Sabellian attempts to learn Wrathion’s secret of his lack of corruption while Anduin Wrynn and Left, one of the young dragon’s personal bodyguards, track down the kidnapped Prince in the mountains of Kun-lai.
The first thing Wrathion thought upon regaining consciousness was how cold it was.
Still in the fog of sleep, he went to wrap his arms around himself, to curl himself up close – until his right arm screamed with pain and he gasped.
And then, all at once, with that slight movement of his arms, his agony seemed to stir and awaken like some angered beast.
His arms went loose at his sides as the pain overtook him. It was a rising tide, a painful current that swept stinging from his right arm up into his chest, his back, his head, down into his waist, his legs. The agony bit at every corner of his skin; it bloomed sharply in the wounds forgotten by sleep. Wrathion’s eyes rang with it.
He groaned. Oh, why couldn’t he have stayed in that blessed, painless darkness?
Wrathion scrunched his eyes up tight until the black behind his eyelids began to shimmer with white dots. If he could just… force himself… to fall back asleep, to escape the pain…
It wasn’t working. The pain had fully shed the numbing agent of sleep and had all-together awoken, fierce and white-hot and biting into his bruises, his broken bones, his cuts and slashes.
Falling back asleep would be impossible.
Wrathion hissed through his teeth.
The cold found him again, as if it had sensed his sudden misery and aimed to amplify it, and the dragon shivered, wincing then at his own shaking – it made his body hurt even more, though the movement was so slight. But he couldn’t stop shaking. It was so cold, even with his draconic heat.
… Where was he, even?
Wrathion slowly opened his eyes – or at least one. His right refused to. Even his left was hard to open, but he managed, at least, to force his eyelid to lift just enough so he could see, even if it was just through a slim slit.
He took in his surroundings in a daze. The pain was constricting his level of awareness, but he forced himself to focus.
Wrathion was in a very barren cave of black and grey rock. Above, dripping from the ceiling, hung great stalagmites where transparent ice had frozen over them like sheathes.
It, too, was quiet, save for the wind that echoed from the unseen mouth of the cave some ways off. There was a lonesomeness to the place, a stillness, and it was cold; the very rocks he was propped up against radiated a chill through his bruised back.
Wrathion stared. How had he gotten here? The last thing he’d recalled was passing out because of his arm – a flash of a memory, the sound of his own bone snapping, and he flinched – but nothing more than that.
“You’re awake. Good.”
The Black Prince turned his head towards the voice, glaring immediately. The bones in his neck seemed to creak and his head throbbed.
Baron Sablemane leaned against the rock on the opposite side to the room, diagonal to the younger dragon. Behind him was the opening to some natural pathway that no doubt led deeper into the mountain.
The green fire at Sablemane’s snake-head shoulders burned eerily in the dark cave and cast a sickly neon glow up along the dragon’s face and reflected against the orange burning of his eyes. Sablemane had his arms crossed; he looked relaxed, nonchalant, but he was frowning.
Wrathion opened his mouth to reply but the words came out as a hissing, dry croak. He scowled weakly; his throat felt like it was sticking together.
“A cutting reply,” Sablemane drawled as he lifted himself from his casual lean and walked closer until he was standing a yard in front of the Black Prince. Wrathion deepened his scowl, then swallowed and rubbed his parched tongue against the top of his mouth in an attempt to get dryness from his throat.
He tried again. “Why am I still alive?” Wrathion’s voice as still a rasp, but vaguely understandable, at least. The sudden, instinctual need for water hummed in the back of his throat.
“Why question it, ‘prince?’ Would you like to be dead?”
From a very, very dark part of his mind the word yes slithered, a yes to stop the seeping, terrible pain - … but it was squashed, silenced, and forgotten instantly.
“No.” He blinked slowly. “I was simply under the impression were going to kill me.”
Sablemane smiled grimly. “What makes you think I’m not going to, still?”
Wrathion glared at him again. Sablemane rolled his eyes.
“Stop. You look pathetic.” The elder dragon rolled his shoulders back. “As for your question – yes, you have excellent observation skills. You’re not dead. Congratulations, I suppose.” He smoothed down his goatee with his thumb; Wrathion wondered if it was a habit of his. “I’ve decided to keep you alive in this… scenic little place… to ask you some questions of my own.”
“… Questions,” Wrathion repeated. He’d come to the conclusion he must have been in Kun-lai; nowhere else was this freezing.
“Yes. Questions,” Sablemane snapped, then relaxed again. “Particularly about your lack of corruption.”
Wrathion laughed at him, though it came out as weak and more of a hissing sound than an actual laugh. His broken ribs protested.
“You may have thought about that before you attacked me. I may have been more… helpful to your plight.”
Sablemane stared at him for a long, quiet moment before replying. “Honestly. Where does your ego start and begin? Is there some sort of unending pool of it in that inflated head of yours? You’ve been beaten down and are now my hostage, and you still believe it’s an excellent idea to talk back to me?” He ran a quick hand over his face and composed himself, sighing in aggravation. “No matter, Black Prince. You will be helpful, one way or another.”
Wrathion felt his confidence waver as it had during the fight; the prince stared at his elder brother wordlessly. He didn’t like Sablemane’s tone of voice.
“I will give you some choices before I have to use… methods I would rather not have to employ.” Sablemane studied him quietly for a moment. “First, I’ll simply ask you what I’d like to know: how did the red dragons take your corruption away? What method did they use?”
Wrathion glared at him defiantly and said nothing. Did Sablemane really think he was going to just… answer anything he wanted after the elder dragon had crushed him into the dirt with blood and fire and shamed him?
“I’d rather not share. You said yourself Outland… ‘cured’ it for you. Perhaps you should just run back home, hm?”
Sablemane growled at him; his eyes glowed hot orange for a moment before flaring down again. “Very well. Nasandria!”
The drake, in her mortal form, appeared from the pathway Sablemane had been standing near beforehand. At her belt hung ebony daggers with ruby hilts.
“Start the cuts off light – and do be mindful of his previous injuries. Stay away from them at first, but if he still thinks it a wise idea to stay silent, I will take over.” His eyes were fixated coolly on the younger dragon. “And then I’m sure he’ll speak for us then. But, as I said, I like giving options.”
Nasandria pulled back her thick black hair and tied it into a bun, blowing a free strand from her face. She pulled a dagger from her belt and approached Wrathion, who sunk back deeper into the wall in a pathetic attempt to get away from her. Oh. Perhaps this was a bad idea. He eyed the sharpened dagger as his previous pain throbbed in every muscle in his body, and for a desperate moment he opened his mouth to stumble out the words “wait, no, stop, I’ll tell you!” -… but he set his eyes coldly, even though his body was shaking. He pretended it was just from the cold right before the dagger set against his jaw and sliced.
Anduin leaned against his cane and sighed.
The fires of the Veiled Stair had finally gone out as the night had descended, leaving behind a wake of scorched earth, thick smoke, and charred husks of the white trees that had dotted the mountain; the only surviving white oak remained near the Black Market Auction House, which sat relatively untouched compared to the rest of its burnt surroundings, save for large claw marks raked across its side.
The Tavern was in the worst shape. It was wholly inhabitable; as Left and Anduin had sat talking near the saurok cave, waiting out the fires (Anduin had convinced her to, for the smoke would have killed them more quickly than the flames they would have tried to dodge), more of the inn’s roof had collapsed inward from the slow smoldering.
Anduin turned his head to glance back at it now as he stood near the burnt corpse of the largest tree in front of the Tavern, and frowned. Left had given him simple facts about the situation, and, as was usual with the Blacktalons, had kept most information back despite the prince’s frustration. All he was told was that the black dragons who had come through the Dark Portal were led by one of Deathwing’s eldest sons, and had come to kill Wrathion.
“Why?” Anduin had pressed after healing Left’s ankle. “They were from Outland. I don’t understand how they could have found out about Wrathion; it doesn’t make sense. There hasn’t been … any communication through the two worlds in a long time, or so I’ve been told. What did Wrathion do?”
Left had shrugged. “I can’t tell you everything, Prince.” And no amount of pestering and careful questions Anduin did or asked would make her open up, so he’d let it go – for the time being.
The prince furrowed his brows. Something was not quite right here…
Anduin shook his head then and sighed, his face relaxing. He tried not to worry about that now; what he should be worrying about was the fact that Wrathion had not been killed, but kidnapped, and by a son of Deathwing no less.
He turned his head when he heard footsteps crunching against the brittle, burnt grass. Left was coming back from searching near the Auction House. She looked aggravated.
“Ridiculous,” she murmured, and walked passed the Prince, who immediately followed her.
“I didn’t find anyone. Did you?” Anduin asked, trying as best as he could to keep up with her all while trying not to stumble over the uneven terrain. The first thing Left had set out to do, when the fires had died, was to search for Right and the rest of the Blacktalons who usually guarded the mountain, all of whom had seemingly disappeared, for back-up. She’d asked Anduin to search near the Tavern as she went to go near the Auction House.
Left, however, didn’t appear successful in her hunt if her angered expression was to be any hint. “If I had, don’t you think they would be with me, Prince? No. I didn’t find anyone. The only thing valuable I found was this” - she hoisted a new golden crossbow Anduin hadn’t noticed her carrying - “and even then its ammunition is low.”
“Oh,” Anduin said, lamely. His leg was starting to ache from trying to keep up at Left’s pace. “We could search farther down the mountain,” he added, trying to be helpful. “I’m sure that -”
Left turned to face him so quickly the prince startled, stumbling mid-step. The orc grabbed him by the shoulders and proceeded to guide him to walk backwards until they were near the Tavern again and then with a stern shove she forced him to sit down on the steps.
“You’re going to stay here and wait for me until I return. No, there will be no arguing, and don’t look so insulted. If you’re really that intent on finding his Majesty then you can at least move out of my way until we leave; there’s no time for me to waste and I can’t afford to slow down for an injured Prince who’s following me around like a lost puppy. Besides - ” she shrugged - “you should save your strength.”
Anduin bit the inside of his cheek to stop the immediate retort that threatened to escape from him; he didn’t want to make the bodyguard more annoyed than she already was. He supposed she was right about saving his strength… but he wanted so badly to help. The two stared at each other challengingly for a moment before Anduin relented and sagged his shoulders.
