If wanted a tangible indicator of how good a thing Legion is likely to be? It’s inspired me to take up my fiction series again. If you’re not aware of my words, there’s a complete page for them on the Website. If you want the piece below to make sense? I suggest you read this first:
MANY THANKS to all those who have read this in its various forms before it arrived ‘live’, and especially to Myles for yet again taking Beta Reading above and beyond the call of duty.
PROLOGUE :: Before the Storm
Stormwind Harbour, as it has become used to doing in moments of crisis, continues its preparations for war.
In its midst this midsummer morning moves a Dwarven woman, single-minded in her determination to escape destiny as fast as is reasonably possible. Ignoring those soldiers who attempt to acknowledge rank, dismissing other members of the King’s own Special Reserves, she is focused on simply one impulse: run away. Behind her, barely keeping up and consciously cloaked from view, the man who loves her strives to ensure she’s not about to do anything stupid with an audience looking on. He’s pretty certain it won’t happen, but there’s a smoke bomb palmed and excuse ready, just in case.
The Dwarf doesn’t stop until she reaches the end of the only remaining vacant pier, hands to thighs before dropping to the wooden planks in defeat.
You son of a Trogg, this isn’t fair and you know it.
Slowly breathing is regulated, incandescent anger reined, now barely contained. It is a perfectly reasonable request, in what is effectively a time of war. But as far as P is concerned? It is a mistake, the most ridiculous and unfair of oversights. I cannot lead the Hunters. It is not her task; surely one of the other beast masters can do it. This woman feels simply not worthy of what has been asked. After everything that has transpired in this most ridiculous of years, to now be approached to become the leader of her entire CLASS? This is beyond unacceptable.
Does the Unseen Path not understand just how inappropriate a fit she is as leader?
‘The only way you avoid me is by running into Stormwind Bay, and you really don’t want that. Last time I was down there the sharks were particularly voracious.’
Her best friend won’t come any closer, because he’s a smart man and understands when to stay away. The subtlety is impressive, especially for him: standing serenely just behind her eyeline, choosing with care the moment to begin speaking. He received a scroll too: Ravenholdt has asked him to organise the Rogues, and if ever there were a more competent leader it is him. Not her: consistently too angry, won’t take orders – and, in the end, doesn’t want to be the one who has to decide who lives or dies any more.
‘I just can’t. It’s not what I am.’
‘But it is, and you know that’s been true since the day you lost your Husband. After the morning you found and saved me, and the rest of us. This is what you do best – and without even realising.’
She turns and glares, tears streaming down a face so hot and angry it could cook her Father’s famous Boar Ribs. Crais is right, like always: she doesn’t need scrolls or a Hall or, indeed, anything else to validate what she is. He has been part of a process that has cemented her self-worth, and together they are now indivisible and unbreakable in their mutual respect and desire. Except there is a weapon to wield – an ancient artefact – that she alone has touched, and that has made everything different and suddenly uncertain.
‘ I can’t just give the thing to someone else?’
‘No. Sadly that opportunity was lost when you threw yourself onto the Broken Isles with the rest of us. It isn’t just your problem either: there are five of us in this group who all have their own responsibilities to shoulder. Argus has to deal with Paladins and you know how long those arguments take. Alyse and the Priests will spend their time not agreeing whose auras are better and Fizz is already on the mother of all power trips as the only suitable Arcane Mage, according to him. You and I are the sanity in this ridiculous situation and it is up to us to make sure our classes represent the cause. I had hoped you’d take leadership better, but on reflection I don’t blame you.’
‘You know I don’t react well to change!’
‘That is never more apparent than right now.’
Before she registers he is there to pick her up, holding as she lets the last of the anger bleed into smoky leathers that exude comfort and security. They remain wrapped around each other as the last sobs fall away, and that’s absolutely the way it should be. If Crais is any indicator, the world’s just better at coping than she is. It doesn’t make her wrong, it just means she’s different. Beautifully, maddeningly and inescapably contrary is what he’d called her when the Scrolls had arrived and he weathered her original outburst: he has no way sometimes to know how she’d react in situations like this. That’s what made this whole journey so much fun for them both – or so he’d whisper in her ear during the quiet times they were alone.
