Topic The Passion of Artimus Devaneaux
Sekhesmet was furious. "Delays, delays...AND MORE DELAYS!!!" He threw an empty flask against the wall of his quarters in Venomspite. Inar, an old friend who'd been the former magistrate-regent of Borealis in the northern hills of Lordaeron, had assured him that Vendross would do anything he asked, and not question an order from him - believing it to be on the authority of Rhonin. Euphrati had just informed him otherwise. Vendross had been corrupted by the "noble spirit" of his Presidium comrades...the Light-babblers made him think too much. He had gone first to Stoneheardt, then to Rhonin himself.
Stoneheardt. The troubles seemed to begin and end there. He was making slight progress with Genevra - her tenacity was refreshing. Not like Artimus, who had been far too easy. When she is under my thumb, it will be all the sweeter. Perhaps...an acceleration is in order. He lifted his hearthstone. "Nyssha."
Yes, my lord. Nyssha Swiftblade was a rare beast, a rogue's stealth and quickness with a death knight's powers. She had been Defias, saved from the gallows by Saavedro years before, only to be killed by the House of Whitehair when it had been in the thrall of the Corruptor. Late in the war for Northrend, cultists had exhumed her beheaded corpse from its grave in Terokkar Forest and intended to make a death knight out of the girl; Arthas' death had ended that plan right then and there, and she had eventually found her way to Undercity...into his service.
"What is your location, young lady?"
Redridge. General Metheius had suggested it would be good to keep an eye on the Stoneheardt house.
Sekhesmet nodded to himself. "Perfect. You're in a good place...we must accelerate our plans, unfortunately. The purple flag has dropped."
"A Highborne growing a conscience. Sounds stupid, I know, but that's how it goes. Nonetheless...are you prepared to take the necessary steps?"
Yes, my lord.
"Good. Kill Narnicka Stoneheardt. Immediately."
"Bring her to me, at the agreed-upon place. I'm sure the previous owners of the property won't mind our using their old home now that they're all dead."
As you command.
"Then good luck, and may the Dark Lady watch over you." Cutting the communication, he turned to Euphrati. "Go at once to the southlands, to Stormwind's realm. Nyssha is good, but I want a backup plan. Even if she fails to kill Narnicka - and she might, he's killed five death knights in the last two weeks - I need you to take Genevra, intact and unharmed. Dead, she's just another corpse to be reanimated...and Dark Lady knows we'll use what we get. Alive, she may well be the key to our victory."
Euphrati nodded once. "I understand."
"I know you do, daughter. I will meet you at the Pinnacle. Go with the Shadow - and go swiftly."
Euphrati did go to the southlands. But not to Stormwind. Instead, she went to Hearthglen, and immediately requested a courier be sent to Stormwind to summon Saavedro of Stratholme to meet with her there, under the banner of neutrality enforced by Highlord Fordring. When asked who was making the request, she replied only "someone in Undercity who finds a great many benefits in his good health".
Saavedro was dumbstruck to see the Forsaken assassin. Then he took on a suspicious glance. "Euphrati. I assume you are here to assassinate me and make good your escape?"
"You know I'm not, Saavedro."
"Then why have you summoned me?"
"I'm sure you are aware that Nyssha was raised by the Scourge before the death of Arthas, and that my father and General Metheius have taken her in." At Saavedro's nod, she continued. "Father has Nyssha scouting the Stoneheardt house in Redridge. He has just given her the order to terminate Narnicka Stoneheardt, as part of his efforts to corrupt Genevra."
Saavedro's eyes went as wide as the White Lady. "You mean he did hop into her when she abandoned Artimus. She's been fighting him all this time?" Euphrati gave a slight nod. "Why tell me this? You're a servant of Sylvanas and the chief enforcer of your father's will --"
"Who's tired of fighting for fighting's sake. This is what my father and Metheius have been doing since the fall of Icecrown - indulging in mindless cruelty simply to get their rocks off. That is, if they had any rocks to get off, considering." Euphrati snorted. "Yeah, I know, I'm a murderess and a faithless witch too, but...I fought for a cause. I served in Andorhal because that was my Queen's command...we fight your kind because we are claiming the land, as you do in war...it is our destiny to rule Lordaeron, for we were once its people. This shadow war with you, the Stoneheardts, Artimus...this is simply my father being a sadist, indulging his sick fantasies, all under the pretence of serving Sylvanas."
While he disagreed with her logic about Andorhal - particularly given the involvement of the val'kyr - it did make a degree of sense. He had been involved, in some form, in every major war since the opening of Ahn'Qiraj by the priestess Shiromar, and it basically came down to the same things each time: Either one side perceived the other as a threat, or one side wanted something the other had. Or both, in the case of Northrend - the mortal races judged the Lich King a threat, and he wanted them to serve him in death. "You realize you will be accused of treason for this, Euphrati."
"I have been accused of far worse, Saavedro. I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself." She smiled enigmatically. "It's a pity I won't be able to kill Artimus as payback for murdering me fifteen years ago." With a nod, she left, leaving Saavedro to mull over what she had said. He raised his hearthstone to speak with Zherron, back in Stormwind.
