Beneath the broken sky of Hellfire Peninsula, Varok Saurfang stepped out of the Dark Portal, dwarfed by its massive stone slabs engraved with demonic imagery. Quickly overlooking the area before him, he found that the land was still as barren and lifeless as when he had last seen it decades ago, but that did not matter to him. He had not come back to his former homeworld to stay, only to carry out a solemn duty that was his and his alone: To put to rest the body of his son, who had met his end in the frozen north of Azeroth. He was carrying the corpse on his back, as if it was still the young, unsteady child he had left behind so many years ago. He had vowed to make the final stretch of his journey without the aid of mount or mule, and although the body weighed heavily on his aged shoulders, he endured it. Perhaps he was looking for a semblance of closeness to a son of whom he had seen all too little in life.
Shifting the weight of the body on his back, Saurfang quickly descended the Stair of Destiny, pondering how appropriate that name was in retrospect. It was only when he reached the bottom of the stairs that he hesitated, refusing for many long seconds to set foot on the Path of Glory, as if he feared that the bones of the slaughtered draenei would suck him in like quicksand. But of course he knew that in spite of its gruesome nature, the road was still only a road. With a frustrated growl, he finally put down his foot and began to walk down the path, and the sound of bones being crunched beneath his heels accompanied his every step.
The old warrior did not stop by in Thrallmar or any other Horde outpost on his way. He was here for personal reasons, and if nobody noticed his coming or leaving, then all the better. On and on he walked, his gait steady and his gaze ever fixed westward. Only once did he look up, when he passed through the dark, forbidding shadow of Hellfire Citadel. Its battlements were depopulated and its windows dark, but the structure itself was still intact. Built from black steel, it would probably outlast the wooden buildings of Thrallmar. It was only fitting that the citadel should stand forever as a mark of shame, Saurfang thought, although part of him would have liked to see it leveled to the ground
Six times the sun set on the spectral skies of the world once called Draenor, and six times Saurfang slept and rose until he finally left Hellfire Peninsula behind. He picked up speed as he journeyed through the wilderness of Zangarmarsh and the ancient forest of Terokkar, perhaps because he was now breathing fresh air that no longer tasted of dust and iron. He encountered few living souls on his lonely journey other than the occasional soldier of fortune looking for riches in a land thoroughly picked clean. The sight of a grim-looking orc warrior carrying a corpse on his back did not encourage them to seek his companionship. Untroubled by his solitude, Saurfang journeyed forth, subsisting on the meat of hunted animals and whatever source of clean water he could find. He continued avoiding any settlements, and made especially sure to steer clear of the reconstructed city of Shattrath, a place he intended never to return to.
After two weeks of traveling, the old orc's silent journey neared its end when he finally reached the region of Nagrand. He let his eyes wander along the horizon, beholding the land that his people had called home during better days. Surprisingly little had changed: The vast talbuk herds were grazing peacefully, the trees were tall and healthy, the streams clear and unpolluted. Saurfang knew that he had no right to linger here for long: He had forsaken this world and it would not accept him back even if he had wished for it. But even so, he allowed himself for a moment to pretend that the last thirty years had never happened, and that all the orcs would ever know of this or any other world were the lush fields of Nagrand. He permitted the foolish fantasy to last for a few heartbeats, then pushed it aside forever and continued on his way.
Before long, Saurfang arrived at the village of Garadar where his son had spent most of his life, hidden away from the warlocks and spared from drinking the demon blood. The Mag'har were in a bit of an uproar: It appeared that a number of children had gone missing a few days ago, but when the green-skinned orc entered the village, he immediately found himself at the center of attention. News of his arrival and of the corpse he carried spread quickly, and soon he was surrounded by his son's old friends and comrades who bemoaned his death. Even though Saurfang had come unannounced, Greatmother Geyah readily agreed to perform the last rites for his son. Preparations took time, allowing the old warrior to spend a few hours in the village where a past long believed dead was still alive. In the late afternoon, a sizeable procession departed the village toward the graveyard, led by the Greatmother herself and consisting of all those who had known Dranosh in life.
