Chapter Three: Ruins

The dragon reared back and let out a ferocious roar of icy breath, which was an impressive feat for a creature with no lungs. The sheer volume of the roar vibrated the air enough to topple a few more stones from the garrison wall.

Ald glanced down at his teammates on the battlefield. With most of the zombies downed or decapitated, they must have been feeling triumphant and victorious. This feeling was before a ten-ton skeletal dragon burst through the stone wall of a heavily fortified garrison. Now, all of his friends were frozen in shock and fear at the monstrous beast that had destroyed even more of Ald’s home away from home.

The hunters were the first to recover, likely since they were stationed farther away than the other heroes. All three of them began to loose arrows towards the glowing blue eyes of the dragon. From that distance, most of the arrows pinged off the bony skull of the monster. One or two, however, found their target and entered the eye socket. In a raging fury, the dragon whipped its head towards the Town Hall, setting its glowing eyes on the three hunters.

Ald heard the cock of a weapon, and he looked up to see Kebechet had switched from her bow and arrow to her rifle. Niantae followed suit. Fuzzy continued to lay down a fire of arrows until the rifles were loaded and ready to go.

As soon as the dragon took a step towards the hunters, the rest of the team jumped into action. Anth and Bas ran to the dragon’s front, trying to taunt the dragon away from the hunters’ position. The rest of the team fell to the dragon’s right flank, slashing with swords and maces or pummeling with spells and fel magic. 

The three hunters jumped from their perch on the roof and disengaged just before hitting the stone path leading to the garrison fountain. Keb turned and saw Ald standing in the doorway. “You coming to fight, or are you just going to gawk from the shadows?” She didn’t wait for an answer.

Neither did he.

Ald ran down the stone, leaping over the last few steps towards the rest of his team. 

The battlefield was a mess. The dragon was large, but not large enough that the melee combatants could swing freely. Everyone felt bunched together, and it would only take one errant swing of a hammer to knock out one of their own.

Arch was the first to notice an opening under the dragon. He took a running start and slid under the dragon’s ribs, letting his sword clang against them. He ended up on the other side of the dragon with much more room to cause damage. A few others followed suit. 

Only Emma ran around the back of the dragon, likely so she didn’t hike up her robes if she slid underneath him. Almost as if the dragon sensed someone behind, it flicked its tail, catching Emma in the stomach and throwing her into the air. She soared, flailing wildly, until a summoned demon reached out and caught her. The demon set her down and then began its attack on the dragon, leaving Emma to dust off her robes. Warlocks had some fun toys.

The air surrounding the dragon shimmered with impressive cold, and Cald noticed the attack coming. “Ice breath,” he yelled in Anth and Bas’ direction. Bas shapeshifted into a raven and flew out of the front of the beast. Anth, on the other hand, let out a short whistle. Instantly, a being of pure light energy in the shape of a horse appeared at his feet, lifted him off the ground, and placed him at the side of the dragon before dissipating. Okay, Paladins had some fun toys as well.

Cald had been right. The skeletal dragon reared again before sending a lance of ice energy directly where the two tanks had once stood. The stone at that location turned deadly slick. When both Anth and Bas returned to the front of the dragon, they avoided the spot.

After several minutes, the dragon’s attacks were slowing. Either the team had dealt enough damage to it to break whatever enchantment had animated the bones or it was just running low on energy on its own. Regardless, calls from Healpimp, Kobai, and Opie signaled that their magic reserves were running low as well. Even the occasional innervation of mana from Anda wasn’t going to be enough to maintain their reserves if something went sideways.

Without a mage on the team, the healers had little to no access to mana regenerating water. Instead, they generally stocked up on potions to help their magical resources. Of course, no one had been expecting an animated skeleton to be on the menu for the night. 

Ald cursed himself for cutting Anda off regarding crafting materials. They desperately needed those potions now. His brow furrowed. Or did they?

With a dagger slash that ricocheted off the front leg bone of the dragon, Ald called to the Town Hall. “Giles! Water!”

As if by his own magic, the old Draenei quickly brought out a silver tray of mana water to the group. He was still clad in his makeshift armor, and he seemed absolutely delighted to be part of one of the adventures that Ald had frequently regaled him with. Even while the team members were making vicious arm strikes, sword swings, and spell slings, Giles wove his lithe body around their movements to deliver the water to the healers. Opie first because ladies first, of course.

Each healer took a short moment to slam down the water before placing the goblet back on his silver tray. After the water had been delivered, Giles stood behind the casters, grinning broadly with one hand holding up the tray and the other bent behind his back.