Eidan, get word to Narnicka, or someone...be on the lookout for a Forsaken death knight who is after him, sent by Sekhesmet. I've just learned that he has ordered Narnicka's death.
As soon as Euphrati landed on the floating platform high above the deserts of Uldum, she let out a scream at a great burst of shadow magics. She crumpled to the floor, unable to move.
You disappoint me, Euphrati. Morality is not a weakness we can afford to indulge. His voice, calm and contemplative, sounded like a scream in her mind. That mind-voice began to raise. I give you an outlet and opportunities to make something of yourself in your new state...and this is the thanks you give me?!
"I will not...allow you to make a mockery...of Sylvanas' mission any longer, Father. You do not serve the Dark Lady - you serve only yourself!"
SILENCE! He entered her line of sight now, attired in fine robes, wearing a mask...the death mask Artimus Devaneaux had placed on his face when he buried the old priest at the mausoleum in Brill's graveyard, not long after Arthas left for Kalimdor with the Scourge. "Nyssha has also not reported in, either," he said, using his real voice. "Could it be your warning has derailed my intentions for Commander Stoneheardt and his wife?"
"If she is not still on the prowl...or possibly already dead, she has allowed what little of her soul remains to dictate her action," Euphrati replied. "Nyssha was the child Saavedro could never have, having been sworn to chastity under your tutelage...a case of the student doing as the master says, and not what he does." She sneered at him. "Does keeping me around remind you that you used to be human too, Father?"
"An uncomfortable reminder, perhaps." Sekhesmet's voice was as icy as the North Wind. "Perhaps it is time to remove such uncomfortable reminders."
((The text of the letter being discussed in this post is here: http://saavedrosjournal.cenarioncircle.org/2012/06/18/prophecy-of-the-blighted-father/))
Artimus Devaneaux was summoned to Saavedro's estate in the Cathedral District, where he was seated in his study, looking...somewhat amused. "What's up?"
"Take a look at this. This was delivered to me this morning by Jaeden'laek. Apparently, he received it via courier from Bilgewater Harbor, from that goblin shaman he trained. Smeet, I think his name was."
Artimus nodded as he took the letter and perused it for a moment. He looked up, frowning. "Some kind of prophecy?"
"Sounds that way, doesn't it?" Saavedro agreed. "Some shamans speak in riddles, and Smeet is apparently well-known for that too. He works for Kitrik the Assassin - you've heard of him from your piracy days, he runs this 'Grand Army of Kezan'. Used to be part of the Whitehair House Guard; his brother, Kellik, still is."
"Yeah, I remember Kitrik," Artimus confirmed. "No fan of Revilgaz, as I recall, though he still pops into Booty Bay from time to time. Not that I can anymore, not unless the Baron has a change of heart." He grinned. "I got into trouble with Eliphas back in the day, let's just say. I gave him my old flotilla last week."
"Admiral Aximand. Has a nice ring to it."
"It does." Artimus read it again, noticing the post-script. "Heh. 'Something to give the crazy rotter a reason to sweat out his embalming fluid'. Not like Sekhesmet takes any prophecies seriously."
"He should," Saavedro replied, his smile fading. "Jaeden'laek has been on the money with his predictions in the past, and he would not have brought this to me if he didn't believe Smeet was too. Though I wonder what this land he speaks of is. There's not a whole lot south of Kalimdor."
"The South Seas remain largely uncharted, remember," Artimus pointed out. "Plus there was the matter of this Stormstout fellow, he wandered around Kalimdor and did some work for the Horde. His people's lands are probably somewhere out there."
Saavedro snorted. "Pandaria is a myth, Artimus. Concocted by drunken sea captains in taverns, to explain why they got lost making simple trade runs in the South Seas."
"Kalimdor was a myth too, Saavedro - and Jaina and Thrall proved that existed. Hell, Draenor was considered something of a myth too - and we've both been there. Or at least, what's left of it."
"True enough." The paladin gazed at his old comrade curiously. "You think it might be possible this is what Smeet meant?"
The death knight shrugged slightly. "It makes sense to me."
"Hmm." Saavedro tapped his finger against his chin thoughtfully as he sat back at his desk. "Is Lord Vendross still in town?" Vendross had recently started devoting himself further to the Kirin Tor.
"Have a word with him. Ask him to look up the possibility when he returns to Dalaran. The Kirin Tor has better libraries than we do."
Artimus nodded. "I'll do that."
Artimus Devaneaux was a free man.
But it still came with conditions. Now he worked for Genevra...and Saavedro, and was confined to the Eastern Kingdoms only. Still, it was better than remaining in Stormwind all day. The first place he'd gone, right off the bat, was north...into the wilds of Lordaeron.
The hunt was on.
Edited by Varsil on 6/19/12 12:49 PM (PDT)
Varsil Eagleshot left the Pig and Whistle with his bear Mathuin, making his way to the gryphon master in Stormwind. He had heard that the First Stormwind Regiment had released Artimus Devaneaux from his conditional parole that had kept his movements restricted to their city.
