As High Priestess of Nazjatar, the Lady Vashj had spent ten-thousand years in the loyal service of a living God-Queen. And on this evening, as she had on so many countless others, Vashj performed the duties of her station with the utmost care and reverence. For there was nothing the naga did, no task they performed, that did not have as its ultimate purpose the glorification of Azshara. Even here in broken Outland so far away from the fathomless deeps they called home, and though they were in the service of Lord Illidan, the Queen's power would be manifest.
It was among the abandoned buildings of the draenei ruin that the dread naga waited eagerly, poised on the edge of anticipation. Their cunning eyes hungered, a multitude of barbed polearms and gleaming blades gripped tensely at the ready. Here they had gathered at their mistress' command, at the Ruins of Ba'ari, in order to seize control of the one source of clean water outside the cisterns of the Black Temple in Shadowmoon Valley. Battle was imminent, and the naga relished it like little else.
There was nothing Vashj did that did not reflect the glory of her beloved Queen. She moved among each group of her soldiers, to a one members of the Coilskar tribe, asking the blessings of Azshara upon their hearts and blades. Despite her unending discomfort with navigating land with a body that was not meant or designed for such a purpose, she nonetheless moved with her customary serpentine grace, her delicate hands making precise gestures to mark out the sacred spirals before each myrmidon and siren. Ever the loyal handmaiden to her Queen, as it had been for ten-thousand years and more, Vashj comported herself with beauty and poise as she slithered amongst her soldiers, calling forth the Queen's protection upon them for the coming battle. This, too, was part of her duty, and it had long since become second nature to her, even before the descent to the deeps. It was her first lesson, so long ago, when she first came to the palace at Zin-Azshari: as the waters of Eternity reflect the light of Elune, so too does a Handmaiden reflect the Light of Lights in all things. And as Vashj was exalted above all the Queen's Handmaidens, for countless millennia, she had come to signify that more than any other Priestess of the Tides. Her people recognized that, and the reverence with which they treated her passing movements was not lost on her. Secretly, she relished it, truth be told, though she would never openly admit as such. There was a kind of power in it, a kind of strength.
Thoughts of Azshara left her mind, however, when the blood elves emerged from a portal, led by their prince. Kael'thas Sunstrider was tall, regal and powerful, the epitome of grace, elegance, and golden beauty; a man of impeccable taste and good breeding, quick of wit and as utterly dangerous as he was even-tempered and fair. Young he was not, by any manner of mortal measure, but to her ancient eyes he shone with all the promise of youth. From the moment she met him on the shores of Alterac, he'd captivated her imagination. His sheer tenacity in the face of insurmountable odds was something she admired deeply about him. This was a man who had lost nearly everything that meant something to him, yet he persevered.
He was every bit Lord Dath'Remar's descendant; it showed in his every gesture, in his gift for manipulating the arcane, in his charisma and the overwhelming love he shared for his people. But to Vashj, he was no mere ally, or means to an end-but, truly, a friend…or so she'd believed. Perhaps that is why the distance he kept from her of late pained her so.
Perhaps, too, there were other reasons for her discontent with him. But this was not for Vashj to contemplate; there was nothing but peril down that road. She was here to serve Lord Illidan, certainly, but she did so by the will of Azshara. All else was irrelevant in the eyes of her Queen. Never could she afford to forget that. Neither could she afford to entertain such idle fancies. There was work to be done.
"Ishnu-dal-dieb, Vashj," Kael greeted her, affectionately clasping one of her free hands. With a demure incline of her head, she smiled enigmatically at him. The courtly mask she wore was as tightly affixed as ever. It, too, was second nature to her.
"And to you as well, good prince. I trust your people have been appropriately briefed?" she replied, slipping her hand from his, her tone coolly professional. A less observant person would have missed the faint flicker of emotion in his green eyes when she pulled away, but Vashj did not. Guilt, perhaps? Or something more?
"Akama's scouts have explained the situation, yes," Kael replied evenly, the brief hint of unease buried quickly beneath the commander's airs as he glanced at the plateau in the distance. "Have you come up with a plan for taking the main camp? We're sitting ducks unless we can somehow take those fel cannons out of the equation."
Vashj's eyes narrowed as she stared at the camp, the fel braziers that burned within it mere twinkling emerald lights from her vantage point. There were two bridges crossing the infernal lava flows: one directly west of their own camp there at the ruins, leading into the cistern, and a second across the geyser field. The cistern was a wide expanse dotted by the coveted steam pools, but beyond it lay only one narrow passage beyond the second bridge. The Legion's base was atop a tiered plateau with only one path leading up, and it bore the heaviest of the demonic resistance. A lesser force may have had some difficulty, but they were naga, and commanded the forces of the Deep.
"The dragon turtles will serve as a diversion. We'll send them in to draw the demons' attention," Vashj said. "The draenei can slip past the cannons and dismantle them, just as they did when we took the Temple. They'll make quick work of the mo'arg, as they did then. With the cannons neutralized, we should have little trouble."
Kael nodded. "A sound strategy. The blood elves stand ready, my lady. We'll follow your lead."
"Good," Vashj purred in reply. She finished blessing her soldiers in short order, then turned to address them. "Warriors of the Coilskar. We have but one objective: seize control of this cistern for the glory of Lord Illidan. And where there is water, the naga reign supreme." The hands that gripped her massive, golden longbow raised the shining weapon high in the air, the serpents upon her head writhing and hissing in grim anticipation. "For Nazjatar!"
The naga echoed her battle cry and plunged headlong down the stairs of the ruin, pouring across the bridge into the sparsely patrolled geyser field. Hulking myrmidons wielding even larger tridents and massive scimitars led the charge in tight formation, protecting the comparatively vulnerable sirens as they sang their discordant enchantments, the very ground beneath the handful of shadowy voidwalkers freezing them in place. Trapped by their frozen shackles, they were little more than target dummies for the myrmidons' blades. Cries of alarm sounded from the main camp, and felguards streamed down from the ridge, charging onto the field. The burly demons were armed to the teeth with razor sharp blades as big as naga, and they were fast, but so were the myrmidons. The field rang out with the clash of steel upon steel and barbed enchanted coral.
