It was a barebones plan really, but Aldineri found that simpler plans were usually the ones that succeeded. Any unforeseen occurrence, no matter how small, could wreck a plan that was complicated. No plan was truly foolproof, especially one that involved ravenous undead zombies.
In this case, simpler was better.
“Is she there?” Ald asked Fuzzy.
The worgen nodded. “She was more than happy to comply with your request.”
Ald looked around at the crew that had made it to the Argent Tournament grounds. Tess, Trelander, Bas, Healpimp, Niantae, and Fen would stay and fight the undead in Icecrown. Everyone else would meet outside of Stormwind to rescue those who hadn’t replied to Fuzzy’s messages.
“Okay, good luck, everyone. If all goes well, we should be leaving any moment.”
The frost wyrms had essentially set up blockades for those trying to leave the grounds. Niantae was the last to arrive, and she had been lucky to arrive when she did. As soon as she flew in, the wyrms had swarmed. Exiting the area by flight was no longer feasible.
Unfortunately, without a mage in the group, there was no way to hitch a portal out. Luckily for Ald, this was a common problem for the Humpday Heroes, and he had no issues planning around that little obstacle. Even though it wasn’t feasible for someone on the inside to push their way out of the grounds, it was very feasible for someone on the outside to pull them out of the grounds.
And there it was. A small physical feeling. A little tug on his body. A signal that he was needed elsewhere. The exact feeling one got when being summoned by a warlock. “Here we go,” he said as he closed his eyes and relaxed his body, allowing the summon to whisk him away. Even with his eyes closed, purple pervaded his vision, and in an instant, he felt his body walking itself out of the warlock’s summoning closet to see Emma’s smiling face.
“I heard you needed a summon, Alt,” she said, smiling so wide that her teeth were showing.
“For once, I did need one,” he said. In a few moments, Fuzzy and Opie walked through the closet themselves. All three newcomers grinned at the others who were ready to storm the city. Arch, Anda, Liady, Cerust, and Emma were standing outside an abandoned house that overlooked Stormwind from a nearby mountain.
“Any news?” Ald asked.
“It’s chaos down there,” Cerust said. “The zombies have completely taken over. We’re going to have to get closer if we want to have any chance at locating the others.”
Ald nodded. “I have a plan for that. Listen up! I can conceal us until we get to high ground in the city. Once we get to a good viewpoint, and I need every eyeball searching the city for our friends. I can’t hold the concealment for long, so search efficiently.”
“I have a question actually,” said Archmichaels. The veteran paladin gestured towards Emma’s warlock summoning closet. “Why don’t we just use this nefarious contraption to summon them out of Stormwind? If we could summon you, why not them?”
Anda held up her hand. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but that just isn’t a good idea. First, if they are under attack at this very moment, we may accidentally pull a few zombies to us. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d rather not get bitten today. And second…well, we don’t know if they’re not fully alive anymore…”
“No,” said Ald, his eyes staring hard into Anda’s. “That is not the case. It can’t be. They are fine. I know it. I can feel it.” After several seconds, the eye contact became overwhelming. Ald closed his eyes, and he hoped that the years of internal conflict he felt didn’t show on his face. “I agree with Anda. We can’t pull them out without knowing what else we’ll pull out with them.” He turned away from the group and looked at the entrance to Stormwind. Just hours before, he had been sure that nothing could steal the awe he felt for this city. It was becoming difficult to remember that experience.
“Are we ready to be shrouded and enter the city?” The group was accustomed to this tactic. They had used it a few times before when scouting out new areas in caves and foreign palaces. “Mount up, everyone. Stick together. We’re heading there,” he said, pointing to a tall clock tower outside the trade district.
The group hopped on their flying mounts (besides Anda and Opie who transformed into birds themselves) and took to the air. Once they left the ground, Ald concentrated on producing a blanketing shroud of concealment over the group, a trick he had picked up from Mathias Shaw himself when Ald was training with the SI:7. Within moments, the team became translucent. Well, translucent to Ald. To anyone else, it would appear as if the group of people had completely vanished.
They flew quietly but quickly to the clock tower. Even after stepping onto the stone of the tower’s roof, Ald kept up the Shroud to hide from any frost wyrms flying overhead, but it used every ounce of his concentration. He could focus only on the shroud, which is why he had tasked the others with looking for the missing team members.
While the group used their eyes to scour the city streets, Ald found it difficult to focus solely on the shroud. Any little sound from the team on the tower was a major distraction, much less the groan of zombies that echoed up the tower walls.
As the minutes ticked by, Ald found it nearly impossible to maintain the concealment. For a second or two, everyone popped back into visibility. After a brief panic, Ald was able to redouble his efforts, and the Shroud became active again before they could be spotted. Ald felt sweat forming on his head and rolling down his face. The throbbing of the bump on his head had returned and added to his concentration woes.
Just when Ald was going to evacuate the group, Arch spoke up.
“That’s got to be them!” The paladin was pointing at a shop outside the Cathedral District. Knicks & Knacks. A group of undead were trying to enter the shop, but every time they neared the threshold, some invisible force knocked them back into the street.
“Thank goodness,” Ald exclaimed, his shroud reinvigorated by the small success. “Everyone mount back up!” The group flew back to safety at the abandoned house. He never would have been able to search the entire city by himself, but that was always the plan. Now that the lookouts had narrowed down the location, they would stay put while he assessed the area on foot.