Varsil had been left to seethe during Artimus' parole, wondering when they were just going to execute him. He had nearly let slip to Lahkin in the Pig and Whistle that he had fired the shot that had destroyed Artimus' left spaulder. He had actually been aiming for the death knight's head, but that had backfired...all because Artimus had believed that it was intended for Saavedro, and had heard the rifle hammer going back.
Now they had released him. But Varsil knew full well where he was going...right into the Plaguelands. Likely to rejoin his Forsaken friends.
The only thing that will come back of him will be his head, he vowed, his pact of gwyarbrawden with his father - to uphold the bloodline and avenge his death - fresh in his mind. And then I will deal with the Stormwind military's incompetence.
Riding on the back of a storm dragon provided by Jaeden'laek, Artimus Devaneaux began his search where he'd been captured by Zherron and his pack - the crossroads south of Tarren Mill in the Hillsbrad Foothills.
"Word among my friends in the Undercity is that Sekhesmet's...diocese, you could say, is based out of Tarren Mill," his friend Eliphas Aximand, a renegade Forsaken who was now admiral of a pirate flotilla that he had worked with in the past, had told him the day before, when he had run into the Sword of Acherus off the Wetlands. "If he has a base of operations, it will be there, or somewhere in the Hillsbrad area. The Forsaken have been fortifying the place fairly extensively and running the Alliance out. Southshore is gone, Hillsbrad Fields gone..."
Artimus had nodded. "Keep an eye out, I suppose you're trying to say?"
"Something like that," Aximand had replied with a grin.
Well-travelled, Artimus thought as he dismounted from the drake, which disappeared in a crackle of lightning. Forsaken patrols follow this route a great deal, it would seem...I will need to be cautious.
The click of a rifle hammer interrupted his reverie. He went to the ground and rolled to the side just as the shot went off. As he looked up, he saw a dwarf with a twin-braided beard holding a finely-crafted musket. At his side was a white bear native to Dun Morogh.
"Baron Artimus Devaneaux," he said in his thick accent. "Ye are a black crim'nal, a murderin' bastard an' a traitor t' th' Alliance. In th' name o' King Varian an' th' Council o' Three Hammers, and by th' blood o' me father, Gen'ral Korogh Madeyes, I claim this unholy sham ye call yer life."
"Varsil Eagleshot." Artimus came to his feet. "I was wondering who the coward who took a potshot at Saavedro was. Are you so vengeful that you are willing to kill a friend of your father to get at me?"
"It woulda been yer head spattered all o'er th' Cathedral walls if ye hadn't moved," Varsil said matter-of-factly. "I 'ad no intention o' harmin' Lord Saavedro."
"I see. And you expect me to beg for my life or something?"
"Nay, death knight - I expect ye t' die. Permanently." Varsil raised his rifle again - but Artimus was faster, his sword slicing right through the rifle barrel, rendering the weapon useless.
"Do not force my hand, master dwarf," the Baron warned. "I do not wish your death, but if you continue in this madness, I will have no choice."
"Did ye tell me father tha' when ye ran 'im through th' 'eart an' fed 'im t' th' fishes?" the dwarf rifleman snarled, as he commanded his bear to attack. Artimus moved swiftly, freezing the bear with a burst of ice. He then took up a defensive stance as Varsil unsheathed his paired axes.
"I had no choice in that matter," Artimus said, finally glad to admit to his guilt. "I did not want to kill your father, Varsil, but he was not going to stop. He was blinded by vengeance, wanting to kill me for the injuries I had inflicted on Oren in my flight from Elwynn."
Varsil roared and charged at him, axes swinging. Artimus stayed on the defensive - the battle against Korogh in the Grizzly Hills still haunting him, he did not want to repeat that again. With a quick swipe with the flat of his blade, he struck the dwarf in the face, disorienting him. With his free hand, he lifted Varsil off the ground - careful not to grasp the braided beard, knowing how dwarves valued their facial hair.
"I am not your enemy, Varsil. I consider your commander and his officers to be fine comrades..." He remembered what Genevra had told him when she had convinced Ketlan Jancis to release him from his parole, admonishing him for his stance against accepting help from others. "...and friends."
"Stop gabbin' at me, murderer!" the dwarf snarled, spitting in his face. "Kill me an' be done wit' it, like ye did wit' me dad!"
"I cannot bring him back, you stupid little man!" the Baron shouted in exasperation. "I can only...live...with what I have done - as I must do until I am destroyed, or the world truly ends." He released the dwarf to the ground. "As I said, I had no choice in the matter. You can attack me if you wish...but I have the choice here, and I am making what I hope is the right one. Go back to the Aerie, or back to Stormwind. Or come and help me, if you can set aside your vengeance." He turned away. "The man I hunt is truly evil. If you want to fight evil...then come with me."
"What a touching sentiment." Both death knight and hunter turned. Artimus recognized Inar of Borealis, the mage who had been magistrate-regent of the town when the appointed heir to the magistracy was a minor. As Royal Magistrate of Tirisfal, Artimus had met with him several times. Now he worked for the Kirin Tor.