Vashj held back, as was her custom in combat, surveying the carnage from a distance to provide suppressive fire where she could and control the flow of battle; the full three-hundred-sixty degree field of vision afforded to her by the empathic link with her hair snakes made her well suited to such a task. A felguard broke away from the pack to charge straight for her, but the priestess was ready. Her practiced bow hands were quick and deadly, loosing shot after icy shot from Frostfathom in rapid succession to take down the foolish creature before it could even make it halfway to her location. The humid air around her sizzled and burned as she clenched the fingers of her casting hands and sent forks of lightning crackling towards a second felguard charging toward an unprotected siren, the chain reaction sending a pair of demons flying from sheer force.
From behind, shifting her vision to the serpents at the back of her head, she spied Kael's forces joining the battle, even as she loosed a trio of frozen arrows into yet another demon. Once the naga were fully engaged, the elven prince raised a cry in Thalassian, and his spellsword leapt into brilliant flame when he drew it from the sheath. He led his small group of spellbreakers into the fray, mantle billowing behind him as he ran toward a pack of advancing felguards. Without stopping, he cleanly ran one through, impaling it in the throat, then sent a pillar of flame shooting out of the ground to engulf the others. As always, he was absolutely breathtaking to watch. With equal parts speed and grace, Kael cut the demons down with blade and spell alike, as though they were little more than kelp. His blood elves were no less skilled, the magisters timing their blasts of fire and arcane energy to match the sirens' attacks, the rangers providing cover for the myrmidons' charges with hails of arrows.
It was a short and brutal battle. Even the felguards, for all their prodigious strength, were little match for the combined forces of the naga and the sin'dorei. With a grim smile, Vashj swept an arm in a broad gesture toward the dragon turtle handlers, and the pair of naga warriors hissed sharply at the enormous creatures. They began their grim march across the second bridge, toward the main camp. Molten boulders engulfed in the bright putrid green-the telltale marker of fel energy-shot forth from the fel cannons, but they broke apart almost harmlessly upon the the razor sharp spines of the turtles' massive shells. They were like living siege engines, and their inexorable march continued unabated.
That was the Ashtongues' cue. As soon as the last of the dragon turtles completed the crossing, and the creatures began to climb the hill, the draenei sprung into action. Emerging from the shadows along the ridge, they fell upon the cannons with vicious efficiency, tearing the demonic constructs apart with their kamas. The fel smiths who manned them were caught completely unawares, and though they slashed with their saw-hands at the draenei, it was entirely in vain; they were no match for the Ashtongues' sheer brutality and speed. When the last of the cannons fell, Vashj's eyes widened in triumph, and she slithered to the bridge.
"Go, my Coilskar! To the camp!" she shouted, waving her soldiers across as she began the climb up the hillside, sweeping her casting arms down to encase herself in a shimmering azure barrier of pure mana even as she moved. Vashj fell back once more at the summit, watching as the naga and blood elves alike who followed in her wake clashed with fire-breathing doomguards and succubi with vicious, barbed whips. The Ashtongue were correct in their reports that this area was much more heavily defended than the field. There were still a number of felguards, serving as shock troops for their foul brethren, but it was nothing Vashj's forces could not handle, particularly with the addition of the draenei to the fight. A doomguard flared its wings and reared back to breathe, but was soon overwhelmed by a hail of enchanted sin'dorei arrows and impaled by myrmidon tridents.
Satisfied with how the battle was proceeding, Vashj turned her attention elsewhere. Legion camps always had a commander, and in their previous clashes, resistance always seemed to crumble once they were taken out. If she could find and dispose of said commander, this mission would be over mere moments after it had begun. Scanning the battlefield with dozens of eyes in every direction made such a task child's play. From her side view, she spotted a structure some yards away, She cut a path to her right, firing nonchalantly upon a stray mo'arg tinker demon, and killed it without slowing her pace. Glancing to her left, she saw Kael shoot a blazing sphere of flame from his spellsword to immolate a doomguard, then spin on his heel with undeniable grace, long golden hair streaming about him, and run a succubus through with the blade. The ever present verdant spheres hovering about his head spun and flared as fel energy leeched from the pair of fallen demons and streamed into them. Vashj slithered across the field, and together they flanked a felguard charging for a blood elven archer, incinerating it with searing flame and lightning in tandem. When the smoking corpse collapsed to the rocky ground, their eyes met; Vashj smiled a wicked grin at the elven prince, which Kael returned with a smirk. Alone, each was a force to be reckoned with, formidable in their own right. Together, they were unstoppable. And they had fought together enough in these long months that it was almost second nature to them both.
Before she could react or even warn him, however, a barbed lash came flying toward him, wrapping tightly about his neck. His resplendent green eyes widened and he cried out in pain, desperately clawing at the cord with his free hand and slicing his fingers open upon the thorns in the process. As the succubus began to drain his life energy through the accursed lash, his fair complexion turned sallow, and he swooned. The sight of Kael in such agony filled Vashj with an inexplicable, towering fury.
"Get away from him, fiend!" Vashj screamed, firing a frost arrow with deadly precision toward the whip; it struck true, severing the lash to free Kael from its grasp, and he fell to his knees, his hand flying to his throat as he gasped for air. The demon scowled at Vashj, revealing a row of venomous teeth. Vashj pulled back the string of Frostfathom, nocking a frost arrow, but thought better of it. A simple arrow would not do, not for this one who dared harm Prince Kael. With towering anger, she instead raised her casting hands to the skies and hissed an enchantment in Nazja. The air swirled before her, forming a large, dark funnel cloud which enveloped the hapless demon. Vashj watched with a cruel, fanged smile etched upon her lips as the succubus spun into the air, flailing helplessly and screaming curses in the barbarity she called a language. Kael looked up at Vashj questioningly, but then the naga shoved her hands forward and sent twisting forks of lightning out from her webbed fingers, frying the succubus within the whirlwind.
"My thanks, Lady," Kael said, coughing lightly.
She took a deep breath, the momentary lapse of composure ended, and the courtly mask of the priestess returned. "You would have done the same for me," she said simply, and offered him a hand.
"Turnabout is fair play," Kael growled, reaching out with his bleeding hand to drain the dead succubus of her precious fel energy as she fell back to the ground.
The earth shook briefly; in the wake of the tremor, a towering shivarra emerged from the structure at the edge of the fray. In each of her six hands she bore a fel-forged blade of enormous heft, glowing in eerie brilliant green. Vashj smirked. Clearly, this was the demons' illustrious commander. She gripped the arrow that was previously readied, waiting for her to enter sights.