The funeral took place at a burial ground a few miles west of Garadar, and it was all Saurfang could have asked for: The old rites and traditions from the time before the Horde were observed without undue pomp or veneration. If Saurfang had wanted a grand hero's funeral, he would have accepted the Warchief's offer to hold the ceremony in Orgrimmar, but he preferred that Dranosh should rest in death where he had spent most of his life, seen off only by his fellow villagers, not by a huge crowd in a city he had only visited once. Accordingly, the Greatmother's eulogy emphasized Dranosh's time in Garadar rather than his heroic deeds in Azeroth. It was not a slight, but a simple acknowledgement that he had been one of the Mag'har long before becoming a warrior of the Horde.
When the ceremony was over, Saurfang waited patiently until everybody had departed for Garadar: He had requested that the duty of lowering the body into the grave would be left to him alone, while others would return to cover it with soil tomorrow. As the final resting place, he had chosen one of the old burial pits from the devastating red pox thirty years ago: A rectangular hole in the ground, perhaps seven or eight feet in square, it had gone unused because the number of victims had not met the dire expectations of the gravediggers. Converting the pit into a large grave suitable for a hero of the Horde was the pragmatic thing to do, and Saurfang was nothing if not pragmatic.
The old orc had just begun wrapping his son's body in a simple white shroud when he heard the sound of heavy footsteps in the grass behind him. Wondering whether one of the Mag'har had returned, he rose to his feet and turned around to face the arrival. Surprise struck him when he recognized the figurewalking toward him as a draenei. The tall, blue-skinned male was wearing a vindicator's armor suit that had clearly seen better days: Its ornamental crystals were dim, and rust had started to consume the metal. He carried neither sword nor mace, only a short, sheathed dagger that seemed hardly suitable for combat. But Saurfang knew that caution was still advised, for the orcs had made themselves mortal enemies of the draenei for all time, and the vindicator's expression attested to that: His blue eyes were burning with an intensity that could only be ascribed to hatred, and his angular jaws were pressed tightly together, indicating that he was just barely suppressing a deep-seated rage. Whatever his purpose was, it could not be a friendly one.
Usually a man of action, Saurfang found himself at a loss how to proceed. He had not met a draenei face-to-face since Shattrath, and he would have preferred for it to stay that way. He had spent the last three decades coping with the guilt about his actions as part of the old Horde, and the draenei genocide was surely the worst of the sins the orcs had committed during that time. Against the humans and their Alliance, they had at least waged a proper war, giving them the chance to meet their attackers sword in hand. But against the draenei, it had been a surprise attack followed by indiscriminate slaughter – and Saurfang had been at the forefront of the assault on their greatest city. The mere sight of a survivor reminded the old orc of many things that he would rather forget.
Even though the draenei's armor and stature identified him as a warrior, his gait was slow and labored like that of an aged man. Saurfang's schooled eye told him that the draenei was suffering from an old war injury, and the likely origin of that injury only added to his feelings of discomfort. Faced with an incarnation of the shame of his past, he watched the draenei with caution until he came to a stop ten paces before him. The vindicator cast a short glance at the corpse of Dranosh lying in the grass and nodded to himself, then fixed his contemptuous gaze on Saurfang himself. A shudder went through his body while he inspected the face of the orc warrior, as if he found it difficult to restrain himself, or perhaps it was just the evening wind blowing across the central plains of Nagrand. For several silent minutes, the draenei inspected Saurfang, who in turn took the measure of the vindicator. Who was he? What was his purpose here? The logical thing would have been to ask him, but the powerful feelings of shame and discomfort bid Saurfang wait until the draenei himself broke the silence.
"I am Thanas of the draenei," he spoke in a strained, gravelly voice that sounded like it had gone unused for a long time. "I was once a paladin and vindicator of my people, and some called me by the title of Lighthammer."
