racing towards him followed by her Sentinels, and he kicked Gnasher into a hard gallop.

"A CHALLENGE, WORM OF HELL!" The voice cracked over the valley like a whip, raw with pain and contempt, and heads turned to see a lone figure appear on the northern rise, above the dark cave opening. In one hand, the figure held high a blade as long as a human stood tall - broad, unadorned steel - and the single edge shone red with blood. The Challenge. The dragon roared in answer. Perhaps it was amused; perhaps the magic of the Challenge compelled it. The monstrosity changed course and sped towards the north.

"Ye'trag, don't!" Thrall whispered. "I cannot lose you to."

The Bladesmaster leaped from the cliff, his sword leading the way. And the dragon rose up to meet him with jaws wide open, jagged teeth gleaming like old ivory. Even a blade as strong as Rimcleaver could not stand against the teeth of a dragon, but that had never been Ye'trag's intent. In the last instance, he twisted in the air, got a foot on the dragon's jaw, and pushed off in a spin. The gleam of his blade became a whirlwind of silver, and he cut into the desiccated tissue under the dragon's jaw with savage force. The dragon screamed and flailed, somersaulted under the dark sky in a spastic dance to rid itself of the parasite digging into its throat.

Thrall watched, mesmerized, and then shook his head. This was his chance, he realized. Even the barely sentient ghouls were drawn to the struggle in the sky.

"Live," he muttered, and steered Gnasher uphill.

***********************************************

He reached the cave unhindered, and dismounted at the entrance. Hesitating, he stared into the muted, damp-smelling darkness. Behind him, there was a blast of noise and distantly he felt the earth tremble, but he did not turn around.

"You are free to fight now," he told Gnasher as he sent the wolf away, and stepped into the darkness.

The cave was long and narrow and the floor smooth like it had been worn down by many feet. He walked slowly at first, but faster as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. At the end of the cave, he found a tunnel that twisted down into the bedrock. There was a stench of demon and carrion around, but he met no enemies. As the last speck of light disappeared behind him, Thrall found it easy to believe that he was all alone in the blackness. Relying on his sense of smell and hearing, his time became a hunter's now, and he walked, sometimes crawled, waded through icy streams and hot pools, and perceived how strange creatures scuttled out of his way.

He was in a gallery of interconnected caves when the voice came to him. He crouched, and heard soft, two-legged footsteps coming towards him. The Doomhammer was of little use in such close quarters, and instead he picked a dagger from his belt, and waited. A flickering point of light came into view, and he nearly dropped his weapon in shock.

Saih'Arihasoh was standing in front of him, silent as a ghost, her face as expressionless as a sheet of snow. In her right hand, she held her stinger-tipped staff - the left arm hung limply at her side, and he thought it wounded, until the satyr lifted it, and pointed at him.

"Da'iliey," the creature said softly, and when all he did was frown, she motioned for him to follow, and then turned on her heel.

Thrall hesitated for a moment, then got up, and let the satyr lead him deeper into the bedrock. It was said that children, the drunk and the insane would lead you to the truth, but which of these that walked before him, he dared not even guess at.

For an eternity they walked, traversing a network of caves and passages so complex that Thrall quickly was utterly lost. Sometimes they moved in darkness so thick it seemed to wrap around like a living thing, other times strange lichens, or even the rocks themselves, gave off a phosphorous glow, strong enough for the orc's sharp eyes to make out every detail of his surroundings. Strange smells, earthy and sharp, filled his nostrils, and strangely, he thought he caught a whiff of snow from one of the tunnels they passed.

Saih'Arihasoh moved like a shadow, silent and liquid, carefully placing each foot and only once did she pause to strike out with her staff to leave a ten-feet centipede twitching on the ground, its countless legs stabbing the air in death cramps. Thrall smashed the creature's tiny head with his metal-plated boot, and wiped the hemolymph from his sole on a patch of pale moss.

