Check the end of this chapter for this week's comments. Don't want to spoil anything.
The halls were filled with the clatter of metal against metal and the blood-curling screams of the dying and, try as she might, Vaala could do little to shut them out this time. After debating with herself the merits of taking part in what would undoubtedly be the last stand of the Sunfury, Vaala had decided she wanted no part in it after all and then sought refuge in one of the abandoned common rooms, as far away from the fighting as she could get.
She'd been discovered fairly quickly, and twice at that. Those who'd been unfortunate enough to step into the chamber – a draenei and a blood elf – lay dead where her blades had struck them. Vaala didn't know if the souls of the dead would linger around to appreciate such things but, either way, she'd made their deaths quick and painless. After all, hardly any of this had been their fault.
There were many things scattered about the room – discarded clothing, tomes, jewelry, even a few weapons here and there. Their former owners would have little use for them now, so Vaala busied herself rummaging around for a while. When her efforts produced nothing worth so much as a second glance, she sat down on one of the beds with a sigh and looked her swords over instead. Both blades were slick with blood, but unscathed otherwise. She began to clean one of her blades with a silken handkerchief she'd found earlier, and let her thoughts momentarily drift away... until the slamming of a door nearby shook her out of her reverie.
Instinctively, Vaala stepped through the shadows, concealing her presence. She saw a young magister struggling to bar the chamber door then, when his efforts finally yielded results, he leaned against it and sighed deeply. His robes were tattered and stained with blood, though he didn't appear to be wounded otherwise. After a few moments he turned around and, predictably enough, he gasped when he saw the lifeless bodies of Vaala's earlier pursuers. "I-is anyone there?" he called out hoarsely.
Vaala frowned, pondering whether or not to reveal herself. Before she could reach a decision, however, the door shook once as something hard struck it from the other side. She barely had time to step out of the way as the magister bolted to the other end of the chamber and pressed himself against the wall, his body shaking with unbridled terror.
It took a few more blows until the door finally gave in with a deafening noise. A moment later, three Ashtongue Broken stepped inside, their unnaturally large eyes fixed on the cowering blood elf. One of them said something in their own tongue. The other two nodded. Then, one moved to stand by the splintered door, barring any hopes of escape, while the other two began to close in on their intended prey.
"Stay back!" the magister cried, eyes wide. "Stay back!"
Vaala watched the whole scene unfold with curious detachment. None of the Broken had sensed her presence yet, but they were bound to do a more thorough search of the chamber after they'd finished off their quarry. The one standing in the doorway all but covered it with his massive bulk, making any attempt to sneak away a fairly tricky feat.
She observed the two Broken as raised their weapons to strike Their kind was hardly known for any combat skills, and their sturdiness hardly than made up for it. Even their weapons were laughable, one nothing more than a piece of lumber with crudely-fashioned spikes sticking out at odd angles, the other a rusty two-handed axe that had probably been discarded by someone long ago. Taking them out, then finishing off the third Broken before he could strike or flee, was probably the safest choice. And, Vaala thought sharply as she saw the weapons began to descend with impossible slowness, she absolutely would not do it for anybody else's benefit but her own.
Within moments, the two Broken were dead on the ground, their throats pierced from behind. The one by the door turned to flee, only to fall over a heartbeat later, a poisoned dagger embedded deep in his shoulder. Vaala tssk-ed as she plucked her swords free. She'd never been proud of her aim.
With the Broken taken care of, Vaala turned to where the magister still looked like he was trying to sink into the wall behind him. "You're welcome," she said, sheathing her swords. To her surprise, the words came out in an almost soothing voice.
The facts took some time to register, it seemed. By the time the magister had recovered enough to speak, Vaala was already walking away and pondering where to go next.
Vaala stopped and turned her head halfway around, "Yes?"
There was a pause behind her, then, "Where are you going?"
Vaala shrugged. It was wise to assume that the entire upper tier had been overrun by this point, so any direction was probably as good as –
"You must take me with you!"
This time, Vaala turned around fully. She sized up the magister, using not only her sight, but her other senses as well. He was most definitely young, too young to do battle if the Sunfury weren't under such dire circumstances. His magical energies also appeared to be all but spent. Having such a companion in tow would be nothing but a liability.