"Impudent fools! None shall escape the might of the Burning Legion!" the shivarra screamed, laughing sadistically, spittle flying from her mouth to dampen her veil. "Kil'jaeden's power is absolute, it is beyond your mortal comprehension, and you-you incompetent wastrels who have failed Him so, you shall be the first to suffer His wrath!" She threw back her head, laughing sadistically, and moved to leap at Vashj.
"Oh be silent, you ridiculous harlot," Vashj said with an irritated scowl. "I am a Priestess of the Tides, I fear nothing and no one. Give your master my regards-in the Hells."
The shivarra roared and brandished her weapons at Vashj, but the naga loosed a frozen arrow through the fanatical demon's throat almost as an afterthought. She stumbled forward, and even managed to cast a shadowy bolt of energy toward Vashj, but it was absorbed by the glimmering sphere encasing her; the shield dissipated upon contact. With a triumphant, self-satisfied smirk, Vashj slithered over to the demon's dying form. The shivarra was twitching in her death throes, but still reached up with her multitude of arms to claw at Vashj as the naga placed two of her own hands on her face, holding the creature in a vice grip. "Tell your master that I serve an even greater one, one more cunning and powerful than you could ever imagine," Vashj snarled. "Underestimate the Lord of Outland at your peril."
With that, Vashj drew in her will and concentrated, sucking the vital energy from the dying shivarra. She grinned viciously as the emerald light faded from the demon's eyes and the glow wound its way up Vashj's own arms. The fel energy coursed through her, and the feeling was electric; her body tingled. This demon was a powerful one, with 'was' being the operative word. Of course, she was no match for a ten-thousand-year-old Naga priestess, but few were-whether in this wasteland, or anywhere else.
The shivarra's death sent the few remaining demons in the camp into a panicked frenzy, rendering them useless against their opponents and ripe for the picking. But before Kael and Vashj could congratulate one another on the victory, the ground shook again-this time violently. Vashj stumbled backward, her balance thrown, but Kael was by her side in an instant. He held onto her firmly as she righted herself, and she was silently grateful for his quick reflexes.
"What in the world-?" Vashj gasped, clinging a bit to him.
"Perhaps Gul'dan's spell left the region more unstable than we thought," Kael mused grimly. "It could be the volcano-"
Again, the ground shook. And a beat later, again. This was no quake-Vashj knew quakes. Sea quakes were violent, chaotic upheavals with little discernible pattern to them at all. Though she was understandably far less familiar with the peculiarities of land, she could not think those that occurred outside the sea were all that different. No, this was far too rhythmic for any seismic event...more akin to a heartbeat, or rather footsteps.
A piercing sound, hollow and bloodcurdling, echoed through the skies above them, the reverberation so intense that Kael and Vashj felt it to their very bones. Vashj's casting hands flew protectively over her ears, and a second pair reflexively clung harder to Kael. This was no quake, nor was it the Hand of Gul'dan preparing to erupt. That was no natural, earthly sound.
The source soon made itself known. Out of the murky gloom, a sphere of eerie fel light appeared, and a second soon joined it.
They were eyes.
And they were moving inexorably toward the Illidari forces.
The maze was hidden deep underground, its architecture replete with looping passages that doubled back on themselves, false walls, and dead ends. Illidan paid these no mind; he walked the complex halls with singular purpose. The faint streams of violet energy delineating the only safe path were clear to Illidan's demonic vision. Akama followed Illidan closely, his footsteps inaudible as always.
The atmosphere within the maze was familiar and deeply disturbing, evoking bitter memories that would haunt him as long as he drew breath. Walls of earth and stone surrounding him, far beyond the reaches of any natural light. No sounds but his own breath, his own footsteps, and the constant, intermittent drip of water from some underground source, echoing against the flagstones. Only the silence of the earth here, unyielding and resolute. Only the darkness. This was entirely intentional, of course. The eerie similarities were meant to evoke such a feeling of desolation and misery. For ten thousand years, such feelings were all Illidan had known. It was only fitting that they be repaid in kind.
The trail of energy ended and they stood before their destination: a single, tiny cell carved into the bedrock, secured by bars of fel iron. Faintly-glimmering arcane runes covered the walls, shedding faint light on the occupant of the cell. She sat with her back turned to them; though she still wore her customary armor, she had shed her heavy mantle lest she be overcome by the oppressive heat. Illidan grinned broadly at the sight of her muted, shadowy form; gone was the bright, proud luminescence he remembered. There was no smugness in this one, not now.
"Have you come to torment me, then, Betrayer?" she spat contemptuously, keeping her back turned to him.
Illidan smirked. "Merely welcoming you to your new home, Warden Shadowsong. I trust you'll find it accommodating. You'll have all the time in the world to grow accustomed to it."
"Go to hell, Illidan," Maiev snarled.
"Not likely," he retorted. "I've already known hell, Maiev. Hell was endless centuries spent chained in darkness, by your hand. But you, little warden? The hell you planned for me is the one you will rot in."
Maiev rose to her feet and finally turned to face him, her expression defiant as her fists clenched around the bars which held her. "I don't know what game you're playing at, traitor," she growled. "But you're an even bigger fool than you were, if you think these walls will hold me. And when I'm free, there will be no place for you to run. Not even in this desolate wasteland. You will answer for your crimes at long last, and this time your brother won't be there to save you with his weak and foolish sentimentality. I will see your diseased blood spilled upon the stones of your own fortress for what you've done. My sisters cry out for it, and as the Goddess is my witness I will see justice done!"
Illidan simply laughed at her. Ever the proud and arrogant one, Maiev, always vainglorious and never willing to show any sign of weakness. But no matter how many empty threats she issued, no matter how she pretended to keep the upper hand, her predicament was clearly weighing on her already. Her fury was palpable, and it was like balm to Illidan's soul to see her in such a state, after all the pain she'd caused him.
"Idle boasts. Perhaps a few centuries of confinement will bring your ego back down to reality," Illidan murmured. "Your vaunted brand of 'justice' has no place here, Maiev. Not in Outland. It is my will that is law, not that of a petulant warden who never learned to leave well enough alone. And it is my will that you suffer as I did. You will know no peace, not so long as I draw breath. You will know no comfort. You will know nothing but unending misery in this place. Your fate was sealed the moment you foolishly chased me to this world."
"You will pay for this, Illidan. When I-"
Maiev's incessant squawking was mercifully cut short by a brief rumbling sound which shook the walls, then, sending small bits of loose rock falling from the ceiling to hit Illidan's shoulder. With idle irritation, he brushed the debris away.
