A/N: I'm so sorry it's taken so long to update this. I can't promise a regular update schedule for now (lame, I know), but I will update when I can. Thank you for bearing with me, and for reading!
"Wat if we got us a realleh long rope, yeh? Ya could hold it de whole time 'n Ah could take jus' a peek…" Genji scratched at his chin as he stared forward, an ethereal wind tugging at a few loose strands of dark blue hair. His eyes shone a little brighter than usual, partially reflecting the swirling, rampant magic that curled before them, slowly stretching the platform they were on, drawing them into the whirling chaos of the Nexus's interdimensional rift.
Howl frowned, striding a few steps forward so that he was almost beside the mage. However, wrongness prickled at his skin, and this was one of the few times that he was proud to say he was scared enough to stop in his tracks.
Not that he'd show it, of course. An orc might feel fear and even follow the instincts that went with that fear, but they would not show any discomfort. That would be weak.
The guild had split up, as had been decided upon nearly two weeks prior. While Gore had lead a group—smaller than Howl would have liked—into the unknown depths in search of their missing guild mates, Howl had been in charge of the majority of the remaining guild mates, topside.
It had been a long two weeks, too.
There was something about the earth that seemed to block communications, and they'd yet to hear more from Gore's group or any of the people missing from the nerubian attack.
In a way, it was reassuring, because that meant that their silence might not be as dire as they'd first worried. Perhaps they'd merely gotten lost down there, and couldn't use their stones, instead having ridiculous adventures of their own while the rest of them worried.
It was a fool who would actually buy into that story, and Howl wished dearly he could play the part.
Instead, he simply pushed the worries of those he couldn't help from his mind, and dealt with what he could.
While Howl had been tempted to turn his people around and head after their guild mates himself after the first week of not hearing anything, they'd already given their word they would assist with this place—this Nexus—and Impervious never broke its word.
When they'd arrived in Coldarra, it had seemed like some pretty standard dragon hunting, at first. And then the red dragon they'd been helping had been kidnapped, and all manner of madness had happened.
Honestly, the inter-workings of draconic politics seemed almost as convoluted and trite as elven politics.
Howl knew; he'd done his research on the elves, kaldorei and sin'dorei and quel'dorei all. When the blood elves had joined the Horde, he'd wanted to make sure he knew what they were in for. More than that, he'd wanted to help their guild welcome them, and to make sure they didn't accidentally commit some unspeakable act against the elves, not knowing it went against their culture.
Now he found himself wishing he'd spent more time researching dragons.
He would have to find the time for that, once all was said and done here. Assuming he lived to do so, of course.
The Kirin Tor had insisted that Impervious deal with the blue flight, here and now, using less than diplomatic means and—as much pomp and circumstance as the red flight put into their actions—the red dragons agreed. Malygos had been driven mad—likely by an Old God—and needed to be stopped.
This was right up Imperious' alley.
Howl had figured in the least they could do some scouting, maybe attempt summons for their missing people—the initial summons attempts had been fruitless, but it was always worth another shot—or just recruit some help from the soldiers at Warsong Hold. He didn't want to do the latter, but if they couldn't get summons working, Impervious would not be at full strength, and…well…
When Howl had asked how many of the mages of the Kirin Tor planned on coming with them to fight the corrupted aspect, they'd gotten oddly dodgy about it.
Which meant that would be none.
He couldn't say he was surprised. This sort of thing had happened with other factions before. They could talk an ear off like no other about how important their tasks were, but if you asked them to go with you, oh that was another story.
Howl hadn't thought much of it—well, much other than humans seemed to be innately drawn toward cowardice when it came to this sort of thing—until they'd started making their way into the heart of Coldarra.
Their group had split up to scout, some heading toward the floating rocks overhead, while Howl and a few others headed into the underground level of the Nexus.
Once there, things had begun to get…odd.
There were dragons, yes, but there were other…things. Anomalies, giant mana wyrms, sparkly lights, random moments where time seemed to slow down or speed up. Genji had murmured that time and space seemed to be falling to pieces here. The mages had mentioned a magical anomaly that needed to be closed, but Howl hadn't expected anything like this. He would have kept their group together if he'd known it would be this chaotic.
More than that, interdimensional rift was right. He wasn't sure if it was just tricks of the eye or what, but some of the things he saw…Genji had steered them clear of the more damaged passages as they'd made their way toward the center of the anomaly.
Once he could have sworn he saw a thin human girl with no armor of any sort facing off against a shivarra, all manners of portals opening around her. He'd thought to go help her, when she'd flung herself through one. After that, the whole scene had faded away, and they'd been left staring at just another side passage.