"Ah, good!" Varsil brightened. "Ye Kirin Tor types want this man fer 'is crimes too, don't ye? 'Elp me take this scum --" He suddenly went silent as he saw five Forsaken Deathguards come behind him...looking like they were defending him.
"Kill the dwarf," Inar said - in a voice that was suddenly not his own. "Bring Artimus to me."
A letter is left in Saavedro's front parlor at his home in Cathedral Square - and it was delivered to him by Zherron to where Saavedro was staying in the Aerie. It reads "tell Genevra". Saavedro opened it to read what it said.
My dear friend,
"Lord Saavedro." It was Liam Branscombe, who'd tailed Artimus into Hillsbrad on Zherron's order when Genevra convinced the Regiment to release him. "Artimus Devaneaux has been captured by the Forsaken. Some of our boys brought in a dwarf hunter who'd fought alongside him."
Varsil - fighting alongside? Saavedro exited his quarters to see the dwarf being brought in by some of Lahkin's troops. The paladin placed a gentle hand on his forehead. "Varsil, what happened?"
"Death knight...ambushed by Forsaken...taking him somewhere high, somewhere...cloudy..." Varsil slipped into unconsciousness.
Saavedro and Branscombe exchanged grim glances. "Skywall!"
"You will not escape me again, Artimus Devaneaux - what little of your soul remains is MINE, and will be so until the end of time!" The man who was and was not Inar of Borealis sneered at him.
"We will see about that." Artimus raised an anti-magic barrier around himself as Inar launched another bolt of flame at him. Behind him, he could see more Forsaken guards - Metheius' troops. He could see the General himself leading the attack.
Varsil turned to Artimus, his expression grim. Neither he nor his bear had escaped injury here - he had sent the bear running back, knowing it would get away quickly despite its bulk. "Go' another rabbit t' pull outta yer hat, murderer?"
"I don't think he'll need one." Liam Branscombe slashed one of the guards to pieces with his knives, grinning...well, wolfishly. Five worgen came running across the hills.
"No! You will not win again, Zherron!" That voice was not that of the mage...but of the notoriously silent death knight general approaching quickly. Artimus noted in surprise that a grayish mass of bone had been added to where Metheius' lower jaw had been. One of his Deathguards loosed a flurry of crossbow bolts, two striking the unlucky dwarf, another two piercing Artimus' right shoulder.
Artimus knew he could not win this game. He looked up at Inar, or at least the man who looked like Inar. The mage was grinning. "Now you watch them die, Artimus...before you are brought to the cities in the clouds, to face your final judgment."
"Not if I have anything to say about it...Master." A great speartip of blue, glowing crystal shredded through Inar's robe from behind, glistening with his blood. The mage twitched and slumped to the ground, and Artimus was pleased to see the red-robed form of Caro'thel Vendross.
"Lord Vendross, your timing is excellent." Artimus gazed at him grimly, seeing more troops approaching behind Metheius' vanguard. "Take Varsil back to the Aerie. All of you. You heard what he said...you know where he is taking me. Tell Saavedro everything."
Surprisingly, it was Branscombe who protested. "Lord Devaneaux, you can't --"
"Go, Liam! Take the dwarf out of here! You cannot win this time." Artimus smiled. "But maybe I can."
Sekhesmet sunk to his knees as he felt Inar die. The embalming fluid in his dried-up veins began to boil with rage. Another pawn removed too soon.
No matter. He had the bait. Now it was time for Saavedro to bite it.
As Varsil slept in the bunk room in Wildhammer Keep, Saavedro turned to his visitor. "Battlelord, I need you to stay with Varsil - and with Lahkin, if things go awry."
"You are going after Sekhesmet in Skywall." It was not a question, but Saavedro nodded as if it were. "Take someone with you, Saavedro. It is likely a trap."
"Believe it or not, you're not the only one who has told me so. Packleader Zherron and Archmage Vendross will accompany me, along with some of Zherron's pack. Vendross is here and will take me to Stormwind, where I will meet with Zherron, and we will use the Earthen Ring's shrine portals to go to Uldum." He noticed the expression on the draenei's face. "I know this is a risk, Velenkayn. But I will not let a debaser of the Light hold the upper hand forever."
Battlelord Velenkayn nodded in grim agreement. "I understand." He saw the Highborne mage approach, and bowed deeply to both men. "Light go with you, friends."
Sekhesmet of Stratholme laughed as the Baron was brought before him by three Deathguards. "Ah, Artimus. You didn't really think you had escaped me, did you?" He nodded to Metheius, standing behind his prisoner. "Release him, General."
Metheius slammed the back of Artimus' legs with the flat of his sword, forcing him to fall to his knees. The Baron's ice-blue eyes glared at the shadow priest, not deigning to give a second thought to the brainless toady who'd brought him here from Lordaeron. As Metheius stepped back, Sekhesmet approached - attired in beautifully tailored robes, spattered with blood and rotted by the inherent corruption of the Forsaken's body. His face was obscured by a crowned mask, but Artimus knew the beast was grinning like an idiot.
The only thought he had in his mind was an apology to Genevra - she had lobbied to let him leave Stormwind provided he keep in contact with her. The first thing Metheius had taken was his hearthstone, crushing it under his boot.