Akama, who'd remained silent during his master's trading of barbs with the prisoner, spoke up sharply. "Lord Illidan. The earth here is unstable, perhaps we should seek shelter. Quakes like these are often precursors to explosions on the mountain."
"This is no quake, Akama," Illidan said, narrowing his eyes behind the blindfold. "I spent thousands of years trapped below ground, long enough to become well acquainted with the earth's upheavals. This is something entirely different."
When the walls shook again, the sound was louder, closer, and the hairs on the back of Illidan's neck stood straight up at attention. The very air was suddenly sizzling with fel energy; he could smell and taste it, as though it were thick as smoke. Something was very wrong.
"Regardless, my lord," Akama insisted. "We should seek shelter. What of the prisoner?"
Illidan glared at him in contempt. "What of her?" With sweeping gestures of his arms and smaller, more precise mudras, he summoned forth a portal. If his instincts were correct-and they rarely weren't-this phenomena was no accident. Vashj and Kael had massed to the north, to seize control of the cistern from the Legion. It was likely the sign of a massive counteroffensive, and they needed his aid. "Return to the temple at once. I will handle this. And let the earth swallow Shadowsong whole, if it won't spit her back out."
Maiev howled in rage. "I will destroy you-"
Illidan summarily ignored her and half ran, half flew through the portal, hoping that he was not too late.
Vashj hurried to the cliffside to take stock of the creature, Frostfathom at the ready. The eyes belonged to a gargantuan demonic construct that appeared to be made of pure fel iron, doubtless fueled by concentrated fel energy. The monstrosity's high-pitched mechanical howling sent bloodcurdling vibrations through the air, the sound making Vashj's scales crawl and setting her fangs on edge.
Worse than the construct's size or its ear-shattering howl was its sheer speed: its long strides allowed it to effortlessly close the distance between itself and the Illidari forces. Nothing seemed to be able to slow it down; naga sorceresses sang their freezing glyphs upon the ground, but the construct simply crushed them as though they were nothing but a child's chalk drawings. The blood elven rangers were quick to react, setting down frost traps in the construct's path, but these too did nothing to slow its advance-it simply coasted effortlessly over the icy wake, and then slammed one colossal fist into the earth. The immense shockwave sent at least a dozen Myrmidons flying like rag dolls and knocked the rest of the troops nearby to the ground.
At this rate, the battlefield would quickly become but a charnel house.
"Fall back!" Vashj shouted as she summoned bolts of lightning and hurled them down to cover the retreat. "By the Tidehunter, fall back!"
But it was far too late for retreat. The creature was too fast, and the Illidari were already fully engaged. She could only watch helplessly as naga, draenei and blood elf alike were tossed about, beaten into the ground or hurled into the air by the creature's massive fists. Even the dragon turtles seemed unable to withstand the demonic assault. Vashj raised her casting arms high and lifted her voice in song, chanting in the ancient, otherworldly tongue of the elementals. From the steaming pools below her rose a team of enormous water spirits, and with a sweeping gesture she set them upon the construct, though it dwarfed them in size. They hovered protectively over a group of naga priestesses, allowing them to fall back to relative safety within the mouth of a cave.
The creature looked up sharply, its huge glowing eyes filled with hollow malice. It charged toward Vashj with singular purpose, and reared back to deliver a blow no one could have survived. "Do your worst," she hissed, encasing herself in a shimmering sphere of pure arcane energy.
But another cry pierced through the din of battle then, one now familiar and very welcome indeed. As Vashj let loose a hail of frost arrows to pierce the construct's hateful eyes, a fiery red-gold streak descended toward her like a meteor.
"Vashj!" Kael cried, swooping down astride his phoenix Al'ar, hand outstretched. Vashj immediately grabbed hold of the bird and Kael in equal part and clung to his waist, serpents streaming behind her as they took to the skies. Al'ar's speed was too much for even the construct to best; it swung feebly at the heat-rippled air and sparks of the phoenix's wake.
"A timely rescue," the priestess thanked him. "But I fear it may be for naught. I have never seen such a creature, not even when demons filled Zin-Azshari!"
Kael openly scowled in frustration. "Damn it! There has to be a way to stop this thing-"
They narrowly avoided a rapid swipe of its fist with a heartstopping barrel roll and dove between its legs to escape. When they righted and soared back up, Vashj noticed something peculiar about the massive bars on the construct's chest. The blinding emerald light that shone out from between them concealed a massive lump of some strange metal. As she watched, it expanded and contracted, beating like a heart.
"Turn back, Kael!" she cried. "I have an idea!"
Al'ar banked left at her command, and flew straight toward the construct. Vashj's casting fingers curled and twisting bolts of lightning shot out from them, arcing across the bars to fry the heart within. Just as she believed it would, the creature reared back in obvious pain, letting out another of its horrific cries. Vashj grinned viciously, her eyes narrowing in grim satisfaction. "We have our answer, young prince!" she crowed smugly.
"Somebody get that cage open!" Kael barked, his voice amplified by magical intent. It seemed his thoughts were in accord with her own. The Ashtongue leapt into action at his command, using their kamas as grappling hooks to climb the creature's legs, even as a wave of shimmering violet missiles and white hot fireballs pierced the air and slammed into the glowing fel core in rapid succession. It reared back to stomp the ground again, this time in an apparent attempt to shake the draenei scaling it, but to no avail; their grim climb continued, until they reached the protective cage, and with powerful blows they set their blades to the bars. Sparks flew, and the screeching sound of twisting steel accompanied their grim work.
"Concentrate everything you have on its heart!" Kael shouted down to his troops, when the bars began to split apart. "Capernian!"
"Yes, my Prince!" A single blood elven mage, black hair whipping behind her, twirled her staff with a dramatic flourish and aimed it not at the heart, but directly at the creature's head, now still enough for a clear shot; she was followed by a trio of others. It burst into searing orange flame and it stumbled back, flailing wildly in disorientation. The draenei were at last shaken from the creature and plummeted, but their rapid descent was halted to a slow float by a blood elf priest and they touched the ground in safety. Vashj and Kael began rapidly casting in tandem, sending twisting coils of flame and lightning shooting towards their glowing target in quick succession. It swooned backward, screaming that terrible cry once more, and Vashj laughed. Surely the tide had turned.