They hadn't gone down that one, just to be safe. Even so, Howl offered a small prayer to the ancestors that the human girl—if she'd been real—had ended up somewhere safe, out of the demon's reach. After all, he might find most humans he encountered to be frustrating at best, but that didn't mean he wished harm on them.
Before Veena, he just hadn't cared. Now, though, he thought of the lives they must live, not unlike his own.
Veena…he would need to write to her soon, though he wasn't sure how he'd get the letter sent. He'd told her they were heading north in his last letter, but had still hoped to surprise her with a correspondence.
Alas, with this sort of madness, it was unlikely to happen any time soon.
There was little time to dwell on such things, anyway, especially now that they'd found the apparent source of the distortions.
The small device he'd been handed by the Kirin Tor mages hummed in his hand, reminding him of their purpose.
A purpose which didn't include getting Khai'rhi's lover lost in some magical plane of existence because he thought it'd be fun. Ancestors, but she'd have his tusks first and then his head if he let this play out.
"Genji, you're not jumping into the magical anomaly."
"I jus' sayin', mon, dea gotta be sumtin in dea dat we could use. Ah bet we could get sum shit fa fightin' dat asshole death knight, too. Tink a it. We save Liila, den we take out de Lich Kin', den who knows? C'mon, mon, tell meh it ain' temptin'."
"As much fun as it would be to use rampant, unstable magic—"
"Well, I think if it was harnessed properly, it might be contained and used for good."
Howl turned his head slowly to the side to see Wren standing next to him, gaze straight ahead, much like Genji's. The elf's eyes were the bluest things Howl had ever seen, and their glow was definitely brighter than it should have been.
The elf had had an affinity for the arcane for what, three weeks? And he was already succumbing to wanton magic.
"Cinda, ya can make us a root rope, yeh?" Genji still hadn't turned away from the anomaly. Wren took two more steps forward, the awe on his face a bit too much akin something Howl had seen before.
Glancing back, Howl's lips dipped down at the corners in a pronounced frown when he saw Cinder looked much the same as the others in her moonkin form, eyes large, glowing, focused. The fact that she was so entranced was probably the only reason she hadn't answered Genji yet.
"You know there's probably a tentacle monster on the other side of that, right?"
That, at least, caught Cinder's attention. She blinked owlishly at him—the action obviously made more redundant by the fact that her face was that of an owl's at the moment. "Why can't you ever just call him by name? C'th—"
"Old gods derive their power from belief and all that, don't they?" Howl shifted uncomfortably, as though the mere mention of such a creature in such a place might summon it to them.
"And you clearly believe in him," Cinder argued. "Whether or not you say his name, you still know he's there."
"But he's dead," Howl argued. "And he'll stay that way so long as…" He'd had this explained to him once and it had made sense, but now, as the void beckoned his guild mates, he wasn't sure he could explain it adequately.
And honestly, even if he could, the likelihood that they'd listen was next to nothing.
"Can't you hear its voice?" Wren whispered. He took another step forward.
That was enough of this.
Taking the odd contraption in his hands, Howl turned around and targeted a small bug that was struggling its damnedest to cling to the floor of the platform that was being sucked into…wherever, and charged. As soon as his feet crunched into the ancient slab—consequently squikking the noble bug who would not be remembered in history for its part in possibly saving the world here—he dropped to his knees quickly, slapping the device down so that it was set in place. He heard hissed words, but didn't look back. He knew he'd see his guild mates rushing him, whatever it was that had power over them ordering them to take out the threat to its existence.
Zul'Gurub had gone much the same way, as had a few other dungeons and raids.
He wouldn't hold this against them.
Slamming his fist against the large, central button, he could just feel the prickle of fire at the back of his neck, mostly breaking off against his shield, where it was strapped to his back. He'd probably have what was akin to a sunburn against his neck if he didn't get it healed.
Genji had tried to set him on fire.
Northrend was definitely shaping up to be an adventure, and mostly the kind that gave one headaches.
The contraption came to life, sucking the fire into it as Howl rolled out of a second fireball's way.
Then, even as he heaved himself back onto his feet and jerked free his shield to fend off the others for however long he'd need to, the machine began to rattle and quake, filling the air with similar vibrations.
As an all-consuming light burst from its depths, Howl had the oddest notion that he was swallowing a staircase.
Khai'rhi frowned as she cast an aoe heal on the others. She should have been with Genji, but no. The fates did not seem to favor them lately. They were too adorably in love for their guild mates' preference, and with everything else going on, they apparently couldn't stand to see a bit of happiness.
Well, Timmons had more specifically said that Khai'rhi and Genji were more likely to spend time sucking face than paying attention to what needed to be killed or healed, but Khai'rhi equated it to the same thing.
