Sabellian arrives at the Tavern in the Mists to pay his younger brother a well-deserved surprise visit.
The Veiled Stair was quiet.
The high afternoon was slowly simmering down into a peaceful dusk, and Wrathion the Black Prince leaned forward in his seat on the bench and studied the Mogu runestones in front of him, freshly delivered from a champion only moments before. Oh, they were fascinating already. He grinned, glancing them over, and began to pick the most interesting looking specimen from the pile, ready to dig into its secrets.
He’d sent everyone away, by nowonly his guards remained.
Wrathion had begun reading when there was the soft scuffling of leather soles of an Agent. The Black Prince did not look up.
“My Prince, there’s a party coming along the Path. Shall I invite them in?”
Wrathion shook his head and once again turned his full attention back on the runestones, squinting his eyes in concentration.
“Send then away, would you? I’m not accepting any more visitors.”
The Agent’s footsteps retreated outside; silence enveloped the Tavern once more and Wrathion was content, reading closely the odd mix of Mogu and what seemed to be Titan script upon the shattered, ancient slabs laid out in front of him. He had begun reaching for his tea to wet his dry mouth when he heard a loud but muffled conversation outside.
Wrathion glanced up, raising an eyebrow and frowning slightly. He could make out his watcher’s voice, blurred by the distance, and – there, another voice, one unfamiliar. It sounded like an argument. Wrathion took a sip from his tea, found it lukewarm, and, now thoroughly annoyed, looked back down to read again with the hopes the irritation outside would end swiftly.
It did. Wrathion breathed out, his shoulders relaxing. A clawed hand drifted over one of the slab’s inscriptions, the one he had reread perhaps three times during his break in concentration from the noises outside. If only he could decipher -
The sound of heavy footsteps broke his thoughts again. It was not the light footsteps of his agent; indeed it sounded like many people at once. Wrathion clacked his fingers impatiently against the runestone. It must have been the party he’d asked to send away. Had his agent completely misunderstood him?
“I said I would be accepting no more visitors - ” he began, looking up, and promptly stopped mid-sentence.
Three humans stood in front of the open doorway; the two youngest, a woman and a man with dark skin and dark hair, flanked the tallest and eldest human, who was staring at Wrathion with his yellowed eyes as one might stare at an exotic but annoying bug. His skin and hair, too, were dark, his black hair coming just above his shoulders and feathering out softly behind his scalp. A dark cloak covered his form.
Wrathion’s claws raked against the stone once, sharply. The nerves along his shoulders and back began to stand on edge, like the hackles on a dog.
Right and Left must have felt their Prince’s sudden shift in mood; behind him he heard the two clutch their ranged weapons tighter and to attention in their hands.
These three – there was something so fleetingly familiar about them. Something intimate. Something… wrong. Forgotten warning bells were ringing behind his eyes as the leader of the party studied him. But the harder he tried to pinpoint the feeling the quicker it fluttered away, as if their very identities and scent had been muted or otherwise hidden.
“What do I owe the pleasure?” Wrathion asked politely, his voice taut, aiming to stall as his eyes assessed their features closely.
The man who seemed to be the leader of the party smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. “You’re the Black Prince Wrathion, I assume?” His ocher eyes flickered over Wrathion again, an eyebrow raised. “I suppose with the get-up you are, though it never hurts to ask.”
Wrathion bit the inside of his cheek at the subtle insult, but otherwise attempted to ignore it in favor for dealing pleasantries with this problem. “I would like to know who’s asking.” He smiled back, allowing the small glint of his sharp teeth to show against his dark lips. “It would be rude for a host to introduce themselves before a guest!”
“Oh, my apologies.” And much to Wrathion’s affront the black-haired man bowed low enough for the Prince to realize it was performed in sarcasm; he even went as far as to spread his arms out in false subservience. Wrathion’s eyes flashed. The nerve -
The man straightened back up leisurely, but the amused smile was gone. “I am Baron Sablemane.” He began to shrug off his cloak, revealing a brilliance of red and orange robes beneath and, once completely shed of the heavy garment, tossed it off to the side to lay haphazardly over a table.
Wrathion was beginning to take in the full armor set of snarling shake heads at the man’s shoulders when the scent of black dragon hit him hard in the face.
His claws dug into the table in a single sharp motion and for the briefest of moments his eyes widened, his expression unguarded and startled.
No – he’d killed the drakes -
Baron Sablemane must have seen the Prince’s startled face because he smiled grimly. “I was almost disappointed when you didn’t catch on immediately – but whelps’ senses of smell are marginally less developed. Besides, the cloaks do wonders.”
Wrathion stared for a moment longer. Their dark hair and skin, just like his, the way Sablemane’s eyes seemed to glow -
Idiot. He should have seen it before!
There must have been more he did not see in Outland. More that had now shown up on his doorstep!
Wrathion thought quickly.
The only black dragon he had ever dealt with personally was Fahrad – and even then he knew what to expect from having lived with him for weeks, and even then he’d had someone to help him. No, this… this had to be dealt with subtlety, with delicacy… he had to get this dragon’s guard down, he had to seek a weakness, despite every instinct that was sill reeling from his panicked surprise urging him to hurl a dagger or a blast of draconic magic at his corrupted brethren’s chest.
The Prince slipped into his act before giving into his instincts and gave his best smile. “How interesting! I’d thought myself the last of my kind - ”
“When you saw my drake then had her murdered?” Sablemane was not looking at him kindly.
Wrathion’s smile wavered.
“Oh.” His smile came back again confidently, even brighter and toothier than before. “As it happens, I’ve made it my … duty to eliminate my corrupted brothers and sisters for the greater good.” His voice had heightened to a strangely cheery one. “Your drake was merely a needed casualty, as will the rest of your kin be. Do not take it personally.”
Sablemane stared at him for a moment.
“Ah. And if we lack corruption?”
Wrathion laughed slightly. “Of course you don’t lack corruption. Only I am free from the Old Gods.” He smirked widely, smugly, at Sablemane. “Are they whispering to you now, I wonder?”