“Alright. I’ll wait here. But please be careful.”
Left grunted noncommittally, hoisted the crossbow across her shoulder and headed down to the Path of a Hundred Steps, disappearing beneath the cliff.
Anduin quietly watched her go before looking out over the Veiled Stair as he sat. It was so vacant and quiet, as if the fires had burned away any semblance of time as well as most of the foliage. It unnerved him. Certainly the mountain was peaceful before, but there was always some sense of life in the Tavern or the Auction House on the other side of the mountain plane. Now it all seemed… lifeless, the only sound the faint, ghost-like wind streaming down from the higher peaks of Kun-lai, bringing colder and colder air as the night became blacker and blacker, which made Anduin shake and his blond hair ruffle.
Leaning back against the face of the step behind him, he pulled his arms around himself to contain his heat, wishing he had brought, at the very least, his royal blue overcoat to stem against the mountain cold… though, then again, he hadn’t expected to need it when he’d left from Lion’s Landing to visit the Black Prince, who had no shortage of warmth in the Tavern.
His throat constricted, not for the first time, with worry. It’d been some time since the black dragons had come; would he even find Wrathion alive?
Anduin shook his head and closed his eyes, attempting to relax his anxious thoughts; while it was freezing, at least the cold air allowed his mind to focus.
When dealing with Onyxia, the broodmother had been brought down with force and magic. Anduin supposed that the same strategy was not going to work with a prince who could hardly lift a shield and with the quickness but delicateness of rogues.
His hand drifted down to where he hid his throwing knives – right underneath his tabard, hanging from the inside of his belt. Rogues used throwing knives, didn’t they?
Anduin glanced up at the charred husk of the tree in front of him. He hadn’t found the time to practice, much less use these, in some time. If he didn’t have a chance to use the Light for its “flashiness” in the dark…
He grabbed a knife and aimed at the center of the tree – and threw. His aim was somewhat off, but the knife stuck true. Anduin smiled, pleased, and continued to distract himself by practicing with the knives until he finally heard steps coming back up from the Path.
He looked over and there was Left – alone.
He stood up, grabbing his cane. “Did you-?”
Anduin’s heart sank, but he pressed on. “What about other agents?”
Left glanced at him. “Unconscious. There’s about five of them huddled up, hidden in a crevice on the lower edges of the Path. The elder dragon must have grabbed them before he attacked his Majesty.” She was scowling.
Anduin gripped his cane tighter. “If they’re not dead, I can heal them. If you could lead the way-”
She cut him off by putting her hand up. “You can’t heal them. They’re under some sort of spell.” The orc tapped her forehead. “I tried to wake them, but their eyes are open. Cloudy, vacant. I know draconic magic when I see it.”
Left moved passed him and headed towards the Black Market House. Anduin hesitated, mindful of the “lost puppy” comment she’d said earlier. He dug his knives from the tree, sheathed them, then followed at a distance.
“If I just worked with them, I may be able to get them back on their feet,” Anduin said carefully.
“Mm.” They’d made it to the Auction House. Left went up to the two large Pandaren lanterns situated on either side of the dark building and lit them, a warm but powerful glow emanating from the glass. Anduin watched – he made sure to stand far away enough so Left wouldn’t run into him as the orc turned from lighting and went behind the counter. Something on the counter distracted him. There was a large trail of smeared blood running up and over it.
The prince eyed it for a moment, biting down on his lower lip, then looked away quickly.
“As for your ‘healing offer,’ Prince, I’ve weighed the option. But time is more essential than back-up. You could spend hours with each agent and still not get them fully aware. I’d rather not take the risk of arriving too late for his Majesty.”
“What about Right?”
Left paused in front of a large mahogany cupboard, then shook her head. “That would take even more time. I don’t even know where she is.”
She opened the cupboard. It was full of rolled parchment, neatly stacked upon one another. Left made a pleased noise, grabbed one of the scrolls, then turned back to the human and unrolled it flat against the counter.
It was a large map detailing Kun-lai Summit. The details were impressive: every peak was named, every road paved out with ink, and caves were carefully labeled.
“I see why Wrathion has his Watchers everywhere,” Anduin said with an appreciative smile, after realizing that the map was Blacktalon-made once he saw the claw-mark symbol at the edge of the parchment. “Why do you keep them in here, instead of the Tavern?”
“The Tavern is too obvious a place for unwanted eyes to find them,” Left murmured as she leaned over the map, moving it slightly so more of the lantern-light could spill out over it. Her gloved hand trailed gingerly over the peaks that were closest to the Veiled Stair.
“The dragons will logically find some sort of hide-away from the snow. His Majesty hates the cold. I’m sure the other black dragons do as well.” She tapped her fingers against the map. “And ‘Sablemane’ will no doubt need somewhere to hide from us. He knows he has something valuable.”
“The caves in Kun-lai are numerous, but if we can travel quickly” - she circled some of the cave names - “we’ll find them.”
“Do you think we should find some of the Blacktalons in Kun-lai?” Anduin asked.
“There’s no time for that.”
The prince nodded. It would only be Left and him, then. His heart quickened. He hoped they’d be enough for Wrathion.
“We leave immediately. We’re wasting time as is.” She looked up, then narrowed her eyes.
“You can’t wear that.”
The bodyguard gestured impatiently to Anduin’s bright white and golden garb. “That. You can’t wear that. You’ll shine like a beacon with all of that paleness and I nor the Prince can afford even the smallest of distractions.”
Anduin awkwardly pulled at his golden sash; the brightness of the outfit hadn’t even crossed his mind. “These are all the clothes I have with me. I -… certainly I might be able to hide behind -?”
Left grunted and pushed passed him, nearly knocking him over. He snatched onto the counter for balance and turned to see the guard disappear behind another section of the Auction House. There was the loud groaning of furniture being moved and a creak before some hurried shuffling. Anduin frowned and leaned his body to try to get a better view inside; what was she -?
The orc appeared again with a black bundle in her hands and walked with purpose back to him. She held it out to Anduin, who made sure to balance on his good leg before letting go of the counter, and took it from her curiously.
“These should fit. Get dressed and hurry up. I’ll be waiting on you, Prince.” Left left him then, heading back towards the Tavern.
Anduin looked down at the bundle in his arms. It was obviously an outfit; he lifted a piece from the pile and looked it over, tilting his head, as he took in what was a tunic of thick black leather. It looked just like -
The prince’s eyes widened. He realized what he was holding.
Left had given him a Blacktalon outfit to wear.
“Must you really cut so infuriatingly small?!”
Nasandria glanced up at him, raised a brow, then finished the cut she had been making across his forearm.
Up along Wrathion’s neck, jaw, and left arm (Nasandria had ignored his broken right), were thin, innumerable cuts. The drake had torn his gauntlet off, as well as loosened his scaled tabard to get to the fleshier parts of his neck and chest, to get to his skin. The fresh wounds zigzagged and overlapped at one another, and the blood beaded at the top of the skin but did not run down.
But the cuts Wrathion had been expecting – fierce, thick, deep into the flesh – were instead painful, stinging, near paper-cut slashes. It was annoying, at first, and not that agonizing compared to the rest of the pain his body was in from the fight-… but the continual accumulation of the damn things was really starting to become agonizing. What was worse was how it made all of his other wounds feel more painful than they had prior, as if the tiny cuts Nasandria was carefully giving him were a sharp acid, a catalyst, that steadily ramped up his body’s overall hurt.
It was a technique he was not familiar with – and he wished he hadn’t come to know it when he was on the other end of the blade.
“If you’d like for her to stop, then you just need to stop being stubborn and answer my questions,” Sablemane sighed. He was leaning against the wall again, his arms crossed, eyeing Wrathion with boredom.
The Black Prince glared at him. “No, thank you.”
“May I ask you this, then, at least: why not?” He made an impatient gesture with his hand to Nasandria. The drake lifted her dagger from Wrathion’s palm and stood up. The Prince was glad for the moment’s respite… his entire body throbbed.
“What could you possibly hope to gain by keeping something like this from me?” Sablemane continued with a scowl.
Despite his pain, his weakness, Wrathion managed a wobbly smirk. “I don’t think… any of you… are worthy to be uncorrupted as I am.”
“A fancy way of saying that I’ve hurt your feelings by beating you and you’re pouting.” Sablemane was glowering at him. Wrathion’s smirk dissolved into a scowl. “I tire of this insistent defiance and of this torture. I’m going to attempt to reason with you.”
Wrathion sighed loudly through his nose, but said nothing. He was curious. Oh, he hoped Sablemane would end up begging him for the key to the secret of uncorruption by the end of this. How delicious that would be…
… Besides, as long as Sablemane was speaking to him, the torture would stop.
The elder dragon walked close to Wrathion and looked down at him; his arms were still crossed. “I’ve told you before that going to Outland disconnected my mind from the Old Gods’ taint. Whether you believe me or not is irrelevant: my brood in Blade’s Edge is just as sane as you are, and as I am… and as a son of Deathwing and Sinestra yourself, you’d be foolish not -”
“Sinestra was not my mother.”
Sablemane looked at him sharply, then squinted his eyes. “That’s impossible. Of course she was.”
“No. My mother was a dragon named Nyxondra.” The Prince was loath to speak of her – he never brought the subject up – and his voice’s hesitance showed it.
Sablemane was looking at him queerly now; his confusion showed in the creases of his eyes, the slight frown of his lips.
“You’re no son of Deathwing if Sinestra wasn’t your mother, then, little prince,” Sablemane said after a moment of silence.
Wrathion drew himself up, affronted. His broken ribs pulsed painfully at the movement. “Deathwing was my father.”
“You idiot. Did you ever see the Aspect?”
“I see. You’re rather fortunate; it wasn’t a very… inspiring sight.” He scratched at his jaw. “Even then, surely you’re aware he was a swirling chaotic mass of lava and fire contained by metal plates? That he was more senseless element than dragon?” His hand dropped from his face, and he leaned forward a bit, glaring. “How easily do you think females of our kind, or any kind of dragon, could mate with him if he was more fire than flesh?”
Wrathion stared at him vacantly.
