The Naga waited at the large gates, tridents and spears held fast in their sharp grasp. Warlord Shyv, chief among them, pounded his fist against the barred entry, snarling at the Talah’dorei beyond. The ghostly soldiers did not answer, jaws set in a grim line of determination. Each second that passed allowed Falais and his companions to flee farther away, and both the deceased High Elves and their draconic siblings knew this.
Shyv’s remaining eye narrowed. He knew not why the Talah’dorei remained unresponsive. He had no ability to see into the sealed off hall beyond, to discern the gathering forces of the dead. His troops began to whisper amongst themselves, fearing that some monstrosity within Gishan Caverns had risen, slaying all within. The rumors had long circulated among them that a powerful, dreadful presence lurked within those dark, stone tunnels. This was one reason why no Naga would accept an order to guard the prisoners, despite the fear instilled by Shyv or the dreadlord.
He snapped off a guttural series of orders, a small detachment splitting from his able warriors. Their writhing bodies flitted through the darkness, swimming up and over the smaller hills and around the largest peaks of Gishan. If Sutera was free, the docks were her only source of escape.
Shadows swirled about them, hungry little children of chaos flapping against their scaled bodies. Shyv turned, watching the demonic energies snap and howl, even as his bravest warriors paled. The dreadlord, one of the horrible Nathrezim, sank into the sands as his form materialized, carrying with it a deep scowl. The unknown terrors of the Caverns was one thing, but those fears and rumors were dwarfed by the emerald armored, fel-imbued power of the dreadlord. Some of the Naga even scooted closer to Gishan’s gates, favoring a ghastly, unknown demise to this demon’s immense rage.
“Why have you not breached the gates, Shyv?”
“The Talah’dorei do not respond to my commands, great lord,” Warlord Shyv bowed. As he did so, a wince flashed across his features, pain lancing along the wound given to him by Teake.
The dreadlord stepped through the invisible shield that kept the water at bay, placing both hands upon the metal doors. The Naga followed. Narrowing his eyes, his mind seared through the ghostly brains of those beyond, drawing wretched screams from them that filtered even through the thick metal.
“They stand against us,” he hissed. He glanced to Shyv. “Ready your troops.”
The doors groaned, as if knowing of the forthcoming assault. Darkness gathered, pulsing from the dreadlord’s skin like rivulets of blood. This seeped into the structure, flakes of metal crumbling and collapsing to the unforgiving sands. Muscles bulging beneath the fel flames imbuing his armor, he pushed.
The door exploded.
Lenora Del’nath, standing well away from the entry, watched as the dreadlord pushed his way inside. The Naga swarmed on all sides of him, their tridents and pikes put to immediate use. The two Talah’dorei standing guard stood no chance, the dreadlord’s hands snapped out to grasp one of them by the throat. The man screamed as the raging inferno tore into him, then the demon gripped either side of him, tearing him in two.
A ball of shadowy energy coursed along his arms and to his fist. The other guard attempted to flee, but the Nathrezim growled, thrusting his arm towards him. The bolt of shadows slammed the guardsman against the wall, delving into the glowing black of his soul. The Talah’dorei had enough time to look down, behold his beating, swirling essence, then disintegrated into nothingness.
Lenora parried Shyv’s strike as the Warlord charged in at her. No longer was her attention on the approaching dreadlord. She swept her blade in a dangerous arc, but Shyv merely slapped the smaller weapon out of the way. He lashed out with the blunt end of his weapon, cracking it against her jaw.
She danced away, ghostly eyes flashing. The Naga enchantments were powerful, allowing them to ignore the incorporeal nature of their brethren as they attacked. The dead ranger leapt back into the fray, surprising the overly sure commander and leaving a thin river of blood trickling down his scaled arm.
The dreadlord moved through the throng, fixated on his prize. Sutera and Teake were almost to the docks, his mind twisting through the caverns to discern their location. The presence of Falais caused his lips to draw back against his fangs as he snarled, the betrayal stinging him as no blade could.
Death oozed from each step he took, slithering along the floor, against the walls, and curling upwards to the roof. Though the Talah’dorei were dead, they watched with horror as this creeping abomination of magic touched them, causing their ghostly skin to flare and dissolve. Screams littered the field of battle, soon followed by a swarm of small, shadowy forms. These skittered through the carnage, devouring the dead and living Talah’dorei alike.
Falais came to a sudden halt.
Neither Teake nor Sutera noticed for a second, the beckoning waters of the docks prompting them to rush forward. What greeted their eyes was a strange creature, shimmering and white, not unlike one of the manta rays. Larger, though, by all means, a translucent dome rested upon its back.