Sablemane snorted and walked forward. Wrathion tensed – but the elder dragon seemed almost disinterested in him, instead turning to inspect the room.
“No. As it happens, being in Outland has severed ties with the Old Gods on Azeroth. For now.” He glanced over at Wrathion, raising a brow. “I don’t expect you to believe me.”
Wrathion smiled sweetly. “I don’t.”
“Mm.” Sablemane glanced away from him, studying the crossed amber swords hanging above Wrathion’s head. “So I suppose you do plan to kill the rest of my family, then? I’d like to hear it with your own voice.”
“Of course,” Wrathion said, still smirking. “You’ll be a threat to mortal lives otherwise. And no doubt to me.”
Sablemane looked at him again. Wrathion could not decipher what he was thinking.
“Very well.” He sighed loudly. “From one direct son of Deathwing to another, I would advise you to be less… smug. Though it seems too late for that.”
Wrathion’s smile soured. A direct son of Deathwing? “You’re -?”
“Nefarian and Onyxia were my clutch brother and sister. Yes. I am your half-brother.” He sounded almost bored.
“I see,” Wrathion murmured. Oh. This was unexpected. A slight tinge of anxiety made his stomach almost tighten. No. He had to keep himself cool and collected… he had to show himself as unphased in order to get this supposed half-brother’s guard down, as he had planned before, so he could give the signal to Left and Right quickly enough so that they could kill him right there.
“Do you? Good. Then stop talking.”
Wrathion scowled, straightening in his seat. He could handle one insult, but this many? How dare this Sablemane speak to him like this -
“I’ll make this quick, Black Prince. I don’t take… kindly to my family being threatened,” Sablemane drawled, vacantly flipping through the Saurok and the Jinyu novel that lay on the table across from the Prince. Wrathion watched him readily; his claws were tense against the wood. Just a step closer and he could give Left and Right the signal to put bullet and bolt in his forehead. “We’ve suffered enough causalities from Gruul the Dragonslayer to put up with some - ” his eyes flickered over to Wrathion - “make-believe prince.”
“Make-believe - ?”
“I wasn’t finished talking. I loath interruptions.” He shut the novel closed, ignoring the glower Wrathion was giving him. “So. I’ve come to deal with the problem personally. Unlike you, I am confident enough to send myself as my own assassin to kill the enemies that threaten me.”
Wrathion had heard enough. This had gone too far; it had to end now. “Right, Left!”
The two guards raised their respected weapons behind him and with a click they began to pull the triggers -
Sablemane glanced at them, lifted a hand, and with a crushing gesture of his fingers the gun and crossbow exploded, sending shards of metal and wood flying. Even Wrathion jumped, and it was only then, when he turned his face to block his eyes, that he saw the two other dragons that had come in with Sablemane had disappeared.
“Our brother Nefarian taught me the trick. I’ve hardly had to use it until now!” He smiled, almost politely. “I’m sorry; you have no need for those weapons, ladies.” He turned to Wrathion now, fully, his eyes malicious. “Now. Let’s get this started, shall we?”
And then the back wall exploded.
Wood splinters flew. There was a roar and a cacophony of snarls and as Wrathion ducked and turned his head to shield his eyes he saw the two drakes that had burst through the wall grab Left and Right around their waists and disappear with the two guards through the gaping opening.
Wrathion hardly had time to react. He turned in pure instinct – was it panic? - and hurled a clumsy bolt of black fire at Sablemane only to have the elder dragon catch the flame in his hands and quench it with a fist. Wrathion stood, eyes wide, intending to try again with a dagger but Sablemane was too fast, much too fast - he surged forward with surprising speed and grabbed Wrathion by his leather sash, lifted him off of his feet with ease, turned -
And threw him out of the doorway.
The world spun. With a startled cry and a boom of pain Wrathion landed on his back, sliding a foot or two until coming to a rest against the white tree outside the Tavern. He must have landed directly on his healing bruise; his shoulder and spine were in agony at the impact.
The dragon lay there for a moment, dazed and in pain, his eyes clenched shut, not quite understanding what had just happened - … until he heard a far off roar and a furious yell that must have belonged to Left, and he snapped back to reality.
Forcing himself up with a groan, his back aflame, he saw with his shaken eyes Sablemane exit the Tavern and walk down the steps with all the casualness of a Sunday stroll. His eyes were lidded, seemingly relaxed, but were transfixed on the Prince.
Well. It certainly looked like his plan of killing by subtlety had literally gotten thrown out the window.
Wrathion scrambled to his feet and stumbled once before catching his balance, dirt clinging to the back of his clothes, as his half-brother approached. Flames had begun to flicker at the tops of Sablemane’s red gloves, yet the cloth remained unsinged.
“Come now, little brother,” Sablemane chided while he slowly closed the distance between them. “You make this too easy. The Black Prince I’ve heard rumors of wouldn’t allow himself to be thrown about like a ragdoll, I’m sure.”
Wrathion found himself beginning to take a step back as Sablemane came closer, but he scowled and forced himself to stand his ground. “You simply took me by surprise.” His hand found the hilt of his dagger that hung at his belt. “I don’t believe it will happen again.” There was a slight growl in his otherwise calm voice, belaying his anger.
Sablemane had caught the movement of his wrist; he glanced down at the hilt of the dagger and smiled as if amused. The flames on his fingertips had begun to envelop his hands and the sounds of roars and yells still echoed off in the background; Wrathion briefly found himself wondering if Right and Left were dealing with the drakes well – and –… where were the rest of his Blacktalons, anyway?
“That flimsy letter-opener will hardly do you any good. You’re welcome to try, however.”
Wrathion opened his mouth to snap back some snarky retort when the flames from Sablemane’s hands coalesced into a ball of shrieking fire and smacked him straight in the face.
The flames swept off him harmlessly, leaving him untouched, but it was the force of pressure that made him yelp and stumble back. Another hit his chest and stomach before he had time to move or react, but when the fourth came shrieking at him he had the sense to finally duck and move out of the way, the fireball plunging deep into the bone-white tree with a hiss, smoke billowing quickly from the outer lay of dry bark as it began to burn.