"What is your name?" Vaala asked suddenly. If she kept him talking long enough, then perhaps an unexpected solution would present itself. After all – and the thought startled her even more – if she did leave him behind, as she'd originally intended, then his blood would be on her head, and that was certainly not a pleasant notion to entertain.
"Jaelen," the magister answered, looking just as surprised. "Jaelen Proudsun," he went on, sounding a little more confident. "My father was a commander in-"
"What can you do?"
Jaelen looked away, his earlier passion gone just as sudden as it had come. "Not much," he muttered. "I was studying in my chambers when all this happened. I had no idea-"
"Most of us didn't," Vaala interrupted bitterly. "Right now, your best bet... our best bet, even, is to keep moving and hope that we don't run into too many of them at once. Come." With that, she turned and walked through the doorway.
She'd taken a few steps when she heard Jaelen rush after her, babbling his thanks. A few steps after, both rogue and magister came to a sudden stop as a band of Sha'tar skirmishers – twenty strong, perhaps more – emerged from a side passage that neither had noticed before.
"Illidan..." Vaala whispered, reaching for her locket with fingers suddenly too numb to hold a sword. "If you can hear me... I need all the strength you can spare."
Nothing happened at first. The Sha'tar prepared to move in for the kill, weapons drawn, eyes alight with murderous intent. Vaala took a step back, then another. Behind her, Jaelen bolted away with a shriek. She barely spared a thought for him. He'd likely be dead soon enough, the fool.
Underneath her armor, Vaala's enchanted medallion begin to throb and burn.
There was fighting everywhere. Reevan could hear it, and sometimes, as he carefully made his way around this part of the temple, he could see it as well. His senses were assaulted by the arcane feedback of so many spells being cast at once. It made focusing on the task at hand even more difficult.
And then, he'd been stopped twice more already: once by a handful of Sunfury demanding he assisted in defending whatever they were set to defend – an order he'd promptly declined, citing an 'urgent message' that had to reach the Illidari Council straight away, and once by a fully-armed Sha'tar group who'd thankfully recognized him and allowed him to move on. There was no sign of Vaala, but each new area he stepped into was either laden with bodies of combatants from either side, or utterly deserted.
Time was growing short.
The courtyard he'd stumbled into was walled off on all sides but the one he'd come through. Heavy stone benches were scattered here and there, their design too crude to have been crafted by any sin'dorei. Nonetheless, there was something about this place that looked strangely familiar.
Reevan clenched his fists abruptly. Yes, he'd definitely been here before, on his one other visit to the Black Temple, when he'd defeated Veras Darkshadow. He could still see the marks their previous encounter had left on the place. Some of the flagstones beneath his feet were charred and, if he looked closely enough, he could still see several stains of dried blood where he'd pinned down the other. He turned around once, his eyes scanning every corner, every shadow.
There was no-one else around. Satisfied, Reevan sat down on one of the benches and reached for his satchel, taking out a small vial. He held it in his palm, then turned it over, making the blue-tinted liquid churn idly inside. This was the last potion he had left. It would last a half-hour, or perhaps slightly more if he were careful. And then...
Reevan shook his head sharply. There would be no 'and then' – not this time.
He felt the potion begin to do its work almost immediately after he'd drank it. The world around him came into focus once more, the many loose threads of magic all the more apparent now, their colors crisp and bright against the gloomy browns and blacks of the stone walls. He stood up and brushed a few specs of dust off his robes. From here, he could easily find his way to Vaala's chambers, then hopefully retrace her steps.
Reevan's left arm twitched unexpectedly. He shook it once, then again, but that only served to send a wave of dull pain through his shoulder. By the time the searching fingers of his other hand found the shaft of the thin felsteel bolt, he was already falling forward, his muscles suddenly too stiff to support his balance.
"Ah... Spymaster. I'd say it's a pleasure, but I'm afraid even I can't lie about that."
Reevan tried to push himself up, but found that his arms wouldn't move. The bolt had likely been poisoned with a crippling concoction that had rendered every muscle in his body inert. He could see nothing from where he'd fallen, but the voice, at least, he knew all too well.
"Oh, don't look so stunned," Veras said mockingly as he came into view and made a show of dragging his daggers out of their sheaths with infuriating slowness. He chuckled darkly, "After all... the best is yet to come!"
