“An automaton! And what a lovely little specimen! Here, do you see the spring-loaded mechanics in its maw? Such excellent mobility with the jaw – ah! Note the clockwork mechanism in the chest. The gem in the center is surely of a magical property - ”
Wrathion put up a hand to silence the gnome engineer, keeping his exasperation off of his face.
“Intriguing, but if you could tell me what it does, I’d be very thankful.”
“Oh. Certainly, certainly.” The gnome gently closed the metal cover he had unscrewed from the whelp’s chest that protected the intricate gears and the main-power gem he had found within before continuing his thorough inspection of the mechanical whelp. He had only just arrived after being sought out by Left and Right themselves, but Wrathion had put the gnome to his assigned task immediately.
The dragon watched quietly but intently from his seat at the table as the gnome murmured to himself and continued looking at the automaton’s numerous wires and gizmos. Wrathion had attempted to figure out the contraption himself while he had waited for the engineer to arrive beforehand, but had stopped when the whelp’s eyes had sprung open and hurled a fireball from its mouth when the Black Prince had touched some sort of hidden button.
Thankfully, he was immune to fire.
Wrathion tapped his clawed fingers on the table; he was getting impatient. It’d taken three whole days to find an engineer skilled enough and a whole other day to get him up the mountain, all while Wrathion was taunted by the mystery of the stupid little whelp who sat innocently on the table, peering at him with its ruby eyes. And now that the gnome was here, he wanted to know what the damn thing did. Now. Especially since the thing belonged to would-be kidnappers or killers.
Sighing loudly, he let his eyes slide from the working engineer to the open doorway leading outside and thought briefly of the nether drakes, whose bodies he’d had removed two days prior and dumped into the river below.
The ache in his back and shoulder he’d been trying to ignore began to flare up again at the mere thought of the two drakes. He frowned, annoyed, and sat up straighter. Being crushed into a bannister hadn’t exactly been very comfortable; a mottled black and yellow bruise had developed mere hours after the scuffle up along his back where he’d been shoved against the stone.
Wrathion snapped his attention back to gnome.
The engineer beamed up at the Black Prince. “It’s a communication device!” He started pointing out each specific wire and gear with great enthusiasm. “The steam-compulsion gear here connects to the main wire at the main engine jewel- ” He paused when he saw Wrathion’s eyes go dim with boredom, and then let go of the wire he had just be holding sheepishly. “- But, ah, an automaton like this is usually for long-distance communication.” The engineer pat the whelp’s head once. “And it’s a very good device, to be able to communicate as far as the place its serial number says its from!”
Wrathion tilted his head and leaned in closer to inspect the whelp again, merely studying it with his eyes. “And where would that be?”
“Blade’s Edge Mountains. You know, that barren ol’ place in Outland. All spiky and what-not.”
The Black Prince grinned widely, not missing the way the gnome leaned back a fraction at the show of the dragon’s pointed teeth. “Of course! Outland!” He had thought as much – the nether drakes lived in Outland – but it seemed an odd conclusion.
What enemies did he have an entire world away?
The grin slowly slid off his face to be replaced by a thoughtful frown. He tapped a finger to his chin, leaned back in his seat and motioned for Tong, wordlessly, to fetch him a drink.
He quietly mulled the new information over to himself. Some month or two before he’d asked a single agent to inspect Outland, simply out of curiosity. After all, he had concluded, it had been home to conflict between the Burning Legion and mortals before, and could certainly shed some light on dealing with the demons in the oncoming future. The blood elf he’d sent had been a particularly skilled individual, perhaps one of his favorites, and Wrathion had felt sure he might learn something.
And yet the blood elf had not returned. It had been a reconnaissance mission, a quick fly-by of the broken world. Wrathion had simply assumed the worse had befallen his agent, and had moved on.
Yet now nether drakes had come from Outland and ambushed him.
Wrathion did not believe in coincidences. Something had gone very awry.
