Wrathion was rather pleased with himself.
He sat languishing on the bannister of Mason’s Folly, comfortably in his whelp form where none of his agents and mortals could see him (oh, yes, he was acutely aware about how “humorous” this form seemed to mortals, who hid their smiles when they saw him shift… even he felt annoyed at it at times, for his dragon form was neither fearsome or impressive), with his wings laid down relaxed on either side of the polished rock.
The black drake in Outland had been a scare. His eyes drifted to the crack in the rock where he’d been pushed up against it by the nether drakes; his back still ached. But the Black Prince had dealt with his relative quickly and cunningly, just as he had with all of his other cowardly brothers and sisters; he’d lost an agent, but the results were worth the losses… and so he was pleased with his own quick-thinking. The whelp smiled smugly. How funny to think they could still hide from him even a world away. No one could escape him.
He thought briefly of the event - forcing the agent to kill the drake with his own will, seeing the dragon die, seeing his agent crushed. His gem had, unfortunately, been damaged further in the brawl; he could hardly see the other drake appear at the cry of his apparent sister, but oh, he had managed to see him, too, before the magic gave way and his vision had shattered into not a dozen angles, but a hundred, and he’d been forced to shut off the transmission after some frustration in trying to keep connected.
When Wrathion had come out of the trance he’d sent for two of his best Blacktalons to take care of the remaining drake in Outland.
Yes, the drakes had been a scare, but he’d taken care of it, as he took care of all of his other… problems.
The Black Prince turned his head to look out over the Jade Forest below, the smug smile still on his face. He leaned his head to rest down on his claws casually, relaxed.
Defeating his enemies was just too deliciously easy.
Sabellian stared hard at the gargantuan vortex of the Dark Portal.
The two hooded figures flanking the portal’s side and the large dragon head extending from its top loomed down at him, towering over the wyrm despite his sizable height. It felt like they were waiting for him to make his move, judging him from their darkened, hooded faces… or perhaps it was his own mind simply doubting itself. He snorted.
“Well? Are we going?” Nasandria, his eldest drake, sounded impatient.
Sabellian glared in annoyance at the green and purples of the vortex, but did not look away to treat his child to the same look. She was only a whelp when they had come to Outland with Deathwing; she couldn’t have remembered fully the taint of the Old Gods, their dark whispers, the haunted dreams, the urge to kill and hurt and maim.
She couldn’t remember. Sabellian could.
“In a moment,” he murmured.
What would happen once he stepped through the portal and put a single paw on the earth of Azeroth for the first time in years? The dragon mulled to himself quietly. Would the corruption latch back onto his brain like a suction, taking his sanity instantly? Would it creep quietly into his head? Would it appear at all? He had spoken adamantly after Ryxia’s death with lack of fear against his previous shadowy masters, but now…
Were the risks worth it?
The stench of Ryxia’s pyre burning came to him, which they had executed before they had left. Sabellian had lost so many children to Gruul and his seven sons… no. He could not allow this Black Prince, his own half-brother, to be a threat to them as well. He would not let his flight live in fear, live in defense and caution, live wary of mortal assassins.
Sabellian had to do what must be done. The anger came to him again, bright and burning, singing away the doubt and his latent fear of the Old Gods. He would enjoy ripping the Prince from his high horse and crushing him into the mud.
“I shall go first. If I do not return after a moment, then all will be well… or I have given into the Old Gods and don’t have the sense to walk back in the blasted Portal. But I am hoping it is the former.”
Sabellian did not waste time for protests or questions. He lifted from his haunches and strode through the vortex. All around him, like a touchable atmosphere, the dragon felt the world shift and warp as he was transported from one world to the next. It was not an altogether pleasant feeling. There was a subdued roar, the ripping of nether, the spark of powerful arcane magic -
A paw hit the ground on the other side - Azeroth. He slid the rest of his reptilian body forward… and braced himself for a surge of darkness in his mind.
Any moment now…
Sabellian opened an eye.
Nothing. No darkness came. No whispers chattered in his skull.
“For now,” he muttered. And yet he still allowed himself to relax for the time being. The dusty red landscape of the Blasted Lands stretched out before him, deserted and barren; scattered lightning flashed off in the distance by the coast.