Her lover’s use of logic is, as usual, implacable. There is nobody else but her. This is the job that fate chose, and as the reality registers it doesn’t seem nearly as bad as fifteen minutes ago. She gets to return to Ironforge for starters, before heading to Highmountain, which was entirely acceptable. Some of the finest Hunters on four continents are already preparing to give consul. But if Crais was in Dalaran…
He pre-empts her, favourite book so often read. ‘I know what you’re thinking. It’s an eagle’s flight away. We can alternate quarters. I can move pretty well without being detected. This is not impossible to work around.’
‘I need you with me until I can get my head around the responsibility.’
‘I’m here, and trust me I will not go anywhere without an unreasonable amount of argument with those who try to make me leave. This doesn’t change anything, you have my word.’
‘You’re a Rogue, I’m supposed to believe you?’
‘No, I’m an Outlaw, using the pistol you gave me. Every time a shot is fired, you’re in my mind, never forget that.’
‘You say the most romantic things to a lass.’
‘Remind me to show you where I keep my Glyphs now…’
Then she wants to kiss him, because it maintains the illusion to the World she didn’t run. Instead they’d witnessed a lover’s quarrel, moment of passion diffused by ardent reconciliation. The revelation hits: instinct has kicked in, reminder she was actually capable of what was being asked.
‘I’m thinking that the next time I find something that looks even remotely important I let bloody Bronzebeard pick it up and just walk away.’
‘You’re a Dwarf. Being drawn to potential treasure is in your blood. Don’t beat yourself up for doing what you’ve always done best.’
‘Joseph Crais, you will not lecture me-‘
Crais’ face breaks into a smile, gentle chiding of his partner under the guise of authority. ‘No you’re right I won’t, this is from the Unseen Path. They can lecture you, and undoubtedly will. You don’t walk away from this, it is done and dusted – and you are far and away the best choice for a leader the Hunters League will ever find. The vote was 15-0, P, even without the significance of the Artefact. They need you to do what you did with us and all the others in Orgrimmar, and then in Draenor-‘
‘I ran. Khadgar still isn’t speaking to me after I left him in Highmaul. You can’t put someone in charge-‘
‘Oh you absolutely bloody can because you were the only person who actually told him the truth. He knows why you didn’t set foot in the Citadel and why you refused to take part at the end of the Highmaul Campaign. The past is done now, over, and without your trap and my intervention between him and that giant pig? You know and I know he wouldn’t be here. Because when all is said and done he’s still a glass cannon and even wielding three types of magic simultaneously will not help when you’re without a Portal Rune and your escape route’s on cooldown. You saved his overly perfumed arse and he will be grateful.’
From above them comes a voice, clearly unhappy at being excluded from the debate.
‘Indeed, that is exactly the case.’
The raven flies down from the top of the construction crane, transformation effortless, and Archmage Khadgar appears at the Dock’s edge, normal robes replaced by the Kirin Tor’s ceremonial garb. He had come straight from SI7, important meeting in progress that Crais knew would not have been adjourned unless there was a point that must be made. The last time he’d seen the man was the day Gul’dan opened the Tomb of Sargeras, and since that moment they’d kept a respectful distance, this embarrassing past for him not yet concluded between them. Now Crais held the remnants of the Dreadblades in his quarters and the future of a Class in the balance.
He really does understand the fear in his partner’s heart. In that respect, he and P have a lot in common. The man stands neutral, minus Atiesh, appraising P as she breathes, smoothing down the front of her favourite smock. The couple’s joint concerns are consumed in a moment of focus, and now is the time to address the issues past before swiftly moving forward.
Crais knows only too well not to cross the woman, or to intervene whilst this encounter is in progress.
‘You are no less fearsome without your armour, Mistress P. Master Crais is correct, I owe you an apology for many things, not simply my inability to understand your reticence on Draenor.’
‘It was not my fight.’
‘Indeed, it was mine. However-‘
‘The Legion is our fight. I know.’
‘I accept you are uncomfortable with the mantle of leadership. However -‘
‘I can’t just give the fragment of the gun back, I know. That’s not how it works. I am well aware of how insane Mimiron was. Now I hold this piece, I am bound to a destiny I cannot escape.’
