A/N: Yes, I am dredging up this old meme again, haha. For those who've never heard of it, the idea of Five Things That Never Happened is pretty much what it sounds like - you pick a character, then write 5 (very slightly divergent) AUs based on him/her. Generally, I think you're supposed to end up with 5 oneshots, and that is really what I initially tried to do, but the first story kind of got away from me, so this part will be at least 2 chapters. I've already got my 5 things planned out, so I'll be posting them in order of at what point they split from established WoW lore. Although Sylvanas is the only character I mentioned specifically in the summary field, almost everyone from WC3 pops up at some point (which is part of the reason I fail at keeping this stuff short...gah!). These were fun to write, so hopefully they're fun to read, too.
A Conflict of Duty
She wasn't there when the Elfgates were sundered, and four thousand years of fiercely-held sanctuary burned with the Sunwell.
She wasn't there for Anasterian's fall, or the firestorm that became his pyre, but she had seen what was left: blackened ruins and tainted earth; a hollow, starved look in survivors' eyes; and corpses. Hundreds of charred and twisted bodies – more than she had ever seen, but still far fewer than there should have been, and the thought made her sick with rage. Arthas would pay for what he'd done. She'd hunt him down if it took her last breath and drove her through the maw of Icecrown itself, and if any part of him was still human enough to suffer she would carve it out and bleed it until he died.
She would smile as the unholy light choked in his eyes, but even that would never be enough.
Sylvanas' fingers clenched around the leather grip of her bow until it creaked in protest. The forests of southern Lordaeron rose withered and ghostly around her, tainted by the necromantic blight of the Scourge, and even the sunlight seemed pale and decayed. Mold slimed the grass underfoot, and skeletal streamers of some foul, parasitic moss hung from dying branches. Her own rangers flitted through the slow fall of graying leaves like phantoms themselves, silent and hard-eyed, following their enemies' rotted trail.
She had been too late to save her city, but she would not be too late to bring its butcher to justice.
She turned her head at the call as Sheldaris, one of her lieutenants, slipped from the grotesque shadows of the forest and fell into step beside her. Her red hair had been braided tightly up and out of the way, revealing a shiny pink burn scar that vanished beneath the neckline of her leather armor. There had been demons in the woods, of late.
"Any sign of Arthas?" Sylvanas asked, unable to keep the venom from her voice as she spoke the traitor's name.
"No, milady," Sheldaris said grimly. The brown and green of her cloak, fashioned for camouflage in the enchanted forests of Eversong, looked startlingly bright in this haunted wood. "We followed the shore of Lordamere Lake almost within sight of Dalaran, but found nothing but a few feral ghouls and this blight." She paused in her report, seemingly debating how best to continue, and doubt flickered across her face.
"You may speak freely," Sylvanas assured her.
"Something is…wrong, milady," Sheldaris continued haltingly, brow crinkled in uncertainty. "We saw nothing strange, but Kalidan is a mage, and he felt it better than I. The power of that place is not as it was. We could feel it even from a distance." She hesitated again, eyes shining blue in the dimness as she looked up to gauge her mistress' reaction. "And now the ruins of Alterac teem with demons."
Sylvanas merely nodded, face impassive, though bitterness tore at her heart. Prince Kael'thas (King Kael'thas now, should he live) resided in the city of mages, as did many of the elves – including her own sister, Vereesa. "Then Dalaran is fallen, and the Scourge allies with the Legion." She clenched her fist, nails biting into her palm, and longed for the day it would be Arthas' throat beneath her fingers. "Double the outrunners, and bring any survivors they find to me. We follow the undead."
"As you will, milady," Sheldaris said. She saluted efficiently before departing to fulfill her orders.
Sylvanas narrowed her eyes in contemplation, pulling her hood forward to shield her face from the oily mist that drifted through the trees. They would go to the ruins of Dalaran and rally what remnants of their people they could find before continuing on. Even if the deathknight no longer remained in the city, the rumor of him surely would have.
At night they camped, though they didn't dare light fires.