"Here at the gateway to the heavens will you see what I am capable of, Artimus," the insane High Priest gloated, raising a hand to indicate their surroundings. "Genevra and her dimwit of a husband cannot save you here." YOU ARE MINE. The Baron cried out in agony as the shadow priest's mental voice echoed in his skull, more painful than enduring the imprisonment within his own body in the service of the Lich King, what seemed like an eternity ago. Metheius stood next to his master, gazing pitilessly at the quivering figure before him. Choose carefully, Artimus...will you submit to my will, and live forever? Or will you embrace oblivion? Artimus slumped flat onto the ground, shaking violently. If he could produce tears, he would be unashamedly weeping.
Artimus. A familiar sound within his mind, and a great chiming - like the voice of an angel. Your will is your own. Embrace the man you have chosen to be.
Looking up, the Baron came to his feet. And, to Sekhesmet's utter shock, he smiled.
"I choose oblivion. And I intend to take you with me."
Screaming in rage, Artimus Devaneaux charged headlong into his enemy.
Saavedro of Stratholme's head hung in shame as he stepped from the back of the red dragon that had come with him from Stormwind and flown him from Ramkahen.
Artimus Devaneaux lay flat on his back on one of the "islands" of the Vir'naal River Delta as it emptied into the South Seas. A couple of "islands" away was the headless body of an armored undead creature, his tabard bearing the sigil of the Forsaken. Some distance away was a bony jaw, metal fastenings bent and twisted...followed by the mohawk-crowned head of its owner: General Varan Metheius.
He could see in his mind's eye, as he looked up far towards the entrance to Skywall, what had happened here...
The Baron's charge barrelled him right into Sekhesmet's general, and both men toppled from the tower's height. Sekhesmet began screaming in fury as the death knights began their swift descent back towards Uldum.
Even as they fell, they battled one another with the powers at their disposal. Artimus' plate-mailed hand grasped Metheius' jaw. "Razuvious didn't do a good enough job," he said - and with a mighty wrench, he tore the lower jaw clean off, twisting the metal bolts that had held it there. The Deathguard general let out a strangled cry of agony as his sword flew from his hand - and was blown by the wind into Artimus'.
"This is for the Gilneans...and for me." Putting all of his strength into it, Artimus swung Worgensbane, cleaving through Metheius' neck. The general's head separated from its body, which twitched...and continued its free fall.
As he spread his wings to fly, Artimus Devaneaux only regretted that he would not see the "land of mists" in Smeet Spiritgrinder's prophecy...
Eidan Zherron knelt and picked up Metheius' head, stuffing it into a bag. He noticed the odd glances from Saavedro and Vendross. "It will be reassuring to my people to know the Butcher of the Northgate is dead," he explained.
Saavedro nodded; Metheius was particularly reviled by Zherron's pack for his atrocities during the invasion, as the Shadowhowl had been at the forefront to fight him in the Northgate. Sigfrid Thaumen, a former "son of Arugal" who'd returned to Gilneas and joined with Zherron, had duelled Metheius outside Emberstone during the invasion.
"What of Lord Devaneaux?" the Highborne archmage asked.
"We take him," he said. "We will take him back to Lordaeron." Zherron's chosen warriors stepped forward to take the body; Vendross would teleport them to Ironforge, the closest major city, and from there fly to the Redpine Dell, outside Hearthglen. But there was one other matter to attend to as well.
"Velenkayn," he said grimly into his hearthstone. "Are you still in the Aerie?"
Yes. Has he... The draenei was hesitant.
"He is gone." Saavedro closed his eyes for a moment. "There is something I need you to do, Velenkayn. You and Jaeden'laek. How swiftly can you reach Tyr's Hand?" He knew that the Argent Crusade had moved in and claimed the city from "the Risen", the former Scarlet Crusaders who'd garrisoned the city.
"Good. In the graveyard outside the former Scarlet Basilica, I need you to find the grave of Anastasia Devaneaux...and exhume the body. Then take it to a clearing in Redpine Dell outside Hearthglen, and help Jaeden'laek prepare a pyre."
You intend to send them off together. The Battlelord was silent for a long moment. It will be done. I will petition the Argent Crusade for assistance in this matter. Shall I inform them this request comes from you? The Highlord will likely accept it in that case.
"If you must, yes. Tell Tirion everything." Saavedro sighed. "I will stay in Ramkahen for a time, then I will go back to the Aerie before we send him off. I will meet you there. When I return, I will need you to go back to the southlands and inform Genevra."
You do not wish to go yourself?
Saavedro shook his head, even though he knew Velenkayn couldn't see. "No. I think I have disrupted that family's livelihood enough."
And if she asks me why?
The paladin closed his eyes. "Then tell her I am going home to say goodbye to a friend."
Velenkayn did not approve of this, but said only, I will do as you ask, Saavedro.
"Thank you, Velenkayn. Light go with you."
And with you, my friend.
Zherron put a hand on Saavedro's shoulder. "We'll get the bastard, Saavedro," he promised.
"We will," the paladin replied, his usually warm eyes full of cold fury. "By the Light, I swear it."