"Where are you taking me?" he whispered in orcish, certain that Saih'Arihasoh did not comprehend, and speaking mostly to himself. He could have chosen not to follow Whisperwind's tame Satyr, who had never shown any gratitude for the rescue of her village, who had never helped them, never pointed out the way - before now. Perhaps it was instinct, though Thrall at this point was unwilling to trust even his own gut feeling. Madness, he decided. They were all mad, and Saih'Arihasoh would lead him to a splendid and deep realm where they would reign as king and queen of the demented.

Instead, Saih'Arihasoh brought up on a high ledge. Putting a finger to her lips, she crept to the edge, and Thrall followed as quietly as possible. Peering down, he was met with a sight that nearly had him leap over the edge despite the more than 30 feet down.

Crouching down in a vast cave of such gleaming brightness it was blinding after so long time in the dark, was a long, spindly figure, unfinished and raw. Vestigial wings jutted from the lean shoulders, and the eyes were huge and silvery-red like blood and mercury. Hollow One his mind screamed in rage, bringer of misery, corrupter and murderer! Never in all of his life had he felt such a base desire for death. It felt like a thousand tiny fires ignited in his veins, and he would have jumped, had not Saih'Arihasoh placed a cool hand on his arm, and said a single word.

"Jaina."

The name cut through the red haze of his rage, and he drew in a shuddering breath of disbelief. The tiny silhouette that was kneeling in before the demon, radiating deep despair, how had he not seen her before now? Golden hair, pale skin, lithe body and the torn remnants of a purple cloak - and Thrall drank in the sight of her desperately.

"Alive," he moaned with equal part joy and disbelief, and Saih'Arihasoh looked at with luminous eyes. And then the Hollow One moved close to her, and he watched in horror as new flesh and skin flowered on the ragged frame, even as Jaina sank into the milky waters.

"No," he moaned, hardly aware that he was speaking aloud, and then all turned red.

"NO! AWAY FROM HER, YOU BASTARD!"

The Doomhammer was metal and stone, crafted with a mighty, square head meant for smashing bones and skulls. It was not a weapon to be thrown with any kind of accuracy, but Thrall was more skilled than most warriors, and his throw was fueled by all the anger, rage and fear that had festered in his soul for weeks. The Hammer flew through the glittering air like a swallow and crashed into Cynoval's face with a sickening crunch. The left side of the demon's newly-formed face caved in, and skin and muscles were torn away to reveal fangs and molars in a permanent grin. The demon staggered backwards, bringing a hand to its face, and the silver-red eyes rolled in shock as the hand came away covered in blood and splinters of bone.

"You hurt me," it rasped, looking upwards to the ledge, and for a single heartbeat, something vulnerable played in the creature's ruined face, the hurt of a child being hit by a loving parent. Then the moment passed, and the Hollow One hunched over and scooped Jaina's limp form from the liquid.

"Is she of use to you, Lord Slave? She has no more sweetness for Cynoval," it slobbered, tensed it's arm and flung the Sorceress away with frightening ease, and roaring, Thrall launched himself over the edge. He hit the floor of the cavern in an explosion of white water, and was up and running instantly, and the song of the Elements filled him, suddenly, pure and unclouded again.

The Hollow One, Cynoval, stood to meet him, eyes blazing and form changing. Fingers elongated into gleaming, scythe-like claws, a mane of fleshy appendages sprouted from neck and right chin and a dull, uneven carapace spread over its torso and limbs to create the semblance of armor. And around it the whiteness of the water dimmed and turned dark and lifeless.

They came together, demon and Warchief, in a clash that seemed to shake the foundation of the cave. Every caution and strategy was thrown to the wind, and sheer power was all that mattered as they wrestled back and forth in the shining water. Cynoval's claws dug deep into Thrall's back, but the Warchief was beyond physical pain. All he knew was that the end, for good or bad, was near.