Wrathion took advantage of the dry smoke, ducking behind it despite the pain still thrumming in his face and back, and sent his own ray of black fire at Sablemane, who’d turned with a scowl; he snarled as the black ray hit his shoulder hard.
Wrathion grinned widely, enthused by landing a hit, and sent another firebeam. Sablemane lifted the staff from his back in time to have the beam ricochet from its width and burst against the Tavern behind him, the walls smoking.
“You’ll have to try harder than that,” Sablemane said, and Wrathion, with his own scowl, sent another, only for Sablemane to respond with his own fireball.
They continued like this for multiple blows, most rays and beams of fire sailing over each others’ heads as they dodged and ducked, sparks and flames spitting out across the ground, the denser grass catching aflame and adding its own small-scale fires to the now-roaring inferno of the tree. One of Sablemane’s flames exploded into the kite station and that, too, went aflame.
Wrathion jumped nimbly over a lowly thrown missile and landed, coughing slightly from the furious smoke that now swirled into the Mists of the Veiled Stair. How long could he keep this up? Sablemane hardly looked injured from the few bolts Wrathion had managed to land on him; if anything, he looked angrier, or more annoyed.
Sablemane raised his hands, murmured an incantation under his breath, and a powerful spell spiraled into his hands, glowing a brilliant orange, sparking like an ember. He threw it forward – and the ground in front of the Prince seemed to explode.
The force sent Wrathion tumbling backwards again – but no, he was ready this time. He shifted into his whelp form before impact and twisted up and over to land on top of the wooden roof of the Tavern.
Sablemane laughed uproariously the instant he transformed. “You are a whelp!” He laughed again, louder. Wrathion glared down at him and fluffed out his wings in an attempt to appear larger. The smoke and flames from the burning tree billowed about Sablemane like a curtain, and the dragon looked up at Wrathion, the amusement still in his eyes now alight with the red of the fire around him.
“There is nothing funny about it,” Wrathion snapped.
“Then you have a poor sense of humor. No matter.” Sablemane pointed his metal staff’s tip towards Wrathion and with a hiss and a buzz a sizzling beam of arcane energy shot from it. The whelp scrambled out of the way and there was an audible hiss as the missile hit the roof and smoked.
“Do not set my Tavern on fire!”
ZAP. Another beam.
“It’s a bit too late for that,” Sablemane pointed out. He began to shoot one laser after another in quick succession. Wrathion dodged each easily, nimble in his smaller form, and chanced a glance over his shoulder as Sablemane took his aim again; a far-off, frenzied roar had caught Wrathion’s attention. There, near the saurok cave, Left and the eldest drake were attempting to pin each other down for a kill blow -… but Left was too agile to grab and the drake was too heavy to tackle. They were locked, viciously, in a stalemate.
Where was Right and the other drake?
There was a subtle, magnetic humming Wrathion heard and recognized in time to jump out of the way as another beam of arcane energy scorched at where he just stood.
“Little pest! Stay still!”
“Perhaps you should simply aim better!” Wrathion called down, then ducked as Sablemane sent an angry fireball at him in retort.
If Wrathion could just distract Sablemane long enough, just long enough, at least until Left had time to dispatch her own assailant, then his loyal bodyguard could come to his aid. Or perhaps another agent could hear the commotion up the slope, or even a champion could hear, someone, anyone, that could surely assist him with a situation that the darker parts of his mind began to realize he could not handle alone.
And then, as he dodged another laser, he realized - he had done nothing like this – fighting – without the help of a champion or his guards. Even when the red dragon had come to assassinate him, he’d had Fahrad to help.
He certainly had no one now.
Wrathion ground his teeth at the his weakness, at the slight, subtle pang of helplessness in the pit of his gut. He didn’t like it. At all.
An especially large bolt exploded an inch away from Wrathion’s face and he jumped from his reverie – but it was too late and the roof had begun to smolder too quickly. It caved in beneath him.
Startled, he tried to find purchase. The wood only slipped from his claws and a sharp pain flicked up his scales when he fell as the splinters raked across them.
There was a groan and a crunch as he landed haphazardly on his belly; fire and smoke surrounded him fully, scorching out the rest of the world beyond. Wrathion frowned and looked around, confused – oh! He’d landed on one of the burning trees branches of the tree, far above and hidden from Sablemane. What luck!
He squinted down through the smoke, breathing heavily, his claws digging into the bark. He could no longer hear Right or Left above the roar of the flames around him; with a resigned growl he realized he could no longer count on them.
No matter. He was the Black Prince! Maybe he hadn’t done something like this without help before, but he was a quick learner, he assured him confidently. He could do anything.
The silhouette of Sablemane appeared below, hazy from the thick smoke of the tree. This was his chance. If he could just get an inch closer, if he could shift into his human form fast enough, if he could grab his dagger fast enough -
Wrathion crawled forward on the branch and widened his eyes when the bark groaned from the slight shift in weight…
And then snap.
He tumbled over and found himself grabbed by the neck by a strong hand, and as he flailed and flapped his wings uselessly Sablemane, who had grabbed him mid-fall, brought him up to eye level.
“There you are. Finally. Do you know how easily I could break your neck? If you - ”
Wrathion shifted in human form so quickly even Sablemane looked surprised, and with a furious growl the Prince kicked out with all the power of a cornered animal and struck the elder dragon in the stomach with his heels. The man stumbled with a grimace, loosening his grip.
Wrathion tore himself away the dragon, landed lithely on his feet, grabbed his dagger and turned back with a snarl, uppercutting with his weapon to attempt to impale it into the black dragon’s chest.
Sablemane had recovered too fast for Wrathion’s liking, however, and brought up his staff to block. An aggravated sound escaped the younger dragon and he tried again at a different angle, advancing a step each time, driving Sablemane back towards the Path. Yet each time Wrathion slashed his dagger, Sablemane blocked it with the thick width of the staff. It didn’t help that the smoke was blurring Wrathion’s eyes, making his strikes nearly blind, nor did the fierce pain still throbbing in his back or the blood still dripping from his gloved hands from the splinters, all while Sablemane was hardly touched.