“How does one use it?” He asked, extending a hand to accept the tea as Tong came over, never taking his eyes off the whelp. Perhaps if he could get a handle on the contraption, he could find out who the nether drakes were no doubt reporting back to, much like how Wrathion’s own agents reported back to him.
The gnome lifted the whelp’s head with a creak and pointed to an enlarged scale below it’s jaw. “Push this, and, theoretically, it should work! You just speak at it, though I’m sure the jaw has to be open.” He opened the whelp’s maw to indicate. “Usually these sort of things have a twin, so there’s another little whelp-thing out there that would say what you’re saying. Which is kinda’ funny, I mean, how it’s a whelp. Since you’re a – you know. A dragon.”
Wrathion rolled his eyes and took a sip from his drink, holding back some sort of quip in retaliation to the gnome’s very insightful observation; the little engineer was aiding him, after all… even if he was somewhat obnoxious.
But he’d gotten what he needed. He knew what the automaton did now. And now he needed to be alone to think about his next move.
He turned his attention to the gnome fully now and smiled, careful not to show his teeth. “Thank you for your help . Right here will show you out and give you your much-deserved reward of… gold, was it?” On cue, Right moved from her place behind the Prince and gestured to the doorway. The gnome nodded and the two exited the Tavern.
Oh, some mortals did anything for gold. It was amusing… and very helpful to him.
Wrathion glanced back down at the whelp and took another drink of his tea.
“Left, have the doors guarded. I don’t want to be interrupted.”
Without question his remaining bodyguard moved to motion outside the back entrance of the Tavern where the hot springs were. A Blacktalon agent, a Worgen, appeared seemingly from mid-air in a flurry of dark shadow. Left muttered a hushed order, and the Worgen nodded briskly before taking his place on the main entrance to the Tavern, keeping his large paw on the hilt of his dagger. Left stood attention at the back entrance. She nodded to Wrathion. Ready.
The dragon set down his tea and pulled the whelp close to him. The first choice was to use the whelp first and try to speak to whoever had no doubt sent the nether drakes after him. It would be quick information, surely, but there were risks. If this enemy answered and realized who Wrathion was, would he cut the transmission off immediately, completely ruining Wrathion’s chance for information? Was it worth exposing himself as very much alive to this enemy, simply to know who it was?
He leaned his head on his hand, his eyelids drooping. “Mm.” Perhaps not. He needed to play this game carefully. But oh, it was so tempting to touch that transmission-scale on the whelp… but he forced himself not to, even as his hand hovered below the button. He sighed, loudly and over-dramatically, and pushed the whelp away -
The blood elf.
A grin lit up his face.
If the Blacktalon he had sent to Outland was still alive, he would certainly have information. Wrathion now had no doubt that sending the Watcher there had been a catalyst for this predicament he found himself in – the gnome confirming that the automaton had come from Outland had confirmed this – and if the blood elf was alive…
Excited, he closed his eyes and focused. He knew before that sending the blood elf to another planet might interfere with the link he had with the gem, making it much more difficult to check up on. But if he could just focus hard enough, feel through all the different pinpoints of light in the darkness of his vision that represented a Watcher’s gem and eyes, find the one he was looking for…
Light filled his vision. Initially his excitement multiplied ten fold – he’d done it, and the blood elf was apparently alive if he was able to communicate – until a wave of pain hit him as his vision cleared… if cleared was the right word at all.
His eyes were fractured, his vision seemingly shattered into a dozen different facets. Different angles of the same place encircled him, and the sensation was so disorienting he could only just make out the basics of the place; it was somewhere dark and damp, somewhere rocky and cave-like.
Wrathion groaned; it was dizzying and painful to look through. What had happened to his gem?
There was another groan that was not his own. Wrathion attempted to concentrate despite his shattered vision.
“My… Prince?” Came a gravelly mumble. Ah! The blood elf was conscious. At least that was good news.