Sylvanas should have slept, but instead she unrolled a map of the Dalaran countryside on the earth beneath her tent, weighting the corners down with stones. She traced an arrow-calloused finger down a nested collection of lines that represented the Alterac foothills, picking out the most likely positions for an ambush. Assuming Arthas' slaves had even that much mind left to them.
She did not know, and doubted, now, that she would ever discover what folly had led her rangers from their city in its hour of peril; whether it was more of Dar'khan's treachery or simply the confusion that ever accompanied war. There had been reports that the Scourge had overrun the city of Hearthglen and boarded the ships moored there, meaning to fall upon the isle of Quel'danas from the north. Silvermoon's armies had leapt to its defense, hoping to intercept the undead fleet at sea and rob it of the crushing weight of numbers it wielded on land, and so Sylvanas had set sail with the majority of her warriors. They'd left barely a third behind to guard the enchanted Elfgates - which, after all, had never been breached in all the long history of their people. How arrogant they'd been, and how they'd suffered for it.
"Milady, news from the south!"
The voice was not particularly urgent; normally her scouts wouldn't have disturbed her at this hour for a routine report, but perhaps they could see the glow of her light through the oilcloth.
"Enter," she said, glancing up from her map.
Her tent flap rolled back, exposing a black triangle of night that was shortly eclipsed by Vor'athil's lean form. Kalidan, the mage Sheldaris had spoken of earlier, ducked through behind him, and both executed neat, if cramped, salutes before settling down cross-legged at Sylvanas' gesture.
"We've found the humans, milady," Vor'athil said, resting his usually expressive hands on his knees. He and Kalidan both drooped with exhaustion, despite their clear efforts to hide it, and a fine layer of grime dusted them. She'd have to see they were spared watch duty this night.
"Refugees?" she asked, only mildly interested. The human lands had bred this curse, and she cared for them now only as far as they helped or hindered her aims.
She was surprised when Vor'athil shook his head. "Too well-outfitted, milady, and we saw no civilians. They looked to be knights, though none bore the tabard of the Silver Hand."
"Nor did they wear the sigil of the Eye," Kalidan added. He scratched at a scab on the tip of his ear as he spoke, a nervous tic he'd developed recently. "Had they been Kirin Tor, we might have approached."
"You did well," Sylvanas said, tapping a fingernail absently against the map above the Violet Citadel. "Little news has come from the humans since Lordaeron's fall. If the Kirin Tor is scattered, there's no telling who rules." She dug a finger into the tiny drawing of Dalaran, collapsing its inked towers into a crater of wrinkles. "But tomorrow I intend to find out." She looked up at her scouts, both of whom were watching her expectantly. "Send me a messenger at first light. You are both relieved of watch duty."
Vor'athil broke into his typical roguish grin at her words, thwacking Kalidan companionably on the shoulder before saluting. The less solidly-constructed mage winced good-naturedly, "accidentally" kneeing his friend in the leg as he stood in a way calculated to go unnoticed by their commander.
It didn't, but Sylvanas obliged them by pretending.
"By your leave, milady," Kalidan said, before they both backed out of the tent at her nod.
She slid the stones from the corners of her map after they'd left, folding it deliberately and stowing it back among her things. Dalaran ruled by a human faction might be better than a city crawling with corpses – but the world had changed much since Terenas was slain, and she had little faith anymore in the younger races. Perhaps it would only be more complicated.
The messenger, it turned out, was wholly unnecessary.
"Hail to the camp! Haaaaiiiil to the camp!"
Sylvanas woke to the man's stentorian roar in Common even before the first light had picked its way through the gloom of the forest. The human was surely standing (what he believed to be) out of bowshot of the encampment, but his bellow was still thunderous enough to make her pointed ears twitch with discomfort. Manners never had been humanity's strong point.
Fully awake, she grabbed her quiver from where it rested near her head and strapped it across her back, slinging her bow over her shoulder before emerging from her tent into the not-quite-morning air. She immediately locked eyes with Sheldaris and Vor'athil, who had evidently been coming to fetch her.
Sheldaris arched a long red brow in the direction of the noise.