“The rogues taught you well!” Sablemane complimented, defending himself against another uppercut.
“I taught myself,” Wrathion quipped back smugly, then slammed one of his heels down onto Sablemane’s feet. Sablemane snarled painfully and jerked back, and – there! Wrathion found his chance and took it, surging forward with the dagger. The other black dragon saw and moved his neck away in time from being slit, though the dagger still opened a deep slash across his upper arm.
Wrathion’s victory was shortlived; Sablemane hissed, turned his staff and slammed the end of it into Wrathion’s chest with inhuman speed. There was a snapping pain and Wrathion suppressed a yell as a sharp, warm pain blossomed in his chest – had he just broken a rib? He stumbled and caught his balance. How much worse was this going to get?!
“That was a coward’s move,” the elder dragon admonished, annoyed, as Wrathion recovered from the staff hit.
“I hardly see – agh!” He ducked as Sablemane whipped his staff, the metal shrieking, at his head; it sailed passed him harmlessly, but the residual arcane energy from the weapon fell down to his face.
The staff kept swinging back at him, deadly and precise. Wrathion kept ducking, backing up slowly. Now he was the one being driven back, not Sablemane, and the sudden shift in power made him just angry enough.
“This - ” duck “ - is- ” dodge “ - ridiculous!”
Sablemane went to hit across his head again – but promptly feinted the move and with a crunch sent it slamming against Wrathion’s side.
The agony from his broken ribs blossomed fiercer; distantly, as if he had retreated far into himself, he heard a strangled cry of pain and realized it was his own voice.
He hardly saw Sablemane rush at him.
Wrathion felt a hand grab him by the e fringe of his scaled shirt and his feet left the ground as he was lifted a second time.
“You’ve fought better than I thought you would, I’ll admit,” Sablemane said, and Wrathion only managed a groan in reply. Oh, it hurt. His whole world was pain.
They were moving now; Sablemane was walking with him, still holding him aloft as if he weighed no more than a child. “Did you know the drake you killed was one of my youngest? Very intelligent, as well. She was gifted in learning languages; she often stopped adventurers to attempt to speak to them in Common, in Orcish.” Around them the fire burned. “She would have been even more gifted as an adult.”
“Unfortunate. I would have still killed her if I knew,” Wrathion said, mustering up his usual smugness through the pain as he began to become aware of himself again. “In fact, I’m almost disappointed Gruul didn’t kill more of your children -”
Sablemane snarled and punched him hard across the face with his free hand with such force Wrathion’s turban fell off.
The pain was immediate and terrible. He jerked back with a yell but could not go anywhere; Sablemane held him fast. His right eye already began to swell shut.
And then Sablemane threw him up at the Tavern with all the strength of his hidden dragon form.
Wrathion crashed through the front Tavern wall, shards of wood flying, and smacked back against none other than the bench he usually sat in before stilling to a halt.
If he thought his world was pain before, then his whole existence was it now. Every nerve on his body seemed to be screaming, on fire, in pure anguish.
The dragon laid there for a moment, too in pain to even utter a groan, simply trying to push back the world-shattering agony but finding it too difficult to stem. He conceded in at least taking a deep breath – but even he regretted that, his broken ribs growing tense with the inhale.
This was ridiculous. He was Wrathion, the Prince of the Black Dragonflight, uncorrupted, without fear of the Old Gods. He had eliminated his family on Azeroth, had hunted them down, had sent his own gifted assassin after them no matter where the wyrms had hid. He set his champions out to be pawns, watched as they did his bidding so willingly, he watched the Alliance and Horde kill each other senselessly and waited for the right time to choose the side that would conquer, he had found secrets on Pandaria he had not even shared with his heroes. He couldn’t just wallow here in agony like some low-life creature.
He forced himself to open his left eye – his right refused to – and sit up a bit straighter against the bench, a low hiss escaping his lips as his body throbbed.
His Tavern… oh, it was near to half-way destroyed: the roof caved in, patches of smoldering wood, the gaping holes where the drakes had barged in, where he’d just been thrown through. Wrathion stared at it, almost vacantly, non-believing. Just an hour ago he’d been content with a full stomach of the best Pandaren delicacies, talked earnestly with his champions, and toned down for the night, excited to study the runestones.
And now he’d been punched, bruised, and otherwise harmed by his surprise elder brother, subjected to be a personal punching bag.
Wrathion scowled. No. He wasn’t going to put up with this anymore.
He was the Black Prince. He was no one’s to push around. His anger grew as he heard Sablemane ascend the steps.
If Sablemane wanted a fight, he was going to get one.
Fueled by his sudden surge of rage the pain of his injuries became dulled, and he forced himself to his feet, pushing the rubble off of his chest and waist in order to stand.
Wrathion went to the entrance, now half as large because of the hole his body had made, his clawed hands curled into fists. Sablemane was at the middle of the steps by then, and stopped, looking slightly surprised that his younger brother was on his feet.
Pushed by his anger, by his pain, by this lonesomeness, Wrathion summoned one of his more powerful draconic spells. It had worked on one grown dragon before, and it could certainly work again!
Through the pain in his chest, his back, in the palm of his hands, he pulled his strength forward, feeling it surge through his shoulders, up into his hands, into his fingertips. He brought up his arms as if to shield himself from the next blow – but from his opens palms a strong, fiery black beam of magic shot forth, intertwining and writing like something living. It hit Sablemane square in the chest.
The elder dragon yelled out angrily, in pain, and tried to move away – but found himself rooted to the spot. Wrathion grinned widely, almost viciously, as Sablemane’s face became affronted with a confused sort of anger.
“Do you like my finest spell?” Wrathion asked, a slight coo to his voice, and curled his fingers to intensify the beam’s power. Sablemane grimaced. “Fahrad did too.”