A warm rain fell over the Hinterlands of Lordaeron. But Velenkayn, dead as he was these last few years, paid it no mind as he stood at the top of the ramp at the Aerie. He was waiting for the arrival of Ambassador Jaeden'laek, who was en route from Ironforge.
Velenkayn had worked alongside Saavedro - and then Artimus, when he was raised by the Scourge - since his arrival on Azeroth, close to five years ago now. When the Exodar made its descent, Velenkayn had been torn between wanting to take his hammer to the malfunctioning engine, or scream in terror. When they settled on the Azuremyst Isles, he had no real idea where they were. It was only when he met Admiral Odeysus and his men on the shore of the southern island where the Exodar crashed that he learned of his new home...and it was only when he'd met Saavedro in Stormwind that he realized just how much the Alliance appreciated their new allies.
Like Saavedro and Artimus, Velenkayn had fought through the war in Northrend. And like Artimus, he had believed Saavedro dead after the confrontation with the Corruptor - the orc warlock who turned him over to the Cult of the Damned as a "peace offering". Aided by Jaeden'laek - antagonist (because of the other draenei's choice to be a shaman), then ally, then friend - Velenkayn had been Saavedro's main link to the draenei people, a function he'd served with Artimus as well.
Now the Baron was dead - and Velenkayn was not entirely certain how to feel. On the one hand, he knew humans had such short lifespans, while draenei - by some grace of the Light, or perhaps a racial spirit that kept them living to see the man'ari destroyed - were practically immortal. (But not invulnerable, he mused with an ironic smile.) On the other, he owed a great deal to Artimus, who had taught him how to use his curse in defense of his people.
The storm dragon glided low and landed at the bottom of the ramp, so as not to frighten the gryphons. Jaeden'laek looked up at him from the saddle. "Are you prepared, Velenkayn?" he asked in Draenei.
"I am," Velenkayn replied in the same tongue. "Have you spoken with the leadership in Hearthglen?"
"Indeed. Highlord Fordring has offered some of his laborers to assist us. They will meet us at Light's Hope Chapel."
"Then let us go, my friend. We must have all in preparation when Saavedro and his companions return from Uldum." As he made his way down the ramp to where the farseer waited, Velenkayn looked up for a moment at the sky, cloudy and gray from the summer storm. It is altogether fitting, he thought. Perhaps Saavedro's anguish is mirrored by more than just his comrades?
Saavedro stood alone on the battlements of Mardenholde Keep in Hearthglen. Velenkayn had gone to Stormwind and spoken with Lahkin and Erelyn, who had agreed to come...and he would hopefully go to Genevra sometime soon. Saavedro had heard of what had happened in Stormwind, to the Regiment - and of the tensions rising not only between paladins, but within a family. He was greatly troubled by this. This whole matter has proven that fighting amongst ourselves is damned stupidity with all these people trying to destroy us, he thought. What more example do these people require?
As he listened to the sounds of birdsong - something that had become a rarity in Lordaeron after the Scourge came, but a sound he had learned to value hearing in this land again - he was aware of footsteps approaching...and a mocking voice he certainly did not expect to hear in this town. "So, Saavedro. Your heart still bleeds even after all this time, after all you have seen, all you have done...all the blood you've spilled, you still cling to that stupid notion of compassion. Your chief weakness."
He turned, his hammer in one hand and his shield ready in the other. "And your chief failing is your twisted mind, Master."
"Oh, put your weapons away, boy. The Argents would put you down like a dog if you even thought of raising that hammer against me in their fortress." Sekhesmet cackled maniacally. "Not that it matters. Fordring and his ilk will die and be reborn in our service, soon enough. Sylvanas has decreed that the Forsaken will rule Lordaeron - all of Lordaeron. And in time, we will, Saavedro...do not doubt that for a second. Andorhal was the first lesson. Hearthglen will be the next."
"Say that louder, Sekhesmet. Maybe Fordring will kill you and spare me the trouble of having to chase you into the South Seas."
The High Priest snorted. "Honestly, boy, I am surprised I ever trained an idiot like you. Do you really think Fordring will raise a hand against me? Even alone, the Undercity has legions that far outweigh any paltry force the Argent Crusade can muster. Their best died in Northrend, and all they're stuck with is people like you. Besides, Varian - and your friend Tanis and his ilk in the Army - could care not a whit what happens to Fordring now. The Argent Crusade's purpose is long past, just like the Ebon Blade - Acherus is marginalized, and people like your dog-friend Ragefang are seen as hopeless relics because they cling to their old black-sword emblems. Now death knights must choose their allegiance, and more and more come to us, for we welcome all who are forsaken by their supposed people."
"If the Argent Crusade and the Ebon Blade serves no purpose and those who cling to their tenets are hopeless relics...what does that make you, now that your queen has no purpose with Arthas dead?" Saavedro retorted.
Sekhesmet's rigor-frozen grimace became an evil grin. "The future." With that, the priest...vanished.
An apparition! Saavedro's grip tightened around his hammer. "You think you can play parlor tricks with ME?!" he shouted angrily. "Come out and face me like a man, Sekhesmet! I will send your head back to Sylvanas myself!"