‘This sorcery is not nearly as showy and theatrical as mine, if I am to believe your assertions in Highmaul.’
‘Indeed, and the insult was uncalled for. I think we can both could learn something from the encounter with the Butcher.’
The anger she’d shown the last time they’d met clearly had made an impression, and Crais watches his lover soften, stance relaxing in Khadgar’s measured gaze. The Archmage will now feel, as he does, that the hardest battle has been won. The idea of leadership had at least been absorbed into the woman, knowing that the discovery of what would eventually become Titanstrike bound her to a future it would be impossible to escape.
‘Your apology is accepted. I am aware that sometimes the need to get the job done in my own manner can cause friction between those who work with me. Hopefully this will not be a problem in the months that follow.’
‘I am not the same person who left Draenor, Archmage. I think we can both accept the fault where it lay.’
This won’t be enough, however: their particular needs as a pairing outside the normal rules of marriage required attention, something Crais not had a chance to discuss with anyone from Dalaran at length. However, the raven had been above them almost from the moment P’s stopped at the dock’s edge. If he had been eavesdropping since then…
‘Master Crais has accepted SI-7’s request and will be working jointly from Stormwind and the Alliance base of operations above the Broken Isles. If you are concerned as to the Kirin Tor’s stance on joint accommodation outside of wedlock-‘
‘We’re grown ups, Khadgar, we can work it out between us… assuming you’ll look the other way?’
‘I think my discretion will allow a measure of adjustment under the circumstances, assuming of course you will accept the commission?’
‘This is hardly a choice, now is it Archmage?’
‘No, that it is not. However, without your presence, we will truly be less than a cohesive whole in both numbers and strength. This I know in your heart you feel, and will grasp. You are willing to work with me?’
‘Aye. I will. Grudgingly.’
‘I would expect nothing less from a Dwarf.’
‘Don’t push your luck, conjurer.’
Khadgar extends his hand, which P stares at perhaps a little too long before returning the gesture. There’s still tension between them, abundantly apparent, but this remains progress after such an extended period of non-communication.
Crais knows that there’s little time for anything except tacit agreement anyway, considering how long it has taken to establish the presence he has across four continents. Having laid the foundations at the Dark Portal over a year previously, he’d hardly set foot back in Azeroth before green death had begun to rain from the skies.
Both he and P had been tireless in their efforts since, as had their friends to establish a joint Expeditionary Force that would meet the Legion with deadly force. Argus worked wonders with the Tauren, understanding of sun and moon joined with Draenei wisdom and foresight. Fizz had an awful lot in common with his new-found Goblin friends, amongst them their expensive tastes in wine and food. Alyse’s time in Silvermoon continued to throw up surprises and an almost continuous supply of new robes and shoes, along with some interesting ideas on topiary and decoration for Stormwind’s proposed new Park.
Crais had tossed a Gold coin with his lover as to who they’d get to play diplomats with, and he’s still glad to have lost, because Reuben Foster is the best rogue on the Continent. It doesn’t actually matter how bad he smells, because the Undead are so good at stealth you’d never see where the stench came from before it killed you. That left P to negotiate with the Trolls in Durotar, and – as if on cue – their Ambassador appears from the hastily-erected Dockside camp, muted combat robes in stark contrast to the normal outfit of the Darkspear. Crais never fails to be impressed with Shaman healers, and Vanira is no exception.
The rogue catches the subtle hint of sulphur in the afternoon air, watching as the Troll woman tenses, casual gait suddenly alert and aware. Instantly the alarm sounds, shrill clang of the Cathedral bell, as brilliant blue sky immediately begins to darken.
Khadgar’s back into raven form in a blink, heading skywards where the funnelling rotation of cloud means only one thing: the very fabric of space is being folded upon itself, ancient Elven Arcanery with an unmistakable demonic twist. P’s already running back to their quarters, speed impressive as always, and Crais blinks out of sight without thinking. Any second now the sky will rend and molten rock will rain onto the ground as it did the moment both Horde and Alliance first approached the Broken Isles.
It had only been a matter of time.
The Legion has finally arrived in Stormwind…