A losing entry for Blizzard's writing contest 2010.


BLACK AND BLUE
by Obsidian Blade

They fought in the dark. To the east, dawn pressed its chalky haze against the black pits and blades of Icecrown's jagged ramparts, but the battle raged deep in the shadow of the citadel. Both forces' burning blue eyes gleamed in the blackness.

Hulking vargul, their flesh slack with rot, swung wildly at the ranks of the Ebon Blade. They had to clamber over the shattered corpses of the scourge's last wave. Geists sprawled headless amongst the disembodied limbs of shredded abominations, with scarcely a death knight amongst them. At the foot of the Lich King's greatest bastion, Darion's force fought with a black determination the scourge's mindless servitude couldn't match. This battle was already decided. It was just a matter of settling the exact moment of its conclusion.

On the eastern flank, Daelythir Alvantaris smashed both maces into a vargul's head, sending it to the ground. The blood elf's blue and black tabard clung to his chest plate, sodden with scourge bile and his own sluggish blood. His broken armour grated against his ribs where a scourge axe had caught him earlier, cleaving deep enough to knock a living man unconscious from the shock alone. His freezing lips drew back into a smirk. Undeath had some compelling advantages.

Whirling as though unhurt, he kicked one of the Ymirjar in the shin and drove his mace's central spike through the warrior's jaw. A flex of the death knight's rune magic sent frost lancing through his enemy's body, locking every joint with ice. He knocked the new statue aside. Better safe than sorry, he had heard one of the human converts say.

He should have applied the notion earlier. A mist so cold even Dael's dead flesh prickled into goosebumps swirled around the lone death knight. Using dismembered scourge to hinder hopeful attackers as he advanced, he had overextended himself with casual arrogance. Now, tellingly, the few remaining vrykul blighting the east flank drew away from this section of the line altogether. Daelythir lowered his maces, shaking his colourless hair from his eyes with a habitual twitch, and looked up.

Funny how the big picture could depict overall success while the immediate situation was this dire. From the gloom swept a nine-foot lich, ragged drapery hanging from its naked ribcage. Freezing mist coalesced in the air all around it, swirling as its fleshless arms swung in casting arcs. Daelythir hesitated.

"Oi, Frosty!" boomed a voice behind him.

The elf turned sharply. A bloodied orc stood several metres away, a lanky, foetid human at her side. He didn't question whether they had a plan. They were knights of the Ebon Blade. They could think on their feet.

As he raced toward them, his plate boots slipping on the frozen ground and nearly bringing him to his knees, unholy darkness bloomed from the human, fanning out around both death knights before lifting into a gleaming dome. It pressed cold and oily over Daelythir's pointed elven features as he burst through. Skidding to a halt beside the others, he glanced back just in time to see a volley of ice shatter against the shield.

"True to form, Kazra," he grunted.

The orc grinned, baring blackened stubs of teeth. Her left tusk was broken off just above the lip, stained dirt brown on the inside.

"Let's take him out," said Kazra, hefting her enormous axe and flexing her bare fingers around its leather-bound handle.

They charged, hurtling through the shield and across the ice. Their heavy boots crushed grasping Scourge limbs underfoot as they dodged wild flurries of frost bolts. A conjured lance of ice ploughed into Daelythir's shoulder, shattering across his pauldron. He stumbled, raising one mace in the vague hope of fending off another strike as ice flew toward him, but at the last second something shaggy and grey leapt between them.

The human's gargoyle took the hit directly in the chest, soaring over Daelythir's head and crashing to the ground behind him. Its hooked wings scrabbling at the ground, it let out a mangled crow before leaping back into the air and racing ahead. It darted around the lich, clawing at the enormous caster's skeletal face and arms.

Their unholy death knight wasn't the only one gifted in necromancy. Scourge shrieks ricocheted from the saronite walls as ghouls tore their way free from the ground, their slavering jaws gaping open as they galloped toward Kazra and Daelythir. One ploughed into the orc, sending her skidding along the ice on her hip as it clawed at her face. She punched it solidly in the jaw as they jolted to a halt against a limbless abomination. It staggered back, screeching, and her axe tore straight through its neck.

Daelythir sprinted to her side as the others converged upon them. Letting one mace hang from the leather strap around his forearm, the blood elf spread his fingers, gesturing at the loping undead as they surged toward him. They froze mid-stride. Spikes of ice lanced through their bodies, rooting them to the ground even as sheet ice muzzled their howling mouths. Gaining her feet, the orc leapt toward them. Her axe arched overhead with a bloody mirror image racing right behind it. The first cleaved through the ghouls' legs and its twin smashed through their torsos. They fell to the ground in bloody shards.