Calling upon Earth to fortify his bones and flesh, he landed punch after punch to the demon's stomach and felt the carapace give under his gauntlets, even as the metal itself was crumbling and cutting into his hands, and he felt the Hollow One shudder as it realized that this crazed, green-skinned beast was its equal in rage and strength, and that it possessed a spirit that was incorruptible. Cynoval had dug deep and laid bare Thrall's worst fears, amplified his weaknesses and his wants, but as Blackmoore before, the homunculus had to learn the hard way that there was a core of nobility in the son of Durotan that was simply unquenchable. Laid bare like shining gold beneath the madness and blood-thirst, he was pure at last and the power of the Elements and Ancestors filled him to overflowing. The ini-water around his legs glowed silver and silk, brightness to oppose the darkness, and Thrall felt his wounds close and new strength surged through his body. He roared into Cynoval's broken face and plunged his fist, iridescent with the weight of the Elements, into the demon's belly. The carapace splintered, and he dug upwards, hunting for the demon's heart -

DO NOT KILL HIM

The message, pleading, desperate and yet as unyielding as diamond, stabbed into his conscience, and Thrall halted, confused.

Jaina? The crystal beacon pulsed hotly and he heard her as clearly as if she was screaming into his ear. Death will only set him free to haunt us. Please, I know how to - Cynoval's jagged claws tore into his neck and drove her sweet presence from his mind in a shock of pain, and he staggered backwards, dragging the demon along as his hand was still lodged in its stomach.

He gasped and his gaze was caught by Cynoval's quicksilver eyes. He saw fear. Then he knew that Jaina was right. And Cynoval knew that he knew.

The demon turned tail. It threw itself backwards and with an obscene, sucking sound it managed to pull itself from Thrall's fist. Keening out in a language that raked his skin like claws, the demon began to waver and fade.

"NO!" Thrall cried out desperately, frantically. It could not be! He raced at the demon with his full weight, and to his horror he felt no resistance. It was getting away!

"SOLIDIFY IMPRISON!"

Greenish light erupted around the demon, and Thrall was flung back like he had hit a brick wall. The pain hardly registered, however. He just stared numbly at the sight in front of him.

The demon was caught in mid-flight in a cocoon of solid, green light, every feature visible, if oddly distorted and tinted, and the eyes burned with a fear of proportions not of this world. And suddenly, there was nothing he wanted more than to get out of here, far, far away from this place of evil and madness and brightness. Out under a clear sky where the horizon was open and the wind strong.

"Is it over?" he whispered and from behind him a thin voice, still trembling with the echo of power, answered: "It is."

Those two, simple words was a catharsis. All of the terrible happenings of the past months - the flight from Lordaeron, landfall on foreign shores, the Oracle, new and most unexpected alliances, battles for the sake of the world, deaths and depravity and losses so great it tore at soul and sanity - it all came boiling up and spilled from him in mighty, heaving sobs. He fell to his knees and cradled his face in his shaking hands and cried.

***************************

"It is." She forced the words past the all-encompassing fatigue and watched with a kind of detached sense of wonder what the two simple words did to the mighty Warchief that had wrestled with a demon and won. His face, which she had grown so accustomed to portraying only anger and hostility, dissolved into a violent maelstrom of emotions - confusion, sorrow, relief, grief, joy, all fought for a place on his tusked visage. His whole body slumped and then began to shake, and he fell down on his knees and hid his face in his warrior-hands.

She walked over on stiff legs, well aware that she had no strength of her own, that the might of this place was all that held her bones together.

"Don't..." she pleaded. "You must have strength, for I have nothing left, and if you break, so will I, and I am our way out..."

She wanted nothing more than to do as he did, and dissolve, dive into a turbulent sea of emotions and loose herself. But that would be the death of her, she was too exhausted. She would never be able to put herself back together. So she just stood there, ragged and dripping, and waited for him to act.