“My mother – Sinestra – was the only unlucky mate who survived after our father lost himself to the Old Gods. Do you see what I’m trying to tell you? Nefarian, Onyxia, myself – and countless others that are dead and forgotten now – were from their clutch. But you – you’re not a son of Deathwing if you weren’t Sinestra’s egg. It’s impossible. No common, low-ranking broodmother could have possibly survived him.”
Wrathion growled low in his throat. His left hand flexed against the rock floor with an unpleasant cutting sound as his ungloved claws dug into the earth.
Sablemane tilted his head. He seemed confused at Wrathion’s reaction – and then he raised a brow. “Ah. I don’t mean to insult you or your mother. How odd. Only mortals seem to be … flustered when their mothers are insulted. Though -” Sablemane chuckled “- you seem to stay in your mortal form amongst mortals so much you may have simply… adopted their mindset.” He paused, then gave Wrathion a critical look. “… How much do you know about dragon culture? You’ve been alone, haven’t you? Besides that Fahrad fellow – a pity. No matter. This is a waste of a conversation.”
Wrathion’s claws were scratched deep into the rock floor now. Not for the first time he wanted to tear them into Sablemane’s throat, to make him bleed and hurt.
But he couldn’t. Instead he was at this dragon’s mercy, broken, beaten, bruised, and bleeding. And he hated himself for it.
What he hated worse was that Sablemane was right.
Oh, he pretended to know all there was about dragons, but Fahrad had been the only dragon he’d ever known, and even then, he had not learned much from the rogue before killing him. Wrathion could recall the voice of Rheastrasza, his creator; the other red dragons who experimented more cruelly on his egg than Rhea ever had; the voice of his mother in her rare moments of wakefulness as the spell wore off of her.
But they were only voices. Memories. He had learned nothing about … dragons from them.
Sablemane rubbed at the bridge of his nose, grumbled something under his breath, and dropped his hand to his side.
“I’ll continue with what I was going to say before I was rudely interrupted.” He shot Wrathion an annoyed look. “Despite the fact you may not be a son of Deathwing, we still have something in common. I’m sure you fear the Old Gods finding you, still.”
Wrathion said nothing. His fiercely aching ribs thanked him.
“Mm. Now you lose the back-talk. Good.” Sablemane sighed loudly. “If I must explain myself, ‘Black Prince,’ I myself am… wary of the Old Gods. What a surprise.” His voice was flat. The wind howled outside, far-away and lonely. “My entire existence on this planet was one ruled by madness. I had no sense of self. My one purpose was to destroy the world our flight had help mold generations before, after the Titans left us with the gift of the earth. My brothers and sisters – all of us – we were servants. Oh, we may have been clever. Manipulative. Nefarian and Onyxia come to mind, do they not? Even before Deathwing himself lost all sense, he was even more cunning than his eldest son.
“But as … egotistical as we were -” he gave Wrathion a lingering look “- we were nothing but servants. As I said. Blood and fire and destruction. All of… that.” He scoffed, and curled a lip in disgust. “And I was as worse as them all.” For half-a-heartbeat, there was … regret in Sablemane’s eyes-… but it disappeared instantly. “I helped the orcs of the first Horde find this awful little bauble for Ner’zhul, then transported them to Menethil Harbor to wreak havoc. The lovely little scepter belonged to Sargeras.” He smirked without humor as Wrathion’s eyes flashed. “Yes. Ner’zhul, the first Lich King and Sargeras the Fallen Titan. I’m not proud of what I did - but, oh, my father and the Old Gods demanded it of me. And I did it with honor at the time.” He crossed his arms, and his right hand tapped against his left’s sleeve.
“Only when I settled into Blade’s Edge, into Outland, when the taint left me, did I realize what I’d done – what kind of monster I was. What sort of horrors that creature did with that scepter I do not wish to know – and even before that bauble I killed so many mortals, so many innocents, just to see them scream. To appease my masters - those blasted whispers in my head.”
Sablemane was looking at him coolly now, without emotion, his eyes half-lidded. He said nothing for a time, then said, flatly: “Do you understand why I don’t wish for that to overtake me again?”
Wrathion was silent. For once, words didn’t come to him immediately.
Of course he would never admit – not to anyone, not even to himself – that he feared the Old Gods as fiercely as Sablemane seemed to.
He was no one’s… servant. The Reds had tried to contain him, to make him their experiment, their pet – but he’d escaped that fate. He was his own master. The deep, terrible fear that something hidden beneath the crust and earth could seep into the darkest corners of his mind and whisper him into insanity, into servitude, was bone deep.
But he would never admit to being afraid.
And so Wrathion blinked slowly, his own face as blank as Sablemane’s, then narrowed his eyes.
He clucked his tongue once. “How unfortunate. You know, maybe I will tell you a secret!” Despite his dry rasp, Wrathion’s voice still held the mocking lilt.
“Here: return to Outland and hide. There is nothing for you or your brood here. You were born monsters and you will always be monsters.”
Sablemane growled and his eyes flared and Wrathion knew he’d made a very bad mistake.
The elder dragon approached, leaned down, and grabbed Wrathion’s broken right arm tightly. Despite himself the Black Prince made an undignified whine; his vision was dotted with sharp white from the sudden, intensified pain.
“You think me a monster, whelp?” Sablemane snarled. “Very well. Then I’ll act the part.” Smoke curled out from his lips. “You have left me no other choice.”
Sablemane began to twist. The pain built into unseen magnitudes and Wrathion made a strangled cry as his broken bone was agonizingly twisted around.
Sablemane didn’t stop. He kept twisting it. The Black Prince dug his heels into the rock and slid his legs outward, and he yelled out loudly in agony. His whole vision was pain. His arm felt like it was burning, tossed into acid.
And it wasn’t stopping.
“Stop!” Wrathion choked out. “STOP! Please!” For the moment he didn’t care that he felt tears slide from the corners of his eyes, even his swollen right – he’d never cried, never – he just wanted the pain to be gone, please, please, he just wanted it to stop -
“All you have to do is tell me, Prince,” Sablemane said quietly. His grip on Wrathion’s arm tightened and the Black Prince whined.
The pain shook down all his walls of defiance and poise he’d so carefully built. Oh, he just wanted for it to stop -
“Titans! The Titans! She – they found technology – in – in the Badlands,” Wrathion managed to whimper.
Sablemane stopped twisting; his grip loosened. “What kind of technology? That’s a vague answer. The Titans used many things. And who is this ‘she’? The red dragon?”
“I -” Wrathion’s eyes were swimming with sparks. Dark clouded at the edge of his vision. He glanced down at his arm and felt sick – it was nearly turned all the way around. And – and -
“Don’t you dare fall unconscious!” Sablemane’s grip tightened once again and Wrathion bared his teeth in agony.
“Rhea – she – there was…” He couldn’t even think straight. “I don’t – I don’t quite… My mother….”
It was too much. He couldn’t see anymore. His shoulders drooped and Wrathion plunged into the dark for the second time.
Sabellian grabbed the freshly killed goat carcass with his claws and tore into its hide appreciatively.
The blood was a lovely mellow taste, and his starved belly appreciated it. He swallowed a large chunk of flesh from the shoulder as Nasandria, who sat across from him on the snowy slope, picked at the smaller kid.
“You seem worried,” Sabellian rumbled, then snapped the goat’s ribcage in two to get at the tough but nutritious heart.
The drake looked up at him. “He’s giving us so little that I’m not sure if it’s even worth the time to keep him alive.”
Sabellian swallowed the heart and harrumphed. “Yes, the whelp has a strong will. But he’s beginning to break; we’ve seen that much. Take heart in that, will you? Now, eat your food or I will.” He went back to devouring the goat in front of him.
“But how long will that take for us to break him? Talsian is growing worse and worse with each hour.”
The great dragon paused, taking the moment to wipe the dripping blood from his snout. She did speak the truth, as much as he wished it were false. The young drake had been found near-dead along the cliff, suffering from severe wounds from his neck and face, and was so weak he’d had to be carried in his mortal form to the cave. They’d set him deep inside, as far away from the cold as possible, but even then black dragons were no experts at healing, not like the mortal priests, paladins, or shamans, and their fire did not cauterize easily like the red dragons’ was famed for. Talsian had fallen in a semi-unconscious state, and had begun mumbling incoherently to himself, refusing to respond.
Sabellian was well aware that if they did not leave soon his drake would die, and he did not quite like the way he was… murmuringto himself. It was unnerving.
And yet they could not leave, not yet. Not when Wrathion had information on his uncorrupted state. Sabellian glanced out at the snowy mountains that surrounded them. Nasandria had less of a connection to this world than he did, having grown up in the barrenness of Blade’s Edge Mountains. He had been as corrupted as his brothers and sisters for his time on this planet, a slave to his dark masters who forced him to think of this land as something to be destroyed and decimated, but his viewpoint had changed during his escape from the Old Gods in Blade’s Edge; compared to the sheer rock faces, the sheer vacancy of Blade’s Edge itself, Azeroth was full of life. He had found himself missing its beauty, a beauty he hardly had the chance to admire thanks to his corruption so early in his life.
There was also the problem of Outland falling apart. When would the day come when the last pocket of black dragons’ home simply drift away in pieces? He had not shared this worry with Wrathion – he’d never quite gotten the chance to before Sabellian had lost his temper – but it didn’t matter. The whelp wouldn’t have cared.
The choice was simple: if there was a chance he could return to Azeroth full-time with his brood without fear of the Old Gods, he would gladly take it.
And now that Wrathion was a threat taken care of – no one would hurt his family any longer – the whelp could supply them with information. He didn’t enjoy torture… but he had to do what he needed to do.
“Talsian can hold for some time longer.” Sabellian cracked the goat’s skull with his scaled palm. “Don’t look at me with such open disdain, drake! I am making the right choice.” There was a quiet hiss and he looked over at his flank; snow had begun to fall and melt against his super-heated scales. He curled a lip, snorted, then lifted to his feet. “I abhor the cold.” The dragon grabbed the rest of the goat’s body and slunk back into the darkness of the cave. “Stand guard outside, Nasandria.” He sounded aggravated; the conversation had annoyed him.