"I am–" Saurfang began, but the draenei cut him off. "You know my name now, but you do not know me, at least not yet. That is because names are not important. Only actions are." He nodded severely. "I do not know your name, and I do not care to know. And yet, I know you better than any other living creature, because I have witnessed your actions." The venom in his voice rang true, Saurfang found: Whatever his story, this draenei probably had excellent reason to hate him, and there was really nothing he could say that would diminish his hatred. But if this Thanas was not out for blood, then why was he even talking to him? Why this chance encounter in the middle of nowhere? "I have something important that I must do," Saurfang finally said and pointed at the empty grave behind him. "If you have anything to say to me, I suggest you do it now, and be on your way."
"The arrogance!" Thanas burst out, and his body began to shake in unmistakable fury. Saurfang watched his hand closely, but it was not going toward the dagger on his side. If it did, he was confident that he could draw his axe before the draenei closed the distance. But he did not wish for bloodshed – indeed, he had long since hoped that, whatever else happened in his life, he would never kill another draenei again.
"The arrogance!" Thanas repeated, as if he could still not believe it. "But you will come to regret your haughty words."
"Violence, then," Saurfang sighed and reached for his axe. But Thanas raised his empty palms, which prompted the orc to stay his hand. "I am not here to shed your blood," the draenei said. "If it were so, you would already be dead."
"I'm not so sure about that," Saurfang said calmly. "What is it you want, then?" When no reply came, he asked: "Why do you claim to know me? Why did you come here today? How did you even know I would be here?"
But still no answer came from the draenei. If he was trying to infuriate Saurfang, it was certainly working, but the old orc knew better than to lash out in anger. Controlling the rage in his heart was something he had become very good at over the years. "Leave me in peace," he finally said.
"Peace." Thanas laughed bitterly. "What a strange word for one of your kind to use. What makes you think you deserve peace?"
"Your hatred may well be justified," Saurfang admitted, "but I will not have a debate over past wrongdoings. Not here, not today. Not until I have taken care of this matter." His eyes darted to Dranosh's body for an instant, and the draenei noticed. "What an unnatural duty," he said with twisted glee. "For a father to bury his son."
"How do you know he was my son?" Saurfang demanded and made a single, deliberate step toward the draenei. "And you claimed to know me, too. What is it with you, damn it? Speak up!"
"Very well, butcher," Thanas replied. "Let me tell you my story." He let out a rasping breath and promptly hesitated to speak, as if he was second-guessing his decision. Saurfang gave him time. Whatever his story was, if all the draenei wanted him to do was listen to it, then he would oblige him... and hope that he would go away afterward.
"Twenty-eight years ago, I was living in Shattrath," Thanas finally began. "I was a keeper of the peace, a paladin of the Light." The date and time confirmed Saurfang's fears: He could already tell how the story would run, at least more or less. But he had resolved to listen to it and did not interrupt.
"I was oblivious to the threat posed by your kind, just like everybody else," the draenei continued. "I thought of the orcs as a simple, but peaceable race, who kept to themselves and threatened nobody." He let out a short, bitter laugh. "And just like everybody else, I was sorely mistaken."
You were not mistaken, Saurfang wanted to say. The orcs were peaceful... before the blood pact. But it was not his time to speak. He did not have the right to talk back. Not to a draenei survivor. Not with his bloody past.
"When the attack came, I was assigned to defend the breach, fighting valiantly to protect my home. I found it hard to believe what I was facing... blood-crazed demons, just like the ones who had driven us from our ancestral home, and with nothing but slaughter on their minds. To somebody who embraced the Light and its goodness, it was hard to believe even as I watched my comrades being cut down by your ilk, even those who surrendered." Thanas closed his eyes in reminiscence; it seemed that he had to take a break before he could continue.
The draenei's words were re-kindling old memories in Saurfang's mind. Memories that filled him with horror ever since he had realized the monstrosity of his actions as he was lying in a puddle of mud in an Alliance prison camp, defeated, broken and wishing for death. In time, his will to live had been restored, but the memories would remain with him for the rest of his days. Unlike most of his fellow orcs, who claimed to remember very little of the fall of Shattrath, Saurfang was not so lucky... not so forgetful.
"Our lines were broken," Thanas continued hoarsely, "and your kind swarmed into the city, looking for innocent blood to spill. I wanted to make a stand and join my brethren in death, but there was a reason for me to continue living. There was someone who I had to protect above all others." He opened his eyes again, blazing blue orbs that burned with boundless rage. "My son."