Both death knights spared their gruesome handiwork a split-second's glance before charging the lich again. The human was already there, his armour reinforced with a green anti-magic shell. Bolts of ice and shadow alike glanced off him as his broadsword cleaved through cloth and bone, an enormous green rune pulsating on the ground around him.

"Looks like he barely needs us," said Kazra, grinning.

They flanked the lich nevertheless, Daelythir taking the far side with a surge of speed. Frost blossomed from his fingers, freezing the Scourge lieutenant's bones with a resounding crack, just as Kazra's axe smashed through his side and the gargoyle tore away his head with its talons. With a piercing, echoing groan, the lich collapsed to the ground, a disjointed pile of bone and ripped cloth.

A warhorse's hooves smashed straight through his remains. In a flurry of white and gold, the Argent Crusade's cavalry surged around the Ebon Blade, carving through enemy lines.

"Must've seen glory," said the unholy human, spitting to the side.

Daelythir straightened up, watching as the horses wove through the last of the undead, cutting them down. He shrugged one shoulder.

"They have to thrive on something, don't they?"

Kazra grunted. "Does it have to be our hard work?"

.

The death knights dispersed as they reached the crusaders' camp. As undead, they never slept so they had no tents for themselves. Instead, they meandered aimlessly between the hoisted sheets of sodden cloth. A few would eventually gather around the Argent Crusade's camp fire, out of old habit more than anything else.

Daelythir wove around tents, cabins and his fellow death knights. Toward the back of the camp, he stopped and undid the leather strap securing a tent flap in place and stepped through. There was little room inside: a battered footlocker doubled as a bedside stand next to a rolled up sleeping skin and a broken Argent shield rested on the ground. The blood elf passed it without a second glance, setting his weaponry beside a battered leather bag with Silvermoon's crest eroding on its side. He lit a lamp.

With a look of sympathy, the tent's real owner had offered him this dry spot for his possessions. A corner for relics, he had proclaimed. For things that might still warm a death knight's dead heart.

The paladin's presumption fell far from the truth. Daelythir kept things when he couldn't throw them away. His mother's brass replica of their family crest brought him no particular joy. It couldn't even make him angry. His fingers grazed it as he groped for a sharpening stone and it could have been a hunk of Scourge bone for all it made him feel. An object. But it stuck to his palm like glue whenever he went to hurl it away.

His chest tightened and Daelythir kept looking. The bag became a veritable chasm just as soon as anything got out of place, he thought wretchedly. Trying to find anything in such poor light was a fool's errand. He recognised the amulet from the way the sharp edges of the Alvantaris crest caught his skin; a coiled bowstring encircled his hand as his fingers pushed through it. Very little else could be so easily identified.

Pieces of cloth evaded his notice altogether, while coins ran like water over his deadened knuckles. The sharpening stone would be just another lump he had to find, lift, and hold up to the sputtering lantern for inspection. Just like the tin of armour polish, the broken clasp from his cloak and half a dozen more red herrings.

Something foreign spread the death knight's fingers apart and pressed into his palm, prompting a moment's pause before Daelythir drew it out into the open air. The lamplight caught in the glassy surface of the orb as he held it aloft, amplifying the bolts of arcane magic that crackled around inside. It was perfectly spherical, clearly conjured, with no seams or imperfections save for a familiar seal pressed into the glass on one side. Brows drawn together, Daelythir dipped back into his bag with his free hand and drew out his mother's pendant. It fit perfectly into the indentation with a hollow click. The crest of House Alvantaris.

His brother had been here. Daelythir's gaze darted about at the thought, as though he could have missed the broad-shouldered magister.

"Baelmyrr?" the death knight enquired loudly.

No response. The elder Alvantaris apparently wasn't lurking within some magical rift in space.

Daelythir's fingers tightened around the scrying orb. It hummed faintly at the pressure. When he looked down, the gilded arches and rich crimson drapery of their family home gleamed within. Sunlight washed across the polished expanse of Baelmyrr's desk, his carnivorous potted plant snapping idly at flies on the windowsill. Sounds filtered through, muted, distant: the snap of pages flicking open and shut beneath a ruby paperweight and the steady clatter of a horse's hooves somewhere outside. He heard the soft sweep of leather dust covers nearby too, along with the smart rap of boot heels on slate floor tiles and the aimless hum of a deep voice, just out of view but coming closer.