He sat and waited for his drakes, stretching out his great wings to ready them for their long flight to Pandaria. How long would the corruption stay away? Not long, he imagined,with sure pessimism. If they could deal with this Prince quickly and efficiently, then he would not have to worry.
There was a whirling behind him as his two drakes appeared through the Dark Portal.
“It’s about time,” Sabellian grumbled, lifting to all fours.
“But you said to wai -”
“None of that. Let’s start this errand.” He turned to Nasandria. “The whelp. Do you have it?”
The drake nodded, tilting her head to the leather belt around her girth where the automaton had been attached.
“Good girl.” He spread his wings. “Now, let us pay my brother a visit!”
The yellowed stretch of Westfall farmlands yawned out below the three black dragons as they glided at a quickened pace high above. The coast of the sea loomed close.
“How far, Nasandria?” He called behind him, dipping down at an angle as a gust of wind hit them hard as they entered the sky above the Great Sea. They had planned to fly the bulk of their travel above the water, away from the risk of mortal eyes who might be swayed to shoot them down when they caught a glance of their onyx hides, stopping only at abandoned islands along the way.
His eldest drake glanced down at the automaton in her paws and with a gentle click of a claw, opened the sheath of metal against the whelp’s chest, unveiling its shiny innards. In the center was a gem, its power source; it pulsed faintly.
“Far,” Nasandria said flatly, studying the gem’s silent beeping for a moment. Sabellian was thankful for the little contraption; the gnomes he’d commissioned it from had certainly be thorough, or perhaps overzealous, in its machinery. They had installed a locating device in both whelps through the main gem; when the right button was pushed, hidden behind the gem itself, the whelp would begin seeking out its twin, the gem pulsing like a heart, getting deeper in color and faster in beats the closer the two automatons were.
The gnomes had said it was because they tended to lose track of their own doodads. Sabellian had thought it stupid beforehand – he never lost track of anything – but he was immensely grateful for it now. Mortals were, at times, grating, but other times, they were… clever.
There was another click as Nasandria slid the metal back over the gem. Sabellian looked up casually at the sky, pleased to find it still cloudless and sunny; excellent flying weather. They could glide like this for hours -
“Father.” Sabellian flicked his yellow eyes over to Talsian, who flew to his left. “When we get to Pandaria, well – the nether drakes said Wrathion had a good deal of agents around the continent, yes? They’ll surely see us coming. It’ll be difficult to kill - “
“Sometimes I wonder if you’re stupid or just thick-headed.” Sabellian looked away. “As I said before we left Blade’s Edge, we track at least to where the nether drakes left off through the automaton. They’re probably dead. At the very least, the machine should be close to them. Or not, which would be irritating. Either way, we shall follow their footsteps and find the ‘Black Prince’ ourselves if we must.” He paused thoughtfully, flexing his claws to shake off the salt that was beginning to accumulate against the delicate scales there from the sea wind. “Mortal guises are a must, of course. We don’t want to alarm his little underlings.”
“I’m still not sure -”
“I have fooled Rexxar for years that I am a normal human. He’s never suspected my true form. My little brother’s agents will not suspect either.”
Talsian went quiet. The only sound now was the soft gliding of the wind around them and the beats of their wings.
The land had disappeared behind them now. The sea stretched on endlessly, a fathomless plane of blue. In days they would arrive beyond the parted mists, and in days he would see Wrathion with his own eyes.
He certainly hoped his little brother was ready.
The Blacktalon Watcher scanned the crowded Pandaren inn.
The night had been uneventful in the Valley of the Four Winds. It was to be expected in an area devoted largely to farming, but the Worgen rogue couldn’t help but be frustrated in his underwhelming post. Oftentimes he resented the Prince for sending him here week after week and had wondered if this “Blacktalon” to-do was worth it.
He sighed loudly and twitched his sharp nose. He knew, despite his strongest wishes, that he wouldn’t find anything outstanding in the Valley; most of the greatest wonders here had been unlocked already, notably the mystery of the waters whose nourishment created monstrous crops for the farmers and, at times, larger-than-life animals. He had not been there for the report, but he had overheard a human agent quietly mocking the way their Prince’s eyes had widened with the quickened excitement akin to a child’s.