It was then that another roar shattered the sky, one very familiar and altogether welcoming to Vashj. She glanced up, and saw him winged in silhouette against the shadow of Azeroth; he was breathtaking in his majesty and the cresting power of his dark fury, a hellish god engulfed in the shadow of the void and infernal flame in equal measure. And with a second bellowing roar and flare of his massive wings, he made a spectacular dive toward the stumbling creature. He careened down through the darkened skies like some demonic falling star, hurling himself horns first, firing like an arrow with the full force of his body directly into the exposed fel heart.
Illidan, Lord of Outland, would not be shamed or bested upon his own domain.
The construct screamed a final death-cry as Illidan tore straight through its chest cavity and emerged from its back, tumbling gracefully on the ground to come to a halt upon flaming hooves. The fallen construct collapsed in a silent heap upon the earth, with one last quake.
Vashj had to physically remind herself to exhale, her breath caught in her throat. He was beyond magnificent to behold in such form, rippling musculature of glossy deepest violet, shadows swirling about him, his bat-like wings even larger than they normally were. His sheer sense of presence was overwhelming, an immensity of dark power virtually pouring off him in waves. She bit her lip, her blood racing as her eyes traced glances across his body.
And she was not alone in her admiration. Kael's eyes were gleaming as he set his bird gently down to ground. "Master," he whispered in reverence, bowing his head.
Illidan rose to full height then, his wings spread to full majestic span, and pumped a clawed and triumphant fist in the air; cheers erupted from the gathering forces, a cacophony of hissing naga oaths and the lighter, melodic shouts of the sin'dorei.
Vashj smiled when Kael dismounted, and raised his hands up toward her. "May I, my Lady?" he asked with a meaningful raise of his brows.
Ever the gentleman, Prince Kael. Vashj nodded and leaned forward, allowing him to lift her from the phoenix's back. He was rather stronger than she expected; she was hardly light, but he held the full weight of her torso with little trouble as she slid her tail down to the ground. The feeling was not unpleasant, and she found herself suppressing a mild pang of disappointment when he politely released her from his firm grip.
"That was rather exhilarating," she quipped with a slight, coy smile.
"Perhaps we should try it again under more pleasant circumstances," Kael suggested, his expression faintly roguish.
Clever boy, that one.
Al'ar cooed then, tucking her head beneath Kael's outstretched hand for petting. She was truly a magnificent creature, one suitably majestic to serve as Kael's guardian, Vashj thought. With a golden shimmer, the bird vanished, leaving only softly glowing embers in her wake. She was not long vanished when Illidan strode toward them, reverted to his customary form with warglaives once more in hand.
"Your timing was impeccable, Master," Kael said, and Vashj made a silent chuckle at the echo of Illidan's own words toward them when they first rescued him from the night elves in Hellfire. "But we did have things under control."
Illidan quirked an eyebrow, and the faintest of grins was etched upon his lips. "Certainly," he said, his tone as dry as the Shadowmoon air. "But this was a welcome victory, regardless. You've done well this night, Vashj."
"Thank you, my lord," she said with a gracious nod. "The sin'dorei were of tremendous help, as always."
"I was glad to be of assistance," Kael said. He glanced over at the enormous, still smoking heap on the ground with a calculating expression in his eyes. "Telonicus!" he shouted.
The Master Engineer jogged forward, red hair plastered against his sweat-soaked brow, but none the worse for wear considering the ferocity of the fighting. "My Prince?" he asked curiously, with a brief salute.
"I want you and your team to salvage this...monstrosity. Learn what you can of its make, and structure. I don't want to be caught by surprise again, and perhaps it will be of use," Kael said. Telonicus nodded.
"Yes, my Prince," he obediently replied, then beckoned toward his comrades, and together they strode toward the fallen construct.
"Good thinking, Kael. Better we seize its remains than the Legion," Illidan agreed. He rolled a shoulder, idly twirling one of his massive glaives. "I don't relish the thought of facing that again."
"I would face an army of them if it meant seeing you unleash such fury upon them," Kael replied impishly, his tone on the verge of purring, and Illidan stared at him with heavy lids. It was another loaded glance exchanged between them as though she were not even present, as though they were the only two beings in the world and nothing else mattered. No one else.
Vashj turned away, lowering her gaze upon some meaningless crack on the ground, lest her discomfort become obvious. Awkwardness was not a feeling to which she was accustomed; it was not one she'd known for countless millennia, but it was as ubiquitous in their presence as the emerald glow of fel power in the valley. It was not a feeling she particularly relished, to put it mildly. But as always, there was her dignity to consider, and the propriety of such emotions. Always dignity and propriety where she was concerned, as it had been drilled into her in perpetuity from the time she was still a young night elf until the Sea claimed her and became salvation. And thus she would remain, flotsam in the tempest's wake, to serve as graciously as she always had despite her feelings. They would know nothing else from her. They could not.
She tilted her head in curiosity then, suddenly-thankfully-distracted by the faint impression of rushing water beneath her tail. It was not the bubbling of the steam pools, however; it was more substantial movement, a flowing current of energy. Comforting.
"Lady Vashj?" Kael asked. "Are you well?"
"There is more water here. I can sense it," she said, entirely avoiding the hidden nuance of his question.
"Go, then," Illidan commanded. "Scout out the area further, and start setting up camp. I'm returning to the temple."
"At once, my lord," Vashj said. "The Coilskar can hold this territory with little issue, I believe."
"I'll return to the temple, then. Coming, Kael?"
Kael paused thoughtfully, glancing back at her. "I'll be there later, Master," he answered. "I have a bit of unfinished business to tend to."
"Very well," Illidan said with a shrug, then opened a portal and vanished through it.
Vashj said nothing to Kael when they were left behind, and merely slithered away, silently cursing the fool for not leaving well enough alone.
It was a long and silent journey through the cave beside the steam pools, and more than a little awkward. Kael followed her nonetheless, through the caverns to an immense and silent grotto. He caught his breath-never could he have imagined that such a desolate place as Shadowmoon Valley could hold such breathtaking beauty hidden from sight. Water cascaded down from an opening high above into a small pool, and softly shimmering crystals filled the chamber with an ethereal glow in a scintillating rainbow of colors. It was magnificent to behold.
"There are many such places within Nazjatar, though this one pales in comparison," Vashj said a bit wistfully, slithering toward the pool to gaze upon her reflection in the gentle waters, and it seemed to Kael that she was suddenly a world away. It never occurred to him how she must have felt being so far away from the only home she'd known for so long, in a world her body was ill suited for.
