The next few hours were a whirlwind. With the wyrms no longer blocking traffic in and out of the grounds, messages from the outside stormed through. Trelander was the first to receive news that Nathanos Blightcaller was dead. Tyrande Whisperwind had killed him after a small standoff with other adventurers.
Cald, Decebul, and Anda returned with more than enough of the herbs necessary to brew the anti-Scourge potion. Tess had brewed it in seconds, likely due to her experience and training at the Argent grounds. After they had administered the potion to Keb, she had fallen asleep and was taken to the tent for rest. Ald was by her side, and while sitting in the chair beside the bed, the adrenaline and weariness from the past few days caught up with him.
He didn’t sleep for long. Visions of Giles and zombie Keb pervaded his dreams. He awoke with an aching pain in his lower side. Ald fiddled with the bag strapped across his body and pulled out the small vial of either poison or healing potion that Decebul had sold him. It had been trapped between his bottom and the side of the chair, and Ald rubbed the small bruise that had formed.
He looked around and saw Keb still in the “hospital” bed. She was deeply asleep, the blanket pulled far up to her neck so that she stayed warm despite the chill in the tent.
The curtain stirred, and Ald turned his head to see Cald standing on the other side.
“Mind if I step in?” he asked.
Ald shook his head, and the shaman stepped through the curtain, closing it behind him. There wasn’t another place to sit, so Cald stood at the end of Keb’s bed. “There have been some developments while you slept, Ald.”
“No rest for the weary, eh?” Ald replied, his throat dry and scratchy.
“Not really, no. We found out why the Scourge were so riled up and focused. Some dark creature named Damora. Ald, I saw her. She was one of those things that took King Anduin. The skull mask and dark wings. She was from the Shadowlands.” He showed Ald a sketch in his notebook. Now that Cald had seen the creature with his own eyes, he would take great pains in cataloguing what he could. Written in Cald’s fancy script were the words “Herald Damora.”
Ald nodded solemnly, twirling the vial in one paw. “So, we were right. The leaders have been taken body and soul into the Shadowlands.”
“Yes,” Cald replied. “We believe Nathanos was sent there as well, though only in spirit after being defeated by Tyrande.”
“So, we need to take out this Damora character,” Ald said, starting to rise from the chair.
Cald placed one hand on Ald’s shoulder and gently pushed him back into the seat. “It’s already done, my friend. I led a small strike team this afternoon. We took care of it. I hope you don’t mind, but you needed the rest.”
At first, Ald felt a flash of anger rising in his chest. But it ebbed away as quickly as it had arisen. It wasn’t anger at Cald but rather at himself. The team had needed him, and he wasn’t there. He slept while others did what needed to be done.
Anda had been right. This wasn’t Ald’s story. It was all of theirs.
Though, it still hurt that he had slept while they fought.
“I’m not mad,” he said. “Everyone make it out okay?”
Cald nodded. “It was quick and decisive. The way to Icecrown Citadel is open. We should go there when you’re ready.”
Without looking over at the bed, Ald gestured towards Keb’s body. “We’ll go as soon as she is ready to join us.”
“I’m ready,” Keb chimed in, causing both Aldineri and Caldmaster to jump. A weak smile crossed her canine mouth. “You boys are so jumpy these days.”
“How long have you been awake?” Ald asked, a wave of relief flooding his heart.
“Long enough to hear your snoring, old man. I think you may have a deviated septum or something.” She pushed the blanket back, and Ald noticed she was still in full mail gear. “I just needed to rest my eyes a bit longer is all.”
“And you’re feeling fine, Keb?” Cald asked. “The potion seems to have done its job.”
“Yeah, fine, I guess.” She sat up with much difficulty, her face showing the pain. As soon as she was upright, however, the look of pain was gone. “Alright. Let’s go to the Citadel and see the dude.”
“I’m not sure-” Ald began, but Keb cut him off.
“Let’s go, I said.” She jumped to the floor, grabbed her gear, and flung the curtain open before venturing into the main part of the tent.
With eyes rolling, both Ald and Cald shook their heads. Small smirks on their faces, they packed away their belongings and followed the worgen hunter.
* * *
The flight to Icecrown Citadel was cold and long. Not quite as long as their journey from Crystalsong Forest, but long enough that Ald was already tired of the ice and snow. It made him nostalgic for the warmth of his former home in the Valley of the Four Winds. He wrapped a green bandana across his mouth and allowed his breath to warm his face and neck.
