Lady Sylvanas Windrunner tumbled in a free fall. Not in the physical sense; her body had been obliterated at the foot of Icecrown Citadel. It was her spirit that tumbled, lost, like a rudderless ship in a storm.
How had she gotten here? She couldn't remember. Had she been killed by Arthas? Had she committed suicide? Had she been sent to judgment by the Val'kyr? Time was meaningless here. Her whole life seemed not a series of events but a single instant, a pinpoint flash of consciousness in an infinite void.
She saw only darkness.
And then she felt—truly felt, for the first time in a long while. She recoiled. In agony.
Here she was, her spirit once again feeling whole, only to feel it suffer. To feel once more, only to feel abject pain. Cold. Hopelessness.
There were others in the darkness. Things she didn't recognize, because nothing so terrible could exist in the world of the living. Claws tore at her, but she had no mouth with which to scream. Eyes looked at her, but she couldn't look back.
She sensed a familiar presence. Recognized it. The taunting voice that had once held her in its grasp. Arthas? Arthas Menethil? Here? His essence rushed to her, desperate, then shrank away in horrified recognition. The boy who would be Lich King. Just a scared little blond child, reaping the aftermath of a lifetime of mistakes. If any part of Sylvanas's soul were not at that moment torn and tormented, she might have even felt—for the first time—the slightest glimmer of pity for him.
In the grand landscape of all the world's suffering and all the evils of the infinite, the Lich King was… insignificant.
Now the others had her. Surrounded her. Gleeful, tormenting, tearing at her consciousness, delighting in her suffering.
This was to be her eternity: the endless void, the dark, unknown realm of anguish.
Was it a moment or a lifetime before a single thread of light broke through the darkness? Then they came to her, their arms extended. The nine Val'kyr, impossibly beautiful after this dark place, enshrouding Sylvanas in a single halo of light.
She felt small and naked. Coiled into herself. When she found her voice again, it only sobbed. Sylvanas Windrunner was broken. Yet still, the Val'kyr did not judge.
"Lady Sylvanas," Annhylde said, her voice soothing. She touched the side of the elven ranger's face. "We need you."
"What—what do you want?"
"We are bound to the will of the dormant Lich King. Imprisoned atop Icecrown, possibly for eternity. We hunger for our freedom, as you once hungered for yours." Annhylde knelt beside Sylvanas, the other Val'kyr clustering around the pair of them, arms linked. "We need a vessel. One like us. A sister of war. Strong. Who understands life and death. Who has seen the light and the dark. Someone worthy—worthy of power over life and death."
"We need you," repeated Agatha, her black hair floating freely in the light.
"My sisters will be free, free of the Lich King forever, but their souls will be bound to yours," Annhylde continued. "Sylvanas Windrunner, Dark Lady, queen of the Forsaken… you may walk with the living again through the sisterhood of the Val'kyr. As long as they live, so too shall you. Freedom, life… and power over death. This is our pact. Do you accept our gift?"
Sylvanas answered, but not right away. The lurking oblivion filled her with terror. Even now, she felt the tempest rage around her. This was her only way out. But she didn't want to give her assent out of fear. She waited until she felt something more. A fellowship. A sisterhood. Sisters. Separate, they were all trapped. But together, they were free… and with them, she could postpone her fate.
"Yes," she said. "We have a pact."
Annhylde nodded grimly, then rose up, her features blurred and ghostly. "The pact is made, Sylvanas Windrunner," she said. "My sisters are yours, and you hold sway over life and death." A long pause, and then: "I shall take your place."
The light was blinding.
Then Sylvanas awoke, her body twisted but whole, the enormous column of Icecrown Citadel looming above her like a tombstone.
Annhylde was gone. Sylvanas was surrounded by the eight remaining Val'kyr.
As long as they lived, so too would she.