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Charge of the Aspects

by Matt Burns

Alexstrasza found the Timeless One waiting.

He stood motionless high atop the mountain. This far from the druidic and shamanic camps, the Life-Binder had assumed her draconic form. It was refreshing to stretch her wings again after spending so much time in her elven body. Once she had landed beside the scaled bronze Aspect, she told him of Ysera and Kalec's plan regarding the Dragon Soul and the part he would be required to play in it. The Life-Binder had surmised that Nozdormu would reject her, and she wouldn't have questioned why. His mood, however, was much more subdued than she had expected.

"The Dragon Soul..." Nozdormu said. "There have been timesss when I considered going back and righting that day. Saving Malygos's flight... sparing all of usss from that terrible fate."

The Timeless One heaved a great sigh, never breaking his gaze from the horizon. "And if I were to commit such an act, I would be no different than the infinite dragonflight and... my future ssself."

"You would be more different than you can possibly imagine," Alexstrasza replied. "Eonar charged me with preserving life. When the topic of the Dragon Soul was broached, I asked myself how I could observe my duty while bringing the most destructive weapon ever forged back into existence."

"Yet you plan to do ssso," Nozdormu stated.

"Yes. Because to protect life, there are times when we must destroy that which seeks to end it..."

The Life-Binder had thought long about the Dragon Soul and the unthinkable suffering it had caused not only her and her flight, but also other living beings throughout history. Ultimately, she had come to a difficult realization: no cost was too great if it meant preserving the world.

"I cannot force you to do what you think is wrong," Alexstrasza said. "But ask yourself this: did Aman'Thul grant you dominion over time just so you could watch this world die?"

"This future inhabited by the infinite dragonflight, if I were to travel there..." Nozdormu trailed off. Apprehension and fear radiated from the Timeless One. The Life-Binder sensed that something about the apocalypse beyond the state of the timeways troubled the bronze Aspect. Yet she was already asking so much of Nozdormu; if he did not wish to voice his concerns, that was his choice.

Alexstrasza lowered her head to Nozdormu and spoke softly. "Unto each of you is given a gift..."

"Unto all of you isss given the duty." The Timeless One completed the ancient words without hesitation. They were the titans' last command to the Aspects, a reminder that while each of them was unique, their powers and knowledge were never meant to be separate. They were one.

"Time is your charge just as life is mine, but what is our duty?" Alexstrasza said.

"To preserve thisss world at... all costs. To prevent the Hour of Twilight," Nozdormu whispered.

The Timeless One was quiet after that. The Life-Binder followed his gaze into the sky, sorrow tugging at her heart. "Have any of your other agents returned?"

"No. None will. Yet I wait. I wasss once lost in time until Thrall aided me. Now I am lossst outside of it." To Alexstrasza's surprise, the bronze Aspect chuckled in pained amusement.

The Timeless One finally turned away from the horizon and looked to Alexstrasza. "For too long I have been rigid in my waysss. What you say is true. The time for waiting is past..."

****

The four Dragon Aspects and Thrall had gathered at the druidic haven at the foot of Nordrassil. An ethereal representation of the Dragon Soul hovered in the air among them. It gave Alexstrasza a chill to stand there. In a way, it reminded her of the ceremony that had been conducted millennia ago to empower the artifact.

Despite being an arcane facsimile summoned by Kalecgos, the weapon held power. Bathed in the pale violet light emitted by the Dragon Soul's image, the Aspects noticed that their shadows were flickering between their current mortal forms and their true draconic bodies.

"If we are to acquire the Dragon Soul, we mussst first journey to the future I have foreseen: the end of time itself," Nozdormu said. "By destroying the infinite dragonflight and its leader, who lord over the apocalypse, the timeways will be reopened, allowing usss to slip into the past and retrieve the Dragon Soul."

"How can history proceed if the artifact is suddenly plucked from the timeways?" Thrall asked. The orc had been standing silently among the Aspects. He had already done so much to help them. The Life-Binder wanted to grant him peace, but she needed him to risk his life once again for the safety of Azeroth.

"Time isss not as linear as some might think. My flight will halt the flow of history to negate the impact we make on the past. But we can hold together the integrity of the timewaysss only for so long. When our work isss done, we will return the Dragon Soul to its rightful place..."