The Watcher pinned his ears back. At the very least, the inn here allowed for a steady stream of information. Patrons tended to talk when their tongues were loose from brew. That would have to do.
“No no no no no – I heard that Fung wash’ goin’ to gif’ his yaks to that younger farmer – what’sh his name? Uh…”
“No, you dolt, he ain’t gonna give his yaks to anyone. Those ‘er his pride ‘n joy!”
“I’m tellin' you, I heard it -”
The Blacktalon rubbed at the bridge of his muzzle. “Steady stream of information” didn’t necessarily mean “information the Prince wanted.”
He scanned the inn again, desperate to find something of interest that wasn’t centered on what crops were harvested that day or what shenanigans that drunk Jinyu in Halfhill had gotten himself into now.
Oh – there was something semi-interesting. On the farthest, darkest corner of the room, three humans picked at the bones of a meal. The Worgen was not surprised to see them here; there was often many strangers beyond the mists that stumbled into this tavern, down-trodden, bruised, or otherwise exhausted, hoping for food or a drink to settle the nerves. What he was surprised about was when the woman in the group looked up from her empty plate and stared at him the moment he’d laid eyes on the three.
The Worgen scowled and beamed her down. He abhorredwhen people took notice of him in the shadows; they hardly did, to be sure, but it was an insult to his abilities.
The oldest man at the table glanced up casually and fixed him with a stare before looking back down. He made a dismissive gesture at the woman, seemed to murmur something under his breath, and went back to gnawing at bones. The woman looked away and sipped at her drink, but the Worgen could still see the stiff tension in her shoulders.
One of the Watcher’s ears twitched. It was not the oddest reaction people had had to his presence – at one point he’d been swatted and shooed at with the end of a broom by a very vocal Pandaren innkeeper after she’d proclaimed “she didn’t like the look of him” - but it was still questionable. He decided to keep an eye on them, just in case, but to sway their suspicions he glanced away and began theatrically scanning the bar.
Perhaps ten minutes had passed when the Worgen glanced back in their direction -
And saw they’d promptly disappeared.
His scowl deepened. Twice in one night – no, twice in ten minutes – he had slipped up. They had noticed him, and now he’d lost them. At least the Black Prince was not here to see him fai -
A hand muzzled off his mouth and an arm cut around his waist and he was pulled roughly backwards into the shadows.
Startled, the Blacktalon flailed and struck backwards with his elbow; there was a grunt as he hit his assailant, who then loosened their grip; the Worgen surged forward, attempting to break free so he could grab his daggers -
A more powerful set of hands grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him high off the ground. With a woosh he was turned and with a slam his back hit the wall. The room spun.
“Tal, if you would please hold our guest there.”
The hands let go, but another grabbed him, keeping him pinned to the wall. The Worgen hissed and kicked out again with his powerful legs, unable to grab the dagger at his belt.
“There’s really no use for that,” said the voice again with a slightly amused but annoyed tone. The Watcher focused on its direction as his vision began to straighten again.
It was the older man he had seen at the table. A dark cloak was draped around his shoulders, and he watched the Worgen with interest, despite the slight frown on his face. He smoothed back his goatee and mustache with a thumb as the two studied each other.
“You know who I am, right?” The Watcher growled, and struggled again. The other male he’d seen at the table, the youngest one, was holding him, and despite his smaller stature in comparison to the man-beast he did not struggle with keeping the Blacktalon in place; his grip was like iron.
“Don’t start blabbering on and on about your Prince and what he’ll do and what will happen to me. I’ve really been preached about it enough already.” The man paused, then tilted his head thoughtfully. “I just have some friendly questions about your ‘Prince’.”
“This doesn’t seem very friendly!”
“No. I suppose it doesn’t.” The human shrugged nonchalantly. “But how else were we going to be able to ask you anything?”
The Watcher huffed. “I would never betray his Majesty.”
The man went silent now and was simply eying him curiously. The Worgen could hear the muted sounds of drunken Pandaren and clanging plates and mugs from beyond – where exactly had they pulled him into? An abandoned room? It smelled and looked stuffy enough.