"Lord Saavedro?" Two Argent Crusaders looked at him quizzically. "What is it? Who are you speaking to?"
Saavedro shuddered suddenly, wondering if he had imagined that whole thing. "Nothing," he lied uneasily. "Just...a strange vision."
In his mind, he could hear Sekhesmet's mocking laughter...
Edited by Saavedro on 7/7/12 12:07 PM (PDT)
((Finally bringing this one to a close. Thanks to Lahkin, Erelyn and Elisienne, who contributed to this last post.))
The pyre was prepared in the clearing not far from the Northridge Lumber Camp, south of Hearthglen. It was a beautiful day, the birdsong echoing in the evening, cooling somewhat as the sun began to set. Making his way out of Hearthglen's gates, Saavedro of Stratholme rode on the back of his Argent charger, Magnanimous (keeping in the spirit of Lordaeronian knights naming their steeds after a quality), escorted by Battlelord Velenkayn. Zherron had gone to the Aerie to fetch their last two guests. All in all, the gathering was rather small - and from what he knew of the man they were sending off today, it was perhaps fitting.
The encounter with Sekhesmet in Hearthglen troubled him - and form what he'd heard on the hearthstone from Zherron, he had also gone to the Aerie and attacked the Terrans in their own base, killing two Wildhammer guards. Saavedro was outraged and horrified; the shadow priest's audacity astounded him. But then again, he thought with a sad smile as he rode down the lane, it shouldn't - he was very similar in temperment, at times...
Saavedro approached the site and dismounted, removing his great winged helm and holding it under the crook of one arm. Velenkayn also dismounted, having gone helm-less. Standing at the pyre was the draenei farseer Jaeden'laek, sprinkling fresh, pungent herbs upon the pyre, and anointing the two bodies with blessed oils. Saavedro kept his expression stoic as he looked at the shaman at his work. Zherron landed and shifted out of his crow form, showing the purple armor with tabard and cloak bearing the sigil of Gilneas, and wielding a staff crafted from wood here in Lordaeron, and the skull of a Forsaken commander he had killed in Andorhal twisted in its "roots".
Artimus Devaneaux was attired in the armor he'd worn for his last battle, beaten back into shape by Amendera Kynes, who had become a rather skilled blacksmith. His spaulders were like great snarling dragon's heads, glowing with magic. He still wore the Argent tabard Saavedro had given him, its fine embroidery now stained with the greenish fluid of the Forsaken Deathguards he had killed - including Varan Metheius, their general. Crossed over his chest, blade-tips pointed to his feet, were a pair of greatswords - Crimsonblight, the blade he'd been given by Darion Mograine after Light's Hope, and Worgensbane, the sword of Metheius...the blade that Artimus had decapitated its own wielder with. At his side, her body mummified by the Scarlet embalmers, was his beloved wife, Anastasia, attired in the crimson armor she had been buried in.
"Are they on their way?" Saavedro asked of the Packleader. Zherron gave a nod, and pointed in the skies to the south.
There were no words. Sometimes, things struck so deep and hard inside of you, they reached a place beyond explanation, or consciousness. That was where Lahkin was now.
The stone drake landed gracefully in a clearing of trees. As soon as Erelyn had slipped off, he reformed into his human self. His face was expressionless, and he kept one hand clasped firmly over the hilt of his sword, the other hidden under his cloak. His dress was somber, the metal of his armor untreated with anything to make it shine. As usual, the white diamond of Terra cut a stark contrast to the black cloth of his tabard.
Lahkin nodded to each of the others without saying anything, then quietly took his took his place near the funeral pyre. As he watched Artimus, his face became even more expressionless, if that was possible, and he bowed his head to stare at the ground. Waiting.
Erelyn flanked her husband. She'd felt him retreat into himself the moment they left Aerie Peak and the flight had been a silent one. She hadn't pressed; she knew there was no point. She had very little personal experience with Artimus herself, but he'd never been unkind to her. That his death weighed heavily on Lahkin was evident in the grim silence shrouding them as they advanced to the pyre. She nodded once at Saavedro in recognition before turning her attention to Artimus.
Saavedro nodded to Zherron to assist him, and together the two men covered the bodies of both Artimus and Anatasia with white banners bearing the blue "L" sigil of Lordaeron. Jaeden'laek glanced at Saavedro, who shook his head silently. The draenei farseer stepped forward, his talbuk-head staff planted in the ground next to him.
"When first we met this man, he was an enemy," he began. "He left this life as a friend. Perhaps 'hero' would not be too strong a word to add as well, having fought for the Alliance in Northrend and in the wake of the Cataclysm, and - despite the crimes committed under the compulsion of evil ones - redeemed himself in defeating those evil ones." Jaeden'laek's gaze went to those in attendance. "Despite his misgivings in recent days about the necessity of friends, perhaps it is good that he had people such as yourselves to call friends." He turned to Velenkayn as he stepped back, his staff held against one shoulder, and nodded. The Battlelord stepped forward, looking to the others for a moment, before he bowed his head to compose his thoughts.