He wasn't the only one who felt longing for the comforts of home. He felt guilty, then, that he had never thought of what she may have been going through being so far from the sea she loved. There was so much guilt where Vashj was concerned, it seemed. Too much, for his liking.
"My lady, if I could speak plainly..." he started.
"By all means, Kael," Vashj said softly. "We are friends, and there is little need to stand on ceremony. Friends should bear no secrets from one another."
Kael didn't know how she always did that, how she always managed to pierce right through him with her words as though they were her arrows. Few others in his life ever could. "We need to talk," he said.
"If you believe so," she replied, slithering away. "I am listening."
Kael sighed, and took a deep breath. There was no point in trying to sugarcoat this; Vashj was too perceptive and they both had too much pride. He simply had to trust that his heart wouldn't fail him, even if his eloquence did. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you about us," he began. "Things just happened so suddenly, and there was so much going on-I didn't know when, or how to tell you. I'm so sorry."
"So...at last, it comes to this. I was wondering when it would, how long you would think to play the fool with me, as though I were as blind as he. I know what happened in Northrend."
He sighed again, rubbing his temples. "I never wanted to hide anything from you, Vashj. I've been a coward and a fool," he insisted. "I just-I never wanted to hurt you. I know what he means to you."
Vashj looked up sharply, her eyes narrowing to mere slits, and even Kael flinched involuntarily from that penetrating gaze. "No, Kael. That, you do not."
"Tell me then," he said with the utmost empathy. "I want to know."
For just one moment, the courtly mask of the regal high priestess slipped, and he could see the pain in her softly glowing eyes. It was ancient pain, this, deep and unceasing, and it marked her delicate, alien features like scars from a long past battle. He feared his heart would break, seeing her like this, and without a second thought he instinctively reached out to her, taking her by one of her hands. She flinched from him.
"You do not know what you ask of me, Kael. You cannot know," she sighed, slipping her hand away from his grasp to reach up and caress the golden choker clasped around her neck. Not a choker, Kael realized, but a collar-the collar of a slave. A well-heeled and elegant one, but a slave nonetheless. "For one such as I, bearing the mark of my Queen, such notions are impossible. I am Hers, and Hers alone, with all that I am. I cannot entertain such thoughts. They are forbidden, and have been for as long as She has reigned."
Anger rose within Kael, a searing anger. Not for himself, or Illidan, but for this proud, noble woman who had clearly never lived a day with a thought for her own feelings. He understood the allure of submission, all too well, but this was far different than the games of dominance he played with Illidan. There was as much power in submission as there was in control, perhaps more. And it all rested upon the trust they had for one another. But what Vashj implied was entirely different-it was cruel, this submission borne not from trust but fear. "How long have you suffered, Vashj? How long have you been her slave? When have you ever known happiness for your own sake? Have you ever?"
The silence that greeted him was the most poignant answer he could have received. It was damning, and suffocating.
"I am High Priestess of Nazjatar. I dwell at the right hands of She Who Rules the Tides, exalted above all others in my Queen's sight. My Queen's pleasure is my own," she replied, slithering into the pool, and it seemed to Kael like a rote response, a ritualistic one, one that she had perhaps repeated so many times that she possibly even believed it.
"You're a poor liar, Vashj. And you speak of her like she's some kind of god...but no god is worth this kind of suffering. Do you love her, or do you fear her?"
Her angular eyes lowered then, and her long fingernails, so delicately painted with golden lacquer, clamped down upon the collar. "You do not understand, Kael. You cannot. You don't know what it is to live and serve for ten-thousand years and more at her pleasure. To see countless multitudes beyond numbering rise and fall in her favor like the tide. I love Her, yes, and I fear Her in equal measure. As it has always been and as it should be. Queen Azshara is as Eternal as the Deep-as Eternal as Her domain. I speak of Her in such fashion because She is a God, and more, to my people. I could no more betray Her than I could betray the currents that rule us, because She is the greatest of currents, She rules our very existence. And betrayal is what you ask of me, Kael. Do not mistake it for anything less."
"What I ask of you is to think of your own desires, for your own sake," Kael said. "Not for me, not even for Illidan. Not because he needs you, for what power you have or what fodder you can bring to the field. Because you deserve no less. For Light's sake, has anyone ever told you that? Has your precious queen ever told you that you deserve to be happy? That you have the right to love, and be loved?"
Vashj folded a set of arms and rested her cheek upon the edge of the pool, hair-serpents laid flat upon the stone in quiet repose. And for perhaps the first time since he met her, she seemed terribly vulnerable. How long had it been since she let her guard down like this? Had she ever? "Never," she whispered, as though she were afraid to speak the admission aloud, for what it would mean.
Kael reached up to undo the golden clasp at his neck and shrugged off his heavy mantle, letting it fall to the cavern floor. He then slipped off his boots and waded into the water with little care for his remaining fine garments. He needed to be near her, to meet her where she was and show her the comfort she had never permitted herself. "Well, you do. You deserve to be happy. With whomever you please."
"It's not that simple, Kael," she sighed. He waded to her side, waist-deep in the pool, his long golden hair floating upon the water's surface.
"Shouldn't it be?" he said, and placed a comforting hand on her back. Just as he was when he helped her down from Al'ar, he was astonished then by how soft and smooth her scales were. They felt more like rich, lush velvet than anything he expected from a creature of the sea.
"It never is. Not for those such as us," she said, her head still turned from him.
"Why can't it be?"
Vashj smiled, in spite of herself. "So like Dath'Remar, you are. You share his abject stubbornness and refusal to accept reason."
"So I've been told on any number of occasions by my father," Kael chuckled. He kneaded her shoulder, and she seemed to relax a bit. "But you never answered my question, and I need to know why you believe I can't understand what it is you feel for Illidan. Because I want to understand, Vashj. For your sake."
She remained silent for a long, agonizing moment, and Kael feared that he may have overstepped his bounds with her. But then she turned, shifting her weight to rest her head upon his shoulder. "I first met Illidan ten-thousand years ago, before the world's Sundering. I was still a night elf, then. We all were, dwelling upon the shores of the Well of Eternity."
Kael was not expecting that; he'd never held the impression that they'd previously known each other. If they had, Illidan certainly never indicated as such.
"I was Chief Handmaiden to Queen Azshara, hand selected as the most beautiful and powerful of her servants," Vashj continued, with no small amount of pride in her voice. "But this was during the time you know as the War of the Ancients, when the Legion was first drawn to Azeroth. I'm sure you know the tale."