“It’s passable,” Sablemane growled.
Wrathion splayed out his fingers and forced the dragon to walk backwards down the steps. Sablemane was glowering at him.
“You see, Sablemane, I think you have forgotten who you are dealing with!” He gave a toothy, bloody smile. “Whoever ends up challenging me rather… regrets it.” He curled his hands again to intensify the pressure of the pain on the beam. “Like those unfortunate nether-drakes.”
Sablemane was trying to hold back another grimace; Wrathion could see it in his eyes… all until the pain on the elder dragon’s face seemed to slide away, replaced by a cool calmness, though his pain was still evident in the creases of his eyes. Wrathion found himself annoyed – disappointed, even - at the dragon’s sudden nonchalance. Why wasn’t he roaring, snarling, spurting flame in anger at his immovability, his helplessness, as Fahrad had?
“Who was this Fahrad fellow?”
“He was a black dragon. I killed him.” His voice was smug.
“Did you? Or did someone else do it for you?” Sablemane chuckled at how Wrathion’s lip raised in a scowl. “The latter, then.”
“Oh – details! That’s hardly the point! You are only delayi-”
“This Fahrad. How old was he?”
Wrathion was caught off guard by the question. His grin fell from his face quickly; now he was the one who looked confused. “What?”
“How old. Was he?” Sablemane’s voice suggested a tone akin to trying to explain something simple to a child.
“I don’t see how - ”
“He was not a child of Deathwing, I assume?”
“No, but - ”
“You’re gifted, Black Prince, but only so much gift will get you only so far.” Smoke had begun to encircle the base of Sablemane’s ankles, rising slowly up his form. “An excellent containment beam – and yet.” He smiled and Wrathion noticed his teeth had become sharp, fang-like. “Do you really think - ” he chuckled almost warmly - “You could keep an ex-lieutenant of Deathwing immobile, a dragon who has lived countless generations, has experienced far more than you have, whose skills far surpass your natural born gifts… for that long?”
The smoke enveloped him now. “I do not believe you know who you are dealing with.”
Only too late did Wrathion realize what was going on, and he frantically tried to surge more energy into his magic, despite all of his strength seeming to drain as he pushed himself.
It didn’t matter. The beam broke as the spoke surged upwards, swirling, growing in size…
Until it cleared away as quickly as it had come and an enormous dragon as big as, if not bigger, the Tavern itself stood before him, a crest of regal fins atop his head and his neck, with double black horns flaring out from the back and side of his angled face, whose dark black scales caught and reflected the light of the burning fire like gemstones, whose belly and wings were as red as the flame itself.
Sabellian’s glowing yellow eyes flickered down to Wrathion, who was unabashedly gawking at him.
“Do you see my point, little whelp?”
Wrathion had not expected this. He thought quickly, panicked, not caring for the moment that he was panicked, and backed up a couple of steps. He’d thought, maybe, Sablemane had been lying about being a son of Deathwing, about being his brother, despite the gun trick, despite his skill set – but apparently not. Fahrad had hardly been the size of Sabellian, and – who was Wrathion trying to fool?
He was the Black Prince, surely. But apparently even he had limitations… and admitting it made him uncomfortable.
Where was everyone?! A flash of irrational anger overtook him. Left and Right – useless!
Besides, it didn’t help that the apparently useless draconic containment spell he’d just performed had most of the dredges of energy he’d had left. It didn’t help that a dagger could hardly do any good against the hide of a grown dragon, especially a dragon as powerful as Sabellian, and it didn’t help not much of his spells would be applicable, either – not like he had the strength to cast them, anyway. And it didn’t help that his injuries were screaming at him, that he was about to collapse, that he just wanted to curl up and hide and wish Sabellian away so his bruises and bones could mend.
For the first time in a long, long time, Wrathion was completely without a plan and without the knowledge to make one.
“I’ve had enough playing. It’s time to end this.”
And Sabellian lurched forward, opening his large maw to snatch Wrathion between his teeth.
The Prince stood transfixed for a moment as the jaws descended before he turned, shifted to whelp form and bolted, the pain of his injuries dulling from the rush of adrenaline fueled by fear for his life.
The laugh of Sabellian followed him. “Are you running? Come back here with some dignity!”
Wrathion half-ran, half-flew up the pathway that led up near the sauroks before turning right and scrambling up the small hillside, aiming to hide behind the tallest peak of rock on the Veiled Stair. A boom exploded behind him as Sabellian let loose enormous stream of concentrated fire, as pressurized as a cannonball. Debris went flying, but Wrathion ignored it. The grass began to burn.
Would the entire mountain soon be aflame? There were a good number of trees that could easily catch fire -
BOOM. Another cannonball of fire and Wrathion stumbled, nearly falling on his face but managing to regain his balance with a flap of his wings. He’d made it behind the large peak of rock, at least.
He glanced up, anxiously seeking where he could hide until he had at least some semblance of a plan, but found only smooth rock before him – no niches nor large enough grooves in the slab to burrow into.
Sabellian roared. The ground shook; the dragon was coming after him, rounding the corner of the path to search behind the hill.
Wrathion started scrambling, ignoring the way his fierce injuries were screaming, up the lower levels of the peak, hoping to get leverage before risking a flight up towards the top with his limited amount of strength. Maybe if he could get high enough, above even Sabellian’s eye level, he could -
A large claw grabbed him.
“Too slow, I’m afraid, whelp.”
Wrathion snarled and writhed as best as he could with his broken ribs. “Let me go, you overgrown-!”
“Don’t attempt to insult me in your position. It’s not wise -”
A crossbolt seared into the side of Sabellian’s flank, deep into the flesh.
“AUGH! What on -”
He turned and another became embedded into his shoulder. The dragon snarled.
Wrathion glanced over, surprised – then grinned.
Right stood grimly with a golden crossbow loaded in her hand; her face was raked with deep claw marks, one of her eyes sown shut, and was bleeding heavily from seemingly every area of skin that showed. Dirt and blackish blood that seemed not her own bruised her uniform. How she was still standing Wrathion had no feasible idea – she looked as if she’d just risen from a grave - though the drake that had grabbed her, the youngest one, was nowhere to be seen.