It was primal, intoxicating... overwhelming. Vaala had never felt anything like it before. Neither her locket, nor Illidan's later 'gifts' or the boon she'd received after slaying her one demonic foes... indeed, nothing could ever measure up to what she felt now, basking in the full glory of her master's power.
The Sha'tar stopped in their tracks, likely sensing the surge of energy as well. Vaala flashed them her most disarming smile, and she saw several of them flinch or draw back. She laughed, delighting in their sudden hesitation. This... by the Sun, this was what she had always been meant to do.
The first few enemies were dead before they even saw her coming at them, swords drawn, lips curled back in a sneer. Several more attempted to slice or stab at her, only to be disarmed or disposed of just as quickly. Those still left standing were scrambling to get out of the way now, their numbers turned from an advantage into a decisive weakness. There wasn't enough room for any complex maneuvers, and some of the hapless Sha'tar actually stabbed at their comrades in their eagerness to put as much distance between Vaala as themselves as they could, for all the good that did them.
Leave none alive! came her master's eager command.
Vaala was more than happy to oblige.
It was all over quickly, too quickly even. The last of the Sha'tar staggered a few steps more before collapsing and succumbing to his wounds. Vaala spun around once, taking in her handiwork, delighting in it. Once, she would have either turned and fled, like Jaelen had, or even dropped her swords and bargained her way out of this somehow. But there was no need to run. Not anymore.
Well done, Illidan said appreciatively. Now, on to-
The voice stopped abruptly. Vaala tensed. "My lord...?" she called, feeling an inexplicable wave of apprehension wash over her. "What is it? What's wrong?"
There were a few moments of unnerving silence, then, You are needed elsewhere.
Then, an image flashed in front of her eyes: a small courtyard, not unlike the one where she'd encountered the strange, raving Ashtongue elder so many months ago, and two shadowy figures, one towering over the other, weapons drawn. The vision was too hazy for her to distinguish their features, but the instant she saw it, she knew who they were.
Make haste! Illidan urged even as Vaala broke into a run, hoping and praying that she wouldn't arrive too late.
"How kind of you to stop by, Reevan. Did you want to make sure that your henchmen do their job properly? Or were you planning on doing some dirty work yourself? Or..." Veras pointed a trembling finger to the incapacitated magister, "perhaps you came here to finish me off yourself?"
Reevan glared. "I figured you'd already fled," he said with a sneer.
"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Veras muttered sullenly, more to himself than to his foer.
Now it was Reevan's turn to laugh, albeit faintly. "If I didn't know you any better, I could almost believe you, Veras. The only reason you're still here, I'd assume, is because you couldn't even muster the courage to-"
"Oh, shut up," Veras said dismissively, though Reevan could tell he'd struck a nerve by the way the other's lips twitched. "And what do you know of courage, anyway? You, who betrayed our people and our prince to save your meager life? You, who sent your own kin to sacrifice her freedom in your stead? You... you... you!"
Reevan could feel the poison biting deeper. He knew that Veras delighted in keeping his victims alive for as long as he could before he dealt the finishing blow, but thus far, the rogue had seemed far more interested in ranting and raving like a possessed man rather than inflicting any kind of pain.
"You're probably wondering why I didn't slit your throat straight away," Veras said suddenly, likely guessing his thoughts.
"You want something."
Veras pursed his lips, feigning a deeply thoughtful expression. "Oh, I want many things," he said casually after a few moments. "Nothing to do with you though, I'm afraid. I'll be on my way soon enough, but in the meantime, I do hope you won't rob me of the pleasure to watch you die."
The words hung in the air, heavy and ominous. Reevan felt a shiver run down his spine. So, this was to be his end, after everything he'd been through, after everything he'd done...
Veras leaned back and crossed his arms. Minutes passed. The poison was doing its work, undaunted. What had started as an unpleasant tingling in his chest quickly became pain, faint at first, then getting steadily stronger. Reevan bit his lower lip to keep himself from showing any sign of distress. He would not give Veras that satisfaction, at least.
"You can still beg for your life, you know," Veras went on, twirling one of his daggers idly. "I won't listen, of course, but at least you'll keep me entertained for a while longer."
Reevan managed to turn his head a little and look away. "I... die... with dignity," he gasped.
Veras shook his head and smirked. "No... no, my friend. You die like a fool."