It wouldn't have been so bad if it was just Timmons who thought that. After all, he had a poor opinion of everyone except for maybe Liila and…that was it, really. However, when everyone had gotten oddly quiet and then Howl suggested that it would be good for them to split up, as they would need a healer and a mage in each group, and keeping Cinder and Mitchell together in a remotely confined area for more than two seconds usually ended in someone other than them getting injured… It would make sense to have Khai'rhi and Mitchell in one group, and Genji and Cinder in the other.
It made sense, assuming Cinder would even bother to go restoration. More likely than not, she was running around as a damned moonkin, too busy starfiring enemies to pay attention to any injuries sustained.
Genji had better be alright when they regrouped.
She'd assumed the role of leader in her group, and was currently directing them from the rear after Timmons and Mitchell had spent twenty minutes arguing over who was in charge with Howl gone—while Mitchell had strongly suggested himself, Timmons had strongly suggested his pet imp, saying that it was just as capable and could toss around just as much fire. That had gone over swimmingly with the mage.
Their last member, Renza'shi, had offered to lead the way, as he was the only melee anyway, but Khai'rhi had intervened just as he opened his mouth, setting the two undead straight and getting things underway.
After all, it wouldn't do to have Howl's group finish and come looking for them only to find they hadn't done anything.
And so they'd headed up into the floating pathways overhead. Even if the dragons were a bit stronger than what they were used to and they didn't have a traditional tank, her group was having an easy enough time of scouting, now that there was order. Mitchell and Timmons were casting a ridiculous amount of fire at anything that moved—including a poor bird that had dared to fly too close in its carelessness—and Renza'shi was holding his own quite well.
She'd had her doubts about him, not knowing if his time in the battlegrounds would adequately prepare him for fighting the sort of creatures they went up against, but he was more than capable.
Further, he'd all but officially joined the guild, even if he didn't know it yet. There was a new bet going on how long it would take him to ask to join up, with Haa'aji staunchly in the 'never' category. Everyone else's guesses were around the month mark.
Renza'shi probably wouldn't enjoy that little tidbit. The bet.
But then, Impervious had far worse bets going on, didn't they? Like the one about how Liila would die for the fiftieth time. Khai'rhi had just about strangled Ta'lim the first time she'd heard him talking about it, though Liila had come by later to let her know that she didn't mind the bet. She thought it was quite telling to see what people picked as ways for her untimely demise. And it was 'fun' to watch later entrants try to come up with a way that hadn't already had money put down on it.
Khai'rhi and Sham were probably the only two who knew about it and hadn't taken part in that awful thing. Well, maybe the elves, too, though she wasn't sure if that was because they had morals or because they hadn't been specifically invited to join in.
She blinked out of her thoughts as she heard her name called. Annoyance was her first reaction, as that was normally the tone Ta'lim took when he felt she wasn't being attentive enough in her healing.
However, Ta'lim was off in the depths of the world, searching for their missing guild mates.
When she looked up, she saw the other three staring at her, all their expressions looking rather akin to those of small, trapped animals. She felt a tingling sensation on the back of her neck and took in a measured breath, reaching slowly toward her hip where her totems rested on her belt, and turned slowly.
There, just behind her, a very large, very angry looking dragon had somehow managed to land so that just its front two legs were on the platform they were on, its lower limbs no doubt digging into the underside of the stone to keep itself up.
Its face was mere inches from hers, teeth sharp and glinting.
As she looked at it, it cocked its head sharply, reared back, and struck.
Lash worriedly felt his pocket for his guild stone. His former guild's stone, rather. He should have given it to Gore after their talk, but Gore hadn't asked for it, and so he hadn't offered it.
After all, plenty of people outside of the guild had stones. Theirs might not be linked to the main guild chat, but…still.
He'd been gone from them barely two days when they'd initiated an emergency roll call. Part of him had wanted to respond—he'd almost done it without even thinking, truth be told—but he'd known better.
However, there'd been utter silence on the stones after that.
If they were talking, it was in private.
Or had his access to the guild chat been disabled after all?
Lash had messaged Ta'lim a dozen times, asking if everyone was okay, but he hadn't heard back once. Not once.
Of everyone in the guild, Ta'lim had been one of Lash's best friends, and now he couldn't even be bothered to answer him?
The idea stung far more than it should have.
"Bloodeye, we're ready," Kiage called out to him, rousing him from his thoughts. Duskeh plodded along quietly beside him as he gathered his satchel and slung it over his shoulder, heading toward the stables.