The shrieking of the freezing winds that had begun to pick up with the snow outside echoed mutely throughout the cavern – but at least he was inside away from them.
The cave was an excellent find. It had been difficult to find one farther into the mountains and deep enough into the heart of the rock to hide from unwanted eyes, but when the party had stumbled upon this one, Sabellian had been immensely pleased. Not only was the entrance large enough to fit his dragon form through, but the cavern split off into passageways and smaller caverns.
He snapped off a rib and a haunch from the goat after shifting into his mortal form (while the entrance was large enough to accommodate his dragon form, the ceiling receded in height, and forced him to shift), and made his way back into the deeper sections of the cave to the cavern they were holding the Black Prince. The young dragon looked unconscious until his good eye fluttered open and fixated vacantly on Sablemane. It had been some time since Sablemane had been forced to twist the Prince’s arm – this was the first time he’d awoken.
Still frustrated with the conversation with his drake, Sablemane practically threw the rib at the whelp.
It hit him in the thigh. Wrathion flinched and stared at it.
“I’m playing the generous host. That’s all you’re getting – if you can even pick it up.” Sablemane turned in the direction of the other cavern and walked. He did not want to deal with that nuisance now. He’d let Wrathion rest before continuing; the elder dragon did not want him passing out again.
Weaving through the twisting caverns, mindful of the lower stalagmites that threatened to poke at his scalp and shoulders, he made his way to the separate chamber. The raw goat haunch was still in his hand.
The slim path yawned open to reveal a smaller circular cavern. On the farthest end, Talsian was curled up, shaking and twitching. His tongue was lolled out; his mouth was curled in a silent snarl. Even from across the room Sablemane could hear him muttering.
He despised the muttering. Something about it made his skin crawl.
Nonetheless, Sablemane approached.
Kneeling down, he put his hand on Talsian’s neck while he set the bloody haunch near his jaws; a pool of drool had accumulated from the drake’s open mouth. Sablemane ignored that. What he focused on were the closing wounds along Talsian’s neck. They had bled profusely hour after hour – Sablemane had thought he would have simply bled out - but it seemed that the healing process had begun; crusted, dried blood surrounded the thick cuts. It was some goods news, despite Talsian’s continuous unconscious state.
“I find it doubtful you’ll be responsive.” Sablemane said, after a moment of inspection. “Though fresh blood might rise you from your stupor.” He paused, waiting for some movement, for some sort of action. But Talsian continued to twitch and whisper nonsense. Grumbling, Sablemane straightened up -
And Talsian’s eyes shot open.
They locked on Sablemane. Sablemane stared back, alarmed.
The eyes looking at him were glassy and vacant, the pupils dilated into such small slivers they almost disappeared amongst the yellow. The gaze was not a conscious one – yet even then the eyes followed Sablemane as he took a step back.
And Talsian was still mumbling.
Sablemane paused, then nudged the drake’s snout with his foot. Talsian did not respond but only continued to chatter and stare.
For a moment, Sablemane did nothing. He simply stared, scratching idly at the side of his goatee…
… For the vacant look was so eerily reminiscent of the darker parts of his life Sablemane wished he had not been there to see it.
Sablemane forced down his disturbed thoughts. “Perhaps blood is not the best thing to give you,” he murmured, then set the meat aflame to char and burn. Talsian let out of breathy hiss and shuddered – but otherwise he did not uncurl himself from his coil.
Quietly, Sablemane turned and left the cavern. He needed to see Nasandria about finding some… chains.
The silent muttering of Talsian followed him, echoing about the cave like a thousand senseless ghosts.
Anduin had forgotten how cold Kun-lai Summit was.
He held on tight to Left as she guided his white gryphon through the first peaks of the Summit. Snow had begun to fall as they had started their ascent from the Veiled Stair up into Kun-lai’s higher mountains, and the wind had become harsher the higher they climbed. It hissed against Anduin’s ears and sheered his bangs back from his face; his eyes watered.
At least his new outfit was warmer than his cloth garb. Anduin was wearing the customary Blacktalon Agent uniform, made of handsome black leather, that covered most every inch of him. It kept the cold out well enough, and as Left had put it, “would hide his pale skin in the dark so he wouldn’t look like a risen ancestor.”
The blond also wore a mask that covered the lower half of his face – his blond hair and blue eyes were the only features that were really shown in his new clothes - and he was grateful for it. His eyes were nearly streaming with tears from the wind now, and he probably couldn’t bear more of the cold air whipping in his face if the mask had not been there.
“The first caves will be upon us soon. As I said, Prince, you will stay on your animal while I inspect the cave. If you step off the gryphon I’ll not be responsible for your corpse being carried off by a yeti or summit tiger!” Left’s voice was carried off by the wind – she had to yell. But even then Anduin could hear the warning in her tone as well as her words.
Yet he was no stranger to Kun-lai; climbing up the mountains to get to the Temple of the White Tiger had been difficult, even with the friendly party of monks that had been making the same journey looking out for the strange foreigner.
Even so, yetis and tigers were one thing; dragons were another.
Anduin simply nodded, though Left couldn’t see him.
Another powerful gust of wind blew passed, and instinctually Anduin’s arms, which were wrapped tightly around Left’s waist so he wouldn’t fall off the back of the gryphon, tightened around her. Left grunted, annoyed, and Anduin loosened his grip instantly. He felt his face go hot. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, though it was muted by his mask and the wind.
Left seemed to not hear him or had ignored him. The peaks she had pointed out were upon them now; she turned the white gryphon carefully, drifting them through the large opening between two of the mountains. The snow fell harder.
They flew until Left turned sharply when a large peak jutted suddenly in front of them as they had rounded about what looked to be a huge mound of an avalanche. The gryphon screeched, startled, then dived as the orc guided her masterfully – Anduin was impressed that the bodyguard could handle the animal nearly as well as he could - around the peak and then with a jump and a jostle of wings landed her upon a cliff. Only then did Anduin realize they had reached one of the caves on the map.
“You can let go now,” Left grumbled, and the prince did so, embarrassed. The orc slid from the mount and the snow crunched beneath her feet. With an impatient motion she handed the reins to the blonde; Anduin curled his black gloved hands around them tightly and tried not to shiver in front of her.
“Remember what I warned you,” Left said, then lifted the golden crossbow from her back. The ammunition had been reloaded from the supplies in the Auction House.
Anduin nodded. Left fixed him with a hard look before she turned and walked in the direction of the cave. Soon, she disappeared around the side, and Anduin was alone in the snowy dark.
He closed his eyes, willing out the cold. Snow kept falling in his hair and melting, dripping chill onto his forehead. Perhaps if he could imagine somewhere nice and warm, like his plush bed in Stormwind, or the mugginess of Krasarang Wilds, or across from Wrathion during a game in the Tavern in the Mists…
He wasn’t sure how long he was sitting there, the gryphon idling underneath him, until something slapped his thigh. Anduin jumped in his seat, startled, then winced at his bad leg cramped from the sudden movement.
“Did you really close your eyes?”
Anduin deflated. Left was squinting up at him.
“I – it was only for a moment - ”
The orc scoffed and hopped nimbly back on the mount, taking the reins from the prince’s hands. “A single moment of your defenses down can get you killed.” She guided the gryphon towards the side of the cliff.
The blonde put his arms around her again, as light as he could. “I know. I’m sorry.” It came out almost automatically, mechanically. The prince found himself wondering how many times he’d said those words as he watched the gryphon’s talons grip along the edge of the rock - and then felt his stomach grow sour and clench when he saw the huge abyss below them, sheer faces of jutting rock on either side. He could not see the ground. Anduin looked away. “’I suppose this wasn’t the cave?”
“No.” Left spurred the beast forward and they lurched from the cliff. “We’ll try another.”
It was slow-going. After the first empty cave, they jumped from peak to peak, and steadily they fell into a rotation: Left would land, would leave, would sneak, and come back unsuccessful while Anduin sat there looking around (or at least trying to – the snow and the night sky made things hard to see) and watching the gryphon, trying not to feel totally useless.
The night was late when they landed on a mountain cliff. They were deep into the Kun-lai mountains by now, and Anduin had decided he truly hated the cold when Left hopped off the gryphon for what felt like the hundredth time.
“May I go with you this time?” Anduin asked as Left went to go inspect the cave without a word. She glanced at him. He really was beginning to feel useless – and besides, a walk might help stretch his tingling legs, which were both cramping from sitting on the saddle for so long. Maybe if she just let him go once -
“No. You’ll be a distraction.”
The blonde furrowed his brows but said nothing. The orc turned and disappeared into the open maw of the cave.
He looked around. Well, he thought, at least he could get down and walk while Left was preoccupied.
Anduin looped the reins over the gryphon’s head then slid carefully from her back, grabbing his cane. He stretched out, and the relief was instantaneous. Anduin was used to sitting for a long time – he shuddered to remember the hour-long noble meetings and discussions back in the Keep – but the cold was affecting his muscles badly.
Growing up in Stormwind had not prepared him for this night-weather, despite having visited Kun-lai before. Perhaps it was worse because he was flying, where the wind was fiercer and the snows colder – he wasn’t quite sure.
Left was taking a long time with this cave. Anduin grabbed the reins of the gryphon and walked to the other side of the cliff, both hands full with the cane and the lead. It was still cold, but the landscape was beautiful. The snow had more or less stopped falling, only drifting down from the sky in small, harmless flurries. He could finally see the mountain.
Anduin got to the side of the cliff, away from the cave Left had investigated, and simply admired the scenery that yawned out below him. The moon, near-full, was casting an icy glow along the snowy peaks as it lowered closer to the horizon as the night threatened to end. It almost seemed to shine. The prince sighed and leaned on his cane, the seeping pit of frustration that had begun to accumulate in his gut slowly slinking away at the scenery. Really, it was -
A large shape flew across his vision. Anduin seized and went shock-still and he felt the gryphon behind him do the same.
The shape was black , shapeless, featureless– until it pivoted slightly and the light shined just the right way over its body, over its leathery wings -
Anduin widened his eyes. It was a large black drake.
He ducked behind the rock immediately, pulling his mount along with him with a sharp tug. His heart hammered. For a moment, Anduin did nothing, only stayed quiet and hidden. The drake surely hadn’t seen him… surely.