Vaala could feel her heart thundering in her chest, but she didn't slow or stop. Those who stood in her way, Sha'tar and Sunfury alike, wound up either dead or fleeing. Up a flight of stairs, then along one of the larger promenades, down a long, winding hallway, and finally –
Vaala came to an abrupt stop. She saw two figures - one standing, one fallen. Her senses immediately told her which one was which.
The single word carried with it all of her anger, all of her hatred. Veras Darkshadow whirled around and she saw that he was smirking. This was the final straw. With an incoherent cry, Vaala charged.
Veras defended himself easily at first, deflecting her attacks with grace and shouting taunts and mockeries as they went. Even with the boon granted to her by Illidan, Vaala found that they were more than evenly matched. After a while, she became dimly aware that she was bleeding from a large cut across left forearm. The wound stung, but it was nothing compared to the hatred burning in her chest.
Soon, Veras began to tire. He tried to use one of his vanishing tricks, but Vaala was ready for it and broke his concentration with a side blow that sent one of his daggers flying beyond reach.
Veras staggered back a few steps. "Wait!" he cried, raising both hands in a surrendering gesture. "I yield! I-"
He stared down, eyes wide with disbelief. Her sword had pierced his chest, so forcefully that it was buried nearly to the hilt.
"You..." Veras hissed as the edges of his vision began to darken. "You got lucky."
Reevan had been unable to do anything but close his eyes and keep his mind empty of any intruding thoughts. The pain was beginning to dull his other senses, and he found himself drifting in and out of consciousness. Strange visions assaulted him, though whether they were dreams, memories or something else, he couldn't tell. He knew now with sickening certainty that he was dying. And yet, he held on to a tiny shred of awareness, intent on seeing how the fight would end.
He couldn't tell how much time was passing between one coherent thought and the next. Eventually, he felt a pair of strong, yet surprisingly gentle arms reach out and lift him into an embrace. He opened his eyes, then smiled weakly when he saw his sister lean over him. "Vaala..."
She smiled back, tears falling freely from her eyes. "I'm here," she whispered, reaching out to caress his cheek. "I'm going to take care of you."
Reevan winced a little as a fresh wave of pain – not as strong as before, and more troubling for it – forced him to close his eyes and breathe deeply to calm himself. "No... nothing more to do," he managed, his chest aching with every word. "The poison..."
The effort of speaking proved to be too much for the weakened magister. He blacked out, only to be revived moments later as he felt the tip of a vial being pressed to his lips. Dimly, he heard the word, "Drink!"
Whatever the vial contained, it was so bitter that for a moment, the taste of it was stronger than everything else. He obeyed nonetheless, drinking it down to the last drop.
"This will take care of the poison," he heard Vaala say. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
Reevan forced himself to open his eyes. "Doesn't matter," he whispered. "All I wanted... was to know... that you are be safe."
"Don't talk like that!" Vaala snapped, her voice shaking. "You don't have to die! I can take care of you! I can..."
But Reevan was already drifting off. The last thing he felt was a rush of magic such as he'd never experienced before. For a moment, he found himself wondering idly if death was supposed to feel this... different. Then, he knew nothing more.
Vaala jumped to her feet, looking around wildly. One moment, she was tending to her injured brother. The next, she found herself back at the temple summit, unarmed, and – what was even more unsettling – alone.
"What have you done?" she cried, knowing that Illidan would be close enough to hear it. The words echoed around her several times, then slowly faded out. She dropped to her knees, shaking. "By the Sun," she whispered, hugging herself tightly, "what have you done?"
"I have sent your brother back to the Sha'tar," the answer came finally. A moment later, Illidan appeared before her in a swirl of fel magic and spoke on, "They will tend to him better than you could. He will live."
Vaala looked up through her tears, relief and gratitude mingling with forbearance. "You... you did that? Why?"
Illidan held out a hand and helped her to her feet. "Think of it as my parting gift," he said bitterly.
Vaala staggered a little, then righted herself. "Parting gift? What do you-"
"You were among those few who remained loyal to me to the bitter end," he continued, his expression a grim mask of resignation. "I will never forget it, Vaala Dawnstrike, and no world will ever hold enough words for me to express my gratitude."
"What are you..." Vaala began. And then, she realized it. "No! You can still flee! There are hundreds of places where you can-"
"No," Illidan interrupted, and his voice made it clear enough that there would be no bargaining this time. "I still intend to live forever," he added as she opened her mouth to speak again. "To do that, however... I must die."