“Humans, as hardy as always,” Sabellian grumbled, though Wrathion saw a faint flicker of concern in his yellow eyes. Concern for who? Himself? Or the vanished drake?
“Stand aside. This is between my brother and -”
Fwoomp. Another bolt in the shoulder and another snarl from Sabellian.
“You had your chance!” Sabellian’s tail whipped about, but Right dodged, barely. As she landed, her eyes caught Wrathion’s with a pointed look which then flickered anxiously over to the Black Market House, which sat quietly, almost serenely, before the flames against the slope.
Of course! Madam Goya often sold vicious weapons there. If he could get a hold of one strong enough to disable or even kill Sabellian…
And oh, what luck. The elder dragon was distracted by the bodyguard.
Wrathion took the shot instantly. As Sabellian opened his mouth to shoot a gust of flame at Right, the Prince reverted to his mortal form and had just enough time to wiggle his arm through Sabellian’s claws and grab his dagger before the dragon had time to react.
He shoved the weapon into his half-brother’s paw, right near the webbing protected least by the hard scales, with such force it sunk in up into the hilt. Sabellian roared in pain and jerked back his claw on instinct, and Wrathion fell from his grip.
“Augh! You little - ” He turned and swung his tail again angrily, and this time Right didn’t have the energy to dodge; she was hit with a mighty crunch and disappeared beyond the slope.
Wrathion had no time to feel for Right. He turned and took off, feeling the last of his strength dissipate as he pushed his flight speed hard.
He landed heavily in the open Auction House; Madam Goya and her exchange guards were gone. The Prince found himself wondering again where everyone was, briefly coming to the conclusion Sabellian must have dispatched them beforehand, before he jumped over the counter where the elderly Pandaren woman usually stood and peered over at the items on the other side.
Success! He grinned widely and shifted into human form, practically falling down, clumsy in his weakened state, into the rack of weapons that had been hidden behind the counter. There was a mechanized, Dwarven looking sort of gun; a bright golden axe, whose sides resembled wings; and another axe, more vicious in looks, with a skull in its center. There was an empty slot on the rack; it must have been where Right’s crossbow replacement had been. Clever of her to think to come here -
He flinched when the image of his guard sailing over the edge flashed back to him – no. He couldn’t think that over now. He tried to forget about the outcome of Left’s fight with the other drake as well. No time. He had no time to care.
Focusing back on reality, Wrathion tried picking up the skull axe and gave up the moment he tried to lift it; even in that little exertion his body hissed.
Wrathion frowned, aggravated with his weakness, before trailing his hand over the golden axe and coming to rest it on the gun. He’d never used one before, but it would have to do.
Just in time, as well. Sabellian seemed to realize where he had gone, for the ground began to shake again as the dragon headed in the Auction House’s direction.
Gingerly Wrathion crawled back over the counter, leaving a trail of blood, and crouched as well as he could - considering his injuries - biting his lower lip and suppressing a whimper at the way his chest seemed to almost creak. He hid behind the wall near the opening to the building and glanced the gun over again. These things didn’t seem too hard to operate; he’d seen Left use hers deftly many times. Wrathion put his hand on the trigger. If he could just get a bullet in the center of Sabellian’s skull – even in the center of an eye - …
“Come forward, Wrathion. Allow yourself a clean death, at least.”
Wrathion scowled but his fingers tensed against the trigger. Sabellian sounded close enough.
He could almost feel his own heart beating. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath to summon the handful of energy he had left…
Then leaned out the entrance, aimed, and fired.
Sabellian had practically been a yard away and though the gun bucked back in Wrathion’s hand with a surprisingly powerful recoil, the shot still hit… though not where Wrathion had wanted it to. It grazed across the side of Sabellian’s chest, entering through the flesh of his upper shoulder. The dragon snarled loudly and reared on his hind legs, flame pluming from his mouth in a show of pain.
Wrathion went to shoot again but realized with a panic that the gun had to be reloaded after fumbling awkwardly with the contraption.
“GRAH! THIS ENDS NOW, PRINCE!”
Before Wrathion could dodge or move – as if he had the energy to, anyway – Sabellian shot out a claw and snatched him roughly, lifting off of the ground with a beat of his wings and landing on the lower side of the high peak, which faced the Tavern, Wrathion had earlier thought to hide behind.
The Black Prince’s body thrummed as Sabellian pushed him down into the ground.
“A good last shot. But I believe you’re finished,” the dragon hissed down at him, anger blazing in his eyes now. Wrathion could do nothing but snarl at him weakly.
Sabellian pushed down harder and Wrathion winced, forcing himself to stop the pitiful whine that threatened to escape his throat, as the pressure bent down at his broken ribs and the pain escalated.
“You made a fatal mistake when you declared hostilities on my family,” Sabellian growled, smoke curling from his nostrils, his eyes aflame with anger. His paw crushed down harder and this time Wrathion did cry out. This pain, stacked up on all his previous agony, was unbearable. His entire head rang with it.
“You would have caused…” He gasped hoarsely for breath. “Unspeakable… pain… to the mortal races if - ”
“Oh, yes! I had forgotten how many mortal races visited Outland nowadays!” A growl, deep and sinister. “Do you take me for a fool, or do you take yourself for one? I would have never chanced re-corruption if it were not for you disturbing us!” Another push of the paw and there was a snap as another of Wrathion’s ribs broke. The Prince hissed and writhed against the pain, but had no where to go, the rocks crushing up against his bruised back. He suddenly realized this is what Anduin Wrynn must have felt when he was crushed by the Divine Bell –… only done much, much slower.
“How easily you could have left us alone. Forgotten us. Let us be. We were an entire world away; what harm could we do the mortal races?” Sabellian shook his head, sneering. “But you couldn’t help yourself, could you, little prince? You wanted to be special. The very last of your kind!”