"Even as I ran through the burning city, tripping over the corpses of my fellow draenei, I had thoughts only for my infant son, born from my wife shortly before her death." He hesitated again and gulped visibly, and he kept clenching and unclenching his fists in rapid succession. He was evidently coming to the worst part of his story; a story Saurfang did not have to hear to know the outcome. The fate of Thanas' son was obvious.
"The plaza where we had gathered the children had been overrun. Some of them had been spirited away before your kind surrounded the city, but most of them were not so lucky. When I arrived at the scene, their protectors had already been cut down, but you orcs were not satisfied with that. You were not even above murdering children!"
Saurfang's body trembled as he recalled the scene the draenei spoke of - curse his memory for being so good! He heard the sound of children squealing in his head, like pigs to the slaughter, and it almost made him nauseous. If the draenei had attacked him at this moment, he would have found the powerful warrior entirely helpless. But Thanas did not attack.
"Faced with such an atrocity, I could only try and stop it," he said. "I smashed the skulls of several orcs who failed to see that retribution was coming from behind. But I felt no satisfaction, only horror and a mortal fear for my son. I cried his name over and over, but the screams of the dying and the crazed shouts of your depraved kind drowned out my cries." The draenei's hate-filled glare pierced Saurfang, who knew that there was nothing he could say that would not ring hollow.
"And then I found him," Thanas continued, "in the middle of the plaza where the children had been gathered to better protect them." He gasped as if he was struggling for breath. "He was one of the last, huddling against the bodies of his dead friends, crying silently. And standing above him, a bloodied axe in both hands, was the most fearsome of the orcs... the most murderous..." Thanas' voice failed him, and Saurfang wished for the earth to swallow him. He knew who the draenei was referring to. He still remembered clearly how he and his shock troops had broken through the lines of the defenders, and how the children had not seemed like children at all to them - simply like lesser enemies, to be slaughtered just like their elders. Their bloodlust had allowed no distinction. And so...
"You killed him!" Thanas accused, his hoarse, broken voice now more pitiful than angry. "He was not the only one who fell before your bloodlust, but he was my only son! I shouted at you to leave him be and face me in combat, but you did not hear me. You cut him apart while one of your underlings barred my way." His voice rose to a higher pitch, as if he was a story-teller only now reaching the climax of his tale. "And when you were done, you turned around to look at me, and your fiendish red eyes were asking me: 'What can you do about it?'"
Saurfang would have given anything for the draenei's tale to be false, but he knew better. He now remembered the vindicator whose desperate cries had sounded so puny, muffled by the blood haze surrounding his senses. He had intended to slay him then, but one of his lieutenants had pre-empted him and buried an axe in his back. The draenei had crumbled with a helpless cry on his lips, and before his limp body could hit the ground, Saurfang had already forgotten about him, looking for more enemies to slaughter, old or young, armed or unarmed. Nothing else had been on his mind, and at that time, he had thought it would forever stay that way, until he would one day fall to another enemy on another world. Never could he have imagined standing before that same draenei now, overwhelmed with shame and at a loss for words.
"I see that you remember me now," Thanas said. "Your eyes tell me everything. They are different now, those eyes. They look almost normal. But I can still see them burning red..."
I would rather tear out my eyes than let them burn with Demon Blood again, Saurfang wanted to say, but he kept his silence. The draenei had not finished yet.
"By some whim of fate I survived what should have been a mortal blow," Thanas said without joy. "I was left for dead next to the body of my son, and the wound your minion gave me has marked me for life. Until this day, I cannot run, and every step I take sends a surge of pain coursing through my spine. Even so, I am lucky... far luckier than the others of my kind. Luckier than Sheeran, my son."
But why are you here today? Saurfang wanted to ask. How did you find me? And the draenei answered his question, as if the old orc had spoken out loud.