The way she so casually spoke of such ancient history was mildly unsettling to Kael, but it was nothing he hadn't heard from Illidan. "That, I do," he replied.
"And I'm sure Illidan has told you about when he was chosen by Sargeras, when he received those dark gifts-trading his mundane eyes for the second sight of his visions, being marked with the Titan's own runes and sigils. Those gifts came with a steep price, and he spent days in excruciating pain. At times, he was delirious, others he simply passed out because his body simply could not take any more. It was my duty by order of the Queen Herself to care for him. I bathed him and dressed his wounds, I brought him food and wine. It was Her will that I ease his suffering in whatever way possible. Save one, of course. That was reserved for the Queen."
Kael blinked. "I don't follow your meaning...?"
"You must understand, Kael. To be a Handmaiden is to be bound by severe oaths," Vashj explained. "Our bodies, our minds, our souls, and our hearts are not our own. Everything we are and will yet be is given in deepest surrender to the Queen. We become Hers, with the fullest measure of our very being. To even touch a Handmaiden without the Queen's permission is to invite death. On occasion, she permitted the other Handmaidens to pleasure each other for her own amusement, and when she grew bored she would give them over to her favored servitors as a reward-only to cast them out for impurity. But never I. As Chief Handmaiden, I was the most beautiful, I was Her greatest prize, to keep under lock and key and the tightest control. From the moment I entered Her service, I knew no kiss, no touch, but Hers. I knew no affection or pleasure beyond that which She granted me."
Kael shook his head in disbelief. "How could you submit to such a monstrous form of control, to not even have agency over your own body? How could you live like that?"
"It was the greatest of honors among our people. It meant the ultimate in status-that the Light of Lights Herself, exalted by the very heavens, would deem you worthy of Her affection? It meant everything. And to be exalted above all others of such station was a greater honor still. Many would have killed for it. Many tried. But I was always far more cunning than the rest. One did not rise to such position without such cunning. And truthfully, the Queen relished it. She delights in watching others fight and wrangle with one another over her favor. She always has. It is a rare thing to earn it through no intent of one's own, and Illidan had-with his beauty, his boldness, his skill at the arcane arts-all the qualities you so adore in him. He had them even then, as an impetuous youth. They enchanted me as well, but there was little I could do about it. The Queen desired him, and I was sworn to Her."
The prince took a deep breath, suppressing a sudden pique of rage. The way she spoke, Vashj and her sisters were little more than concubines in a gilded cage, puppets dancing to the demented strings of a cruel and narcissistic monster. It was beyond reason, and to think this was all Vashj had known for thousands of years was almost too much to contemplate. In his younger days, he'd bemoaned his relative lack of freedom as prince and heir to the High Throne, but that seemed downright childish in comparison. His father had never forbidden him Rommath's affection, after all. "If you were her prized possession, why did she make you see to Illidan? Why not assign some lesser Handmaiden to the task? Surely she must have known what could happen," Kael said.
"This, I do not know, even to this day," Vashj admitted. "Beyond it being a show of Her great favor toward him, I cannot say. The Queen was no fool, and must have known that I went to him out of the longing of my own heart rather than Her will, after a time. Perhaps She knew I lusted for him, and it filled Her with amusement to see me so tortured, to see me ache with desire for him and claim it for Herself. Not even I, who have served Her for so long, can fully understand Her mind. She is a creature of such whims."
"How on earth did you cope? It must have been agony, spending so much time doting on him, but never allowed to..."
She smiled a bit wickedly, then. "I danced the blade's edge as closely as I dared. Perhaps my hands lingered in certain places, a touch here, a caress there, beyond that which was customary for a bath. I took my time massaging the healing balms and warm oils into his skin, easing his tension, and sometimes his cares simply melted away in my firm grasp. He was always appreciative, though he was well aware of the Queen's will. My hands were quite skilled, after all, and his burdens were...great, even then, when he was still fully kaldorei."
"A dangerous game to play," Kael said with the utmost sympathy, even as he found his imagination captivated by the images she painted with her words, his blood racing a bit faster through his veins. He idly slid a hand down to rest upon the small of her back, just above her tail. For her part, she seemed to like it; she squirmed a bit against him, and the sensation was not at all unpleasant.
"Indeed," she agreed with a bit of a purr. "But I was young and foolish, with stars in my eyes. When I found out that Tyrande was being held in the palace, I went to her. She was High Priestess of Elune, and I thought to seek her vision, where Illidan's feelings were concerned. As I said, I was young and foolish." Vashj's eyes narrowed, her expression turning on a dime to bitter hatred. "She mocked me, and refused. She boasted that she didn't need to ask the Goddess to tell me how Illidan felt. He had loved her since they were children, even though she preferred his brother. So great was his love for her that he could never feel that way for another, and I was wasting my time."
Kael didn't know what to say. The Tyrande he knew would never have spoken such base cruelties, but was it really his place to argue? Perhaps Vashj had interpreted her words through the lens of her own passions and read malice into them where none was intended, aided by the long years of bitterness to cloud her memory. Or perhaps Tyrande had lashed out in frustration against someone she saw as one of her captors. Even the most level-headed people could succumb in such situations, even without the stirring emotions of youth to render them headstrong. He knew all too well. "What happened then?"
"When Dath'Remar and the others betrayed the Queen-when they joined the commoners in their rebellion, Illidan fled with Tyrande in tow," she sighed, her irritation passed. "When I learned of his imprisonment, I wept, and not a day passed that my thoughts did not turn to him and how he must have suffered. I wondered if there had been more I could have done, in futility. But those days were filled with madness, and I know there was nothing. I bore my love for him in silence."
"All this time..." Kael whispered incredulously, and it truly was astounding to believe. It was one thing to understand it on an intellectual level, quite another to hear the pain of her words from her own mouth. He reflexively held her tighter. "Gods, Vashj."
She clung to him a little, his rich robe of crimson and gold bunched in a plethora of soft hands. "This dull ache, this sorrow, is something I have carried within me for almost as long as I can remember. The pain of her words has remained with me still, even when I answered his call at the behest of my Queen and my heart soared to see him once again, more beautiful and powerful than I ever remembered. They twisted within me every time he spoke her name, a bitter reminder of what I could never have. I was content to nurse this wound forever in the knowledge that nothing would ever change, there would always be that accursed Tyrande, her name entwined in his heart with room for no other, for as long as immortality graced us," she said.