Vaala blinked once, startled. "How... how does that-"
Illidan held up a hand. Vaala nodded her head miserably, feeling fresh tears gather at the corners of her eyes. For once, she wasn't ashamed of them.
"Your service to me is now complete," Illidan said at length, then offered her a sad, bitter smile. "You may go free... Until we meet again."
"Wait!" Vaala cried as she began to feel the all-too-familiar pulling sensation and she knew that she would never see her master again.
She was back in her chambers and, once again, alone.
Vaala sat down on her bed and took her head in her hands. This... this was nothing like what she'd envisioned when she'd first struck that bargain with the demon lord. 'You may go free,' he'd told her, but the freedom she'd once been yearning for felt strangely... useless, now that she'd been granted it. What was she to do now, when-
And then she remembered something else, something that a very dear friend had told her once, in what felt like another lifetime now. "One thing at a time," she heard herself say aloud. "One day at a time," she said again, with a little more confidence this time. She held out her hands and willed her swords to be there. A moment later, she felt their reassuring weight in her grasp. Thus armed, she sat up, then stepped out without looking back.
There was no-one around to bar her way this time. Vaala walked on, the cold, dead bodies of combatants from either side her only companions. Illidan's mind was already turned from hers. She could still feel him vaguely, an ever-lurking shadow at the back of her own thoughts, but even that was fading away.
As she began heading towards the lower levels, Vaala was finally confronted by a small band of blood elves and draenei wearing the colors of the Sha'tar. "Hold!" one of them – likely an officer – called out as she approached. "What shines brighter than a thousand suns?"
Inwardly, Vaala smirked. Such a stupid way of telling friend from foe, she thought. "A'dal," she answered, never slowing her pace. The Sha'tar parted to let her through.
'One thing at a time...'
More bodies greeted her as she reached what had once been the central worshiping area of the temple - demons and Ashtongue Broken as well as orcs, draenei sin'dorei. There were more patrols here, but after giving them the password, they let her through without so much as a second glance.
'One day at a time...'
Vaala stepped through the massive gates, emerging at the top of the imposing staircase that lead to the main courtyard. She saw more of the Sha'tar, ranks upon ranks of carefully-trained warriors, casters and priests, and she knew that this was the only way it could have ended. Step by step, she began the descent...
She clutched at her shoulder, startled. She saw no blood and sensed no magic, but she still felt as though she'd been struck... no, stabbed with a vicious blade. A moment later, one of her legs buckled under her weight and she staggered. What-
And then, she knew. Her link with Illidan was weakened, but not entirely gone. She could still sense him, and if the pain was this strong on her end-
She was falling. Where to, or for how long, she didn't know. When she came round, she was laying flat on the rocky ground and her entire body ached. But that was nothing compared to the sudden emptiness she felt. She reached for her medallion with trembling fingers, whispering, "My lord...?"
The answer never came.
There was shouting some distance away, and Vaala heard the sound rushing footsteps and saw a priest she didn't know kneel at her side. He asked something, words that she didn't care to hear, and then he raised his hand, his fingers already glowing with the Light.
Vaala shook her head and pushed his hand away with an effort. "I'm n-not hurt," she stammered. Her teeth clattered. She felt... cold.
"You need this," the priest insisted, but before he could force his spell on her he was roughly shoved aside and another figure took his place - a face that Vaala knew all too well.
"Everything will be all right," Reevan said as he bent down to scoop her in his arms. "At long last... it is over."
Vaala buried her face in his tattered robes and closed her eyes. She felt herself begin to drift off, and for the first time in a long time she welcomed it.
It was all over. She was safe.
Author's Note, take two:
Well, folks, this is it. I really hope you enjoyed the story, and once again, thank you for all your wonderful reviews and messages.
In the end, I did change the canon on one count – rather than have Veras miraculously recover in time to die with the other members of the Council, I figured this would be a more fitting end. I managed to stay true to everything else, though, despite the temptation of going slightly more AU towards the end. Oh well.
Updated 5/6: Well, re-writing this story took much, much longer than I thought it would, but it was well worth it. Several months and lots of editing later, I'm finally happy with it! To those who want to find out what the future has in store for Vaala, Reevan and a number of other characters I can't mention without giving off too much, the second part of Shadow of Shadowmoon is available on my profile.