"So I heard," Sylvanas said dryly.
"The human has lungs like a wounded devilsaur," she agreed.
"Aye. I could shoot him with my eyes closed," Vor'athil said, screwing said organs shut in demonstration and holding a finger up in front of his nose as he tracked the sound.
"Shooting our allies?" Sheldaris' frown of mock horror was spoiled just a little by the teasing twitch at the corners of her mouth. "Grandmother was right, the Sunblades really are descended from trolls."
"You really think so?" Vor'athil asked, grinning rakishly. "I bet I'd look dashing with tusks."
Sylvanas ignored their banter (the Sundering hadn't killed elven inter-house rivalries, and neither, it seemed, would the Scourge), making one last check of her armor before striding in the direction of the human's yell. Her two lieutenants, quickly sobering, fell into step behind her.
When she reached the edge of their circle of tents, the two visible sentries snapped to attention (they'd startled one in the process of surreptitiously massaging one of his sensitive ears) with a sharp salute. "Ranger-General!"
"At ease, gentlemen," she said, stalking to the outermost point of their perimeter to rake her gaze over the human delegation.
Three men on horseback (their gold and black barding was unfamiliar) watched her from about two hundred yards away through the decaying branches and low moldy scrub of the forest. The barrel-chested man in the center appeared to be the herald, though he had been diplomatic enough to cease his bellowing when she drew near.
She nodded to Vor'athil, who gave the customary friendly response to the greeting.
"Hail and well met, humans!" he called, projecting his voice to carry and causing the sentries to wince again. "You may approach the camp!"
Their horses snorted and tossed their manes unhappily as the men urged them closer, picking their way through the nasty slime of dead foliage.
"I am Ranger-General Sylvanas Windrunner of Quel'thelas," she said, once they'd approached to a reasonable distance. "For whom do you speak?"
"We come in the name of Lord Garithos, Grand Marshal of the Alliance and commander of these lands," the barrel-chested man said. His bland, heavy features revealed nothing. "He bade me to read you this decree." Flipping open the saddlebag that hung at his side, he fished out an officious-looking roll of parchment and unfurled it against the neck of his mount.
Sylvanas' eyes narrowed imperceptibly at this turn of conversation – "decrees" from the humans, indeed – but she allowed him to continue. "Very well. Let's hear your Lord Garithos' request."
The herald ignored her correction, clearing his throat and smoothing the paper out with his palm. "By order of Lord Garithos, the encroaching elven forces have until sundown of this day to vacate the sovereign lands of Lordaeron and her sister kingdoms. Failure to do so will be evidence of treason to the Alliance, and any resistance will be met with deadly force." Having delivered his message, he rolled up the parchment again with an air of finality.
For a moment Sylvanas was struck speechless by the human's brazenness…but it was a very short moment. Her face remained casually neutral, but her fingers flicked in a subtle hand gesture visible only to the archers in the trees. "Where can I speak to this...Garithos?" she asked in a silkily measured voice that would've sent any of her rangers fleeing for cover.
It seemed the herald was not totally immune to it either, because his eyes flicked nervously to the side as his mount pawed the ground. "Lord Garithos doesn't parlay with traitorous sub-humans."
The deliberate creak of a bow floated down from the branches above them, and the herald and his guards snapped their heads up immediately, blanching several shades paler as they noticed the archers stationed in the trees around and behind them.
Sylvanas saw no point in keeping the contempt from her tone. "I've never shot a messenger before, but I've also never heard such insolence delivered under truce. I suggest you run, human."
The herald's face twisted into a sneer, and his hand strayed to the short sword at his side before he remembered the archers and thought better of it. He whirled his mount, features dark with rage as he spat back over his shoulder, "Lord Garithos will hang you with your filthy prince!" and galloped away with his two guards close behind.
"We'll regret letting them go," Sheldaris predicted darkly once their hoofbeats had faded. "Do you think he truly knows something of Prince Kael'thas?"