Wrathion concentrated harder. The next step took much more energy on his part – he hardly did it because of this – but he managed to muscle through the disorientation.
“Good! You’re alive,” Wrathion said, communicating through the gem into the elf’s mind. Blood magic did wonders.
The elf groaned again.
“Well. Somewhat,” Wrathion corrected, then sighed, irritated. He’d hoped the elf would have been in better condition, but he might as well be grateful his watcher was breathing.
“I’ve had two nether drakes come after me. Care to explain the predicament?”
The elf didn’t move or speak for a long moment; Wrathion was worried he’d simply died right there until his vision moved with the elf’s turning head.
He could just make out an opening. Ah. The elf was in a cave. And was – oh, something dark was sitting, serpentine-like, at the opening. A guard, certainl-
The dark figured yawned and stretched its wings.
And the Black Prince felt his blood freeze when he realized what he was looking at.
It was a drake.
A black drake.
He was staring at a black drake.
Wrathion nearly lost complete concentration on the Watcher’s gem.
This was impossible. He’d killed them all. He’d killed…
His stupidity hit him. He had never thought to check Outland for the rest of his corrupted kin.
Wrathion clenched his teeth with a scowl and tried to will his calm composure back to him. But oh, it wouldn’t come. His head was whirling; his blood still felt frozen. Everything had been turned on its head in one quick glance.
“Do I have to ask why that drake is still alive?” Wrathion finally managed to hiss.
“Tried to… ambush… another…”
“Another?” Wrathion felt smoke come from his mouth. “How many are there?!”
“I - ”
“Who are you talking to over there?”
Wrathion willed the blood elf to look more in the drake’s direction as the young dragon spoke. He could just see the drake peering over at the blood elf oddly through all of his multiplied angles.
“No one,” the blood elf snapped back, surprisingly confident despite his ill-condition.
The drake stared for a moment, glanced behind her shoulder, then approached cautiously.
“Kill her,” Wrathion growled.
“My Prince, my hand is - ”
The drake was close. Wrathion felt his blood unfreeze, felt the sudden boil of adrenaline and anger, anger at his stupidity, anger at his failure of an agent, anger at these cowardly kin of his for daring to hide from him -
The drake was a mere yard away.
Wrathion forced the agent with sheer will to draw one of his hidden daggers, ignoring how the blood elf’s bones in his hands creaked and popped painfully.
“Father! Father, watch this!”
Baron Sablemane rubbed his eyes and groaned. “What, Alacian?
The larger black whelp hopped over to where his father, in mortal form, lounged against the rock. The mechanical whelp was only a quick arms length away on an upturned ledge.
Sablemane dropped his hand and watched exasperatedly as his youngest son, for the fifteenth time, hopped into the air and did a flip before landing clumsily.
“Amazing. Now go away and bother your brother Talsian. I’m very busy.”
Alacian frowned, glanced at the robotic drake, then at his brood-father. “You’ve been staring at that thing for days - ”
“I said go away, Alacian!” Sablemane growled, making a shooing motion with his hand. The whelp skittered off, almost running into a cliff face in his hurry to get away.
The dragon rubbed his eyes again, scowling, and let his eyes linger over to the automaton, who stared back at him lifelessly. It had been days since Sablemane had forcefully ordered his nether drake spies to capture the “Black Prince.” If they knew where he was, it should not have taken that long to track him.
He was loath to admit the worst option. If his murderous little brother had actually managed to kill them… well, that would be incredibly inconvenient. How much longer would it take for another team of nether drakes to find the Black Prince again?
“You blasted thing,” Sablemane grumbled, flicking the nose of the whelp with a metallic ping. “Speak!”
It stared at him blankly.
Sighing loudly and aggravatingly through his nose, Sablemane turned away and looked out over the mountains. Alacian had been right; he’d hardly moved from this spot in days, except to feed. But this was important. The drakes understood. The whelp did not. He cared for all of his children dearly, but Sablemane didn’t have the patience for the littler ones.