Ald rolled his eyes. “Okay, thanks, Giles!”

The draenei bowed deeply, the grin still plastered to his face, and walked back to Town Hall. 

It was at that moment that the dragon decided to let out another blast of ice. No warning accompanied this attack, and the two tanks were caught unaware. The blast went right through them, knocking both Anth and Bas unconscious. The lance of ice continued in a straight line, aimed directly at the Town Hall.

Time seemed to freeze as Ald watched Giles enter the Town Hall building. The draenei never noticed the ice blast heading towards his location. He tried to call out, to warn the old draenei, but then time sped back up. The beam smashed into the building, ripping the structure down in seconds. The entryway was completely smashed, and anything that had been inside was likely covered in rubble and ice shards.

“No!” Ald screamed. He abandoned the fight and ran as fast as he could to the fallen building.

The dragon seemed to have used the last of its energy, its dying breath to send out that lance of ice energy. The blue light in the creature’s rib cage blinked out, and the bones clattered to the stones, the skeleton breaking into individual bones as it smashed against the hard ground.

While the healers surrounded Anth and Bas, reviving and healing them with the last of their mana, Ald arrived at the ruins of the Town Hall. He threw himself down to the rubble and began pulling stones, bricks, and wood from the pile. He barely noticed when Keb and Fuzzy started to help as well, moving as much rubble out of the way as quickly as possible without disturbing it enough to cause an avalanche.

It took a full three minutes before Ald found Giles. The wizened draenei had been crushed. He had likely died instantly. And he had died with that slight grin on his face, a joy at having been part of their great adventure. No matter how short it was, Giles had truly lived in his last moments.

Ald knelt on the ground, hugging the draenei’s body. Tears were rolling down his furry cheeks though no sound escaped his throat. He became aware of a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he looked around with his blurry eyes to see Kebechet and the rest of the team standing behind him. Every single one of them had their head bowed, even those who hadn’t known Giles at all.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Ald saw the team members move one by one away from the wreckage of the hall. The fires had been put out, and they were slowly congregating in the barn. Keb stayed by his side until only she and Healpimp were left.

Keb squeezed Ald’s shoulder. “It’s time,” she said quietly.

Ald felt his whole body shaking. “Time for what now?” he asked, his voice shaking. Every syllable was on the breaking point of sobs. “Time for another war? Another call of duty? For what, more death? You were right, Keb. I’m not ready. I can’t do this anymore. Everyone keeps getting hurt. All these people around me keep dying. I’m like a walking serial killer. Everyone around me just falls down dead.”

Keb just shook her head. “We’re not dead yet, brother,” she replied. She gestured toward Giles’ corpse. “It’s not your fault this keeps happening. You didn’t bring this to him. But imagine what will happen to others if we don’t fight back.”

A few more moments passed before another hand settled on Ald’s other shoulder. He looked up into Healpimp’s eyes. “Let me take him, Ald.”

Ald looked back down into Giles’ face. The grin there was fading into a serene peace. “Goodbye, old friend,” he said before letting go.

Healpimp extended an arm and levitated Giles’ body. With a push of his own will, Healpimp led the hovering corpse out of the garrison towards the small cemetery outside its walls.

Completely drained, Ald continued kneeling at the site of his former Town Hall. He cast a look around and saw that the garrison was done. The fires had destroyed most of the buildings, and the dragon had finished off the rest. The only building left standing was the barn where the team was gathered and that seemed to be holding together by only one or two nails.

Everything was destroyed. His home, his friend, his fight. They were all gone, taken from him. Keb was right. What would others lose if he didn’t fight? If the team hadn’t taken out the Iron Horde, what would the peaceful residents of Draenor have done? If Garrosh had been left unchecked, what would the Horde and Pandaria been reduced to? If N’Zoth hadn’t been obliterated, what would life be like for everyone on this plane of existence? But one question lingered in his mind.

“You ever thought, Keb? Why us? Why are we the ones to do everything? Why are we the heroes, the adventurers, the commanders?”

She paused a beat. He watched as she turned her eyes towards the barn, to the group of heroes huddled in the broken shelter. “Who else do you trust to do it?” she finally answered.

And she was right again.

Ald felt his stomach harden. His shoulders stopped sagging. His paws clenched themselves into fists. He found new strength in his legs, and he stood quickly, turning to the barn. Keb silently followed.

The others stopped their chatting when Ald arrived. They looked in his face and saw someone who had not been present at the meeting earlier. “What’s our next move, Ald?” asked Cald.

Ald fixed a steely gaze on the group surrounding him. “Next,” he replied. “Next, we get an audience with our King.”

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