"I struggled with death for three days under the ministrations of the few surviving priests," Thanas continued. "When I finally awoke in the middle of the night, in the ruins of a temple that stank of blood and death, I screamed and screamed until my throat hurt. None of the other survivors silenced me or tried to console me. In truth, they probably all felt like screaming." The draenei's eyes widened and he almost grinned at Saurfang, as if he was coming to a particularly interesting part. "At that hour, it happened! Somehow, my anguish tore through the fabrics of space and time and I was granted a vision. A vision of this place," he stretched out his arms, "on this evening, showing two orcs, one alive, one dead. I somehow knew the place and time, and so I waited patiently. For almost thirty years I waited, living in the slums of the lower city as Shattrath regained a semblance of life around me. I discarded my hammer and my duties, living only for this day..." He breathed deeply, and once again his body trembled. "On the day where I could look you in the face, butcher, and at the ravaged corpse lying at your feet, knowing that it is your son. Knowing that at long last, you understand a fraction of what I felt." His lips parted as he grinned in elation. "On the day where I would stand before you and gloat over the death of your only son!" He spat on the bloodless corpse on the ground. "May his loss torture you until the end of your days."
Saurfang had to restrain the urge to leap forward and bash Thanas' skull in. How dare he spit on Dranosh, who had had nothing to do with the sins of his father? But he also knew that his son's body had already been defiled in ways unimaginably worse, and if this pitiful and half-mad creature could vent his decades-old rage in no other way, then Saurfang would swallow his indignation and endure.
"There are few orcs left alive who carry as much guilt as I do," he said. "I participated in the destruction of Shattrath. I slaughtered your son and countless others. I deserve your hatred, and if you extend that hatred on this corpse, then so be it." He did not expect his words to assuage the grief-crazed draenei, but he still felt the need to say them. There was no way to undo the crimes of his past, but at the very least, he could confess his guilt. But just as expected, Thanas did not acknowledge his admission in any way. He simply continued to stare at Saurfang with hate-filled eyes. The old orc put up with his gaze for a while, until he felt irritation take the place of shame and barked: "Are you done?"
"No, not yet," Thanas laughed, his dark eyes glowing dangerously. "I have waited thirty years for this moment. Mere gloating will not satisfy me. Before the day is over, you will feel terror such as you never imagined possible."
"Is that so," Saurfang asked, decidedly unimpressed. "I wonder how you're planning to go about that. Will you try to kill me after all?
"You fear for your life," Thanas said confidently. "You are wise to do so."
"I fear very few things," Saurfang replied, "and death is not among them." He patted the shaft of his axe. "But be warned: No matter how much I wronged you and your people, I will not lay down my life to satisfy your revenge."
"I would not expect you to," Thanas scoffed. "And as a matter of fact, I will not kill you. I have something different in store for you, old butcher." With surprising swiftness, the draenei reached for a small blue orb hanging on a pendant around his neck, tore it off and hurled it at the unsuspecting Saurfang. A magical artifact of some sort, it unleashed a powerful blast that hit his chest with the force of a rampaging kodo bull, and the impact knocked Saurfang backward into the burial pit intended for his son. The soft soil cushioned his fall, sparing him from injury or worse, and what little pain there was passed quickly. Dranosh's body had also been blasted into the grave, and the fall had twisted the pale face to a wide grin, as if he was delighted to have finally arrived at his destination.
"Curse my foolishness," Saurfang gasped as he jumped to his feet. The pit's perpendicular walls were at least ten feet high, and there was no way to climb out of it. If Thanas wished to kill him after all – and why else would he have trapped him here? – there was very little he could do to stop him.
"I'm glad you were not hurt by the fall," the draenei's gloating voice sounded from above. He had appeared at the edge of the pit, standing before the setting sun and casting a huge shadow. "I have to go fetch some things," he said and turned around. "I'd tell you to stay where you are, but I don't think that'll be necessary." Before Saurfang could answer, the draenei was out of sight, leaving the old orc alone with the body of his son, waiting for whatever his vengeful captor had in store for him. He considered calling for help, but the graveyard was several miles away from Garadar, and since he had requested to be left alone, nobody was likely to be nearby. He tried to use his axe as a climbing tool, but when he drove it into the wall of the pit, the soil crumbled around it, dooming his efforts.