Daelythir dropped the orb. It glanced off the metal toe of his boot and skittered across the floor before coming to rest against the paladin's bedroll. The image within lasted just long enough for the hem of an embroidered sleeve to dip into view, then faded away altogether.

The death knight stared down at the empty glass, something eerily close to heat building in the pit of his stomach. His brother had looked after him following the destruction of Silvermoon and the death of their parents; his brother had backed his move to become a Farstrider when his magical incompetence became clear; his brother had come all this way to place an easy method of communication right there in Daelythir's own bag.

His brother could easily have stayed until Daelythir himself had returned. He could have spoken to the younger Alvantaris face to face for the first time in months. But instead he'd teleported right back to Silvermoon, to his comfort and his finery and his clean, tidy, living friends. Compassionate Baelmyrr, trying to contact the little brother he could so easily have cast off, eager for contact so long as he couldn't smell his sibling's undeath, so long as there was no way they might touch.

Daelythir's jaw tightened compulsively. In one swooping gesture he swept the orb from the floor and pushed his way out of the tent, his maces lying forgotten beside the paladin's cold pillow, their spikes still blunt from the daily grind against Scourge bone.

.

It had started to snow, but not heavily. Lonely flakes lodged on the death knight's battered armour as he strode towards the edge of camp, the glass ball clasped loosely in his hand. In his mind's eye he envisioned a long walk across an open, snowy plane, something that might drive back the burning in his chest that had become so unfamiliar.

Reality refused to be so picturesque or so soothing. The frost-encrusted logs of the encampment's walls rose up behind the ranks of tents, towering six metres high. Caged, Daelythir paced along them. His boots crunched over dislodged splinters and torn-up ice.

By the light of the sun, he could not discern why this was happening to him. He knew this heat: it was yearning. But for what? He had been no-one back in Silvermoon: a privileged scumbag who swanned between disreputable establishments with a sense of self-worth he had never earned.

His parents were passable magi, low-end conjurers who dealt in household charms. They had no idea what to do with a son who couldn't even light a lamp without flint and tinder. That disregard for non-magical paths in life was one of the few things they passed on easily. Daelythir recalled quite clearly the overwhelming guilt he felt when he first started watching the Farstriders practice.

But he also remembered the first time his brother had caught him sending arrows at the burlap targets. His shot struck the outermost arrow of the painted circle, lodging just deep enough not to fall when gravity took its toll, but sagging nevertheless.

"Dragon's breath," spat the child under his breath, glancing surreptitiously to the left.

The Farstrider three targets down steadily peppered the bullseye with shafts, each shot standing perfectly horizontal. The younger elf's face screwed up in a dissatisfied pout as he took another arrow from the pile at his feet. Notching it was the worst part of the battle; it slipped and twanged away from the string, slapping Daelythir in the forearm with each botched attempt. His hands began to shake.

"I believe it comes with practice," said a deep, amused voice from just behind him.

Daelythir jumped in surprise, but a large hand clasped down on his childish shoulder to steady him. His eyes darted upward, almost afraid to look, and a half-second's glance ascertained all that was needed to send him toward wild panic. His brother peered back down at him, fully grown and thus nearly twice his height.

The younger Alvantaris' mind careened between horrific reactions for Baelmyrr to go through, but none of them involved the curious, well-meaning look he was giving at that very moment. Instead of decrying Daelythir's new hobby as the sport of the talentless and oafish, Baelmyrr seemed perfectly calm.

"You need a little more force in it, I believe," he said casually, bending so as to clap his brother's scrawny bicep. "Just a little more muscle there, 'Lythir."

Baelmyrr had supported him through his family's concerns. He had even tried to help him train as an archer, though his own inexperience had rendered those attempts at marksmanship fairly farcical. Throughout Daelythir's life, his brother had been there for him. And now he had offered to reopen a channel. He had given the younger Alvantaris his own scrying orb.

.

The open space around the fire pit was crowded by the time Daelythir reached it. Pressed shoulder to shoulder, death knights stood around the edges, while others squatted, knelt and sprawled in the crush toward the centre. Spikes on gauntlets and greaves dug into neighbour's flanks and thighs, unnoticed until someone tried to move and realised they were locked together. It wasn't an unusual sight. Like Forsaken who insisted on sleeping and breathing, some death knights clung to old habits.

Locating a friend halfway between the fire and the standing ring, he shouldered his way over to her and squeezed himself in. A night elf's knee pressed awkwardly against his back, but Dael was pleased to have found a seat beside the orc at all.