He leaned in close. “Allow me to tell you what you really are. You aren’t special. You aren’t unique. Perhaps the Old Gods have not found you yet, perhaps you’ve escaped our father’s madness – but in the end you are simply the product of a red dragon’s curiosity and nothing more. A living, breathing, mutated experiment. Nefarian tossed specimens like you out daily.”
Wrathion glowered at him, wanting to kill him, wanting to kill him slowly, painfully, disgusted and angered and insulted - … but could do nothing but writhe again against the claw. Sabellian only shook his head.
“Pathetic,” he mumbled, and smoke cascaded off of his enormous form as he shifted into his human form once again. He grabbed Wrathion and set him leaning almost casually against the rock; the Prince was so disabled by pain he could do nothing but whimper at the slight movement of his body and glare at Sablemane with a lidded, glassy look.
Sablemane was silent for a couple moments, merely content to stare at him, before speaking.
“You favor your right hand, correct?”
Wrathion pursed his lips and glowered at him silently.
Sablemane shrugged. “Then I’ll just break both.” He went to grab his left arm.
“My left! I favor my left,” Wrathion lied with an edge of panic in his voice.
Sablemane promptly grabbed his right arm and snapped it as if it were made of paper.
Wrathion screamed. Sablemane looked at him impassively. “I didn’t want another trick from you. This should stem most.”
Wrathion hardly heard him. The edges of his eyes were getting hazy, getting dark. Vaguely he was aware of his head bowing, the echo of a scream… but he was retreating far into himself, far, far away into the comfort of darkness, a darkness that promised a brief respite from the agony.
He didn’t fight it. He accepted it readily. And as it closed around him his last good eyee shut and he thought no more.
Baron Sablemane straightened and brushed the dirt and blood from his robes as Wrathion’s body fell limp into unconsciousness and his eyes fluttered closed.
The fight been more difficult that he had imagined; he’d scoffed and ignored the rumors of the Black Prince’s skill and power, but he understood where the rumors had started now… even though they had been exaggerated. Wrathion fought well for his age, but Sablemane was much more experienced.
Scowling, he rubbed at the thick gash at his shoulder where the whelp’s dagger had sliced him, then quickly assessed the rest of his wounds. The holes left from the bolts in the crossbow burned fiercely, the bullet still dug into his shoulder even more-so, and his entire body ached from Wrathion’s powerful containment beam. His injuries had hurt more than he had let on during the scuffle.
No matter. It was over and done with. His injuries would heal with time… not like Wrathion could say the same about his own.
The dragon turned his head, squinting through the flames. Half of the Veiled Stair seemed to be aflame.
“Nasandria!” He called out, loudly, above the fire’s muted roaring. Hopefully the drake had fared well against the other bodyguard – the one that had not thought it a bright idea to shoot him with a crossbow – and briefly worried again over what had befallen Talsian.
There was a moment’s pause. Had she fallen as well? -…
The smoke above him billowed out and swirled, and the large black drake funneled through the clouds, landing hard on the scorched ground. She was heavily injured, gashes slicing across her neck and legs, but looked at her father readily.
“Did you -? Ah.” Only then she noticed the unconscious body of Wrathion slumped up against the rock. “Is he dead?”
“No.” Sablemane bent his head to ruffle through the slim pocket in his robes, ignoring the incredulous look Nasandria was giving him. “Stop looking at me like that. It doesn’t become you.” He took a small red vial from his pocket, swirling its contents. “The ‘Prince’ is still valuable alive… mostly thorugh his knowledge. I’m curious to interrogate him on the nature of his lack of corruption.”
“I doubt he’ll - ”
“We’ll see.” Sablemane shook his head, took a sip of the healing potion and grimaced at its sour taste, though the ache in his body began to ebb at least a slight bit. “Afterwards, I will dispatch him, once we know how we might be able to return to Azeroth without worry.” He corked the vial. “Where is Talsian?”
“I don’t know. He and the human went near the cliff.”
He shifted into dragon form then, spreading his wings, testing again the pain in his muscles. “Let’s locate him and retreat to a safer distance. The fires will grab attention, if they have not already.” Sabellian glanced down at the still Prince before grabbing him by the shirt and settling his limp body haphazardly on the back of Nasandria. “Carry him, would you? Thank you.” He ignored again the annoyed look on his drake.
The dragon lifted from the burned earth, sailing high above the smoke. Once they found Talsian – dead or alive (Sabellian dearly hoped it was the latter) – they could find a secluded area, perhaps up higher in the mountains.
“Come, Nasandria!” He called down, ignoring the ache in his bones. “And be careful with our little Prince, would you? We don’t want him falling. That would be… unfortunate.”
Anduin Wrynn knew something was wrong when he first saw the smear of smoke coming from the horizon.
“It’s alright,” he assured his white gryphon as calmly as he could, patting the elegant beast’s neck as the animal made a low chortling sound Anduin recognized as nervousness when the smell of the smoke hit them. The Prince had been riding at a leisurely pace from Lion’s Landing for the past hours, stopping only to allow his mount to rest and for him to eat, when the large point of the Veiled Stair appeared in the distance -… and then the smoke coming off of it.
What on earth was happening? Anduin pursed his lips, squinting his eyes hard as if it could help him see clearer. The Veiled Stair was usually quiet, the mists of the mountain almost acting as a muffler to further dissuade violence (though the Exchange Guards and the Blacktalons often were the cause of that), and was altogether a more mysterious place where little happened unless Wrathion willed it so to impress his chosen champions.
So why did it seem to be on fire?
The Path of a Hundred Steps grew closer until Anduin had to angle his gryphon up sharply in order to traverse up the rock face. He glanced down, frowning, as they ascended. At times there was usually a duo of Blacktalon Agents walking the Steps… but the farther he went up, allowing him a larger view of the entire pathway below, the more worried he became. There were no Blacktalons, or even other travelers or traders, for that matter.
Anduin tried to ignore how his throat began to clench, a sign of his own nervousness. Wrathion hardly allowed the Path to be unguarded.
He glanced up as his gryphon screeched, startled, beating her wings backwards as they made it up to the top.