“I really didn’t plan to harm you, Worgen,” the human drawled. “As long as you’re honest with me, I will gladly let you go.” He smiled a forced smile. “I do have places to be, as I’m sure you do.”
The Watcher said nothing.
“I simply wish to know what your Prince looks like. Hair, eyes, clothes…”
The man raised a brow. “Really? You won’t even answer a simple question like that?”
“No, I won’t.”
The man actually look impressed.
“He does have you all wrapped around his finger, doesn’t he?” The human sighed loudly. “I wonder how he managed it. But no matter. That may come later. For now, I need this. And if I really must…” He shook his head. “Then I suppose I shall continue down another path if we cannot do this like mature, peaceful adults. Tal, if you would.”
Tal punched the Worgen hard in the gut and an explosion of sour pain shot up his stomach. The Blacktalon gasped and fell to his knees, finding himself free of the younger human’s grip, and yet even with that there was no respite. Three pointed, short blades came up to his furred neck, close enough to make his skin sting at their touch; Tal had come equipped with a vicious fist weapon, whose base was made of an open dragon maw.
“I shall ask you again. I would like to know what your Prince looks like. If you do not answer, I will ask my son here to kill you.”
The Worgen breathed quickly. He was trained for situations like these. But there was no conceivable way to twist from the physical impossibility of the iron grip of the man’s son or the iron blades of the fist weapon.
The man glanced down at his son. Tal pushed the blades harder into the Worgen’s throat until blood began to trickle from the fur and the Blacktalon growled in pain.
“Am I? To be straight with you, I don’t like drawing out torture. It’s an unfortunate business. A quick threat – or, in your case, a promise - is all that is needed. And besides! I can find another ‘agent’ quickly enough. You all are everywhere.”
The blades continued digging in deeper and the pain continued intensifying until he could feel it tremor down his spine, and he whined loudly, twisting his head back and forth in a failed attempt to escape the slowly sinking blades into his neck. But they continued sinking and sinking until his heart was beating too fast, and there was no escape at all - he had quickly over-viewed the situation – and what did Wrathion’s appearance matter anyway - ?
“Stop! Stop! Alright, alright, I’ll tell you! Just get that bloody thing off of my neck!”
The blades stopped their slow descent into his flesh and pulled back abruptly.
The Blacktalon rubbed at his throat and looked down at the slick, shiny blood against the fingertips of his leather gloves. He growled and rubbed it between his thumb and index finger; tonight had turned out eventful, but in the opposite way that he had hoped.
“He’s much younger than you. Bright red eyes – they glow. Dark curly hair. A goatee. A gold hoop on his right ear. A turban as well.” When the Worgen spoke, all the words stumbled from his mouth too quickly in a slush; he didn’t want those blades near him again. He was loyal to his Majesty… but loyalty only went so far to him. His life was worth more than his service.
Besides, what the Prince didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Unless, of course, this group did hurt him. Then that would end poorly for everyone.
At least he’d still be alive.
“Mm. That will do. Help the poor dog up, if you would.”
He was thrust to his feet with an unkind hand.
“Not that hard, was it?” The man said, smiling almost politely, ignoring the vicious glare the Worgen gave him. “I am sorry. But I digress. Thank you for the valuable information.” He paused and flicked his eyes to the side – and only then did the Watcher realize that his eyes weren’t just yellow.
They were glowing.
Just like -
“Wait. Who the hell are you?”
The man smiled again. “Now, my friend, I don’t want to spoil the surprise! If I did, then I really would have to kill you.” There was a shifting in the shadows to his right and the cold-eyed woman that had locked in on the Worgen appeared with a vicious smirk. “But even so, I must have you … staying ‘low.’ I don’t want you to run back to your master. Nasrin, if you would be so kind as to help this Blacktalon here…”
With a blur she seemed to surge forward and the Worgen was still too dizzy from the blades and his back to even think about grabbing his dagger. A fist punched at his neck, another at the tender flesh beneath his shoulderblades, and he collapsed once more as the world went dark.
(( Thanks to blacktalonagent for letting me use her Blacktalon rogue
Devereux. :] ))