"Been raiding tents, Frosty?" she asked.

She chewed some sort of plant, probably stolen from a crusader's bag, and spittle she wouldn't swallow slicked her words. Her gaze rested heavily on the orb in Daelythir's hand, speculative rather than accusatory.

"A little bit," he lied, simply because it was easier. "I like things that sparkle."

The orc gave an amused snort. "Must be happy with that then. Looks like the sort of poncy thing some pansy mage would carry."

Daelythir held it up, the twisting firelight making his family crest dance within its glass prison.

"Probably," he said simply, and set it in his lap. "Kazra-"

"It's Reaver."

Interrupted on the cusp of unintentional vulnerability, he had to stop and stare at her. The words still made no sense.

"What?"

She jerked her head vaguely toward the crowd. "Some frost bum like you just called me that. I like it. It's my name from now on."

"I'll forget," he said, eyeing her sceptically.

"That meant as an excuse? It only sounded like a confession to me, Frosty."

They bantered sporadically with the ease of strangers, discussing Scourge and battle. In the end, that was all any of them had in common, and the simplicity of the subject steered Daelythir well away from verbal reminiscence. The sun rose steadily in the east, revealing the filthy mess of mud and rot beneath the knights. No one moved. No one cared. Distant cheers floated back to them from the foot of the Citadel, where the Argent Crusade had probably finished the last of the Scourge.

A lone messenger confirmed that victory. He skirted the mass of death knights and raced up to the Argent command tent, where there were living people worth telling. The news filtered back to Daelythir through the disinterested crowd, explaining the sudden surge of workers that marched past the campsite, dragging the massive logs they would soon raise into battering rams on Arthas' doorstep. He didn't bother to pass the information along.

"Don't you realise, though? Don't you realise?"

A man's voice carried over the general murmur of the Ebon Blade, slightly raspy and very familiar. Daelythir frowned as he tried to place it.

"This is nice, this is cosy. We got friends here," the voice continued, building in volume, "because we got a mutual purpose, right?"

It was the human who had fought off the lich. He was the only one standing in the innermost ring around the fire, staring fiercely down at his seated audience. His hair kept falling over his eyes, punctuating his sentences with an irritable twitch of his head as he tried to shake it away.

"Edric off on one again," said Reaver flatly. "Makes sense this close to the end, I guess."

Part of an apathetic crowd, they watched the sallow-skinned human gesticulate angrily, throwing his hands in the air with each demand.

"So what happens when we kill him, well?" he snapped.

No one answered, but the low, reverberating rumble of idle chatter faded away. Reaver spat a chewed up wad of brown mulch into her hand and offered it to Daelythir, who wrinkled his nose in distaste. She grinned.

"We have nothing left, that's what," said Edric.

"You propose they stop," said an echoing hiss of a voice from the back. It stepped from word to word with malicious intent, slow and purposeful.

As mindlessly as the Scourge themselves, everyone turned to find its source. As though humouring them, a tall, bald draenei in blood-splattered plate shouldered her way into view. Her flesh was green with rot, hanging in black rings beneath her sour eyes, and her horns had been hacked off right down to her scalp. Blackened stubs stood in their place.

"Then there will be no fight to hold them together," she continued. "They will not have this. They will have only the Lich King. No revenge. That is what you propose." Her burning blue eyes betrayed no anger at the notion, but scorn dripped from every word.

"Quick to set herself apart, isn't she?" commented Daelythir.

Edric bristled by the fire, any pre-prepared arguments disappearing beneath out-and-out bluster. "We could slow down," he insisted, "Draw the fight out, keep this community alive..."

Barks of laughter and snorts of derision spread through the crowd around him. Insults flew, battering the human's poor choice of words just as liberally as the absurdity they conveyed.

"She's got to be one of them emotionless sorts," Reaver deduced, throwing her voice over the hubbub.

"Maybe she's worried," Daelythir shouted back, "Likely she realised she can't get her revenge without us."

"Oh yeah, because the loony yapping of mad Edric is really going to stop us fighting and make some kind of undead peace circle!"

The orc's voice boomed above the others as they died down. Without missing a beat as all eyes flew to her, Reaver sat up on her knees and stabbed a finger at the apathetic draenei.

"We're the Knights of the Ebon Blade, and that's that. Don't know what you're worried about."