Slowly, after how long time she did not know, he slowly raised his head and wiped away the screen of water, blood and tears from his face and hoisted himself upright.

"I think," he groaned, "that I can manage that," and for some Light-forsaken reason she burst out laughing. It just seemed so silly. After all that they had gone through. He thought he could manage... Jaina shook her head, and then gasped as her left leg caved in under her with a jolt of pain.

She was never close to falling. Thrall scooped her into his arms like she was a feather, and held her close, and she savored the closeness with savage glee. She laid her cheek against his armor, imagining that she could feel the beating of his strong heart through the cold metal.

"What did you do, Jaina?" he said, and she blinked, suddenly aware that she had been falling asleep. She forced her mind to focus.

"The light – it traps Cynoval in its body, turning it into a kind of Soulgem," she explained, using a term he knew, though not one carrying fond memories. She saw his face tighten, and knew that he thought of Grom Hellscream.

"I have seen you do so," he said harshly, and she smiled without joy. "Yes, but the spell I used for Hellscream was much less - robust. Cynoval called itself the Vessel, and I - changed that. I fused it... the half-finished essence that Archimonde left behind, with the constructed body. I made it... submit to the laws of life... so it could no longer spread its influence. It is a high art. Antonidas himself would be hard-pressed to do it better." She finished off her ramblings with a sardonic tone.

"For eternity?" he asked.

"Eternity is a long time," she said with a grimace. "As long as the body lasts, the Spirit will stay imprisoned. I think that as long as the ini is here, it will sustain him, as it did me. I don't know what will happen if the body dies... I will have to study -"

"Jaina, stop the lecturing and tell me – is there any way to kill it?"

She paused. And then shook her head. "Killing will set the Spirit free. Until I know of how to – undo the creation..."

"Yes, I understand," the Warchief said gently. "Now, please take us out of this hellhole." Wholeheartedly agreeing to his revulsion, she briefly closed her eyes and relaxed in his hold, basking in his solidity, before trying to summon up the necessary mana to teleport them out of there.

A low moan echoed through the cave. Thrall tightened his hold on her, whirling around with a snarl like a cornered wolf.

Cynoval was still hatefully suspended in light, and Thrall stood frozen for a moment, trying to locate the source of the sound.

"Saih'Arihasoh," Jaina whispered. "She – I woke up and she was at my side. I thought she was dead."

"Where?" he asked, and quietly she pointed to the wall. A heap of greenish fur was visible against the whiteness.

Thrall carried her through the milk-water in great splashing steps and looked down grimly on the limp figure.

"Put me down," Jaina said, and he carefully complied. She found the healing potion in her pouch, and was about to break the seal when Thrall put a restraining hand on her hers, covering both her hand and the bottle.

"Do you have more than healing than that?" She blinked, and it took a moment to wrap her mind around such a practical matter, and reply that no, she had only one.

"One potion will not save her life," he said quietly. "Ten potions would not. You was supposed to die. Now she is going in your stead. I can feel it."

She wanted to protest his harsh logic, but his eyes silenced her. He was right.

"We owe you our very souls," the Warchief said quietly. "Whatever you original sin, I don't care anymore. You have redeemed yourself, and I promise that your story will never be forgotten. Dha'magh izh. Tyrande Whisperwind told me to tell you that she does not hate you." He spoke for both of them, and Jaina found that she still had it in her to cry.

"Re'ishnal – hraggh – Ataian. Thiel'wë Fiora," the Satyr suddenly gasped, and Jaina repeated the words as best she could, as a benediction.

"You are Fiora, brave friend," she whispered, and the satyr Fiora bared her pointed teeth in a fierce smile, and then fell back, dead.

It was too much.

.

"It isn't fair!" Jaina exclaimed shrilly. She snatched her hand out from under the Warchief's and downed the potion in one gulp. Warmth spread throughout her weary body, a temporary relief only, though she would never tell him that.

