The dream again. The same quiet, the same darkness, and her Hylael, looking just the same as ever.
"We've waited so long."
Despite the endless, echoing shadows around him and no apparent source of light, almost everything about Hylael shined with all the radiance that she remembered. His cape was still as blue and spotless, the bow on his back looked as sturdy as steel, and the leather armor on his torso glimmered with the same familiar sheen.
He looked just like she remembered him. Just like he looked on the day that he died. Right there were the rotted tapestry of flesh that had been his face, the empty eye sockets, the stink in the air – the tokens of undeath that Rylai knew so well. She always thought it odd how the Death Knights' magic had so ravaged his body but left everything else untouched, not that that was ever on her mind at moments like this.
As always, she reached out to him, taking his thickly gloved hands into hers.
"I've got you, Hylael."
"You promised we could be together in peace." She imagined he was looking at her, but of course, with those eye sockets…
"We will be, someday." Awake, Rylai had learned to hold in the emotions that she always felt in this dream, but to see him in front of her like this always brought the tears to the surface. He died years ago, when the Horde invaded Quel'Thalas, but whenever she had this dream, she got to lose him all over again.
That, and she got to fear all over again what may have happened to him.
"No, Rylai." It always started like that; it was routine, and she would recognize that when she awoke, but in the moment it was always freshly terrifying. "I need you."
She felt a cold, stony grip on her hands, and she looked down to see that only bones held her now; the gloves were gone. No – not just the gloves, she noticed, just as she always noticed. His armor, his cape, even his rotting face were all gone – only bones remained. Bones with a bow and quiver on their back.
"I can't wait until someday, Rylai.
"I need you now."
He took down his bow and knocked one burning arrow. He drew the string.
She awoke with cold sweat on her forehead and the twang of a bowstring in her ears. Yes, it was all quite routine – lately, a little too routine for her liking.
"Scourge!" The cries came from the southern sentry tower, where Rylai could hear the alarm bells clanging. "To your posts! Scourge on the way!"
Rylai walked out of the tent just as the others were getting up; the base was scrambling to its meager defense, and the Frost Maiden wondered idly how this little outpost had ever lasted this long. They had hardly any standing army – just a handful of Ancients, a few battalions of treants and druids, and a few defensive ridges. The base would never last – but then, alone in a land infested by the Scourge, neither would Rylai.
The southern entrance was already bustling with activity by the time she arrived, with treants gathering together in a makeshift wall of leaves and wood while other forces – druids, mercenaries, and the like – took positions atop the slope.
"You're up early, Rylai." Rylai could have jumped at the sound, so suddenly so close behind her, if Luna's voice were not so soothing. She came up beside the sorceress, her panther's footfalls making hardly any sound at all.
"I would think that the point of an alarm system, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, posh," Luna dismissed. "Look at this camp; at least half of the mercenaries slept right through the alarm. You've been having troubled nights, haven't you?"
Rylai ignored the question. "Do you plan to let them sleep through the attack, as well?"
"There is no attack on the way, it looks like; what the scouts have spotted is no attack force," Luna replied. "It's a hunting pack – sent out in pursuit of one of our own. I imagine they'll retreat as soon as their quarry gets behind our lines, so there's really no need for any of this except to feel safer."
Just then, a voice shouted out from the other side of the treant line.
"Let me through, you idiots!"
"Ah. That would be him, now." Luna turned to the defensive line, raising her hand to the trees. "Open the line! Let him through!"
The trees accordingly shuffle to the sides, opening a small path through their midst. On the other side, Rylai could see a pack of ghouls dashing forward, maybe one hundred yards away. Much closer, jogging with a noticeable limp through the treant line, she saw a familiar satyr trying to catch his breath. He immediately dropped his scythe, taking a cup of healing water as soon as it was offered to him and throwing it back as fast as he could; most of it wound up on his face and chest. In a moment, he looked up and noticed Luna, gazing at him curiously; he nodded to her, his mouth still heaving in deep breaths, and raised his arm up in a thumbs-up.
"Ah. Dependable as always, Rikimaru," Luna mused to herself.
"Who did you have him kill tonight?" Rylai asked.
"No one; he was spying at the Scourge base, and apparently he found out what we wanted." Luna looked to the sky in the east. "The satyr will want some time with the healers. I'll give him an hour, until daybreak; spread the word that he will issue his report then in my tent."
"His report?" Rylai tried to keep some reverence in her voice when addressing the priestess, who was as close to a commander as the makeshift base had. "What did you have him looking for, that he should tell the whole base?"
"Something that the whole base deserves to hear," Luna answered as she urged her panther to about-face. "He found out why we're here."
"Ah – them hunters are back," Nessaj grunted, sitting on a rock overlooking the valley and scraping a whetstone along his sword. The Scourge base, just like the Sentinel, sat atop a small plateau, only raised a few yards but still making the base, ringed with natural ridges and accessible only by a few fortified slopes, quite defensible. "Looks like they're empty handed, too. Too bad about that, eh, Leshrac?"
Leshrac said nothing; he merely stared out at the approaching ghouls, his eyes as wide and troubled as ever. Nessaj didn't care; the warrior had had more rewarding partnerships in the past, but in a pinch, Leshrac earned his right to silence.
Besides, Nessaj readily filled the blanks, anyway. "Yeah, you're right. What's one guy, anyway?" He paused, looking over his sword to check his progress. "Way I hear it, we're gonna wipe that whole base out in a few days, soon as Clinkz over there is ready. All this talk about a secret weapon, though; I say we just ride on 'em, wave after wave, swallow 'em up -" He struck out with his sword, hitting a passing rat right along its spine. The rodent fell almost evenly in two. "- Cut 'em down. That's how you do a war, see?"
Leshrac said nothing. He leveled that same, deeply troubled gaze on Nessaj, who had learned to deal with it.
"I know, I know – we ain't in charge, and a couple a'jokers like us, it's probably best we ain't. We belong down in the dirt. That's where all the fun goes down, am I right?"
Leshrac said nothing.
"Ha ha! Leshrac, buddy, you're all right."
Kel'Thuzad stared across the table, carefully scrutinizing the skeleton on the other side. "The hunters failed, fletcher."
"I expected they would."
Moisture around the Lich snapped and popped, freezing in the air as Kel'Thuzad's rising temper lowered his temperature. "Then why did you not deal with the spy yourself, if you were so confident of his safety?"
Bone Clinkz, as they called him, made no attempt to lie. "I wanted the Sentinel base to know."
"What?" The Lich hesitated. "Then…you've betrayed us?"
"Be calm, lich. I know what I am doing."
"Oh, do you? I wish you'd clarify it for the rest of us before you go sharing any more secrets!" He sighed in frustration. "I can't believe they put you in charge of this expedition."
"They did, though, and with no regard to whether you believe it or not," Clinkz insisted. "You command this base, lich, but I lead the search for the Eye. If we are to fulfill our charges, we have to work together." The fletcher walked around to the lich's side of the table. "We have to trust each other, Kel."
"It would be easier to trust you, 'Clinkz', if you explained yourself a little."
"Yes." The archer started for the door. Kel'Thuzad felt a slight breeze blowing through the windowless room. "Yes, I imagine it would be." The wind grew suddenly much stronger, and as it blew out the door, the archer went with it, and was gone.
Kel'Thuzad sighed. "Thank you for your time."