Saurfang hated inaction, and so he was almost glad when Thanas reappeared a couple of minutes later. But his relief turned into terror and rage when he saw the "things" the former paladin had wanted to fetch: They were three orcish children with their wrists and ankles bound and mouths gagged, tied together with a thick rope. Two of them were unconscious, their clothes torn and dirty from being dragged along the ground like sacks of wheat. Only the third one, a boy of nine or ten years, was awake and standing on his feet in spite of his fetters. Looking down into the pit, he eyed Saurfang with an expression of hope that seemed unwarranted to the trapped warrior.
"So it was you!" Saurfang roared, remembering the talk about missing children in Garadar. "You abducted them!" He could imagine only to well what the crazed draenei was planning, and it was enough to make him feel sick. "Leave them out of this!" he demanded. "Your vendetta is with me and my generation!" He seized his axe and assumed a combat stance, even though it was a futile gesture: His weapon was far too heavy to throw, and he doubted that Thanas would come down to him into the pit. But he was a warrior, and although he was powerless right now, he would be ready to strike if an opportunity arose.
"I have made them part of the vendetta," Thanas said calmly, unimpressed by Saurfang's outburst. "And I will kill them," he announced while drawing his dagger, "just as you and your kind killed our children." He smiled generously when Saurfang impotently yelled at him. "Only three of them compared to hundreds of ours. I am being very generous. Undeservedly so."
"Let them go!" Saurfang demanded. "I thought you were a paladin! Don't you pride yourselves on your honor?"
"I ceased being a paladin thirty years ago," Thanas said disdainfully. "If the Light permitted the sack of Shattrath, then it is without power and without worth. We fought with honor on that day, and what good did it to us?" He drew back his head and spat out. "I spit on the Light, and I spit on my honor."
"Spit as much as you like," Saurfang growled, "but I'm telling you to leave these children alone!"
"I might consider it," Thanas suddenly said, "if you have something to offer me in return."
There was only one thing he could offer to quench the bloodthirst of the mad draenei, Saurfang knew instantly. "If you set these children free and let them return home without harm..." He lowered his axe and let it fall to the ground. "Then I will surrender myself to your vengeance."
"Will you really?" The draenei sneered as if had just proven Saurfang a liar. "Didn't you say just minutes ago that you'd never lay down your life, butcher?"
"I said I would not lay it down to satisfy your thirst for revenge. But for the sake of these young ones, this old warrior will gladly sacrifice himself." Saurfang was by no means weary of life, but the old perishing to protect the young was the natural order of things. If his death meant that the children would survive, then dying in this pit would be no less worthy than falling in glorious combat.
"How noble and selfless of you," Thanas scoffed. "But I'm afraid it's not so easy! Your life is worthless to me." He put his knife against the throat of the orc youth who stiffened at the touch of the blade. "You will watch helplessly as I slaughter these children and throw their lifeless bodies down into this pit!"
"Hold it!" Saurfang roared. "What more do you want me to offer you, other than my life? Do you want me to kneel and beg?" Without hesitation, he dropped to his knees and lowered his head. "There, I'm begging you! I'm abasing myself before you, surrendering my pride as well as my life. What else can I do to stop you from murdering them?"
"There is nothing you can do!" the draenei yelled triumphantly. "That's the point! You are about to learn that sometimes, horrible things happen right before your eyes and that there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop them!"
"As if I hadn't learned that lesson many times already," Saurfang growled and rose to his feet. As a warrior, he knew when a battle was lost. If Thanas wanted to kill the children just to prove a point, then there was nothing he could do or say to stop him. "I am sorry," he said gravely.
"I will not accept your pathetic apology!" Thanas yelled.
"I was not talking to you," Saurfang said coldly. "I was talking to the boy." He turned his head and looked in the eyes of the brown-skinned youth, who betrayed no signs of fear even in the face of certain death. "I'm sorry that your generation has to suffer for the sins of their fathers," Saurfang told him.