But one wrong move on his part could certainly make his presence known.
The blonde cautiously peeked his head out from the rock. The drake had flown passed the cliff – thankfully – and was headed into the snowier peaks. It had what seemed to be chains hanging from its claws. Anduin frowned. That was odd.
The gryphon made a low chortling noise and Anduin shushed it impatiently; his eyes didn’t leave the dragon. It was either leaving its cave – briefly his gaze flickered backwards to where it had come – or going back to it. If he could just follow its path…
The drake disappeared behind the mountains.
Anduin wasted no time. He half-stumbled, half-ran through the snow towards the cave Left had gone into, not caring about how his leg began to cramp again.
He grabbed onto the cave’s side to gain his balance and turned clumsily. “Left! I found them!”
The orc appeared in front of him as if she had been made of the shadows of the dark cave. Anduin didn’t even jump; he was used to the Blacktalons, not just Left, appearing out of thin air.
Her eyes were narrowed, alert. “Where?”
Anduin gingerly hopped onto the mount. “Follow me.” His fingers were tight on the reins and his heart still hammered. Every moment they wasted talking the more risk the drake would disappear among the mountain peaks increased. He couldn’t afford getting so close to finding Wrathion only to fail at the last moment.
Left did not need to be told twice. Nimbly she jumped behind him, but unlike the prince before, she did not put her arms around his waist.
Anduin dug his heels into the gryphon’s side and they rocketed off the cliff. The wind shrieked around him – but the snow had stopped falling now, and the sky was clear, and the gryphon was flying stronger and faster, almost as if it was behaving for its true owner which guided him now.
The blond hardly noticed. His eyes were trained on where he’d last seen the drake as he turned his mount around the mountain. Guiding the gryphon felt second-nature, an afterthought.
It would be easy to spot something so dark against the glistening snow -
The drake was just rising just above a natural structure that oddly resembled a bridge, as if the wind itself had carved the curve from the rock, between two of the mountains. Anduin pulled back gently on the gryphon’s reins and slowed her. If they followed too close they risked the drake catching their scent.
But the drake continued – it hadn’t noticed.
“Chains,” Left said behind him. She’d noticed what the drake was holding. Anduin nodded and tried not to imagine that they were for the Black Prince. Even so, it made his stomach twist again.
They followed the drake until it finally slowed itself. Up ahead was one of the higher peaks of the range that surrounded them, and the dragon landed lightly on one of the flat planes of the mountain. Only when the gryphon tilted slightly, realigning its wings as the current of the wind shifted, did Anduin see the large entrance to the cave - it was partially hidden behind rock and snow.
“Land below.” Left said. “We’ll plan our next move.”
Anduin waited until the drake lumbered into the cave, the chains rattling heavily, before guiding the gryphon farther down. It was difficult to land; the newly-fallen snow had hidden safe places to alight, but the gryphon was careful and they set down on a thin piece of jagged rock that jutted out over the abyss.
Anduin held the reins to his torso and glanced up where the cave was, now truly hidden behind the rock. He slid down his mask from his face but kept it held down at his neck; the thing was warm, but difficult to speak through.
“I didn’t see anyone guarding the entrance,” Anduin said as the calmer wind tugged back at his hair. Left wasn’t looking at him. Instead she was turned in her saddle, glaring up at the cave, her tusked mouth set in a grim line.
“No. There isn’t – not yet. That drake may have been a scout.” She paused. The wind below began to scream mutely.
Left turned back and ruffled through the saddlebag hanging on the side of the gryphon’s flank. Anduin watched as her hand emerged with the Kun-lai Summit map; it flapped and shuddered delicately as the orc unraveled it.
She grabbed Anduin’s shoulder and forced his back to her.
“Keep still,” Left grunted, and there was a pressure on his back. Anduin tensed before realizing that she had set flat the parchment against his spine.
Left scoffed loudly after a moment. “This cave only has one entrance.” She tapped once, and the prince felt it through his back, even through the leather. “I suspected we might be lucky with a cavern with two sides, but then again, this elder dragon is too clever. He must have thought about that, too.” There was a faint shuffling as she rolled it back up. Anduin looked back at her as she set the map back in the bag, clasping the metal hooks against the leather carefully.
“Take us up top. We’ll leave your beast outside and climb down the side. I’ll go first, and then you will follow.” Left made a thoughtful humming sound. “We’ll scout out the cave first, then plan what to do when we know the situation.” She turned back to him. “Do you remember the signals I taught you?”
Anduin nodded. Before they had left, Left had given him a quick lesson on some of the signals the Blacktalons used: stay there, too dangerous, come to me, attack, stay your hand… the list went on, but Anduin had been determined to memorize them all, busying himself as they flew across the plains of Kun-lai to the mountains by practicing them in his head.
“Good. Wait for the right signal.” She stared at him. “What are you waiting for? Go!”
“Oh! I’m sorry.” He slipped his mask back on and spurred the gryphon up and over, twisting her to land right above the cave.
Left was off and climbing nimbly and quietly down the side of the cave before Anduin even halted the gryphon.
The prince fumbled. He grabbed his cane and nearly caught his foot in the stirrup of the saddle when he hopped off the beast in his hurry, but he righted himself before he fell flat on his face into the snow and rock. When he looked up, Left was already gone.
For a heartbeat Anduin wondered if she’d just planned to leave him up here.
He shook his head. Even if that was her plan, she should have known he’d follow.
He’d come here to help Wrathion and that’s what he was going to do.
Cautiously, he inched his way to the side then crouched down to take a firm hand- and foothold of the cold, barren rock, awkwardly positioning his cane between his neck and shoulder. His leather gloves had excellent friction, and he was glad, again, for the uniform. He would have frozen or slipped in his cloth.
The first step down he took, his bad leg started to shake and stiffen.
The prince bared his teeth and closed his eyes. “Not now,” he murmured. “Please not now.” He didn’t have time for his own injuries-…
But it hurt. His fingers tightened on the rock and he concentrated harder. His leg still shook; he wished it was just from the cold.
Anduin knew he was wasting precious time as he clung to the rock. He tried to think sense, think passed his pain. Was Wrathion being chained inside? Was he being hurt? Was he dying?
Anduin’s mouth set into a grim line. He opened his eyes. What did his pain even compare to what the other Prince might be feeling now?
With a low, quiet grunt he forced his leg downwards. It shook harder, and he nearly lost his foothold, but he gripped tighter to the rock and stayed balanced.
And, slowly but surely, he made his way down. It was as if he’d gone into himself, into his mind, separate from the panging pain in his body.
It wasn’t long before something tapped his thigh. He stopped and cautiously peered around the rock into the cave.
Left was crouched, a finger to her lips, on what was apparently a higher platform of the cave made of fused stalagmites. Anduin chanced a quick look around the cavern as he moved his body from the side to crawl inside, the relief in his leg almost palpable.
It was a large cave. As he unlatched himself from the rock and crouched next to Left, the first thing he noticed was its silence. The wind seemed to cut across the cave mouth but not enter – it must have been the angle the cave was to the air current – and the effect was a cold, lonely howling sound from the barred breeze that gently echoed outward into the yawning cavern ahead and was quickly swallowed by the shadows.
The cave’s height did not stay tall; instead it receded sharply in height as the cavern curved gently into some unseen other section of the cave.
Anduin spotted the remains of two carcasses on the ground directly below them, blood smeared across the floor from where they’d been dragged in from outside the cold. He could smell the blood from his position.
This place seemed almost … haunted. It didn’t help when Anduin couldn’t spot the drake that had come inside only moments before.
What if it was a trap? What if the drake had seen him when he’d first spotted it? What if it’d purposefully led him here?
Was Wrathion even here at all?
Something tapped his shoulder impatiently and he looked up, snapping out of his thoughts, at Left, who had her face up to her lips. Anduin nodded. He understood that one: stay silent.
The orc turned her back to him and slowly walked forward. Her feet made no sound; she blended almost seamlessly into the black rock.
Anduin had never really seen a Blacktalon in action. He’d watched them disappear into thin air, had been impressed but spooked but their silence, their watchfulness, but … seeing them in action was something much more striking. The very shadows seemed to envelope the orc.
The prince followed – then felt his face grow hot again because of the quiet but clear tapping of his cane on the rock.
Left stopped instantly. She turned to him and narrowed her eyes. She grabbed him, forced him close to the side of the rock, and whispered as quietly as possible.
“Get rid of that cane!”
“My leg can’t hold without it,” Anduin whispered back fervently. The cane hadn’t even crossed his mind. He felt like an idiot.
“You’ll give us away. Either find a way to force your body to walk without that thing or stay behind.”
Anduin stared at her. His mind raced.
He wasn’t going to let himself be left here. Carefully, he put his cane down, then tested his weight on his leg – it shook again. The blond scowled faintly. The climb down the rock had strained it passed its capabilities already and walking without support would be impossible.
An idea sparked.
Anduin smiled. “I have something. It should work.”
Left stared at him impatiently.
The prince closed his eyes and focused on the Light. It bloomed warmly at his chest, familiar and comforting.
Once summoned he directed the Light down, through his waist, his legs, and then to the bottom of his feet. Anduin had only done this a handful of times before – a gnome priest visiting the Exodar when he had trained with Velen had taught him on their downtime from lessons together – and he was no expert.
Yet the Light, as it always did in Anduin’s hands, obeyed him fully as it billowed out from the soles of his leather boots and radiated gently underneath him.
The blond felt his body leave the ground. The fierce strain in his right leg altogether disappeared as his knees were allowed to bend and relax.
Anduin opened his eyes and smiled. He was hovering perhaps two to three inches off the ground, his legs loose. Left was looking at him with approval, though one of her eyebrows was raised questioningly. He’d never performed this spell at the Tavern, though at one point he had been tempted to when Wrathion had been poking fun at his lack of mobility concerning his injury. However, the prince was fine with the cane – the levitation trick always felt… superfluous and unneeded. The cane, at the very least, showed some amount of humility.
Yet the spell came in handy, now. Anduin was glad to have found a situation to showcase its usefulness.