"Then I came along," Kael sighed, his heart sinking, and he finally understood, the crushing guilt weighing down on him as badly as it ever had, perhaps at its worst. For ten-thousand years, she'd suffered the pain of unrequited love in silence, only to watch some young upstart sweep in and capture Illidan's affections in a way no one else had.
She continued, unabated, closing her eyes. "But then...there was you. You changed everything, you gave breath to new life within him and suddenly, new possibilities. You rendered everything I had ever told myself a bitter, wretched lie. There was room in Illidan's heart for another; you proved it, you beautiful, terrible prince. But it could not matter to me, no matter how dearly I wished it so. Because it could never be my name upon his lips the way yours is. It must never be me. It cannot. It is as forbidden now as it was ten-thousand years ago in a darkened chamber in Zin-Azshari and I was a young kaldorei girl filled with desire. He can never be mine. I can never be his. It is not permitted, it has never been permitted, and to wish otherwise is a betrayal of everything I have ever believed in. It is blasphemy to love him, Kael'thas. To love you-"
Kael's eyes widened in absolute shock. Bitter tears streamed down her face and all he could do was sit there, gaping. All this time, he'd been consumed by fear and guilt over her feelings for Illidan, utterly consumed by it, and it had never once occurred to him that perhaps the hurt in her eyes that day in Northrend was only half caused by Illidan's use of that old kaldorei endearment. He had never thought to believe that she could have been harboring similar feelings for him.
But it made sense, a terrible kind of perfect sense now that he considered it. Certainly, she could not hope to find Illidan on her own, and even had she done so, her force of naga would not have been enough to fight back against Maiev and her wardens should they have proved themselves a nuisance once more. Kael was not nearly naive enough to believe Vashj's offers of assistance stemmed entirely from unfettered altruism borne from their common ancestry. But there was more it than that, more to this genuine friendship that had developed between them than naked self-interest. She listened, without a passing word of judgment, whenever he was frustrated. In combat, she always had his back, and he could always trust her to be there. More than once, she'd saved his life. She was just always there, a quiet presence and source of unspoken strength in his life since this improbable journey began. And never once did he consider why she was, or why it felt so very right.
"Anar'alah belore..." Kael gasped, squeezing her tightly against him. "Oh, Vashj."
"I cannot!" she wailed helplessly, her pain echoing off the cavern walls as she sobbed against him. "I am Hers. I cannot be anything else. No matter how I wish it so-"
"She's not here," Kael said, stroking her back, "but we are."
"She is everywhere," Vashj hissed. "We are naga. She is in our very souls."
"I am Prince of the sin'dorei," Kael said gently, taking her delicate, pointed chin lightly in his grasp. "And there's nothing in my soul but pain for what was done to my people, the desire for justice, and hope for the future. You gave me that hope, Vashj. Without you, none of this would have been possible. I would have died lost and forgotten, imprisoned in a place I once thought was my home. You gave me answers to questions I did not know to ask, and a path to lead my people back to glory."
"A debt, then?" she said bitterly. "Is that what all this is about?"
Kael shook his head, and caressed her cheek, wiping her tears away. "No, beautiful lady, not a debt. Something far deeper than that, and far more simple: affection, and I realize that now. You deserve better. And I am sure Illidan feels the same. You should tell him how you feel, he may surprise you."
"To what end?" she cried in frustration. "Have you not listened to a word I've said? It cannot be, even if he did return these feelings."
"Vashj," Kael said solemnly, gazing deep into her eyes, watching the torrent of emotions play out in the subtle shifts of her expression. "We're a damned long way from Nazjatar."
"But that doesn't mean we can afford to make an enemy of the Queen, not when we already have one in Kil'jaeden. I am here because She allows it."
"Nonsense," Kael retorted. "You're here because you want to be. You have more freedom here than you've ever known. I see the way your people look at you with devotion. There is no Azshara here in Outland, they look to you as their leader. And I think some part of you deep down loves that you're finally being shown genuine respect, not mere deference out of fear for your proximity to the queen."
"You tread dangerous waters," Vashj warned, pulling away from him.
"Don't you find it strange that she hasn't summoned you back?" he asked her pointedly. "You, the shining jewel in her crown? If she cherishes you so deeply, why didn't she send reinforcements when Illidan was bested at Dalaran? You know her better than anyone. This is a game she's playing at, and sooner or later she's going to tire of it. And then what? Has she ever shown the kind of blind loyalty you've shown her-"
"Enough!" Vashj interjected. "You go too far, Kael."
"Perhaps you haven't gone far enough." he sighed. "But I apologize. I was just speaking the truth as I see it, but it's not my place. I only want you to be happy, Vashj. You deserve better than this endless life of self-denial and heartache, no matter what you decide. I want you to know that. You're better than this."
She sighed deeply, lowering her eyes. "I envy you," she confessed. "It all comes so effortlessly to you. Even Rommath worships you."
He waded close to her again, drawing to full height, and took her face gently into his hands once more. "Vashj, Rommath is my oldest and dearest friend. I've loved him since we were children. But that doesn't mean I love Illidan any less." Kael lifted her chin so that he could gaze into her softly glowing eyes again, to see the emotion behind that sparkling amber glow. "Or you."
Without a second thought, he closed his eyes and leaned in close, pressing his lips against hers. They were warm, soft, and yielding, and he couldn't help but be swept up in the feeling of bliss welling inside him. She wrapped all six of her arms around him tightly, melting into his embrace. Emboldened, he slipped his tongue inside her mouth, warm and inviting and altogether different than what he might have expected. The hunger with which she returned the kiss was nearly overwhelming and threatened to devour him; hers was a passion that ran as deep as the tides she called home.
"I'll be waiting for you, Vashj," Kael breathed, his eyes smoldering as he pulled away from her grasp. "We both will."
He turned from her and climbed out of the pool, conjuring a portal home with a sweeping gesture of his bare arms. But this time, he left it open behind him, ready and waiting for her to seize it at any time, and thought it was a fitting gesture. It meant there was a place for her in their lives, if she so desired, and there would always be a place there. Kael felt it in the deepest recesses of his heart, that Illidan was no longer the bitter and wounded man he once was after thousands of years spent pining for a woman who could never return his love. Like Al'ar rising from the ashes, a purifying flame had burned through his heart and made everything new again. There was a place for Vashj, and Kael believed it with the deepest sincerity. But she had to be the one to take that step. She had to realize that there was no going back to Nazjatar, not now. It was something she had to learn for herself.
And when she did, they would be waiting