"Don't you see, though?" Edric said again when the bald death knight made no further comment, her eyes glittering as she stared Reaver down. "People from the past won't welcome us back; they want us to... to conform. And we can't. We can't live again, can we? We can't be the lot we once were, before the Lich King, before the Ebon Blade. This force is what we have, something that's real, something that could last... But if we defeat the Lich King, that'll fall apart and we'll have nothing. Come on." He gestured to the crowd. "Someone tell me what we're actually fighting for. What're we actually going to have, when the Lich King's dead?"

Reaver scoffed but found no reply; Daelythir frowned into the distance.

"Nothing," said the draenei, loud, clear and unapologetic. "Nothing and no-one."

She withdrew from the crowd, disappearing amongst the tents. Edric stared miserably after her, holding up an arm as though to support her simple statement. The death knights sat in silence.

.

"Frosty. Frosty, hey!"

Daelythir waded through the crowd toward the tent and his maces. Edric was a terrible speaker, but the blood elf felt uneasy. Months spent fighting for revenge and nothing else seemed hollow with success so close. Was he even like the other death knights? He held in his hand simple proof of a connection with the past world. His brother wanted to speak with him. His brother had made an effort.

Reaver's fingers caught the armour plate over his elbow.

"Think you're on the warpath a bit early there, mate, striding about like that," she said.

He looked back at her, at one of the friends Edric had been so keen on promoting.

"What's my name, Kazra?" he asked. "Who exactly am I? What exactly do you know?"

She arched a brow. "It's Reaver, dullard. And you're Frosty. Saved my arse when we were fighting for the Shadow Vault; pulled a few neat tricks today too. So I know what matters."

Daelythir held out the orb.

"I have a brother," he said, "Who wants to speak with me again. He gave me this. That matters."

She eyed the crackling globe.

"Gave it to you himself, did he? Funny how we've never met, if he pops in to give you pretty things all the time."

He glared at her, but she merely scowled at him in response.

"You aren't like Edric and his whiner ilk, Frosty. I hear nothing about the past from you, 'til today anyway. If this brother's such a big part of you, I'd have expected at least an accidental name drop, right?"

"Maybe I don't want to gloat."

"Bullshit, you love to gloat," she said. "I reckon you never speak of that brother because he cut himself right out of you. Only reason he's putting himself back is because this war is ending and he wants to brace himself before he has to put up with you face to face. Only reason you even care is because of that stuff Edric was spouting – all us lot breaking up with no-where much to go."

She paused to let the blood elf retort, but he merely stared at her. That heat was back in his chest again, shifting toward his head. Perhaps it wasn't yearning. It was remarkably akin to the pressure that preceded panic.

"Come on, mate. I bet you remember the moment," Reaver continued, her black teeth bared in a heartless half-grin. "You know. The one when he showed you his real colours."

.

He was in the far north of Icecrown, surrounded by the grey and white tents of the Argent Tournament. Steeds trained for jousting had been lashed together, hawkstrider, raptor, horse and ram alike, and strained at the end of knotted ropes looped through wooden pulleys. Snorting plumes of steam, they dragged the battered corpse of Anub'arak from the gaping maw that had been the floor of the great arena.

Daelythir had arrived too late to help with the fighting, but he grinned as the first blue spike of the Scourge lieutenant's armour protruded from above the splintered stands. Arthas' lieutenant, hoisted up like a trophy. For the first time, victory seemed tangible.

He found Baelmyrr slumped against the side of the Alliance valiants' pavilion, breathing heavily. The magister's red, green and gold battle robes bore long rips up his left flank. His bloodied skin showed through, purple with cold, and Daelythir made out shallow cuts along the line of his ribs as he regarded his brother, unseen.

"Baelmyrr," he said.

The name was so familiar, but it felt awkward in his undead mouth. He rejoiced at the chance to say it nevertheless.

"Are you alright?"

Baelmyrr jumped at the sound, recognition flaring in his eyes as they darted about, seeking the speaker.

"Daelythir, you're alive...?"

He choked on his words as his gaze settled on the younger brother's bloodless features. Horror seeped across his visage as he took in the rot that bared Daelythir's left cheekbone to the air. He looked away sharply.

"Not quite," said the death knight.

Baelmyrr gagged at the sound of his voice. He pressed himself against the wooden awning of the pavilion, squirming away from his brother's reanimated corpse. Daelythir's eagerness to speak with him wavered at the sight. Expression hardening, he advanced on the older elf.

"Cowering away from your own brother. Aren't you happy to see me, 'Myrr?" He reached for his shoulder. "Aren't you glad I'm not actually dead?"

The mage batted away his hand with a burst of flame.