Left was content now. She turned away, and together they moved forward slowly, their dark leather merging in with the shadow. Anduin was nearly as silent as the orc now-… though it was awkward having to crouch and hover at the same time. His knees almost touched his chest.
Soon they were upon the gentle curve that yawned out into the unseen part of the cavern. The ceiling was close to their heads now; Anduin had to be careful to bend his head enough so that the pointed ends of the stalactites wouldn’t brush against his fair hair.
No one had seen them – but then again, there was no one there to see them. Anduin felt his neck prickle with goosebumps, a warning. The paranoia that the drakes they aimed to hunt lay on the other side of the curve Left and Anduin now traversed was thick in the back of his eyes.
Yet there was no trap as they rounded the wall and entered a smaller chamber. Anduin glanced down – and his heart and throat seized.
Propped up against the wall, his head bowed down to his chest, was Wrathion. Both of his gauntlets were gone, his tabard and scaled shirt tattered; slashes were torn across his chest and had ripped across the outfit almost neatly. His black, wavy hair was scrunched and frayed, and on every inch of his dark skin that showed was a vicious pattern of red cuts.
And – his right arm – was it… was it turned all the way around?
Anduin leaned forward, his eyes wide. It didn’t even look like Wrathion was breathing -
No, there was a breath – Wrathion’s chest shakily rose and fell then went still again.
Anduin was not quite sure what he was expecting to see – he knew Wrathion had lost the fight – but seeing the proud Black Prince in such a disheveled, pained state threw all careful calculation from Anduin’s mind. The blond lurched forward, as if to fling himself from the perch -
Left grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back roughly, pinning him against the wall. She made a sharp cutting motion with her hand flat through the air: no.
Anduin gave her an exasperated look. What was she waiting for? Wrathion was unguarded and alone. This could be their only chance. The drake they had tracked had disappeared, and the elder dragon Sablemane that Left had described was nowhere to be seen, either. Wrathion could be dying! Anduin couldn’t even guess the internal wounds he was suffering. If they acted quickly enough, Anduin could heal -
Left pointed at the end of the cave. Anduin hesitantly looked over.
The cavern split into two dark pathways.
Anduin squinted his eyes. There was a glow from one of them, a sort of greenish one. It grew closer, and the prince saw that it was from two spheres of glowing fire from twin snarling snake-headed shoulderpads.
A man emerged from the pathway. The shoulderpads were his; in addition to the fierce snakes he wore a robe of orange and red, and an onyx staff was strapped to his back. His skin was dark like Wrathion’s, and his hair, which went to just above his shoulders, was a thick black. Below his sloped nose was a well-tended moustache and goatee. His eyes were a fierce glowing orange.
From Left’s description before they’d left for Kun-lai, Anduin knew that this was Baron Sablemane – Sabellian.
He felt his heart rise into his throat. It was one thing to plan ahead, to try to ready oneself mentally to face an opponent one had not even seen. It was another thing entirely to see the enemy in the flesh, an enemy that had hurt Wrathion so badly the Prince was hardly breathing.
Anduin steeled himself. His eyes became fierce and determined. Sabellian may have been a son of Deathwing, and he may have brought back-up in the form of two of his drakes, but Anduin had dealt with situations where the odds were stacked up against him and he’d emerged the victor. The Divine Bell came to mind-… though then again, he had not gotten out of that one entirely unscathed.
It didn’t matter. Anduin was prepared to get hurt. He wasn’t afraid.
Sablemane turned his head to Wrathion. He went over at a casual pace and nudged the Prince with his foot. Wrathion made a low, quiet groan.
Wrathion was silent. Anduin gripped on the stalactites hanging near him. His heart quickened.
Left tapped his shoulder. The prince glanced back at her without turning his head.
She pointed towards the cavern Sablemane had just come from, then at herself. Holding up her palm flat to him, she gave the last bit of the message:
I will scout ahead. You will stay here.
This time Anduin didn’t argue. He nodded quickly then looked back down at the two brothers.
He didn’t hear Left leave. Even if the orc had made discernible noise, the blond would not have noticed it; he was too focused on the scene below.
Sablemane was only studying Wrathion now. His back was to Anduin; the blond could no longer see his face.
Anduin took the moment’s pause to fully crouch behind one of the rock formations, which seemed to be made from a stalactite fusing into the wall. Now that the initial rush of adrenaline had worn off from seeing Wrathion, especially in the state the young prince was in, a bone-deep worry had settled into Anduin. If they made one mistake… the blond swallowed quietly. He couldn’t make a mistake. Not now.
“We’re close to ending this, little prince,” Sablemane said, breaking the silence. His voice echoed faintly. “Must I use another vicious tactic for those last threads of information?”
Anduin furrowed his brows. Had Sablemane been… questioning him?
Anduin leaned forward slightly. The chill from the frozen stalagmites glowed against Anduin’s masked face.
Wrathion didn’t move or reply. He was shaking. Anduin wondered anxiously if it was from the cold or from the pain.
For a brief moment Anduin entertained the idea of stretching out the Light far enough to heal the Black Prince from his hiding place – but he dismissed the notion immediately. It may risk giving him away, and even then he wasn’t sure he could guide the Light that far without draining his own strength.
“Is that a yes, or a no?” Sablemane sounded tired, or bored.
Wrathion lifted his face. Anduin clenched his teeth. The Black Prince’s right eye was sown shut with a black and yellow bruise, and blood was dripping from the corner of his mouth.
The young dragon stared vacantly for a moment. He took a deep breath then lowered his face again. His shoulders slouched.
Sablemane leaned, grabbed Wrathion by his hair and tilted his head up, forcing the Prince to look at him. Wrathion didn’t even growl, or glare, or make some snide comment. He looked so much in pain Anduin had to grip the stalactite he was holding even harder, until his fingers went numb, to force himself to stay where he was.
There was a quiet crackling. Anduin squinted his eyes, then looked over in alarm at the dripping rock. He’d held onto it with such a grip that the point was breaking off.
The blond’s eyes widened and he went to snatch it before it fell -
Too late. Almost peacefully the tip of the rock fell and landed with a loud crumble in the silence.
Sablemane looked over instantly. His hand fell from Wrathion’s hair and the Prince’s head fell back down again to his chest.
Anduin shoved himself back behind the rock, right up along the wall behind up, and sucked in his stomach to force his body to look smaller behind his hiding place. His hands were around his mouth – though it was already masked - and his blue eyes went wide.
He could see through a slim crack in the rock he hid behind Sablemane turn his head up to look near where Anduin was; the dragon’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Anduin’s heart was beating so hard he hopped that Sablemane couldn’t hear it.
The prince sent a quick, desperate prayer: please don’t let him see me, please don’t let him see me -
There was a long, tense pause.
And then Sablemane huffed and looked at Wrathion, turning his back once again.
Anduin would have sighed in pure relief if it wouldn’t have given him away.
However, he didn’t trust himself to move from his hiding spot again.
It was then Left appeared beside him. He bit his lip to keep from jumping – his nerves were wired.
She pointed to the cavern. Her eyes were bright, almost malicious. Anduin gave her a curious look – what had she found?
Left leaned close then, and whispered so quietly her words were snatched away by the faint howling of the wind near the entrance.
“The chains were for a rabid drake. Tied in the cavern. Another drake stands guard. I can’t go inside – it’s blocked. Stalagmites. A crack you’re small enough to fit through. Go down and untie the dragon. Leave a chain for me to hold. I will release it once you are back here. Distraction. When I release the drake you will get his Majesty. Understand?”
Anduin stared at her vacantly, then shook his head in faint disbelief.
She wanted him to untie a rabid drake? By himself?
Left was looking at him intently, and, holding back another sigh, Anduin nodded.
She made the sign for follow me, which was a quick wave of her hand, and Anduin did so with some hesitation.
Unfortunately, the raised platform they had been able to walk and hide across ended abruptly, merging into the wall, as the cavern split off into its two pathways. Left climbed down first, landing silently. Sablemane’s back was still to them.
Anduin floated down. Oh, this levitation spell was excellent for sneaking. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?
Left led the way again. The pathway was short, but dark, and more than once Anduin nearly drifted into the stalagmites that now grew from the floor like ant-hills that steadily grew larger as the natural hallway began to widen.
Left put her hand up - wait – as they got to a large cluster of the stalagmites. Nimbly, she jumped onto them, and Anduin realized then that these had made another platform that they could sneak over to look down below. The orc grabbed onto his arm and pulled him up beside her.
Unlike the earlier platform in the main cavern, these stalagmites were not altogether fused – many blocked their path in clusters, and they had to weave around them cautiously.
At the very end of the path, an especially thick group of the rock completely blocked their way, save for a slim opening between two of the growing rock. Left glanced back at him, then pointed below.
Anduin glanced down.
The black drake they had tracked was sitting guard at the secondary cavern’s entrance. Anduin pulled back, alarmed – but the drake didn’t seem to notice nor smell them.
She turned, then pointed again, this time at the crack she had mentioned before in the stalagmites. He obeyed and looked through.
Below, indeed wrapped in chains, was a younger black drake. It was convulsing slightly, drooling, and a thin layer of blood had drifted from dried wounds in its neck down to the rock floor.
What was the most worrisome was the black smoke rolling off of its scales, curling almost elegantly into the air before dispersing. And the smoke was not only coming off its body – it rolled from its open eyes, from its open mouth. Its forepaws were twisted into long, vicious talons, deadly-sharp and tipped with a glowing white, and at the ends of its wings’ webbings the glowing white burned.
Anduin recognized the energy immediately for what it was: Sha.
The prince bit the inside of his cheek and stared. Now he really understood Left’s plan. This drake was possessed, and violent, if the chains were of any indication.
And she wanted him to go down there and untie it. He looked back at her with an incredulous look.
Left was staring at him impatiently.
Anduin hesitated, then looked back down at the drake. It… did seem to be unconscious. And they had no other plan to distract the eldest dragon.
The prince shook his head, then slipped through the crack. He gave a cautious look down at the older drake, but she paid him no mind – her eyes were focused out at the main cavern where Sablemane was with Wrathion.
Anduin gently moved from the platform and drifted down, landing near the drake’s side.