This wasn't how things were supposed to go. There had been a plan, and maybe this was just part of it, but…it felt an awful lot like…
Gore had always gone out of his way to make sure that Lash knew he wasn't alone. Even with his parents lost in honorable combat, defending their people, he'd made sure that Lash had a family. And Lash trusted Gore. He knew that his uncle was a smart orc, but he couldn't help but feel that something had gone wrong, and the role call just made it worse.
That nagging sense that things were falling apart…
"We're heading northeast along the road," Kiaga was telling him enthusiastically, holding up a map as they walked toward the stables. "We are to explore and find good places to make strongholds for the Horde, to make sure the Alliance will not get too strong a foothold out here."
Lash arched a brow. "Aren't we all here to fight the Scourge?"
Kiaga rolled her eyes toward him. "And when we win, we need to make sure that we have more ground than they do."
It seemed so…ridiculous.
But…what else was he supposed to do? Wait for messages from guild mates whose banner he no longer claimed?
With a sigh and a nod, he led his worg out of the stables beside her, giving her a swift nod. "Lead the way."
"Oh, actually, we're going to be going with another group…" Kiaga paused and frowned. "I told you about them already. Weren't you listening?"
Even as Lash tried to feign knowledge of the conversation he'd missed thanks to his fretting, he looked up to see rather familiar faces.
Lisp gave him a short nod, head cocked to the side. "You're coming with us?"
Shifting his weight, suddenly uncomfortable under the gazes of half a dozen members of Blood and Honor, he nodded quickly. "Looks like it."
Though Lisp didn't say anything else, Embry gave him a quick, impersonal smile. "Welcome aboard. It's Bloodeye now, right?"
With a final roar, the dragon fell from the air, crashing into the floating platform. Cracks sped across its surface and Renza'shi darted away, cursing himself for being melee as he tried to outrun the splintering pieces. It seemed that whatever had held the platform aloft had broken with the stone and he could feel the rush of the world as the ground literally crumbled beneath his feet.
In a last ditch attempt, he threw all his weight forward and flung himself toward a nearby platform cursing as his fingers scraped against the edge and he plummeted down, down, down.
While he would have thought his stomach being in his throat would have been the worst feeling to overtake him, that was soon overshadowed by the clamp of teeth into his shoulder. He closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable shake of the predator's neck, to fling him like a rag doll, snapping his bones and making him an easy meal.
"Oh…oh gross," a voice whimpered, muffled as it spoke around his shoulder. "I bit too deep. There's blood. You know I don't like blood."
"Well you can't just drop him," another muffled voice hissed. "Just…" A dragon with Mitchell held loosely in its mouth flew ahead so that Renza'shi could see it when he opened his eyes.
A red dragon. "Sorry. We'll…heal you when we set you down," it said.
Renza'shi stared at the dragon, expression completely blank. He recognized that voice. It had been one of the mages who had told them about the problems in the Nexus. He'd seen that dragons were around, even heard that they could talk, but…he'd been relegated to guarding Mitchell as he'd picked berries when they'd been initially sorting out what needed to be done, and somehow he'd missed that the human man ordering them around was a fucking dragon.
They could change shape?
How many others were out there?
How many dragons were…
What the fuck was Impervious involved in?
"I think I broke him." The voice rumbled against his shoulder in a muffled wail.
"You didn't break anyone."
"He, um, probably just didn't know lizards could talk," Mitchell offered, flashing an awkward thumbs up with the arm that wasn't pinned in the dragon's mouth.
The beast holding Renza'shi started to nod and then let out a frantic wail again when Renza'shi hissed as the movement dug the creature's teeth deeper into his shoulder.
Even as it began to apologize, it dropped him onto an intact platform. Renza'shi stumbled away from the beast, eyeing it. It was a drake, smaller than most of the blue ones flying around here, with green scales. Its head bobbled side to side as it continued to apologize, inspecting him and looking most distraught.
And then it licked him.
Or more specifically, his shoulder.
Instantly, the feel of torn flesh numbed and disappeared.
The red dragon had already set Mitchell down, and was dropping Timmons from its back. As Timmons slid off, he brought Khai'rhi down with him.
"She needs healing, I think," Timmons muttered, eyeing the dragons.
Renza'shi frowned as he trotted over to the others, never quite taking his eye off the green dragon. It was still spitting at the taste of blood, and looked more like a distraught, oversized housecat than anything else.
When he finally dared to look down at their healer, he saw that she was unconscious, though a small grimace played on her features.
"I guess…we wait for Howl?" Mitchell offered.
"How's he going to get up here, exactly?" Timmons snapped. Prior to this, they'd been using small portals that had been left rather conveniently open to teleport from platform to platform. With the one destroyed, however, Renza'shi wondered if anyone could follow them up. "Idiot."