"How touching," Thanas sneered. "Tell me, child, will you accept his feeble apology?" He tore the gag out of the youth's mouth, but the boy paid no heed to his captor, looking straight at Saurfang instead. "We are the Horde," he said with a high, but steady voice. "We stand by each other, old and young, guilty and innocent. The debt of blood will be shared by do not abandon our own, no matter what they have done."
"Spoken like a true orc," Saurfang said, impressed by the boy's unexpected valor. He was going to meet death more courageously than many a warrior he had met in life. "Truer than all of us who drank the demon blood. It is a pity you will not grow up to strengthen the Horde with your courage and resolve." The boy simply nodded in response, silently accepting the praise of his elder.
A deep scowl appeared on Thanas' forehead, and his lips protruded as if he was pouting. If he had expected the boy to cry in terror and beg for his life, then he had greatly underestimated the strength of an orcish heart. He withdrew his knife, seized him by the neck and violently shook him, but the boy still displayed no fear.
"If you're going to kill the children, then at least do it now!" Saurfang demanded. "Don't play games with them! Not even I did that, on that day in Shattrath."
"Don't you dare compare yourself to me!" Thanas shrieked and waved his knife first at Saurfang, then at the boy. "You are nothing but a monster!"
"Then tell me, draenei," Saurfang said, "if you kill these children, what will that make you?"
Instead of an answer, Thanas let out a frustrated shriek, raised the knife and dragged it across the boy's left arm, rending it deeply. The boy clenched his teeth and let out a low groan while his abductor seized him by the neck and shook him back and forth at the edge of the pit, spraying Saurfang with the blood flowing from the wound. "Do you see now what it is like?" he yelled. "To be soaked in the blood of your people, of your children? This is what it was like for me – only a thousand times worse!"
Saurfang did not know what to say anymore. In fact, talking to Thanas probably had been futile from the very beginning. He had nourished himself on his hatred for thirty years, and he would have his revenge, one way or another. Saurfang had no more words for the draenei, but he considered whether he should say something to the boy while he still could. Perhaps ask him for his name, or for a message to relay to his family in Garadar.
But before the old orc could say anything, a strange noise very close by caught his attention. It sounded as if somebody was slurping greedily, like a man who had not drunk anything in days. Yet there was no living thing in the pit that could make such a noise.
No living thing...
Under the horrified gaze of his father, the dead body of Dranosh Saurfang rose to its feet, its greedy tongue licking up the drops of blood that had landed on its face. The sight brought back dreadful memories from the fight in Icecrown Citadel, where the undead abomination had feasted on the bodies of several Horde warriors before it was finally put down. But only now did Saurfang realize that its defeat had not ended its hunger, that a few drops of blood were enough to restore its loathsome state of undeath. And now it had risen again, ready to gorge itself once more upon the living...
"What is this?" Thanas asked suspiciously from above. He pushed the bleeding youth away from the edge of the pit and stepped forward to have a closer look. "Is this your doing, butcher?" His eyes narrowed, as if he found it hard to believe what was going on. "Are you trying to trick–"
The former paladin never completed his sentence. The thing that had once been Saurfang's son raised its left arm toward him, and a dark bolt of lightning shot out of its hand, engulfing the draenei who could only gasp in surprise as he was violently jerked down into the pit. Thanas cried out in pain and struggled to his feet while weakly pointing the knife at the resuscitated death knight, but it did him no good. The undead orc broke his wrist with a swift, brutal motion, picked up the knife and slashed the draenei's unprotected neck. Greedy for more nourishment, the death knight plunged its teeth into the open wound and began to slurp the blood gushing from it.
As he watched the grisly spectacle, Saurfang found himself disgusted beyond imagining that his son's body was still in the grip of an evil spirit, still being befouled. This could not be allowed to continue. He picked up his axe from where he had dropped it, let out an anguished roar and before the death knight could turn around and face him, he took off its head with a single savage strike. The creature promptly let go of the horribly wounded Thanas and its body collapsed, with its head landing directly at Saurfang's feet. Still raging at the defilement of his own flesh and blood, he raised his axe again and cleaved the skull in two, putting an end to the undying monstrosity. "We should have done that back in Icecrown," he wheezed, yet the sight of the headless corpse made him feel sick. He pushed aside those feelings by reminding himself that his son's spirit had moved on, and that the body was just an empty shell now, a shell that could be broken without remorse.