The Veiled Stair was on fire!
“Easy, easy!” Anduin said, struggling to be loud enough over the fire and his gryphon’s own panicked squawking. “It’s alright!”
After a moment, with calm but stern words and a bit of wrestling of the reins, he managed to calm her - at least enough so that he could gently goad her to fly over the flames.
The Prince of Stormwind widened his eyes when the scene unfurled below him as he made it over the highest bits of the inferno. The Tavern – it was nearly destroyed! Its ceiling was half caved in, two of its walls were busted through…
For the seemingly hundredth time Anduin questioned what the hell had happened up here.
There was no logical reason for Wrathion to still be inside. Anduin scanned the earth below, half-frantic in his surprise, and saw nothing, save for some dark red stains on the ground and pocket-holes of upturned dirt that he’d rather not think about.
It was difficult to investigate this high up. He had to land. The higher bit of path leading up to the saurok cave seemed relatively untouched; he directed his gryphon there.
The gryphon seemed happy to comply, as it took them farther from the flames, and she landed earnestly and quickly.
“Good girl,” Anduin murmured, grabbing his cane from the saddle then gingerly slid off, careful to land on his good leg.
It was only then, far from the roar of the fire, he heard someone groan.
He turned, hand going to his belt where his throwing knives were, and stilled. Another groan. It wasn’t malicious. Whoever it was was in pain. His hand fell.
“Where are you?” He called out, looking around the grey of the rock. A gloved hand then lifted from behind a boulder. Anduin, still cautious, leaned slightly so he could see behind -
The orc was half-way hidden behind the boulder, her head bowed, but Anduin would know her anywhere. As quickly as he could with his hobble and limp he clacked his way over, his bad leg almost creaking with the strain of going up the incline.
Anduin knelt down to her, abandoning his cane, and summoned the Light into his hands the moment he took in the bodyguard’s condition. She was bleeding heavily, her shoulder notched through with bone-deep gashes, one of her ankles severely twisted.
Gently, he hovered his hands over her worst wound – the bleeding shoulder – and began to heal her as quickly as possible while he spoke.
“What happened here?”
The orc managed to open her eyes, though her pain was evident, and looked up at him. She went to speak, but coughed hard, blood spittle landing on Anduin’s fine tabard. He ignored it.
“A dragon. Three dragons,” Left murmured, scowling then. “Black dragons.”
Anduin was so alarmed he almost lost his concentration on the Light. “Black dragons?” He repeated dumbly, then shook his head and went back to healing her. “That’s – what did-?”
“From… augh,” she winced, then pushed through, “from Outland. They were after the Prince.” The orc raised a hand and rubbed the blood from the corner of her mouth.
Outland? Anduin frowned thoughtfully. The wound was slowly but surely beginning to stem in blood flow.
There had hardly been any news from Outland in years. He wondered if Wrathion had ever thought to send agents there -… though apparently not.
“Where is Wrathion?” Anduin asked, trying not to sound worried. The Black Prince was egotistical, annoying, smug, manipulative, and often drove Anduin up the wall or otherwise made him completely exasperated or affronted… not to mention Wrathion was an extreme know-it-all. But all the same, he … enjoyed the Black Prince’s company, and the Prince of Stormwind cared dearly for him.
“I wish I knew. The leader and he were battling. I don’t think the outcome was in our mutual friend’s favor.” Her eyes slid to the Tavern and the destroyed hillside. “I should have been protecting him. That’s my job!” She scowled again then, fierce. “But those drakes came for Right and -” She paused, then fixed Anduin with an intense stare. “Have you seen Right?”
Anduin shook his head.
Left narrowed her eyes and went silent.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” the Prince assured quickly, summoning more power to attempt to force the wound to stitch back together. It worked, somewhat, but only so far.
“They flew off with him. With his Majesty.” Left spoke again after another moment of silence. “Into the mountains.” She gestured the direction with her head, indicating the peaks above of Kun-lai. “Grah! I should have followed - ”
“Left, your injuries are severe. I wouldn’t punish yourself,” Anduin said calmly, then lifted his hands from her shoulder. There was only so much he could do without draining his energy.
He glanced up at where Left had indicated, then. Three black dragons kidnapping the one who’d thought he was the last and had killed the rest of his kin on Azeroth.
Anduin bit his lip. What were they going to do to him?
He furrowed his brows and sighed loudly through his nose. He couldn’t just… sit here and let an ill fate befall his friend. His bad leg throbbed then, as if it were reminding him of what had last happened when he’d gone off against a powerful enemy by himself to stop another bad outcome for the people he cared for…
“Don’t even think about it,” Left said gruffly.
Anduin glanced down at the orc, startled. “I – well, I can’t just abandon him if I know he’s -! ”
Left cut him off with a dismissive motion of her hand and slid herself up into a straighter sitting position. Light, she recovered fast, even with her ankle still twisted. “I’m going with you. You’re going to go up there anyway, I can see it on that bright little face of yours, and I’ve sworn my life to my Prince, so I would have gone too.”
Anduin felt himself both relieved and touched that she hadn’t denied him from going and that she had offered to him (even though he knew well it was out of her duty, and not generosity). But she was gravely injured, and he couldn’t allow her to push herself, even though she was of great willpower and strength. “Left, that’s kind of you, but I - ”
“Don’t tell me ‘no,’ Prince. I answer to the Black Prince, not the Prince of Stormwind. And it’s my job. Besides -” she snorted - “if his Majesty couldn’t defeat one of them, what makes you think you’re going to?” She rolled her eyes as his face fell. “That’s what I thought. Now.” She pointed to her ankle. “Heal me. Then, we can talk.”
Anduin paused for a moment, warring with himself, before finally sighing and giving in. He was no stranger to doing things against other people’s wishes, and admired Left’s determination.
He went to tend to her ankle and pondered thoughtfully, almost absent-minded to the danger he was about to put himself in. Anduin had dealt with black dragon kidnappings before and gotten out.
He was sure he could do it again for a friend.