The smell hit him first through his mask. He tried not to gag. There was a sweet-smelling, rotten tinge to the drake’s scent. That wasn’t Sha-like. It reminded him of the smell of the Old God shrine he had found in Stormwind -
His eyes widened. Black dragon. Old God.
He swallowed, but forced down his fear. What had he expected? Of course the black dragon was corrupted – Wrathion was the only one who wasn’t – but he didn’t recall such… such a smell from Onyxia. Perhaps the corruption mixed with the Sha had done something odd to the drake’s body. He wasn’t sure, and honestly, he didn’t want to know. It made goosebumps prickle at his arms.
Anduin cautiously approached the drake, then bent down to start unlatching the first chains around the dragon’s forepaws, trying not to think of what a possessed, corrupted, violent black drake could do to a small human teenager.
Worse still, Anduin had to look away to focus on unraveling the links, and the instinctual fear that he would glance back up and find the beast staring back at him was thick in his heart.
The chains on the front paws came off easily. Anduin was pleased; they hadn’t been tied too tight.
He drifted back towards the drake’s back legs, grabbed the chains there -
The dragon growled lowly.
Anduin froze, a sheep in the eyes of a wolf.
Slowly, the drake turned its angled head. Its mouth was still open, and the sha energies continued to pour out in a thick goop, fogging its face. The dragon’s movements were so jerky and mechanical as it turned its entire snake-like head to face him, that it looked as if someone were pulling strings to move the beast.
The drake’s eyes fixated on Anduin, but they seemed almost … lifeless, as blank as the shiny buttons on the eyes of a doll. The prince didn’t move, only stared back.
Anduin waited for something. Anything. His mouth went dry and the chains were cold in his gloved hands.
But the drake did nothing, only hissed, unending, and stared.
Slowly, the prince undid the chains at the drake’s back paws until only the chain at the drake’s neck remained, the chain that Left wanted.
But the dragon was still staring at him.
Anduin took a deep breath and put a shield about himself. He looked around, trying to find where the end of the neck’s chain was – there! It was lodged into the wall on the far side.
He hovered over to it, careful to keep his eyes on the drake – who still had not moved – and tried to wiggle the chain from the rock. It budged, but hardly.
The drake growled again. Anduin fumbled for his throwing knives, managed to grab one, then worked it into the rock, moving the chain back and forth at the same time. It loosened slowly. Too slowly. Sweat began to bead at the blond’s forehead despite the cold -
The chain popped free. He grinned, then turned to levitate back up to Left.
Anduin’s grin fell.
The drake was awkwardly trying to get to its feet, though its balance was off and judging by how it was flailing out its limbs, it seemed to forget how to move.
And Anduin was on the other side of the room to where he needed to be.
The prince didn’t hesitate this time. He started to quickly make his way over - he could see Left looking down at him – while the dragon shuffled, snarling and muttering.
The drake suddenly struck its head out when he came close with a lightning-quick snap. Anduin’s levitation shimmered, and he fell hard on his legs and forced back a yelp as his right leg’s pain shot through his entire right side –
But he shielded himself just in time for the drake’s black maw to bounce off of him. It shrieked angrily and pulled back, giving the blond just enough time to cast his levitation spell again and half-jump, half-fly back up to the stalagmite platform.
Anduin practically shoved the chains in Left’s hand. He panted hard but quietly as the rush of fear fell from him.
That had not been enjoyable.
The orc nodded at him, her eyes expressionless to his condition, then pointed back to the path. Anduin nodded; she wanted him to go back to the main cavern and wait.
The prince made his way back, drifting through the pathway then back up to his initial hiding place up along the wall. Fortunately, Sablemane’s back was still to him; the elder dragon had not moved from his spot since Anduin had left.
The blond settled himself in and waited for Left to let loose the drake. Anduin was so tense his entire body felt ready to spring. Once the drake was causing enough of a distraction, he could jump down and get Wrathion.
A thought occurred to him.
How… was he going to “get” Wrathion? Could the Black Prince shift into his smaller dragon form in his state? Was he too weak to?
Anduin dearly hoped not. Otherwise this may end up badly.
“You said it was some sort of Titan technology that purified you?”
Anduin’s eyes flickered into focus as Sablemane spoke. He squinted his eyes downward and watched quietly.
Wrathion made a low noise in his throat – an affirmative.
“And this ‘Rhea’ found it?”
Sablemane sighed. “Don’t make me do that again.”
Still Wrathion said nothing.
Sablemane leaned. Anduin furrowed his brows. What was-?
The elder dragon had grabbed Wrathion’s left wrist.
“One last chance to speak.”
Wrathion hesitated, then opened his mouth -
There was a scream. Sablemane and Anduin in unison looked over at the cavern.
An enormous explosion resounded from the hallway and a plume of rock and dust bloomed from the opening. The ground shook -
And the sha-infested drake burst through the cavern opening, rock flying, and wailed. The energies were sparking sporadically around it now. Sablemane didn’t even have time to dodge as his own ally saw him and tackled him heavily with a roar; strangely, Wrathion yelled then went quiet suddenly.
This was Anduin’s chance. Heart near to bursting from panic he jumped and just in time recalled his levitation spell before he hit the ground and landed a yard away from the Black Prince. From the corner of his eye he could see that Sablemane had somehow slipped from underneath the drake and was sending screaming fireballs at the rabid dragon which burst hotly, the glow radiating light across the entire cavern.
The once quiet cave was now a shrieking battlefield.
In his rush Anduin’s concentration on his spell wore off – he half ran, half stumbled to Wrathion and near fell to his knees in front of the Black Prince. The prince put his hands on the young dragon’s shoulders; Light billowed warmly from his palms and seeped through Wrathion’s scuffed pauldrons. The Black Prince seemed to have fallen unconscious in the slim moment Sablemane had been pushed from him. What on -?
Anduin looked down at the wrist Sablemane had been holding. It was twisted at an awkward angle – the tackle must have forced the wrist to twist, as Sablemane had been holding it. No wonder Wrathion had yelled.
Despite the noise, the explosions, the snarls, Wrathion wasn’t waking.
“Wrathion!” Anduin yelled, right in his face. “Please, you have to wake up!”
He intensified the Light until he felt his forehead go dizzy; he was summoning too much too fast, but he couldn’t care about that right now.
Finally Wrathion’s eyes fluttered.
There was a large cracking sound near the entrance of the cavern. Sablemane and the drake had disappeared, relocating their fight there as they had traded blows, and only when Anduin made a quick glance over did he spot a large, red-clubbed tail swinging from around the curve.
Of course. Sablemane’s dragon form wouldn’t fit in the cavern Anduin and Wrathion were in now.
Anduin put his full attention on Wrathion again when the Black Prince moaned lowly.
One of the dragon’s eyes opened slightly and fixed on Anduin. His gaze was blank.
Anduin took a hand from the Prince’s shoulder and pulled down his mask to reveal who he was. “It’s me. Now, please, you have to try to stand up. I’m not sure how much time we have.”
Wrathion squinted his eye. Confusion flickered in the glowing red.
“… Anduin Wrynn?” Wrathion’s voice was a croak.
“Yes! Now, please -”
“You look -” he coughed, blood flicking up onto his lips, and looked the blond up and down slowly “-ridiculous.”
There was a roar of anger from the cave mouth. The entire cavern shook as something large was thrown against the wall.
Anduin shot the younger prince a quick glare, but forced down his retort in replace of saving an argument. “Can you shift into dragon form? I can’t carry you otherwise.”
Wrathion still looked confused. His eyes drifted from Anduin to the cave mouth where Sabellian was dealing with the drake.
“It’s very loud,” Wrathion mumbled stupidly. Anduin stared at him, wide-eyed. He put his hand on the side of Wrathion’s face and tilted his head back to him. “Mm. Am I dead, Anduin?”
“No, you’re not dead! Wrathion, please, I need you to shift into your dragon form. Please.” Panic began to sour at the back of Anduin’s throat. This wasn’t working.
Another explosion, and an unearthly shriek that reminded Anduin of the screams of the Sha that he’d helped disperse at the Red Crane’s temple echoed down through the mountain cave.
Wrathion blinked slowly, then closed his eyes. Anduin thought he was going to fall unconscious again, but then the Black Prince’s eyebrows sloped downwards as he concentrated.
Anduin busied himself by moving his hands from Wrathion’s face and shoulder and hovering them over his chest, where claw mark wounds had partially scabbed over, and tried to heal them. They began to close -
“Ugh. I… I cannot… shift.”
Anduin looked up at Wrathion. The Black Prince’s head was swaying back and forth gently, dizzily, as if he couldn’t hold it up any longer.
“Just focus harder!”
Wrathion looked at him, and for a slim moment, he managed a glare – then he groaned and his head fell unceremoniously to rest on one of Anduin’s shoulders.
Anduin went to jostle him, panic fresh in his bones again – how long could the drake hold Sabellian off? - but stopped himself. No – that would make Wrathion’s pain worse.
But Wrathion was barely responsive and he wasn’t going to shift. And Anduin was not going to be able to carry him.
Maybe if he could heal the dragon quickly in some of his lesser wounds – Anduin’s hands went to Wrathion’s torso again. If some of the pain went away -
It was only then that he realized that the roars and shaking had stopped.
Anduin tried to force Wrathion to stand up by attempting to lift him – but the dragon was complete dead weight and Anduin’s arms shook from the strain. “Wrathion, please, this is -!”
Something grabbed and lifted him from behind by hooking through his leather, right into the skin, and teared him away from Wrathion. Anduin was slammed back into the wall; his eyes shook and his shoulder was aflame with pain.
Baron Sablemane, his face smeared with black blood like some sort of war paint, stood snarling at him with murder in his hotly-glowing eyes. The elder dragon’s teeth were pointed, and his lips were curled back in such an animalistic way his face looked near-dragon still.
“You lot are roaches!” He lifted Anduin from the wall then slammed him back into it in anger – but Anduin was ready and set a shield about himself so his back bounced harmlessly off of the rock, even though Sablemane still had a grip on his shoulder with his claws.
“A priest? You have priest Agents? This is absurd! Who haven’t you tricked into servitude, you blasted little hatchling?”
Wrathion was staring sidelong at them. He said nothing.