"As to the matter of its rightful place," Kalecgos said, "there are many points in time when we could obtain the artifact. Its properties, however, were altered over the course of history. If our plan is to succeed, we must use the weapon in its purest form. Once Nozdormu has opened the timeways, we will take the Dragon Soul from the era in which it was created: the War of the Ancients."

"That leaves the wielder," Alexstrasza said, then beckoned toward Thrall.

"My friend." Kalecgos rested his hand on Thrall's shoulder. "From what I have discovered, the artifact was constructed in such a way that dragons who wield it are torn apart by its energies. It fills us with a pain that leads to madness. But short-lived beings, due to their very nature, can use it without bodily harm."

"There is great risk in what we ask of you, Thrall." Ysera's lilting voice wafted through the room. "After the Dragon Soul is brought to the present, you must transport it to Wyrmrest Temple. It is a place of great power connected to the Chamber of the Aspects, where the artifact was originally imbued. The Dragon Soul will already be empowered, but we will infuse it with our essences again, making it more potent than it ever was... and potentially more unstable. Know that if Deathwing learns of our intent, he and his minions will surely converge on the temple to waylay you at all costs."

"I do not mean to question your wisdom," Thrall said humbly, "but other races throughout Azeroth have also suffered Deathwing's fury. We could muster an army of mortals the like of which has never been seen to crush the black Aspect. Would that not be a simpler course of action?"

"Even if every living mortal faced Deathwing, it would matter not," Alexstrasza said. "He has been twisted by the Old Gods' dark energies. No physical assault, however immense, can destroy him. He must be... unmade. His very essence must be unraveled, and the Dragon Soul alone has the power to do so."

"But only with you at our side," Kalec added. "The artifact was imbued with the essences of the four Aspects, but Deathwing never imparted his into it. If we are to use this weapon to defeat him, we must infuse it with the power of the Earth-Warder. You, Thrall, possess a portion, however small, of that exact thing: the essence of Azeroth itself."

"It is impossible for us to use the Dragon Soul on our own," Alexstrasza said to Thrall. "It falls to you... if you choose. This is more than I would have ever wished to ask of you, especially after you have already risked your life to help us."

"I am honored that you seek my aid," Thrall said. "I have but one request. The short-lived races vanquished Ragnaros, and before him the Lich King and countless other threats. Time and time again, we have been instrumental in safeguarding Azeroth. We are invested in it as much as you are. With all due respect, I believe that this plan, as noble as it is, can succeed only with their assistance."

There was no doubt that what Thrall said was right. Alexstrasza had hoped to avoid dragging more mortals into this perilous endeavor. "If they are willing, they are welcome."

"There are always those who are willing." The orc smiled. "I will send out the call."

After Thrall departed, the Aspects lingered in silence.

"A question has plagued me," Kalec said. "If stopping the Hour of Twilight is our purpose, if this is what the titans created us to do, then what will become of us when it is done?"

A chill breeze stole through the Cenarion refuge as if to punctuate Kalec's words. The Aspects shifted, glancing sidelong at one another. They had all pondered this troubling mystery.

"Yesss... If we fulfill our duty, what worth do we have afterward?" Nozdormu brooded. "With the timeways defiled, even I cannot see what the future has in store for usss..."

"Will our actions result in loss... or attainment?" Ysera mused.

"The titans clearly had a plan for us," Kalec argued. "Magic, time, life, nature... they will forever exist. It is only logical that we were meant to safeguard them for eternity."

Alexstrasza looked on as Ysera, Kalec, and Nozdormu broke into a discussion, voicing their hopes and concerns. Their path forward was straight, but beyond the Hour of Twilight it was shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. The Life-Binder kept her own fears locked tight inside herself. She was the Dragonqueen, and if ever there was a time when her comrades needed her to guide them, it was at this moment.

"None of us knows for sure," Alexstrasza said, drawing the others' attention. "And if we did, would it matter? This is why we were charged by the titans. The wondrous gifts that they gave us are for us to use now."

The Life-Binder grasped the hands of the two Aspects nearest to her, Ysera and Kalecgos. They in turn did the same with Nozdormu. Their magics intermingled, flowing through each of the dragons. The soothing energies calmed their nerves and filled them with a sense of unwavering determination.

"We will venture into the unknown as one," Alexstrasza said. "As we were always meant to be."

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