With the accustomed calmness of a commander overseeing the battlefield after a victory, Saurfang inspected his surroundings. Thanas was lying on his back, pressing his palms against his gushing throat wound – the futile efforts of a doomed man, Saurfang noted without satisfaction. After everything had been taken away from him, the draenei would die an ignoble death in another man's grave, and it was none other than Saurfang himself who had set in motion the chain of events leading him there. But there was nothing that could be done for him, and so the old orc focused on the ones who could still be saved.
He called out to the boy who was standing on the edge of the pit, holding his bleeding arm and looking down with a wide grin, as if he had just witnessed something rather exciting. Saurfang threw him Thanas' knife, allowing the boy to cut a bandage for his wound out of his shirt and free the other two children. After making sure that they were alive, he lowered the rope that had once bound them down into the pit. But before Saurfang climbed up, he looked one last time at the fallen draenei – only to be amazed that he was still holding on to life.
"Not dead yet?" he asked with surprise and made a step toward Thanas. The throat wound had been partially closed, resulting in a slower loss of blood, and Saurfang recalled that the draenei had an inborn gift of healing. But it was plainly not enough to save Thanas, only to extend his suffering by a couple of minutes. As he watched the draenei's face contort in silent agony, Saurfang felt pity rise up inside him.
"I can do nothing to save you," he said quietly. "But I can end your pain quickly, if you want me to," he added and pointed at his axe.
"Stay away from me, butcher!" Thanas rasped, his voice throaty and cracked, his every single word agony. "I will not allow you to kill another draenei!"
"It was supposed to be an act of mercy," the old orc pointed out.
"I don't want your mercy!" the draenei shrieked, as if it was a fate worse than painful death. "I don't want to owe you anything!" His skin was rapidly turning pale, but his face was still twisted into a vengeful grimace. "I have nothing left except my hatred, so don't you dare take that away from me! I will hate you until I draw my last breath!"
"Suit yourself," Saurfang growled and stepped away from Thanas. He was not going to do anything against the draenei's will. A man's death, at least, should be his own. He wondered whether he should let him die alone or stay with him until the end, but before he could make a decision, he was blinded by a sudden bright flare. Shielding his eyes with his palm, Saurfang beheld a pillar of light that had engulfed the blood-soaked body of the draenei who seemed to have slipped into unconsciousness. The body took on an ethereal quality and slowly lost its outline, and it seemed that Thanas would not even realize what was happening to him before he vanished completely.
Saurfang's initial surprise quickly gave way to understanding: During the sack of Shattrath, a small number of dying draenei, all of them priests or paladins, had vanished in the same manner. It had greatly frustrated the orcs, because the bodies had dissolved completely, robbing them of a set of bones for the Path of Glory... a reasoning that made Saurfang shudder as he recalled it.
"What is this...?" The near-dead Thanas had finally noticed his own transfiguration, although he looked like he could not believe it. "The Light is taking me back?" He weakly turned his head and stared at Saurfang, as if he wanted him to say that he was imagining things. "But I have become a creature of pure hatred! I am not deserving of salvation! I have forsaken the Light!"
"That may be so," Saurfang replied, and found that he could look at the draenei in spite of the dazzling brilliance that surrounded him. "But it seems that the Light has not forsaken you."
Thanas did not answer, but when the last outline of his body disappeared in the pillar of light, his features were no longer strained by pain and rage, and a peaceful smile had appeared on his face. Saurfang had always been wary of the Light the paladins worshipped, but he was still thankful that the tortured draenei had been granted salvation in the end.
"For all his talk of hatred and vengeance, he only cut the boy's arm," the old orc quietly spoke to himself. "Who knows... even if he had not been stopped, he might not have killed him in the end. He might not have had it in himself."
In spite of the bizarre and bloody events that had just transpired, Saurfang was overcome by a strange feeling of relief. Thinking that perhaps hatred was not so strong a force as he had once believed, he climbed out of the pit and set out to escort the children back to Garadar.