"My people have only been on this world for a short time, but the comrades we have made in our time have made a defining impact," he said after a long pause. "For me, two men have made a tremendous difference in my life - and in my undeath. Both are here. One is this man here," and he gestured to Saavedro, "and the other...here." He laid a hand gently on Artimus' chest.
Elise approached the scene of the funeral pyre solemnly. It had been months since she had seen Artimus, but theirs was a shared history, of service, of holding on to the ways of the North. She nodded to her step-daughter and to Lahkin, listening to Velenkayn's kind words about the fallen Deathknight. Elise held her hands behind her back as she fixed her gaze upon Artimus and Anastasia.
"After my death and resurrection, I stood at his side, and we fought together - first as slaves of the Scourge, then as free soldiers of the Alliance in the battlefields of Northrend. We saw our fates avenged, as the Ashbringer destroyed the Lich King. We have fought the horrors of the Cataclysm. It does not seem right to me that he will not be with us as we prepare to battle the threats beyond the horizon...but it is the Light's will, for good or ill." Velenkayn stepped back for a moment, then turned to Lahkin. "Commander?"
Lahkin stared blankly at the draenei for a moment, never feeling his loss of speech so strongly as he did right now. But instead of listening too much to the thump in his ears that threatened to send him into a stuttering mess like it had in the past, Lahkin closed his eyes, finding his center.
And there, as if magically, were the words. Lahkin wondered if they had always been there...again he felt the eyes of the others, and putting that thought aside, he started to speak.
"I didn't know Artimus that well. Not as well as the others here, I mean. I didn't really take much of an interest in him at all...until a kindness he showed me in Lakeshire...and then again, when he came under the spell of--his name doesn't matter right now."
Another long pause. Another deep breath as Lahkin searched for that calm spot again.
"This isn't really the time to speak about sad things, when this is already so sad. The kindness was in response to one of those sad things, too, and I'd rather not talk about that, either. What he did was simple, as much as my words are--are simple.
"And that's why it meant so much. Even when everything else was chaos, even when Artimus himself was chaos, he had this strength all of his own that kept him together. You were drawn to it, even when you were pushed away. Like a whirlwind, all locked inside him. I think he could've blown down castles, if he'd gotten all the winds to blow in the right direction. And maybe...he did, you know. In his last act, of killing that--that--"
The calmness was wavering, as was his voice. The emotions welled up again, covering over whatever he was about to say, leaving his tongue clicking on his teeth in that hated stutter. He couldn't remember the name of Artimus' kill anyway.
Lahkin snapped his jaw shut tight, falling silent, and nodding at Jaeden'laek without looking at him to go on.
Jaeden'laek glanced at the newcomer in some surprise. "My lady," he said, inclining his head. "Have you come for Lord Artimus as well?"
Elise nodded to the Draenei turning her gaze away from the pyre and to the others, "Artimus was not what I would call a friend; we were comrades in arms in service to the Presidium and to Genevra. However, his convictions, his dedication to upholding not only his personal honor but also that of those whom he served with marked him a many worthy of knowing.
"I know that in the end his life was a tumultuous one, but even such a destructive end cannot erase the honorable words and deeds of a lifetime. I pray that the flames carry his spirit home."
Jaeden'laek glanced now at Saavedro, who shook his head. He had said everything that needed to be said. "Then, in the sight of the Light and in the presence of our friends, I ask you, Brother Fire, to take the bodies of these two departed souls - and I ask you, Brother Wind, to spread the ashes in this land they once called home. Let their spirits reside here as the land is restored to life, and hope that we may again meet in a happier place." The talbuk-head of his staff began to blaze, and he touched it gently to the pyre. The flames that rose from the pyre seemed far hotter than dragon's fire...and soon, the empty shells that had once held significant people would be scattered to the winds.
Saavedro bowed his head, his eyes closed. When they opened again, they seemed to have a fire of their own. A desire for vengeance. He knew that vengeance could not be a paladin's creed...but Saavedro had never been a typical paladin, and he had associated with others of similar temperment - Fordring particularly. The Highlord would understand his wish to destroy Sekhesmet, for it had been Fordring's desire to destroy Arthas that had led to the war in Northrend. On the same vein, however, it had been Arthas' obsession with vengeance - against the marauding orcs, then Kel'Thuzad, then Mal'Ganis - that had taken him down the path to becoming the Lich King.
Can I avoid his fate? Saavedro wondered. Furthermore...do I want to? The question troubled him greatly...but part of him realized he would pay any price, to ensure that others did not suffer at this monster's hands again.
Any price...even his own soul.
Far away, on an island that was not an island, a lone figure sat in meditation on a hillside overlooking farmland. He had sat this way for several hours. A younger one sat watching him with curious fascination. Finally, abruptly, he stood.
"Brother? What is it? Has your meditation brought you an answer?"
The elder of the two nodded, his black-and-white face crinkling with a slight smile. "A possible answer," he replied. "A soul in anguish, seeking balance." He looked up, seeing something approaching in the sky. "And we will meet soon, I think."
"What will we do?"
"You know the answer to that question already, little sister...you know my beliefs well enough." He smiled. "We will wait and see..."