Sablemane kicked Wrathion hard in the chest with his heel and the Black Prince hissed. Anduin took the distraction to try to grab a knife from his belt – but Sablemane saw and grabbed his wrist.
Desperate the prince kicked out with his good leg and managed to kick Sablemane in the gut, but the dragon only grunted and tightened his claws into Anduin’s flesh.
“I take your Prince, I burn your headquarters to the ground, and yet you still come for him? This egotistical, selfish, worthless excuse for a dragon? You follow him as blindly as the Cultists did my father!”
“I’m not an Agent. He’s my friend,” Anduin said, and despite the calm in his voice he was glaring with the viciousness that his father was famed for.
“Your friend.” Sablemane repeated, hissing. He dropped Anduin, who fell to his knees hard. “What a stupid lie to tell yourself. You’re just a follower.”
Anduin gritted his teeth and looked up. “I’m not a follower. He is my friend. I don’t know why you want to kill him, or what you want from him, but I’m going to help him.”
Sablemane snorted. “Such confidence. Not an Agent, are you? Who are you?”
“I am Anduin Wrynn, Prince of Stormwind.” He straightened up his back and stared at Sablemane defiantly with all the pride of the human kingdom in his blue eyes.
“… The prince of Stormwind.” Sablemane laughed without humor. “Is that so? The very same little boy I heard my sister nearly succeeded in manipulating to crumble Stormwind to the ground? What a twisted coincidence.”
“I’m not a little boy anymore.” Anduin went to rise again, but almost casually Sablemane reached out with a heel and shoved him back down.
“Indeed.” He grabbed Anduin by the hair, as he had Wrathion earlier, and studied his face with a glare of his own; he let go abruptly and glanced between the two princes. Wrathion was staring at Anduin vacantly.
Anduin thought quickly. The distraction had worked, but they hadn’t counted on Wrathion being so far gone from pain that he wouldn’t have worked with him. Perhaps he could go about this in a way he was used to – perhaps he could settle this peacefully, without any more death.
“And yet here you are helping a black dragon.”
“I told you. He’s my friend.”
“And yet you have no idea what this vicious little friend of yours did to provoke me so? How tragically ignorant.”
The feeling of unease Anduin had had at the Tavern – the feeling that something was not quite right with this whole situation – found him. Sablemane was from Outland. Anduin… knew Wrathion had done something to make the dragon aware of his younger brother’s existence.
What had Wrathion done?
“I’d like to hear,” Anduin said quietly. He heard Wrathion growl lowly, but ignored him.
“Why I tried to kill this pathetic wyrm?” Sablemane grabbed Anduin again and lifted him up. “A blind follower willing to listen to the ‘enemy.’ Very refreshing.” The dragon snorted, then walked them slightly around the curve near the entrance.
“He’s declared genocide on my brood. My family. My children. Are you familiar with Gruul the Dragonkiller?”
Anduin nodded. The conversation had flipped so suddenly from Sablemane screaming in his face to the elder dragon talking casually the prince wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
“I’m sure you can imagine where ‘Dragonkiller’ came from.” Sablemane stopped walking so that they were inbetween both caverns. “The beast killed most of my eldest children. Impaled them on the rocks like trophies. I could do nothing but watch them rot. Lovely, isn’t it?” The more Sablemane spoke the more his claws dug into the prince’s shoulder again, but Anduin swallowed and attempted to ignore it. He had to hear this dragon out. If there was some way to settle this peacefully… he needed to know all the angles.
“I’m sorry for your children,” Anduin said. Sablemane rolled his eyes. “But I know Gruul was killed – that may have brought you some peace.”
The dragon stared at him critically then. The look reminded Anduin of the expressions of some of the Horde had given him when he’d spoken highly of them, or sympathized with them – a look of unsure disbelief.
“Some peace. Until your little ‘friend’ over there had one of his ants march into my home and kill one of my youngest daughters – unprovoked, might I add.”
Anduin stared at him, then flickered his eyes over to Wrathion. The young dragon could hear them, no doubt – he was only a yard away – but his head was down and his eyes were on the floor.
“There must have been some reason,” Anduin said then, slowly, as he turned his look back to Sablemane. He chose his next words carefully. “I … do know that Wrathion was intent on being the last black dragon because of his race’s corruption -”
“Do I look insane to you?”
The question caught him off guard. “I –…”
“It isn’t a hard question, is it?”
Anduin set his jaw. He squinted at Sablemane and drudged up memories of Lady Katrana – Onyxia – from the back of his mind - memories he wanted to forget. There was one – she was smiling down at him, her purple eyes flashing… there it was, in her eyes. There was never quite… something right with her eyes, as if something was subtly broken behind the iris, as is there was a wire or two gently snapped. There was a shattered look about them, a look so hidden under her beauty that many forgot about it with her charm.
But Anduin remembered.
He looked at Sablemane’s orange ones hard then, with Onyxia’s fresh in his mind; the dragon looked back at him coolly.
But look as scrutinizing as he liked, there was nothing. There was nothing off about them, save for the draconic glow. He looked… normal.
Anduin was silent for a long moment before he responded. “You don’t look insane.”
Sablemane smiled grimly. “I’m glad you see that. Now, why try to explain that to your friend? He refuses to believe me. Not once have I started foaming at the mouth, I can assure you.”
Sablemane sounded like he was joking, but he still looked angry. “Now. I’ll repeat what I said: your Prince over there killed my youngest daughter with a lapdog, unprovoked.”
Anduin took a deep breath. “He must not have know you weren’t corrupted.” The words felt odd in his mouth. Was… was Sablemane not corrupted at all? He didn’t look insane, but…
He glanced at Wrathion. He’d heard the Black Prince’s speech so many times about being the last black dragon, the only uncorrupted black dragon, that his mind seemed to be struggling to grasp that the Prince might have been completely wrong.
Though then again, it helped to play along with Sablemane.
“Mm. Even when I tried to explain my condition he still explained quite confidently to me that he would kill my family. Now, put yourself in my position: what would you have done? Or – certainly you have a father still, yes? Being a prince. What would he have done?”
Anduin knew what Varian would have done. If someone had declared their intent to kill the prince, right in the Ghost Wolf’s face, his father would have most likely killed them on the spot.
Sablemane must have seen the answer in Anduin’s eyes. “You see? I had no choice.” He brought Anduin closer to his face. “I would kill a thousand worthless princes for my family’s protection. And now -” his voice started to become angry again, hissing - “a foolish, idiotic, childish human who thinks his Prince is full of goodness and worth saving has just forced me to nearly kill my own son!”
Sablemane’s eyes flared then flickered back to the cave entrance. Anduin stared at him. The look in his face – suddenly he was in Ironforge again during the siege, and Varian was looking at him with fierce, protective worry as he held his weapon to Moira’s throat to kill her.
Except Anduin was Moira now.
Anduin glanced over to where Sablemane had looked and saw that the possessed drake, the senseless beast he’d help loosen on his own father, lying haphazardly on the stone floor. The sha energies had left him, and the dragon was curled in on himself; new, terrible wounds arced across his face, his back, his legs.
Anduin felt sick. He swallowed and looked at the elder dragon who was looking at him with such rage Anduin felt sure he was about to die.
“If I could heal your son, would you consider letting Wrathion go?” He said quickly as Sablemane’s grip had started to tighten.
The dragon paused – then snarled. “And what? Have him track down my younger children in Blade’s Edge to slaughter? I think not.”
Anduin thought quickly. “I know you were trying to ask him something.”
“Yes. His secret. His lack of corruption. What about it?”
Ah. So he was not fully lacking corruption. Anduin tilted his head, confused- why did he appear so sane, then?
The prince dismissed the thought. There was too much about this whole fiasco he dared not tread recklessly with this talk without knowing all of the facts. “If I could get him to talk to you-”
“What makes you think he’ll tell you?”
“He trusts me,” Anduin said, surprised in the confidence in his voice despite how unsure he was in his statement. “And if it saved his life-”
Sablemane squinted at him hard. From their right was the ragged breathing coming from the still-living drake and the screams of the muted winds; the sun was rising, the night dead.
“I would so enjoy killing him,” Sablemane drawled. “Though I do need another… angle besides this senseless torture. Perhaps -”
An arrow pierced through Sablemane’s back and sunk through to show its tip at his chest.
The dragon roared in pain. He dropped Anduin, twirling around, fire exploding from his mouth as he half transformed. Another arrow hit him in the shoulder. Anduin scrambled to his feet and saw Left standing in front of Wrathion, who had managed to shift into his dragon form – when had that happened? Anduin thought dazedly – with her crossbow loaded.
Everything seemed to blur. Anduin went to yell at them to stop, that he had nearly had this handled without more blood and fire but Left kept shooting and Sablemane transformed fully, but was cramped in the small space, his wings splayed, his muzzle curled into an angered snarl.
Anduin moved out of the way, his leg screaming, as Sabellian’s tail whipped about, crashing against the wall and sending stalactite’s falling. He didn’t have time to change what the situation had become. Left was moving backwards, driving Sabellian’s attention, and Anduin saw his chance and surged forward, adrenaline numbing his pain. He grabbed Wrathion, held the limp whelp close to his chest, slid through Sabellian’s bent back legs and ran to the entrance, whistling panickedly for his gryphon.
He passed the dying drake – the one he’d offered to heal – and he hesitated for just a moment, and Wrathion hissed at him, a hiss to tell him to keep going, for he’d heard Anduin’s offer -
Anduin didn’t have time to choose.
“NO!” Sabellian had saw them and tried to turn himself around, but the cave was too big and he was too slow, and he snarled in frustration, fire shooting from his mouth and splaying across the cave, just missing Anduin’s heels – but the prince could feel the ends of his hair burn from the heat and then suddenly there was a swipe of wind as Sabellian desperately tried to grab the prince by the legs but just missed.
And then there was Left beside him, and she grabbed him by the collar and nearly dragged him out of the cave. The gryphon was there, having heard the whistle, then shrieked once she saw Sabellian, but Left was quick and hopped on her, and then she dragged Anduin and Wrathion up along the beast’s back.
The gryphon jumped from the side into the morning air and the ferocious screams and roars of Sabellian echoed along the mountain side as the wind sheared against Anduin’s face.