The sorcerer was still smirking in victory as he fell dead, his last incantation finished, the portal pulsing now with energy, framing the dark and bulky silhouette of a creature coming through it!
"Get back, Anduin!" Varian yelled.
With a flash of effervescent light, a huge shape stepped out from the portal and into Stormwind City. Anduin gasped in shock as Varian fell back in a defensive stance. Before them was the biggest drakonid they had ever seen. The enormous half-dragon, half-man monster was adorned from head to tail in colossal purple armor bearing the markings of the Twilight's Hammer cult, its thick plates burning with protection spells.
The drakonid pulled mammoth twin axes from his back and bellowed a challenge that shook the trees and sent shivers down Anduin's spine. Varian stepped between the monster and his son, then looked over his shoulder at the prince. "Stay behind me, Anduin. No matter what happens. Do you understand? Keep back. This creature… this thing… is something different."
The prince didn't even have a chance to nod before the drakonid howled with rage and charged the boy.
"So with the advent of the transversal Gnomeregan steam crank," the field marshal droned on, glancing over his shoulder, hoping against hope to see the king had finally arrived, "ah… with this amazing new cog-shaft interlink, the pressure-assisted siege engine could hurl projectiles in excess of fifty stones, even in the coldest climes of Icecrown."
Field Marshal Afrasiabi paused, waiting for the crowd to be as impressed as he was at this fact. The people of Stormwind were impressed, all right—into utter silence. From way in the back, everyone heard a trinket drop. The field marshal turned and shrugged in surrender.
The city nobles were beside themselves. One blurted out, "Someone, do something. This is a disaster! Where is the king?!"
The delegates began talking all at once. They had been whispering and arguing for some time, but now came to a consensus. They turned to Benedictus. "We have decided the archbishop should speak in the king's stead."
Benedictus waved them off. "No, no. You flatter me, but it is not my place. Let us wait to see what has become of our king."
The crowd was booing and hissing now. Field Marshal Afrasiabi abandoned his post at the podium and sat down in disgust. "Hmmph… I win battles, not hearts!"
A growing sweep of concern moved across the audience. People were beginning to sense something was wrong. Small snippets of anxious dissatisfaction reached the grandstands as the wall of voices from the crowd grew louder.
"We're losing them, Father. Do something," one of the nobles pleaded. "Please! They love you."
Benedictus looked at the delegation and finally acquiesced. "Very well. It will be my great and humble honor to say a few words in tribute to this day."
The crowd murmured with satisfaction as Archbishop Benedictus stepped up to the podium. His reassuring presence seemed to fill the emptiness of the valley, and the throng calmed and quieted, waiting for a word from their spiritual leader. The archbishop paused to take in the moment, then raised his hands. A cheer went up, and Benedictus began to speak.
Bright blood oozed from fresh wounds as Varian stumbled back from a powerful strike of the drakonid's bulky axe. The massive creature lumbered forward and swung again with his second axe, sending Varian reeling as his sword barely absorbed the bone-crushing blow. Varian saw a brief opening and, with expert skill, lunged and chopped across the beast's belly armor, but his blade merely glanced off the creature with a bright shower of sparks. The drakonid looked down and gave a guttural laugh, then circled the tired warrior, toying with the human.
Anduin fired the last of his arrows into the beast, but they were like gnats on a gnoll. Varian kept maneuvering against the brute, trying to keep the creature's attention away from his son as blow after blow rained down upon the king. Anduin could only watch in anguish as his father tried in vain to deflect the enormous power of the monster.
Suddenly the drakonid spun, moving faster than his size would suggest. Varian managed to parry the incoming axes, but the creature's spiked tail caught the king square in the chest and sent him tumbling to the ground. Varian landed hard, rolled to a stop, and didn't move.
Anduin stared in shock at the prone body of his father. It all seemed like a nightmare that he could not wake from. "Father!" Anduin shouted, but Varian lay still, covered in dust and blood.
Anduin moved toward the king, but then he felt the earth rumbling through his legs. He looked up just in time to see the drakonid bearing down on him like a charging bull, massive and without mercy, one of his huge axes already cutting through the air, slicing for the bridge of the prince's nose.
Anduin fell backward, holding his bow out like a feather in a hurricane. The drakonid's axe slammed into the boy's weapon, shattering it and sending him spinning to the ground.
Anduin found himself face down in the dirt, his arms and chest numb from the impact. He tried to get up, but his stunned body refused to cooperate. All he could do was roll, but that alone saved his life. Just as he did, the other huge axe crashed into the earth where his head had just been. Dirt and pebbles exploded from the massive blow, stinging his eyes.
The prince collapsed, gasping for breath, his mind reeling. Anduin glanced at his father's still body, then forced himself to look up at the massive bulk of the drakonid above him, trying to be unafraid and proud as a prince of Stormwind should be, as his father would be. He stared up into the creature's cold blue eyes and felt a strange calmness envelop him.
The half-dragon raised his axes high and sneered, the beast's gnarled fangs dripping from bloodlust. Anduin said a brief prayer, knowing it would soon be over. The axes whistled down with savage glee…
Suddenly a flurry of blue and gold armor was over him. His father was there, bloodied and staggering, and with an outstretched sword he managed to stop the drakonid's strike in a blast of light and sparking steel. A teeth-jarring screech of grinding metal wrenched both the man-dragon's axe and Varian's sword from their grasps… even as the drakonid's second axe came cutting down behind the first.
Varian felt the burning bite of the blade slice through his armor and then continue deep into his ribcage. The violent impact slammed the king to the ground, but his eyes never left Anduin as he sought to make sure his child was free from harm.
Their gazes met, and Varian's eyes softened with relief that his son was unhurt. But as the dust settled, Anduin's own stare grew wide with horror at what he saw.
Varian lay sprawled and twisted with the drakonid's axe buried deep in his chest. Anduin let out a wail of anguish as the moment stretched out like an eternity. Varian looked deep into his son's eyes and let him know that everything was all right. This is how it always ends with Wrynn kings…
The drakonid stood over Varian and laughed as the broken king coughed and pleaded with his stare for Anduin to do him one last favor.
"Run…" Varian whispered as a cool and gentle blackness slowly enveloped him. Let me be the last to pay this price. The creature sneered down at the king, pulling the axe out of Varian's chest. It was a strangely numb tug. There was no more pain, no more sadness. Varian knew he would die as he had lived. The creature raised the wet blade overhead, its notched and bloody surface glistening in the setting sun. How peaceful it is here, Tiffin…