The blood elf’s hand dropped down to his dagger. An overwhelming desire bubbled from within, one that commanded him to draw the sharp blade and plunge it into Teake’s chest. He tried to resist it at first, knowing this was neither the time nor place to dispatch the Tauren, for he needed Sutera to follow him. Truth be told, he wanted to slay the creature, wanted nothing more than to revel in the look of anguish and pain as he drove the point deeper into his heart.
You betrayed me.
Falais began to tremble, knowing that unmistakable bass, that hissing tone. The dreadlord, with all his power of the mind, had breached his frail exterior and now played havoc with his brain. He watched as the dagger glinted in the light, horrified that he no longer held sway over his own body. Linked with the Nathrezim in this ghastly embrace, he could hear each step as the demon charged closer, feel the hatred coursing through its veins like the fires of Outland.
Sutera noticed. More than that, and more than her angered druidic companion, she understood. She had no way of knowing how she knew, for no memories prompted her into action.
The golden eyed elf crossed the distance between them, planting the palm of her hand against Falais’s forehead. Gazing into his eyes, she met the force of the dreadlord with her will, the two forces colliding with such power that Falais jerked from her grasp.
Somewhere, deep within Gishan, the dreadlord howled in pain and anger.
“We must hurry,” Falais trembled, nausea threatening to overtake him. The blood elf led them down to the strange creature, helping them up the steep ladder and into the protective dome. Taking a final look down the dark corridor, he joined them, grasping hold of the reins.
Within seconds, the rift ray plunged into the frigid depths of the sea, gliding towards the far away coast of Kalimdor.
Lenora sank to her knees just outside the massive, black doors. Weary, she sheathed her blade, listening to the roar of the water far away. The dreadlord, in all his anger and rage, used his power to collapse the protective dome around Gishan, sending the seas rushing inside. The screaming prisoners stood little chance, hands flailing outside their bars as they tried to beg help from any that might hear them. Those flailing hands soon ceased to move, only drifting with the currents as the waters rose.
Why he decided to do away with the prions was beyond her understanding. Perhaps, with the betrayal of the Talah’dorei, he had no others to guard the Caverns. The Naga, despite their power and magics, were afraid to enter, refusing orders from their Warlords and the Nathrezim.
Her eyes caught sight of the greenish fel energy curling from beneath the door.
Arching a brow, she hesitated as she gripped the handles. Perhaps the dreadlord was hiding something, something he wanted no others to see. No Talah’dorei were permitted in this section of the Caverns, which is one reason why she fled here. What secrets did he hide, she wondered, that he would keep them even from his supposed allies, the Naga? Was it something that Queen Azshara knew about?
She did not sense his presence until it was too late.
Lenora whirled, hand able to just touch the hilt of her blade before his clawed, massive hand closed around her throat. His green eyes lit up as she struggled against him, his strong arm lifting her into the air.
“No. Nonono…,” she gurgled, feet flailing as she attempted to wrest herself from the demonic grip.
He slammed her against the wall.
“Lenora Del’nath. Ranger of the Elves. It is you that ordered the Talah’dorei to stand against me.”
She had no argument. Despite her ghost form, she found that this demon had the ability to cut off her air supply, something she had not relied upon for centuries. Perhaps it was a mere illusion brought upon by his tremendous psychic abilities, but she found herself choking, the strength sapped from her body.
“It is too bad that all of your Rangers tend to share the same fate.”
Now she could see them, tiny, almost invisible scars that dotted the entirety of his body. Before she could formulate any sort of hypothesis as to their origins, he leaned into her, eyes flaring into a searing emerald. She opened her mouth to scream, cries careening from the cavern walls, feet now kicking against the unmoving stone. The fires burned brighter and deeper, finally lancing outward from his twisted, demonic visage into her eyes.
He let loose his grip as the energies poured into her, the magic leaving her aloft. Her wailing increased in volume, threatening to wake the dead prisoners in their watery cells. Chest lifting away from the wall, her small hands curled into fists in an attempt to drive away the pain as the fel fires consumed her entirely.
Lenora fell to the ground.
The dreadlord waited, his view obscured by rancid, putrid smoke. As he watched, the former Talah’dorei rose from her position, blue eyes a twinkling mass of greenish, blackish energy. Gone was her regal ranger garb, replaced by twisted rings of hard, black magic. Fel fire hissed from this, down her pale skin and to her long, curved blade. A series of bloody runes danced along the flat of the weapon, seeming to bleed with every motion she made. The smoke remained, exuding from her armor, joining together to form a long, black cape of death behind her.
No emotion played across her formerly beautiful features. She turned away from the Nathrezim to take her place in front of the doors, fel energy coursing around her as it flowed from beneath the black gates. Eyes fixated ahead, her curved blade remained at the ready, the former ranger frozen in place as she awaited any who might interfere with her master’s plans.
Lenora Del’nath, the first of his dreadwardens, did not so much as turn her head as he departed.