Sylvanas suspected she was right, but the High Elves hadn't yet fallen so far that they'd abandoned all semblance of honor. It was more than she could say of this Garithos creature. "Perhaps he does. Or perhaps he's baiting a trap." Though she couldn't imagine why. Didn't the poor fools have enemies enough without inventing more? "How far to the city?" she asked, staring contemplatively into the dreary decay of the forest.
"Only a few hours march, if we move swiftly," Sheldaris said, fingering the string of her bow. "We go, then?"
"Give the order," Sylvanas confirmed. "Send sorties ahead and to our flanks, and tell them to destroy any human scouts they find." She paused, feeling again the bitter anger that Arthas and his foul ilk had led them all to this. "The humans' Alliance is finished."
Garithos' men were mounted and well-armored, but horses provided no advantage in the tangled undergrowth of the forest, and their riders could never match the elves in woodcraft. By the time the trees had thinned they'd slain five horsemen with black and gold tabards. They'd taken no casualties themselves, shooting from the branches overhead, but Sylvanas was still not entirely easy. Five enemies was very few, even considering how closely they followed the herald and his guard, and from the arrogance with which he'd spoken she'd expected a much larger presence. Perhaps she'd overestimated the humans.
"Ranger-General, you'll want to see this!" Vor'athil called, emerging from behind an enormous foul-smelling fungus with Kalidan close behind. He held a piece of parchment in his fingers, and offered it to her as he approached.
She took it, recognizing immediately the herald's insulting proclamation. "We've overtaken their warning, then," she said, examining Lord Garithos' ink-spotted signature at the bottom with disgust.
"Not before the Scourge did," Vor'athil said. He waited for her to look up and focus her gaze intensely on him before continuing. "Two dismembered ghouls, an arm from one of those stitched monstrosities and a dead horse. This was in one of the saddlebags."
"Anything more?" Sylvanas asked, drumming her fingers against the wood of her bow as she tried to work out how the Scourge figured into their approach to Dalaran.
"Yes, milady," he said, frowning and shaking his head a little at the memory. "We found one alive, barely. Kalidan roasted the ghoul that was clawing at him, and he spoke before he died. An army of the undead assaults the mountain passes to the east. This Lord Garithos' troops hold them there, but should they fail the Scourge will move on Dalaran as well."
Sylvanas crumpled the parchment in her fist. "The undead batter at their gates and still they make enemies of the elves. Their commander is a deranged fool."
"And his people suffer for it," Kalidan said. A drop of blood wet the scab on his ear, and he scratched at it as he spoke. The skin of his face stretched too tight over his cheekbones, sallow and papery; the longer this hunt drew on, the less well the mage looked. He'd lost a betrothed when the first Elfgate burned. Perhaps it was grief that made him look so ill. "I don't like this business of killing humans."
"Nor do I," Sylvanas said. "But if they've taken our people hostage, they're no more our allies than the Scourge." She pulled the hood of her cloak over her hair, eyes shining fiercely blue from beneath its shade. "Tell Sheldaris to hold our forces at the treeline. I'll give further orders once I've seen the city for myself."
"Yes, milady." They dashed off through the ranks of traveling soldiers at her command, quickly becoming lost in the sea of green and brown armor.
Sylvanas strode swiftly ahead towards the vanguard of her forces, rangers moving aside respectfully to make way. She had seen Dalaran during its height; the mountains of Alterac to the north provided some defense, but the city itself sat on a sparsely wooded plain. Gorefiend's sack of it ought to have been recent enough in the Kirin Tor's memory to convince them to rely on something besides their own magical prowess to protect it, but evidently the lesson had gone unheeded. If the Scourge managed to surround whatever was left of its walls, Dalaran would be nothing but a stone deathtrap.
She picked her way lightly across a slime-choked brook that cut their path, the putrefied corpse of something unidentifiable lodged along its bank. Beams of sunlight speared through the rotten leaves, chasing away the clammy mist that blanketed the ground, but it didn't much improve the view. There was no beauty to be found in the Scourge's filth. If the forest was dwindling, however, then Dalaran should be visible from the next rise.
She intended to see that none of the Quel'dorei were being held forcibly within its walls – but she would not lead her people into a slaughter.