He glanced behind him and saw the rest of the Humpday Heroes, all astride flying mounts and following him to Icecrown Citadel where Bolvar Fordragon, the former Lich King, had ruled the icy tundra. They were all ready and willing to do what was necessary to save the King and the whole of Azeroth from whatever Sylvanas had planned. Ald forced himself to remember that as they landed at the Citadel and were immediately shown to the throne room.
The charred and fiery skin of Bolvar gleamed from atop the throne at the head of a long icy stairway. Bolvar had been severely burned by dragon fire during the events of the Wrathgate and had taken up the Helm of Domination after Arthas was defeated many years ago. Now with the helm broken into pieces by Sylvanas, Bolvar’s facial burns were more evident than before. Ald briefly wondered how the Lich King survived without the effects of the Helm, but there were many nuances to the magic of Azeroth that he could never truly understand.
“Heroes!” Bolvar called from the top of the stairway. He stood from his throne and slowly walked down the icy steps with heavy footfalls. Once near the rest of them, his eyes swept from gnome to worgen, night elf to human. “Something has gone terribly wrong. And I am afraid that you are too late.”
Ald cocked his head. “Too late? What do you mean by that, Bolvar?”
Bolvar’s eyes blazed as he stared at the pandaren and the group standing behind him. “Just hours ago, a team of heroes much like yourselves ventured into the Shadowlands with the aid of the shards of the Helm of Domination. Tyrande Whisperwind joined them, and they had but one goal: to create a portal between the worlds. A portal that would allow the denizens of Azeroth to fight within the Shadowlands.”
Aldineri and a few others looked around the throne room. “And where is this portal?”
Bolvar’s eyes narrowed, causing the fire inside them to grow dark. “They must have failed.” The former Lich King paced around the platform while the Heroes stared at him in disbelief. They had been too late. Ald heard a sniff from Kebechet’s direction that oddly sounded like a crying sniffle, but when he turned, she was stony faced.
Ald saw slight scorch marks on the ground. The makings of a powerful spell had been active here. Likely the remnants of a transporting spell. This was no simple portal. Even if the Humpday Heroes had a mage who could make portals, it was impossible to generate one to a location that they’d never seen.
“Where is the helm now, Bolvar?” Cald asked. He was studying the ground as well and had likely noticed the same scorch marks.
“Gone,” he replied. “Either destroyed or transported into the Shadowlands themselves. When Sylvanas broke the Helm of Domination, a piece of her soul was intertwined with its destiny. Much like my own. The helm was able to track her, and the other adventurers used it to transport to her location. I am now beginning to think that Sylvanas is currently in a more dangerous location that even I had previously considered.”
Ald adjusted the bag strapped across his chest. “Bolvar, is there no other way into the Shadowlands?”
Bolvar’s glowing eyes burned into Ald’s. He didn’t speak for a long time, and when he did, his voice was lower. “There is, of course, one way.”
“But you will not be able to accomplish your mission without aid. You would be alone and powerless,” Bolvar said. His words were ones of warning, but his stance did not change. He obviously wanted Ald to be aware that this was a terrible sacrifice. A sacrifice that may fail as the adventurers before had failed.
“Wait, what’s happening?” Keb asked, her stony face breaking into one of extreme worry. The rest of the team were starting to connect the dots, and heated murmurs were breaking out amongst them.
Ald left Keb’s question unanswered. He swept about the circular platform, scooping up the charred remnants of the spell. Within these remnants, shards of the Helm of Domination might remain. It was the only way.
The pandaren rogue turned to face his team. All of them – all of his friends – had mortified looks upon their faces. Cald had turned away so that his face could not be seen. Ald could see protests on their mouths.
“Stop,” he said to them, his hands full of ash and dust. “Please do not panic. This must be done.” Ald’s voice cracked slightly. “Someone once told me that we all fight because we know it is the right thing. We fight from our heart, not from our heads.” Anda looked away into the horizon.
Ald dumped the pile of ash and dust on his leather armor, rubbing it into the cracks and crevices. Keb stepped up, panic set into her features. “Ald, this is stupid. There’s the usual crazy crap we find ourselves in, and then there’s this. This makes no sense.”
Ald smiled and removed the vial from his bag. He popped the small cork and placed his other paw on her shoulder. “It makes no sense. You’re right. But it’s our only chance.” In one swig, he downed the contents of the vial in his paw. Keb let out an involuntary gasp.
The liquid burned all the way to his stomach. The warm feeling that usually accompanied a healing potion wasn’t there. He gave a short nod in Decebul’s direction as if in answer to her unspoken question. Ald smiled again.
“I think I’ll finally get some rest,” he said.
And then everything went dark.
END OF PART ONE