"My brother is dead," he declared shakily. "Why would I be happy to see his husk walking about, an abomination?"

"I'm not a husk," Daelythir snapped. "I am a knight of the Ebon Blade; I've been fighting out here for weeks-"

"You're a husk to me," Baelmyrr snarled back.

Daelythir had never heard his voice like that, devoid of all warmth and affection. Words couldn't hurt him, of course. He was a death knight; each syllable rebounded off his armour and did nothing to him, nothing at all. But when he turned on his heel, eyes flashing, and stormed from the tent, the sheer hate in Baelmyrr's deep voice tore at his ears like an angry geist. He couldn't stop them ringing.

.

With every swing of the battering ram, the screeches and howls of the Scourge amassing on the other side escalated. Set to charge around the enormous siege machine, the Ebon Blade sat in their saddles and watched the giant saronite gate buckle. The internal supports gave cracks like gunshot as each crushing stroke of the ram smashed them inward.

Daelythir's gaze roved sightlessly over the gathered parties. The Horde and the Argent Dawn stood off to the left. The Alliance and the Kirin'Tor had amassed on the right. And there, further back but in the very middle, sat the Ebon Blade, ready to crash straight into the Scourge's last surge and run them down in the halls of Icecrown Citadel. He felt only bland resignation at the thought; no tingle of fear or anticipation.

In dull red armour, Highlord Darion Mograine rode the length of the line, nodding to the ruthless and apathetic as he passed. His horse, Iydallus, slowed to a halt before Daelythir's company, and the highlord glared down through the slit in his heavy helm.

"I have heard rumours," he said, quietly enough that his words wouldn't carry to their allies, but low and menacing nevertheless, "That some of you will not give your all today."

Through the corner of his eye, Daelythir spied a lanky human being escorted toward the highlord's horse. The two dead-eyed death knights who accompanied Edric thrust him forward. The point of Mograine's sword leapt to the man's collarbone, where his heavy plate gave way to dirty chain mail, and rested there.

"Repeat your speech," said the Highlord.

High discipline stopped the other death knights from exchanging glances of confusion, but Daelythir frowned beneath his steel face guard nevertheless. Edric looked similarly lost, but cleared his throat.

"We can't, we can't go back to our past lives because, because everyone, everyone there will want us to be alive again and we're undead now, can't change that," he said, gaze fixed firmly on the hilt of Mograine's sword. "We can't be what we were and, uh, if we, if we go ahead now and defeat the Lich King... then the Ebon Blade will have no purpose and fall apart and we'll have no company, no purpose at all. So. So we're fighting to have nothing and no-one."

He looked past the sword to the highlord's helmet, but Mograine's attention was on the ranks. One of the escorts caught Edric by the elbow and led him away.

"The speaker is correct," said Mograine. "Nothing awaits you on the other side. Beyond this battle, there will be no glorious return to your living families. The Ebon Blade will clear the last pockets of Scourge from the land, if any remain, and then we will end."

It took a conscious effort from Daelythir not to glance to his left, where he knew Reaver would be sharing his confusion and perhaps the growing sense of dread as well. This wasn't the sort of pre-fight speech he had heard the Argent Crusade receiving.

"The luxuries of life have been stripped from us all," continued the highlord, "And by whom? By the Scourge. By the Lich King himself. He is responsible. He did this. And his downfall is all that matters now. Bringing him to his knees will be the one last meaningful thing you ever do." His voice dipped to a venomous crawl. "Make sure you do it right."

As Darion spurred Iydallus around, cantering back the way he had come, Daelythir reeled in his saddle. The heat and the stress and the tension that had dogged him for days surged up through his body, crushing his lungs and battering against the inside of his head. It was an emotional upheaval of the sort his undead body had never been able to experience before; he staggered at the precipice, seeing no escape, no alternative.

Hopelessness charged his veins with unparalleled savagery. It raced through his body, mist spewing through the gaps in his armour, lit violent blue around the slat in his helm by the fire seething in his eye sockets. Unwittingly he dropped his reins and swung both maces into his hands, standing up in the stirrups. Around him, the others did the same. To death. To one last act.

The battering ram struck the gate, a splintering, echoing countdown, and the metal split from floor to ceiling. Sparks of blue light raged against the gap, thrown back when the ram struck again, forcing it further open. Beside Daelythir, Reaver began to roar, a deafening, bolstering war cry, and the other knights joined in a reverberating cacophony that sent the other factions flinching back in surprise. Icecrown echoed with the bellow of the angry dead.

The ram struck the gate one last time, and hurtled through.