With that, the meeting ended just as it had begun: without answers.
The next morning, Ysera wandered through the scattered camps at the base of Nordrassil. The great World Tree towered over her, its canopy veiled in a layer of clouds. Here and there, Earthen Ring shaman and Cenarion Circle druids were peacefully meditating. After Nordrassil had been healed, Ysera had taught the druids how to meld their spirits with the tree's roots to help them extend into the soil. The shaman, meanwhile, worked to pacify the earth elementals, allowing the roots safe passage as they stretched into Azeroth's depths. The undertaking was an unprecedented union of the two dissimilar mortal groups. Yet as much as it emboldened Ysera, she knew that their noble efforts would be meaningless if Deathwing remained free to pursue his interests.
The Awakened continued up to a secluded ring of trees northeast of the World Tree. When she entered a clearing in the grove, Thrall was already waiting for her, deep in meditation. Ysera had profound respect for the orc shaman, likely more than he realized. Weeks ago, Deathwing and his allies had launched an assault on the green, red, blue, and bronze Aspects that would have destroyed them if not for Thrall's intervention. He had helped bring the dragon leaders together, and he had reminded them of their purpose in safeguarding Azeroth. The Aspects were more united now than they had been in over ten thousand years.
"Thrall." The Awakened spoke softly. Nature stirred at her voice. The wind tugged at the orc's long black braids. The grass rustled beneath his simple robes. Yet the shaman did not open his eyes.
She was amazed by his level of focus, but she knew that it had not come easily. During the first attempt to mend Nordrassil, Deathwing's servants had ambushed Thrall and sundered his mind, body, and spirit into the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water. Through the work of a mortal hero and Thrall's mate, Aggra, he had been saved. Ever since that time, Thrall had displayed a newfound connection with the earth that went beyond mere communication with the elements. He could feel Azeroth as if it were a part of himself, conjoining with the world in a miraculous way. Ysera believed that in the process of reforming his spirit, the essence of Azeroth had been taken into him.
"Thrall." Ysera gently placed her hand on the shaman's arm.
The orc finally broke out of his meditation and scrambled to his feet. "Lady Ysera, I have started without you. My apologies."
"I am here only to aid you when needed," the green Aspect assured him.
"If I may ask, how did the meeting go?"
"Progress was made," Ysera forced herself to say before changing the subject. "Shall we begin?"
"Yes." Thrall sat back down, and Ysera mirrored him. She had learned long ago that the best means of teaching was through demonstration. While Thrall's spirit melded with the earth, she would bind herself to Nordrassil's roots. The magics were different, but the principles of concentration were alike.
"Have you experienced the same troubles of late?" Ysera asked. Thrall had spoken of his failure to connect with the earth beyond Hyjal as if there were mental barriers blocking his spirit. The orc was determined to understand his new abilities, but he appeared hesitant to venture too far into Azeroth.
"I have." Thrall wrinkled his brow in frustration. "It is as if I were standing in the surf of a great ocean. The farther I wade into the deeps, the more distant I feel from the shore..."
"Thrall," Ysera said as she scooped up a handful of dirt and placed it into the orc's left palm. "This is Azeroth. If your spirit can enter this soil, it can tread anywhere. Hyjal is not a magic anchor; it is the same earth that lies beneath the streets of Orgrimmar or the jungles of Stranglethorn. This world is one body."
"One body..." The orc regarded the soil and laughed heartily. "Oftentimes the most difficult problems are solved by the simplest answers... the things that are right before our eyes. My old tutor, Drek'Thar, once told me that many years ago. You have much in common with him. So wise and patient... No matter what obstacles I encounter, you always know how to overcome them."
Ysera willed herself to smile as the irony of Thrall's words hit her.
"This will be my anchor." The shaman clenched his hand around the dirt.
Thrall closed his eyes and breathed deep. Ysera did so as well and then spoke. "Quiet your thoughts. Detach your spirit from the flesh and feel the earth around us. Know that the rocks beneath you are the same as those beneath me. Know that if you can take one step, you can surely take another."
Ysera took her own instructions to heart as her spirit joined with one of the World Tree's colossal roots. Thrall believed that his burgeoning powers were never meant for him, that they were a fluke. In truth, they were quite the opposite. His purpose was clear, even if he didn't know it. All his years of dedication as a shaman had led to this extraordinary ability to join with the earth. The Awakened longed for a similar sense of fulfillment.