“If we’re clear and can use a summon, I’ll have Keb shoot up a flare,” Ald said to the group. “And if I’m not back in half an hour…” His voice trailed off.
“We’ll come looking for you,” Anda finished. “Now go.”
* * *
Maintaining stealth on himself took a fraction of the energy Ald had needed to maintain the shroud. In fact, he could remain stealthed unconsciously as he let his body run on auto-pilot. Invisible to the undead around him, Ald dropped inside the city walls near Knicks & Knacks.
The undead slamming their bodies into the invisible wall at the shop’s entrance were beginning to fall apart from their exertions. Ald watched as one of the Scourge ran at the door, hit the barrier, and was bounced so hard into the cobblestone street outside the shop that its jaw fell off. Ald noticed a few others were missing limbs. One was even walking around aimlessly since its eyeballs had rolled out of their sockets.
Upon closer inspection, the barrier they were slamming against wasn’t actually invisible. It was merely tucked away into the shop. Ald could just make out the edge of a green circle of light. A ring of peace.
Having raided together for so long, Ald understood the method and power behind Kobi’s monk magic. Using this knowledge, Ald slipped past the barrier into the shop where he was met with a blade at his throat.
“Urk,” he stammered.
“Aldineri?” said Decebul. She was wielding one of the ancient swords from the wall of the shop. There was no shortage of weapons in Knicks & Knacks, and she had definitely picked the sharpest one available. Ald could feel the blade shaving little bits of fur from under his chin.
Recognition in her eyes, Decebul lowered the sword and met Aldineri in a tight hug. “We didn’t know if you made it out or not!”
Behind Decebul stood Cald, Kobi, and Anth. They looked a mess, but they were alive. Decebul ended her hug and looked around behind Ald. “And where exactly is the cavalry?”
Ald smiled sheepishly. “You’re looking at it. What happened here? Where’s Keb?”
“We have been hunkered down here for hours,” Kobi answered. “Caldmaster tried his hand at heroics. He came to save Decebul from the undead.”
“So that’s where you went!” Ald said,
“Yeah, he convinced me to ride down to save Decebul,” Anth replied. “Turns out, she saved us. As soon as we landed, we were swarmed by the Scourge. If she hadn’t come out of the shop wielding that hammer of hers, we would have been killed!”
“After you left from the mage tower,” Kobi said, pointing his paw in Ald’s direction, “I set out looking for Anth’s missing horse. I saw the paladin here holding her own against nearly a dozen undead.”
Ald furrowed his brow. “So no one stayed behind with Keb? You have no clue where she went?” No one replied. “You’re awfully quiet, Cald.”
Cald jumped at the mention of his name. “We…um…we know where she is, Ald,” he said shakily. His eyes quickly darted to the back room of the shop where Decebul kept her more highly prized goods. It must have been a subconscious action, but it told Ald almost everything he needed to know.
The rogue’s heart sank in his chest. Without thinking, his feet began shuffling towards the back. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to see her corpse. Not another one. Not her, he thought to himself as he approached the curtain over the door frame and pulled it back.
A creature with gnashing teeth lunged at Ald, trying to rip out his furry throat. It was an undead Worgen with deadly blue eyes. Undead Keb lunged again, but the chain around her neck prevented her from being able to tear him limb from limb. “What…what happened?”
Kobi placed his paw on Ald’s shoulder. “She was overrun, Ald. There were too many of them. And before you say anything, there was nothing you could have done. If you had stayed, they would have gotten you, too. By the time I had a chance to return, she was fighting off a horde of undead. They knocked her from the ramp and were on her like a swarm of ants. Believe me, Ald. Nothing could have been done.”
Tears filled Ald’s eyes. “I could have taken her with me.”
“Then no one would have made it to the portals.”
Ald looked at Keb’s zombie form. She looked…angry. Keb had never worn her emotions on her sleeve, but he could see the hunger in her eyes. The bloodlust. She wanted to kill him. But she didn’t look like the zombies outside. She hadn’t had a chance to rot like the rest of those walking corpses. She looked like Keb. With rabies. And blue eyes.
“Is she fully transformed into the Scourge?” Ald asked without taking his eyes off that wolfish mouth of Keb’s that was trying to rip out his throat. He heard Cald flipping through the pages of the notebook he always carried.
“According to my notes, it takes a bit longer to become a full member of the Scourge. Before a full day has passed, it’s possible that an Argent healer could reverse the plague within her. It just takes a few specialized herbs ground into a unique potion.”
Ald turned on his heel and faced Cald and the rest of the people in the shop. “Herbs like Lichbloom?” he asked with a glimmer of hope.
Cald consulted his notes again. “Yeah. Lichbloom and Icethorn.”
Ald let out a whoop of joy, startling the others, including zombie Keb who fell backwards deeper into the darkened backroom. His mind raced.
“Care to share that train of thought, Aldineri?” Decebul asked. She had dropped the sword and held her heavy mace in one strong hand.
“I know just the healer. You won’t believe who it is. How much time do we have, Cald?”
The shaman did some mental math, his lips moving as he counted the hours. “I’d say she has about three or four hours. Is this healer nearby?”
“Unfortunately, no. And honestly, I don’t know how we’re going to get back to the Argent Tournament grounds in time. Not with the blockade.” Ald looked around at the quizzical looks he was receiving. “I’ll explain on the way. First, let’s get the hell out of here.”