"I want you to bring down this cave!" she said fiercely, turning to stare at Thrall with burning eyes. "Bury them together, one in peace and one imprisoned!"

He was quiet for a moment, and then nodded grimly. "A fitting housing," he said. His gaze shifted upwards, to the high-domed, glittering ceiling, and then swept sideways and down, taking in all of the magnificent cave. He held out his hands and said something in his guttural, powerful language, and she waited, anxious, heartbroken, wild.

An inarticulate roar was all the warning she got, before seven feet of wild-eyed Warchief tackled her to the ground and his scream blasted through her ears.

"GET US OUT – " the rest drowned in the ear-splitting shrieking of crystal shattering all around them.

Jaina flung her arms around his armored waist and screeched out the words of the spell. She was raw and worn down, the false strength of the healing potion all she had left, but even if she had to tear the magic out of her very soul, she was not going to die here!

The crystal around her neck pulsed, and she felt pain, but not her own. It wavered around her, a reddish mist she knew to be Thrall, shielding her as the cave collapsed. Hold out, she prayed, and then - there! The magic fell into place, and she sent them far, far away from the tomb of Cynoval and brave, tragic Fiora.

***********************************

It was cold - shockingly so after the warmth of the cave - and wet and stinking of rotten vegetation and something that was only definable as decay. Jaina let go of Thrall's waist, and fell on her back into soft, slimy mud. She stared up, her field of vision half filled with his hunched body, half with the overcast sky of late afternoon.

"It's over," she whispered, in disbelief. Cynoval might not be dead, but for now, it could not plague them anymore. She was dead tired, felt like she had been turned inside out, but that was all. No nagging presence in her mind, no muttering distrust. She was free.

"The Elements were not happy about my request," Thrall said. "That place was holy." He looked away. There was an undercurrent of something she could not decipher in his voice, and it made her feel uneasy in a way that had nothing to do with demons or battles.

"We will restore it, later," she replied quietly. "For now, can there not be a small grace in an evil conquered?" He grumbled something too low for her to pick up, and helped her stand, still avoiding her gaze.

"Thrall, what is it - Light, don't move!" Jaina stared at the long spike of crystal protruded from his shoulder, having cut straight through the metal of his armor.

He grunted, and twisted his neck to look at the spike.

"It doesn't hurt that much," he said. "I think the armor halted it. Besides, didn't you say that you had no healing left?"

"No, but I have hands," she retorted, more in spite that anything else. Even in peak condition, she could hardly move a razor-sharp piece of crystal lodged in solid steel.

"Hmm - much more importantly: where are we?" Jaina looked around at the darkened trees.

"I have no idea, and I don't really care. I can fly without wings today."

He smiled. "Lady Proudmoore, it is an honor to have met you," he said formally, and then pulled her close in a bear hug. Laughing in pure joy, Jaina surrendered to the closeness.

"Impossible alliances!" she chortled. "But I am honored as well, Thrall, Son of Durotan." Together, bloody, beaten, victorious, they laughed until their throats were dry, and Jaina found it hard to breath.

"Oh, Light, my father would have me beaten for my foolishness." She wiped her eyes, and took on a serious mien. "This alliance – it is a good thing, Thrall. We cannot allow it to be broken."

"If there is one thing I have learned from this nightmare," the Warchief said, looking down at her gravely, "it is that we should know better. I have my sanity back, Jaina, and I do not mean to squander it."

"Good." Tired, overwhelmed, happy, Jaina leaned her cheek on his broad chest. Too late, she became aware, not so much what she was doing, for they were no closer than when he had carried her, but how it made her feel. Too late. Time can never be turned back, and truths, however unpleasant and impractical, have a tendency to worm their way to the surface.

Thrall pushed her away. Not roughly, not even close. A broad hand on her shoulder, then he simply stretched his arm.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"So am I," he replied. Yes, it was over. For now.