Sablemane stood quietly there for a long while, crossing his arms and surveying his home, looking calm but feeling annoyed, highly alert to any of the sounds the automaton might make.
He was about to give up and go hunting when Alacian nearly hurled himself into his chest down from above.
“What the – augh! I told you to go away, pest!”
The whelp recovered quickly. Sablemane only then noticed the fear in his eyes, how his small chest heaved.
“What is it?”
“The prey cave – Ryxia – the blood elf – there’s blood everywhere-”
Sablemane did not need to hear more. He snatched the robotic whelp from its perch, transformed into his draconic form, towering over his small whelp, and leaped into the sky, heading towards the cave he had locked the blood elf in weeks before.
It did not take long. Catching the familiar landscape of the cavern he folded his great red wings and dived, the wind whistling around him.
Talsian rushed out when Sabellian landed at the cave front; he had the same panicked look on his face that Alacian had had.
“Don’t just stare at me like that!” Sabellian snapped, transforming back into his mortal form and brushing passed the drake, entering the gloom of the prey cave.
Ahead of him lay gore.
The large, lithe body of Ryxia lay still and cold against the rock floor, her wings askew and her mouth frozen open in a silent death cry. A dagger protruded at the end of a large gash across her belly where her guts had been spilled. Blood was spattered everywhere; the floor was bathed in it.
Sablemane stared at her quietly for a long time. Another one of his children, dead.
He clenched his hands into fists, barely containing his wrath.
Slowly, he turned to look at the blood elf who was practically crushed beneath the drake. His chest had caved in from the weight. Blood trickled from his mouth in a steady stream.
But he was still alive.
Sablemane looked down at him with a condescending frown.
“You managed to kill one after all,” he said as calmly as he could, but there in his voice was that undercurrent of barely-controlled fury.
The blood elf looked at him, his eyes in agony.
He wondered about how the blood elf had managed to gut a drake with his broken wrist, how he had managed to gut a drake when he’d been purposely starved to weaken him. It should have been physically impossible.
“My Prince demanded it,” the blood elf managed to rasp; Sablemane could practically hear his lungs flap wetly, pierced by broken ribs.
Sablemane narrowed his eyes.
“And he… he will put down the rest of you.” The elf spit at Sablemane with a red glob of blood, where it fell short. “He’s seen… you’re here…” The elf looked up in a triumphant glare and the shattered gem on his headband began to glow faintly. “You can’t… can’t run now.”
Sablemane pursed his lips in a tight, grim line.
There was the answer he had been seeking, the answer the nether drakes could not find for him.
This Black Prince would have Sablemane’s children killed, after all. Ryxia’s cooling body was answer enough for that.
The poor young drake. He should have killed the mortal when he had the chance.
Sablemane scowled. His fury had intensified. “We have no need to run if we are the ones running towards him, little elf. I almost wish you had the chance to warn your Prince,” Sablemane said. “But alas - ”
With a swift movement he half-transformed his hand into a claw and proceeded to rip out the elf’s throat.
Blood went spurting. Sablemane dropped the flesh in his hands as the elf died in front of his eyes.
“Talsian!” Sablemane snapped, turning on his heel and nearly running into the drake as he stalked out of the cave. “Get Nasandria.”
The drake followed him meekly, watching as his father transformed into his dragon form.
Sabellian whipped his head to his son. His eyes were ablaze with yellow flame.
“If my little brother intends to come after us, then we have no choice but to go after him and finish this before it starts. Ryxia will be our only fatality in this conflict.”
“But the Old Gods - ”
“Old Gods be damned! I would like to see them try to corrupt me through my anger!” He snarled, curling one of his paws, feeling the rock crack beneath his talons. “This ‘Wrathion’ will know what true wrath is!”