A granite ledge jutted out of the forest floor like a stone finger pointing to the horizon, one last lingering outcrop of the mountains to the north and east. Her rangers halted among the trees at its top, shielding their eyes with their hands against the rays of the noonday sun as they gazed upon the city.
Sylvanas climbed nimbly up beside them, and found that the towers of Dalaran were magnificent even in their destruction.
Once, the snow-tipped peaks of Alterac had framed the high pinnacle of the Violet Citadel, an improbable halo of enchanted crystals drifting about its crown. It wasn't unusual to see one of the city's many spires wreathed in flame but not burning, or locked in a sheath of glittering ice. Now its towers had been hacked to ragged stumps, their floating crystals tumbled from the air to smash the houses and gardens beneath. Whatever else had befallen the city, no fire had ravaged it; the toppled spires shone unblackened by smoke, so white as to almost be painful to look at in the bright of the day. That was unusual, but more unusual still was the way they lay; either pointing outward, or still standing upright but crushed into their foundations, as though some angry titan had simply ground the city beneath its palm. The destruction reminded Sylvanas of another ruined city, and her fist clenched around her bow until her knuckles whitened.
"Can you feel it?" Kalidan muttered from where he crouched near her side. His pale face held a strange mixture of disgust and something close to longing. "The ley lines over the city…disrupted. Whatever finished this place, the Scourge is but a trifle to it."
She could feel it – something subtly yet deeply awry, a quiet dissonance in the world. It tugged at a place she'd been fiercely ignoring since her city had burned: a raw, aching void as though some vital part of her had been ripped out. She narrowed her eyes, answering more harshly than she meant. "Whatever it is, it's gone. And we're still here."
Caught in some private thought of his own, Kalidan seemed not to notice the rebuff. "Thank the stars," he said quietly.
She looked sharply at him, hearing an odd note in his tone, but his wistful, conflicted expression told her nothing. It didn't take much perception to know that the mage had been hurt in some way, badly – but after all that had befallen their people, that only made him typical. Sylvanas shook her head, staring at the collapsed towers and shattered walls for a moment longer before reaching the conclusion she'd suspected from the first: the city was indefensible, either by the humans or by her own forces.
"Sheldaris. Vor'athil," she said.
"Ranger-General?" They straightened as they waited for orders, faces still darkened from gazing upon the destruction.
They wouldn't like her instructions, which was why Sylvanas had chosen to tell them here. With the Scourge bearing down on Dalaran their time was too short for a lengthy debate, and her lieutenants would never voice concern with her orders outside of private counsel. They could not have swayed her anyway. "Vor'athil. Gather fifty of your best people in groups of ten, mages in every party. We leave for Dalaran immediately."
"Milady." Vor'athil's long brow had twitched almost imperceptibly at her pronoun, but he nodded professionally, taking one last measuring glance at the broken city before departing to obey.
She stood stiffly at attention, but Sylvanas had known her long enough to read the disapproval in the tightened skin around her eyes. Sheldaris knew what she would tell her, and didn't like being left behind anymore than Sylvanas would have in her place. It wasn't a soldier's duty to enjoy her orders, however, only to follow them.
"Remain here with what's left of our forces. Engage the humans or the Scourge only in self defense. If you have no word from us in three days…" Sylvanas paused, gazing at her with a hard look to make sure she understood, realized what she was giving her permission to do, "you are in command. Direct our people as you see fit."
Sheldaris' eyes widened briefly, and the disapproval in them faded to something more like resolve, tinged with defiance. "You'll be back, milady. But I'll keep our people safe until then."
Sylvanas offered her a wry smile, and the gesture felt raw and unfamiliar on her lips. "I don't doubt it."
They didn't wait for nightfall before slipping out across the rippling sea of grasses that stretched to the remnants of Dalaran's walls. The plain was yet green with life, but there was no sign of the songbirds or buzzing insects that usually called such places home. Not even a vulture circled overhead, and the stillness was eerie as their shadows lengthened in the afternoon sun.