Her thoughts drifted to the meetings with the other Aspects. She focused on every detail, wondering if there was a simple answer hidden among the endless discussions. The Awakened's attention turned to Kalec. Something the young Aspect had mentioned itched in her mind.
"A weapon... like none that has come before it."
The words held power, a significance just beyond her understanding.
"... like no other. It must be like no other." A familiar voice boomed in her head. It crashed over her like a tidal wave, sweeping away the millions of disjointed ideas circulating in her consciousness.
Ysera opened her eyes in shock, but she was no longer in Hyjal.
She floated through a dark and cavernous room that she recognized as the Chamber of the Aspects, the hallowed domain of the five dragonflights. Below her stood a gathering of dragons. Ysera—a past version of herself—was among them, along with Alexstrasza; Nozdormu's prime consort, Soridormi; the late blue Dragon Aspect, Malygos; and... Deathwing.
No... not the scarred and hideous creature of the present. It was Neltharion the Earth-Warder, the once-proud Aspect of the black dragonflight. Unbeknownst to his comrades, he had already been corrupted by the insidious Old Gods—unfathomably powerful beings of madness imprisoned in the earth by the titans—and had forsaken his charge to protect Azeroth.
Ysera discerned the time immediately. It was over ten thousand years ago, amid the War of the Ancients. The demonic Burning Legion had invaded Azeroth, and the Aspects had gathered to undergo a ceremony that they hoped would spare the world from annihilation. They encircled a featureless golden disk hovering in the air.
It looked, at first glance, like an unassuming trinket. Yet it was the weapon that would shatter the unity of the dragonflights... the weapon that would murder countless blue dragons and drive Malygos into millennia of seclusion. The Dragon Soul.
Ysera watched in terror as the ritual concluded. Each of the Aspects—save Neltharion—had allowed a portion of his or her essence to be sacrificed, thereby empowering the artifact. The dragons had performed the drastic act in the belief that the disk would be used to drive the Legion from Azeroth.
"It is done..." Neltharion declared. "All have given that which must be given. I now seal the Dragon Soul forever so that what has been attained will never be lost."
"Should that be?" Ysera's past self asked quietly.
"For it to be as it must, yes," Neltharion replied, barely hiding his defiance.
"It is a weapon like no other. It must be like no other," added Malygos.
The walls of the chamber fractured and then fell away like shards of glass after Malygos spoke, revealing the emerald-hued terrain of the clearing. Thrall remained fixed in his meditative state, oblivious to Ysera's vision. She scarcely glanced at the orc as she rose to her feet, trying to piece together what she had seen. Is it wrong to think that the Dragon Soul could be the salvation of Azeroth after all the suffering and death it unleashed?
The Awakened raced out of the grove in search of Kalec and Alexstrasza. The other Aspects will think me mad when I propose using it to our own ends. Despite her apprehension, one simple thought urged her forward: Deathwing's tyranny must end how it began.
The soil was not an object in Thrall's palm. It was, he realized, as much a part of him as his fingers were a part of his hand, unique in and of themselves but pieces of the greater whole.
The orc's spirit descended into the earth beneath him and then into the depths of Hyjal. He experienced every stone and grain of sand as if it were an extension of himself. The chaotic earth elementals, whom he had for so long struggled to calm, embraced him—welcomed him—as one of their own.
The mountain was alive with activity. Shaman—Aggra among them—whispered to the earth in a harmonizing chorus that soothed Thrall's spirit just as it did the elements. Elsewhere, druids guided Nordrassil's roots ever deeper into Azeroth. The orc's essence moved alongside them, where jagged rocks and chunks of granite had crumbled to soft dirt so that the World Tree could nurture itself and in turn strengthen the earth. He drifted through the cycle of healing, invigorated.
Thrall's spirit reached the foothills of the mountain. This was the farthest he had dared to go before. His awareness of his physical body was as distant as it had been in his previous attempts. The orc focused on the faint sensation of soil in his hand, repeating Ysera's sage lesson. This is Azeroth... This world is one body.
Emboldened by the words, Thrall purged all reservations from his heart and plunged into Azeroth.