"Well we can't just stop everything—"
Before the fighting from earlier could resume, Khai'rhi whacked at Timmons, who was still the closest to her. "Dat be enough a dat." With a groan, she sat up, looking far more worn than Renza'shi would have expected.
He dropped his pack in front of him and began to rummage through it. "Ah got sum bandages, if ya need—"
"Ah be fine," Khai'rhi started, though before she could insist that she needn't any aid, a large green tongue slurped her. Her reaction was much the same as Renza'shi's, and he was surprised at how much better that made him feel.
She did seem to be better, even if she was emotionally jarred.
"Terarrius, they're not kittens. Use your magic."
The green dragon looked at the red, eyes wide, like he didn't know how to react, and like he was just as weirded out by being around them as Renza'shi was by being around him. "Elara said that mortals steal our magic."
"Alexstrasza, give me strength." The red dragon slumped down, bringing a clawed foot up to cover its snout. "She wasn't being literal. She just meant that they learn fast."
As the green dragon readied a retort, Khai'rhi shoved herself to her feet, glaring their way. "Ah ain' havin' none a dis. Ah take it ya saved us, so we be grateful, but none a dis arguin' be helpin' nahbodeh."
"Why are you here?" The green dragon asked, turning its large gaze toward them. It seemed to exist in a perpetual state of terror. Or perhaps Renza'shi just couldn't read dragon faces very well.
"He sent us," Renza'shi pointed at the red dragon before anyone else could say anything. "Ya wann'ed us ta scout de area, yeh?"
"I…did not expect you to make it up here so quickly…"
"He probably wanted you to distract the other dragons while he set me free," the green one offered, shrugging its wings out. The resulting wind from its action made Renza'shi's and the others' hair flutter wildly.
"Ya betta be kiddin' meh, mon. We been bait?"
Mitchell looked ready to hop off the platform and just take his chances with the freefall the second he heard Khai'rhi's response.
She wagged a finger at the red dragon, marching right up to it. "Ya don' request help from people 'n use dem like dis wit' out tellin' dem nuttin'. We coulda worked witcha 'n come up wit' sumtin betta den dis."
The green dragon hit the red dragon with one of its wings, jostling the creature beside it. "Look. You made the mother one angry."
"Wat?" Khai'rhi bristled further. "Just 'cause Ah gotta look afta dese idiots, 'n keep all a ya from goin' at each otha, ya tink Ah be de mudda one?"
Rather than take offense, the green dragon poked its head forward, sniffing her and nearly knocking her off her feet before settling back onto its haunches, wings folded against its back as it looked at the red one. "I am not wrong, am I?"
The red dragon, the one who seemed to be the authority on mortals between the two, sighed, sitting back as well. "The mortal races do not always pick up on new life as quickly as our kind does."
"Well, it's hard not to notice an egg," the green one offered, its expression finally not looking so traumatized.
As Renza'shi watched the back and forth, wondering where exactly he'd gone wrong with his life to find himself sitting suspended in the air, an unwanted audience to two dragons debating mortal shortcomings, Mitchell slouched forward a little more. Even as he started to ask what was going on, he glanced to the side to see that Khai'rhi had donned a rather stricken expression, her hands folded over her stomach, barely breathing.
"What's going on?" Mitchell whispered a bit too loudly.
Khai'rhi did not respond.
It took a moment before what the dragons were saying really sunk in and Renza'shi's eyes widened in time with Timmons'. For the first time, he forgot the dragons as he looked back at Khai'rhi.
Crossing his arms, Mitchell glared from face to face. "Would someone please tell me what's going on?"
Howl and Wren finished tugging Genji back up by the roots that had ensnared him in the last minutes of the distortion's existence, when he'd tried to jump into the anomaly before it could be closed. As they hoisted the mage back onto the platform, with Cinder content to inspect her moonkin claws, as she'd already technically saved him by rooting him in place—even if the roots had been stretched by the magic of the anomaly making the very root rope that Genji had been asking for—Genji kept his gaze low.
After an awkward minute of standing there in the darkened room—with the magical anomaly gone, there was little in the way of light sources in this part of the Nexus—he finally ducked his head down, making his slouch a bit more pronounced than usual.
"Can…can we nah tell Khai'rhi 'bout dis?"
With a half laugh, Howl reached out and thwacked Genji on the arm. "My lips are sealed."
Wren gave him a simple nod, looking more than a little embarrassed himself.
"Tanks. All a ya."
After another terse silence, Howl finally sighed. "Are we done here?" It was with great relief that he heard a chorus of yesses in reply.