Sylvanas darted from the shade of one wind-stunted cluster of trees to another, blades of grass whispering against the leather of her armor above the height of her chest. The rest of her party followed close at her heels, Vor'athil and Kalidan in the lead, silent as shadows and crouching to keep their profiles low. They'd seen no sign of the humans since they'd left the forest's edge, but that didn't make caution unnecessary.
White wings flashed overhead, and Sylvanas paused, looking up to mark the flight of a dove. It glowed with pearlescent light as it circled once, searching, then dipped to land on the palm Kalidan held out to it. The conjured creature ruffled its feathers and gave a contented churr before vanishing with a burst of light, leaving a curled piece of parchment in the mage's hand. He unfolded it delicately and read the contents.
"Sharlindra's forces have reached the city," he said quietly, looking up at her and incinerating the message with a puff of flame, "and the remnants of the walls are unguarded. She believes the humans have established a garrison in what's left of the Violet Citadel and left the outer districts to the Scourge."
"As we suspected," Sylvanas murmured. "Their numbers within the walls won't be great."
"We could have taken the city, then," Vor'athil mused, keeping his voice down and twirling an arrow absently between his fingers as they began moving again. "We still could, if a little birdie were to find Sheldaris…"
"True," Sylvanas said, looking around and keeping her long ears pricked for any sound above the soft swish of grasses. "And when we'd slain so many they could no longer spare guards for their prisoners?"
Vor'athil gave a startled laugh in disbelief. "They'd massacre them in cold blood? Is the humans' memory of alliance really that short?"
"No shorter than yours," Kalidan muttered, shooting his friend a disgusted look.
"Bah, slander!" Vor'athil said, a slightly injured cast to his tanned features. "For one thing, their knights have swords, and for another, they started – "
Sylvanas froze in an alert crouch, narrowing her eyes as a sound caught her ear, and held up a hand sharply for silence. Vor'athil shut his mouth so quickly she could hear his teeth click together, ducking below the level of the tall grass.
She held her breath, listening for the noise to repeat itself over the steady beat of her own heart, and was rewarded almost immediately. A rhythmic clank drifted on the breeze with the rustle of disturbed grass. An armored man on foot; she could hear no horses.
She held up one finger, then three, then flicked her hand perpendicular to the sound's direction. Three of her rangers detached themselves from the group at her silent command, circling around to flank the interloper as Sylvanas led the rest directly towards the source, no more than a series of ripples in the silvery-green grasses.
The sound intensified as they slipped closer, a series of three metallic beats – two strides and a scabbard banging against a leg, she guessed – and she drew an arrow from her quiver, holding it ready between her first two fingers.
Silver glinted through the grass ahead.
Kalidan struck first, silencing their quarry with a spell before he could cry out, and Sylvanas notched the arrow to her bow as a cold blue glow bled into the air, the electric tingle of magic pulling at her senses as the mage in the flanking party loosed his spell.
She pricked her ears once it faded, waiting for the scrape of a drawn sword or the telltale hoofbeats of reinforcements who'd seen the spell-light, but it was over after that. Only the hiss of wind through the grass broke the plain's dead stillness.
They converged on the human to see what they'd caught, the sweet smell of trampled grass replacing the electric odor of magic, and she heard Kalidan's tired exhalation of breath as their gazes fell upon their quarry.
Sylvanas had been right, as she generally was – a lone human soldier clad in bloody and dented chainmail stood at the end of a trail of flattened grasses, both his feet and his sword-hand cemented in place by a sparkling stalagmite of ice. That was unremarkable, but her eyes quickly discovered what had made Kalidan sigh like that: the sweaty hair that hung from beneath the knight's leather helm framed the face of a boy no more than thirteen. Too young for such a fight even by human reckoning. The round softness of his features only made the venom in his glare more startling as he looked at them and mouthed the Common word for "traitor."
"They fight with children," Kalidan said, squeezing his eyes shut briefly before letting out another audible breath. "What now?"
Sylvanas replaced her arrow in her quiver, feeling bitter weariness settle on her as the boy continued to scowl defiantly at his captors. War had always been a thing of ugliness, but when had it come to this? "You may speak to answer our questions," she told him in Common, "but if you try to call out the mage will silence you."
