Sylvanas tottered on the edge of Icecrown's peak, her eyes closed. She raised her arms. Although the wind here was biting cold, she felt only the dullest of aches.
She sensed a presence nearby and opened her eyes. The Val'kyr had drifted closer to her, close enough that she could see their weapons glinting against their ghostly thighs. What did they want?
Without warning, a vision filled her head. A memory. She found herself in a warm, sun-drenched bedroom. Shafts of golden sunlight spilled through the window, illuminating aimless motes of dust and casting ornate patterns on the floor. This was her room. A lifetime ago. She had not yet seen her twentieth autumn, yet already young Sylvanas was the most promising hunter in her family. She pulled on her thigh-high leather boots, carefully measuring the laces and decoratively tying them. She adjusted the leaf-patterned embroidery, then bounced herself off of the bed to admire her reflection in the mirror. Her waist-length blonde hair flowed like water, absolutely translucent in the light of the sun. She beamed at the mirror, teasing her hair until it dashed around her long, slender ears in just the perfect way. It wasn't good enough to be the best hunter in her family. She needed to take everyone's breath away as she ventured out. She was so very vain.
It was a strange, forgotten memory, and it brought Sylvanas back from the edge of the peak. What had prompted that recollection? That life was lost a thousand times over.
Another memory flooded her senses. Now she crouched behind an outcropping of smooth stone in Eversong Woods. The autumnal foliage rustled above her, masking the sound of her companion's footsteps as he dashed forward and then fell into hiding beside her. "There are so many!" he barked, falling silent as she raised a finger. "We have only two dozen rangers up there," he said, his voice now a whisper. "They cannot survive that!" Sylvanas didn't turn her gaze away from the dark mass of shambling corpses crushing its way closer to the river ford. It was the height of the Third War, and hours away from Silvermoon's fall at the hands of Arthas's army.
"They merely need to delay them as we fortify the Sunwell's defense," she answered, her tone measured.
"They will die!"
"They are arrows in the quiver," Sylvanas said. "They must be spent if we are to win this."
She was brash. Empty? No—a fighter. She had a warrior's heart.
Now, as sudden as the last, a third memory. "Rightful heirs of Lordaeron!" Sylvanas called out, holding her bow aloft. Her forearm, still slender and muscular, was now a shade of blue-gray. Dead. The scene was very different now. This vision had the cold sheen of a memory lived after death. Before her waited a grotesque, quivering mass of corpses, their armor piecemeal, their bodies broken, the stench unimaginable. Their plaintive, desperate gazes reminded her suddenly of children. They disgusted her. But their need empowered her. "The Lich King falters. Your will is your own. Are you to be outcasts now in your own land? Or do we embrace the cruel cards fate has dealt us and retake our place in this world?"
Her questions were greeted with gurgles, then a rasping, almost desperate cheer. Bony fists lifted toward the sky. These poor people: peasants, farmers, priests, warriors, lords and nobles… they hadn't yet come to grips with what had happened to them. But for somebody—anybody—to assure them that they belonged somewhere was electrifying. "We are abandoned. We are… forsaken. But when the sun rises tomorrow, the capital will be ours," she pronounced. And now they roared.
"But what of the humans?" a young alchemist asked as the din faded. Sylvanas recognized him from the previous night's fighting. A cool intelligence flickered in his eye sockets: Lydon was his name. Already he'd come to embrace his situation, referring to humans as if they were a separate race; she made a mental note to make use of him.
"The humans will serve their purpose," she answered, her mind already calculating. "They believe they are liberating the city. Let them fight on our behalf and spend themselves for our gain. They are"—she stumbled upon an analogy she'd used before—"arrows in our quiver."
The heaving mass of undead clapped and coughed and hacked gleefully in assent. Sylvanas regarded the whole mob coldly. And so are you, she thought to herself. Arrows I will aim at Arthas's heart.
Still a warrior's heart? She had grown cold. No, she was the same. In death as in life.
Sylvanas shook her head, cleared her vision. These were her memories, but she wasn't remembering them. They were being pulled from her. Pulled from her by the Val'kyr. The mute spirits hovered around her, regarding her silently. They are probing me! Sylvanas realized. Judging me!
She drew cold air into her lungs, her eyes suddenly alive. "I will not be judged!" she cried out, turning away from the edge to face her accusers. "Not by you. Not by anyone." Her fury welled up inside her. Would her banshee's wail work against these… things?
But she didn't need to fight at all. She was done. "Stay back," she commanded. "And stay out of my head!"
Sylvanas stepped back, the wind whipping her hair and snapping her frayed cloak. The memories of who she had been and what she had become closed a knot in her stomach, and she moved now to unravel it. No more would she be the vengeful leader of a mongrel race of rotted corpses. Her work was done, and her long-denied reward awaited her. Longing for that forgotten bliss, she allowed herself to fall backward from the top of Icecrown Citadel. The wind rushed past her, a growing wail. The pinnacle, and the silent Val'kyr at its peak, disappeared…
Her body burst on the saronite stones below with a crushing finality.