She nodded at Kalidan, who ended the spell with a whispered word, but from the way the boy's jaw clenched stubbornly shut he might as well have remained enchanted.
"What's your name, boy?" Kalidan asked gently.
He thrashed against the ice that bound him in response, his oversized shirt of chainmail jangling about his knees. "You're all traitors!" he cried miserably. "And I'm not a boy!"
Looking at the blood – some red and some not – that stained the metal of his armor, and the hollowness in his eyes, Sylvanas thought that despite the youth of his face perhaps he wasn't. "The elves never had quarrel with your people until your Lord Garithos made one, human. Tell me, how are we traitors?"
He still struggled to free his hand as he glared at her. "The undead came for us, and you didn't help!" He shuddered at his own words and suddenly seemed smaller, face pale beneath its smears of grime. "No one helped."
Sylvanas blinked, incredulous – it was the humans' own wretched prince who'd betrayed them all, and it was the elves they blamed? – and anger flared in her before burning just as swiftly to ash as she let out a short bitter laugh. "You poor misguided creature, we couldn't even help ourselves."
"Then why did you bring the snake-men on us!" the boy demanded, unconvinced.
"Snake-men?" Vor'athil asked, wrinkling his nose. "What sort of lies have these fools been spreading?"
Sylvanas didn't know, and cared little for the rumors Garithos invented to keep his men in line. Her interests lay elsewhere. "Are there elven prisoners in the city, human?"
He balled his free fist in a defiant show of bravado, but she could see it trembling. "If I don't say anything, will you kill me?"
She paused for a moment as she narrowed her eyes, tempted to make the threat simply to find some answers, but in the end she relented. "No," she said. The boy may have been an enemy, but there were atrocities enough in this place without her adding to them.
He looked startled to hear it, and the expression made his round features appear even younger.
"Why are you outside the walls alone, soldier?" Kalidan asked suddenly, compassion in his eyes as looked on his bloodstained mail.
The boy flinched at the question, opening his mouth to speak before shutting it again and averting his eyes with a haunted expression.
"If you show us where they are," Kalidan said gently, "we can burn the bodies so the Scourge can't raise them."
For a long moment, the boy said nothing. Still looking down at the crushed grass beneath his feet, he nodded silently.
Kalidan looked to Sylvanas for approval, the angle of his jaw telling her he was set to argue if she didn't grant it, but fortunately for the mage the track of the boy's flight lay in the direction of the city. She nodded in assent. "Bind his hands before you release him."
The mage whose spell held him – Varanis, she believed his name was – drew a length of rope from his pack and dissolved the ice that trapped the human's sword hand first, drawing his wrists behind his back and tying them there before dissipating the rest of the magic. The boy stamped his feet a few times to force the warmth back into them, but otherwise didn't struggle.
He looked hesitantly up at Kalidan, whose lips twitched in a wan smile. "We will follow."
"We could still see the walls," the boy said listlessly, rubbing his cheek against the shoulder of his tabard to try to smear some of the dried blood off. He turned, a little awkwardly with his hands bound behind him, and began walking back towards the city.
It was evident from the trampled grass which way he'd come from, so the rangers arrayed themselves around him in their usual formation, mages at the center. There was no honor in forcing a bound prisoner to take point.
"If we start burning bodies, every enemy from here to Hillsbrad will see the smoke," Vor'athil murmured under his breath in Thalassian.
"Every enemy from here to Hillsbrad is already assaulting the city," Kalidan said irritably, scratching at his ear.
"And once we're gone they can have it." Vor'athil adjusted the strap of his quiver across his broad shoulders, scowling at the dark lump on the horizon that marked Dalaran. "As long as they don't have us."
"Stand down, gentlemen," Sylvanas said, tired of their bickering. They'd slowed their travel to allow their prisoner to keep pace, but perhaps that wasn't a bad thing – by her reckoning they would reach the walls shortly after sundown. It would be easier to evade whatever sentries there were in the dark.